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Page last updated at 17:49 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 18:49 UK

Sri Lanka minority 'threatened'

By Saroj Pathirana
BBC Sinhala service

President Rajapaksa with Chief Wanniya  (r)
Veddahs have been lobbying the president for better protection

The leader of the indigenous community of Sri Lanka, known as Veddahs, has said that his group of people is being threatened by illegal tree-fellers.

Uruvarige Wanniya Vanniyaleththo told the BBC Sinhala service that an unidentified black-clad group has been intimidating his community.

He said the threats had been made in the central district of Badulla.

The Veddah chief said that the number of threats increased after he made a formal complaint to police officials.

'Serious incident'

"We have been receiving threats for nearly 11 years," he said, "but the threats increased since a worker at the local post office was arrested by police in connection with illegal wood felling."

Map

The Veddahs, the aboriginal hunter-gatherers of Sri Lanka, say they have a direct line of descent from the island's original neolithic community.

But only a small number have been able to preserve their cultural identity and traditional lifestyle because of recent waves of immigration and deforestation.

The Veddah community was displaced by the government in the late 1970s and resettled near Maduru Oya reserve - because their ancestral land was taken for a massive irrigation project.

Nearly 350 Veddah families (about 1,800 people) are currently living close by Maduru Oya reserve. They say that they now face a new threat in the form of illegal deforestation which is depriving them of their habitat.

Veddahs have warned that the harmony which usually exists between them and the surrounding Sinhala communities in Badulla has been threatened because of the actions of illegal tree-fellers.

"I have four sons and some other young Veddhas are working on a museum project. I am concerned that if this continues it might lead to a serious incident," Chief Wanniya said.

The family members of the suspect who was arrested are angry that Veddhas made a complaint to the police, Chief Wanniya said.

"Since he was arrested, I get messages that I will be chopped into pieces, I will be shot and bombed and even 50 members of our community will be burnt to death."

The Veddhas have now appealed to the authorities to provide them with better security and protection.

There are thought to be just 2,000 Veddahs remaining in Sri Lanka and Chief Wanniya said it was imperative that they remain in the jungle if they are to continue their traditional way of life.



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