Report from Sri Lanka, Part 3

DJ Mitchell continues his reports from Sri Lanka (Here’s Parts 1 and 2)

Photo: A member of the Tamil pro-government paramilitary group EPDP and one of the Sinhalese soldiers providing security for the EPDP compound. A second soldier stands guard behind.

Tamil EPDP

Several people had told me that if I wanted to understand the Karuna Faction and its effects, I should talk to the people who were working in Karuna’s territory. The contact turned out to be a woman I’d had previous email contact with, but never met, so I was looking forward to going to see her.

The organization was in Vallachennai, about 30 km (18 mi) north of Batti. I managed to catch a ride with two of their workers, so I didn’t have to take the bus. The plan was, I’d meet my contact, have some discussion, stay for dinner, and then catch a 3-wheeler back to Batti.

The workers were in Batti to talk to a man who had been kidnapped three days earlier and released that morning. He had not told them anything about his ordeal, not even who had abducted him.
“It must be the LTTE, don’t you think?” said one of them.
“Maybe, maybe not,” said the other. “It could be anyone.”
“He seems to be under a threat of violence if he talks.”
“Of course he’s under a threat of violence.”

Valachennai is in disputed territory. Karuna and the LTTE skirmish in the area around it regularly. It is, I was told, one of the most violent places on the island right now. But only after dark.

The road was a very long 30 kms (18 miles). Narrow and potholed, it was flanked by a number of army positions. Soldiers walked along the road and through the surrounding fields. Many carried the usual AK-47-style rifles, but some carried serious-looking longer rifles that had a barrel magazine and a tripod. In some places, soldiers searched for landmines with a wood-handled trident. They weren’t wearing body armor. It seemed to me a primitive method, but I was assured that it was effective and safe—if they did it right.

The 18 mile ride took an hour, but was uneventful. We reached Vallachannai and navigated its Main Street, which was unpaved and rutted. I met with my contact, learned a few things, and confirmed others. And I joined her staff for a meal that included salad with salad dressing—a rare treat in Sri Lanka.

She had arranged a 3-wheeler to take me back to Batti. The driver was a young Muslim man, who brought a friend with him so he wouldn’t have to make the drive back alone. Lone drivers didn’t always reach their destination—a fact that failed to inspire a feeling of safety. In fact, after all the discussion of violence in the area after dark, I was a bit fearful to make the trip. But I had a ticket booked on the morning bus to Colombo, and I didn’t want to miss it.

The weather had changed again, and it was pouring monsoon-style rain. The driver and his friend and I all piled into the tuk-tuk, and the driver put plastic sheets over the open doors to keep some of the rain out. Visibility was almost zero, and he peered through the tiny windshield to try to make out the road in the light of a single dim headlamp.

Main Street had become a thick soup, but the little three-wheeler somehow managed not to get stuck. Then we were tearing down the highway through rain so thick we couldn’t see, the water collecting on the road so deep that the potholes were invisible anyway. The checkpoints were now closed, so we had to detour around behind the army positions on muddy tracks that in some places were more like rivers. The two boys chattered in shrill Tamil, and I sat quietly trying not to worry about road hazards and guerillas.
I was glad when we finally reached the outskirts of Batti, and happy to pay the thousand rupees ($10) for what in daylight would have been a 600 rupee ride. I wished the two boys a safe journey home, and meant it sincerely. Inside the Sarvodaya District Center, I packed my things for my journey home the next day.

[tags]Sri Lanka, Sarvodaya[/tags]

  • It’s a scary, and scarily underreported, situtation out there. A friend of mine works for one of the news agencies covering the country – he’s met some pretty frightening people.

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