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War closes over 100 schools in Batticaloa

Schools have stopped functioning in Batticaloa due to ongoing military operations against the LTTE, reports PK Balachandran.
None | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
UPDATED ON MAR 16, 2007 06:39 PM IST

More than 100 schools have stopped functioning and over 50,000 acres of paddy have not been harvested in the Eastern Sri Lankan district of Batticaloa because of the on-going military operations against the LTTE, says the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

"92 schools between Mandur and Veppavettuvan have been closed because of the heavy shelling by the Army. The 9,000 students over there are going without an education," said Thangeswari, one of the MPs from Batticaloa district.

"In addition, 12 schools in the government-held areas are being used as refugee camps. With the result, another 4000 students are going without an education," she told Hindustan Times over phone on Friday.

Since the Army fires artillery from Weber stadium in Batticaloa town, parents are not sending their children to the schools located nearby.

"Some students had fainted because of the tremendous noise when the guns are fired," she said. The incessant firing is severely affecting the hospital.

127,134 displaced

According to the Government Agent (GA) of Batticaloa, the most recent phase of the war in the district has created 127,134 refugees (belonging to 34,927 families).

These are in addition to the thousands who had come earlier from Vaharai and Sampur.

But according to the government defence spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, the number of displaced is slightly over 54,000.

Harvesting halted

Artillery shells are fired from Batticaloa towards what is called the Paduvankarai area in the interior, which is known for agriculture.

"This is harvest time there. But paddy planted over 50,000 acres has not been harvested this year because of the shelling and the displacement of people from the villages in the area," Thangeswari said.

"There are 89 refugee camps, but still, many thousands are living outside with only trees for cover. And the rains are complicating the situation," she pointed out.

Appeal for international aid

A delegation of TNA MPs from Eastern Sri Lanka met the German Ambassador and the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo recently, and sought urgent humanitarian help.

Earlier this week, international relief agencies had called for public contributions of food and water, as the government was unable to meet the challenge on its own.

According to Jeevan Thiagarajah of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), government will be able to look after only 40,000 of the displaced.

The government complains that the NGOs and INGOs, which had been very eager to go and work in areas occupied by the LTTE, do not seem to be keen to work in government-held areas.

But Thiagarajah said that this was not correct.

"Over 40 NGOs and INGOs are ready to go to Vaharai for resettlement work and this has been conveyed to the Minister of Rehabilitation," he told Hindustan Times.

The government is in need of financial help. But according to diplomatic sources, the donor countries seem to prefer to route the aid through UN agencies and NGOs, rather than give it to the Sri Lankan government as such.

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