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Refugees return home for feast day

Military allows temporary access to Mullikulam village for Church celebration

Refugees return home for feast day
Refugees from Mullikulam return to their village on Sunday to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Assumption
Villagers from Mullikulam in the country’s north celebrated the annual feast of Our Lady of Assumption for the first time since their displacement five years ago by fighting between the government and Tamil rebels. About 2,000 people from Mullikulam and others from neighboring dioceses gathered in the village on Sunday for a procession, Mass and prayers in honor of the feast day. “We celebrated the feast as refugees and prayed to gain access to our native village, which has remained occupied by the military for years,” said Sebastian Thevarajan, 50, a father of two. Residents have been barred from entering Mullikulam since 2007, as government forces battled the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Since the end of the civil war in 2009, the village has been designated a protected military zone and residents have been forced to take shelter in the surrounding jungle, cut off from their church four kilometers away in Mullikulam. “Many of the women [refugees] are widows with young children, and they fear having to spend countless nights in the jungle,” he added. Father Sebastian Rasanayagam, parish priest of Mullikulam, said attendees prayed and marked the feast day to remember the lives of those killed or missing since the end of the civil war. Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar and 20 other priests. Fr. Rasanayagam said the military eased its normal restrictions to assist celebrants. “The navy provided electricity, a sound system, medical facilities and water to participants of the feast. People were allowed to attend the feast without any checks or registration,” the priest said. The displaced villagers from Mullikulam have protested and petitioned the government for permission to return to their homes, but say they have not had any success. However, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said that the security zone has been drastically reduced from 4,096 hectares when fighting ended three years ago to 2,582 hectares today. He added that IDPs who are still not allowed to return home come from areas that are still heavily infested with land mines and that demining efforts have taken longer than expected. “The government intended to complete resettlement quickly. Resettling nearly 300,000 people within three years was not an easy task,” Rajapaksa said. Related reports Displaced Tamils protest for access to land

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