3rd Lead (Adds details and background)
Vavuniya refugee camp on fire
[TamilNet, Saturday, 28 February 2004, 08:31 GMT]
One of the main refugee camps in Vavuniya caught fire and is burning, Police in the northern border town said Saturday afternoon. The camp in the outer suburb of Poonthottam houses more than five hundred families that were displaced from villages north of Vavuniya due to Sri Lanka army operations.
The cause of the fire and the extent of damage is not yet known, Police sources said.
The division that caught fire is called the 6th Unit which consisted of twelve large sheds housed 118 families. The Poonthottam camp altogether has nine such units and served as temporary housing for a total of 1354 displaced families with 5331 individuals.
A five year old child has serious burns and another 12 year old boy has suffered some injuries according to sources who visited the scene of the fire.
Residents of the camp said that due to the efforts of the youths in the camp and in adjoining units the fire spreading to other parts of the camp was prevented.
Government Agent K.Ganesh, UNHCR officials and other officials of Department of Rehabililitation have visited the scene of the fire and are working on bringing immediate relief to the victims of the fire.
In all the twelve divisions there are police posts and a civil officer working for the Vavuniya Secretariat who looks after the day to day operation of the refugee center.
The refugee center built with the UNHCR funding assistance contains 10'x10' rooms with cadjan walls providing privacy for each family. Although there were complaints that the facilities at the refugee center were grossly inadequate, the District officials were known to have worked hard to provide the best possible within the limitations of available funds.
The refugee center opened in 1986 even before the start of the SLA's Jeya Sikurui offensive, housed more than 11,000 refugees from Kilinochchi, Mulliaitivu, Jaffna, Trincomalee and other areas of Vanni during the times of large scale displacement of Tamils.
The refugee families in Poonthottam have not been able to return to their homes despite a two year long ceasefire because the Sri Lankan armed forces are still garrisoned in their villages.