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Saddam, saviour in Sri Lanka villagers' eyes
( 2003-12-04 16:16) (Agencies)

Residents of a village in Sri Lanka that owes much of its development to Saddam Hussein, are trying to keep their links with the deposed Iraqi leader under wraps.

But despite the fall of his regime, the villagers say they remain indebted to Saddam for all that he has done for them.

A 2-kilometre stretch of road connects the Eravur town in Sri Lanka's Batticaloa district to a place residents call "Saddam Hussein Village".

It was so named after the ousted Iraqi leader donated money for its construction.

At the entrance, residents had once proudly displayed a signboard with his name on it.

But after the change of regime in Iraq, they removed it and kept it hidden.

The sprawling village is perhaps one of the best planned ones in the country, with a proper layout, broad roads and houses with boundary walls.

And in the centre is the Madina mosque, a gift from Saddam himself.

He became involved after floods hit the area in 1978 and the local authorities approached the Iraqi embassy for help.

Saddam was said to have readily obliged and sponsored construction of the entire village with some 100 houses, including a school.

The families living in the village were so grateful, they hung his picture in their living room walls and even named their children after him.

His pictures may have since been taken down, but many villlagers still hold him in high regard.

"I don't know why America has to attack Iraq. Saddam Hussein is a very nice man. We respect him and hope he has a long life. We owe what we have today to him," said a student named after the former Iraqi president.

Until 1990, the Iraqi government continued to send funds to upkeep the Madina mosque.

It also paid scholarships to students who were enrolled in the madrasah (religious school).

But all these aid stopped after the Gulf War.

The village youths say they are angry with the US government for waging war against Iraq.

"We're very upset. It's time for us to reciprocate Saddam Hussein's generosity but cannot do much to help him. We're ready to go to Iraq and fight for him, but we don't have money to travel," said student Naushad Ahmed.

Despite reports of Saddam's ruthlessness against dissidents in his home country when in power, the people of the village remain indebted to the man. He built it up for them when they were in need of it.

In fact, the villagers were sad when Saddam's two sons were killed by American troops. Not only are they praying for his survival, some are even ready to go to Iraq to help him.

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