Four years after war, Sri Lanka's widows fear rape, abuse

Four years after war, Sri Lanka's widows fear rape, abuse

JAFFNA, Sri Lanka - They arrived suddenly on her doorstep pretending to be friends of her dead husband. Faceless men she suspects were security agents, they physically abused her and threatened to come again.

Scared and alone, Gowry did what she always does - she packed in a hurry and fled with her two young children, the third time in recent years that she has moved house in Sri Lanka's former northern warzone.

"Two men introduced themselves as my husband's friends, so I invited them in," she said in Jaffna, recounting the most recent attack that scared her into hiding again. "They forcibly tore at my dress and pushed me into my room. I fell down and screamed.

"After that they ran away but they called me later saying they would come in the night," she told AFP.

Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war may be over, but many women from the island's ethnic Tamil minority still fear for their safety in former conflict zones amid ongoing reports of rape and sexual violence.

Gowry, who would not give her real name fearing reprisals, lost her rebel husband during the final months of fighting in 2009 when government forces crushed the Tamil Tigers fighting for a separate homeland.

She is among more than 89,000 war widows living in the former combat areas in the north and east. Like her, an estimated 40,000 of them are the sole wage earners for their households.

Many of them face chronic insecurity and increasing marginalisation, according to a recent report by the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

MRG interviewed women in the former conflict zones who said sexual assaults and other abuses have been rising in the years since the war, largely due to the ongoing heavy military presence in the area.

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