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Archive for February, 2009

karametiya

The plight of border villages most often comes to light during a time of crises or attacks. The Karametiya village and its neighbouring villages have had their share of pain during the three decades of war that has burdened the country. Bordering the Gal Oya National Park, the village found itself a victim of nightmarish events on 21 February when it sacrificed more than a dozen of its inhabitants to the guns of the LTTE. In an attempt to discover what happened on that fateful day, we found that the conflict was not their only predicament…

LTTE murders

The image that remained in my mind was that of a lifeless body of a four-year-old boy, a bullet wound glaring red like a third eye in his head, being cradled in the arms of an STF officer.

“We found the boy, Sajith among bodies under a bed when we went in search of survivors a few hours after the massacre,” J.M. Wijepala, a Karametiya villager, his face etched with pain related, “Even though he had been shot in the head he was moving slightly and a man from the STF and I carried the boy out immediately. Half-way, after seeing the spectacle of the massacre I just did not have any strength left in me and my knees gave way.” The STF person, he said, had then gathered the boy in his arms and run with him the rest of the way.

With 16 people killed and 10 injured by a group of LTTE terrorists last Saturday, the massacre of farmers and their families at Karametiya village in Inginiyagala, Moneragala District sent shockwaves throughout the country. However, the Nelliyadda area where the Karametiya village is situated has been no stranger to LTTE related activity in the past. The Principal of the Nelliyadda school said that in 1991 an LTTE camp had been discovered a few miles within the Gal Oya National Park bordering the village. “Again in 1992, an old farmer from Nelliyadda was murdered in his chena.

He was found with his throat slit. In the late 90’s the LTTE shot six people who had gone near the forest from the village,” he elaborated adding that closer to the main Mahaoya Road three vehicles had been burnt and the people travelling in them killed at the same time. As a result, many of the villages that had sprung up close to the National Park and the river that borders it had been deserted; its inhabitants either setting up roots further away from the forest or crossing over to Ampara to start afresh there.”

“The Kurunduvinna and Damanegama villages that were around three kilometers away from Nelliyadda were all deserted at the time. With the war showing signs of ending in recent times, people have returned to their routine lives and some of them even moved back closer to the forest as the soil is more fertile near the river,” the Nelliyada school Principal continued saying that Karametiya was one such village that had established itself over recent years.

Nothing of such magnitude

“We were inside our houses when there were sounds of gunshots in the distance. It was around 3.30 in the afternoon and as there is an army camp several miles away, we thought they were shooting for practice,” said W.M. Gunapala one of the survivors of Karametiya who was with his wife and three children at the time. “Then we heard the sound of gunfire closer, further up river where my uncle lives. A few minutes later my cousin came running to our house shouting that his mother and father had been killed by men who had shouted at them in Tamil,” he continued adding that at that point he had grabbed his children and his gun and after telling his wife to follow, began to run. “As soon as we came out of the house I saw several men with guns running behind our house. They were in army uniforms. Telling my wife to get to safety with my children I shot into the air. It was then that the attackers moved away and ran back into the forest,” Gunapala said. He had then run a kilometer or so to the neighbouring Nelliyadda village.

“Gunapala came running towards my shop on Saturday evening without a shred of clothing on his body, screaming that all of Karametiya were dead, that they were being shot at,” said W.M. Ranasinghe, a tea shop mudalali in Nelliyadda. “Grabbing my gun I had begun to run down the road to Karametiya when a police jeep pulled up–somebody had already called the police and they had got there in an about 10 minutes. Anyway I ran on ahead and as I neared the periphery of the village I found two more dead, with their bicycles fallen beside them,” he added. Ranasinghe had then gone into one of the houses and found blood close to a doorway. Retreating a few steps, he had shot eight of his 10 bullets into the air as he edged closer. “I heard the sound of a radio, when I went in I saw a small child dead, shot in the head. I ran back out and hid behind a tree and made my way to the other houses,” he said adding that the police had surrounded the area by this time.

“In one house I found one woman injured, she had tried to get under the bed head first and as a result had been shot in the waist. There was another older woman dead beside her. She had crept under the bed feet first, her head was in full view at the end of it and they had shot her just like that. In another house I found Gunapala’s youngest son who had been unable to run away with his parents. He had just a few scrapes on his elbows and head – he had been small enough to fit under the bed so he was safe,” the shopkeeper said.

Later on more bodies had been found a few metres into the forest, where some of the villagers had run to for safety and as Ranasinghe put it, he had not seen anything of this magnitude in his life. The death toll numbered 14 by evening with 10 injured rushed to the Ampara and Kandy hospitals. By Tuesday morning the body of another 14-year old boy was found in one of the houses and a 36-year-old man succumbed to his gunshot injuries in the Kandy Hospital increasing the death toll to 16. Eleven funerals were held on Monday afternoon and a mass grave cut to bury the dead. Out of the 16 families that live in Karametiya, five were laid side by side to rest. Throughout the week, the villagers were expecting to dig more graves and bury more of their families.

“They do not care about us”

Ranasinghe went onto voice much of the fears that the other villagers had. “We are willing to stay in our village if adequate protection is given to us,” he stressed. “It does not need to be the army or STF that has to be posted here–Civil Defence Forces would suffice. The only security given to us is during weekdays are for the school children.

On weekends not a single home guard is posted to the village. If there were at least two last Saturday, this catastrophe could have been prevented.” Moreover, it was mentioned that Civil Defence Forces who know the ins and outs of the village and the chenas should be given for village security. “Most of the time they are posted to Ampara, Akkaraipattu or Siyambalanduwa and it is pointless if we get people who do not know the lay of the land,” said J.M. Wijepala. “Worst of all we have told the local ministers to do something about our roads. Yet the day the incident happened it rained so hard the roads were impassable. We had to bring the bodies in sacks sinking to our knees in mud,” he said adding that authorities were ignorant of their plight and hardly cared about them.

P.B. Nandasena who lost six members of his family in the massacre including his parents and sister said that for the last few days they had nothing to eat. “We cannot go into our homes yet and cook anything. The little grain we stored in our houses is blood spattered. Not only did they kill our families but the LTTE burnt some of our chena’s before they left,” he said adding that a two month long drought had ruined most of their crops even before the attack, leaving them with nothing to eat.

“Not one of our so called leaders gave us a little dry rations to cook and eat, only the army and the police have been kind enough to give us rice parcels and a few things to eat. Soon we might have to resort to eating grass if nothing is given to us,” he said.

“What is worse is that we can’t even afford to go and see our relatives warded in the Kandy Hospital,” T.B. Karunaratne another villager spoke. “Today one of the villagers had lost a family member at the Kandy Hospital and they had asked us to come all the way there to identify the body. In order to bring the body back it would cost us around Rs 20,000. None of us can even dream up that amount.”

The villagers pointed their fingers at the authorities, saying that though they have told them about their issues in the past nothing has ever been done about them. “We wanted a bus badly for this road and we were promised one time and again, but no bus arrived. Finally the Veddah Chieftain in Rathugala, donated us a bus which had been presented to him by someone,” shopkeeper Ranasinghe said. “They only come during the time of elections when they promise to fix the roads and make everything prosper. After that we are only met with emptiness.”

Security measures

Police spokesman SSP Ranjith Gunasekara said that security has been tightened in the Nelliyadda and Karametiya villages.

“Two bunkers are being built after discussions with the villagers. One has been built in the town centre and another one close to the forest borders.”

I am too afraid to go back to my home,” W.M. Gunapala said. “We stay in our houses at night very much afraid, working in our chena’s is out of the question and so we lose the little crop we have.” Most others in the neighbouring villages too expressed their fears but said that if proper security measures are put in place, they would be able to get back to their lives.

(Daily Mirror)

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Frontline commanders are optimistic that with the shifting of the civilian ‘Safe Zone’ by the Army to the 12-kilometre-long strip jutting out of the two Mullaitivu coast lagoons, as announced Thursday, the forces are in a much better position to mop up the remaining Tigers in less than 100 sq. km. of Mullaitivu District still under LTTE control.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, however, said yesterday that their biggest problem was ensuring the safety of civilians still there, some of whom are being held against their will, while others are from Maha Veerar (Great Heroes’) families, meaning families of dead and serving cadres, and considered hardcore supporters of the organisation. “Sifting the cadres from the civilians will be a big problem”, he said, especially, at a time when cadres are posing off as civilians.

The Security Forces (SF) now firmly believe that, there are no more than 75,000 civilians remaining in the fast shrinking Tiger held Wanni. As the clock ticks away for the Tigers, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) monitoring the area under Tiger control round-the-clock, shows frantic digging along the Mulaitivu coast, to bury much of their remaining arsenal, as they did in the East, prior to the fall of their bastion there at Toppigala in July 2007.

Defence sources said that they are already marking ground coordinates of the arms burial sites, for easy retrieval, once the areas are recaptured. The UAVs have even observed entire containers and boats being buried. The weapons are covered with grease and polythene before burial.

Gen. Kalkat, who led the Indian Peace Keeping troops here, has said that, once they had cornered Prabhakaran in Mulaitivu, but the Tiger Supremo had escaped through a seven-kilometer tunnel. So, obviously, the LTTE might still have some surprises.

In the early hours of yesterday, about 1:30 am, according to Military Spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, LTTE infiltrators lobbed a grenade at a bus transporting civilians from Kilinochchi to Vavuniya and followed it up with gunfire, killing a 59-year-old woman and injuring 13 others. Among the injured are four children and four women.

More muscle
Army Chief Lt Gen. Sarath Fonseka has added a new fighting Division, the 10th Battle Group to the Sri Lanka Army, to tighten the dragnet around the remaining LTTE units in Wanni

Col. G.V. Ravipriya, in charge of Mannar area, was appointed head of this new Division designated Task Force VIII. As a Brigade Commander of 57 Division, Col. Ravipriya led his Brigade in the capture of the last enemy defence lines outside Kilinochchi. He was redeployed to the battlefield through the 59 Division and Task Force IV, when the LTTE launched a short lived bloody offensive to drive back forces to Oddusudan from the southern outskirts of Pudukudyirippu

One Brigade of Task Force VIII has been entrusted to Lt Col Subashana Welikala who commanded the 4th Singha Regiment, which fought with the 57 Division from the inception of its Wanni operation. He has joined the new Task Force from the 63-2 Brigade.

An officer of the Commando Brigade, Lt Col Lalantha Gamage has been appointed as its other Brigade Commander.
With the declaration of the new civilian ‘Safe Zone’ on the Mullaitivu coast on Thursday, all civilians in the LTTE’s grip, and the representatives of the ICRC working for their welfare, were informed to leave for the new zone immediately.
The LTTE launched artillery attacks and their operation from the previous neutral zone.

ICD(ouble)C
Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera informed the head of the ICRC last week, to send the civilians entrapped in this area to the Government controlled areas and to prevent the LTTE from installing artillery batteries in the new neutral zone.

However, when the head of the ICRC had claimed that it is not within his purview, the Chief of the Defence Staff had questioned him whether the ICRC not being able to do so, is representing the LTTE.
The Defence establishment has complained to the ICRC Headquarters against the ICRC representative’s alleged double standards and being a voice for the Tigers.

It has been confirmed that the civilians moving to the neutral zone are subjected to checking by the terrorists.
It has been revealed that the LTTE leaders and the members of their families have entered the Mullaitivu coastal belt north of Mullaitivu town. At present, only a coastal belt of 21 kilometres is under the LTTE.

The noose tightens
55 Division under Brig. Prasanna de Silva is advancing from Chalai in the North to the South on this coastal belt and 59 Division under Brig. Nanadana Udawatta from Mullaitivu Town, is advancing North on the same axis..

58 Division led by Brig. Shavendra Silva was advancing from the direction of Pudukudyruppu West to the East and from Pudukudyruppu North to the South.

Task Force II under Brig. Rohana Bandara is proceeding in the direction of Pudukudyruppu from the South. Task Force IV under Col Nishantha Wanniarachchi and 59 Brigade with the new Task Force VIII was moving up from Pudukudyruppu south.

Although fighting is definitely tapering off, Army Chief Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka has in no way taken his eyes off the conduct of his field forces, and is continuing to monitor every detail, while Wanni SF Commander Maj. Gen Jagath Jayasuriya is coordinating all aspects of the front.

Air strike claims Tiger top brass
Meanwhile, according to intelligence, the funeral of a senior LTTE leader took place in secret, following an air strike last Friday (6) on LTTE Military Wing Leader Swarnam’s house at Pudukudyruppu area.
Although Soosai was believed to have been killed in the air strike, later, he was heard over intercepted LTTE radio communications

It was confirmed that there were bodies of LTTE leaders among the bodies recovered from the bombed building. Soon after the air attack, the LTTE began digging up the site with heavy machinery, and the air force engaged the site once again, while the digging operations were going on. Later, the Tigers once again resumed digging of the site and recovered 17 bodies.

Bodies and ‘booty’
58 Division discovered several LTTE strongholds and seized a haul of heavy weapons from Pudukudyiruppu west.
58-1 Brigade under Lt Col Deshapriya Gunawardene is advancing from the direction of Pudukudyiruppu North to the South and 58-2 Brigade under Lt Col Sanjaya Wanigasinghe from Pudukudiruppu West. The advancing forces of 58-3 Brigade are providing support fire to them.

The Infantry Regiments of 58 Division, advancing from the West to the East and from North to the South, this week captured Suganderapuram town, which was of strategic important to the LTTE. The infantry regiments captured the area after two days of intense fighting.

They recovered the bodies of 20 LTTE cadres, and captured fuel storage, a mortar and bomb making plant and an LTTE printing press. 58-1 Brigade under Lt Col Kithsiri Liyanage captured fuel depots and vehicles.

9th Gemunu Watch (GW) under Lt. Col. Lal Chandrasiri recovered a haul of arms including five 120mm artillery guns, two 81mm mortar launchers, two MPMG weapons, two 60 mm mortar launchers, 25 claymore mines, and several other weapons greased and packed in polythene.

6th GW under Lt. Col. Kamal Pinnawala recovered a similar cache of weapons last week.
The LTTE had manufactured 81mm mortars and claymore mines in the captured mini armament factory.
It was revealed that the LTTE received machinery for the printing press from a Norwegian NGO.
“The LTTE had printed diaries and calendars for 2009 and the December issue of the Eelanathan newspaper,” a senior military official said.

The SF recovered two 40-ft-long Sea Tiger boats, similar to the Navy’s Dvora attack craft. They also recovered unopened containers.

58 Division was advancing towards Pudukudiruppu along the Paranthan-Mullaitivu (A-35) highway and the area above it. The 5th Armoured Corp under Lt Col Nihal Samarakoon is providing support fire to the advancing troops.

LTTE’s civilian card
About 28,000 civilians surrendered to the 58 Division this week amid intense fighting. Meanwhile, a woman suicide cadre among them, blasted herself, killing 20 military personnel, including officers providing facilities to the refugees, and eight civilians and causing injuries to 64 others.

Monday’s suicide attack was intended to prevent the influx of civilians and to cause maximum casualties among security forces personnel.

In another development, 40 LTTE cadres deserted ranks, leaving their weapons and uniforms to avoid any further fighting. They had left two suicide kits as well.

The advance continues
62-1 Brigade under Lt Col. Atula Ariyaratne of Task force II, under Brig. Rohana Bandara, is proceeding towards Pudukudiruppu, below the 58 Division.

62-1 Brigade was instructed to proceed, after the last Tiger obstacle in Pudukudiruppu area was removed by 57-4 Brigade.
57-4 Brigade comprising 8th Gajaba Regiment (GR) under Lt. Col. Chandana Wickremesinghe, 6th Vijayaba Regiment (VR) under Maj. Prabhath Kodituwakku, the 7th Signals under Maj. Dhammika Tilakarante, and the 18th VR under Maj. Laksiri Perera, are proceeding from Pudukudiruppu West to the East, along the South of A-35 highway.

The 8th SR and 16 GR of 62-2 Brigade under Lt. Col. Kirthi Gunasoma are advancing with Task Force IV.
It is confirmed that about 70 Tigers were killed in confrontations in these areas over a week.

62-1 Brigade had advanced about another kilometre towards Pudukudyiruppu by Friday.
62-1 Brigade this week also captured Tiger bomb making plants, arms storages and several LTTE camps. The LTTE had manufactured hand grenades, Arul bombs and mortar shells.

Civilians brave Tiger threat
On Tuesday, when civilians fleeing from Pudukudyiruppu to Udayarkattukulam came under LTTE attack, 62-1 Brigade repulsed the attack and saved the civilians.

However, 19 civilians were killed and 75 others injured in the LTTE gunfire. Meanwhile, 1,265 civilians dared to surrender to the SF amidst LTTE gunfire. The soldiers even offered their meals to the refugees. An expectant mother who delivered on the way, was provided immediate medical treatment by the SF.

As GOC 57 Division, Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias was detailed to coordinate Task Force IV, 53 Division and 59 Division; Deputy Commander Col Aruna Wanniarachchi took over command of 57 Division.

Uncommon bravery
57-4 Brigade was able to capture the upper area of Udayarkattukulam tank and eliminate the LTTE’s obstructions to the advancing forces.

This was also the main and final obstacle facing the SF, on their forward march to Pudukudyiruppu. The 8th Infantry Regiment under Lt. Col. Ipshitha Dissanayaka, coming under the 57-4 Brigade under Lt. Col. Senaka Wijesuriya, overcame this challenge within 48 hours and advanced about 1.5 kilometres.

The operation that commenced at about 6.15 am on Monday (9), to break down the defence line of bunkers and trenches in an area of about one kilometer, continued till night.

The SF marched across this area with an open stretch of about 300 metres, despite the LTTE’s intense gunfire.
The following day (10), the advancing Infantry Regiments, with the help of the armoured cars, captured the entire area. Seventeen terrorists had been killed in confrontations on the first day.

Cpl Wijeratne of the Delta team of the 8th Infantry Regiment was promoted Sgt and LCpl Disanayaka as Cpl in the battlefield itself, by the Brigade Commander, for the leading role played by the two men in the entire operation.

59 Brigade under Brig. Nandana Udawatta was proceeding from Pudukudyiruppu East and from the direction of Mullaitivu.
The military defence line, which had been strategically pulled back three kilometers, during the short-lived LTTE offensive on January 31, has now been restored by the valiant forces.

The 7th GW under Lt. Col. Chaminda Lamahewa faced the brunt of the Tiger assault that day. However, the officers and soldiers of the regiment fought till the very end.

However, 33 military personnel including Maj. Kamal Nanayakkara laid down their lives during the battle. When intense fighting erupted, Cpl Pushpakumara requested his senior officers to fall back with the remaining men, while he went forward, armed with claymore mines and blasted himself among the enemy.

“Sir, you all move back with the others, and let me die with them,” he had told his fellow men, before carrying out the daring deed. There were many valiant men among the forces, during this major counterattack by the LTTE.

The LTTE’s attempt to push back the military defence line to Oddusudan, by deploying suicide attackers and combat groups, was foiled by the Special Forces Squadron under Maj. Kosala Wijeratne. He led his squad, determined to fight to the last soldier. Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias who supervised the battle, praised him then and there, for his battlefield prowess.

Meanwhile, a group of LTTE cadres attempting to enter the area through the Pudukudyiruppu-Oddusudan road, using an armour plated truck, was foiled by the 1st VR. The terrorists came under RPG and armoured car fire, and 25 of them were killed in the confrontation. Later, the SF recovered the bulletproof truck, along with their bodies and weapons.

(The Nation)

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Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels lobbed a grenade and opened fire at a bus transporting civilians out of Sri Lanka’s war zone Saturday, killing one woman and wounding 13, the defence ministry said.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked the bus at Puliyankulam in the island’s north while it headed to the government-held town of Vavuniya, the ministry said.

It said four women and two girls were among those shot by the gunmen in the pre-dawn attack.

Airforce fighter jets kept up attacks on rebel positions Saturday and bombed the northern beach strip of Mullaittivu where suspected guerrilla boats were anchored, the military said.

The bombings come as artillery shells Friday killed four residents of a home for the elderly inside a demarcated safe area within Sri Lanka’s war zone, a doctor said Saturday.

Many elderly people were also injured in the shelling in the northeast coastal area of Puttumattalan, said T. Satyamurthy, a doctor working out of the makeshift community centre hospital.

He said hundreds of civilians were being treated in the hospital, which was running out of drugs and lacked clean toilets and clean water.

Security forces and police were also deployed Saturday at a local election for two provincial councils in the central and north-western parts of the country, officials said.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse turned the election into a referendum on its handling of the battle against Tamil Tiger rebels. Police said the vote went through peacefully and results are expected Sunday.

This week, the Red Cross evacuated more than 600 patients and family members from Puttumattalan by sea to the northeastern coastal town of Trincomalee.

Satyamurthy said another 600 badly wounded people needed to be evacuated for further treatment.

More than 200 patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and kidney problems were also in need of urgent evacuation.

The government accuses the LTTE of using some 100,000 Tamil civilians as a human shield after military forces cornered the guerrillas in a narrow strip of jungle in the island’s north-east.

However, official figures showed 37,420 people had crossed the front lines this year, with nearly 35,000 making the hazardous journey this month alone to seek shelter with security forces.

The Red Cross says hundreds of non-combatants have already been killed.

The government, which says it is on the brink of crushing the rebels, has resisted international calls to halt its offensive against the Tigers, who have fought since 1972 for the creation of an independent Tamil homeland.

On Thursday, Sri Lanka set up a new safe zone for non-combatants along a 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) stretch of coastline, effectively scrapping a smaller designated no-fire area.

Sri Lanka has resisted calls for a “no-fire period,” amid claims from relief agencies that a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding in the island’s war zone.

Foreign governments as well as rights groups have asked Tamil Tigers to allow civilians free movement.

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  • Students are eager to enlighten the Canadian citizens on the humanitarian issue in Sri Lanka even though most of the institutions do not encourage it.
  • They want to build up a wider dialogue about the issue, bringing forward the tragic stories of their relatives and friends who were victimized by it.

Carrying signs and calling out chants, hundreds of high school Tamil-Canadian students from across the city are protesting outside the North York headquarters of Toronto District School Board.

The 30-hour protest, which began Thursday at 10 a.m. and will wrap up Friday at 4 p.m., is aimed at bringing attention to the conflict situation  in Sri Lanka, said Shoban Jayamohan, a Grade 10 student at Scarborough’s Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute.

“Basically, we’re students born in Canada, Canadian citizens born in a democracy with human rights,” said Jayamohan, one of the event organizers.

Students have tried to raise the issue at their schools but have been silenced because teachers say they are only presenting one side of a political issue, Jayamohan said.

“We don’t want to get into politics. We’re not mature enough for politics. What we are saying is Canadians should know about the issue,” he said.

“We want the school board to bring awareness to students in schools so they know what is happening in Sri Lanka. It is a humanitarian need.”

Board spokesperson Kelly Baker didn’t know about the specifics of the students’ complaints. But she said the board has a policy that says when controversial issues are raised at school, a balance of perspectives needs to be addressed.

“We want to always look at both sides of the issue. We have to look at a wider perspective, not just one side,” she said.

“We want our students to talk about important issues in the classroom but we want to present a balanced perspective.”

The issue must also be relevant to what is being taught in the class, Baker said, adding students can talk to the principal if they feel a teacher is unfairly limiting their dialogue.

Jayamohan said a distant aunt in his family was killed last week in the latest violence that is part of a civil war that has raged for years in Sri Lanka.

Board officials and teachers need to let Tamil students share stories of victims, such as his aunt, to help draw global attention to the crisis, he said.

“If nobody stands up, in four or five months, there will be no Tamil race,” Jayamohan said.

The students decided on a 30-hour protest regardless of the weather because they don’t want people to underestimate their commitment to the cause, he added.

Students carried signs with slogans such as “Tamils want justice,” “Canada are you silent witness to the genocide?” and “This is not a matter of race, it is a matter of humanity” and chanted sayings such as “Stop the genocide.”

There were about 150 students outside the board offices yesterday afternoon but Jayamohan said as many as 600 students would participate during the 30 hours of the protest.

(Inside Toronto)

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There is mass speculation regarding the number of civilians trapped inside LTTE areas. Human Rights groups who make a living out of such situations have claimed that 250-000 (MSF) to 300,000 (AI Report) civilians are trapped in these areas. How these organizations arrived at these figures is a mystery, or is it?

A careful observation of these agencies’ information extraction process reveals that there is much to be desired in terms of their methodology for getting at the ‘truth’. This is because the exact number of civilians trapped in those areas is not known even by the military. There has not been a census conducted in those areas in two decades. The Army’s best guesstimates puts the number around 100,000 civilians at the most.

So how do these organizations gather their information?

When it comes to the collection of information from ‘the other side’, there has been a practice by these organizations, even diplomatic missions, of hiring or networking either directly or indirectly with Tamil nationals residing both in Colombo and in the Districts. This is based on the idea that they have better access and therefore better information about the Tamils in the said area.

The issue of natural bias is often overlooked as a result of high expectation for professionalism from the said officers. These networks are maintained by a ‘local operation’ meaning a small office/s maintained in Sri Lanka by a group of expatriates and their local employees. The major sources of these organizations are as follows:

  • Political affairs officers of embassies/High Commissions who rely on Tamil journalists from mainly the print media (Thinakkural etc)
  • Tamil nationals attached to NGOs/INGOs/UN agencies both at the head quarters and district level (ICRC, SLRC, Local ‘Civil Society’ and Human Rights Groups)
  • Tamil nationals attached to various Ministries (Ministry of Rehabilitation etc)
  • Expatriate staff of NGOs/INGOs/UN who meet randomly at Colombo’s favourite watering holes (These expatriate officers disseminate information gathered through local staff)
  • Local officers/district staff obtain information through their own networks of Tamil journalists/Grama Niladhari etc. Some may have an opportunity to interview returning civilians.
  • Sinhala journalists who get tidbits from friends in the Military

There is however a serious problem with this methodology, particularly in the current context.

1. The area of contention has shrunk. One can cover the area under LTTE control with one’s thumb on a map of Sri Lanka.
2. No rebel ‘administration’ exist, hence there cannot be accurate estimates even if they tried
3. Civilian and civil administration, interaction and communication systems within the area and connection to the outside world has ceased and replaced primarily by an LTTE Military communication system, which is naturally biased.
4. Returning civilians may have an ‘idea’ of the numbers displaced but it is by far inaccurate and limited to their immediate experience/individual networks/capacity.
5. Quality and capacity of the information gatherers and their methods are highly questionable. Many local journalists are part-time regional reporters and are untrained. Members of the networks providing ad hoc information are not trained professionals.
6. No scientific surveys are possible. Access to the areas under LTTE control, even the No FIRE ZONE is denied by the Tigers (though access to government IDP centers are allowed).

The repercussions of this failed systems of reporting on humanitarian conditions in the Vanni are numerous. These include:

1. ‘Naming and shaming’ the government based on inaccurate information backfires on the agencies themselves and their networks
2. Wide-spread animosity and antagonism towards functioning and sometimes useful civil society groups
3. Credibility and standards of practice of international humanitarian agencies get eroded
4. Defaming of Sri Lanka- defaming of a democratically elected government or its people supporting a military solution is sometimes tantamount to defaming the entire nation, particularly in the west
5. Based on the ‘established credibility’ of these agencies and their reports, international media continues to defame our nation and its right to defend itself
6. These falsifications strengthen the separatist ideology of the Diaspora pro-LTTE groups resulting in taxation of Tamils living in the west, self-immolation by misled individuals, diplomatic stand-offs (Indian Central Govt-Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka) and finally;
7. Strengthening the hand of Tamil ultra nationalists hell-bent on eternal perpetuation of hatred and subsequently a ‘Round-2’ of the fight.
8. Undue external interference in the conflict- The reports issued by these agencies put undue pressure on the state actor whereas it is the non-state actor that is holding the civilians against their will. In fact, thousands of Tamils attempting to reach government controlled areas at south Puthukudirippu were fired at (some killed) and subsequently driven out to Mathalang, general area north of Puthukudirippu recently.

It is therefore only natural for these agencies to now take stock of their methodologies, particularly in Sri Lanka. We would strongly urge them to do so and go as far as saying that we would even offer our services in reaching out for the truth.

(Defense Wire)

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