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Sri Lankan maid to undergo surgery after employer hammers nails

by Iqbal Athas
CNN correspondent in Colombo

(August 27, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)A Sri Lankan maid whose Saudi employer allegedly hammered 23 nails into her arms, legs and forehead is set to undergo surgery Friday, while government officials meet with Saudi diplomats in Colombo over the incident.

L.P. Ariyawathie, a housemaid who worked in a household in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was held down by her employer's wife while the employer hammered the heated nails, said L.K. Ruhunuge of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment.

Ariywathie apparently had complained to the couple that she was being overworked, Ruhunuge said.

Ariyawathie left Sri Lanka on March 25 to work in Saudi Arabia after the bureau registered her as a person obtaining a job from an officially recognized job agency.

"It was cruel treatment which should be roundly condemned," Ruhunuge told CNN.

He said the Sri Lanka government has forwarded to Saudi authorities a detailed report on the incident including statements from Ariyawathie.

"We are also meeting the Saudi ambassador today to apprise him of the situation," Ruhunuge said Friday.

A team of doctors in the southern town of Kamburupitiya -- 170 kilometers (105 miles) from the capital Colombo -- is set to carry out surgery on Ariyawathie.

"We have to remove 23 nails and one needle from her body," Dr. Prabath Gajadeera of the Base Hospital told CNN.

The nails were hammered into her arms and legs while one was on her forehead, he said.

"Most of the wounds are superficial but five to 10 are somewhat deep," Gajadeera said. "Luckily, none of the organs is affected. Only nerves and blood vessels are affected."

Ariyawathie, 49, is a mother of three children -- a son and two daughters.

She is among thousands of Sri Lanka's poor rural residents who seek employment in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.

Ruhunuge said his office was ready to accompany Ariyawathie to Saudi Arabia to testify if a case is brought against her former employers.

He said the local job agency's registration has been cancelled.

"We have also asked [them] to pay compensation to the victim," he added. "We want to bring those responsible for justice. We are doing our best in this regard," he said.

Ruhunuge said Ariyawathie's dream was to return to Sri Lanka and build a house.

"We are looking at the possibility of helping her to do this," he added.

Karu Jayasuriya, deputy leader of the main opposition United National Party, visited Ariyawathie in hospital and said he was appalled.

"We want the government to raise this issue at the highest levels with the Saudi government. We cannot imagine that such crude and uncivilized things are happening to our workers," he said.

Saudi officials were not immediately available for comment.

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