வெள்ளி, பிப்ரவரி 27, 2009
“Recent Developments in Sri Lanka”
Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
February 24, 2009
Testimony of Dr. Anna Neistat, Senior Researcher, Emergencies Division,
Human Rights Watch
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for inviting Human Rights Watch to testify at this hearing. I will address the most recent developments on the ground in Sri Lanka and, in particular, the desperate plight of civilians caught between the two warring parties—the government of Sri Lanka and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE). Just over a week ago I returned from Sri Lanka. I have to mention, first of all, that collecting
information about the conflict and the situation of the internally displaced persons is extremely difficult. The Sri Lankan government is conducting a cynical campaign to prevent all independent public coverage of its military operations and the plight of civilians caught up in the war. While decrying LTTE abuses, it has kept out the media and human rights organizations that could report on them – and on government abuses. It has kept displaced persons locked up in camps and hospitals. It has traded the well-being of tens of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens for evading international scrutiny. It has been trying its best to bury the abuses.
While in the country, however, we managed to collect credible information about egregious violations by the parties to the conflict, both of which appear to be engaged in a perverse competition to demonstrate the greatest disregard for the civilian population. Our findings are summarized in a 45-page report,
“War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni,”
that we have just released and submitted for your review along with this testimony.
As you know, after 25 years, the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE may be nearing its conclusion. This conflict has over the years claimed some 70 thousand civilian lives, and has left hundreds of thousands displaced for years and even decades. Since the fall of the LTTE’s administrative center, Kilinochchi, in early January 2009, civilian casualties in the northern Vanni region have skyrocketed. The latest figures received by Human Rights Watch from independent monitors on the ground suggest that the total number of civilian casualties has now reached 7,000, including up to 2,000 deaths. Added to this are the dire hardships faced by the displaced – insufficient food, medical care, and
shelter, whether in the combat zone or government-run interment camps.
Having worked in many conflict areas across the world, I have rarely seen a humanitarian disaster of such scale, where both sides demonstrate such shameless disregard to the safety and well-being of civilians, and which, at the same time, receives so little international attention. Civilians caught in Sri Lanka's conflict continue to die as we speak, and immediate action is necessary to stop this egregious loss of civilian life. Violations of the Laws of War by both sides of the conflict During the ongoing fighting in the Vanni, both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law with respect to the conduct of hostilities. The high civilian casualties of the past months can be directly attributable to these violations. The LTTE has been responsible for deploying their forces within densely populated areas and deliberately firing on civilians to prevent them from fleeing to safety. There is also evidence that the LTTE has used civilians as “human shields.”
The Sri Lankan forces have committed numerous indiscriminate and perhaps
disproportionate attacks consisting of artillery bombardment and aerial bombing. These include attacks on the government-proclaimed “safe zones” and on clearly marked hospitals. Statements by senior officials indicating that civilians who do not leave LTTE-controlled areas are subject to attack are indicative of an intent to commit war crimes.
Violations by the LTTE
The LTTE has deliberately prevented civilians under its effective control from fleeing to areas away from the fighting, unnecessarily and unlawfully placing their lives at grave risk. As the LTTE has retreated in the face of SLA offensive operations, it has forced civilians to retreat with it, not only prolonging the danger they face, but moving them further and further away from desperately needed humanitarian assistance. And as the area that the LTTE controls shrinks, the trapped civilian population has become concentrated, increasing the risk of
high casualties in the event of attack and placing greater strains on their living conditions.
Human Rights Watch documented a number of incidents when the LTTE forces fired at
civilians who tried to cross to the government-controlled areas, killing and injuring dozens. In an illustrative case, a 35-year-old father of three described how LTTE cadres had shot at civilians attempting to flee:
When we came to Suthanthirapuram, it was full of dead bodies. Bodies were lying along the road. Nobody cared about them. They smelled. We didn't have food for two days. We slept in the field. Some 150 people started out together, but when we tried to leave, at Suthanthirapuruam, the LTTE tried to stop us. There was only a narrow path to leave by. The LTTE caught us. There was fighting, arguments. They were shooting at us. Many people were injured and killed. It was shocking to see.
Only 65 were in my group when we came out. We were separated from the
rest along the way. One father was carrying his child on his back. As they were running from the LTTE, he was holding him by the arms so hard—in order not to lose him—that he broke both of the child's arms.
The LTTE practice of forcing civilians to retreat with its forces, rather than allowing them to flee to safer areas, has meant that LTTE forces have been increasingly deployed near civilians in violation of the laws of war. Several cases were reported to Human Rights Watch in which LTTE forces appeared to be making deliberate use of civilians to protect their positions from attack — which is considered to be “human shielding,” and constitutes a war crime.
The LTTE has continued to place civilians at serious risk by forcibly recruiting civilians for untrained military duty and for labor in combat zones. The LTTE also has a long history of using children under 18 in their forces, including in armed combat, and the UN has reported that it continues to do so. Since September 2008, the LTTE has increasingly forced people with no prior military experience to fight or perform supportive function on the front lines, which has led to many casualties. One Vanni resident described this practice to Human Rights Watch:
The workers were taken to the frontline to dig bunkers, collect weapons from
killed cadres and SLA soldiers, and so on. It was very dangerous for civilians
– about 25 of my neighbors were killed while doing this work. They did not receive any training — the LTTE cadres fetched them from their homes and the next day brought their dead bodies back. Every day, many people wer crying in my neighborhood because they lost young children; some even beat up LTTE cadres when they brought the bodies back.
Violations by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces
The LTTE’s grim practices are being exploited by the government to justify its own atrocities. High-level officials assert that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning violations. Sri Lankan forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas packed with displaced persons, causing numerous civilian casualties. This includes numerous reported bombardments of a government declared “safe zone” and of the remaining hospitals in the region.
Concerns of indiscriminate attacks by SLA forces are heightened by reports that they are using multi-barrel rocket launchers. Rockets fired from multi-barrel launchers cannot be targeted with sufficient precision to be accurate against military targets, and their broad area effect makes their use incompatible with the laws of war in areas where civilians or civilian objects (such as schools or hospitals) are located. The use of such weapons in populated areas is indiscriminate in violation of international humanitarian law.
Many of the civilian deaths reported in the past month have occurred in an area that the Sri Lankan government has declared to be a “safe zone.” On January 21, the Sri Lankan armed forces unilaterally declared a 35 square kilometer “safe zone” for civilians north of the A35 road between the Udayarkattu junction and the Manjal Palam (Yellow Bridge) in Mullativu district. The Sri Lankan Air Force dropped leaflets appealing to civilians to move into the safe zone as soon as possible.
During the next days, several thousand people gathered in a large playground located just north of the A35 in the safe zone. The playground also functioned as a food distribution center for the local government agent (GA) and international organizations. Several people located in or around the GA food distribution center told Human Rights Watch that, despite the army declaration of a safe zone in the area, the area was subjected to heavy shelling from SLA positions in the period January 22-29, which killed and injured hundreds of people. One shell that struck inside the playground early in the morning on January 24 killed seven civilians and injured 15. An eyewitness told Human Rights Watch:
One mortar shell came in, close. I heard the whirling sound. It was dark so we
didn't know where it landed. When I stuck my head out of the bunker, I saw
the mangled body of a young woman by the entrance. I had never seen that before. I couldn't believe that it was a person. There was a huge amount of screaming immediately after the impact. More mortar shells started coming in. Nothing had been touched when we got out of the bunker in the morning. There were lots of people in bits and pieces lying around. My gut reaction was that I don't want to see this, but I felt that I had to. One woman was lying on her back with two infants, one of whom survived, as I later heard. One baby was hanging from a nearby tree. Another baby,
decapitated, was hanging on the barbed wire surrounding the playground.
Next to the woman lay her husband, face down. Next to the family lay other people. One was severed in half. I think the other one was as well, but I couldn't look anymore. One woman sustained shrapnel injuries to her head. Her brain was lying on the ground. The LTTE and police that came to take away the body did not remove the brain from the ground. It was still lying there when they left. Several sources told Human Rights Watch that LTTE forces maintained positions in the safe zone (although about two to four kilometers north of the playground), from which they fired
on SLA positions. And as LTTE forces retreated, they moved heavy artillery eastward through the northern part of the safe zone. This by itself cannot be considered a violation of international humanitarian law, as the safe zones were declared unilaterally by the Sri Lankan government and not in agreement with the LTTE. The SLA was also not prohibited from attacking LTTE forces inside a safe zone.
At the same time, having declared the area a safe zone for civilians, the SLA encouraged civilians to go to the area, increasing the vulnerability of civilians in the event of an attack. By creating the zone, government forces took on a greater obligation to ensure that they spared civilians from the effects of attacks. Given this civilian presence, attacks on valid military targets in the safe zone should only have been carried out after issuing an effective advance warning that the area was no longer a zone protected from attack. Human Rights Watch also documented several SLA attacks outside of the safe zone which seemed to have been indiscriminate and led to civilian casualties. For example, one of the witnesses from Vallipunam, a town just outside the government-declared safe zone, recounted to Human Rights Watch the SLA shelling of the town on January 19:
There were about 40-50 people traveling along the road when the shelling
started. The shelling lasted for about 15 minutes. About 10 shells landed in
the immediate area, but we could hear shells landing further away as well. I
was staying in the bunker during this time and for another 30 minutes. When
I came out of the bunker, people were crying and shouting. A vehicle had
already taken the injured to Vallipunam school [an IDP center]. One shell had
landed in the middle of the road, however, killing three people who were still
lying there when I came out. The shells were coming from SLA positions, from
the southwest. We could hear them when they came in.
According to the witness, there were no known LTTE positions in the vicinity at the time of the attack.
The witness also told Human Rights Watch that seven of his wife’s relatives, including two children—8 and 6 years old—were killed on February 5 by shelling in Mathalan, an area controlled by the LTTE that he believes had come under SLA attack. He was concerned that three other bodies had been found, mangled beyond recognition, and could be those of relatives he had not heard from.
During the fighting in 2009, the few hospitals that exist in LTTE-controlled areas have repeatedly come under artillery attack. This has added immeasurably to the suffering of individuals who have sought help in medical facilities, already horribly overcrowded and dangerously short of medical personnel, equipment, and supplies before the attacks.
We gathered information from aid agencies and eyewitnesses on more than two dozen
incidents of artillery shelling or aerial bombardments on or near hospitals. Hospitals are specially protected under international humanitarian law. Like other civilian objects, they may not be targeted. But under the Geneva Conventions, hospitals remain protected unless they are “used to commit hostile acts” that is outside their humanitarian function. Even then, they are only subject to attack after a warning has been given setting a reasonable time limit, and after such warning has gone unheeded. Deliberately attacking a hospital is a war crime.
Attacks on hospitals in the Vanni (December 15, 2008 – February 10, 2009) Information compiled by Human Rights Watch from interviews with aid agencies and eyewitnesses
1. 15/12/08 Mullaitivu GeneralHospital Shelling: 2 patients injured, damage to ward and medical equipment.
2. 17/12/08 Vaddakachchi Hospital 10 a.m. Aerial bombing hit refugee settlement 250-300m from the hospital.
3. 19/12/08 Mullaitivu General Hospital 11:30 a.m. Five shells hit hospital causing damage to wards, operating theater, and the Medical Superintendent’s HQ: 2 staff wounded.
4. 20/12/08 Mullaitivu General Hospital Shells hit inside hospital grounds.
5. 22/12/08 Kilinochchi General Hospital 6:20 a.m. Aerial bombing hit near hospital, causing shrapnel damage. No injuries reported.
6. 25/12/08 Kilinochchi General Hospital Shells hit hospital grounds, narrowly missing staff. Damage to newborn nursing section, outpatient department, and reception.
7. 30/12/08 Kilinochchi General Hospital 4 p.m. Shells hit hospital causing damage to the building. No injuries reported.
8. 08/01/09 Tharmapuram Hospital 1:20 p.m. Shells hit Tharmapuran Junction 75 m from the hospital, killing 7.
9. 10/01/09 PTK Hospital 11 p.m. Shells hit IDP settlement located behind PTK hospital.
10. 13/01/09 PTK Hospital 10 a.m. Hospital hit by shells: 1 killed, 6 wounded. Patients fled to the wards to seek shelter from the shelling.
11. 19/01/09 Vallipunam Hospital Shell landed in hospital yard: 6 people in outpatient ward injured
12. 21/01/09 Vallipunam Hospital 7 p.m. One shell hit hospital
13. 22/01/09 Vallipunam Hospital Morning. Shells hit hospital compound: killing 5 and injuring 22.
14. 26/01/09 UDK Hospital Shells hit hospital: 12 killed, 40 injured.
15. 31/01/09 PTK Hospital Shrapnel from shells hit hospital.
16. 01/02/09 PTK Hospital Three attacks. First attack: 1 person injured by shrapnel inside the hospital. Second attack: one shell hit the hospital: 1 killed, 4 injured. Third attack: 1 shell hit the women and children ward (no
information on casualties).
17. 02/02/09 PTK Hospital One shell hit hospital: 1 nurse killed, 10 patients injured.
18. 03/02/09 PTK Hospital Rocket hit surgical theatre: no information casualties.
19. 05/02/09 Ponnampalam MemorialHospital Shelling : 60 casualties inside and outside the hospital.
20. 10/02/09 Putumattalan (make-shift hospital for PTK) Shelling: 16 people killed.
The government has sought to justify attacks that have resulted in high civilian casualties on the grounds that the civilians failed to heed warnings to flee the areas, and that the LTTE’s use of civilians as shields rendered the LTTE fully responsible for any civilian loss.
The plight of civilians in Vanni has been exacerbated by the government’s decision in September 2008 to order most humanitarian agencies out of the region. The government’s own efforts to bring in assistance with a minimal UN role have been insufficient. Fighting, lack of oversight, and the manipulation of the delivery of aid by government forces and the LTTE have all contributed to the continuing humanitarian crisis.
Scarce information that comes out of Vanni through phone calls or text messages suggests that the situation gets worse by day, with civilians lacking water, food, medical supplies and other necessities.
On February 10, an international agency received information from its staff, which had relocated to a place along the coast, that the only supplies that they had left were rice, flour, and oil. They had run out of water and the nearest water was 1.5 kilometers away. Walking there was extremely risky as the area was frequently shelled—an artillery shell had recently landed just 100 meters from the agency’s bunker.
The delivery of humanitarian assistance had been further complicated because both side used humanitarian convoys to advance their military positions, in clear violation of international law.
One individual who joined convoys delivering food supplies on December 23 and 29 said that Sri Lankan government troops used the convoys moving northwards to advance closer to LTTE positions. He told Human Rights Watch that on December 29:
We got to the last SLA checkpoint near Oddusuddan from where the ICRC was supposed to accompany us through no-man's land to the LTTE checkpoint 13 kilometers south of PTK. As soon as we passed the SLA checkpoint, military vehicles joined the convoy and followed the convoy on both sides. LTTE saw it and started firing. The army returned fire and the convoy had to stop for one hour. At this time nobody was injured, but when the same thing happened to the GA [government] convoy the next day, their driver was injured in crossfire.
Plight of the Internally Displaced
The situation of civilians who manage to escape from areas of active hostilities into government-controlled territory is dire. Instead of providing the internally displaced with the assistance and protection they are entitled to under international law, the Sri Lankan government continues to violate their fundamental rights.
The government has arbitrarily detained people during screening procedures; subjected all internally displaced persons, including entire families, to indefinite confinement in militarycontrolled camps; and failed to provide adequate medical and other assistance to displaced persons. The government has directly restricted the efforts of relief agencies seeking to meet emergency needs, and has deterred agencies from offering greater support through policies that the agencies rightly perceive as unlawful.
The number of newly arrived displaced persons changes daily and is hard to verify, especially since the government does not share lDP registration lists with any international agencies. As of February 16, according to estimates by international agencies working in the area, there were about 30,700 internally displaced in 12 sites in Vavuniya.
Screening procedures and unknown fate of the detainees
Sri Lankan security forces subject people fleeing from LTTE-controlled areas to several stages of screening, ostensibly to separate those affiliated with the LTTE from displaced civilians. While the government has legitimate security reasons for screening displaced persons to identify and apprehend LTTE cadres, the screening procedures need to be transparent and comply with the requirements of international humanitarian and human rights law. So far, none of these requirements have been met and dozens of individuals, perhaps many more, have been detained during the screening process. The fate of such detainees remains unknown, raising fears of possible enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
According to several sources, at the Omanthai checkpoint - the main screening point for displaced persons on the main A9 roadway before their arrival in camps in Vavuniya - the SLA and the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has separated dozens of men and women aged 18 to 35, as well as some teenage children, from their families, allegedly for further questioning. Some have been released within days and transferred to the IDP camps in Vanunya, but the fate of numerous others remains unknown. An international relief worker told Human Rights Watch that on February 8, 2009, she was approached by about 50 families whose relatives had been detained at Omanthai checkpoint in previous days. Neither the families nor the international worker had any information as to the fate and whereabouts of the detainees. Another relief worker said:
One woman in the camp told me that she was crossing the Omantai checkpoint with her husband and child on February 3. The husband was detained there, and for a week now she has no information about him. People like her call us all night long, trying to get information about their missing relatives.
At this point, no independent observers are allowed to monitor the screening process at the Omanthai checkpoint. Efforts of international agencies, including ICRC and UNICEF (some detainees are children), to obtain the lists of the detainees and any information about their fate and location from the Sri Lankan authorities so far have proved futile
Confinement in internment camps
Upon arrival in Vavuniya, all displaced persons, without exception, are subjected to indefinite confinement in de facto internment camps, which the government calls transit sites, “welfare centers,” or “welfare villages.” Those requiring immediate medical attention are first taken to the hospital, and then to one of the camps (see below).
Sri Lankan authorities have ignored calls from the international community to ensure the civilian nature of the camps. The perimeters of the sites are secured with coils of barbed wire, sandbags, and machine-gun nests. There is a large military presence inside and around the camps.
Several sources reported to Human Rights Watch the presence of plainclothes military intelligence and paramilitaries in the camps. A UN official in Vavuniya told Human Rights Watch that she and colleagues have seen members of paramilitary groups in different camps. In particular, local staff members recognized several members of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), a pro-government Tamil paramilitary organization long implicated in abuses, present at one of the camps. Military and CID officers regularly conduct nighttime interrogations inside the camps, summoning young men and women into their premises.
Displaced persons confined in the camps enjoy no freedom of movement and are not allowed any contact with the outside world. While many of the displaced persons have families in Vavuniya, their relatives have not been allowed to visit them in the camps.
Relatives come to the camp sites, trying to find their family members and communicate with them through the fence and barbed wire surrounding the sites, yet they are often chased away by soldiers. The displaced persons in Vavuniya camps are never allowed to leave the sites on their own.
A local relief worker told Human Rights Watch that a woman she spoke with in one of the camps was not even allowed to attend the funeral of her mother who had succumbed to her wounds at Vavuniya hospital. The relief worker said:
I spoke to one woman in the camp—she was crying and screaming. It turned out that her elderly mother, who had been injured and admitted to the hospital, died there on February 7. The elderly woman’s body was given to the son, who lived in Vavuniya, but her daughter was not allowed to leave the camp even to attend her mother’s funeral. She was in agony because she couldn’t pay respects to her mother.
Several relief workers working with displaced persons told Human Rights Watch that many are devastated because they have been separated from their family members and have no information about their relatives—those who stayed in the Vanni, those detained at Omanthai, or even those who may be in Vavuniya but confined in a different camp.
In apparent efforts to demonstrate that they can handle the influx of displaced persons without assistance from international agencies, and to prevent any communication between displaced persons and the outside the world, Sri Lankan authorities have significantly restricted the access of international relief agencies and local nongovernmental organizations to the camps. Nor have journalists or human rights groups been allowed access.
While in early February, realizing that they would not be able to handle the situation on their own, Sri Lankan authorities allowed various UN agencies and international humanitarian agencies to set up necessary facilities and provide emergency assistance in the camps, the agencies do not enjoy unimpeded access to the displaced. The decision seems to be made on an ad hoc basis by military commanders in charge of the camps, and as a result, muchneeded aid often does not reach the internally displaced. For example, on February 11, 2009, an international agency providing assistance and necessary equipment to the handicapped was not allowed to enter one of the camps. Given the large number of displaced persons disabled as a result of their injuries, the access of this agency to the camps is crucial. Those working in the camps who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that it was virtually impossible for them to talk to displaced persons and interview them about their experiences.
The military, CID, and plainclothes paramilitaries were keeping a close watch on any outsiders in the camp, preventing them from talking to the displaced persons. The military made it clear to the international organizations that violating their rules would result in their losing access to the camps, while local relief workers simply feared for their lives should they get noticed, especially by the paramilitaries.
International bodies, including the UN Secretary-General's representative on internally displaced persons and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have repeatedly called upon the Sri Lankan government to honor its international legal obligations towards displaced persons. These pleas, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government is proceeding apace with its plan to confine all of the internally displaced from Vanni into so-called “welfare villages”—while the army conducts the screening, clears areas in Vanni of remaining LTTE cadres, and demines the area. The “welfare villages,” according to the government’s plan, are supposed to have schools, banks, playgrounds, shops, and other facilities, yet those living there will not enjoy the right to liberty or the freedom of movement. Rajiva Wijesinha, the Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, told the media, “Of course, it will not be voluntary - we need to check everyone."
Originally, the government proposed to keep the displaced persons in the “welfare villages” for up to three years, but following the protests from UNHCR, said it intends to resettle most of the displaced persons by the end of 2009. The Sri Lankan government’s past record with regard to the resettlement of persons displaced by armed conflict does not give cause for optimism that resettlement will happen quickly. On the contrary, it gives reason to be concerned that the government will end up interning those placed there indefinitely.
Inadequate medical assistance at the Vavuniya hospital
The situation of several hundred displaced persons receiving medical assistance at the Vavuniya hospital is desperate.
The majority of patients were brought to the hospital on January 28, when ICRC managed to escort 226 wounded civilians requiring urgent medical assistance, including 51 children, out of the Vanni. Others were either brought to the hospital earlier, by transport organized by the Ministry of Health, or sent to the hospital after they managed to cross to the government side and went through the screening procedures along with other displaced persons. While the medical staff in the hospital has been trying to do everything possible to assist the wounded, the influx of patients has been far beyond the hospital’s capacity.
When Human Rights Watch visited the hospital on February 11, 2009 — after some of the patients had already been discharged to the camps or transferred to other hospitals — there were still not enough beds for all the patients, and many of the patients, especially in the male ward, were lying on the floor in the corridor. The maternity ward was also overcrowded with no adequate accommodation provided for newborn babies and their mothers, many of whom were also injured.
Several sources told Human Rights Watch that due to the hospital’s lack of capacity, patients were being discharged—and sent straight to the camps—long before their injuries were healed, which has already led to at least two deaths.
Human Rights Watch interviewed two women in the hospital who just gave birth. Both of them were in despair as they were informed that they would be discharged and sent to the camp that day. One of the women had been injured by shelling in the Vanni and had one of her feet amputated. She gave birth through Cesarean section four days earlier and still could not even independently take care of herself, let alone her newborn baby. Another woman gave birth to twins a day earlier and was terrified by the prospect of moving into the camp with her two babies and no one to help her take care of them.
It was obvious that the hospital lacked even the most basic necessities. Many of the hospital beds had no bed sheets or blankets, and a number of patients, including at least two children, told Human Rights Watch that they did not have a change of clothes. Despite the obvious lack of capacity to handle all of the wounded and attend to their needs, the hospital personnel, according to several independent sources, were instructed by the authorities not to ask for any assistance from the international agencies, and very few agencies were allowed access to the hospital.
An international relief worker told Human Rights Watch that her agency tried to provide assistance to the hospital when the convoy with 226 patients arrived in Vavuniya on January 28, but the hospital did not allow them to. She said:
Authorities in the hospital kept telling us, “Go away, all needs are met.” Medical staff are under a lot of pressure they were instructed by the government not to ask for anything from relief agencies, not to speak about any of the needs, and not to provide any information. They were supposed to demonstrate that the government could handle the influx of patients. Now, however, the situation is so desperate that despite the government orders, medical staff confidentially approach international agencies, asking for medical supplies and other assistance.
The situation of patients is aggravated by the fact that their relatives—even the ones who were allowed to accompany them from the Vanni—have not been allowed to stay with them and have been sent to the camps instead. That has been true even of small children and severely injured patients who require constant attention and assistance. No patients were allowed to stay with their families—rather than in the camp—after their discharge, despite the hospital staff's efforts to make such arrangements.
Human Rights Watch visited all of the hospital wards and most of the patients were in a state of despair, often crying incessantly. One of the patients told Human Rights Watch: They promised they would allow us to go back after we get treatment. Now our families are back there, and we have no information about them. And we are not much better off. People are dying in the hospital as well; there are no relatives to help us, and there won’t be anybody once we go to the camps. Why did they bring us here? We could have just as well died there [in Vanni], because there is nobody here to take care of us, to feed us, and we are likely to die anyway, just through more suffering.
The hospital is essentially run by the military and guarded even more closely than the camps. Uniformed servicemen patrol every ward of the hospital, the corridors, and the hospital yard. They register all visitors and watch closely, especially when international relief workers enter the wards. Attempts to communicate with the patients have already led to problems for both patients and the people who tried to talk to them.
For example, a local NGO worker told Human Rights Watch that after one of his staff members talked to a young woman with a mental disorder in the hospital, the patient “had gone missing” the next day, and the staff member was approached by the CID and questioned about his conversations with the patient. Out of fear for his safety, he had to discontinue his visits to the hospital.
The NGO worker added that he was aware of three cases in which relatives of the patients “had gone missing” after their visits to the hospital. He also said that, according to the information he received in the hospital, in early February several men arrived in a white van to the hospital and abducted the hospital canteen owner “because he used to go to the wards and talk to the patients.”
The situation in the Vavuniya hospital raises serious concerns regarding the safety and wellbeing of patients not just in this hospital, but in other hospitals where injured civilians have been evacuated. After some 600 patients were evacuated from the makeshift hospital at Putumattalan to Trincomalee by the ICRC on February 10 and 12, initial reports from Trincomalee hospital suggest that it too has become militarized and access to the patients is
As a co-chair of the Tokyo Donors' Conference and one of Sri Lanka's key international partners, the United States has the power and the responsibility to address the current crisis. The United States has in recent years been outspoken on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Given the dire needs of the civilian population in the Vanni, Human Rights Watch urges the Obama administration and Congress to bring new urgency to its concerns. Specifically, the US government should call upon the Sri Lankan authorities to:
• Cease all attacks that violate the laws of war, including artillery bombardment and aerial bombing that does not discriminate between military targets and civilians; attacks on hospitals, and attacks using weapons, such as multi-barrel rocket launchers and heavy artillery, that are indiscriminate when used in or near densely populated civilians populations;
• Facilitate, along with the LTTE, the immediate creation of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians trapped by the fighting to travel to areas away from the fighting;
• Immediately lift the September 2008 order barring humanitarian agencies from the Vanni conflict area in northern Sri Lanka and allow humanitarian agencies to return to assist at-risk individuals and reach all civilians in need; ensure that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are able to perform their work without arbitrary government interference;
• Allow independent observers, including journalists, access to conflict zones so that accurate and timely information about the situation of civilians in such areas is publicly available;
• Immediately end the arbitrary and indefinite detention of civilians displaced by recent fighting at the internment camps in northern Sri Lanka;
• Permit international monitoring of the screening procedures to prevent arbitrary arrests and “disappearances” of the detained individuals;
• Otherwise abide by the United Nations General Principles on Internal Displacement, including by permitting the freedom of movement of displaced persons, respecting the right of displaced persons to return to their homes, and permitting humanitarian agencies access to displaced persons.
In addition, we call upon the US government to support a discussion of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka at the UN Security Council.
புதன், பிப்ரவரி 25, 2009
ஞாயிறு, பிப்ரவரி 22, 2009
• Prabhakaran inspired by Hitler...
• Prabha started "Tamil new Tigers'' with me...
This is an interview by Ahilan Kadirgamar of Ragavan at his London home on 25 January 2009.
As the Tamil community in Lanka is at the crossroads with twenty five years of war nearing an end with the increasing marginalization of the LTTE, I would like to do a series of interviews on the social, economic and political conditions that led to the emergence of armed politics and militarization of the Tamil community. Returning to those years in the seventies and early eighties then is an attempt to also think about ways forward out of the militarized and armed politics of the last few decades. I intend to do a series of interviews to capture that important political period for Lankan Tamils. This important shift in Lankan politics and the decades of war that followed it did irreparable damage to the Lankan Tamil community and all the peoples of Lanka.
I begin with an interview of Ragavan, a founding member of the LTTE, who left the movement in 1984 and has since moved to London where he lives in exile. In this first interview, Ragavan speaks about his background and early years of militancy.
AK: Given the current political moment where we could be ending a cycle of a different form of political engagement by the Tamil community, where politics was very much militarized, I am interested in speaking to your generation in particular. I would like to hear your thoughts on the formation of Tamil militancy in the 1970s and 1980s; the social, economic and political conditions that led to the emergence of a very different kind of politics from Tamil politics during the previous century. I want to begin by asking you a biographical question, about your own background.
R: I should start by saying that I am looking at the past through the present. My knowledge and experiences have been different, and I may have answered your questions very differently if you had asked me the same questions in the seventies.
The seventies were the time of economic changes as well. The import-substitution economy was implemented by the Sri Lankan government at that time. There was an uprising in the South with the JVP, due to the disgruntlement of the Southern youth. That also perhaps had an impact on us. The state was unable to address the growing unemployment crisis at that time. Due to the disenchantment of the Southern youth, the state introduced a standardization scheme, which stated that Tamils should get higher marks to get into the university. In a post colonial setup, without a vibrant economy and a strong national bourgeoisie, the job opportunities were limited and there was much competition to gain employment in the state sector and the growing middle classes competed for state jobs. Entering university to become a doctor, engineer or getting a job in a bank and other state departments were the few options available for the middle class to climb the social ladder. Until 1970, Sri Lanka mainly relied upon exporting raw materials such as tea and rubber and the prices were determined by the world market. The growing oil prices in the 1970’s further affected the third world countries. The newly formed United Front government in 1970 consisted of the SLFP, CP and LSSP which introduced the import substitution economy. I would say that it was ideologically a nationalist project with a socialist tint.
However, the United Front government faced serious economic and political crisis due to the global economic crisis. After they crushed the JVP uprising in the south, the state introduced standardisation policy in order to satisfy the unemployed Sinhala middle class in the South. In a sense, it mainly impacted the Tamil middle class youth particularly from Jaffna and the Sinhala middle class youth in Colombo, with respect to university admissions. The Tamil middle class youth, especially from Jaffna perceived this as an act against Tamils… Tamils from the East, Mannar, Vanni or upcountry were not bothered about the standardisation policy. Students from those areas were rarely admitted to the universities at that time. The standardisation policy, which affected Jaffna Tamil middle class students, was the main catalyst for the militancy. Although the Sri Lankan state disenfranchised Up-Country Tamils in the past and there were colonisation programs in the east, the Jaffna middle class Tamils did not take those issues to form a ‘Tamilness’ or to fight for the rights of Tamils. Secondly, although the Tamil United Front (TUF) started talking about Tamil rights and the federal set up and so on, at that time in the early seventies, they had not started talking about a separate state. However, there was another organization at that time called the Suyaatchi Kazhaagam (Self-rule Forum), under the leadership of V. Navaratnam, who propagated the idea of a Tamil nation.
Firstly, the Tamil youth, particularly the educated Tamil youth, took up this idea of a Tamil nation after the introduction of standardisation. However, their social composition was Tamil middle class, and upper caste as well, that is the university aged youth and Advanced Level students. These students took up this cause and there was a major protest in Jaffna against standardisation in 1970. I was a student at that time and I remember going to the protest march. It was a reasonably peaceful march in which thousands of students from 8th Standard to University participated, and it was organized by the Maanavar Peravai (Student Front) led by Sathiyaseelan. I can recollect some of the slogans which claimed that Tamils were a great educated people. For example, people shouted whether Baddiuddin Mohammed (Education Minister) knew “Alpha Beta” implying that the Tamils are great mathematicians but that this Minister did not know mathematics. It also had an anti-Muslim character in the way they attacked Baddiuddin Mohammed. At that time, I was not fully aware of the nuances of such rhetoric. One year later the government changed its standardisation policy and introduced district quotas and as a result, students from the underdeveloped villages were able to enter the university. However, the Jaffna Tamil middle classes did not want to acknowledge this, as this was against their own interests.
The violence started from there as well, where the armed movements’ goal was to kill the traitors; those who were working with the State. So, there were three attempted assassinations, where, Duraippa was the primary target.
AK: Stepping back a bit, your own family background, did that have any impact on your affinity towards Tamil nationalism at that time?
R: As with any Jaffna Tamil middle class family, their aim was to educate their children and make them a doctor or engineer, there was a production line mentality. At least one child, the elder child, should try and become a doctor, an engineer or at the least an accountant. Due to the lack of resources or social limitations, that was the only goal. There is a proverb in Tamil, “Kolzii meinthallum govermentil meikavendum” (even if you are going to have a chicken farm, you should do it for the government), that was the middle class aim, and had become the Jaffna Tamil mentality. Next there was the family structure, with the authoritarian father figure, and I wanted to leave the family soon. You cant question the father. And I also had a rebellious character and I wanted to leave the family as soon as possible, even before I joined the LTTE, I wanted to leave the house. I was even thinking of getting a job after I passed my O’levels. During this time I was inspired by Tamil nationalist ideology and began to read papers such as ‘Suthanthiran’ and ‘Viduthalai’. When I was a student at Central College, I would go to the Jaffna Library which was close by and read the news papers, particularly ‘Viduthalai’ (Freedom) inspired by the idea of nationalism.
AK: In your formative years, how did the issues of class and caste play out in your local community? Were you conscious of such issues at that time?
R: I was very conscious of caste at an early age. My village, Punallaikatuvan, which was divided into various areas, and Punallaikatuvan did not have one identity, there was the North side and South side of the village and marriage customs were different and restricted. So when I was quite young, there was a man called Thuraisingam, an upper caste man and a Chandiyan (a local village thug), my mother told me that he murdered a man long ago. He also owned land and the Dalits were the service caste and they would work for him. At that time I was about six or seven years old, in the early 60’s, and one day, there was some problem with the Dalits, possibly because they didn’t want to work as he hadn’t paid them properly. The outcome was that the entire Dalit community was chased away from my village. If you look at our recent history, it is like the manner in which the Northern Muslims were chased away. So, all the Dalits were chased away from my village and their belongings were taken away by the Chandian and his followers. And it took them a long time before they could come back and resettle. No one challenged that eviction at that time and that had a lasting impact on me even though I was also from a Vellala middle class family. In a certain sense the Tamil nationalist ideology claimed that all Tamils should be united, and while we did not think about the caste contradictions at that time, we nevertheless thought that everyone should join the struggle without considering the structural inequalities and the caste hierarchy
In the seventies, while it was already in law, the government of Sri Lanka attempted to implement equal access for Dalits in temples and public places. Temple entry in my village was out of the question, as no one was willing to challenge it because of the strength of the caste system. I remember going to a barber saloon (barbers belonged to the oppressed castes), when I was small, and asking the barber if he will allow Dalits into his saloon. There was a big muscular farmer standing next to me and he slapped me, because he was angry that I would even ask such a question. Ultimately, the barber saloon was closed, as the barber was scared of the upper castes. And after the saloon was closed, the barber started visiting people’s houses and performing his work. So, particularly in the villages, the caste system was very strong. With the service castes at that time, there was no question of workers rights, whether you were paid or not, you were expected to work.
At the same time, then in the seventies, there was no strong sense of Tamil identity; the village identity and caste identity were much stronger than Tamil nationalist identity. I believe that it is still the case; as in practice the cultural and religious festivals are caste orientated and the identity is preserved. Although Tamil identity in a sense is there, it is the outer layer, rather than the substance of the Tamil community. The social practices such as festivals, marriage and death are arranged according to the caste and village hierarchy and what you practice is what you are. And although Communist parties in the north at that time talked about class, there was no real working class formation at that time, and only a few factories, like the cement factory, so I would say class was subsumed under caste. While there might have been class divisions, there wasn’t a strong class consciousness, where as caste consciousness was very strong. So, class was seen through caste, with caste more dominant than class. Even a worker from the upper caste would not allow a Dalit to marry his daughter or to even allow him inside his house. I would say that when the Chinese Communist Party took up temple entry, caste took a prominent role, and the caste issue was dominant even though the Communist Party interpreted it in class terms. Without the elimination of the caste system, I believe that class unity is not possible
The other important factor was the independence and formation of Bangladesh. India’s role was admired by the Jaffna Tamil community, and many politicians began referring to India as the motherland.
AK: Moving onto the Tamil political formations at that time. Particularly the dominant role of the Federal Party, how did that influence youth like you?
R: Although the Federal Party was talking about Tamil nationalism, they did not have any organized program. They did not even have a committee or village level organizational structure. What they would do is, come every now and then, and say this is our agenda. Even at that time, the Federal Party did not create the democratic political space, because there was no political participation by the people in the organisation. I would say the Federal Party just made decisions at the top, and was merely passed down. I often compare the difference with the DMK in India, while I don’t agree with DMK’s politics, they did have a strong organizational structure; there are committees at the village level, there are different layers of organizational structures. The Federal Party did not have that, and may be they would have one person in each village, and the Federal Party Member of Parliament will come and talk to him, and he will arrange a meeting once in a blue moon. So, the democratic space or democratic culture was not there. I am exclusively talking about Jaffna society at the moment. Anyway, neither did we have the democratic culture, there was the repressive character of the caste system, so the democratic mindset was also lacking. So, everything from caste to the family, it was a hierarchical structure and the hierarchical system was designed in such a way to obey the order than to discuss or criticise. I believe that the LTTE’s political ideology reflected the Jaffna Tamil middle class and upper caste interests and their pride while its authoritarian structure stemmed from the family and caste hierarchical system. So while we are talking about the need for democratic culture at the current moment, I would say we did not have it at that time either. Electoral democracy was there, but not a democratic culture, and even grassroots civil society organizations did not exist. There were only the state structures.
AK: What was the politics that came down in this top down manner from the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress, and how did it impact your politics?
R: Tamil Congress was seen as a Colombo based party for the elite. But the Federal Party was seen as a party of the Tamil people. At that time, people would say that G. G. Ponnambalam was great orator and a lawyer. In those days, the issue was about who is clever. They would say Chelvanayagam (leader of the Federal Party) is only a civil lawyer where as Ponnambalam has been to the UN. People would argue about such matters. I can still remember, the symbol of the Tamil Congress was the bicycle, where as the symbol of the Federal Party was the house, and people would argue about that as well. What is the use of the cycle, but the house you can live in it. (Laughter…) These arguments were about who you should vote for and not about Tamil rights. But after a while the Federal Party and then the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) played an important role in the rise of Tamil nationalism, particularly in the seventies.
I can say this, that the ruling government in the South had a vision about non-alignment and interest in nationalisation in opposition to the legacy of British colonial influence. So there was a progressive content to it. But unfortunately, it was mobilized as part of Sinhala nationalism and not as a Lankan nationalist consciousness. Instead of challenging the Sinhala nationalist ideology, the Federal Party was opposed to nationalisation; for example, the nationalisation of the Trincomalee Harbour under the control of the British.
Next, the Federal party or then the TULF did not have a political programme to continue a sustained campaign such as the civil disobedience movement in India or the civil rights movement in the USA. I believe that the TULF disseminated Tamil nationalist ideology without realising the consequences as their main goal was to win seats in parliament. Although they addressed these issues in the parliament, when the state failed to address the grievances, the leadership did not have any alternatives but to talk about Bangladesh and mother India. Tamil rights or minority rights could have been fought politically with a sustained civil rights campaign. Due to the lack of political commitment from the TULF leadership a political gap was created and inexperienced adventurous middle class youths took up the role to file the gap, which in turn created Tamil militancy. I believe that the rights of Tamils or other minorities should have been fought democratically and the TULF should have taken a lead role. My contention is that, in the context of Sri Lanka, it is a folly to describe the struggle of the rights of minorities as a national liberation struggle. However, in a colonial setting you may call it a national liberation struggle. In our case, there was ample space to fight for the rights of minorities within the democratic terrain and this was not done.
Now, if you take district quotas in education introduced by the government in 1972 instead of standardisation, that was not seen as a progressive step. Particularly the Federal Party leadership did not see this as empowering the youth from the rural areas. On the other hand, perhaps the Federal Party was concerned only about the Jaffna Tamil middle class upper caste youth, even if it might help Tamils in other areas. The nationalisation policies of the State were also seen as anti Tamil by the Federal Party and the TULF.
AK: Expanding more on Tamil nationalism in the 1970s, you mentioned how “traitors” were constructed and targeted, and you mentioned the idea of the Tamil nation that began to emerge. What other concepts became important and was the Federal Party actively cultivating and pushing these concepts?
R: Maanavar Peravai (Student Federation) led by Sathiyaseelan was formed in order to oppose the standardisation policy. Tamil nationalist ideology was also part of the program of the Maanavar Peravai. Although, there was no direct link between it and the Federal Party, it was a separate formation, but ideologically they shared the same view. Whoever was opposed to the Federal Party and later the TULF, the TULF would claim that they are traitors, and that they should not die naturally, so that kind of rhetoric seems to have tacitly encouraged violence. And the Maanavar Peravai was working actively to eliminate such traitors.
The Sri Lankan government also made a blunder when they introduced the Republican constitution of 1972, where Buddhism was given a prominent role. So, in addition to standardisation, these issues also contributed to the formation of a Tamil national identity.
AK: Was the State identified with the Sinhala community?
R: It is a complex issue. Of course the ruling class from the Sinhala community constructed Sinhala nationalism. However, whether the State identified with the Sinhala community is questionable as the Sinhala community is not a monolithic whole. The caste, class and regional differences were there. However a certain social class consisting of the Sinhala middle class and the Bikkus (Buddhist clergy) were able to disseminate Sinhala nationalist ideology and was able to consolidate power. We should not forget that the same State killed more than 70,000 Sinhala youths in the insurrections of the 70s and 80s. Therefore to answer your question, the State identified with Sinhala nationalism but not with Sinhala community.
I would say the Tamil nationalist ideology became a mirror image of the Sinhala nationalist ideology and there emerged a Tamil versus Sinhala framing. The Tamil nationalist leadership instead of challenging Sinhala nationalism and its ideological and political content, inverted the same ideological framework and started its political campaign from the same premises. Racist slogans and rhetoric were liberally used by both Sinhala and Tamil nationalists. Dutugemunu Ellara episode to King Changilian and Pandaravanniyan’s epics were reinterpreted, constructed and used for a modern nationalist construction.
I should tell you this story. My father was transferred to Mannar and my father wanted me to come to Mannar as he was aware that I was involved with militant groups. I went to Mannar and joined a Catholic college named St Xavier College. After a few months, there was a drama about Changilian, and until then I knew Changilian as the last Tamil king who heroically fought against the Portuguese. However, in Mannar, for Catholics, Changillian was a villain because he executed 600 Catholic converts. His son, who converted to the Catholic faith was a hero to Mannar Catholics. I am saying this to show that Tamil nationalist ideology portrays Tamilness in a particular way by concealing all the caste, class, religious and regional differences. It is applicable to Sinhala nationalism as well.
AK: Can we talk about the shift to certain forms of violence. You mentioned violence in the community, or violence in the family, or violence of caste oppression or the violence of the Chandiyan. But when did violence become explicitly political in the mainstream. Of course as you mentioned there was the construction of the traitor and the rhetoric that traitors should not die a natural death. However, there seems to be a major shift in the seventies. Even though there was the violence of the caste struggles in the sixties which were also political, but that was of a different scale. How were the acts of violence received? Indeed, in the South, there was already a major insurrection by then.
R: I think that the Jaffna Tamil society is structurally violent because of the caste system. When an upper caste man’s honour is questioned he uses violence to assert his authority. If you look at it from the point of view of the ‘honour’ of Jaffna Tamil middle class upper caste students, the government’s introduction of standardisation was to humiliate them. Humiliation is not tolerated by an upper caste male dominated society. Therefore violence against Dalits was now shifted to the Tamil political field where you take revenge for the humiliation. In the early seventies, this became the attempted murders, followed by the arrest of the Maanavar Peravai members in the 1972, and the crack down by the State.
The other important event was the Tamil Literary Conference in1974, which was planned to take place in Jaffna, but the State attempted to block the conference and hold it in Colombo. But finally the conference was held in Jaffna, with the TULF mobilizing in a major way. On the last day of the conference, when the police blocked a protest, an electric cable fell, and nine people died of electrocution. I myself attended the conference the previous day, but I was not there on that last day. The conference could have happened without much mobilization if the State did not try to block it, but because of the State’s short sightedness, even in my village, I started organizing events celebrating the conference. We decorated the road and had booths to provide water and drinks, like in temple festivals.
During that time Sivakumar, a young Tamil nationalist, tried to assassinate one of the police officers and failed. And then he became a “wanted person” and during an encounter he took poison and died in the hospital. That was a major incident, with a mass funeral. A lot of students including myself attended the funeral. And I remember even girls attended the funeral, even though girls don’t normally attend funerals. There was always some kind of link between the TULF and these kinds of events. And the TULF called him a hero, and they compared him to Subash Candra Bose and said that although they followed Gandhian principles to achieve their goal, they respected Sivakumaran as he had the same vision.
AK: When did you become an active member of the LTTE?
R: During those days, there were two other people in my village who were older than me, and quite active. They wanted to do something as well. At that time, even I thought it was good to eliminate traitors!
There was a jail break and four people involved with the Maanavar Peravai escaped from Anuradhapura prison and there was some connection with my village. One person from my village who was involved with the Maanavar Peravai had hid one of these people in our village. That was in 1974. They knew we wanted to become active so they started to talk to us. At that time, I also bought a pistol from a local thug. I of course hid the pistol, the police was not the big problem for me, it was my father! (Laughter…) During that time I also started writing slogans on the wall, and one day a local person saw me writing on the wall, and I ran away and stayed with my aunt for a couple of days, because I was afraid of my father, that he would beat me up. Then I returned after my family was looking for me. My father was a local school headmaster, so during that time, Minister of Education Baddiuddin Mohammed was visiting and all the schools were expected to welcome him. So the previous night, I went with a friend and wrote slogans like “Baddiuddin Mohammed Get Out!” We were engaged in such activities, which were inspired by the TULF’s idea of protest. At that time, even more than opposing the State, we thought the “traitors” should be eliminated first.
So that was my first connection with the militants, when this person, Chetti, came and hid in our village, and I started helping them and then they did a Cooperative Store robbery. My role then was to take them to safe houses; I would take them on my bicycle and provide them with food and so on. And through such connections I met Prabhakaran. And Prabhakaran had also belonged to the Maanavar Peravai and it is through that connection that I met him in 1974 as well. Prabhakaran was talking about a separate state and I thought I will support him and that is how it all started.
The first organization Prabhakaran started was the Tamil New Tigers (TNT), the name was coined by Rasaratnam, who had been with the TULF and was a strong Tamil nationalist. Rasaratnam fled to India after Maanavar Peravai members were arrested and lived there until his death. Although the TULF was talking about federalism, I must say that the Suyaatchi Kazhaagam (V. Navaratnam’s organization) always compared the Tamils with the Jews. So, the ‘Exodus’ was translated into Tamil. And if you read ‘Viduthalai’ papers at that time, they always related the Tamil people to the Jewish people. We are intelligent and they are intelligent. We are a small minority and they are a small minority. They do fasts and do not eat meat during fasting and we do the same. They were able to form a country of their own and we should do that. Therefore Tamil identity is also mixed with Hindu Identity or Saiva identity. So Prabhakaran, Kuttimani and Thangathurai all took up this idea. Prabhakaran and Thangathurai were from the same village. But Thangathurai was not part of the TNT, because he thought Chetti who was in our group was sent to a rehabilitation school for young people and was a thief.
So there were so many factors and relationships. For example Valvettithurai was important, it was a smuggling village, and an army presence was always there. So, there was some tension. Whereas in my village, I would hardly ever see the army. At that time, the army was a symbolic force not a fighting army. And there were only a few thousand soldiers in the entire country, and to my recollection there were only 6000 armed forces personnel; including the army, navy and air force. But in Valvettithurai, there was always tension between the army and the people, and that is one reason why the young people from Valvettithurai became active. Thangathurai was pro-US and pro-Israel. Prabhakaran also had that idea, but strangely, he was also inspired by Hitler, so he had a copy of Mein Kampf. He also was inspired by Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose. It was a strange combination at one level. I think his idea was about Jewishness and the State and the formation of Israel on the one hand, and then the idea of eliminating the “other” came from Hitler. So, there was a connection in his mind. Anyhow, I was an early member of the TNT, as it had been formed in 1974, and I joined them soon after. However I was not a full time member until 1976. None of us were mature enough to understand what we were doing. Part of the problem was the TULF, in that it did not have any concrete plans either to fight for federalism or a separate nation. The TULF just used all this rhetoric to gain parliamentary seats, but as a result these young people inspired by the TULF ideology wanted to fill the gap and this became a very dangerous problem.
AK: The iconic figures that you mention like Bhagat Singh or Hitler etc, were outside figures, were there any figures from the Tamil community that inspired the TNT?
R: No, even the Tiger, the flag comes from the Chola kingdom, so it was always inspired by actors outside. All this is part of the mythology, particularly when we claim, that we were two nations before the British came. We were unable to even identify with someone like a king from that nation.
AK: When did the interaction with India and Tamil Nadu begin? When did you first go to Tamil Nadu?
R: There was no direct interaction with India and Tamil Nadu. But in the early seventies itself, they would run to India to find safe haven. It had nothing to do with the Indian state or politicians; it was mainly through the smuggling links. They would go and stay with the Indian smugglers. I became “wanted” in 1976 and I went to India for the first time in 1976 in a boat from Mannar, which was arranged by Thangathurai. At that time, there were only a couple of local politicians who were sympathetic towards us.
AK: How did you become “wanted”? How did the police get to know about you?
R: On 27 July 1975, Duraippa was killed. I was not aware that he was going to be killed, but after he was killed, Prabhakaran came and hid in my grandmother’s house. I used to stay with my grandmother and give students tuition and I used that cover to hide these people. Again, so I can tell my father that I was teaching them mathematics, when he asked me about them. All though the TULF would claim to support us, they did not give us even fifty rupees. Once I bicycled from my village (Punallaikatuvan) to Valvettithurai to get ten rupees from a man, because we did not have any money.
One thing I was quite amazed by Prabhakaran at that time. He would come and hide in my grandmother’s house. I would go to college and return, and he would not have moved, he would be sitting in the same place. He was disciplined and extremely careful about his own safety in that sense. We did not have any money to run the organisation as we needed weapons, and so we robbed banks. So, in 1976 the Puttur bank was robbed.
Prabhakaran liked English movies not Tamil movies. He liked these Western and war films. That is where he learned to plan the robberies and to kill traitors. And he had very good memory power. If he met someone once, he will never forget them. We were a small organization and he would give ten bullets to one person and twenty bullets to another person and then he will remember exactly how many bullets we have left. He was also very organized.
So, after the Puttur bank was robbed, we started small farms with the money, and we cultivated onions and chillies. So, that was the cover, and it was our training camp. At that time, the TNT had about eight members and five of them were in the central committee, which included Prabhakaran, Aiyar, Pattanna, Kumarachelvam and I cant remember the fifth person. I was the youngest and a couple others were also in the group, including Chellakili. Then one person who was part of the bank robbery was caught. And he had given my name and I became “wanted”.
செவ்வாய், பிப்ரவரி 17, 2009
Source: United Nations Country Team in Sri Lanka
Date: 16 Feb 2009
COLOMBO, 16 February 2009: The United Nations' concern for the welfare of the civilian population caught up in the fighting has heightened based on reports received in the last few days. While the designation of the new safe zone has provided some respite for the tens of thousands of civilians trapped for weeks by heavy fighting which has killed and injured many people, reports from yesterday indicate that there was some fighting inside the zone. This fighting led to the deaths and injury to yet more civilians. The United Nations calls for the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE to refrain from fighting in areas of civilian concentration.
The LTTE continues to actively prevent people leaving, and reports indicate that a growing number of people trying to leave have been shot and sometimes killed. There are indications that children as young as 14 are being recruited into the ranks of the LTTE.
Fifteen United Nations staff and 75 of their dependents, 40 of whom are children, and 35 of whom are women, remain in the same area, having also been prevented from leaving by the LTTE. Fifteen of these children have contracted respiratory diseases, a serious indicator for a population which is now in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
We are acutely aware that the suffering of our own UN staff and dependents is just one part of a much larger picture. However their release would be a good gesture and would strengthen the capacity of the UN to assist the tens of thousands of people both inside the Vanni pocket, and the approximately 30,000 IDPs who have left for government held areas.
Despite their own vulnerable position, many of these staff played an important role in helping with the distribution of 8,400 of tons of food to the civilians of the Vanni over the past four months. We are especially concerned that one staff member was reported forcibly recruited into the LTTE yesterday. The UN calls on the LTTE to immediately release him, to desist from further recruitment of civilians, and to permit passage for people who wish to leave, especially the women and children.
Tens of thousands of civilians remain in the "Vanni Pocket," including a large number of children. They are experiencing serious shortages of food, medicine, and clean water, and as a result increasing numbers are becoming ill. Efforts to bring in more food and medicines have not yet been successful, and it is imperative that these needs be met.
The UN calls on both sides to find an orderly and humane solution so that civilians – and children in particular - can be spared further bloodshed and loss of life due to both disease and the fighting.
National Peace Council
of Sri Lanka
12/14 Purana Vihara Road
Tel: 2818344, 2854127, 2819064
E Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
GIVE REASSURANCE TO CIVILIANS WHO CROSS OVER
The plight of civilians trapped in the war zones still controlled by the LTTE has been one of the most tragic features of the present military conflict in Sri Lanka. These people have been subjected to repeated displacement, inadequate supplies of food and other essentials, suffered shelling and bombing, and been forcibly prevented from leaving by the LTTE.
The most recent tragedies have been the shooting dead of 19 civilians and injuring of about 70 others and the suicide bombing that took place in the midst of civilian movements out of the LTTE-controlled area that killed at least 10 civilians and injured a large number, in addition to killing 20 Sri Lankan military personnel. The National Peace Council condemns these brutal actions and calls on the LTTE to permit the movement of people according to their wishes and in terms of international law.
A reported apprehension of the people who cross over is that they will become vulnerable to a process of separating and detaining civilians by the Sri Lankan military who receive them upon their making the crossing. The recent suicide bombing indicates the possibility of LTTE cadre seeking to infiltrate with the civilians. Where there is detention of some of the people who cross over we affirm that such detentions should take place in a transparent manner in accordance with international law.
There are also reports that many people are reluctant to come out as they have family members with the LTTE, or have received training as civilian militias by the LTTE. At the present time the only international organization permitted to be in the conflict zones is the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is important that either they or some other independent agency should be present at the crossing points to provide transparency and reassurance to civilians who cross over. Such a course of action will enhance the credibility of the government and facilitate the movement of people to safety.
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.
வியாழன், பிப்ரவரி 12, 2009
“His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa,
President of Sri Lanka.
Urgent Plea On Behalf Of The I.D.Ps.
Several calls had come to me today and yesterday from Tamils living abroad frantically making inquiries about their kith and kin, trapped in Vanni and escaping to Vavuniya taking grave risk to their lives. They want to know, first of all whether their people are alive and if so where? The LTTE had not responded to the plea of various organizations like the UN, EU and the Co-Chairs, apart from countries like UK, USA, Canada and India, for their release from Vanni. It is unfortunate that Tamil Nadu and surprisingly the TNA had not appealed to the LTTE to release the innocent ones but shockingly issuing silly statements still to please the LTTE.
I make three urgent appeals to you. One to release a list of names of persons who had come from Vanni and where they are now accommodate. That will ease the excitement and tension of the relatives living abroad and also will enable them to offer any assistance, the displaced persons may need.
The second one is a request to allow the elders, the sick and the children to join their relative who are prepared to accommodate them at their homes in Vavuniya. Others can be handed over to the parents after proper inquiry later. I wish to mention two incidents in support of this request. A person know to me from Kilinochchi has lost both his legs and is in a state of coma at the Mannar Hospital. The whereabouts of the rest of the family is not known. They want me to trace them. In another incident the wife who has fractured her leg is being looked after by her mother at the Mannar Hospital. The husband who brought his injured child the next day is looking after him at the Vavuniya Hospital. Their relations who are in Vavuniya are prepared to accommodate them, at their home.
The third request is to allow the local NGOs, Political Parties and Social Organization such as Rural Developments Societies, Community Centers etc. to visit the refugees. This will counter the false propaganda of the LTTE that youths are taken to unknown destinations, women missing, inmates treated like prisoners, low quality of food etc. Since the inmates are increasing in number day by day, the assistance of volunteer organizations will prove very beneficial.
Kindly take these proposals seriously and act accordingly.
President – TULF.
புதன், பிப்ரவரி 11, 2009
Hunderttausende Flüchtlinge in Sri Lanka im Kreuzfeuer von Armee und Rebellen – Hilfswerke fordern sofortige Feuerpause und die Entsendung internationaler Beobachter
Das Bündnis Entwicklung hilft fordert Fluchtkorridore, freien Zugang zu den eingeschlossenen Menschen sowie die sofortige Entsendung internationaler Beobachter in den Norden Sri Lankas. Dort sind nach Angaben lokaler Partnerorganisationen derzeit 300.000 Menschen auf einer Fläche von 250 Quadratkilometern eingeschlossen. Die srilankische Armee und tamilische Rebellen liefern sich heftigste Kämpfe um dieses Gebiet. Innerhalb weniger Tage wurden mehrere hundert Zivilisten getötet, ungezählte weitere verletzt.
„Auch wir arbeiten unter Beschuss“, sagt ein Helfer vor Ort, der aus Sicherheitsgründen nicht namentlich genannt werden kann. „Krankenhäuser werden angegriffen, mehrere Mitarbeiter sind verwundet. Die Kapazitäten reichen nicht, um die stündlich wachsende Zahl der Verletzten versorgen zu können. Es fehlt an allem, Verbandszeug, Medikamenten, Wasser und Lebensmitteln.“ Der Krieg werde ohne Rücksicht auf die zusammengedrängte Bevölkerung geführt.
Die Rebellen der LTTE hindern die Eingeschlossenen am Verlassen des Kampfgebiets. Mehrere tausend Menschen konnten trotzdem flüchten. Die Armee drängt die Flüchtlinge in Lagern bei Vavuniya, Mannar und Jaffna zusammen. Nach Berichten kommt es dort immer wieder zu gewaltsamen Übergriffen von Seiten des Militärs.
„Nur die internationale Gemeinschaft kann die systematischen Kriegsverbrechen, Menschenrechtsverletzungen und die dramatische humanitäre Krise stoppen. Wir fordern gemeinsam mit unseren Partnern vor Ort eine sofortige Feuerpause, freien Zugang zu den Menschen, sichere Fluchtkorridore und die Entsendung internationaler Beobachter“, so Peter Mucke, der Geschäftsführer des Bündnisses.
Brot für die Welt, medico international, Misereor, terre des hommes und Welthungerhilfe leisten als Bündnis Entwicklung hilft akute Nothilfe und langfristige Entwicklungszusammenarbeit. Das Bündnis arbeitet mit anderen deutschen Hilfsorganisationen, wie z.B. bei dieser Presseklärung mit der Kindernothilfe, als Bündnispartner zusammen.
Für Nachfragen und Interviews stehen zur Verfügung:
- medico international: Thomas Seibert, 0160 - 97557350, seibert(at)medico.de
- Misereor: Anna Steinacher, 0241 - 442 133, Steinacher(at)misereor.de
- Brot für die Welt: Ingrid Ostermann, 0711 – 2159293; i.ostermann(at)brot-fuer-die-welt.de
Kontakt bei der Kindernothilfe: Jörg Denker, 0203 - 77 89 135, joerg.denker(at)knh.de
Bündnis Entwicklung hilft - Pressestelle
Tel. 030 – 44 35 19 89