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Sri Lanka war survivor: The future holds 'nothing'

By Sara Sidner, CNN
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Witness to Survival part 1
  • Some 280,000 people caught last year in the final battles in Sri Lanka's war
  • Conflict pitted the government against Tamil rebels
  • Tamils were seeking an independent homeland in the north
  • Some war survivors now heading out of government camps

Editor's note: CNN's Sara Sidner travels to Sri Lanka to report from ethnic Tamil areas on the victims of nearly three decades of civil war. Watch "Witness to Survival" March 13-16 on CNN International.

Jaffna, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Raveendran Jenatha doesn't exude the kind of excitement and wonder that young adults often do when it comes to figuring out their future. She is 21 years old and confident about what her future holds.

"Nothing," she said softly.

Raveendran Jenatha is sure she has no future because of her past and what it has done to her.

"Now I can't do anything. That is the only problem," she said.

Then her sweet smile and confident tone broke, and she burst out in a moaning sob. Through her tears, she sputtered: "I need help for everything."

Video: Witness to Survival part 2
Video: Witness to Survival part 3
Video: Sri Lanka's internment camps

Raveendran Jenatha is one of an estimated 280,000 people who were trapped last year in the middle of the final battles of the war in Sri Lanka -- a decades-long conflict that pitted government forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers), who were seeking an independent homeland in the country's north. She escaped, but not before losing her legs and one of her eyes.

"We got into a bunker, and a shell fell inside the bunker where we were taking shelter. My cousin died. Me? I lost my two legs," she said, forgetting about her damaged eye, as she went on telling what happened.

Minutes later, she added: "I don't have an eye either."

Raveendran Jenatha and her family live in a northern Sri Lanka neighborhood where their story is the norm. The other families that surround them also have epic war stories and battered bodies. They lived through months of terror running from one bunker to another to avoid death.

The world's attention turned to the tear-shaped island off the tip of southern India as the war flared. In the last few months of the war in 2009 -- during some of the fiercest fighting -- allegations of war crimes and a humanitarian crisis made headlines across the globe.

Allegations surfaced against both sides.

The Tamil Tigers were accused of using civilians as human shields, keeping them from leaving the increasingly dangerous battle zones -- allegations they denied.

The Sri Lankan military was accused of bombing and shelling areas in the safe zone including hospitals, an allegation its commanders denied.

At the height of the separatist war in April to May 2009, the government began barring independent journalists from covering the battle zones -- creating even more questions about what was going on and leaving untold the stories of civilians caught in the fighting.

Months after the conflict ended, those war survivors are emerging from the battle zones and government camps they had to live in. The government has opened most of the camps to allow those like Raveendran Jenatha somewhere to go out.

She has never known a life without war. Her story, like the others, gushes out in a flood of tears or anger or a state of resignation as she tries to explain what happened to her and those she loved, and how to cope with a new reality.

"Now that the problems which we face do not exist, I feel happy," she said as she carefully concealed her amputated legs. "But yet after going through so much, after the fighting for so many years, and after destroying so many things, what use was it? What was it all for? We are back to square one."