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Last updated: 31 May, 2007 - Published 13:35 GMT
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Displaced return home
Displaced people
Displaced people
Sri Lanka's Government has begun to send home ninety-thousand people displaced by the country's renewed civil war.

They fled fighting between the military and Tiger rebels, who want a homeland for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the country.

The United Nations has estimated there are nearly half-a-million displaced people in Sri Lanka.

As Roland Buerk reports from the eastern district of Batticaloa, some of those who have already gone back have found their homes have been damaged not just by war, but by an unlikely foe.

After months living in a camp on the outskirts of Batticaloa town, Amalraj Ilayamma and her family have been told they're leaving this Sunday.

Life has been hard in the tent provided by the United Nations, one of hundreds on a sandy patch of ground.

It's unbearably hot inside, the children have been getting ill, and water's a problem. But she's not looking forward to going back.

Amarali Ilayamma says it's hard for them to go to their place again.

Scared to go

"When we go there, there will be continuous shelling, then the military will come to try to take our men. So we are very scared to go there", she said.

Amalraj Ilayamma's home is to the north of the district, near where the government forces and the Tamil Tigers are still fighting in jungle pockets.

The low rumble of shellfire reaches these camps dotted around the town.

Batticaloa refugees
Batticaloa refugees

But the government says it is safe for ninety-thousand of Sri Lanka's estimated half-a-million displaced people to go home.

Nearly thirty-thousand have already gone to areas in the south of the district.


Martin de Boer of the International Committee of the Red Cross says there are no reports they were forced but they still face an uncertain future.

"The concerns are that they missed an agricultural season, that they have lost a lot of their property due to looting and that they will have to start from zero.", he said.

Missing the agricultural season means that the next harvest will not be until the end of the year.

That's a long period of time that will somehow have to be filled with either assistance or some ways of rebuilding livelihoods, and that's a concern because it's a lot of people.

And those aren't the only problems facing those going back.

Chellaiah Kobala Pillai arrived home from a camp to find her corrugated iron roof flapping in the wind.

Her small rural hamlet of Vellavally was captured from the Tigers only at the beginning of April.

But there's little destruction from the war - her mud walled house was knocked down by an unlikely foe.

Elephants on rampage

"When we are away this is what happened. An elephant destroyed our house. No human has damaged this, it's the work of an elephant.",Chellaiah Kobala Pillai said

The elephants were scared out of the forest by the fighting there. Local officials say hundreds of Chellaiah Kobala Pillai's neighbours' houses were damaged too.

Religious leaders discussing issues
Religious leaders discussing issues

When told life is easier here now the Tigers are no longer in control of this area, she said,

"I wouldn't say it will be easy. From somewhere we'll have some problem. We cannot assume that everything will be back to normal because we have come here. We are constantly living under fear. What else can we do? We cannot go into a city and live there - only the wealthy can afford to do that. I've got five daughters and two sons."

So while the local children get back to playing in the stream, their parents are wondering how they'll afford to rebuild.

Displaced by war, made destitute again by nature, for many of the people of Vellavally this has been a cruel homecoming

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