Jaffna, Peace and Conflict

Until the Guns are silent

I set out to Jaffna last week hoping to report on the situation there. I got back yesterday but am still unable to put down anything on paper as I don’t know where to start. Do I start with the little boy I met who saved his baby brother’s life by scooping his intestines back into his torn belly and holding him till he was given medical attention? Or do I start with the little girl who saw a man on his knees begging for his life before having his brains blown out on the road in the middle of the morning? Or again should I start with the cousin of the Priest who was abducted, tortured and killed for daring to stand up to authority pleading for medical help for his parishioners? Or better still the wife and five children of the brave young man who shared the same plight as the priest? Or maybe I should begin with the girl whose brother went missing earlier this year and who tried in vain to get a letter across to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights? Can I begin with the plight of people held in the prisons? The hundreds cramped into a tiny space with no proper sanitation facilities sharing their living space with their 49 cell mates who have contracted chicken-pox? Or the little children who are in lock up with their mothers, unable to play in the sunshine? Or the young girl whose parents were abducted and who was assaulted by the abductors the night before she appeared for the Ordinary Level examination with a bruised and battered body?

Maybe I should start with my meeting of the young soldier of the Sri Lankan army who had bought two mangoes and was eagerly waiting for his shift to change so he could go back to camp and write a letter to his family to inform them he would not be able to visit them this new year? Or the plight of the other who was beaten and imprisoned for disobedience when he refused to accept that his leave was not approved? Or the sorrow of the women who send their men to war and who are unable to even give them a decent burial because their bodies have been burnt on the battlefield to downplay the casualties?

Or better still should I start with my own dismay when the Representative of the Government of Japan on Peace Building says that he cannot interfere in the internal affairs of my country? How am I able to tell women and children that they should report instances of abuse despite their traditional belief that outsiders cannot interfere in the affairs of the family when the very person who gives aid to my country tells me he cannot leverage on his standing as a donor to see that those who receive this aid do not abuse their authority?

Where do I start? How do I manage to fit in all these cases? Will I miss anyone out? Should I have taken proper notes? But how do I whip out my notepad and pen when they sit by me and cry while they relive their horror?

I can’t write. I can only hold their hands and cry with them….

Until the Guns are silent
(Inspired by the children I met in Jaffna. Follows after the poem Until it Snows)

I love the quiet. I love the pure, white finish of funeral shrouds. My world is troubled and noisy. My world is dusty, dirty and very dull since the guns began to fire. It leaves me longing for the silence of death.

Until the guns are silent.

I long for the peace that death brings. The thought of it helps me think about peaceful things. Like the way we used to laugh and play. My world is not peaceful.

Until the guns are silent.

I loath the memories the guns bring to mind. I cannot see the joy of Christmas in the things falling from the sky. I cannot hear the songs for my crying drowns it out. I cannot see the beauty in the piling up of dead. My world needs joy and laughter. It lacks so much.

Until the guns are silent.

I see the contrast blood brings. We are bathed in it, bombarded from all sides with flashing, brilliant, sparkling lights. Black, white, brown, gray and blood red limit us. My world is overwhelming.

Until the guns are silent.

I love the “slow” that death brings. My life is harried, rushed and moving too fast through check points and queues outside the grocery store, behind the barbed wire and the bars.

Until the guns are silent.

I take nothing for granted. I have no hope of losing myself in having too many choices. I only want another day of life in peace. I only want not to be afraid. I only want to be able to smile. I want to know my father and mother. But I can’t

Until the guns are silent.

Please help silence the guns so that these children can look forward to a normal life.

  • kpj

    fantastic,i really wish more of us were witness so as to understand the reality ,of that original ungratefulness toward some of god’s creation that sparked all of this off.another argument that is yet to be battled out and answered in full-is how terrorism and discrimination of tamils could be brought to an end.war solves nothing,we do not promote it and but yet what option do we have?its a pity if we couldnt all remain as one nation…..

  • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

    Ange, your poem expresses the plight of children and their parents in the war torn areas. I have been a witness to the suffering since 1994. Not only the children but even adults irrespective of their standing are unable to stop the war machine. So far no one has proposed a just solution to our problem. Unitil then the guns and the Migs will dictate.

  • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

    The book review of “When the Guns Fell Silent” in the website adds to Ange’s poem.

  • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

    A Brave and Startling Truth
    Maya Angelou
    American Poet, Author and Actress

    We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
    Traveling through casual space
    Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
    To a destination where all signs tell us
    It is possible and imperative that we learn
    A brave and startling truth

    And when we come to it
    To the day of peacemaking
    When we release our fingers
    From fists of hostility
    And allow the pure air to cool our palms

    When we come to it
    When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
    And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
    When battlefields and coliseum
    No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
    Up with the bruised and bloody grass
    To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

    When the rapacious storming of the churches
    The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
    When the pennants are waving gaily
    When the banners of the world tremble
    Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

    When we come to it
    When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
    And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
    When land mines of death have been removed
    And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
    When religious ritual is not perfumed
    By the incense of burning flesh
    And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
    By nightmares of abuse

    When we come to it
    Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
    With their stones set in mysterious perfection
    Nor the Gardens of Babylon
    Hanging as eternal beauty
    In our collective memory
    Not the Grand Canyon
    Kindled into delicious color
    By Western sunsets

    Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
    Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
    Stretching to the Rising Sun
    Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
    Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
    These are not the only wonders of the world

    When we come to it
    We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
    Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
    Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
    We, this people on this mote of matter
    In whose mouths abide cankerous words
    Which challenge our very existence
    Yet out of those same mouths
    Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
    That the heart falters in its labor
    And the body is quieted into awe

    We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
    Whose hands can strike with such abandon
    That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
    Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
    That the haughty neck is happy to bow
    And the proud back is glad to bend
    Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
    We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

    When we come to it
    We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
    Created on this earth, of this earth
    Have the power to fashion for this earth
    A climate where every man and every woman
    Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
    Without crippling fear

    When we come to it
    We must confess that we are the possible
    We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
    That is when, and only when
    We come to it.

    (This poem was written and delivered in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.)

  • Don

    The security forces are under threat every second. Do any one cry when they get blown to piece’s. What do you think when innocent looking females some with polio blowup there own brethren This not to say it is a sad state of affaires and hope a day would come every one can live in piece in one country. To this end don’t you think that the masses in Jaffna should give information to authorities to clamp on the activity of LTTE murderess when they blow up, chop with knives WILLFULLY children, priest etc.

    Given the chance to the LTTE there would be many claymores in Jaffna taking the lives of people of Jaffna as well as the security forces. So what is your remedy for that.

  • Joseph C.

    Guns can be silenced in Sri Lanka only when those who sell them to the warring parities stop selling.

  • Harry

    It is too easy to write boyscout poems like this but hard thing is to understand reality. This will create unrealistic picture on a mind on someone who does not know the ground reality.

  • nandasena

    Guns will be silent when the so called “co chairs” take some responsibility. Not just by releasing statement after statement, but by taking sterner action against the government’s human rights violation. They should stop all aid to the government until they stop the human rights violation against the minorities.

    Guns will be silent as soon as the “occupied forces” leave the occupied land!!

    Guns will be silent when the “Sinhalese” politicians forget about “subjugating” the Tamil people.

    Guns will be silent the moment the “Sinhalese” politicians start treating all the citizens of Sri Lanka as equal irrespective of the language they speak!!

    Guns will be silent as soon as the “Sinhalese” government stop arming the Tamil paramilitaries. (paying Tamils to kill Tamils and getting them to do the dirty work for them)


  • punitham

    Thank you so so so much
    One of the reasons why the war escalated to this intractable point is that there was no regular reporting about what has been happening in the Northeast in the last thirty years -the army has been the gatekeeper and determined what was going in and out of the Northeast, be it news or humanitarian aid.
    Had the Sinhalese known the truth from reporters and not the lies from the politicians the country wouldn’t have been dragged into this quagmire.
    Joseph, if there are no buyers there won’t be any sellers.

  • suntzu

    Harry… It takes 2 to Tango! What have you got to say about the Tamil civilians in the North and East who are Kafir Bombed???

    ps: Also…what about the Tamils who have been abducted all around Sri Lanka?

  • Kari

    Everybody talks about the tamils in north and elseware in the country.

    It a pitty that nobody ralks about the sinhalese who lived in the north and east of the country before this conflict.

    Have they vanished in to thin air ?

    It is said that tamils are been harrest in colombo. I personally condemn it. At least they can move anyware in the country.
    What about the sinhalees…. can the travel to kilinochchi , vanni, Mannar or to north of the country freely ?

    I feel sorry for the Tamils and Sinhalees both

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    The guns will be silent, when as in Angola and Chechnya, the enemy is defeated by the legitimate state. After decades of conflict, punctuated by many interludes of insincere negotiation, the guns finally fell silent when UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed by the Angolan military. In Sri Lanka in 1989 the guns fell silent in the South when the JVP was militarily vanquished. That’s the long and short of it.

  • Fernando

    The writer has only a one sided view. You should have interviewed the poor villagers who are Sinhalese and Muslims who have been chased away from their homes at the gun point when Prabakaran was doing ethnic clensing in the North and the East which shows the brutal racism of this terrorist leader.

    How about the suicidal women terrorists who blow up their heads as well as other inocent sinhalese civilians. Most of all we will never forget the mass assacination of 38 student monks (8 to 13 years olds)who were cut into pieces by LTTE terrorists in Aranthalawa, who didn’t have anything to do with politics. How LTTE used to kill masses and masses of inocent villagers of Anuradhapura by simply cutting their heads off and chopping the bodies into pieces.

    One can write any amount of poems but one day LTTE together with Prabaharan and his foreign supporters will be properly perished according to the law of the universe. Then you will be able to write a better poem than this.

    I’ll tell you one thing, Sri Lankans will never hand over a chunk of our country to a bunch of heartless terrorists when there are reasonable and well educated Tamil politicians who can be the leaders of the people.

  • What you describe is very sad to happen to any human. Sri Lanka was once the most peaceful country where all communities lived as one people. Extremists like JVP started the troubles in 1971 and then LTTE continued. When estimated 50,000+ innocent Sinhalese people died in 1971 there was no international communities to cry for them. What both JVP and LTTE did was sacrificed innocent people to achieve their own agendas. What about thousands of innocent people being killed by LTTE? Who is crying for them?

    Nandasena who must be a Tamil extremist in a Sinhala name has forgotten that ‘occupied land’ he is talking about is not anyones but part of Sri Lanka which belongs to every Sri Lankan irrespective of the language they speak. If anyone tried to follow this idiot’s racists theory then all the Tamils and Muslims will have to be chased out of down south because one can argue that they are occupying Sinhala land. So it is time for everyone to concentrate on how to help the affected Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim people and how to help democratically elected govt to help to resolve this 30+ year old cancer brought in by a terrorist group.

    We all have heard about this terrorist’s reason as to protect the Tamil people and their rights. What rubbish is that. If anyone cannot understand by now that they are not for the Tamil people, they have to be simply idiots. Is it the reason why LTTE has killed so many Tamils? How many times we have to explain these things to Terrorist sympathisers?

    Lets get the govt and real Tamil leaders to sit together and resolve this issue once and for all. LTTE if they are not willing to negotiate and settle this matter, they should be not only isolated but completely get rid of.

  • punitham


    this sounds very scary

  • punitham

    1. JVP started the troubles in 1971? A lot of troubles happened between 1948 and 1971.

    2. Some Tamils and Sinhalese are waiting for the peace proposal from the APC.

  • Sham

    A minority or subordinate group is a sociological group that does not constitute a politically dominant plurality of the total population of a given society.- wikipedia

    I have read in this site a lot about conflict resolution, and peace. but what i am not clear is that , how can a minority (as defined above) claim that due to their minotiry status claim that that they should be seperated and that they form a seperate enitity or a country.

    my main question arises from the fact that, where would such demand end , example what what be the lowest common denominator?

    my reasoning come from this. example – if we say in sri lankan terms , lets say that the kandyan buddishts decided to create a seperate state. they have legal precedent due to nayyakkar history and the kandyan law. they are in one geograpgical area and also of one religion. they are of one cast, say kandyan cast. so does that mean if they want to seperate from the rest the sri lankan government and the world and UN and UNHCR should help them if they say that they have been discriminated.

    to take a international example, mermons in mormons of Utah, if they are the majority in Utah state are having their own culture and religion and geographically in a seperate area. could they ask USA government for seperation from US of A..

    now some can argue that united states have devolved power. i am not too aware of the level of power devolution in Utah , but since they call it one country, one citizenship, one currency, one national anthem i feel they still are within one country…

    seperate flag or police or municiplaty in state level (equavelent to provincial council in SL) does not consititute a seperate country…

    so my argument is , in trying to achive peace in SL what exactly does the LTTE want. why has no one come up and say these are they aspects we want?

    and if the SL government is pressued to give these things, where does it compare in global and local terms to the above two examples? and where do we stop at creating new nations

  • suntzu

    Dayan Jayatilleka… could you shed some light on Eritrea and East Timor please?

  • suntzu

    Fernando….you said “one day LTTE together with Prabahakaran and his foreign supporters will be properly perished according to the law of the universe.”
    According to the Buddha, “Anichaa watha sankaara!’ NOTHING IS PERMANENT!
    So according to the law of the universe its not only Prabahakaran and his foreign supporters who will perish one day…but also Mahinda Rajapaksa and his supporters as well!
    WHO WILL PERISH FIRST? My guess is as good as yours!

    ps: Sanjana… how about another Poll?

  • nandasena

    Sri Lanka was not peaceful until 1971!! Anti Tamil pogroms started in the mid 1950s, as soon as SWRD Bandaranayake came to power. I presume Rohana has not heard (or conveniently OMMITTED) of the 1958 pogrom. He should read Tarzie Vittachi’s book “Emergency ’58”. He should read about the peacful protest of the Tamils and how they were manhandled in front of the Parliament.

    LTTE was not there then. Pirapaharan was only 4 years old then!! Since then violence against the Tamils have become endemic in Sri Lanka.

    Violence against the Tamils did not start with the LTTE. LTTE was the byproduct ot the government’s “INABILITY” or should I say “UNWILLINGNESS” to stop the violence committed against the Tamil. It is no secret that the Government WAS and IS aiding and abetting the violence against UN-ARMED Tamils.

    Before that, I think in 1915, there was violence between the muslims and the Sinhalese. Please do some research before you put pen to paper.

  • JM

    Well, Nandasena, what happened in 1915 is to do with British colonial discrimination and persecution of the Sinhalese indigenous majority, and favouritism of Tamil, Muslim and Burgher minorities. The arrogant and incendiary opposition of the Tamil elite to any concessions to the long suffering Sinhalese, and the Tamils attempts to preserve their anti-democratic discriminatory colonial privileges by any means possible, was the primary cause of the 1958 riots.

  • Melvin Ally

    Does the writer presume things would be different in Jaffna if it was under LTTE control? Does the LTTE understand anything called the rule of law? Freedom of speech? Freedom of expression? Any freedom at all which is not in line with their thinking?

  • Fonseka

    You should start with the atrocities committed by LTTE against not only the general Sri Lankans (Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims), but also of the specific Tamils. History as they say is a matter of interpretation and anyone go down the history lane a 100 yrs, or to colonial times or even to pre-colonial times to justify crimes against humanity. But the focus should be about here and now.

    When combatting a precarious situation like terrorism, esp ones who have their establishments within civilian preimeters, when the existence of one is a threat to hundreds or even thousands, then to preserve HR to the last letter is impossible. This is not a situation unique to SL, but during WWII, after Perl Harbor bombing, all the Japanese living in US were herded out of their homes and into horse stables…

    When the JVP were a terrorist group, Sinhalese (youths as young as 14 yrs) were rounded up and almost a decade later the plight of many are unknown. If this terrible deed that had to be done were not done when it was needed to be done, then SL would be plagued with the same menace it is with LTTE. Why this problem has lived for so long and has taken so many lives is because GOSL (Gov of SL) didn’t take the proper measures it should to counter terrorism.

    The writer, who claims to be a reporter, should not get emotionally carried away, but impartially report the truth. The truth is, yes, there are ‘disappearances’ – but not in the scale when JVP was persecuted, yes, people are been dtained, but definietely not in the conditions LTTE is keeping its detainees and yes, children are witnessing horror beyond description, but so many more are been forced out of their families into committing terrorism. Children as young as 10 – 12 are been forced to face a professionally trained security force. They die screaming for their mothers.

    What the writer in his brief visit has not seen is the humanitarian efforts by the very Security Forces (SF) that he is blaming on – no other SF does the amount of humanitarian relief as the SLSF. If in doubt, then ask why is it before an impeding attack and even during a confrontation and then afterwards, the Tamil people move to areas under SF domination and not vice versa.

  • Fonseka

    For those insisting on history, here’s a very brief synopsis:

    a. The JR gov in ’77 granted all the demands on language etc of the Tamil political parties (but Prabakaran continued with LTTE)
    b. In ’80s IPKF came and merged N & E and provided a framework, but LTTE waged war against IPKF and would have got annihilated if not for Premadasa
    c. Premadasa invited LTTE for talks, but upon the IPKF departure LTTE re-engaged in terrorism and killed over 600 policemen, who surrendered to LTTE on Premadasa’s orders
    d. Under Chandrika gov further constitutional proposal were made by Neelan Thiruchelvan, but he was assassinated by LTTE
    e. Ranil made incredible concession with the 2002 CFA, but that was used to stock up arms, place sleepers, build the terrorist network etc

    In turn,
    i. Prabakaran has reduced LTTE active areas to Tamil prisons
    ii. Reduce the reputation of Tamils globally
    iii. Kill the next Tamil generation and have converted the remainder to terrorists with life lasting psychological damage; displaced countless others
    iv. School principles, temple dignitaries, and other Tamil leaders such as Lakshman Kadirgama, Amirthalingam, Neelan Therichelvam, Alfred Duraippah etc killed. In fact the list of Tamils killed by LTTE far exceeds the list of Sinhalese and Muslims killed by LTTE

    For those convinced that Prabakaran is the liberator, here’s a question:
    Why with all these concessions over the years Prabakaran insisting on terrorism? Time and again, reasonal solutions could have be reached, but everytime, he killed the very proposer.

    The interesting question for all is, where would Prabakran would be if not for his business of terror. Could he have given the same luxurious life he can afford his family now if he remained his family business of smuggling???

  • Ange

    The philosophy of an eye for an eye will leave us all blind…

  • sham

    well ange, what u say then we do, let robber come and take my eye away, and we say that its ok??

  • suntzu

    Ange… ‘In the Land of the Blind…the one eyed man is KING!’
    ‘In the Land of Sri Lanka…the man with the… (I can’t type anymore because Sanjana will censor it!)

    ps: Sanjana…I liked MOJU better…stay cool. (Groundviews is ok…ok COOL!)

  • punitham

    Many comments in this strand and many other strands tell me that they are made with a dangerously minimum knowledge of the multitude of ”happenings” that have been twisting and twisting the conflict over the last sixty years. What happened yesterday affects what happens today which affects what happens tomorrow.
    What can be done?

  • nandasena

    Regarding the following comment “Does the LTTE understand anything called the rule of law? Freedom of speech? Freedom of expression? Any freedom at all which is not in line with their thinking? ” This comment is like the pot calling the kettle black!!

    I would like to ask whether all the above mentioned exists in the “Republic of Sri Lanka”? If it exists we would not have had so many abductions, extrajudicial killings, demanding ransom, killing of political opponents, killing of journalist happening. Worst thing is no investigation took place, if it did, never completed, or findings made public and the pepetrators are aided and abetted by the Government. Lawless has become the hallmark of Sri Lanka. They are too numerous to mention. It does not help to pretend as these things does not happen in our “beloved” country.

  • Veedhur

    Dear Dayan Jayatilleka,

    Guns can also fall silent by Negotiations as in South Sudan or by International intervention as in former Yugoslavia.

    Conversely they can still keep going even after your definition of ‘defeating’ the enemy as Saddam found to his detriment in Kurdistan and Israel is continuously grappling with it in Palastine (didn’t they take out the Hamas Leader?)

    Worse still the Guns can return with a vengeance even after 50 years as in El Salvador – remember ‘La Matanza’ and Farabundo Marti. It was eventually settled by Peace Agreement.

    While I am not knowledgeable enough to argue about your stylized depiction of Angola and Chechnya, I thought of pointing out that there are more ways in which the Guns can fall silent.

    One makes choices in life….

  • JM

    Sri Lanka is not South Sudan or Yugoslavia. As Dayan says, the best precedent to go by is the JVP insurrection, and that only ended when its leader was assassinated. Once the LTTE leadership is eliminated, we can negotiate a quick truce on terms favourable to us with the remainder of the cadre. Such a truce, while not pandering to the racist exclusivist demands of the Tamil polity, will bring sustainable peace to all communities in the country, including equal treatment before the law and the right to live anywhere in the country.

    The reasons for LTTE’s existence are no longer valid. India can no longer support terrorism in Sri Lanka, which is how this all started, and the Tamils don’t face any discrimination except for being suspected as potential terrorists, which is LTTE’s fault. It only remains as a personality cult built around the demi-god VP, funded by his followers (=devotees) in the Tamil diaspora. Once he’s gone along with Pottu Amman, the LTTE will crumble, and the guns will fall silent.

  • Veedhur

    A war fought on class faultlines is markedly different to a war faught on ethno-linguistic or religious faultlines. Despite the tactical similarities they have differences in origin and solutions.

    Again, not to say that 87-89 JVP insurrection is wrong analogy, just to point out that there are more and varied examples…


    One makes choices in life