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University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)

Sri Lanka


Information Bulletin No. 47

Date of Release: 17th April 2009

LTTE Is No Excuse For Killing Vanni Civilians


0. Shrouded in Lies: An Introductory Note 2

1. The Current War Experience 3

2. Cost to Regional Stability and the Need for an International Response 4

3. Impunity and the Humanitarian Tragedy 5

4. The LTTE and the Expatriate Tamil Community 7

5. Sri Lankan Government: Playing Hide and Seek with International Norms 8

6. The Continuing Saga of Vanni Civilians 9

6.1 Young Mothers in the No-Fire Zone 9

6.2 Conscription of Children and Young Adults 10

6.3 Trauma and Tragedy of Escape 10

6.3.1 Father perished with a son, Saving another son 11

6.3.2 Patchai-Mattai Punishment for wanting to leave: 11

6.3.3 Anger and tragedy among people cornered by working for the LTTE: 11

6.3.4 Killed for Desertion!: 12

6.3.5 Father Killed by Sniper, Son he was carrying Drowns: 12

6.4 Stolen Lives: Died in Enforced Action 13

6.5 A Second Chance 14

6.6 A Noble Old Lady: Bereaved by Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers 14

6.7 Will the good work of a section of the Army be undone by the political extremism? 15

6.8 Disaffection with Welfare Centres 15

Appendix I: The LTTE’s Long-running Peace for War Drama 16

Appendix II: The Government’s Resort to Extra-Judicial and Unlawful Action 18

0. Shrouded in Lies: An Introductory Note

A young mother is injured and her three month old baby killed by shell fragments as she breastfeeds the child in the government declared no fire zone.

Parents hide their children in roughly dug bunkers to escape LTTE press gangs who comb the no-fire zone for conscripts.

A woman loses her husband to sniper fire and the toddler he was carrying too drowns when they attempt to wade across a lagoon to escape the no-fire zone.

A father is shot in the head by LTTE members as he attempted to flee with his family.

We seldom receive independent accounts of current developments in the Vanni. The information provided in this bulletin is an exception. Given below are some cross-checked facts drawn from persons who recently escaped from the Vanni, which give the lie to the Government’s claims that it does not fire on the civilians and show clearly the LTTE’s cynical use of civilians as bargaining chips. They also speak to the impotence of the international community and India to stop the carnage. What we have learned:

·     Shells fall in the no-fire zone almost every day and take a heavy toll on civilians. Persons in regular touch with those who have escaped confirm that an average of 15 to 20 people die each day; either killed by shells or shot by the LTTE attempting to drive fear into would-be escapees.

·     The military is presently stationed some distance away from the lagoon. Thus they are able to spot movement – including movements of LTTE vehicles within the no-fire zone. Typically they rain a few shells soon after spotting a militant vehicle moving within the zone.

·     Persons who escaped on 8th April said that about the same day, the Army announced over speakers tied high up on palmyrah trees instructing the public to come across the lagoon into their area immediately, as they were going to advance into the no-fire zone. Soon afterwards, they fired a large shell right into the midst of the public, apparently to goad them into complying. This reportedly caused heavy casualties among the public. 

·     Many escapees from the no-fire zone testified to a heavy recruitment drive by the LTTE. The minimum age for conscription is now 14. There is no ceiling set on the maximum number that could be taken from one family.

·     The LTTE has recently started the practice of sending out teams of 6 cadres with instructions for each team to return with 30 conscripts. If they fail they are reportedly subject to heavy and often lethal punishment.

The Government today objects to ‘balanced criticism’ by governments, the UN and human rights agencies, because all of them demand restraint from it towards the besieged civilians. What the Government apparently seeks is a blank cheque to go on indulging in cost-free killing of Tamils in the name of warring against terrorism. Nothing can cover the absurdity of the Government’s position. The LTTE, confined and reduced by steady attrition poses no threat to the Government. It is merely postponing the inevitable, placing more and more conscripts and children before missiles of the Government, whom it is happy to blow to smithereens. This has been true for several months and a government with a minimal sense of responsibility should have looked to other political means.

As for the LTTE, most countries that count have declared it a terrorist group. In its present state of decay no one is going to breathe political life into it, unless the Government and the Sinhalese polity bungle their political act hopelessly. This is what they are doing by firing into the civilians in the no-fire zone and thereby committing a crime against humanity. These and other issues will be discussed in greater detail below, including the role of Tamil expatriates. We will conclude with several cases exemplifying the plight of civilians in the no-fire zone.

1. The Current War Experience

The cases we give below in Section 6 show that civilians, lactating mothers and infants continue to die of shelling in the no-fire zone. These are not all cases of the Army firing in response to the LTTE firing from their midst, while that too has often happened as we have said before. In early March 2009, there was a furore when the UN Human Rights Commissioner cited figures of around 3000 civilians killed by shelling. Government responses varied from the angry to the argumentative. The main argument was that the Commissioner’s figures were too close to LTTE figures to be credible. But even a small fraction of the number would have been a poor reflection of how the Government was treating a minority. Methods, not numbers, are the issue. 

The fact is that mothers, children and infants were being blown up while attending to routine chores, feeding the family or cooking a meal. In these instances the LTTE firing from their midst is an unlikely possibility. Soon, the Government realised the futility of arguing about numbers. The civilian casualties mounted undeniably as troops got close to the government-declared No-Fire Zone, and were reportedly high during these advances.

While all this was going on the Government kept lying about its plans for zero civilian casualties, and to liberate civilians from terrorists, with occasional rhetorical gestures of a safe civilian corridor or demanding that the LTTE free the civilians, which it very well knew had no substance. Many of us hoped in vain that between, the international community, India and the Government, some plan would materialise to protect the civilians. Every plan crashed against the hard rock of divergent government and LTTE conditions for a cease fire.

Looking back on our war experience, there should never have been illusions about the numbers and intensity in civilian suffering. Operation Liberation in 1987, which lasted barely a week, claimed several hundred civilian dead, although civilians had been instructed to move to schools and places of worship.

The Kumaratunge government’s first operation to capture Jaffna in July 1995, which was aborted within a week, claimed over 300 civilian dead in bombing and shelling. That government was regarded politically more determined to win over the Tamils, and this showed itself in civilians being impressed with the behaviour of soldiers towards them in captured areas, but the dead were dead.

This time round in the Vanni, civilians have been fleeing for several months, decamping often and driven into a smaller areas. When they decamped and put up a tent in a new area, they thought it relatively safe until the shells began falling. There is nothing unbelievable about casualties running into several thousands, as exemplified by the thousands of injured shipped for treatment by the ICRC. Further military advances would be even harsher on the civilians. Government spokesmen, who say that they are doing this to liberate the civilians, and would somehow protect them, are lying. Much more needs to be done to ensure that, beginning with the monitoring of no-fire-zones.

When the first reports of the LTTE shooting at civilians who fled from its control emerged in February, there was widespread indignation against the LTTE, including among Tamil expatriates. But as the Government went on shelling even when the civilians were being corralled into a small area, the LTTE was able to gain much propaganda mileage. The LTTE too was cornered into a small area and posed no significant threat to the Government. But the Government’s imagination failed.

2. Cost to Regional Stability and the Need for an International Response

Amidst the euphoria of winning the war, the long term consequences to the country and the stability of the region are yet to feature in discussions. The minorities in Sri Lanka , including Muslims and Tamils outside the North-East are visibly disgruntled with a government so drunk with military success that it thinks it could get away with anything, from killing to attacking or incarcerating newspaper editors. Meanwhile a great deal of simmering hatred has been sown wherever Tamils live.

The electronic media has been efficient at conveying pictures of mangled civilians and legless children, regardless of government restrictions on the media. Said a general in Trincomalee refusing an Australian journalist who wanted to see the injured in hospital, “That is the way we want it.” Many of the photographs have been passed around depicting President Rajapakse as a Hitler, an honour earlier reserved for Prabhakaran. Rajapakse has been very unwise in his chosen fellow travellers.

These negative feelings though largely latent, are potentially destabilising. The Indian authorities are no doubt keeping their fingers crossed in a region where a journalist throwing a shoe in Delhi caused political tremors in Punjab. Even as the life of the old LTTE comes to a close, one-sided romanticisation of its leaders is already under way.

Left out of account and expunged from the annals of history are the young conscripts cruelly abducted from their parents and forced to die fighting, and no doubt often bravely. Nor is there any comparison between the early idealistic innocence of the Irish struggle, whose pioneers occupied Dublin Post Office in Easter 1916, and LTTE leaders who long wallowed in a culture of mass torture and execution of their own people.

In continuing the war in this fashion the Government may sow the ground for a more virulent afterlife for a mythified LTTE, and not just in Lanka. Continuation of firing at civilians in Mullaitivu is in no one’s interest. Most of all the civilians must have respite. Information coming in speaks of the situation becoming unbearably desperate. 

If the Government is really concerned about the trapped civilians, it should utilise any leverage the international community has, to effectively apply pressure on the LTTE to release the civilians. This might involve the UN and ICRC and their negotiating with the LTTE to open a genuine humanitarian corridor. The fate of the LTTE leaders is a political matter. The demise of the LTTE’s brand of politics is long overdue, and the longevity it enjoyed was the gift of the Sinhalese polity.

Given the deterioration of the humanitarian situation, an international body such as the UN Security Council needs to augment its attention and engage with a sense of urgency.  Taking into consideration the plight of the civilians, Sri Lanka being put on the UN Security Council’s agenda is imperative.  It could also pave the way for a UN Special Envoy and other UN officials to not only visit Sri Lanka but also the No-Fire Zone and inspect the humanitarian conditions of the people trapped there and find ways to ensure their release.  At a minimum, the presence of the UN officials on the ground will empower the trapped civilians to challenge the LTTE leadership and struggle for their release.  In addition, UN Security Council attention will also be important in addressing the ongoing violations of international humanitarian law.  The brutality, disregard for civilian life and impunity with which this war is continuing in its last stages requires nothing less.   

3. Impunity and the Humanitarian Tragedy

The unfolding tragedy in Sri Lanka is the outcome of the contest of destructive nationalisms, namely Sinhalese chauvinism and Tamil narrow nationalism, which have been devouring the body politic for the past six decades. The LTTE is now cornered militarily and its days as a territorial military force are virtually at an end. At the same time, the Sri Lankan government’s habitual use of the state apparatus for its anti-democratic actions is grossly undermining the rule of law along with prospects for peace with justice.

The present humanitarian crisis reflects the prolonged degeneration of the political culture in Sri Lanka , accompanied by impunity. Successive governments aggravated alienation among the minorities and the rural populace, allowing violently anarchic, anti-systemic forces to take root. A country with a high literacy rate that was considered an exemplar in the Third World during the 1960s, became blighted by unchecked human rights abuse by state and non-state parties.  

The Tamils all over the world have been mobilised by the expatriate LTTE lobby, making use (one-sidedly) of their very real and legitimate concerns on the plight of scores of thousands of civilians trapped in Vanni. This distortion of reality would at best make a short-term impact on the international community and a section of the human rights community, but in the long term it would founder on the rock of credibility. LTTE abuses against Tamil civilians would inevitably come to light, even in a context where independent observers were being kept out by the government. It would further undermine the prospect of making the State accountable for its actions and would be detrimental to Lanka and in particular her minorities.

While the expatriate campaign is focused on the “Genocidal Sri Lankan State” (an accusation that requires deep scrutiny), it whitewashes the LTTE’s crimes against its own people whom it holds hostage. The LTTE and its expatriate backers are no less party to the large-scale killing of Tamil civilians by misrepresenting civilians as staying with the LTTE voluntarily and turning a blind eye its abuse of the people and their children who are constrained to die in large numbers. In doing so they enable the Sri Lankan state to argue that they are legitimate targets. Rather than help to resolve the conflict, it would drive the communities further apart and allow the Government to muzzle and goad the Sinhalese on an obscurantist course behind patriotic slogans, against an alleged worldwide conspiracy against them. 

How this obscurantism has worked is evident in the Government’s use of  ‘War on Terror’ as a slogan to unleash indiscriminate bombing and shelling in the conflict area with targeted killings and abductions in the South and areas of the North-East it controls, and to create fear psychosis all round. The gangrenous effects of the shelling of civilians in the Vanni and the executive protection of sections of the security forces involved in extrajudicial killings, will unfold in the months to come.

The present must be seen as a continuation of the culture of impunity engendered by communalism. Bouts of organised violence against Tamils in 1958, 1977 and 1983, with the State directly involved in the latter two, have been passed over without the healing touch of public accountability. It taught the Sinhalese to shrug these off as part of the normal order of things, not entirely undeserved by the victims. The rule of law became the politician’s plaything and the resulting culture underscores the weakness of civil society among the Sinhalese.  

The new Rajapakse government had to deal with the LTTE as a force for which negotiation was anathema and which dealt in constant provocations and assassinations, as the route to its maximalist goal.  But its political outlook, founded on hard line rhetoric and actions – its early public execution of five students in Trincomalee to start with – plunged it headlong away from saner and humane options. The squashing of the APRC that was meant to forge a political settlement, and the steep rise in targeted killings running into thousands, further exemplified the trend. 

The LTTE’s politics had given a clear logical basis for the hawkish section among the Sinhalese, its mirror image, to take the upper hand. This is what it wanted, in the expectation that the Sri Lankan State would continue to bungle militarily. The Tigers’ totalitarian mindset and overconfidence in their military prowess, based on suicidal missions and large scale military and financial networks across the world, blinded them. They failed to anticipate that the Sri Lankan state could also use its repressive apparatus and silence voices of sanity, to pursue a similar course with suicidal determination, and, like the Tigers, be snared into the alternatives of total military victory regardless of cost, or bust.

The civilians now find themselves wedged between the LTTE that is strategically using them as the final bargaining chip and the firepower of the Sri Lanka state, which is determined to finish the battle off as soon as possible. The LTTE has placed guns among civilians and has been firing at military lines from among them. Shorn of the window dressing of its propagandists, their aim is to use civilian hostages to demand a ceasefire that would give them some leeway to rebuild their political fortunes.

It has, as the cases discussed below show, used harshly punitive methods to prevent the civilians from fleeing. Those who saw them for what they were over the decades know the power of the suicidal mindset the LTTE cultivated among the population and its cadres. Yet many Tamils who had found new homes far from the scene of suffering dwelt in congenial myths.

4. The LTTE and the Expatriate Tamil Community

The vocal section of the expatriate community which now campaigns for a ceasefire previously evinced not the slightest interest in pressurising the LTTE to use the Norway-brokered peace process to work towards a political settlement. But the Diaspora is not monolithic and those dissenting from the LTTE opposed the war when it started in 2006, they were however in the minority. Even when the LTTE blatantly shredded previous ceasefires and deliberately imposed several rounds of war on an unwilling people, those who organise today’s rallies in Western capitals, went on supporting the LTTE’s terror politics and its military agenda, both of which were utterly detrimental to the Tamils who live in Lanka.

It is important to understand how the LTTE persistently undermined any process entered into by various governments willingly or under duress, which could have led to a peaceful resolution to the conflict. This historical sequence is sketched out in Appendix I. The recent Norway-brokered peace process too could have been used to secure peace with dignity, but instead the LTTE’s determination to abuse it for its ideological ends precipitated war in 2006.

During this latter phase killings and major human rights violations were routine on both sides. Expatriate Tamils did not organise protests against the war or apply organised pressure to both sides to begin negotiations. The Tamil media in Western countries continued confidently to air the view that the LTTE would counter-attack and recoup its losses. Only after the fall of Mullaitivu when the LTTE was cornered into a small shrinking space around Puthukkudiyiruppu, did the West witness copious protest marches and vocal demands for a cease fire.

At this stage thus, allegations of ‘genocide’ against the Sri Lankan government, and the portrayal of the LTTE as a force with an abiding interest in the Tamil people at heart, is utterly disingenuous. Civilians have been shown to be thoroughly dispensable for the LTTE. Illusions about the LTTE have been congenial for Tamils who have built their lives far from the shores of Lanka and have invested their emotions on an imaginary Eelam with no thought of what it would cost Tamils living in Lanka. These arm chair Eelamists were brainwashed mafia-style by the Tamil media controlled by the LTTE in the West and frog marched to support its agenda. It is now time to sweep aside shattered illusions and make a constructive re-evaluation on what they could contribute to their country and people who have undergone untold suffering through loss of life and limb.

5. Sri Lankan Government: Playing Hide and Seek with International Norms

What should be the strategy of a responsible government that is obliged to protect its citizens? It should allow no stone unturned to find means of protecting the civilians. Is the Sri Lankan government really doing that? Not only should it try every available means to get the civilians out, but it should also be able to convince the world that it is genuine in this endeavour. In attacking the UN and INGOs pejoratively and representing demands for a humanitarian ceasefire as pro-LTTE, the Government is exposing its desperation and paranoia, and the protection of civilians as low priority.

Whatever the Government’s spin doctors say, its handling of the IDPs and Tamil civilians besieged in the Vanni bespeaks extreme callousness. It continues to control the media and denies access to persons who could play a positive role in assisting the IDPs. It is also doing everything to punish those who are trapped in the No-Fire Zone, while claiming that it never attacked the civilians. Our cases demonstrate the contrary. 

After the government began its war against the LTTE, its military campaign was in due course taken over by those who dreamed of a military solution; those who stood for a political approach were sidelined. The former logically meant the ascension  of a Sinhalese hegemonist approach, involving death squads, terror and intimidation with racist overtones (see Appendix II).

This context needs to be taken into account in judging the actions of Tamil expatriates who reacted to news of these violations with increasing horror. But their actions in propping up the LTTE have been callousness in this hour of intense danger to their fellows; instead of seeing the LTTE for what it really is --  a murderous force that has destroyed so much and achieved nothing --  they have been prepared to prop it up by sacrificing the civilians and their children it holds hostage. This cannot be blamed entirely on the LTTE’s mafia-like control over their lives; it also speaks to their disconnectedness from the realities of recent life in Sri Lanka ; most have been resident abroad for decades.

The minorities and the sensitive among the Sinhalese are thoroughly alienated by the present government’s advocacy of Sinhalese chauvinism and its associated ideological aims, which are shot through its military campaign, and the insulting comments about the position of minorities uttered by those who now enjoy inordinate power, even power over the lives of those who disagree. Tamils who disagree with the LTTE and have sought to play an independent role have likewise been treated with utter contempt and driven up against the wall by a government interested in Tamils only as stooges and killers, so that it could continue to play Tamils against the Muslims.

Instead of admitting that there are serious structural problems with the State that would keep Sri Lanka an unhappy, bloodstained and stunted entity among nations, it has played with tokenism. All the grand gestures about reaching a political settlement have boiled down to the obcurantist sediment: How to provide some frills and preserve the Sinhalese hegemonist state? This is why playing with the 13th Amendment, which India still seems to advocate, has become irrelevant. The rulers’ attitude is also unrepresentative of the majority among Sinhalese who wanted peace with a political settlement, and many ordinary Sinhalese soldiers who have treated the displaced Tamils with compassion.

The work of the army unit receiving civilians escaping from the LTTE has been highly commended. These civilians felt touched by their warm reception and they were moved when an army officer offered his own food parcel to ravenously hungry escapees. But already the strain of detaining them in so-called welfare camps in conditions of want, where life inevitably becomes subhuman, is showing. 

6. The Continuing Saga of Vanni Civilians

6.1 Young Mothers in the No-Fire Zone

A young mother was feeding her three month old baby in the government declared No-Fire Zone (NFZ) in the Puthumathalan area. A shell fell very close and one piece killed the baby and another very severely injured the mother at the back of the shoulder. There is another mother in the hospital who lost her 7 month old baby through a very similar experience while breast feeding the child. This particular mother lost another two young children as victims to the same shell. The trauma suffered by these mothers is beyond description. The second one screams in her sleep. They were both brought via Trincomalee harbour by the ICRC.

There is also the case of a young mother keeping her injured baby. She had requested her husband to spoon feed the baby while she attended to some work. While the husband was doing this a multi-barrel shell fell and the husband was killed while the child escaped with injury as the result of being shielded by the man. This was also in the No-Fire Zone.

6.2 Conscription of Children and Young Adults

Thavarajah had been displaced from Pooneryn at the time the fighting reached his area about the middle of 2008. The people were pushed towards the present NFZ east of Puthukuddiyiruppu. At the end of March 2009 the LTTE conscripted his 13 year old daughter.

The minimum age for conscription is now 14 but as in the case above, it could be lower. There is no ceiling set on the minimum number that each family is obliged to give. The LTTE recently started the practice of sending out teams of 6 cadres with instructions for each team to return with 30 conscripts. If they failed they are subject to heavy punishment.

One escapee said how a relative of his, a female militant, whose group did not comply with the required number of recruits for the sake of conscience, was put on the front lines and got killed.

Consequently, parents keep their “eligible” children hidden permanently in bunkers. In cases where a militant or a set of militants pass by noticing the bunker, the father and/or adults in the family dig up another bunker, hidden as much as possible by weeds and bushes and move the young children to that bunker. This is in fear of the “spies” returning with a bigger group in order to capture the youngsters.

In another particular family trapped in the Vanni, the father is timid and would not bring himself to take any bold initiative. He had already suffered from the conscription of his second daughter. His third daughter is married with a child. The fourth daughter who is just 18 has just recently been wrested from the family and conscripted. The family is powerless.    

There are frequent incidents of groups of parents resisting violently the carrying away of their children. Many parents do not now go to the food distribution centres where the regular allocation of the quota of dried rations are given in the presence and over-sight of a militant for fear of letting them know that an eligible recruit was available.

All this has made the group overwhelmingly unpopular locally. People refer to the leaders, who have no sympathy for their plight, by names that are far from flattering. For some light relief they joke about their enforced martyrdom without honour.

6.3 Trauma and Tragedy of Escape

Over the last few months, when the trapped civilians have felt compelled to escape from the narrowed combat area, the militants have been very harsh on them, determined not to let a single one of them succeed. Only the severely injured were allowed to go with the ICRC. While maintaining publicly that the people are staying with them of their own free will, they have resorted to beating, threatening, shooting below the legs, arresting and severe beating up of those who attempt the escape and so on. Recently, several new IDP arrivals have testified to scattering over dead bodies as militants had opened fire on them as they had attempted the escape with a crowd of others. Such reports are quite common now.

6.3.1 Father perished with a son, Saving another son: During the second week of April, a father managed to save his 17 year old son from conscription in this way. However he was he was shot on the forehead and killed on the spot by a group of pursuing militants as he was making good his escape with his family. He had been leading a group of families along an escape route about 11.00 AM dodging militant sentries who had been placed at the edge of the NFZ. Just as they were part way across the lagoon, a group of militants spotted them and came after them firing. This father was carrying his 10 year son on his shoulders and fell just as he was climbing ashore at the other end. The younger son on his shoulders got injured just below his chest. He had initially started running with the crowd crying to his God for help, and then returned to his father and lay over his body sobbing in silence. In the meantime the wife, the 17 year son and his younger sister had, after getting to the shore run towards the army with their fellow escapees, thinking that the father was also coming behind them. The gun fire from the pursuing militants gave them no chance to stop and look behind. The escapees were encouraging each other to push ahead without a moment’s delay. It was only as they stopped at the other end that they were told by one who had come behind them that the father was fallen at the water’s edge and the son was injured and was clinging to the father. The elder son took out his purse with the NIC and other documents threw it on the ground and ran back. He picked up his younger brother, tugged at his father for some time only to spot the wound, and ran back. The army received them with real sympathy, fed them and gave priority to send this family to Omanthai. Word got to the brother of the deceased living in the government-controlled area. They went to Vavuniya. The mother and the injured son had been brought to Vavuniya hospital by this time. The boy succumbed to his injuries. The police OIC showed a lot of sympathy in responding to the request of the family to get the other two children down from Omanthai in order to take them to the funeral. He used his cell phone to get in touch with the officer in Omanthai, got them down and completed the paper work to release them. 

6.3.2 Patchai-Mattai Punishment for wanting to leave: In the early days after the declaration of the no fire zone along the Mulaitivu coast line, the civilian population was centred on Puthumathalan at the northern end of the NFZ. On one of those afternoons a crowd of around five thousand people had banded together and told the militants who had prevented them that they were going, come what may. After long attempts at “persuasion” they were told to go by a particular route as a group of trigger happy troops were hanging around very close-by along the other possible route. On this route, however, a huge team of militants with fresh palmyrah branches- the dreaded “patchai mattai” in Tamil, sticks and guns were positioned and waiting. The civilians were given very cruel treatment and chased back.

6.3.3 Anger and tragedy among people cornered by working for the LTTE: The following case is revealing of the tragic plight even of those who were working with the LTTE and their present predicament. A father, mother and her eldest daughter, were forced to move from Jaffna when the LTTE importuned an exodus in 1995. The eldest daughter was a teacher, who had been asked to teach LTTE cadres. When the Army began to move into the Jaffna peninsula during late 1995, the family was told insistently that the Army would kill the daughter who was teaching their cadres, and forced them to move into the Vanni. The other daughters of this family are in the West. Later on the eldest daughter was offered a teaching position in Jaffna, but the LTTE refused to give her family a pass to leave with her. She also had periodic depressions and because of this the parents did not want her to go to Jaffna alone. Even so, the LTTE refused the parents permission to leave the Vanni. The family too was pushed around during the recent military operation, finally reaching Puthkkudiyiruppu. Unable to bear the shelling the family decided to move out. The father and daughter arranged for the mother to travel in a tractor-trailer, while they travelled on bicycles. Barely had they gone about quarter mile, when the Army began shelling, hitting the father and some others nearby. The daughter who lay down on the ground escaped. The father who had a shrapnel injury was admitted to a makeshift hospital and later he and the mother were transported to Trincomalee. The mother was anxious to send the daughter first as she too was in need of medical care, but the LTTE denied her a pass. Now the parents are in Vavuniya while the daughter is with a known family from their village in the NFZ.

Recently, a boy from the family with whom the daughter is staying, phoned the sister in Canada and told her how they twice tried to escape and got caught. Once, they were stopped by an LTTE man from their village and asked to go back. He told them that since he knows them he is allowing them to go back, and if not they would have been executed as punishment. The sister from Canada asked the boy, how he came to tell all this on a phone provided by the LTTE. The boy said the person who is manning the booth is also from their village and his family too had tried to escape with them and failed. Owing to this, he was lenient in allowing him to communicate all this. Here, the person who is working with the LTTE is trying to send his family out with known families but he cannot leave. 

 6.3.4 Killed for Desertion!: On 5th March 2009, a group of people had arranged for a boatman to take them to Jaffna from the present NFZ. The boat started off without the LTTE apprehending them. Soon after it started moving, a very bright light was flashed into the boat. An LTTE gun man picked out Mahalingam Prakash Mohan and shot him dead.  The boat then proceeded to Jaffna. Prakash Mohan has been in the jewellery trade and was close to the LTTE. Originally from Kacchai Road Chavakachcheri, he had moved to Killinochchi in the wake of the Jaffna Exodus in early 1996.

6.3.5 Father Killed by Sniper, Son he was carrying Drowns: During latter March 2009, a family of three children and their parents were making the dangerous crossing from the NFZ, first across the Nandikadal lagoon (in chest high water for a grown man), then across an open meadow, then doze flat on the sand till dawn, and into the hands of the military. This has been the situation for escapees over the last weeks as the military has been very slowly closing in on the no fire zone from several directions facing severe resistance. While crossing the father had been carrying a 2 year old child on his shoulder and had been partially supporting the eldest, a 7 year old with one hand to help him wade through the water. The mother had been carrying the youngest child, a few months old. It was deep into the night. Sniper fire hit the father directly on his head and he fell dead. The child on the father’s shoulder also perished underneath by an excessive intake of water. The mother had to leave these two in this watery grave, and rush across with the remaining two children. The eldest child also drank a lot of water, but was brought to the other end with the help of fellow travelers. The military moved them immediately to Vavuniya through the ICRC and the eldest son succumbed while undergoing treatment in Vavuniya hospital. A sister living in South Vanni brought home the mother and the surviving child after going to Vavuniya and speaking to the authorities. The family, originally from Jaffna, had been living in the Vanni after the 1996 displacement. The mother is dazed and hardly speaks a word to outsiders who visit the sister.

All the thousands who are daring the crossing from the NFZ are doing so facing the terrible risks described above. Many have had to walk over dead bodies both in the waters and in the open fields. Danger could come from both sniper fire from the military, mistaking the civilians for the militants, as well as from the militants angry at the “betrayal.” The over-whelming reports from IDPs indicate that more people attempting to flee have been killed by the LTTE than by army snipers.

6.4 Stolen Lives: Died in Enforced Action

The following plaintive note came from a cousin of the deceased: “On the 12th of March 2009 …, Uncle’s son…passed away during shelling in Ampalavan Pokkanai. We heard this from his grandmother who came to Vavuniya. The rest of his family members are still in the no-fire zone.” Another relative said that the deceased had telephoned his brother in Colombo a few days earlier and said that he was going home for two days, after which he was sent into action and perished. The father was forced to hand him over to the LTTE towards the end of 2008.

An Aunt in Toronto received a call from her nephew, who is with the LTTE in the NFZ. It was a surprise. The cadre had got the aunt’s number from his brother in Colombo whom he had also contacted. He was one of those forcibly taken by the LTTE when he was aged 15. Some of the youngsters in his village had been asked to come and clean the Great Heroes Cemetery and then forcibly taken for training. The family tried all means including informing the ICRC to get him out, but in vain. After two years the ICRC informed the family that the boy was then 17 years and does not wish to go home and there was not much they could do. The aunt whom he called asked about his well-being and also about his family, who too were in the NFZ. He avoided talking about himself, but said that he was urging his parents to somehow get out. He also mentioned another cousin, a graduate from the University of Jaffna who was also trapped in the NFZ and was also trying to get out. Two weeks later the aunt received the message that her nephew died during the disastrous battle on 5th April 2009. She then realised that the LTTE allowed him to talk because they were sending him to the frontline.

Some other relatives of this family are forced to move with the LTTE and they are still trapped in the NFZ. One of the relatives recently escaped with some of the family members. On the way, the militants began to fire at them. The family members scattered and some reached the government zone. Some could not escape and no one knows what became of them. The family is totally traumatised.  

These dead youths above were conscripts from families who had for many years been bitter critics of the LTTE

6.5 A Second Chance

A young family man who works for an NGO and had served selflessly in several previous emergencies faced by the people of the Vanni had been contemplating escaping to the cleared area from the LTTE controlled area in the Mullaitivu district.  This was in late January or early February, when the army was advancing from Vishwamadu to Puthukudiyirupu. His family had been through several displacements and he had throughout been at the forefront of those who were seeking to preserve lives through his very active organization. He had one difficulty though: he was totally alien to the jungle paths in this area. Thus he had to very secretively make prior arrangements with another escapee who would guide them. After making such an arrangement, he had helpfully told some other intending escapees on that particular day to be ready that night. Sadly that information had leaked to the militants. A group of them came that evening and tied him with bands to a pole and publicly beat him up with rods, rifle butts and raw palmyrah branches. As they were giving him this public treatment intermittently for a few hours, they received information that a group of civilians had set off on an attempt to escape. They left him tied and went after them. As soon as they left some of his relatives untied him, and the group made good their escape. One of his friends observed, “One does trace the unmistakable providential hand of mercy.” He is now with his family in one of the IDP camps in Vavuniya.

6.6 A Noble Old Lady: Bereaved by Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers

A woman of about 60 years is caring for her 27 year old daughter in the local hospital. The young patient is the mother of two girls, aged two and eight, and is a widow; her husband died on the front lines after conscription. The family had settled in Killinochchi after being displaced from Jaffna 14 years ago. During the current operations they had been displaced from Kilinochchi and settled in the Viswamadu area.

On the day in question, the young mother had left her elder daughter with the grandmother and had gone to a nearby shop in order to buy a coconut to do some cooking, carrying her 2-year-old daughter with her. The grandmother had heard the noise of a multibarrel shell falling close-by and waited anxiously for her daughter’s return. In the meantime she heard that the shell had left quite a number dead and injured. She rushed to the spot, leaving her grand daughter with neighbors. By the time she arrived she found that the injured had all been cleared, but dead corpses were left here and there. She found her daughter’s body shoved to the side of the road and left for dead, but she was still breathing. The toddler daughter was dead. With the help of some passersby, she rushed her to a local hospital. The ICRC brought them to Vavuniya hospital by bus – this was about the time of the incident above.

The young woman lost an eye, a shell fragment having tragically gone through her eye and out of her head. Another shell piece had gone through one of her legs, and she is still unable to walk. There is, after over two months still no news of the other daughter. The grandmother has not dared to divulge the news of the death of the younger daughter to the injured mother. Nor does the older woman have any news of another four of her children, and their families left in the Vanni. That noble lady is finding bearing all this knowledge in her head and at the same time caring for a daughter so tragically affected, quite unbearable. She appreciates being able to unburden her-self to sympathetic listeners – but alas, very tight restrictions are now in place on visitors. The young lady is confined to lying flat on a mat in the hospital. The single- eyed good looking face is permanently dazed. Hardly a word comes out of her mouth. Only nods.

6.7 Will the good work of a section of the Army be undone by the political extremism?

The wife of the deceased who died at the waters’ edge (6.3.1) had said some-thing that was touching. As they reached the front-line of the military, they had been received courteously and given a meal and drinks. Since the civilians had been in fear and hunger for long they had delved into the food and in the end there was not enough food. One older military officer, who was announcing in crude Tamil over the speakers tied high up on the palmyrah trees, gave his own food parcel to a refugee and went without a meal him-self. This particular officer was shown on television (Eye Channel) making the announcement over the speakers, and the lady pointed him out as a very good and kindly man and related this story.

There are many grateful testimonies from IDPs of how military personnel put them-selves at great risk in checking and taking them in as they came in groups to the front-lines and surrendered to the military. There are reports of many instances where when the checking process had begun, a group of militants had appeared, and taking cover behind the trees, started shooting, and often killing some military personnel. The military have, by all reports, invariably taken cover, but avoided retaliating in order to protect the civilians from getting minced in the cross fire. Invariably in all such instances the civilians had felt desperately sure that even if they survived the cross fire, they would become victims to angry revenge killings. After the shooting subsided and the militants withdrew, they had invariably been received well. In one particular instance in early February 2009, a female suicide bomber had arrived at the front-line with a group of refugees and exploded her-self while being checked in, killing about four military personnel.

In the minds of many who were touched, there lurks the question of whether all these achievements towards healthy inter-communal relations in the future, would be entirely undone by insensitive chauvinistic forces. The way the care and resettlement of the IDPs is going to be organized may turn out to be a recipe for the destruction of peace building.

6.8 Disaffection with Welfare Centres

Even while the army unit receiving the escapees has done its part well, there is disaffection in the “welfare centres” where the escapees are virtually prisoners. They have no income and are at the mercy of the camp officials. There are already complaints about the hygiene, toilet facilities and the food. Food distribution in some camps has been reported irregular leading to situations where one parcel is shared among four. Not only are they confined, but their freedom to see people is restricted. Such a situation leads to corruption rackets.

Already people are complaining about the corruption in the ‘Welfare Centres’ where people have to pay various people to get out of the camp. The security forces will often say they have some doubts and want to keep the IDP there. There have reportedly been several cases of old people who organised their relatives to send money to get them out.

What makes matters more uncertain is that the government is cash-strapped and is heavily dependent on NGOs and INGOs to keep the camps running. However, the latter groups want the people resettled in their villages expeditiously and would likely withdraw their resources that now support these camps. If the government wants to delay releasing the people, the camps would be even further under-funded, and then there can be no pretence that the camps are human.

We hope the Government would implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on IDPs and allow the UNHCR to monitor these camps and give the people the reassurance that is their right.

Appendix I: The LTTE’s Long-running Peace for War Drama

·        The Indo-Lanka peace accord was forced by India on the Sri Lankan government when it was about to take control of Jaffna’s Valigamam area, the LTTE’s last remaining bastion in 1987.  The LTTE did its utmost through killings and provocations to undermine the Accord and eventually unleashed a war against the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which resulted in hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction.

·        The LTTE made a backdoor deal with President Premadasa and got the IPKF out and formally began negotiations with the Sri Lankan Government in March 1990.  During this time its preoccupation was to arrest and torture thousands of Tamils, both young and old, based on false allegations and many disappeared in the process. Until June 1990, the Sri Lankan army too connived with the LTTE in helping them to arrest and detain the latter’s perceived enemies in the Tamil community.  

·        Instead of engaging with the government to find a political solution, the LTTE was bent on dissolving the hard-won North-East Provincial Council to create a total vacuum. It followed its massacre of the TULF leadership in Colombo in August 1989 with that of the EPRLF leadership in India in June 1990. It redoubled the recruitment of children to build up its military machine, and in June 1990 provoked a war by laying siege on several police stations in the East and later massacring hundreds of Muslim and Sinhalese policemen who surrendered on the orders of the Government which hoped to settle the matter peacefully. It further angered Muslims in the East through three unprovoked massacres, killing nearly 300, in Kurukkalmadam, Kattankudy and Eravur within a month beginning mid-July 1990. The LTTE then pulled back into the jungles, leaving helpless Tamil civilians at the mercy of incensed government troops and Muslim paramilitaries. The latter were cynically armed by the Government to shift the blame for its killing of thousands of Tamil civilians. The LTTE’s interest was to use recruits from the inferno it fanned in the East for costly operations in the North, which ground to a bloody stalemate. The civilians suffered enormously, while the LTTE further isolated the Tamil civilians by using suicide bombers to execute Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, and then President Premadasa in May 1993.  The election of Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994, who campaigned on a peace agenda, brought hope of peace to all communities. The LTTE entered peace talks guided solely by seeking concessions to further its military agenda, inevitably precipitating war by April 1995. The Government’s ability to push for a new constitution was also hindered by the war. The LTTE even targeted one of the architects of the new constitution, Neelan Thiruchelvam, using a suicide bomber. Again state armed forces were allowed to return to their former methods, leading to significant human rights abuse with the same impunity. The LTTE engineered the large scale displacement of Muslims from the North in 1990 and likewise of hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians from Jaffna during the army advance into the peninsula in late 1995. Many of them were taken to the Vanni for use as a recruitment base, a mine for resources and today explicitly as both a mobile civilian shield and a source of conscripts.

·        Then came the 2002 peace process facilitated by Norway . As expected the LTTE went on targeting their perceived opponents and increased forcible child recruitment amidst the ceremony of peace talks. It did little to hide its intentions in taking advantage of the access provided by the peace talks to enhance its military capability and its suicide squads to operate by land, sea and air.  Those who had staked their reputations and resources in the successful completion of peace talks went along using their influence to appease the LTTE. The totalitarian control of Tamil society being its primary aim, it put forward an interim demand solely with that end in view. No government was in a position to agree to this and the Government too was becoming constrained by the futility of talks and the resulting Sinhalese extremist mobilisation. The LTTE actively played the two major Sinhalese parties against one another, without ever demanding that they come together and accept an equitable political settlement and it did not want that to happen. Whenever called upon to discuss the settlement, it shied away on some pretext. While emphasising its ‘sole representative’ status by terror, it pulled out of peace talks in 2003 when a human rights binding mechanism was to be discussed at the Tokyo conference. It further killed among others Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was an advocate within the Government for a federal settlement. This was in Colombo during August 2005. The peace process became meaningless without any mechanism in place to restrain the LTTE or the government from human rights abuses, targeted killings and warlike rhetoric. 

·        During the 2005 presidential election, the LTTE overtly worked to prevent the Tamil people voting in the North-East, in order to ensure that Mahinda Rajapakse got elected as president. After the election again the LTTE began IED attacks in various places and claimed that these were people’s forces outside their control. Against the LTTE’s continued provocations and assassinations, the Government responded in kind, leading to its blockade of the LTTE-controlled area south of Trincomalee in July 2006 and the LTTE in turn shutting down an irrigation sluice. The last was used by the Government begin what it termed a ‘humanitarian offensive’ where tens of thousands of Tamils and Muslims were displaced and hundreds in the East died of shelling during the latter half of 2006. The offensive then moved to the North resulting in the present scenario.

Appendix II: The Government’s Resort to Extra-Judicial and Unlawful Action

·     The Government’s claim to find a political solution through All Party Representatives Committee faced a continuous onslaught from those with a majoritarian agenda.  Every attempt to come up with a reasonable framework was shot down by the President’s office which was catering to the feelings of the vociferous minority above.

·     Killer squads were formed in the name of fighting LTTE terror and used to unleash pervasive terror, first in the North-East and increasingly in the South. The media came under threat; and all means were used to bring them into subjection. The LTTE’s terror campaign in the South, served as an excuse for the Government to resort to extra-judicial methods in the name of security. These included kidnapping and extortion in the capital for pecuniary ends.

·     The Security forces in Trincomalee were given a go ahead for extrajudicial killings, as in the case of the 5 students, and the massacre of ACF staff in Mutur was part of the logical sequel. Many in the security establishment were unhappy about the developments, but the minority who had been raised to positions of influence covered up by resorting even to further extra-judicial measures. The appointment of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons was unashamedly undermined by a coterie deriving its authority from the  President’s office. The result proved to the world and the Tamil community that the Rajapakse government is no less cavalier about justice than previous ones.

·     When the operation in Vanni began, the government forced out all the INGOs and UN citing concern for their security and thereafter there was no check on military operations as independent verification became impossible.

·     The Government should bear the principal blame for creating a situation where the world was left with little choice but to start from the LTTE’s version of events once it arrogantly denied access to war zone for any independent eyewitnesses and its claims to restraint were readily contradicted by persons fleeing the war zone. Matters were made blatantly worse by thrusting escaping witnesses into virtual prisons and isolating the injured ferried into hospitals.

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