Sri Lanka`s war displaced hope for better days

Abdul Rafique was just 25 years old when he and his family left their land and belongings that they had in a small village in this northern Sri Lankan district in 1990.

Updated: Oct 02, 2012, 20:33 PM IST

Mannar: Abdul Rafique was just 25 years old when he and his family left their land and belongings that they had in a small village in this northern Sri Lankan district in 1990 when the LTTE expelled Muslims from the region in an ethnic-cleansing drive.

Having lived for 20 years in various government-run camps that lacked even basic facilities, Rafique returned to his native village of Periyamadhu in 2010 only to find vast tracts of empty land and scars of the decades-old bloodshed by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army.

Two years later, Rafique, now 47 and father of four children, is one of the beneficiaries of the Indian Housing Project that envisages building of 43,000 new houses for Tamils displaced due to the civil war.

Rafique, who is into farming now, could just not hide his happiness because he is sure that the days of uncertainty and fear is over and it is just a matter of time before he can call a building his own after over two decades.

"After the war ended, we came here in 2010. Almost all the families who were forced out of this village by Tigers returned together. Since then we have been living in temporary shelters that do not have even toilet facilities," he told PTI here.

Recalling the day in October 1990 when the LTTE gave just a few hours of time to the Muslims to leave Jaffna and other areas in the entire Northern Province, then controlled by it, Rafique says he and his family could pack only necessary things in the time given by the outfit.

Over 75,000 Muslims are estimated to have been thrown out of the northern region by the LTTE.

"When I returned as a married man with my wife and children, I could see nothing here. I hope to build my house in the next four-five months and live happily hereafter," he said.

The tale of 76-year-old Abdul Khader is no different. He also left behind everything that he earned to save his and his family`s life in 1990 and returned only in 2010, a year after the war ended.

Having been selected to get SLR 5.5 lakh to build a house through the Indian project, Khader hopes to spend his last days in his own house with his grand children.

"I left my village when I was in my early fifties and returned as a very old man. Now I will get money to build house. I hope to live a peaceful life," he says.

And the icing on the cake is neither Muslims nor Tamils
have hatred for each other. They say since they had lived together for decades before the conflict started, they can continue to live together.

Ponnambalam, a Hindu Tamil, says Muslims and Tamils have been living in harmony ever since the end of the war and that peace has returned to the north since 2009.

"We were never associated with the Tigers. We always wanted peace. But we left this place and were in camps for almost three years. When we returned we saw our Muslim brethren also here. None of us have any problems," he said.

The expulsion of Muslims by LTTE began in 1990 with the oufit forcing out 1,500 people from Chavakacheri and extending it to Kilinochchi, Mannar and eventually to Jaffna, the cultural capital of ethnic Tamils.

On October 30, 1990, LTTE trucks drove through the streets ordering Muslim families to assemble at a ground from where they were asked to leave the city with paltry sums of money and the clothes which they were wearing.

Sri Lankan Muslims still carry bitter memories over the expulsion and never reconciled with the LTTE despite an apology from its chief late Velupillai Prabhkaran.