Thursday, May 28, 2009

Over 30,000 Tamil civilians massacred by Sri Lanka army

Thousands of shallow graves are visible from the air.

By Catherine Philp in Colombo

More than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling, an investigation by The Times has revealed.

The number of casualties is three times the official figure.

The Sri Lankan authorities have insisted that their forces stopped using heavy weapons on April 27 and observed the no-fire zone where 100,000 Tamil men, women and children were sheltering. They have blamed all civilian casualties on Tamil Tiger rebels concealed among the civilians.

Aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony tell a different story. With the world’s media and aid organisations kept well away from the fighting, the army launched a fierce barrage that began at the end of April and lasted about three weeks. The offensive ended Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war with the Tamil Tigers, but innocent civilians paid the price.

Confidential United Nations documents acquired by The Times record nearly 7,000 civilian deaths in the no-fire zone up to the end of April. UN sources said that the toll then surged, with an average of 1,000 civilians killed each day until May 19, the day after Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, was killed. That figure concurs with the estimate made to The Times by Father Amalraj, a Roman Catholic priest who fled the no-fire zone on May 16 and is now interned with 200,000 other survivors in Manik Farm refugee camp. It would take the final toll above 20,000. “Higher,” a UN source told The Times. “Keep going.”

Some of the victims can be seen in the photograph above, which shows the destruction of the flimsy refugee camp. In the bottom right-hand corner, sand mounds show makeshift burial grounds. Other pictures show a more orderly military cemetery, believed to be for hundreds of rebel fighters. One photograph shows rebel gun emplacements next to the refugee camp.

Independent defence experts who analysed dozens of aerial photographs taken by The Times said that the arrangement of the army and rebel firing positions and the narrowness of the no-fire zone made it unlikely that Tiger mortar fire or artillery caused a significant number of deaths. “It looks more likely that the firing position has been located by the Sri Lankan Army and it has then been targeted with air-burst and ground-impact mortars,” said Charles Heyman, editor of the magazine Armed Forces of the UK.

On Wednesday, Sri Lanka was cleared of any wrongdoing by the UN Human Rights Council after winning the backing of countries including China, Egypt, India and Cuba.

A spokesman for the Sri Lankan High Commission in London said: “We reject all these allegations. Civilians have not been killed by government shelling at all. If civilians have been killed, then that is because of the actions of the LTTE [rebels] who were shooting and killing people when they tried to escape.”

Saturday, May 23, 2009

First pictures of the devastated war zone in Sri Lanka

The following are photographs taken by reporters as they flew over the final war zone in Sri Lanka in a helicopter. No one has been allowed into this area since the final battle. There are reports that tens of thousands of wounded civilians were killed on the final three days of fighting. The Sri Lankan government has since cremated all bodies, and dumped the ashes into the sea.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

11 Tamil women found brutally murdered in Sri Lanka concentration camps

By Gethin Chamberlain in Colombo

Reports are emerging from inside Sri Lanka's internment camps of brutal revenge being taken against Tamil Tiger fighters and the abduction of young children by paramilitary groups.

Detainees in one of the camps told the Guardian that a number of female Tamil Tigers have been murdered after giving themselves up to the authorities.

The bodies of 11 young women were allegedly found with their throats slashed outside the Menic Farm camp near the town of Vavuniya, according to people being held behind the razor wire perimeter. The women's short haircuts are understood to have made them easily identifiable as former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The bodies are said to have been discovered in the last two weeks, but there is no way of confirming the allegations because access to the camps is heavily restricted.

On Wednesday the defence ministry said many of the estimated 250,000 people now inside the camps might have to stay for up to two years. Today the government changed tack and insisted it planned to return most of the civilians to their homes this year.

The allegations came as a coalition of humanitarian agencies claimed that paramilitary groups had gained access to the camps and were abducting children.

But aid workers say there is also a growing resentment among inmates in the camps against the LTTE over its treatment of the civilian population in the final months of the fighting and that many of the female cadres now shut inside are living in fear of reprisals. The government has categorically denied the allegations.

An official who has visited the camps recently – whose identity is known to the Guardian – said the women's bodies had apparently been found close to zone II of the camp, where about 70,000 of the more recent arrivals are living under canvas.

"A couple of weeks ago, 11 bodies were discovered. All these women had short hair. This is a tell tale sign of women newly recruited to the LTTE. According to unconfirmed reports, these women had their throats slashed," the official said. "According to my sources, there are about 1,000 cadres currently in zone III and II of Menic Farm."

The official said no one was sure who was responsible, but other female residents now feared for their safety. "They have heard reports of women being killed … so now women have told me they feel afraid."

Speaking to the Guardian through a third party with access to the camps, a number of those detained said they had heard about the discovery of the bodies outside the perimeter.

One man pleaded with the government to let them leave. "I don't know how much longer we can live like this. There are too many people. I don't know why the government won't start releasing us," he said. "There so many people who very clearly have no connections to the LTTE, that can be cleared of any wrong doing so easily".

"For example, I have no LTTE connection. I am an honest man. I only want to do what is best for my family. Why can't they let me and my family go?"

But Sri Lanka's disaster management and human rights minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, cast doubt on the reports.

"I don't think it is happening because we would have heard about it," he said. "If something like that was happening the UNHCR would be the first to come to me and say they were angry about it, but they have not done that."

Some residents also complained about the disappearance of children from the camps and yesterday the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said it had verified reports that children as young as 12 were abducted from the camps and the nearby town of Vavuniya.

The "[Some] have been taken away for ransom and their release has been subsequently negotiated by the parents, either by offering jewellery or cash," said Charu Hogg, Asia manager for the coalition, which includes Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Others had been abducted by paramilitaries and taken to army camps, presumably for questioning over ties to the rebel group, which frequently recruited child soldiers, she said.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka tomorrow to urge the government to ease access to the camps for the UN and other aid organisations.

Today a British Euro MP called for a ban on sporting and tourist ties with Sri Lanka. Robert Evans, chair of the European parliament delegation for relations with South Asia, said the England and Wales Cricket Board should suspend bilateral arrangement with Sri Lanka in the same way that it had done with Zimbabwe.

Sri Lanka minister admits army killed civilians

A former LTTE leader who defected to become a Sri Lankan government minister has given the first official admission that significant numbers of civilians were killed during the final offensive against the rebels.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Telegraph, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, alias Colonel Karuna, said president Mahinda Rajapaksa had made a mistake when he claimed no-one died at the hands of the army.

His comments undermine the government's previous claims and will alert western diplomats gathering evidence on civilian deaths for a future war crimes case.

During his victory speech in the Sri Lankan Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Rajapaksa said his army had achieved a 'miracle' in winning the battle "without shedding the blood of civilians".

But according to Mr Muralitharan, the president was aware of what he called the "damage" and not accepting it had been a "mistake".

He said Tamil Tigers claims of 20,000 deaths were an overestimate but added: "There are casualties, and we have to appreciate the casualties because without them you can't rescue the people. They made a mistake. The president knows the damage."

He said he did not know the exact numbers, but according to the United Nations between 8,000 and 10,000 civilians died in the Sri Lankan army advance across the north of the island between January and May.

Some are believed to have been shot by Tamil Tiger fighters as they tried to flee the battle zone, while many died in army mortar attacks.

"I feel very sad for the people of the north. They are Tamil people and [the Tamil Tigers] did very bad things to them. When civilians tried to escape, including children, they were shot," he said.

Mr Muralitharan, now minister for constitutional affairs and national integration and vice-president of the ruling Sri Lankan Freedom Party, also challenged officials who earlier this week said more than a quarter of a million displaced civilians could be held in overcrowded camps for up to two years.

He called for them to be resettled quickly and said the wasted north of the island must be swiftly redeveloped to unify the country and help Tamils forget the past.

"There are a lot of landmines there, but after clearing, we can resettle. There's no need for two years, after one we can resettle," he said.

Mr Muralitharan said the north of the country had been destroyed by the war and now needed billions in international aid for redevelopment.

He said 95 per cent of buildings in three districts were destroyed and new schools, hospitals, roads, were needed while water, electricity and communications services would have to be restored. "The whole infrastructure needs completely rebuilding," he said.

His comments on the need to draw Tamils into a Sri Lankan future came amid new allegations that paramilitaries linked to the army were being used to pick out Tamil Tiger child soldiers in refugee camps. Some had been then been kidnapped for ransom, said the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

Mr Muralitharan was speaking shortly after he returned from identifying the dead body of his former leader, the once-feared Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Television footage had shown his corpse but there were questions over whether the body really was the rebel leader. Mr Muralitharan, who had served Prabhakaran for 20 years as his eastern commander, was sent to the battle scene to dispel doubts. "There is no doubt, it is his body. He was shot by the army," he said.

He said the Tamil Tiger leader was killed by a single shot to the head – the bullet had entered through the left side of his forehead and blown out the back of his skull.

He claimed they had been trying to escape with 18 fighters when the were confronted by Sri Lankan troops.

"They tried to escape into the jungle and crossed an army defence line. They scattered and they [the army] found him. They did not arrest him. He was with four people. They fired at the army and the army shot him. He was a coward leader," he said.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sri Lanka bans ICRC from IDP camps; let the executions begin

By Robert Bosleigh in Colombo

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been forced to suspend the distribution of emergency supplies to as many as 300,000 people displaced by the Sri Lankan Army’s victory over the Tamil Tigers after the Government blocked access to aid camps.

Fears have been growing over the welfare of those forced to flee the conflict zone – many of whom are sick or suffering from battlefield injuries – after tight restrictions were placed on the UN and other agencies trying to administer aid.

Urgently needed supplies of food and clothing had been suspended after access to the camps was restricted by the Government, an ICRC spokesperson told The Times this morning.

The ICRC had been the only neutral aid organisation allowed inside the conflict zone. It had between 20 and 25 staff on the ground in the northeastern region where the Tigers made their last stand over the weekend but has not heard from them since last week.

The blocking of access to the battle zone has raised fears for the fate of those civilians too sick or injured to flee the area by foot.

Those who escaped had to wade through a mine-strewn lagoon, journeying several days to reach camps that are struggling to cope.

Accounts of conditions inside the camps — gained from testimony recorded covertly by aid workers — and the journey to them are horrifying.

Preema, a Tamil woman, arrived at the 400-hectare (990-acre) Menic farm camp on Sunday. She had left Mullaivaikal, the centre of the fighting where the Tigers made their final stand, after being shelled heavily.

She set out with her husband, mother and two children, to wade through the Nandikadal lagoon — a waterway strewn with mines — in a desperate attempt to reach safety.

There were deep craters where the lagoon had been bombed and people often drowned, she said. Her mother died in the lagoon. A man offered to carry her ten-year-old daughter. Preema never saw them again. Her husband was taken away by government troops after admitting that he had worked for the Tigers. He was stopped at a checkpoint in Oomanthai where refugees are being forced to strip before being allowed to pass.

“Everything is lost,” said Preema, holding her son, seven. “Please help me find my daughter. Not knowing anything is making me crazy.”

Inside one camp, Nandani, 76, described being forced to stand for up to five hours a day queueing for food.

Kala, a middle-aged woman, spoke about the constant indignities of her new life. “I do not have underwear. I am unable to use the Kotex that the Red Cross handed out,” she said, holding a packet of sanitary towels she had been given before the organisation’s access to the camp was restricted.

Kothai, another woman, said: “There is a bad distribution system within the camp. Every time it is the same people that get. Men crowd around and push the women and children aside.”

Government officials did not answer requests for comment. Access for aid agencies to another 200,000 refugees already in the internment camps — which the Government call “welfare villages” — has been severely restricted since Sunday, preventing the administration of basic care.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, is due to travel in Sri Lanka on Friday to offer help to rebuild the ravaged northeast of the country and urge the Government to reach out to the Tamil population.

“These people have endured one of the cruellest military sieges of modern times — daily shelling over several months,” an international aid worker said. “They need urgent help.”

There are fears that the camp populations — especially children — will be hit by contagious diseases. Chickenpox, hepatitis A and dysentery outbreaks have been reported. Medical facilities are said to be woefully inadequate.

There are also concerns that the suffering will radicalise previously moderate Tamils, especially amongst the community’s international diaspora, which had been a key source of funding for the Tigers.

Most Sri Lankans are delighted by the defeat of the Tigers, a terrorist force that fought for 26 years for an independent Tamil homeland, propagating a war that left at least 70,000 dead. Many Tamils were against the rebels after they recruited child soldiers and terrorised their own people.

There were doubts over the sincerity of President Rajapakse’s pledge to build bridges between the Sinhalese and Tamil minority. He has seldom brooked dissent, his opponents say.

The Government is worried over the security situation, and is urgently trying to screen any escaped Tamil Tiger fighters from innocent civilians.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

LTTE leadership likely executed after being tricked into surrender

It appears Prabhakaran and senior leaders were betrayed, possibly by an unknown senior leader, and tricked into surrendering to the Sri Lankan army, after which they were all executed with a shot to the head. It is impossible that both Charles Anthony and Prabhakaran could have been shot directly between the eyes in combat. Several Sri Lankan soldiers have been bragging about events surrounding the execution of the LTTE leadership, including members from the non-combatant civil services wing and even family members of LTTE leaders. We will not go into details of what they say, but it seems to confirm that LTTE leaders were all tricked into surrendering and then cruelly executed.

Prabhakaran was never the person communicating with the Sri Lankan army and the IC. So he had no way of knowing what the real position was, except from what he was told. It would have been very easy for a traitor to convince him that the Sri Lankan army had agreed under IC pressure to a laying down of arms and then negotiations.

Soosai's name seems to have been kept out of most reports, making him look like a suspect. But if it was him, they would not have mentioned his wife and children being arrested. It would be better just to escort them away and keep everything a secret. Whatever the case, I am sure there is one or more traitors who are still living, but listed as killed by the Sri Lankan army to give them a new identity. There have been moles inside the LTTE for several years, and the many assassinations are proof of this.

Also note this shocking evidence. The two photographs of Charles Anthony released by the Sri Lankan government (one showing him dead, and one showing him alive) are wearing the exact same clothes. In the living photo he is wearing the same shirt that he was killed in. It appears they took this photo after he was arrested, just before executing him. Please see the photos below:

Please note that there has never been a recent photo available with the Sri Lankan government showing Charles Anthony until the day they recovered his dead body. What is the chance of this? In all of the other reports they released over the last several weeks they have been showing very old photos of him in LTTE uniform, which were clearly taken several years ago. But the day they find his dead body (with a bullet wound directly in the head), they also release a new photo of him which perfectly matches his present looks, and is wearing the exact same clothes as when he was killed. The hair and mustache is even cut to the exact same size and shape. It is clear this photo was taken just hours before he was cruelly executed by the Sri Lankan army with a shot to his head.

This is further proven by the fact that in videos of the body, there are pools of fresh wet blood pouring out of the wounds on his body. This is only possible if the video was taken immediately after he was killed. If he had been killed in combat, or if he had committed suicide, the blood would have already coagulated and would not create fresh puddles when they placed him on the tarpaulin.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Prabhakaran still alive and safe: KP

LTTE international spokesman K. Pathmanathan tells Channel 4 News in UK that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is alive and safe in an undisclosed location.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Latest Interview with LTTE head of international relations, Selvarajah Pathmanathan

A key Tamil Tiger leader has spoken exclusively to Channel 4 News, saying their chief is still alive and they want a political solution. Alex Thomson reports.

Alex Thomson (AT): What is the latest situation for LTTE in Sri Lanka?

Selvarajah Pathmanathan (SP): Our organisation is ready to lay down its arms and participate in the peace process.

AT: How many cadres or soldiers are involved here?

SP: Less than 2000 cadres. They are in the perimeter area. We prepared to stop the war. Our people are dying. Every hour more than a hundred dying. More than 3000 die from yesterday. 25,000 wounded.

AT: These are civilians, yes?

SP: Yes.

AT: What are you calling on the Sri Lankan government to do?

SP: From yesterday we are calling on talks to stop the fighting and immediate ceasefire. We are ready to lay down the arms and participate in the peace process.

AT: Is this end of the war after all these wars?

SP: Yes we'd like to end this war.

AT: What do you say that the LTTE will continue fighting by other means, guerrilla war?

SP: I believe that over the 38 years we fight and only the civilian and human life are every day dying. another 30 years will continue we don't believe that - we believe in peaceful way for solution for Tamil people.

AT: What are the orders from the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran ?

SP: Prabhakaran actually ordered that. For 4 hours I talked to him - he passed this message to Sri Lanka Government and international players...and we are waiting for their answer. Until now no one give their answer or no one stop the war.

AT: Is Mr Prabhakaran still in this area in Sri Lanka?

SP: Yes sir.

AT: And you spoke to him from this surrounded area, and he is ready to surrender?

SP: Not surrender. We are lay down the arms not surrender.

AT: Why not surrender?

SP: Actually its mainly a thing...about security...we take arms for freedom struggle - why surrender to them. We ready to work with them not surrender.

AT: Why did LTTE take so many human shields and not allow them to leave?

SP: We never take the civilian with us. The civilian they are relative our family or the related. Or they don't believe Sri Lankan army will give security to them. They don't like to go to camp. As you know they torture and harassment. They don't want to go to Sri Lanka forces. The government stop medicine and food. People are dying without. We asked - we sent 35,000 out ourselves. We don't take human shield. It's the wrong information. Wrong propaganda.

AT: So its not true then that LTTE cadres fired on civilians to prevent them leaving?

ST: Actually we never shoot them. Some crossfire happened. Why would we kill our own people?

AT: Can I ask about the two doctors who were giving interviews about the condition of the civilians. They have disappeared?

SP: Last night one doctor injured. We send them to the military side. And for the treatment. Actually now I heard one doctor in Colombo for treatment other in military camp.

AT: To summarise, the condition of the commander Pr...LTTE are willing to lay down weapons but not surrender?

SP: Yes not surrender - willing to lay down arms not surrender.

AT: So is the war over or changing?

SP: War maybe over or changing to political way. Depending on few hours to see what going on. We are saying...willing to lay down arms...willing to lay down arms and find political solution for our nation.

Friday, May 15, 2009

United Nations "negotiator" on Sri Lanka payroll

Today it was announced that the United Nations would send Vijay Nambiar to Sri Lanka for the second time to try and negotiate on behalf of the trapped Tamil civilians, just as the Sri Lanka army launches a final assault against the LTTE:

It was announced at UN headquarters on Thursday that UN chief Ban Ki-moon is rushing his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar back to Sri Lanka to press for protection of the trapped civilians.

Allow us to bring some facts to light about this supposedly "unbiased" negotiator, who appears to actually be on the payroll of the Sri Lankan government, though indirectly - something that is obviously known to the United Nations. Vijay Nambiar's brother (Satish Nambiar) is a paid consultant for the Sri Lankan army, and has been since 2002. What is the link between this Sri Lankan military consultant and the United Nations? It is hard to determine, but despite the obvious link through his brother, there is also a small resume of Satish Nambiar's located on the UN website:

Very odd since he hasn't worked officially for the UN since 1993. We should also note that after visiting Sri Lanka, Vijay Nambiar first reported back to his brother in India, before reporting to the United Nations in New York. Under such urgent and dire circumstances, why would he spend days visiting his brother rather than returning to the UN to report about this important matter.

Satish Nambiar has been quoted by the Sri Lankan defence website several times, most recently glorifying the defence secretary for his great accomplishments in routing the LTTE.

What does this mean? The UN sends an "impartial" negotiator to Sri Lanka who's brother has been a paid consultant to the Sri Lankan army since 2002. This same brother also happens to be the Director and President of the "United Service Institution of India", which is organizing an event in Delhi on 27th May 2009, titled "Present Situation in Sri Lanka and the Way Ahead", where the speaker is "His Excellency Mr. Romesh Jayasinghe, High Commissioner, High Commission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka". This "negotiator's" brother happens to arrange speaking engagements for the Sri Lankan government, while also being a paid consultant for the last 7 years.

Already there is a conflict of interest with the UN sending an Indian who is affiliated with the congress party, accused by most Tamils as being the real designer of this war in Sri Lanka. But on top of it, his brother has been a paid consultant for the Sri Lankan army for 7 years, and is even now arranging speaking engagements for the Sri Lankan government representatives in India.

After Vijay Nambiar made his first failed visit to Colombo to speak with the Sri Lankan government, instead of returning to the United Nations to report the outcome, he went to India to spend time with this brother on "vacation", the same brother who is a paid consultant for the Sri Lankan army! While thousands of Tamil civilians were dying, he delayed reporting to the United Nations and instead vacationed with his brother in India. When he finally arrived at the United Nations he refused to speak to the press, even though it has always been his custom to hold press conferences after such important trips.

On 4/26 Vijay Nambiar's brother, Satish, submitted an article to several newspapers, which was subsequently published in the Indian Express and quoted on the Sri Lankan government's official military website (

Writing in the Indian Express newspaper, Satish Nambiar said, Sri Lankan Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka "has displayed the qualities of a great military leader nations are blessed with from time to time."

Writing on the Army Chief Nambiar further said, "Resurrected from the grave as it were after the attack on him some years back, he has displayed a single-mindedness of purpose in pursuing his goal of decimating the LTTE. Needless to say, he has been able to achieve his objective because of the full support and encouragement provided by the political establishment led by President Rajapaksa.

"The demise of the LTTE is possibly," said Nambiar, " now only a matter of days. The total demolition of the once universally feared organisation that introduced suicide terrorism and the use of improvised explosives (IEDs) as a form of insurgency warfare is a tribute to the determination of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces under its intrepid commander, Sarath Fonseka. General Fonseka has displayed the qualities of a great military leader nations are blessed with from time to time."

He further said, "As someone who was briefly involved with the peace process in Sri Lanka in 2002-2003, I have already acknowledged the outstanding performance of the SL security forces and the efforts of General Fonseka, a person I met on a number of occasions during my visits to Sri Lanka during 2002-2003 and developed great respect for, both as an individual and as a soldier."

So what we have is the following:

1) Nambiar's brother has been a paid consultant for the Sri Lankan army for the last 7 years.

2) Nambiar's brother has written propaganda articles for Indian newspapers, which were subsequently quoted by the Sri Lankan military on their official website.

3) Nambiar's family is connected to the congress party, which is responsible for the present war in Sri Lanka.

4) Nambiar's family is deeply involved in the Indian military, which holds a grudge against the LTTE for its war with the IPKF.

5) Nambiar's brother has arranged speaking engagements in Delhi for the Sri Lankan government's high commissioner to promote the Sri Lankan government's war against the LTTE (

6) After visiting Sri Lanka on behalf of the UN, rather than report to the UN in New York, he instead went on a vacation with his brother in India, the same brother who is a paid consultant of the Sri Lankan army.

7) The United Nations website contains a small resume of Nambiar's brother on its website despite him not having officially worked for the UN since 1993 ( There is obviously more to this than meets the eye.

8) The bias of Nambiar's brother was evident even in 2002, when he met with Tamil paramilitary groups, but refused to meet with democratically elected Tamil representatives while visiting Baticaloa as a paid consultant of the Sri Lankan army.

Now that the reasons for the complete failure of Nambiar's original trip to Sri Lanka on behalf of the United Nations is abundantly clear, with over 10,000 innocent Tamil civilians killed, and 20,000 severely injured as a result, what would we expect the United Nations to do at this crucial time? They have now decided to send Vijay Nambiar back to Sri Lanka again to "negotiate" on behalf of the civilians. Are you certain he isn't negotiating on behalf of his brother and the Sri Lankan government? In no other field, whether business, diplomacy or anything, would they allow such a conflict of interest to exist, especially with thousands of civilian lives at stake.

Please wake up and realize that the United Nations is not here to help and protect the innocent. The only people the Tamil people can depend on for help are the Tamils. You have tried convincing the international community and the United Nations, and as a result there are 30,000 Tamil civilian casualties in just 5 months. While the UN sends people paid by the Sri Lankan government to "negotiate" on behalf of the Tamil civilians, thousands of civilians are dying day by day. When the LTTE was strong and the Sri Lankan army was on the brink of collapse, the international community tricked the LTTE into the ceasefire agreement. The ceasefire agreement was nothing but a cover to arm and train the Sri Lankan army further, so that they could launch a final war against the LTTE.

Today the UN and the international community does not want to even speak with the LTTE, despite showing so much interest in bringing the LTTE to negotiations in 2002 when the LTTE had the upper hand. This shows that the United Nations only respects violence and military might. When the LTTE was strong, they were requesting the LTTE to negotiate, but when the LTTE is weakened, they no longer have interest in negotiating a settlement to this conflict. Instead they repeatedly call on the LTTE to lay down their arms and surrender to face a certain death at the hands of the Sri Lankan army.

Learn this lesson well. The international community only respects you based on your might and capability to commit violence. Some foolish moderate Tamils have in the past criticized the LTTE for not trying to pursue peace, but now the futility of that path has been clearly exposed for all to see. The LTTE chose the path of peace in 2002, and the international community took advantage of this to weaken and destroy the LTTE through proxies. The end result is the entire world stands silently as 10,000 Tamil civilians have been murdered - all because the Tamil people did not possess the military might to protect themselves. The only solution to this problem, the only way in which the Tamil people can be protected, is if they increase their military strength and bring Sri Lanka to its knees through violence. Only then the international community will respect the rights of the Tamil people.

Vijay Nambiar at work.

Massive bombardment of civilian zone by Sri Lanka army

The Sri Lanka army has resorted to a final massive bombardment of the remaining civilian zone prior to an all out assault. Fighting is being reported house to house. Unprecedented bombs have been dropped on the civilians by Sri Lankan air force planes as never before seen. The entire no fire zone is a huge ball of fire, with thick smoke making it impossible to breath. The LTTE has been offering stiff resistance to protect the remaining civilians, but it is only a matter of time. Sri Lankan soldiers have been sighted wearing gas masks, raising fears chemical weapons may have been used in the attack.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Families of dead Sri Lanka soldiers speak; government has abandoned them

The Sri Lankan government’s “final offensive” against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the island’s north has killed and injured thousands of Tamil civilians as well as displacing hundreds of thousands others.

While the defence ministry reports that soldiers are facing “stiff resistance,” it refuses to allow any journalists into the area and last October stopped reporting soldier casualties. The government claims that the death toll is a security issue, but the real reason is its fear that the escalating casualties would add to the popular anger and discontent over the war.

Over the past month, the bodies of hundreds of dead soldiers have been returned to their families in remote villages in the south. Many more wounded soldiers are being treated in government hospitals in Colombo and other areas. This terrible toll is the other side of the Sri Lankan government’s criminal war.

Most soldiers are economic conscripts, forced through poverty to become cannon-fodder in the communal war. Far from enlisting to support the communal aims of the government’s war, they join the army to provide money for their families. While President Mahinda Rajapakse constantly speaks of the “heroes” of his war, the real stories of their lives and deaths are never told.

World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) reporters recently spoke with the parents and families of several soldiers who were killed during last month’s battles in the northeast of the island.


Warnakulasuriya Amith Madhusanka, a 19-year-old solider from Haththiniya, about 57 kilometres from Colombo, was killed on April 29 in northern Puthukkudiyiruppu. According to information given to his parents, he was one of nine soldiers from the Gajaba regiment who lost their lives that day.

Like thousands of Sri Lankan soldiers, Amith was forced into the military by poverty. He left school after reaching Grade 10, took up masonry and carpentry work in order to support his parents, and then joined the army in January 2008.

Amith Madhusanka's parents

Amith’s parents, Ajith Joseph and Krishanthi Manike, were distraught over their son’s death.

Ajith Joseph, 39, has picked coconuts for nearly 20 years. Amith’s only sister is married. All are very poor and live in a small dwelling built from wooden planks and a roof thatched with coconut leaves.

Ajith Joseph explained: “The main reason my son joined the army was in order to raise money to build a house for our family. We don’t have land or a house. We used to live in small houses erected on other peoples’ lands and we drifted from one place to another.

“My son was very worried about our condition. He wanted to buy some land for us but he couldn’t do it. For the last two years we’ve been living in the home of his mother’s parents. This small piece of land was given to her father because he was working at the adjoining coconut estate.”

Government parliamentarian Dayassritha Thisera and several local politicians attended Amith’s funeral and told Ajith Joseph that he could build a house on a nearby small piece of land. Ajith Joseph began building a wooden-plank home on that land, using some of the money received by the family from the army for his son’s funeral.

Last week, however, local government authorities told Ajith Joseph that he could not build the house because the land was on a government reservation. “I spent 15,000 rupees [$US127, or more than two months pay] trying to build that house and I’ve now lost everything,” Ajith Joseph angrily said.

Ajith Joseph told us that many people had attended Amith’s funeral, with several parliamentarians appearing at the front of the procession. “All they want soldiers for is war,” he said. When asked about the government, he simply said: “We can’t live in the present unbearable conditions.”

Nirosha Perera from the Colombo suburb of Pannipitiya was told by local police on April 9 that her younger brother, Buddhika Sanjeewa, had been killed. One day earlier she received a telephone call from the Puthukkudiyiruppu army camp where Buddhika was stationed, asking why she had been named as his guardian, even though their parents were still alive.

“He named me as his guardian,” Nirosha told the WSWS, “in order to make me his beneficiary because I am the poorest in the family.” Her father’s sister and brother both had their sons killed in the army. “Now my father has lost his 22-year-old son,” she said.

Buddhika’s 56-year-old father works at the National Hospital in Colombo. He suffers from a heart ailment but has to keep working to support the family. His eldest son, a bachelor, drives a trishaw. Nirosha’s husband is a manual laborer, but without a regular income. They all live in a partially-constructed house.

Buddhika trained as a welder at the government’s Vocational Training Institute. He attempted to establish a welding workshop at home but lacked capital. Concerned about the economic problems facing the family and not wanting to be a burden, Buddhika decided to join the army.

“Mother and I tore up his school leaving certificate to stop him enlisting but he secretly obtained a second copy and joined the army,” Nirosha said.

Buddhika was given four months’ training and sent to the battlefront. Two months later his remains were sent back home. Family relatives told us that the army officers who escorted the body were unable to come to his funeral because they were too busy attending several similar funerals.

Holding back her tears, Buddhika’s grief-stricken mother said: “These people send youth who can just hold a gun to the front. I must say this openly—the government is responsible. To me he is my beloved kid but for them he’s just a soldier. They first said that the war would finish in a month and I thought that my kid would be home in a month, but no. Then they said it would finish in 48 hours but still my son didn’t come. Now you see how he came.”

Naleen Maduranga was killed on the Puthukkudiyiruppu battle front. His home is in Avissawella, about 50 km southeast of Colombo, where he lived with his uncle, M.K. Sunil, a 53-year-old carpenter.

Maduranga, who was raised by his uncle, was killed March 29. On the same day, his sealed coffin was escorted home by several army officers. The government provided 30,000 rupees (about $US260) for funeral expenses.

Sunil's family

Three families—Sunil’s own, his son’s and his daughter’s—live in the house, which is located on a small piece of land. Sunil suffers from a heart disease but he has to keep working to provide income for his extended family.

In tears, Maduranga’s aunt told us: “The army did not even know when my nephew died and we don’t even know that Maduranga’s body was there in the coffin. An army officer waited on duty till the burial was over and we were advised not to open the coffin. We all somehow expect that Maduranga may come home again.”

Maduranga was born in 1987 in Avissawella and educated at Mahiyangana Central College about 220 kilometres from Colombo. Forced to abandon his education prematurely, 11-year-old Maduranga began working as a helper in a local shop. Maduranga’s younger brother became a monk, having been offered to a temple.

Such was the poverty that when Maduranga was about 13 his parents asked Maduranga’s uncle Sunil to look after the teenager. He moved into Sunil’s home and began learning carpentry. Maduranga’s cousins told us that the boy suffered because he hadn’t been able to grow up in the warmth of his own family and out of deep despair tried to commit suicide on one occasion.

Maduranga joined the army in November 2007. He hoped that if he survived the war he could support his parents’ and uncle’s families, and if he were killed then both families would get compensation.

Maduranga quickly became fed up, deserted the army while on leave and began working as a bus conductor. Facing arrest by local police for desertion, he decided to go back to the army. Within months of rejoining, Maduranga’s dead body was returned to the home.

Sunil’s daughter, Thilini, told the WSWS that she was also married to a soldier and now had fears about his life. “I know how terrible the nightmare is for those families who have members engaged in this war.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Story was a hoax planted by Sri Lankan government

I am very happy to say this story was a false rumor. I was very sad when I saw the story. It was taken from, and also shown on Makkal TV, which makes me think these are planted stories by the Sri Lankan government.

The root cause of false rumors being spread is the complete ban on the media by the Sri Lankan government. Everyone only wants the truth revealed. We don't want more and we don't want less. But the Sri Lankan government is making it very difficult to get the truth, which sometimes results in rumors being spread as truth. If the Sri Lankan government would allow international media into the war zone, and allow NGOs into all of the IDP camps, then we would not have a situation where false rumors get spread as truth. Such rumors really only hurt the Sri Lankan government, so it is in their own interest to allow free access to the media, unless there is something that they are hiding.

Though the above story was false, the following two videos recorded by Channel 4 news from the U.K. are real, and highlight the terrible conditions within the Sri Lankan concentration camps, where torture, rape and disappearances are rampant.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Elderly Tamil civilians dying of starvation in Sri Lanka concentration camps

The number of deaths among elderly persons in Vavuniyaa IDP camp is on the increase. From May 1 till May 11, sixty-one elderly persons have died due to what is termed "natural causes", a term used to hide the real causes, namely starvation, lack of water and lack of medical facilities. Their bodies have been lying in the mortuary of the Vavuniyaa general hospital awaiting relatives to identify them, sources in Vavuniyaa said.

Hospital sources said their bodies would be buried at the state expense if their relatives fail to identify them and do the last rites. Elderly IDPs are given shelter in Chettikulam Menik Farm camp. While inquiring into the sudden deaths in Cheddikulam, health workers said that a high rate of elderly persons in this camp have been dying due to the above mentioned causes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

UN deplores civilian bloodbath in Sri Lanka; 3,200 civilians reported killed in single day

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The United Nations called the killing of hundreds of ethnic Tamil civilians in a weekend artillery attack in northern Sri Lanka a "bloodbath" amid reports Monday that the war zone was heavily shelled for a second straight night.

The initial artillery attack — which lasted from Saturday evening into Sunday morning — killed at least 378 civilians and wounded more than a thousand more, according to a health official inside rebel-controlled territory.

A rebel-linked Web site blamed the attack on the government, while the military accused the beleaguered Tamil Tigers of briefly shelling their own territory to gain international sympathy and force a cease-fire.

About 6 p.m. Sunday, a new round of shelling pounded the area, according to a government health official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The TamilNet Web site said many more civilians were killed in the second attack and that the death toll from the two days of violence was likely in the thousands.

Reports of the fighting are difficult to verify because the government bars journalists and aid workers from the war zone, but the U.N. confirmed a heavy toll from the first attack over the weekend.

That attack marked the bloodiest assault on ethnic Tamil civilians since the civil war flared again more than three years ago. Health officials said a hospital in the war zone was overwhelmed by casualties, and the death toll was expected to sharply rise.

"The U.N. has consistently warned against the bloodbath scenario as we've watched the steady increase in civilian deaths over the last few months," U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss said Monday. "The large-scale killing of civilians over the weekend, including the deaths of more than 100 children, shows that that bloodbath has become a reality."

U.N. figures compiled last month showed that nearly 6,500 civilians had been killed in three months of fighting this year as the government drove the rebels out of their strongholds in the north and vowed to end the war.

About 50,000 civilians are crowded into the 2.4 mile- (4 kilometer) long strip of coast along with the separatists, who have been fighting for 25 years for a homeland for minority Tamils.

The government has brushed off international calls for a humanitarian truce, saying any pause in the fighting would give the rebels time to regroup.

The initial attack began Saturday evening soon after a Red Cross ship that had been evacuating wounded civilians left the war zone, health officials said.

Artillery pounded the area throughout the night, forcing thousands to huddle in makeshift bunkers, said Dr. V. Shanmugarajah, a health official in the region.

Hours after the attack, the dead and wounded continued to pour into the hospital, he said. As of Sunday afternoon, the bodies of 378 civilians had been brought in and were being buried by volunteers, but the death toll was likely far higher since many families buried their dead where they fell, he said.

TamilNet said rescue workers had counted 1,200 civilians killed in the attack. The Web site initially reported that the rebels' military spokesman, Rasiah Ilanthirayan, was among the dead, but later said only that he was seriously wounded.

Bodies were laid out in rows on the mud outside the hospital, some of their faces covered with mats and sheets, according to photos from the area. One small boy was stripped to the waist, his head covered in a bloody bandage and his mouth agape.

The hospital was struggling to cope with the 1,122 wounded civilians amid a shortage of physicians, nurses and aides made treatment difficult, Shanmugarajah said.

"We are doing the first aid and some surgeries as quickly as we can. We are doing what is possible. The situation is overwhelming; nothing is within our control," he said.

More than half the hospital staff did not turn up for work because their homes were attacked and many of the wounded went untreated for more than 24 hours, said the other health official, who declined to be named.

Suresh Premachandran, an ethnic Tamil lawmaker, said the assault was the deadliest attack on civilians since the 1983 anti-Tamil riots that killed as many as 2,000 people and helped trigger the civil war.

"In the name of eliminating terrorism, the Sri Lankan government massacres its own citizens. It is absolutely unacceptable," he said, calling for the international community to intervene.

TamilNet also blamed the attack on the Sri Lankan forces, which rights groups have accused of bombing and shelling the war zone despite its pledge to stop using heavy weapons.

The Sri Lankan military denied firing the artillery and said they witnessed the rebels firing mortar shells from one corner of the coastal strip into another section heavily populated with civilians for one hour Sunday morning.

"I think the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is now trying to use these people as their last weapon to show the world that the army is firing indiscriminately and stop this offensive," military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Human rights groups have accused the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields and shooting some who tried to flee.

Human Rights Watch on Saturday accused the military of repeatedly shelling and bombing hospitals in the war zone.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tamils in concentration camps die of starvation as Sri Lanka leaders live luxuriously

The Sri Lankan government has recently released some old family pictures of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, and claimed they show Prabhakaran living a very luxurious life. I am sure everyone in the world has pictures of themselves celebrating some special occasion. There is nothing wrong with celebrating a special occasion with a feast. is trying to twist the photos to suggest every single day Prabhakaran is living a luxurious life, but the fact that he has refused to be bought out for years proves this is not the case - he is not interested in money or a luxurious lifestyle.

They say Prabhakaran gave special treatment to his own son, but sent other people's sons to fight. But Prabhakaran's son was leading from the front lines last month when he was injured in combat. Prabhakaran is willing to let his son fight and die on the front lines for the cause of the Tamil people.

The Sri Lankan government continuously tries to benefit from contradictory statements. They will simultaneously say Charles Anthony was injured on the front lines, but then they will say he is protected and living a luxurious life in a foreign country. They are unable to make up their mind which story to publicize, so they foolishly publish both versions which are mutually contradictory.

They show a picture taken during peace times of Prabhakaran's son celebrating his birthday. During peace time there was no shortage of food, or difficulties for the people. Do they expect Prabhakran's 6 year old son should be dressed in military dress during peace time on his birthday? Again they show a picture of Prabhakaran's son riding a bicycle during the peace times, claiming it is somehow wrong for a child to ride a bicycle.

They show a picture of an NGO worker eating on the beach during the peace time, and claim there is something wrong with that. Do NGO workers not eat food? Should NGO workers live off of air? Again, this picture was taken during peace time when there was plenty of food for everyone. It was not like it is now in the no fire zone, where the Sri Lankan government denies food to more than 150,000 civilians, while the government leaders enjoy sumptuous meals in Colombo.

There have already been a number of starvation deaths reported inside the government detention camps. While the Sri Lankan government lets imprisoned Tamil civilians die of starvation in their custody, the leaders like Rajapaksa enjoy sumptuous meals in Colombo and on international trips. Take for example the fact that during a short period of less than 2 years (2006 to 2007), Mahinda Rajapaksa spent around 473 million rupees on trips abroad. This same person wants to criticize Prabhakaran for giving a birthday cake to his son in 2002 during peace times.

Let anyone who wants to criticize old family photos first look at the house, car and food that Mahinda Rajapaksa uses today. Maybe can show us photos, side by side, of Prabhakaran's place of residence, fighting with his people in the no fire zone, compared to Mahinda Rajapaksa's luxurious house in Colombo.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chemical weapons used by Sri Lanka against Tamil civilians in no fire zone

( A civilian victim of Sri Lankan chemical weapons in the no fire zone.)

Recent reports indicate the Sri Lankan army has begun using chemical weapons against highly congested civilian areas within the no fire zone. With just 11 days left before the Indian elections conclude, Sri Lanka is under intense pressure to finish off the war or face a possible Indian intervention after the elections. In response, Sri Lanka has been transporting large numbers of gas masks to the front lines, and has begun deploying chemical weapons through artillery.

Chemical weapons were extensively used around April 1st, during a siege on Anandapuram, but after that attack, the government returned to using standard explosive munitions. This week's return to using chemical weapons appears to be in response to a failed amphibious assault carried out by the Sri Lankan navy in which there are rumors that LTTE submarines may have intercepted troop transport vehicles attempting to land in the no fire zone.

Sri Lanka thanks India for helping to kill 7,000 Tamil civilians

Today the government of Sri Lanka released an official thank you statement to the various countries that have trained and supplied weapons to the Sri Lankan army for their invasion of the Tamil homeland. The first country mentioned, as expected, was India. No other country has provided more military support and weaponry in this current war than India:

"Sri Lanka is about to conclude her war against terror. In this context, the people of Sri Lanka are grateful for the wholehearted support given to them by India, Pakistan and the rest of the South Asian countries, China, Russia, Pakistan, Japan, Iran, Libya, Vietnam, Mid-East, African and Southeast Asian countries. But for their understanding on our plight and the trust they placed on us, we would never be able to come this far in our battle against terrorism."

Over the last four months, over 7,000 innocent Tamil civilians have been murdered by the Sri Lankan army with weapons supplied by India. Another 14,000 civilians have been severely wounded, many having limbs amputated. The Sri Lankan government salutes India for their role and help in this great achievement. The killing of the Tamil race would never have been possible for Sri Lanka if it had not been for the help of India.

Unfortunately, Tamils in Tamil Nadu did not take this congratulatory message from Sri Lanka favorably. For the first time ever, Tamils have turned on their country's own armed forces and attacked a convoy of 80 military vehicles as it passed by Coimbatore, setting fire to 5 vehicles and throwing boxes of mortars and RPGs into the road. For those who have watched the video it brings back memories of LTTE cadres ambushing Sri Lankan army transports. Today it was only vehicles damaged, but the anger is growing in Tamil Nadu, and it is only a matter of time before things change. In 1983 it only took 13 dead Sri Lankan soldiers to start a 30 year civil war. No one can know which small event may trigger a huge change.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sri Lanka's Sinhalese nationalists stir hate and violence against minority Tamils

By Basil Fernando

Members of a Sinhalese heritage group, the Hela Urumaya, gathered in front of the British High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Wednesday to protest the visits of British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner.

Photographs of the protest showed Buddhist monks seated in front of the slogan-chanting crowd, while a large poster exhibited the photographs of Milliband, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Erik Solheim, the Norwegian minister for the environment and development with the slogan, “Wanted for Aiding and Abetting Terrorism.”

“We may have to take choppers and machetes, we will have to attack with choppers those who jump over the boundaries,” the protesters chanted, referring to Tamils trapped in the conflict zone.

The British and French diplomats were visiting to inspect the humanitarian situation of civilians trapped in the no-fire zone where the Liberation Tigers of Tami Eelam and government forces are engaged in fierce battles. Their visit, however, failed to persuade the government to temporarily halt the hostilities. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was denied a visa to join the delegation.

The foreign diplomats’ concern was for civilians trapped between the warring factions, estimated to be around 80,000 to 140,000 including women, children and the elderly. The call for humanitarian concern has been portrayed in the media and by extremist racist elements as an attempt to extend a lifeline to the LTTE. One of the placards read: “Gordon Brown, would you give a humanitarian lifeline to Osama bin Laden?”

According to reports, over 6,500 civilians have been killed and 14,000 injured due to shelling and the use of heavy arms since January this year. Over 175,000 persons are now internally displaced, including 110,000 people who have fled the no-fire zone.

The portrayal of concern for humanitarian issues and international law, even in the midst of a conflict, as treachery and invasion, is part of a national ideology promoted by the government through its supporters and through the media. The call to take up choppers and machetes reminds one of similar slogans used in places like Rwanda. This kind of ideology and propaganda has the potential to lead to massive violence. Instead of the war bringing an end to violence, what seems to be emerging in Sri Lanka is a further period of even more intense societal violence.

In provincial council elections held in the Western province on April 25, the two candidates who received the most votes both have had criminal charges brought against them – a politician facing several charges of rape in the High Court and a well-known businessman engaged in the gambling industry, who has faced several criminal charges in the past.

Election monitors reported more incidents of violence, including murder, during this election. The atmosphere surrounding the election is demonstrated by the fact that over 60 journalists left the country in fear of their lives. The Immigration Department restricted the issuance of visas for 837 persons, including foreign media personnel. The state media has been widely used for government propaganda and that of its supporters.

This raising of a war psychology and promotion of “nationalism” that sees the rule of law and democracy as a threat to sovereignty has for its ultimate aim the displacement of free and fair elections. The intimidation of the opposition and the silencing of voices that insist on the return to a stable society based on functioning institutions are the parameters in which the new political system functions.

The impact of this on civil society has been demonstrated in several incidents. Akmeemana is a remote village in the country’s south where the population is almost totally Sinhalese Buddhists. Kavin Rashmaka, two years and eight months old, and 10-year-old Thanuja Iragane were both killed while looking for Kavin’s tricycle.

The two children were brutally hacked to death in what was reported as a family dispute, where the assailants took revenge on Kavin’s father by killing the child. As Thanuja was a witness she was also killed. The bodies were hidden and discovered only a few days later when the police and villagers launched a search. The alleged assassin was immediately killed after his arrest and the villagers reportedly killed his father later. Both the crime and the manner in which justice was carried out are barbaric.

Also disturbing is that at the time of the murders Kavin’s mother and father were gambling at two separate locations, and the mother was reportedly not allowed to leave the gambling den as it is customary that no one leaves while the game is underway. So she was prevented from accompanying little Kavin when the child went looking for the tricycle. Buddhists shun gambling, but in this remote village it has become part of daily life, indicating the nature of social transformation taking place even in rural areas.

In another incident, a 13-year-old girl was forced to drink acid, which was also poured over her head as revenge against her parents who allegedly gave information to the police about an illicit liquor business in the area.

Incidents of lawlessness are reported from all over the country every day. There is no national consciousness aimed at consolidating a stable society based on democratic institutions and people’s participation. Instead there is a type of nationalism that attempts to direct people’s attention to real or imagined enemies. Lawlessness has become an integral part of this “nationalism” now promoted in Sri Lanka.

During calamities like the 2004 tsunami, money from donors is dispersed generously on behalf of internally displaced persons. However, such persons do not participate in the utilization of these funds. In fact, refugee centers may last for a long time purely to attract more donations.

What administrative and political measures will be taken to allow currently displaced persons to quickly return to their lands and their way of life? Or will they be kept under harsh conditions to provide satisfaction for those who wish to deal with national problems with choppers and machetes?

Meanwhile, there are serious concerns of a possible bloodbath in the coming week of civilians caught between the LTTE and the government’s armed forces. The nationalist propaganda to ignore the voices of senior diplomats from Europe and the United Nations may contribute to downplay this very real danger.


(Basil Fernando is director of the Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong. He is a Sri Lankan lawyer who has also been a senior U.N. human rights officer in Cambodia. He has published several books and written extensively on human rights issues in Asia. His blog can be read at

Friday, May 1, 2009

In peace, Sri Lankans still disappear; 5,727 disappearances in one year

By Maura R. O'Connor

BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka — When the Venkatesans recall how many of their family members have disappeared, the husband and wife look down at their hands and begin counting fingers. Four of their relations are missing, each abducted in the night by unmarked white vans. Three were taken in the last four months.

For any other family around the world, this number would be shocking. But for an ethnic Tamil family in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, it is unremarkable. For decades the region’s civilians have been traumatized by widespread disappearances, and they believe the majority of them are perpetrated by government security forces or government-backed paramilitary groups.

“We are powerless and don’t know what to do,” said Mrs. Venkatesan (the name has been changed at her request). Her only son was abducted last year and held in a prison for 11 months without charge. The 27-year-old said the police tortured him by beating the bottom of his feet. “When you are 40 years old, you will never walk again,” he said they told him. Last December he was released without explanation, narrowly escaping becoming another finger to count on his mother’s hand.

No one is sure exactly how many individuals have disappeared in the East over the last three decades as the Sri Lankan government has fought the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). What is clear is that the disappearances are continuing, even as Sri Lankan government forces farther north engage in what they call they call the final battle.

Abductions have been a favored counterinsurgency tactic of the Sri Lankan government in its civil war with the LTTE — and the East has been at the heart of this battle from the start.

In one of the bloodiest periods of Sri Lanka’s history, from 1988 to 1994, 20,000 people around the country disappeared, although some believe that the true number may be two to three times higher.

Currently there are 5,727 unsolved cases of disappearances registered with the United Nations Human Rights Council, one of the worst records in the world. In a report issued in February 2009, the council expressed its alarm that the number of disappearances appeared to be increasing, particularly in eastern towns like Trincomalee. But widespread fears of reprisals, the council said, means that the true scale of the problem is likely underreported.

Many residents of the Eastern Province hoped that when the Sri Lankan government won control of the region from the LTTE in 2007, the possibility of a new era of peace would be realized. Instead, disappearances remain a common, almost daily, occurrence.

Tamils fear retribution from Sinhalese as war reaches its climax

In a shop in Colombo's Bambalapitiya neighbourhood, the man stretched out on a sofa suddenly woke with a start. "They're not terrorists," he declared, correcting his friend's use of the word. "They're freedom fighters – 99.99 per cent of Tamil people support them but they are not in a position to show it."

As Sri Lanka's army squeezes the last remnants of the once potent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), such sentiments voiced within the Tamil community represent one crucial reason why this operation might not mark the end of the insurgency.

Analysts say that even if the rebels in the country's north-east are neutralised in the coming days, the movement will retain the capacity – and perhaps the public support – to launch terror strikes and suicide attacks.

"As a viable insurgency they are finished but they will still be able to operate as a terrorist organisation," said Bahukutumbi Raman, a former security advisor to the Indian government.

Despite international calls for a ceasefire, a bloody end appears the most likely outcome for the fewer than 1,000 rebels cornered in a two-square mile patch with up to 50,000 civilians.

A day after the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, called for a humanitarian ceasefire, the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, rejected their calls.

"The government is not ready to enter into any kind of ceasefire," he said. "It is my duty to protect the people of this country. I don't need lectures from Western representatives." The LTTE and its leader, Velupillai Prabakharan, said they would never surrender but called for international help to enforce a ceasefire.

"If any country really cares... I ask that country to go beyond its diplomatic boundaries for the sake of saving human lives and make Sri Lanka stop this genocidal war," the LTTE's political leader, Balasingam Nadesan, told the Associated Press.

It is impossible to accurately gauge the level of support for the LTTE. Fearful of the government and equally fearful of speaking out, most Tamils talk about suffering routine discrimination. They talk of their fear when passing through the ubiquitous check-points and how the troops might arbitrarily decide to detain them.

One university lecturer, who agreed only to speak on the telephone, said: "The police are always asking us what we are doing here. Why we are in Colombo. We are scared. In public places we have to speak Sinhalese. If you speak Tamil in a bus or market, people will stare."

This, of course, does not equate to support for the rebels' violent tactics. But on a walk through Bambalapitiya, replete with Hindu temples and flower sellers, practically everyone who agreed to speak voiced some degree of sympathy for the LTTE.

"The police... always assume we are the LTTE. Perhaps 75 per cent support the cause. There are also people who support the actions," said one Tamil shop-owner, who asked not to be named. Asked about Mr Prabakharan, the 29-year-old replied: "Perhaps 75 per cent of people like him."

The man who had been asleep, a 60-year-old former government worker, said that a series of administrations had passed measures that discriminated against the Tamils. "My own son and daughter have gone to the UK," he said. "The government plans to kill or destroy the Tamil people."

The Sri Lankan authorities say they are seeking to avoid civilian casualties and that the ongoing operation is to rescue civilians. While the UN has estimated that at least 4,500 civilians have been killed since January, the government has rejected reports that it has fired artillery into the area, or fired at a makeshift hospital.

Yet the government says it is taking steps to protect against possible LTTE strikes when the military operation is concluded. In an interview with The Independent, the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the President and the survivor of an assassination attempt in 2006, said: "That is why we have lot of checkpoints and roadblocks. All these things are going on because of that."

Sri Lanka admits bombing civilian safe zone; 20,000 civilian casualties in 3 months

The Sri Lankan government has admitted carrying out air raids in the so-called no-fire zone in the country's northeast where the army is battling Tamil separatists.

But Palitha Kohona, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry secretary, told Al Jazeera that the raids had been carried out weeks ago and that the military had focused only on the Tamil Tigers' (LTTE) artillery guns, well away from civilians.

"As long as the retaliation is proportionate, it is perfectly legitimate and what we did exactly was located these guns and retaliated against those guns," he said.

"I would challenge anybody to say that these shell holes were created once the civilians moved into the area and became occupied by civilians."

The apparent admission follows the leaking of UN satellite images showing evidence of such attacks, supporting claims by Tamil groups that aircraft had bombed the area the government designated a safe zone in February.

Earlier denial

The government had for weeks repeatedly denied its armed forces were using heavy artillery or conducting air raids in the safe zone where it says Tamil Tigers have been holding civilians as human shields.

Many who have managed to get out say the fighters were indeed holding them against their will, and fired on them to prevent their escape.

Tens of thousands of civilians, along with the Tamil Tigers, are believed to still be in the 10sq km area.

On April 19, Kohona told Al Jazeera there was no government shelling in the safe zone.

"Absolutely not, because the government has issued instructions, very strict instructions, to the military not to use aerial bombing or shelling into this area."

But on Friday, confronted by the latest UN satellite imaging agency (Unosat) pictures showing craters which were formed inside the zone between February and April this year, Kohona at first challenged their authenticity before admitting targeting the Tigers' heavy guns.

He said, however, that it was before civilians flooded the area and maintained that the government adhered to international law.

Detailed images

Unosat says the pictures show craters which were formed inside the zone between February 15 and April 19, the day before the army breached the Tigers' defences and civilians started to pour out.

Einer Bjorge, head of the mapping unit at Unosat, told Al Jazeera the pattern of the craters would have required air power.

"The imagery is fairly clear and shows the time, so anybody can study and compare them," he said.

He said the images were also commercially available from the satellite operator.

"Anyone interested in verifying the images can purchase them if they want. It is commercially available to the public," he said.

"You can't get any more transparent than that."

Meenakshi Ganguly, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Al Jazeera that the pictures did give evidence that civilians were at risk, saying the government may have "deliberately deceived the international community when they expressed concern about the situation".

"The pictures do prove that heavy weapons were used and indeed civilian casualties did occur, as shown by UN figures of the death toll since January," she said.

"In fact, HRW once recorded the sound of shelling which was dropping near a hospital."