Tag Archive for 'LTTE'

The killing fields of Sri Lanka

[via 3quarksdaily]

Remembering Sri Lanka’s killing fields

Gareth Evans in Project Syndicate:

Three years ago, in the bloody endgame of the Sri Lankan government’s war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, some 300,000 civilians became trapped between the advancing army and the last LTTE fighters in what has been called “the cage” – a tiny strip of land, not much larger than New York City’s Central Park, between sea and lagoon in the northeast of the country.

With both sides showing neither restraint nor compassion, at least 10,000 civilians – possibly as many as 40,000 – died in the carnage that followed, as a result of indiscriminate army shelling, rebel gunfire, and denial of food and medical supplies.

The lack of outrage mainly reflects the Sri Lankan government’s success in embedding in the minds of policymakers and publics an alternative narrative that had extraordinary worldwide resonance in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. What occurred in the cage, according to this narrative, was the long-overdue defeat, by wholly necessary and defensible means, of a murderous terrorist insurrection that had threatened the country’s very existence.

The other key reason behind the world’s silence is that the Sri Lankan government was relentless in banning independent observers – media, NGOs, or diplomats – from witnessing or reporting on its actions. And this problem was compounded by the timidity of in-country United Nations officials in communicating such information as they had.  More:

The defeated

Sri Lanka’s Tamils pick up the pieces after a war that defined—and shattered—the lives of a generation. By Anonymous in The Caravan:

On the afternoon of 19 May 2009, at around 1:20 pm, a ration shop accountant named Sivarajan ran to the front of the winding lunch queue in the Anandakumaraswami Zone 3 refugee camp to serve rice and sodhi, a watery concoction of chillies and coconut milk. Swarna, a former militant, sat in her tent nearby, yelling at her mother for having told an army man from the morning shift that their family belonged to Mullaitivu, on the northeastern coast, where the war between the Sri Lankan Army and the separatists—“Tigers,” she called them—was still raging.

At that moment, they got a text message on their mobile phones from the government’s information department. Addressed to all Sri Lankans, it proclaimed, in Sinhala—a language neither Sivarajan nor Swarna could read—that Velupillai Prabhakaran, the man who led a 26-year-long separatist battle for a Tamil Eelam (state), had been killed by the army in a lagoon just a two hours drive north of where they were. So when the news was announced in Tamil over a loudspeaker that evening, they did not believe it. When it finally sank in, they realised—neither with remorse nor relief, but mere wonder at its very possibility—that in an instant the war they had been born into had left their lives.

Nothing would ever be the same again. More

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

About Jon Snow’s Channel 4 documentary, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, in The Guardian: Much of the footage, which documented the summary executions, rape, torture and bombing – all apparently sanctioned by the Sri Lankan government – of tens of thousands of Tamils in the last days of the civil war after the UN pulled out of the country in September 2008, was shocking. Soldiers filmed laughing on mobile phones while they shot bound prisoners in the back of the head. Civilian women lying dead on the ground, having been raped and mutilated by the government troops to whom they had tried to surrender. Hospitals being targeted.

At Channel 4: Documenting the final weeks of the bloody civil war when an estimated 40,000 people died, the Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields reveals shocking new evidence of serious war crimes. The film includes footage of government soldiers executing bound prisoners; the dead bodies of naked, abused women dumped in a truck; and the bombing of civilian hospitals.

Watch at Channel 4

And here’s the link to the report of the UN Secretary General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka: Living dangerously

Michael Hardy in the American Scholar [via 3quarksdaily]:

On the morning of January 8, 2009, Lasantha Wickrematunge was driving to work in a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo when his Toyota Corolla was blocked by four motorcycles. The masked riders smashed the car’s windows and dragged Lasantha into the street, where one of the assailants punched a hole in his skull with a captive bolt pistol, the kind used to slaughter livestock. According to eyewitnesses, the motorcyclists then sped off in the direction of a nearby military checkpoint, leaving Lasantha dead in the middle of a crowded intersection.

Lasantha was the editor of The Sunday Leader, an English-language weekly newspaper that he founded with his older brother Lal in 1994. Known for their muckraking investigations of corrupt politicians, the Wickrematunges were accustomed to harassment and violence: Lasantha had been shot at, beaten up, and had his home shelled by antitank ammunition; the government briefly shut the Leader down in 2000 for flouting censorship laws; in 2005, and again in 2007, arsonists burned down its printing press; and before his assassination, Lasantha received death threats for criticizing the government’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Tamil separatist group that had been in revolt against the predominantly Sinhalese government since 1983.

Not wanting to endanger anyone else, Lasantha refused to hire a bodyguard. But he took the threats seriously enough to compose a letter, to be published in case he was killed, accusing the powerful Secretary of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa of ordering his murder. Rajapaksa had held a grudge against Lasantha since 2007, when the Leader accused the de­fense secretary of getting swindled on a series of arms deals. In 2008, he filed a one-billion-rupee ($9 million) defamation lawsuit against the Leader and won a court order prohibiting it from mentioning his name in print. Ironically, Lasantha was a one-time friend of the defense secretary’s brother, President Mahinda Raja­­paksa. More:

 

Sri Lanka execution — Channel 4 video

In The Indian Express:

As Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa toured the UK, Britain’s Channel 4 aired stomach-churning footage of men in uniform alleged to be his soldiers executing naked, unarmed, tied-up and blindfolded men and women said to be members or sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The pro-LTTE Tamilnet website identified one of the women as Shoba alias Isaippiriya, a journalist. Channel 4 said the video was shot shortly before the final triumph of the Sri Lankan army over the Tigers in May 2009, and is an extended version of another video it aired last year.

The video, apparently shot with a cellphone camera — one of the frames has a soldier holding up a cellphone — shows naked prisoners with their hands tied behind their backs being shot from behind by soldiers with assault rifles. The killings take place in a field littered with naked, bloody corpses, some with their heads blown off. More:

New accusations of war crimes in Sri Lanka

From the New York Times news blog The Lede:

One year after Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, declared victory and hailed his military for ending a decades-long separatist rebellion by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a British news organization aired new accusations that the country’s soldiers committed war crimes during the war’s final months.

On Tuesday, Britain’s Channel 4 News presented what it said was testimony from two former members of Sri Lanka’s military who claim that the government ordered the execution of Tamil prisoners captured at the end of a separatist rebellion last year.

The two men, both said to be in hiding, were granted anonymity by Channel 4 News. While The Lede has not been able to independently verify the accusations made by the men — one a former commander, the other a front-line soldier — Channel 4 News has produced credible reports on apparent human rights violations in Sri Lanka in the past. More:

Sri Lanka’s diaspora won’t give up

A new report finds that overseas Sri Lankans are determined to seek a separate homeland. From Asia Sentinel:

With the grim civil war that wracked Sri Lanka finally over after 26 years, and with the Tamil minority seeking to pick up their lives after their rebellion was crushed mercilessly, only one group appears determined to continue the fight, and that is a large portion of the hundreds of thousands of Tamils overseas.

As many as 100,000 people were killed in the civil war, out of a nation of 20.1 million. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, an independent non-governmental organization, in a new 29-page report, “The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora After the LTTE” issued on Feb.23, has strongly urged the diaspora to give it up and instead seek to create a sustainable piece in a united country.

Whether that is possible is in serious doubt. The triumphalist government of President Mahindra Rajapaksa, despite statements urging reconciliation, is showing little signs on the ground of actually bringing the Tamils back to full partnership in the government. Nonetheless, the report says, any initiatives to carry on the struggle for an independent state may go forward in the diaspora, “but they must repudiate the LTTE’s violent methods,” said Robert Templer, the ICG’S Asia Program Director in a prepared release. “And they must also recognize that the LTTE’s separatist agenda is out of step with the wishes and needs of Tamils in Sri Lanka.” More:

Sri Lanka wins a war and diminishes democracy

Barbara Crossette in The Nation:

In its 62 years of independence, Sri Lanka has never had a better chance than it has now to stamp out the last fires of ethnic hatred, violence and mindless chauvinisms that have left over 80,000 people dead in civil wars across one of the most physically beautiful countries in Asia.

Tragically for all Sri Lankans, it looks as if its increasingly autocratic president, reelected in January on a surge of Sinhala triumphalism following the defeat of a Tamil rebel army, is determined to let this hopeful moment pass. Not only a lasting peace between the Tamils and Sinhalese is at stake but also the multiparty democracy that set the country apart from many of its neighbors.

Why should a descent into misgovernment in a nation of 21.3 million people on a relatively small island off the coast of India matter to people anywhere else? This isn’t Zimbabwe or Bosnia or Haiti. Not yet. But it is one of the newest examples — streamed live on the Web if not much present in the American media — of a post colonial collapse. Kenya is another. It is a phenomenon worth study.

Sri Lanka was once the most advanced nation in South Asia by measures of human development. Literacy, education levels and social services are all still higher than in neighboring Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The country has no external enemies. Women have held high office for decades. There was a lively press and a functioning two-party system, albeit dominated by mostly people drawn from elite families.

Now journalists live in fear, are killed, disappear or flee. More:

Waiting for the Jaffna train

Ahilan Kadirgamar at Himal Southasian:

When I visited Jaffna recently, like all those returning home after years away I too sensed feelings of nostalgia welling up inside. This was my first visit in six years, and almost 25 since I had last lived in Jaffna, as an 11-year-old. The opening lines are by A E Manoharan, the Tamil pop star and baila singer who took Jaffna by storm in the 1970s – a time when, in my mind, Manoharan was more popular than the youthful leaders of the militant movements who would emerge soon enough. I have vague memories of going to an open-air Manoharan concert, sitting on the bicycle bar as one of my relatives rode us to where we could hear the loudspeakers. Incidentally, Manoharan composed “Ilangai enpathu”, with its reference to the palmyra fruit, two decades before rights activist Rajani Thiranagama and her colleagues would write The Broken Palmyra, for which she would be murdered.

By chance, a few weeks after my recent visit to Jaffna, I was sitting next to Manoharan himself on a flight from Madras to Colombo. The great singer was on his way to Jaffna for his first concert in the peninsula after the war, to celebrate Pongal. Manoharan, now 65 years old, like so many others returning home spoke of his anxiety at what Jaffna might look like – who would be left, who might have died, the suffering people have endured, what people might tell him, and what memories would return. During the flight, Manoharan spoke in eloquent, poetic language on a range of issues. He remembered how his first concert at the large Veerasingham Hall in Jaffna had been a flop, as only 60 people turned up. His manager cursed him, but, three months later he had the hall packed. As the plane jerked and landed, I asked him for a message that I could write about. In a sentimental tone, he replied, “Now I am going back to my land with happiness and peace of mind.” More:

Also at Himal SouthasianThe Jaffna diaries by Ben Bavinck, a retired missionary who lived in Sri Lanka for more than 30 years and now lives in his native Netherlands:

17 August 1991, Jaffna. The next morning I went cycling to Vaddukoddai, Uduvil and Maruthanarmadam. Jaffna looked quiet. Everybody was cycling as usual. The Nallur Temple festival was just beginning.

I went to talk with a friend, Daya, who looked back on the Tiger attack on the Elephant Pass army camp. At the time, he said, the community in Jaffna had been in a state of psychosis: “A struggle till the bitter end has started.” Very young boys and girls, many just 10 years old, had joined the Tigers, Daya continued, and parents were now in a state of panic because their children had disappeared. Even schools and other institutions had been persuaded to participate in propaganda meetings for the Tigers, with the result being that schoolchildren, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides had been keeping the roads to the front clear as the fighting was taking place.

An audience with the Sri Lankan general whose appetite for power is undimmed

Andrew Buncombe meets Sarath Fonseka in Colombo. From The Independent:

The 59-year-old said surveys taken by his coalition ahead of the polls had suggested that he would win, and that even on election day, early results had suggested that he was more than 1.4 million votes ahead.

“There has been large-scale rigging – they are not stuffing ballots but they are doing computer manipulation,” he said. “You can see that the people did not expect this [result]. Normally when there is an election people celebrate for two or three days. You have seen it is very sombre on the streets. For the sake of the people’s aspirations we have to get the result cancelled.”

Outside, his dog, a noisy dalmatian, was locked inside a kennel because the member of his security detail who had overseen its daily walks had been relocated by the government.

Mr Fonseka, whose house has armed troops on watch nearby, repeated his claim that the government’s decision to withdraw his personal security detail was an indication it was planning to kill him. He said his name and a son-in-law’s had been placed on an immigration “blacklist” and that they would be unable to leave Sri Lanka. However a presidential spokesman said this was not the case, adding: “He is not on any list. He is free to leave the country.” More:

Tamils may hand power to general who crushed Tigers

Andrew Buncombe from Colombo in The Independent:

If the outcome of Sri Lanka’s bitterly contested presidential election were decided solely by which candidate had the largest billboard, then incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa could sleep easily in his bed.

At the international airport near Colombo, a huge hoarding shows the president, dressed entirely in white, a beatific smile beaming across his face. His advisers believe that as voters go to the polls tomorrow, their best asset is the candidate himself, a man who oversaw the defeat of separatist rebels and ended a brutal 30-year civil war.

Indeed, less than a year ago, after government troops crushed the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the authorities responded with a deluge of flag-waving celebrations that projected the president as something half-way between a God and a king, no one could have guessed that eight months later Mr Rajapaksa would be engaged in an ugly political dog-fight. And yet he is. More:

Tamils throw weight behind general who crushed them

Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

Seven months after Sri Lanka’s long and bitter civil war was brought to an end by a withering government assault, the political coalition that supported the Tamil Tigers has thrown its support behind the former army chief who crushed them.

In an ironic twist to the presidential election campaign being fought on the island, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) announced yesterday that it was supporting General Sarath Fonseka in his bid to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

At a press conference in the capital, Colombo, the leader of the TNA parliamentary group, Rajavarothayam Sambanthan, said his group had decided to support Mr Fonseka’s candidacy to prevent another victory by Mr Rajapaksa, whose poor record on human rights and law and order made it vital that he be beaten. More:

The man who wired Silicon Valley

An examination of the career of Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of the Galleon Group, career reveals how, for two decades, he persuaded executives at some of America’s most prominent companies to risk their careers by passing corporate secrets. From The Wall Street Journal:

Raj Rajaratnam liked to tell people that his first name meant “king” in Hindi, and, coupled with his last name, that made him “king of kings.”

He told the story with the broad, toothy smile that had ingratiated him to a generation of Silicon Valley executives. The grin softened the edge of a boss who’d call you an “idiot” or prod you into some humiliating stunt: Would you take $5,000 to be shocked with a stun gun?

In a mansion on a manmade island in Biscayne Bay in February 2007, Mr. Rajaratnam seemed determined to live up to his regal description of his name. It was Super Bowl weekend, and America’s rich and powerful had descended on South Florida to watch the Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears. Mostly they were there to do business. Mr. Rajaratnam’s business was running a hedge fund, Galleon Group, that had made him a billionaire. And that business was based on contacts. More:

The mysterious ambitions of Sri Lanka’s victorious army commander

From the Economist:

sarath_fonseka1Not even six months has elapsed since the protracted war with Tamil Tiger rebels ended in a bloody climax, leading to the Sri Lankan government’s triumph. But already the leaders of the military campaign are sparring ahead of an election due next year. For weeks the press has been speculating about friction between the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka, the hawkish army general who commanded troops in the final assault against the Tigers.

Jittery over rumours, spread mostly by opposition parties, that General Fonseka will challenge Mr Rajapaksa in the election, the government in October banned reports about his political ambitions. A communiqué from the army’s spokesman warned the press that several laws would be used against those who published “false reports” using the names of serving senior army officers. More:

The British woman caught in Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war

Gethin Chamberlain in the Guardian:

The young mother was standing by the side of the road, clutching her baby. The baby was dead.

Damilvany Gnanakumar watched as she tried to make a decision. Around them, thousands of people were picking their way between bodies strewn across the road, desperate to escape the fighting all around them.

“The mother couldn’t bring the dead body and she doesn’t want to leave it as well. She was standing … holding the baby. She didn’t know what to do … At the end, because of the shell bombing and people rushing – there were thousands and thousands of people, they were rushing in and pushing everyone – she just had to leave the baby at the side of the road, she had to leave the body there and come, she had no choice. And I was thinking in my mind ‘What have the people done wrong? Why are they going through this, why is the international government not speaking up for them? I’m still asking.”

Four months later and Gnanakumar is sitting on a cream leather sofa in the living room of the family home in Chingford, Essex, reliving the final days of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war.

For most of those four months, the 25-year-old British graduate was imprisoned behind razor wire inside the country’s grim internment camps, home to nearly 300,000 people. She was released last week, partly as a result of pressure from this newspaper, and flew back into London on Sunday. More:

Sri Lanka jails journalist who criticised war policy

Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:

tissainayagamA Sri Lankan reporter, recently named by US President Barack Obama as an example of the way journalists are persecuted around the world, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for writing articles critical of the government’s military operations.

In a case that campaigners say highlights a campaign of intimidation against the country’s independent media, JS Tissainayagam was jailed after a court decided he had breached harsh anti-terror laws. He is the first journalist to be convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Mr Tissainayagam, an experienced columnist who wrote for several publications including the now defunct Northeastern Monthly magazine, had written several articles in 2006 and 2007 in which he accused the government of withholding food and other essentials from Tamil-majority areas as a weapon of war. The court decided that his articles broke the law because they were designed to create agitation between the Tamil minority and the Sinhala majority. “The constitution guarantees media freedom, but no one has a right to deliberately publish false reports that would lead to communal violence,” said the government prosecutor Sudarshana de Silva. More:

Also from the Independent:

Totalitarian leader

mahinda_rajapakse1

Mahinda Rajapaksa

The year was 1989. A violent youth insurrection that had terrorised the Sri Lankan populace was being brutally quelled by the state establishment. Bodies were burned on rubber tyres and the charred remains were left on every street corner. Hundreds of corpses were polluting the major rivers of the island’s south-west. Disappearances, arbitrary detention and revenge killings were the order of the day. With a government at the zenith of its power determined to crush the insurgency through force, leaving a trail of innocent victims in its wake, a young Sri Lankan opposition parliamentarian from the rural south decided to take a stand against the country’s deteriorating human rights situation and the state terror being unleashed upon his fellow citizens.

Travelling to Switzerland without a penny in his pocket and on an air ticket purchased for him by a friend, the young politician entered the building of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva and parked himself in the lobby. Over several days, he waylaid every delegation passing through those halls, using each opportunity to tell members of the world community about the tragedy that was unfolding in Sri Lanka. So eager and relentless was the young man that he was finally given a special meeting at the UNCHR to present his case. Back in Sri Lanka he organised anti-government campaigns and founded organisations that looked into disappearances. He was, if anything, the face of the agitation campaign against the regime of the day, the street fighter determined to secure the rights of the oppressed and release them from the brutal grip of state terror.

That man is now Sri Lanka’s fifth executive President, elected to office in 2005 and credited with having achieved the impossible by defeating the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation that was fighting for a separate homeland in the island’s north-east. With his government being accused of gross human rights violations and heavy-handed tactics in the name of quashing terrorism, the President calls rights campaigners ‘traitors’ if they are Sri Lankans and ‘terrorists’ or ‘terrorist agents’ if they happen to be foreigners. And so, beyond the signature moustache and the shawl he still wears around his neck, there is no resemblance between the starry-eyed Mahinda Rajapaksa from Hambantota, fighting for the rights of his citizens in Geneva and the corpulent, shrewd politician occupying the premier seat of power in Sri Lanka today. More:

The Mahinda Rajapakse interview

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse talks to The Hindu’s N Ram about the condition of Tamils in Vayuniya camps, the future of Tamil leadership in his country and the possibility of a long-term political solution.

mahinda_rajapakse1N. Ram: Mr. President, are you satisfied with conditions in the Vavuniya IDP camps where close to 300,000 Tamils are housed?

President: I sent some people close to me to the camps. They went and stayed for several days. They spoke to the girls, the Tamil children, and others. And they came and reported to me. I don’t rely on information only from the officials. We released people over 60. You know, a 74-year-old man, when he was released he immediately came here and went to Singapore. He was the man who had the money list, the other list. [Velupillai] Prabakaran had given lists to many, not to just one person. This man escaped; he was one of the leaders.

I would say the condition in our camps is the best any country has. We supply water. There is a problem with lavatories. That is not because of our fault. The money that comes from the EU and others, it goes to the NGOs and the U.N. They are very slow; disbursing money is very slow. We supply the water tanks; we have spent over [Sri Lankan] Rs. 2 billion. Giving electricity, giving water, now we are giving televisions to them. They have telephone facilities. Schools have been established. Some of the leaders are using mobile phones.

more

For part 2 of the interview click here.

And, the concluding part 3 here.

Mahinda Rajapaksa: ‘The war is over’

Shekhar Gupta walks the talk on Prabhakaran, the war with the LTTE and the way forward with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in The Indian Express:

rajapakseSG: Hello and welcome to Walk the Talk. I am Shekhar Gupta in Colombo’s Presidential Palace and my guest once again President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

MR: My pleasure

Welcome to Walk the Talk and very different circumstances from our last conversation.

MR: Quite. Yes, because when you came last time, I think it was about two years…two years ago.

SG: Less than, Less than one-and-a-half years ago.

MR: Less than one-and-a-half years ago.

SG: and I will tell you why I say one-and-a-half years.

MR: Yes, then of course we were not a, I would say a, united…unitary country now it its because earlier, when you came last time, North was…North and East I think was controlled by the LTTE terrorist. Now, we are free of terrorism.

SG: You said you are a unitary country, but a federal unitary country I hope.Because last time in fact, when we had a conversation you said that in one-and-a-half years you said there will be peace and there will be no LTTE.

MR: Yes.

SG: I said in one-and-a-half years, I reminded you, because it is still two months to one-and-a-half years.

MR: Yes

SG: That situation has come about even faster than you had…even you had imagined.

MR: That’s right. Yes, because of our…armed forces were so committed for the fight.

SG: Tell us a little bit about the final phases of the battle.

MR: Yes.

SG: How did it progress? What happened? When did the breakthrough come?

MR: No, from the time after we walked into Madhu , that is the, North-West of the…

SG: Right…island.

MR: Island. We were stuck there for about eight to nine months. Then we… it was a, just a, walk-over, I would say. But we knew after we went to Killinochi, I mean, we were, you know, through.

SG: what is the biggest mistake that Prabhakaran made in this.

MR: Well, to kill Rajiv Gandhi.

SG: To kill Rajiv Gandhi.

MR: That was…

more

Tigers begged me to broker surrender

As the Sri Lankan army closed in, rebels made a desperate plea to a Sunday Times correspondent to help stave off annihilation:

IT was a desperate last phone call but it did not sound like a man who would be dead within hours. Balasingham Nadesan, political leader of the Tamil Tigers, had nowhere to turn, it seemed.

“We are putting down our arms,” he told me late last Sunday night by satellite phone from the tiny slip of jungle and beach on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka where the Tigers had been making their last stand.

I could hear machinegun fire in the background as he continued coolly: “We are looking for a guarantee of security from the Obama administration and the British government. Is there a guarantee of security?”

He was well aware that surrendering to the victorious Sri Lankan army would be the most dangerous moment in the 26-year civil war between the Tigers and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority. More:

The cratered wasteland where thousands died

From the Independent:

Sri Lanka’s former war zone is a wasteland, its earth scorched and pocked by craters. Cars and trucks lie overturned near bunkers beside clusters of battered tents.

The government has denied firing heavy weapons into what had been a battlefield densely populated with civilians. But the helicopter tour the military gave the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a group of journalists yesterday revealed widespread devastation.

The sandy coastal strip where the final battles of the 25-year civil war were fought was dotted with patches of charred earth and dark craters were visible amid the greyish earth. One area was thick with endless rows of tents, many flattened and damaged. Abandoned vehicles were overturned, some reduced to burnt skeletons. Some huts with thatched roofs were destroyed, others had no roofs at all.

After touring the area, Mr Ban said the trapped civilians must have undergone “most inhumane suffering”. More:

‘The man I met was doomed to die in action’

In the Independent, Peter Popham on Velupillai Prabhakaran, chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE):

But “thambi”, “little brother” as he was known to his supporters (he was the youngest of four brothers), was taking no chances. He was not going to set foot outside the jungle for our benefit: we would have to find our way to him. And to minimise the chances of his being killed by a suicide bomb, the terrorist device he had invented and used to kill two South Asian heads of state and hundreds of other people, the security was meticulous. We were ordered to arrive in Kilinochchi, the rebel-held town closest to his hideout, a full 24 hours before the event. No indication was given of when the great man might show up. After hanging around in sticky heat for half a day, finally vans arrived to ferry us to the venue, a tin-roofed hall open to the jungle in the LTTE’s Political Academy deep in the jungle. We were obliged to leave anything that might contain a nasty surprise, including satellite dishes, computer bags and even wallets, back at base. Ears, mouths and socks had all been minutely inspected.

More hours of waiting ensued in the sticky monsoon heat of evening – then suddenly he was among us, short, tubby, looking younger than his 47 years, dressed as usual in green combat fatigues, pounding up on to the stage closely hemmed in by muscular young bodyguards, all wearing sunglasses. Someone in Mr Prabhakaran’s camp had been watching too many videos. More:

Death of a tiger

Prabakaran had everything: territory, international support and committed fighters. In Tehelka Senior journalist Shyam Tekwani, who has covered the LTTE and Sri Lanka for almost three decades tracks the alarming rise and astonishing fall of a man who sought to live to fight another day, but found only death at the hands of his nemesis.

prabhakaran1MORE VIVIDLY THAN anything that came afterwards in the Sri Lanka war, I remember his first handshake. The hand was soft, the grip delicate and limp. On that occasion in Madras, as he contentedly claimed credit for assassinating the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna and later, the slaughter of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers that ignited the conflict following the anti-Tamil riots of 1983, Velupillai Prabakaran’s dainty handshake seemed in harmony with his soft voice. more

Sri Lanka declares an end to the 25-year war with the Tamil Tigers and says LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran was shot dead while trying to flee the war zone. The Sri Lankan army also claims to have killed Pottu Amman, the rebels’ intelligence chief and Soosai, the head of the rebels’ navy wing. Read the report in The Guardian here.

Associated Press has a timeline of the long conflict in Sri Lanka here.

Family album of the Tamil Tiger who invented suicide bombings

From the Independent:

This photo released by Sri Lanka military shows LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran swimming in a pool with his son Balachandran.

This photo released by Sri Lanka military shows LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran swimming in a pool with his son Balachandran.

His whole adult life he has been in hiding, directing Asia’s longest modern war, but as the shells continued to rain down on the strip of land his rebels hold, another, sweeter side of the life of the Tamil Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was put on view by the Sri Lankan government.

The album of plundered family snaps shows him enjoying the sort of lifestyle his thousands of devoted cadres could only dream of: frolicking in a pool, celebrating his daughter’s wedding, tucking into a banquet.

The ministry contrasted the comforts enjoyed by the man who is presumably still at bay in the Tigers’ last hold-out with photos showing the primitive conditions in which his soldiers have long been required to live and fight.

Meanwhile, as his troops fought on, thousands of civilians trapped in the war’s brutal end game are dying. A doctor inside the 5sq km strip on the island’s north-east coast still controlled by the rebels reported that renewed shelling had killed at least 50 people in the only hospital in the so-called “safe zone”. More:

UN ‘grave concern’ over Sri Lanka: The United Nations Security Council has asked the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels to ensure the safety of civilians trapped in the conflict. A council statement expressed “grave concern” at the “worsening humanitarian crisis” in the northeast. US President Barack Obama too has urged the army to stop shelling of civilians and the rebels to lay down their arms. From BBC

Life as a female Tamil Tiger guerilla relived by one of first female soldiers

In 1987, aged 17, Niromi de Soyza shocked her middle-class Sri Lankan family by joining the Tamil Tigers. One of the rebels’ first female soldiers, equipped with rifle and cyanide capsule, she was engaged in fierce combat. From the Telegraph, UK:

female-tamil-tigers

December 23 1987 was a warm, clear day, and I was hiding under a lantana bush with eight of my comrades in a village north of Jaffna. With our rifles cocked and our cyanide capsules clenched between our teeth, we awaited the soldiers who had been scouring the area for us for several hours. Our orders were to empty our magazines into them before biting into the glass capsules we called ‘kuppies’ that hung on a thread around our necks. As a Tamil Tiger guerrilla, there was no honour in being caught alive.

There had been 22 of us that morning – nine boys and 13 girls, aged between 15 and 26 (I was 17). Now, four of my comrades were missing, two were wounded. Ten were dead.

At dawn that day, Indian soldiers had surrounded our hideout, an abandoned house in Urumpiraay, a village in Sri Lanka’s far north. As the war had intensified, our units were being squeezed out of Jaffna peninsula. We slept in different places each night: in open fields or houses taken by force. More:

Tamil Tigers ‘putting 11-year-old girls on the front line’

From the Telegraph, UK:

Brigadier Priyantha, who commands an artillery division in the north told The Daily Telegraph: “It’s like looking at your own child. Quite large numbers [of the dead] are under 16.

“They grab them from their parents and they try to pull them back they get shot. These children have the dog tags and cyanide capsules. The younger children [captured] go for rehabilitation programme.”

His colleague, an officer who identified himself as ‘Roan’ said: “Considerable numbers of the dead [are] child soldiers. The youngest was around 12.”

At Puthumatalan Lagoon, the edge of the no-fire zone, where thousands of civilians escaped heavy fighting last month, Major-General Jaggath Dias, General Officer Commanding of the 57th Division, said his men had been fighting with girls.

He said some of those his men had captured had had their hair cut short to shame them for trying to run away from the front line. More:

Sri Lanka’s war: Dark victory

From the Economist:

A Dark herd creeps across a grassy plain, wades a shallow lagoon and clambers to safety. Filmed from the air on April 20th, this was a scene Sri Lanka’s government had been dreaming of: the start of a mass breakout from the Tamil Tigers’ last sanctuary by, it claims, over 100,000 refugees-perhaps two-thirds of those being held hostage there. Having inspired the exodus, by breaching a sandy embankment around this “refuge”, a few kilometres of beach in north-eastern Sri Lanka, the army has encircled the surviving Tigers.

According to its private estimate, the Tigers may be reduced to 1,000 hardened fighters, plus a few thousand recently impressed refugees. The army believes Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tiger chief, and his senior henchmen are among them-as was also claimed this week by a spokesman for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as the rebels are properly known, after the Eelam, or Tamil homeland, for which they have waged a 26-year war. To bag these men, the last prize of a brutal two-year offensive, the army claims to be using stealthy tactics, with “deep-penetration” commandos and snipers. It has a history of over-egging its battlefield triumphs. But the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa seems genuinely to believe that one of Asia’s oldest wars could be over within days.

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Day of reckoning in Sri Lanka

A mass slaughter of civilians will take place Tuesday at noon. And everyone knows it. Robert Templer at Foreign Policy:

The Sri Lankan government has issued a deadline of noon tomorrow (Tuesday) for the Tamil Tigers to surrender. With the embattled rebels unlikely to put down their guns before then, only forceful and immediate international action to halt the fighting can prevent the possible deaths of tens of thousands of civilians trapped between the warring parties.

More than 100,000 men, women and children are trapped in a space roughly the size of Central Park, caught up in a war between the Sri Lankan government and the remaining forces of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers. Cornered in a shrinking patch of coast in the Northeast of Sri Lanka, with little access to food, water or medicine the past three months, the civilians have remained out of the sight of most of the world. U.N. and humanitarian workers were forced by the government to leave LTTE areas last September; journalists have also been banned from witnessing the unfolding horror.

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MIA vs the Sri Lankan army

The British rap star has been singled out on the Sri Lankan army’s website for supporting an aid campaign for Tamil civilians. From The Guardian:

mia

MIA has found herself in the sights of the Sri Lankan army after backing a campaign to send food and medical supplies to the island nation.

The British singer, who grew up in Sri Lanka, has given her support to the Vanni Mission, which aims to send a boat of civilian aid from Britain to Sri Lanka. The cargo is destined for Tamil civilians within a government “safe zone”.

However, Sri Lankan military leaders have rejected the “mercy mission”, citing reports that the boat will carry supplies for Tamil fighters. The country’s navy has announced that it will open fire on any ship that enters their waters without authorisation. MIA was also singled out on the army’s official website, after the singer announced her support for the campaign.

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The silent horror in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka government is carrying out a genocide against its Tamil minority citizens and the world’s media is silent, writes Arundhati Roy in The Times of India

lanka1The horror that is unfolding in Sri Lanka becomes possible because of the silence that surrounds it. There is almost no reporting in the mainstream Indian media — or indeed in the international press — about what is happening there. Why this should be so is a matter of serious concern.

From the little information that is filtering through it looks as though the Sri Lankan government is using the propaganda of the ‘war on terror’ as a fig leaf to dismantle any semblance of democracy in the country, and commit unspeakable crimes against the Tamil people. Working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise, civilian areas, hospitals and shelters are being bombed and turned into a war zone. Reliable estimates put the number of civilians trapped at over 200,000. The Sri Lankan Army is advancing, armed with tanks and aircraft.
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Sri Lanka’s child soldiers