Colombo, Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Poetry, Post-War, Writers Under Siege


You claimed to liberate
hostages, to conduct
the largest rescue
operation in history.

In other countries
people robbed
of freedoms,

are treated
by doctors, then
sent home
to be greeted

usually by feisty
and jubilant
crowds. They are
welcomed as heroes.

Here, 100 Tamils
share one latrine,
women don´t eat
so they will not

defecate until night
covers them
squatting in bush by
the perimeter fence

conquering fear
of snakes. Here boys
and girls are picked
up by goon squads

who roam camps
demanding bribes
for teenagers they
choose to leave alone

for now.

Writers Under Siege

Part of the Writers Under Siege collection on Groundviews. For more information, click here.

  • I was in Menik Farm yesterday. I wouldn’t say it’s the way you describe. I also met someone doing demining work in Mannar and they’re progressing to demine these peoples homes. I think they should screen and give choice to go, but the situation is being managed. It’s certainly not good, but it’s not really what you portray here. Have you been there?

  • saman for a picture of the MANIK FARM…

    i am of course proud of the SL government who have done well and curtailed terror and slow and steady improving conditions, without much aid from all NGO’s who talked like kings but passed the beggers bowl empty when it came to put the cash…

    the camp looks even better than the football satdium in new orleans after katrina…

    also, so many were saying there will be a masscer, a genocide when GOSL won.. nothing ever happened like that…

  • ram

    MR says IDPs can seek asylum

    By Kelum Bandara -

    President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the Cabinet meeting last evening that he would not mind Canada and the European countries giving asylum to the internally displaced persons.

    However, the President said that he could not send IDPs to India anymore because that country was not willing to accommodate them.

    “Canada has pledged to accept any number of IDPs. I do not mind these countries putting up visa offices in the welfare camps to facilitate people willing to leave the country,” he said.

    The President charged that the foreign diplomatic missions had started making malicious allegations against Sri Lanka now, and some Sri Lankans had even been denied visas.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    “In other countries…”??? This guy Thiru Sambandhar obviously hasn’t heard of the notorious internment camps for Americans of Japanese origin during the days of World war 2 under the exceedingly liberal and enlightened Roosevelt presidency. Nor has he heard of mass internment without trial in UK ruled Northern Ireland in the 1980s, which led to the Bobby Sands “Dirty Protest”and fast unto death. Neither of these are models to be upheld but Thiru should stop this nauseating refrain “in other countries”. If you like them so much, man, live there, but learn their history, at least their contemporary history.

  • N

    Not to mention the rape and looting the Allied troops engaged in when they liberated Europe. Must be nice to be able to beat your chest and engage in histrionics instead of actually doing or saying something constructive.

  • Grim Hope

    @Dayan Jayatilleka

    “As a matter of fact, in the 80’s, it was Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamil militant groups (including his EPRLF) that demanded the establishment of a separate state of Tamil Eelam to address the issues of the Tamil people. Dayan was a frequent visitor at JVP public meetings demanding that the JVP accept Eelam as the only solution to the national problem.” – Lionel Bopage

    Reply to this Dayan? Can you clarify? So you are a traitor as well at some point in time! What happened if you were taken in white van? or killed like Lasantha?

  • Thiru Sambandar

    Mr. Ambassador, Sri Lankan citizens are being denied freedom of movement and assembly in the camps. They are being kept apart from their families both inside and outside their barb-wired, gun-controlled, paramilitary given a free hand, tents. While this goes on for almost 300,000 of your fellow countrymen and women, why don’t you apply your considerable energies to liberating them again?

  • Heshan

    It is indeed most interesting that Dayan Jayatillake was himself a staunch supporter of both JVP and LTTE during his Peradeniya days. Mahinda Rajapakse was also an active supporter of the JVP. These two men, who once espoused ideals which formed the core of the LTTE movement – anarchy, self-determination, armed struggle – have now come to sing a very different tune. For Rajapakse, the “human-rights” advocate, the ascension to power meant forming uneasy alliances with right-wing nationalist parties. I am not sure what the allure was for Dayan J. At least on an intellectual level, I cannot seem him ecstatic over the formation of a Sinhala-Buddhist dictatorship.

  • Heshan

    “This guy Thiru Sambandhar obviously hasn’t heard of the notorious internment camps for Americans of Japanese origin during the days of World war 2”

    Speaking of notorious, would the antithesis be your hero Stalin’s Gulags or Chairman Mao’s enlightened economic insights?

  • Belle

    Mr Sambandar, I like the way you concretise what it means to live in the camps. The abstract idea of living in camps has desensitized people to the inhumanity of internment camps but you foreclose that by dramatising life for groups like women and teens at these camps. The ending was especially powerful with the suggestion of the utter lack of security in which they exist–one could be safe this hour, but what about the next couple of hours, etc.

    As for those who seek to excuse SL by citing other countries’ bad behaviour, I wonder if they will suggest that SL should drop an A-bomb somewhere just because America has done it in the past. Perhaps SL needs a “homegrown” sense of ethics as much as it needs a “homegrown” solution to the Tamil issue.

    US freed the Japanese-Americans as soon as the war ended, when there was no reason for them to be afraid of Japanese aggression any longer (though of course this doesn’t excuse the internment). SL incarcerated innocent civilians AFTER the war ended and keeps them even when the Tigers have been entirely vanquished and their arms confiscated. As for British internment without trial of people in Northern Ireland, they did not incarcerate just anybody, innocent civilians, but those suspected of involvement with IRA. At any rate, the British did not hide what was happening from the international media.

  • davidson panabokke

    Some of the comments are more vicious than the fact that the people are kept behind barbed wires ….. .
    Very sad to note they aren’t different from the mindset of the 1956, 1958, ….

  • punitham
    Report of the Inter Religious solidarity visit to Mannar, 23rd April 2008:
    ”Mannar town and all outlying areas are heavily militarized. We realized that people in Mannar, the residents as well as the displaced, live in fear and with a feeling of hopelessness.
    Amongst the places we visited was a camp in Kalimoddai. Since March, the security forces have decided to hold all these people in a camp in Kalimoddai. We heard from the people as well as the security forces in charge of the camp that the camp is snake infested. We saw a snake that was killed when we were in the camp, and were told that snakes are killed there daily.”

  • vino gamage

    Indi and Saman
    Two of my friends say they cannot sleep well after they visited the camps. They advise their friends not to go there.
    Different people see the same thing in different ways.

  • vino gamage

    Between WW2 and now we’ve seen UDHR reach 60 and more. Shouldn’t that make a difference to this world? Justify injustice??

  • vino gamage

    We’ve been painstakingly watering and manuring the UN in the hope that justice would be brought to as many people as possible.
    Conscientious people(needn’t be religious) should/would be looking at the examples where they have a system of justice to solve our problems instead of looking at examples of injustice to justify injustice.

  • punitham

    We cannot afford to postpone heeding this:

    Elie Wiesel, Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Weimar, Germany, 5 June 2009:
    ‘’ We must continue believing in a future, because the world has learned. But again, the world hasn’t. Had the world learned, there would have been no Cambodia and no Rwanda and no Darfur and no Bosnia.
    Will the world ever learn? I think that is why Buchenwald is so important — as important, of course, but differently as Auschwitz. It’s important because here the large — the big camp was a kind of international community. People came there from all horizons — political, economic, culture. The first globalization essay, experiment, were made in Buchenwald. And all that was meant to diminish the humanity of human beings.
    You spoke of humanity, Mr. President. Woe unto us, in those times, it was human to be inhuman. And now the world has learned, I hope. We must continue believing in a future, because the world has learned. But again, the world hasn’t. Had the world learned, there would have been no Cambodia and no Rwanda and no Darfur and no Bosnia. The time must come. It’s enough – enough to go to cemeteries, enough to weep for oceans. It’s enough. There must come a moment – a moment of bringing people together.
    And therefore we say anyone who comes here should go back with that resolution. Memory must bring people together rather than set them apart. Memories here not to sow anger in our hearts, but on the contrary, a sense of solidarity that all those who need us. What else can we do except invoke that memory so that people everywhere who say the 21st century is a century of new beginnings, filled with promise and infinite hope, and at times profound gratitude to all those who believe in our task, which is to improve the human condition.”

  • punitham

    A great man, Camus, wrote at the end of his marvelous novel, The Plague: “After all,” he said, “after the tragedy, nevertheless…there is more in the human being to celebrate than to denigrate.”

  • punitham

    Elie Wiesel’s quotes:

    “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

    ”Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.”

  • punitham

    Elie Wiesel, Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Weimar, Germany, 5 June 2009:

    ”Mr. President, Chancellor Merkel, Bertrand, ladies and gentlemen, as I came here today it was actually a way of coming and visit my father’s grave — but he had no grave. His grave is somewhere in the sky. This has become in those years the largest cemetery of the Jewish people.

    The day he died was one of the darkest in my life. He became sick, weak, and I was there. I was there when he suffered. I was there when he asked for help, for water. I was there to receive his last words. But I was not there when he called for me, although we were in the same block; he on the upper bed and I on the lower bed. He called my name, and I was too afraid to move. All of us were. And then he died. I was there, but I was not there.

    And I thought one day I will come back and speak to him, and tell him of the world that has become mine. I speak to him of times in which memory has become a sacred duty of all people of good will …”

  • Manushi

    In Another Country

    In another country,
    a Prime Minister
    (who had nothing against ‘people of colour’)
    wore a rose and
    did the Pirouette in Buckingham Palace.
    He put a stop to separatism
    and told the non-believers:
    just watch me”!

    In his country,
    and that of his neighbor’s,
    only war heroes receive
    a hero’s welcome.
    As Omar Khadr languishes in
    Guantanamo Bay,
    the talk of the poor in “other countries”
    gets that much louder.

    Don’t get me wrong,
    he had nothing to do with Khadr,
    and like our President
    he was never into drawing lines in the sand.

    I only hope the dandies
    of our country
    who are now in “other countries”
    find the courage
    to tell it like it is:
    “Thank you Mr. President,
    the war is finally over” !

  • Bindi

    @Indi: You need to watch out lest you inadvertently give too many character certificates to the government and military. Your columns and blog posts are increasingly sounding like what Lake House journalists write. Where is the critical edge? Just because you see/feel a small part of the elephant, that doesn’t mean you have grasped the whole elephant. the issues involved are more complex, more nuanced than you can begin to understand as a person who grew up outside Sri Lanka and cannot even speak Sinhala or Tamil with any degree of fluency.

    How much better are you than the naive and impressionistic rookie foreign correspondent who parachutes in for a few days or weeks?

  • punitham

    Resistance against state terror can be crushed as long as there are people without conscience because they will keep creating states that unleash terror on their ethnic minorities and that support each other at international platforms like the UN.

    UDHR and R2P.cannot subdue the combined state terror. Only conscience can.

    People without conscience will go on defending their terror.

    It is all too evident in the columns of Groundviews.

  • davidson panabokke

    War against resistance to state terror is over.
    Thank you , Rajapakses. The South is rid of terror.

    Post-LTTE state terror is worse than the pre-LTTE state terror?
    Terrorist states have given the go-ahead for more state terror in the Northeast.

    This century is going to be worse than the last one for ethnic minorities around the world.

  • punitham

    Wellawatte/Bambalapitiya camps in 1958, 1977 and 1983 for Tamils chased by Sinhala mobs in the South.
    Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar, Trincomalee, Batticaloa camps in 80s/90s/2000s for Tamils chased by KFIR and MIG in the Northeast.

    Billions of dollars and Rajapakses have moved the ”frontier.”

  • Heshan

    Rajapakse is definitely unique. The other Sri Lankan presidents who made a career out of massacring Tamils did not express any remorse. On the other hand, they did not go as far as the camps… to lock up 300,000 people innocent people when you know the whole world (and your own people) are watching requires a certain degree of sadism. To send your wife and son to visit the camps requires even more sadism. For comparison purposes, JR did not have total control over 83’… while he could have stopped it sooner, he did not instigate it. On the other hand, MR is directly responsible for the camps from their inception and to the point of their conclusion. This point is important. If there is ever a war crimes trial, MR will have to be held directly responsible, and not merely on the basis of “guilt by association.” He is one of the PRIME suspects.

  • punitham

    Vavuniya Tamils are getting calls from Colombo Tamils and California Tamils if they can be sent money to help those in the camps.

    ”No,please, NO. We’re likely to be shot by ”unknown” groups.
    When we go to the camps or banks, strangers showing ”CID” cards come and question us for hours and days. Our mouths and hands are tied. We hear stories that the Army is drilling the IDPs for overseas tel numbers and call the expatriates and ask them to deposit money in the bank accounts in the South.
    They have shops in camps. The shop owners are from the South. As aid agencies are restricted, IDPs are forced to buy things at exorbitant prices, AND the money goes South. We hear stories about IDPs leaving the camps by bribing the Army enormously.”

    This is genocide:
    1. detaining IDPs in camps compulsorily behind barbed wire and heavily guarded by army.
    2.restricting food, water and medicine by restricting access to aid agencies
    3.selling things in shops inside the camps at exorbitant prices
    4. raiding Vavuniya houses in the pretext of ”CID examining households”
    5.robbing and killing ordinary people in public places in Vavuniya.

    Central Bank says its foreign reserve is increasing. Certainly the diaspora are sending money to bribe the army to release their kith and kin.

    What else is being hidden by banning the media?

  • kamal

    I was born into a Sinhalese Buddhist family. Now I only consider humanity as my race and religion. I am against killing and suffering of humans. nay human including so called terrorists.

    I see much of extremist fundmentalism and hatred in views expressed by both Sinhalese and and Tamils here and in any internet blog. Can we reconcile and heal the wounds after a long drawn conflict in this manner?

    Yes we can.If we let us have an approach which makes common sense (most scarce of all senses). Let us consider, poverty hunger, disease, shelter, education, skills, dignity, and economic stability as key challenges.

    Sinhalse, Tamils, Muslims and others all have human blood. Pain, hunger, sickness are common to all. Where does race count here?

    I still havent met anyone who has attained nibbana, or any other eternal bills preached in any religion. What has religion done to us? Unite or divide? Let us learn to live in harmony before we could follow any religion today exploited by many selfish men for own ends.(This is true with all religions)

    Let us consider every humn being is a human being and sink all our petty differences including all our narrow thoughts on race and religion which lead to silly actions.