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SRI LANKA: Arulamma Thambiraja, “I have seen things I never thought I would, so much death”

[AlertNet, Monday, 1 March 2010 09:28 No Comment]

(IRIN) This time last year, Arulamma Thambiraja, 99, was among tens of thousands of civilians trapped in Sri Lanka’s north by fighting between government forces and the since-defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

When the fighting reached her village of Navajeevanam, near the town of Paranthan in Kilinochchi district in January 2009, her family fled deeper into areas controlled by the LTTE. She was carried on a chair by her sons and grandchildren during most of their journey.

In April 2009, she entered a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) with her family and was there until January this year. She now lives with a relative near the capital Colombo, where she told IRIN of the fighting and her dreams to return home:

"Things were deteriorating by the minute, there was shelling from all sides. I never expected to survive. Every second was like a lifetime there.

"My sons were carrying me. We could not stay in one place for long, it was very difficult. Food was hard to find … going to the toilet was risking death.

"It is with God’s grace that I am here, nothing else. I don’t know how I made it out, it was terrible, there were people everywhere running scared. I just closed my eyes every time there was a loud sound; I never expected to open them. It was a like a very long, very bad dream.

"So many things have happened in my lifetime. The war began when I was already a grandmother and in my 60s. I have seen things I never thought I would, so much death, so much destruction.

"When the authorities said we could return to our villages, my family did not want to return immediately. We were not sure what we would find in the village. The house was destroyed, there were mines everywhere. And my children felt I needed rest.

"I don’t know anyone in my lifetime who has lived to 100 years, no one in my village has lived that long. I want to be the first, I want go there and celebrate.

"I just want to go back to my village, live like I used to, in peace, with no worries. That is my only dream."

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