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Increased tensions in Sri Lanka cause for concern


A return to civil war seems to be the unavoidable situation in Sri Lanka, where fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has escalated in recent months and murder and bloodshed once more becoming commonplace.

The seemingly unprovoked murder of 17 aid workers from the French NGO Action Against Hunger earlier in the month was followed at the weekend by the alledged bombing of an orphanage in the northern town of Mullaituvu, in which 43 children are said to have been killed and another 60 injured.

Tensions have been rising since the election of Sinhalese hardliner President Mahinda Rajapakse in October 2005, although his firm stance on the recent disputes over water supplies in the north-eastern area of Trincomalee seem to have triggered the latest unrest. With the 2002 ceasefire now nothing more than a memory, the situation is taking its toll on the civilian population with a number of deaths in the last week.

Mr Siddhartha Kaul, Regional Director for SOS Children's Villages in Asia, recently returned from Sri Lanka describing the situation in the country as critical: "The civil unrest in Sri Lanka continues to escalate. During the course of my visit, the violence became terrible over the water situation in the Muttur area and thousands of people had to flee. The exodus of Tamil civilians to India by boat continues, with roughly 200 refugees risking the high seas to make it to India every day."

Medical Centre under construction as part of tsunami efforts in Komari, Sri Lanka

Unsurprisingly, the continued violence is impacting on the country's economy. The cost of living continues to rise and construction costs, which used to be relatively cheap compared to other Asian countries, are soaring and are expected to rise further.

Although none of the SOS Children's Villages in the country has been affected by the unrest, the situation is unfortunately hampering SOS Children's tsunami projects along the east coast. Kaul continued: "Our tsunami projects are severely affected and everything has slowed down. Our team is coping as best as they can, but we also have no choice but to agree to price escalations at our projects. Contractors are no longer in a position to do fixed price contracts and there can be no guarantee on time periods due to the security situation."

SOS Children has a number of reconstruction projects underway in Sri Lanka as part of its ongoing tsunami efforts. The new SOS Social Centre in Gandhara, on the south coast, has begun offering support to the local community, in particular female-headed families who have lost their main breadwinner. At present, 35 families are receiving assistance through the family strengthening programme, which includes educational, child care and healthcare support as well as vocational training.

Another similar social centre is under construction in Peraliya, just north of Galle in the southwest, as are a number of other smaller community centres.

Relevant Countries: Sri Lanka.

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