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Extracts from Chapter 8:

Mullivaikkal: At War’s End

 

When he had been consecrated eight years the Beloved of the Gods…conquered Kalinga. A hundred and fifty thousand people were deported, a hundred thousand were killed and many times that number perished…On conquering Kalinga the beloved of the Gods felt remorse, for when an independent country is conquered the slaughter, death and deportation of the people is extremely grievous to the Beloved of the Gods and weighs heavily on his mind. What is even more deplorable to the Beloved of the Gods, is that those who dwell there, whether brahmans, shramans, or those of other sects, or householders who show obedience to their superiors, obedience to mother and father, obedience to their teachers and behave well and devotedly to their friends, acquaintances, colleagues, relatives, slaves and servants – all suffer violence, murder and separation from their loved ones…This participation of all men in suffering weighs heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods.”

 

- Asoka’s Pillar Edict XIII, after the conquest of Kalinga, circa 257 BC, trans. by Romila Thapar, from Early India

8.1 Harbingers of Doom

War throughout history has been catastrophic, especially for civilians. No less, the wars of our own time. Yet in many ways the final round of war in the Vanni is without parallel. Events during the last stages of the war have eclipsed scrutiny of earlier atrocities committed in the long history of violence by state and non-state forces. This is due to a combination of factors relating to the Sri Lankan state: the sheer numbers of civilians put directly at risk as the government prosecuted its final offensive; the ejection of international agencies from the Vanni who would have served as witnesses; and the State’s open defiance of humanitarian concerns, are chief among the reasons why the world was both interested and able to get a glimpse of the worsening plight of civilians.

Yet, to a large extent the Government has been able to suppress the enormity of the suffering it inflicted on civilians.[1] Despite numerous detailed civilian testimonies from the ground on the use of cluster munitions on civilians (see Ch. 3 of Special Report No. 34), the Government has managed to survive these damaging revelations through citing the absence of legal proof – proof that it largely destroyed. This  bodes ill for the unity of the country when most journalists in the South play word games  to discredit reports of cluster bomb use, without having talked  to even one of the  tens of thousands of their  fellow countrymen who experienced them. There is no question that civilians densely confined to a government-declared safe zone were under constant missile attack. Survivors were also traumatised from the experience of having to climb over countless dead bodies.

Two other factors are important. After many years of lobbying and pressure, a number of international agencies acquired a hard-earned presence in the conflict areas. But in the autumn of 2008, they meekly moved out of the Vanni when ordered by the Government, having a good idea of what was in store for the civilians. Their final exasperation with the LTTE – which virtually held the civilians hostage and defeated every humanitarian initiative – was partly of these agencies’ making. For over two decades they were uncritically and sometimes arrogantly part of an international club that failed to see the pathological character of the LTTE’s violations and treated it with kid gloves as a party essential to a peace settlement…  

Attempts to Stop the War: Following a conference call around mid-November 2008, LTTE spokesman Nadesan, who had Prabhakaran by his side, assured Indian officials that as a condition for their diplomatic intervention Prabhakaran would make certain commitments in his National Heroes Day address (27th November 2008), including the acceptance of a federal settlement. This Prabhakaran failed to do. Given the circumstances of Prabhakaran’s refusal to accept a brokered settlement, and the defense establishment’s determination to kill him, extremely high civilian casualties were likely

 

Within the Government itself one infers that there were concerns about the consequences of an offensive in the Vanni, including its own heavy casualties. In January 2009, we understand from leading church officials that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jaffna facilitated a Government offer of talks with the LTTE. Prabhakaran, who claimed that the LTTE was winning, gave this short shrift. Those who initiated the offer were, according to our sources, lawyers close to the President. They felt that they might push through a deal despite the defence establishment being anxious to fight to the bitter end. They said that the Sri Lankan Army had hitherto suffered 25,000 fatalities. Another offer in early February by Indian minister Chidambaram too was spurned. The LTTE’s behavior suggests that their rationale for prolonging the war was an expectation that the ongoing humanitarian tragedy would enable their overseas backers to work out a reprieve whose terms were favourable.

 

The Government decided to move in although victory had been assured with the fall of Killinochchi. The Tigers were finished and knew it; the issue was the trapped civilians. Was the sacrifice of tens of thousands of civilians for the heads of a handful of men who held them hostage necessary or morally defensible? Was it beyond human ingenuity to think of less costly measures?

 

Going by past experience, from the 1987 Vadamaratchy Operation, the Sri Lankan Army never moved forward without the full complement of artillery and aerial support resulting in large civilian casualties. Even though by early 2009 the LTTE was much weakened, it had been fighting bitterly all the way. The Government had decided to kill the LTTE leadership at any cost as evidenced by its ridiculously low estimates of the civilian population under the LTTE, which it insisted upon abruptly just before the final offensive, besides the strategic eviction of the international presence. It felt a need to use the full complement of fire power to reassure the soldiers over the advance that was bound to cost many of their lives. Its effects were seen in the continuous firing into no fire zones and even hospitals from beginning to end. The claim that they were only returning LTTE fire, whose effectiveness and intensity were on the decline, especially from April 2009, was throughout questionable as judged from the civilian experience…

 

Responsible persons who were in the war zone are clear that by February the LTTE cadres had lost the will to fight. This was plain to natives of the Vanni and many extended families were in fact hiding fugitive sons and daughters. Before the very eyes of cadres, exploding shells carried off entire families. Each person knew that the lost families could have been his or her own. This loss of will was a byproduct of holding civilians hostage. A doctor who was in the war zone told us that the state of the cadres was such that they frequently threw away their weapons and went into hiding, often hidden by friends or family inside private vehicles. Many staying on were conscripting others to evade combat…

 

Many families in the Vanni bitterly remember that after losing Killinochchi, the LTTE tried to prolong its survival by conscripting every young person they could lay their hands on, and are clear that this contributed to a significant proportion of the deaths. The experience of the family of one woman attached to the University is not untypical. In her family of nine, including two parents, eight were caught up in the war. Her father was killed on 26th December 2008, when a Kfir bomber struck her home in Paranthan. Her family then joined the masses moving east. Her eldest sister Thevarajani (32) was killed in a government shell attack. The younger siblings then separated from the family and moved with others to hide from LTTE conscription gangs. Those who survived were scattered among IDP camps and were reunited later. One sister Yogavathani (27) who separated from the family is now missing and nothing is known about her fate. The lady from the University said that over a dozen students caught up in the war came to the University with limbs missing. This reality was regrettably lost on LTTE supporters outside. It sets the fragile state of the LTTE against the excesses of the so-called humanitarian war…  

 

Meanwhile, the 58th Division diverted a section of its troops to move east along a road north of the safe zone. At the same time the 55th Division was moving south along the northeast coast in the direction of the Sea Tiger base at Chalai. At the end of January the Army Command ordered the 59th Division at Mullaitivu to move northwesterly from Mulliavalai, near Mullaitivu, to PTK 10 miles distant, calculating perhaps on taking it by Independence Day, 4th February. The spurious consolation offered to the civilians was a two-day ultimatum from the Government on 29th January for them to come out. The LTTE attacked the column of the 59th Division by a westward thrust crossing Nanthikadal lagoon inflicting large casualties, cutting off the retreat of the advance section.

 

The army divisions were clearly out of step. The 59th Division had its hapless men out on a limb a little south of PTK. The other advancing divisions were too far away to be of any help, except to shell cowering civilians mercilessly. The 55th reached Chalai, 7 ½ miles north of PTK on 5th February and stayed put. The 58th Division was at that time shelling its way into Suthanthirapuram, 7 ½ miles northwest from PTK. Thus the 59th Division had been split by the LTTE thrust and left without proximate help. The intensity of the shelling the civilians in the ‘safe zone’ around Thevipuram experienced suggested that the Sri Lankan Army was angry, with its confidence suffering a temporary setback.

 

In the Thevipuram ‘safe zone’, while worrying about her injured husband and son, an LTTE deserter in hiding, a shell fell a short distance from Chandravathy, from Mallavi, causing an injury on the crown of her head resulting in heavy bleeding. Near her she saw that 15 others had died in the blast, children, adults and parents. Chandravathy had her head dressed and just carried on as there was too much on her hands.

 

Had the 59th Division taken PTK, the Sri Lankan Army might have encompassed the civilians’ safe zone from three sides, and created corridors for the civilians to move into PTK or Visuamadu, thereby forcing the LTTE to withdraw east into their main base near Anandapuram. This was a juncture where the success of the LTTE was very costly for the civilians. Had the safety of civilians been the foremost consideration, there would have been better planning of the attack and more patience shown in implementing it. The Sri Lankan Army’s own disarray is an indication of how little thought was given to the civilians. 

 

The result was that most civilians fled east from the rain of shells in the safe zone to Iranaippalai and Putumattalan. On 12th February, the Government declared Putumattalan the new No Fire Zone, where civilians endured the torments of the LTTE and army shelling for a further 95 days. In its desperate move to push the Sri Lankan Army westwards, the LTTE suffered a major defeat at Anandapuram north of PTK in early April. Following the disaster, the LTTE had no significant offensive capacity left. Its cadres withdrew into the No Fire Zone behind civilian cover. The Sri Lankan Army which completed the capture of PTK could have sealed off the zone and used diplomatic means to get the civilians out. But the political prize the Government evidently sought was the extermination of the LTTE leadership. And the government implicitly sanctioned the inevitable heavy toll of civilian life in this quest.

 

Suhanthy was vivid in her descriptions of the missiles fired by the Army and falling around them. She testified to seeing cluster bombs (kotthu kundu) and burn bombs (erikundu) or white phosphorous. What she described as a kotthu kundu fell in the bunker next to theirs, killing the father, mother and four children. Out of curiosity, she went out of her bunker and peeped, to see a hand burning. She said she had during that time seen people burning.

 

On 17th March, Suhanthy’s younger sister Sumathy (17 years) was conscripted by the LTTE and sent to Anandapuram. The family said that the purpose was, before training, to isolate them in a bunker some distance from any civilian presence as many attempted escape in the early days of conscription. When desperate the LTTE also sent the conscripts to battle after about two days’ training in firing a gun. Well over a hundred newly conscripted girls were in a large bunker. A bomb from a Kfir fighter fell into the bunker killing a large number. Sumathy was among the few who survived and ran away and rejoined the family. Probably thinking she was dead, the LTTE did not look for her. The same day Suhanthy saw many corpses laid out near the hospital. She said Putumattalan had three ambulances disposing human remains, including amputated parts. The people who had to shelter most of the time in bunkers also suffered many snakebites. Having seen many gruesome scenes, Suhanthy and Sumathy who had narrow escapes fell ill and were laid up for several days.    

The result was nothing like the humanitarian operation the Government claimed it was. At best it was a blundering military operation carried out from behind concentrated shellfire and aerial bombing into civilian zones; at worst it was a relentless and deliberate targeting of helpless civilian refugees. Advancing army columns were too much out of step to do the civilians much good. It was neither an operation that had anything to boast about nor one to celebrate…  

8.3 Doctoring Under Fire

…There was no place guaranteed safe from shells. When Killinochchi hospital had to be vacated, the doctors used shelter materials left behind by departing INGOs to put up temporary hospitals elsewhere. Each time they installed a GPSFix, and that should have protected hospitals from shelling. But hospitals at Vallipunam, Mullivaykkal and PTK were hit and the ICRC was wondering if the hospitals would be better off without the device, but the doctors argued that not having the device would be to give an open license to shell.

If a shell fell within 15 feet of them, the doctors learnt to shrug it off. Provided they were lying on the ground, they considered themselves safe unless the shell fell directly on them. Sivamanoharan, a senior medical student, was killed by a cluster bomb. These bombs were first dropped aerially in Killinochchi and were later shell-delivered, leaving behind a telltale net. The ICRC was given evidence of cluster bomb and phosphorous bomb use. Two civilians were incinerated by a phosphorous bomb falling near Putumattalan Hospital, which was captured on camera and sent to the ICRC and the UN.

For medical staff, the dead and dying are regularly brought to hospitals. They accept death as a part of the life in those conditions, and took little interest in body counts. What affected them most was their failure to save lives that their training and modern medicine had taught them to rescue.

A particular case was a young mother with a two-month-old suckling infant, who was admitted to the hospital with a shell injury on her leg. In those conditions of inadequate medical coverage, this patient suffered from septicaemia. She was admitted on a Friday and the next ICRC ship was on Monday. Under those privations there was little likelihood of the mother surviving. The infant could have been saved, had there been infant food. They had none in this instance. In some cases, they saved an infant by finding a willing surrogate mother among many malnourished mothers. In this instance both the mother and infant died. This was a result of the Government deliberately giving a low estimate of the population and allowing grossly inadequate supplies of essentials.

Doctors in the South should have known about this if they had any fraternal relationship with their Tamil colleagues. One such doctor asked a Southern colleague what he could do since he had no Formula 1 infant food, and only a small quantity of Formula 2. The latter told him simply to dilute Formula 2 and use it. The doctors in the South, unless they believed that their Tamil colleagues under fire were inveterate liars, knew of the dire shortage of essential supplies and medicines, but did not try to do anything about it. Nor did they support their colleagues who were detained and humiliated at the end of the war. This was in contrast to the Government Medical Officers Association’s concerned interventions in 1987.

One doctor, who was injured on his right hand and shoulder by a shell while leaving the war zone with other state officers, had to be carried and handed over to the Sri Lankan Army for medical care. He was locked up for eight days like a criminal, the early part in a cage, and was not seen by a competent doctor during that time.

Any other country would have acclaimed the exemplary service of government doctors in a war zone under unremitting fire, especially in the last five months. Instead, the Defence Ministry detained them after the war and humiliated them. They had been coached by a TV producer and exhibited before the media at the Media Centre for National Security, opposite the President’s Temple Trees residence on 8th July 2009. We understand that the time was fixed so that higher-ups at the Security Council meeting could watch live the broadcast of the exhibition across the road. The higher-ups were, reportedly, overjoyed at what the doctors said as useful for the cover up. Yet sadly, this was the first time the doctors lied and that too under duress. At that time the UN was saying very little, and did not give any indication that they would protect those who spoke the truth and had taken immense risks to keep them minutely informed. Under these circumstances, once in government custody, the doctors could not rule out the possibility of their own disappearance.

To arraign these doctors publicly over their earlier statements on high casualties and the dire shortage of essential supplies is to seek blind comfort in refusing to face the harrowing reality hundreds of thousands of their country folk lived through. The doctors did an honest and dedicated job under impossible conditions…  

8.4 Public Servants’ Dilemma: To Serve the Public or Government Propaganda?

The UN Panel records that doctors and government officers were continually threatened by their superiors not to make their reports accessible to the outside world. Following his situation report of February, Additional Government Agent (GA) K. Parthipan was told by W.K.K. Kumarasiri, Secretary to the Ministry of Nation Building, that his figure of 330,000 IDPs was ‘arbitrary and baseless’ and that the Government would be ‘reluctantly compelled’ to take disciplinary action against him for providing ‘wrong information to any source especially in regard to IDP figures.’

Prior to October 2008, when the Government ordered International NGOs to quit the Vanni, the Government Agents (GAs) of Mullaitivu and Killinochchi placed the population in the Vanni at 429,000 persons (205,213 persons in Killinochchi District and 223,846 persons in Mullaitivu District).

 

In a report on the Internally Displaced Persons controversy in late 2008 as the final military operation was under way, the Asian Tribune (4 Nov.2008) reflecting the Government’s standpoint in ‘Who is lying on the IDP figures in the two Vanni districts – GAs or UN?’ stated:

 

S.B. Divaratne - Commissioner General of Essential Services while participating in the meeting held yesterday afternoon in the Ministry of Disaster Management asked how come the UN Agencies referred [sic] that they were supplying food and other essential items to 230,000 people in the two Vanni districts, when the total population in those two districts will not exceed 120,000 people?... Sources further said those inflated figures were provided by the two Government Agents, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi, on the instruction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. They said that Tigers wanted to have additional dry rations provided by the Government for them and for those martyred families. They ordered the GAs to provide inflated figures. They know very well that there was no way of checking those figures.”

 

Yet for years, policy was made based on these same GA figures, making allowance for the peculiarities and uncertainties of a situation fraught with displacement. But as of September 2008 the Government aggressively disregarded the GAs and insisted on their own politically motivated low figures.

 

The UN agencies – which ought to have known better – were so hectored and bullied by the Government that they too ignored the GAs. They made a political compromise, opting for a midway, yet still far too low, figure of 230,000 in November 2008, which the Government deemed too high.[2] In retrospect, it would appear that the Government expected huge civilian casualties in the sequel, or simply didn’t care whether they got sufficient relief. Additional GA K. Parthipan was in charge of the government administration of Mullaitivu, thereby incurring responsibility for the entire displaced population after the GA left the war zone in January. He sent several letters and messages to the Government on the plight of the civilians living under constant shelling with both food and medicine grossly inadequate. We received through a friend, Parthipan’s responses to queries from us:

The population in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts was pretty constant until May/ June 2008. Then the IDP population in both Districts was increasing day by day, as many civilians fled other parts of the Vanni near the conflict frontlines to a safer location. I think the actual population at that time in Vanni might have been about 400,000.” He added that many had left the war zone by this time. In the table below, we show that the GAs’ figures for the resident or local population in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu, as indicated by Parthipan, have a high degree of reliability.

Parthipan’s numbers against numbers entering closed IDP camps – the figures in brackets are from matching Parthipan’s information with estimates in the Addendum to this chapter and the severity of the situation:

 

Date

Addl. GA’s Figures

Incremental Decrease

Increase in IDP Camps

Missing

1 Jan 09

380,000 (387,000)

 

 

 

22 Jan 09

350,000 (GA M’tivu)

30,000

 

 

28 Feb 09

330,000 (334,000)

20,000 (53,000)

37,000

13,000 (16,000)   

31 Mar 09

305,000 (305,000)

25,000 (29,000)

20,000

5,000 (9,000)

28 Apr 09

165,000 (165,000)

140,000 (140,000)

115,000

25,000 (25 000)

25 May 09

0

165,000 (165,000)

118,000

47,000 (47,000)

Total

 

380,000 (387,000)

290,000

90,000 (97,000)

 

Since we know that 290,000 was roughly the number of persons who entered closed IDP camps by the end of May 2009, the most crucial indicator of casualties is the number of civilians in the war zone in early 2009.

 

Again from Parthipan: “In December, 2008 and January, 2009, collection of population figures was difficult owing to massive and multiple displacements, and advancement of SLA into Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts and heavy shelling… Gradually, the LTTE area was shrinking and in mid-February 2009 almost all the people that remained in the Vanni had moved inside the 2nd No Fire Zone (NFZ) announced on 10th February 2009, and to the villages adjoining the NFZ.  From the middle of February, we started to count numbers of civilians remaining in the Vanni. Our officers were able to register about 330,000 persons (81,000 families) by the end of February, 2008.” (Situation Report[3] sent to the Government in early March 2009.)[4]

 

The enumeration above was the basis of the acceptance by many of 380,000 roughly as the civilian population in the war zone in early January 2009. By early March 37,000 had escaped to closed IDP camps and more than 6,000 had been killed (UTHR(J) Special Report No. 34, Let Them Speak: The Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War ). Parthipan’s figure of 380,000 In January above suggests much higher casualties. During January and February 2009 which saw the movement of the population from near Tharmapuram to Putumattalan under heavy shelling, while many attempted escape, a casualty count was impractical. The Government, which by then maintained that there were only 100,000 IDPs, was infuriated by Parthipan’s revelation. A retrieved copy of a second letter by Parthipan dated 31st March 2009 was made available to us. In it he said that there were in the Putumattalan zone 305,219 persons in 74,634 families (average family size 4.09). Owing to hostile responses with no additional food or medicine forthcoming from the Government (which by then insisted that there were 70,000 in the Puttumattalan zone), he apparently made no further formal entreaties.

 

The numbers and the method of estimation by ration cards and food stamp recipients, in both counts above, suggest undercounting of families while the overall population figures are in retrospect, credible. In both cases the family sizes of above 4.0 appear to reflect numbers in ration cards (10,000 dead would have led to a drop of about 0.1 in family size). What is known with reasonable certainty are the initial and final numbers. We have adjusted the intermediate numbers according to our assessment of the severity of casualties at the time based on UTHR Special Report No.34 and subsequent testimony.  

After the first exodus of IDPs during 20th-26th April when the Sri Lankan Army took a part of the safe zone, the Government maintained that there were only 15,000 – 20,000 civilians left in the LTTE-controlled southern half. An astonished senior Tamil leader Mr. V. Anandasangari told a colleague that he heard from Parthipan that there were in fact 165,000 left and he trusted Parthipan.

Parthipan’s superior Mrs. Imelda Sugumar (later the GA of Jaffna) had effectively supported him before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on 4th November 2010 by saying that there were nearly 350,000 people from the districts of Kilinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaittivu when she had left PTK on the 22nd of January 2009 (4.171 of LLRC Report). The Government has not publicly challenged her. 

The missing fall into several categories that will be discussed below. Parthipan’s figure of 165,000 for late April, reported by Anandasangari, cannot be dismissed a priori, as witnesses are agreed that the last month was the worst period, where hundreds of dead bodies were flung about everywhere towards the end. 

Parthipan’s figures cannot be faulted; they are a fair representation of the humanitarian plight of a section of citizens of this country. They formed a reasonable basis on which to provide relief supplies (did anyone insist on an accurate body count before appealing for tsunami assistance in 2004?). About 165,000 in the beleaguered safe zone in late April was far more credible than the 15,000-20,000 insisted upon by the Government, given that 118,000 survivors had already made it to IDP camps. Parthipan’s figures were remarkably close to the mark amidst the debilitating chaos…

Estimates of Civilian Losses – 97,000 Missing

 

The total civilian loss could be fixed with reasonable accuracy by paying special attention to Killinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts. The two populations given by the GAs in 2008 had family sizes of 3.82 and 4.08, respectively, which compare well with previous history and corresponding figures for Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Districts. For this reason we have no reason to doubt the family sizes given by the GAs’ 2008 figures for these rural areas. We also know the numbers in the survivor population, where the numbers of families are substantially the same as those of 2008, with no evidence of statistically significant migration of entire families out of the North. The strong continuity in numbers of families suggests that most dead combatants were from families resident locally. This is our starting point, which after a little work becomes quite informative. We give here a summary of our estimated 97,900 persons dead or missing (which includes conscripts killed in 2008) and leave it to the interested reader to look for details and the arguments in the Addendum to this chapter.  

  

1.      Deaths of civilians from military-related causes = 67,600

2.      Deaths owing to LTTE conscription and of cadres among Vanni families = 20,000

3.      Deaths from unknown causes and missing = 7,000

4.      Deaths from shooting by the LTTE of escaping persons = 3,000

We note that there is no way one could argue away the huge casualty figures. Based simply on survivor families corrected to include those who left the North, present and past family sizes, one would get a rough estimate of 51,000 missing for Killinochchi and Mullaitivu.

Given the date of the GA’s figures, a small fraction of the missing civilians and a larger fraction of the conscripts killed would have to be pushed back to 2008. Civilian casualties were marginal before 2009.   

8.7 The LLRC on Civilian Losses and Military Strategy

The LLRC report[5] released in November 2011 was designed in part to address issues raised by an earlier report from the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka[6] (UN Panel), which was issued on 31st March 2011. The latter charged the Government with shelling on a large scale three consecutive No Fire Zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons; and shelling hospitals and UN food distribution lines in spite of notification from its own intelligence systems and other agencies of the potential effects. The UN Panel further said that the Government deprived people in the conflict zone of food and medical supplies, to which end it purposefully underestimated the number of civilians who remained in the conflict zone.

The LLRC Report did not explicitly challenge the Killinochchi and Mullaitivu GAs’ figures (e.g. GA Mullaitivu’s testimony before the LLRC (4.171) that there were 350,000 civilians in the war zone on 22nd January 2009), but gave Addl. GA Parthipan’s 330,000 at the end of February 2009 alongside UN estimates of 120,000 to 190,000 at the end of March. It made no attempt to clarify these divergent figures. The LLRC made no reference to 305,219 for the end of March given in Parthipan’s second situation report. Nor did the LLRC seek clarification from the Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES), Mr. S.B. Divaratne, who, in opposition to the GAs, gave a far lower, figure of 120,000 for the population in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts in late 2008. One takes his lower figure to be arbitrary as the basis was never revealed and the GAs’ figures had hitherto been routinely accepted.

 

The LLRC does not contradict the contention that there were heavy civilian casualties, but is rather at pains to justify military strategy and practice.

 

The LLRC Report says in Section III, “In evaluating the Sri Lanka experience in the context of allegations of violations of IHL (International Humanitarian Law), the Commission is satisfied that the military strategy that was adopted to secure the LTTE held areas was one that was carefully conceived, in which the protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority.” The Report dwells a good deal on the LTTE’s absence of concern for IHL and its callous attitude to civilian casualties, and adds below:

 

“…it is also incumbent on the Commission to consider the question, while there was no deliberate targeting of civilians by the Security Forces, whether the action of the Security Forces of returning fire into the NFZs (No Fire Zones) was excessive in the context of the Principle of Proportionality. Given the complexity of the situation that presented itself as described above, the Commission after most careful consideration of all aspects, is of the view that the Security Forces were confronted with an unprecedented situation when no other choice was possible and all ‘feasible precautions’ that were practicable in the circumstances had been taken.”

 

The LLRC, while not denying enormous civilian losses, makes a case to relegate them to collateral damage, unavoidable in fighting an enemy such as the LTTE, which was callous and ruthless besides having cynical disregard for the rules of war. But the facts are not all as the LLRC would have it. It has for instance accepted the official version (LLRC 4.158) that difficulties in supplying civilians were created by the LTTE opening fire at food convoys. However the UN Panel cites testimony that both sides used food convoys as cover to advance their positions.

 

In a bid to demonstrate the care with which the Government demarcated No Fire Zones, the LLRC cited the Army Commander’s letter to the ICRC of 19th January 2009 on the need to demarcate boundaries so as to keep civilians away from the fighting. The UN Panel points out that the demarcated zone encompassed the LTTE’s western and southern defence lines, the latter only 800 metres north of the advancing troops. On the 24th, four days after the zone took effect, massive shelling from army lines hit the NFZ, leaving many dead and mangled in the UN compound at Suthanthirapuram where people collected rations. UAV’s provided the Army a view of what they were shelling. Even on the evidence the LLRC presents, it is not wholly true, as it makes out, that the LTTE was preventing people from crossing into government territory. Government shelling and cross fire were frequently determinants of the direction of civilian flight…

 

8.8 Debates about the War: Dangers of Forgetting

 

To those who do not like the GAs’ statistics for the Vanni in 2008, it has become sufficient to dismiss the data by calling its compilers names, rather than to study the information’s history, context and continuity. After all, these numbers come from an interactive mechanism we had in place for two centuries and cannot be entirely arbitrary.

 

In 4.304, the LLRC mystifies the problem of determining the numbers in the NFZ, and uses the involvement of the international agencies ICRC and WFP in providing relief to exonerate the Government from the charge that it deliberately downplayed the number of civilians in the NFZs for the purpose of starving the civilian population as a method of combat. The LLRC has completely ignored the manner in which doctors and officials in the NFZ were threatened and intimidated and harassed after the war. Having gone over the matter at length, we cannot but agree with the UN Panel’s assessment that ‘the Government had more than sufficient information at its disposal during the final stages of the armed conflict to accurately estimate the number of civilians in the Vanni’.

 

The LLRC also overstepped its investigative mandate by editorialising in its discussion of the Channel 4 images. Experts enlisted by UN Special Rapporteurs Philip Alston and Christopher Heyns judged the images to be authentic. LLRC’s experts Chathura de Silva and E. A. Yfantis threw doubt on the authenticity of the images. de Silva concludes, “The events shown in these footages are staged, manipulated with special digital effects and finally transcoded to a mobile format”. It is an area too arcane for laymen, not least because subjective elements are already encoded in the video images…

 

The MARGA[7]-facilitated Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice[8] (Numbers Game) has gone beyond the LLRC to give explicitly low casualty estimates.[9] It drives towards a strong conclusion: ‘the only actual evidence shows war crimes to have been committed by the LTTE’. It accuses all who have faulted the Government – including the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Panel, ICG, Gordon Weiss, and Frances Harrison – of attempting to present not actual evidence but rather a ‘smoking gun’, with the aim of triggering an international inquiry.[10] But is that not a legitimate, if not the primary, way forward when the Government denies access to most of the evidence and witnesses? The Government has no credibility left to plead unfair treatment by the international community after the ham handed way it blocked any credible hearing into the violations placed in 2006 before the official committee of inquiry. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons who were invited were practically insulted and shooed away (see UTHR(J) Reports 35, 33 and 30, the Five Students and ACF cases).

 

Numbers Game argues its case: High resolution satellite imagery reveals that shells fired by the Sri Lankan Army, whether artillery, rocket or mortar during the months of February to May, mostly avoided the crowded concentrations of civilians in the second and third No-Fire-Zone, and that towards the final weeks there was hardly any artillery use (as distinct from mortars)…Aerial photographs taken by international camera crews support the conclusions reached from studying the satellite images; and reveal that the second and third No-Fire-Zones do not display the visual markers of having been indiscriminately bombarded with heavy artillery or rockets from MBRL’s…The [tents] are so densely packed together that if these areas were indeed attacked with artillery and rockets, the resulting fires would have destroyed vast swathes of the tent city.”

 

The last sentence shows the danger from arguing in a vacuum that spurns human experience and tries to draw conclusions from patches and craters in photographs. Civilians were indeed bombarded with white phosphorous shells and were lethally burnt without causing a forest of tent fires. How much of human experience did these ‘high resolution’ photographs reveal? Bodies daily laid out near Putumattalan Hospital, piles of dismembered limbs of amputees, bodies strewn everywhere especially in the last days, people sometimes having to sit on bodies or rely on corpses as cover from shelling? Shelling was their constant companion and large casualties a fact of life. The issue is not the relative density of pockmarks in former civilian concentrations and elsewhere, but rather the reality that civilians were frequently hit. The analysis of satellite imagery by ‘Numbers Game’ is ironic, because their significance has been widely regarded by international expertise as pointing to heavy civilian casualties caused by the Sri Lankan forces, and even war crimes.[11] No analysis can contemptuously override the experience of the victims.

 

The Numbers Game’s golden key to discredit Parthipan’s figure of 330,000 in the war zone at the end of February as ‘overcooked’ is again technology – the estimate made using UNOSAT Quickbird and Worldview satellite images. Mainly on the basis of counting tents the UN arrived at the figure of 267,618 persons in the war zone on 28th February 2009. Numbers Game places much confidence in the fidelity of this figure; which is in any event much closer to Parthipan’s 330,000 than the Government’s 70,000. However sophisticated the error analysis leading to this figure, it does not alter the fact that what was counted was the number of tents and not how crowded these tents were or how and where the people really lived. At that stage many were still staying in Iranapalai and Anandapuram, outside the NFZ, owing to conditions in the latter.

 

Indeed, taking their figure of 267,618 and another 34,646 persons in IDP camps (outside the theatre of war) at the end of February as the means to casualty estimates, one gets 12,000 after subtracting 290,000, the final number of persons to reach IDP camps. This 12,000 is close to Numbers Game’s estimate. How times change: among the Sinhalese intelligentsia at that time, any humanitarian agency estimate going beyond the official 50,000 to 70,000 (in Mid-March 2009) was unwelcome infringement of sovereignty. Now those same estimates serve to exonerate the Government of war crimes! ...

 

8.10 Commons, Military Colonization and Sinhalisation: Military Abuse of the Commons as “Development”

 

In Lanka, Sampoor provides just another sorry example of the military capture of an area, the declaration of a high security zone over 56.4 square miles (146 sq. km) of villages and commons, followed by the leasing of land to crony capitalists. 37.5 square miles (97 sq. km) were given by the Government on a 99-year lease for a zone of heavy industries to Gateway Industries (SLGI), owned by Prabath Nanayakkara, a modest tea estate owner, who had a meteoric rise to stardom under Rajapakse patronage.[12] Associated with the first lady’s brother’s son Dilshan Wickremasinghe, Prabath Nanayakkara came into the favoured circle of businessmen[13] and eventually to dabble in projects worth billions of US dollars (the Sampoor project is to cost 4 billion USD[14]). Writing in China’s Forays in Sri Lanka Rajeev Sharma says (South Asia Analysis Group Oct.2012)[15]: “Prabath and Dilshan's hand has become omnipresent with several projects that span the entire spectrum from highways to expressways and from roads and bridges to buildings[16]…As local agent, [the commission earned by his Asset Holdings] depends on the value of the project negotiated. Generally, it is said to be range between 10 and 15 percent of the contract value. Sometimes, it can be a little more depending upon the circumstances of the deal like, for instance, competition.”

 

The Chairman of SLGI claims that the land in Sampoor was crown land and dismisses as forgeries the deeds more than a hundred years old produced by the locals. M.M.C. Ferdinando, the Chairman of the Board of Investment who leased the land to Gateway told the Sunday Leader, even if these lands had been used for farming in the past, we must look at the investments such a project will bring to the country. The development will see over 20,000 jobs created, and will help improve the standard of living of the locals.” This is trying to present robbery of Tamils and the ideological goal of Sinhalisation, as done for the good of local Tamils who have suffered murder and their rights trodden over.[17] And who are these men to make these high handed claims over the heads of the victims, except that they act at the behest of the occupying army and executive of a lawless state? Colonialism with a fairly independent judiciary could not have been worse for the people.

 

The coal power plant eventually required 500 acres of land (Island, 7th August 2011), but the high security zone status over the entire area was maintained and the displaced were prevented from accessing their lands. On 21st October 2011, in answer to a question raised by R. Sampanthan MP, Basil Rajapakse responded that any land that is not necessary and which will not be acquired for the construction of the power plant will be given back to these people and they will be resettled.” The Indian power plant needs only 500 of the 12,000 acres, as the Indian Embassy told the locals several years ago. The Indian government’s present silence is deafening, although the Sri Lankan government uses the power plant as the pretext to deny access to the displaced locals.

 

The Chairman of SLGI and head of the project, the Sunday Leader reported (22 Jul.2012), denied that the land which is to be developed was inhabited by anyone. “I am aware of the court case going on and our lawyers have requested that we be named as respondents so we can clear our names. The land is owned by the state and is leased by the Board of Investment (BOI); in turn we have leased the land from the BOI. These people who claim it is their land have produced false deeds before the court.”[18]

 

The latter claim was hotly denied in Parliament by M. Sumanthiran MP, who asserted that the deeds were genuine, dating back over a hundred years. Contrary to pledges made six years earlier, this adds another increment to robbery and Sinhalisation in Mutur. The livelihoods and lands of the Sampoor folk have been sacrificed to the greed of Presidential cronies who would change alliances with changes in government.

 

The British practice used to take over Kandyan commons by declaring them unoccupied state lands, was terrible, but it is far more obscene to watch governments of independent Lanka do the same to a minority who have suffered no less grievously than the Kandyan peasantry during the 1818 rebellion. The similarities in the practice are ironical. The State used the Army to get the Sampoor folk out of their lands and to keep them out.

 

The people were forced to flee military shelling and bombing in August 2006. The President said on 4th September 2006 that they recaptured Sampoorpurely for the benefit of the people”. Speaking to the Daily Mirror (5th September 2006), the Military Spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe categorically stated that “the threat posed by the LTTE to the Trincomalee harbour and the adjoining naval base was no more following the successful operation involving the three forces.” He added that once the area was cleared, the civilians could resettle in the next few days. That did not happen…

 

The enormous money the Government spends on military edifices and bases, contrasts sharply with its abject treatment of the civilians mauled by its cannon, whose relief should have been the first priority of any self-respecting government. The Defence Ministry’s approach is to look for trouble where there is none: “There is no doubt [that] the remnants of the LTTE in foreign countries are making fresh efforts to resort to terrorism again in Sri Lanka by smuggling arms and ammunition to the country.”[19]

 

8.11 Without Truth, War has No End and Peace No Beginning

The State continues to protect a reputation which has been tarnished internationally, through repeated denials and most crucially on pushing its own version of the latter stages of the war. The result was an atmosphere of terror, where the Government has been lashing out wildly at all evidence of its culpability. The victims still fear to speak out, leading to a situation fraught with abuse, as illustrated by the arrests of human rights defenders during the 2014 March UNCHR sessions in Geneva. The arrests centred on that of Jeyakumary Balendran (51), a widow. Mrs. Balendran who has a 13-year-old daughter to look after, was undoubtedly among the most closely watched persons in Vanni owing to her public campaign for the disappeared, including that of her 15-year-old son Mahindan, whom she surrendered to the Army after the war. Two elder sons died in the war. Mahindan was subsequently sighted and photographed at Ambepussa Rehabilitation Camp, which photo she carries.[20] The State incarcerated Mrs. Balendran for allegedly harbouring an agent called Gopi with plans to revive the LTTE, from whose house, Ambassador Aryasinha bafflingly told the UNCHR in Geneva, a Menelab mine detector was recovered.

Jeyakumary’s arrest was followed by detention under the PTA for two days of human rights defender Ruki Fernando, widely credited for his impartiality, along with Fr. Praveen, who went to the area to inquire after Jeyakumary’s arrest.

Jeyakumary, the tip of the Iceberg: The following is Jeyakumary’s side of the story of her arrest as obtained from people close to her: ‘After having lunch at about 3.30 PM on 13th March 2014 when her 13-year-old daughter Vibushika was at the door, a stranger wearing maroon-colour T shirt and black trousers, and carrying a back pack, stormed into the house saying, “If you shout I will strangle your neck”. Both mother and daughter came out of the house shouting for help. Just then, 4-5 men in uniform came through the gate and the women told these persons that there is a stranger inside. One of the uniformed men went inside and after a while they heard a gunshot. The uniformed man came outside with the stranger without any injury and without any apparent hurry. Thereafter two other uniformed men went inside. It was then that mother and daughter became aware that a large force of armed security personnel had surrounded their house.’ According to an eye-witness, security men tortured Jeyakumary for six hours, pulling her hair and kicking her with their boots on, to extract a signed confession in Sinhalese.[21]

The fugitive man, according to the official story, shot and injured a police officer from inside Jeyakumary’s house, which bleeding officer was then evacuated by ambulance first to Killinochchi Hospital (http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/dbsjeyaraj-column/44821-tharmapuram-shooting.html). This claim has not been corroborated by the Killinochchi or Vavuniya hospitals that our sources checked. Nor has it been explained how the gunman clean escaped through the security cordon around Jeyakumary’s house.

At this time many were being detained by the TID without respect for age or sex in humiliating and utterly wretched conditions, including elderly women and wives detained as hostages. Many of the detentions in Boosa we came to know of were in March 2014 and on very facile pretexts.

   

Our sources said that the security forces ostensibly on the lookout for a former LTTE cadre Gobi who had evaded rehabilitation, took into custody a pregnant woman Sharmila (26) and her  mother-in-law Selvanayakam Rasamalar (62) from Trincomalee, although they insisted that their husband/son was in fact a Kajeepan.  Also detained was the mother’s helper Puvaneswary Kulasingam (52). Three days after being detained, Sharmila miscarried her foetus of three months and experienced severe pain and anguish after she was threatened with being pushed out of the notorious fourth floor, and forced to sign a confession in Sinhalese. In the room she was taken to she had seen around nine tortured men in great pain with injuries and bloodstains.  Also detained was Kanapathipillai Yogarani (61), who was supported by her expatriate sons sending money to her account. Another detainee was Mrs. Loganathan whose husband was tortured by the TID. The lady Ravinthiran Vathani in Boosa, who had lost her husband, was a mental wreck denied medical and psychiatric care. Ten employees in a bakery in Dehiwala from the Vanni were detained because the owner had prospered and come into possession of a chain of bakeries and hence suspected of getting his capital from Tamil expatriate sources.

 

The most sensational revelations about the LTTE resurgence played up during the UNHRC sessions in March 2014, leading to the vote on the 27th, came from leaks by security sources to just one journalist, a Tamil, and cited by others generously commending his expertise. A report on Jeyakumary’s arrest and apparent culpability was published in the Daily Mirror of 22nd March and followed a week later by a report linking those detained in the Dehiwala bakery to a plot to assassinate the President and his Defence Secretary brother. Further reports suggest that most bakery detainees were quietly released after the drama.

 

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana told the state-controlled Daily News (4th April 2014) that Kajeeban alias Gopi and his accomplices were tasked to revive the LTTE in the North and LTTE diaspora communities in many countries including Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand have adopted ‘subtle manoeuvres to sow the seeds of terrorism in the country [by] sending money to women folk who supported them in the North’.

 

In trying to present to the world the reincarnation of the roaring Tiger, what our Defence Establishment has actually shown is a few dozen tortured mice, including elderly and young women, cringing in Boosa, having suffered various degrees of torture. The Gazette notification of 21st March 2014 proscribing several expatriate Tamil organizations and individuals in the West functioning within the law opens the door to further stereotyping of Tamils, arbitrary action against individuals who act within the law and NGOs receiving expatriate money. As though not convinced themselves, the Defence Authorities have raised the spectre of a highly organised Tiger network in the West trying to build up the Tigers on the ground by sending money to elderly and needy relatives, turning the latter into Tiger suspects and potential torture victims. Were it actually so, those countries that have every reason to be concerned have said nothing.

 

Persons in Jeyakumary’s neighbourhood who have been consistently critical of the LTTE for many years roundly dismiss any suggestion that Jeyakumary was complicit in reviving the LTTE. Other sources are broadly in agreement. The whole affair with arbitrary arrests and hostage taking came up at the time a vote was to be taken at the UNHRC, Geneva, and the Government was clamouring for attention alleging an incipient terrorist revival, the standard pretext for repressive measures. 

 

On 9th April 2014, Uthayan reported the receipt of information that Kajeepan had been arrested by the TID the previous day, but the police spokesman they telephoned did not answer. His wife said he was missing from January and that raises questions. On 11th April, the Defence Spokesman Wanigasooriya said in a live briefing[22] that in the early hours of 11th April 2014 ‘three armed suspects who attempted to escape the area confronted the troops in the cordon’ resulting in Sundaralingam Kajeepan (alias Theviyan), Selvanayagam Kajeepan (alias Gobi?) and likely Navaratnam Navatheepan (Appan), being killed. Wanigasooriya added that a pistol, two grenades and three pouches were recovered at the site (The Nation e-paper 11 Apr.14). That hardly sounds like a confrontation and even less an LTTE revival. The Nation (and Sunday Times) quoted the official Defence Ministy communiqué in their 13th April Sunday edition, which omitted the anticlimactic detail about an LTTE revival on a pistol and two grenades among the three alleged protagonists. Kajeeban’s family was allowed only a brief look at the body having three gunshot injuries. The family asked the Army for the body, but was refused.

 

Thus the Government’s contrived LTTE revival during the Geneva hearings, gave at best India a pretext to abstain from voting. If one is looking for precedents, judging from the lies about Jeyakumary, the whole affair reads like the Bathroom Coup of 1966 (see Ch.7) – high drama replete with deaths of innocent ‘suspects’ and subversive leaflets that had no substance. There must be enough LTTE cadres who bribed their way out of IDP camps in 2009 to provide the Government material for periodic LTTE revivals. On 15th April 2014, the Defence Secretary speaking at the Defence Services Asia conference in Malaysia asserted that there is no more terrorism in Sri Lanka, but rather that the LTTE’s overseas networks were hyper-active. Nothing was said about Gobi, the recent attempted revival of the LTTE or the planned assassinations of the President and Defence Secretary from a bakery. And yet arrests were continuing in the North, numbering several hundred according to press reports, of young rehabilitated ex-cadres and even elderly women with no history of violence.

 

Whether all these harsh security measures, contrary to official pronouncements that there is no more terrorism, reflect a political compulsion to keep the Sinhalese electorate on a war-footing against the minorities, is a pertinent question. But then, will the ex-cadres and the Tamil community in general, ever be rehabilitated? Moreover, such severe measures against a minority, while officers of the state who systematically carried out appalling crimes walk scot-free, lacerate the credibility of the State (Appendices 2 – 4).   

 

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[1] On the other hand, the LTTE’s atrocities in the South were given much more prominence than the violent acts and general trend of military violence against Tamil civilians. (See Ch.7: Jaffna disappearances.) We wrote two detailed reports in 2009 on the end of the war; this chapter will briefly review these events with a view to establishing more certainty on the possible loss of life in January to May 2009.

 

[2] http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/srilanka1208webwcover.pdf

[3] http://www.sangam.org/2009/03/Letter_WFP.pdf

[4] 4.172 of LLRC Report: “Another Government Official who had been serving in the conflict areas stated that the Government Agent Vavuniya had requested them to conduct a survey of the number of people in the Mathalan, Ampalavanpokkanai, Mullaivaikkal area and this was done through the 250 Grama Sevaka divisions which were functioning at the time. The basis of the survey had been the ration cards which had been issued to the people who were regularly given food stamps. Based on this survey he stated that there were about 330,000 people.”

 

[5] http://slembassyusa.org/downloads/LLRC-REPORT.pdf

 

[6] http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/POE_Report_Full.pdf

[7] Marga Institute is a think-tank based in Colombo leaning towards the establishment.

[8] http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice

[9] Up to 15,000 civilians potentially killed, up to 3000 shot or drowned while trying to escape and at least 10,000 LTTE ‘combatants or auxiliaries’ killed. It places about 1000 civilian deaths as owing to natural causes, while neglecting the infants born in the war zone, many of whom died owing to shortages of food and medicine.

[10] Nunbers Game has accused Bishop Joseph Rayappu of clerical extremism matching ‘the bhikkus of the Sinhala Right’. They, like the CID who questioned the Bishop, seem ignorant of the GAs’ 2008 figures that prompted his assessment of missing persons as a figure in need of clarification. Indeed, the GAs’ figures continue to appear in official publications. The two GAs are yet in government service and have not retracted their figures.

[11]Based on analysis of these larger shelling zones, it was concluded that damages to the specific protected sites were, in fact, not the result of isolated or misdirected artillery fire, but part of much larger shelling events, best characterized as area bombardment. Considering the volume of munitions deployed over such large areas and the depleted state of LTTE forces, there was little doubt that only the Sri Lankan army was capable of such heavy and sustained artillery fire. Detailed maps and quantitative figures on these shelling zones were presented to the [UN] Panel for consideration as compelling cases of indiscriminate and disproportionate military force by the Sri Lankan army in areas densely populated with tens of thousands of displaced Tamil civilians.” –  Joshua Lyons, Documenting violations of international humanitarian law from space: a critical review of geospatial analysis of satellite imagery during armed conflicts in Gaza (2009), Georgia (2008), and Sri Lanka (2009), International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 94, No.886, Summer 2012)

[12] http://www.china.org.cn/world/Off_the_Wire/2013-06/21/content_29192380.htm

[13] http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20070715/spotlight.htm

[14] http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130616/news/us-4b-heavy-industry-zone-in-sampur-49055.html

[15] http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/node/1022

[16]Prabath’s Asset Holdings represent Metallurgical Construction Co. (MCC), China Harbour Engg Co. (CHEC), Sinohydro Corp, China National Machinery & Equipment (CMEC), and China Huanqiu Contracting & Engineering Corporation (HQCEC) are the main Chinese players in Sri Lanka. These companies are doing virtually all the Chinese funded projects in the country. It is said that the tie-up with CMEC isn’t exclusive.

[17]  http://www.uthr.org/bulletins/Bul45.htm, http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport26.htm

[18] http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/07/22/development-ousts-tamil-families-from-sampoor/ http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/Current_Affairs/ca201306/20130620special_zone_heavy_industries_at_sampur_proceed.htm

[19] Land in the Northern Province, Bhavani Fonseka and Mirak Raheem, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dec. 2011 and http://www.navy.lk/index.php?id=2547

 

[20] The photograph of the son Jeyakumary carries, we learnt, was taken by a European photographer at the Ambepussa Rehabilitation Camp.

[21] See Women’s Action Network Statement, April 8, 2014

[22] http://newsfirst.lk/english/2014/04/three-wanted-ltteleaders-killed-nedunkerni/30029


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