Sri Lanka's survivors tormented by horrors of war

Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:41am EDT
 
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By Nita Bhalla

KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka (AlertNet) - Ranjini wakes up screaming. Her mother's body is on fire, her teenage sister is covered in blood and the mutilated, charred corpses of her relatives lie scattered everywhere.

It's a recurring nightmare.

"I see my mother's burning face ... she is calling me to help her, but I can't or I will be killed from the shelling also," says the 23-year-old, petite Sri Lankan woman, wiping the tears from her face with a blue and white checkered handkerchief.

"My little sister is lying with blood all over her skirt, but I cannot see the wound. She is unable to speak but from her eyes she is trying to tell me something. She dies. I too want to die."

More than two years since Sri Lanka's 25-year-old conflict ended, mental health experts say thousands of survivors are living in torment typical of war survivors -- haunted by memories of the final months of fighting between the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces.

"The horrific, abrupt end to the war saw people witnessing their family members die, but most could do nothing but run, forced to abandon the bodies of their loved ones without performing important last rites," said a Western aid worker with an EU-funded charity, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting the Sri Lankan government.

As a result, many of the war-affected have failed to gain closure, and are haunted by flashbacks, hallucinations, nightmares, suicidal thoughts and anti-social behavior.

Experts suggest the poor mental health of men in particular has driven many to alcoholism and led to numerous reports of domestic violence, child abuse and family separation amongst war-hit communities in the Indian Ocean island's ravaged north.   Continued...

 
<p>A woman with her child rides her cycle past a destroyed building and a billboard featuring a picture of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse in war-hit Kilinochchi town on September 7, 2011. More than two years since Sri Lanka's 25-year-old conflict ended, mental health experts say thousands of survivors are living in torment typical of war survivors -- haunted by memories of the final months of fighting between the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces. REUTERS/ALERTNET/Nita Bhalla</p>