Colombo, End of war special edition, Human Rights, Identity, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Vavuniya, War Crimes

I REMEMBER: 19 May 2010

As we come together to commemorate the anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s long and bloody civil war, these are some of the things I remember:

I remember hearing reports in late January 2009 of UN workers and their families being shelled by government forces in the Vanni while hiding in bunkers and under UN trucks. I remember not quite believing these stories.

I remember the hospitals and medical centres shelled, and the patients and medical staff killed and wounded in what the Sri Lankan government was calling no fire zones”.  I remember later on meeting some of those who survived and hearing their terrifying stories.

I remember the extraordinary bravery and generosity of all the doctors, medical workers, and staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross who served under terrifying conditions. I remember that some of them gave their lives saving others.

I remember seeing Gotabaya Rajapaksa on TV in February 2009 telling an interviewer that there shouldn’t be a hospital or anything [in Puthukudiyiruppu] because we withdrew that. We got all the patients to Vavuniya, out of there. So nothing should exist beyond the no fire zone. ¦No hospital should operate in the area, nothing should operate. That is why we clearly gave these no fire zones.”

I remember seeing Palitha Kohona on TV claim There was only one hospital that anybody had ever marked on a map in that whole area and we have got pictures to show that hospital was never targeted. ¦ If a hospital had to be shelled ¦ I know the way we took out LTTE officers, their camps, with such clinical precision “ if we wanted to do that to a hospital we could have done that also. Why do a half-hearted job if you wanted to really finish it off?”

I remember Gotabaya Rajapaksa telling the BBC on 23 April 2009, we are going very slowly towards the south of the no-fire zone to rescue the remaining civilians. Our troops are not using heavy fire power, they are using only guns and personal weapons.”

I remember Mahinda Samarasinghe announcing on 18 May 2009 that All Tamil civilians have been rescued without shedding a drop of blood”.

I remember Rajiva Wijesinha claiming in the middle of March that there were only 70-100,000 people still traped in the fighting and criticising UN agencies for using inflated numbers in their appeals for aid.

I remember reading the reports and seeing the pictures of the more than two hundred thousand battered, scared, starved, and thirsty people, most of them children, women, or elderly, streaming into the military’s hastily built camps in April and May. There they would remain for months, unable to  leave.

I remember the government chopping down thousands of trees and bulldozing hundreds of acres of land in Vavuniya to construct camps that were still too small to hold all the survivors humanely.

I remember all those the LTTE shot and killed as they tried to flee the fighting in 2009.

I remember all those killed and injured after being forced to dig bunkers and defend Tigers positions.

I remember all the children forced by the LTTE to fight to their death in the final battles.

I remember meeting young people recruited by the LTTE and now in government rehabilitation” centres in Jaffna in 2002. I remember their hopes that some day they might find a normal and safe life.

I remember the scores of suicide bombers, convinced by their leaders to transform their own loss and rage and bodies into weapons to continue the cycle of pain and vengeance.

I remember watching artists “ Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim, foreign “ paint beautiful flowers and doves on the streets of Colombo in remembrance of those killed in political violence and to call for the preservation of the sanctity of life.

I remember the nearly one hundred Sri Lankans of all ethnicities killed and the more than thirteen hundred injured in the LTTE’s bombing of the Central bank i.n 1998

I remember all the Sinhalese farmers and their families killed, terrorised and forced from their lands by Tiger attacks in the eastern province.

I remember the Tamil and Muslim farmers forced from their lands in the north and east by the violence and threats from Sri Lankan security forces and homeguards and by the LTTE.

I remember the murder of Joseph Pararajasingham in St. Michaels church in Batticaloa on Christmas Eve 2005 “ and all the Tamil MPs killed over the years.

I remember the murders of A.Armithalingam, Neelan Thiruchelvam, Rajini Thiranagama,  Kandiah ‘Robert’ Subathiran and all the free-thinkingTamils killed by LTTE for betraying the Tamil nation. I remember all the Tamil militants killed by other Tamil militants in the name of liberation.

I remember all the Sri Lankan journalists beaten, killed, disappeared or forced into exile for their betrayal of the Sinhala nation and their commitment to the truth.

I remember Kethesh Loganathan, for his generosity and support to me, and for his courage to speak his mind to all the warring parties.

I remember the 80,000 or more Muslims expelled from northern province by the LTTE in October 1990. I remember their continuing struggles to return home and begin their lives again in the land where they were born.

I remember the seventeen workers for Action contre la faim killed in Mutur in August 2006.

I rember the five students gunned down in Trincomalee in January 2006.

I remember the ten workers massacred in Potuvil in September 2006.

I  remember the government’s promises to investigate and the silence from the Commission of Inquiry and from the President’s office.

I remember families of the ACF workers pleading with me to help them leave Sri Lanka and find some peace from government harassment.

I remember the physical attacks on Sufi Muslims in Kattankudy who refused to accept the ideological rigidity of their Wahabi brothers.

I remember seeing the charred beds, chairs, bicycles and destroyed dormitories on a beautiful hill in the village of Bindunuwewa. I remember meeting Tamil families at the funeral of their sons whose bodies were so badly mutilitated that they remained unidentified, unburied and without death certificates for years.

I remember speaking to Sinhalese in Bindunuwewa whose families had been torn apart by the trauma, shame and financial cost of their loved ones being accused of murder.

I remember the  pictures of SJV Chelvanayagam and other Tamil politicians beaten and bloodied after a peaceful protest in Colombo in 1956.

I remember the photographs of the Jaffna Public Library after it was burned by thugs sent by a Sri Lankan cabinet minister in 1981.

I remember visiting the restored Jaffna Public Library in 2002, beautiful in its gleaming white paint but still scarred by the absence of books and manuscripts that will never return.

I remember the thousands of Tamils killed in the pogrom of July 1983 and the hundreds of thousands forced to live in refugee camps and abandon their country of birth.

I remember the many brave and generous Sinhalese and Muslims who helped save Tamils from July’s crazed mobs.

I remember the tens of thousands of Sinahala youth murdered and disappeared by the government and the JVP in 1971 and in the late 1980s.

I remember the words from the Dhammapada: Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is an eternal law.”

I remember hearing the news that the UN was withdrawing its international staff from their headquarters in Kilnochchi in September 2008. I remember seeing the photos of  desperate civilians appealing for them to stay and protect them.

I remember the promise by the UN Security Council to respond to situations of armed conflict where civilians are being targeted or humanitarian assistance to civilians is being deliberately obstructed”. I remember the failure of the Security Council to act in Sri Lanka.

I remember the visit to Sri Lanka in late April by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreigin Minister Bernard Kouchner and their call for a ceasefire and for the Tigers to lay down their weapons and allow the civilians to leave.

I remember the words of President Obama on 13 May 2009 calling on the Tigers to surrender and the Sri Lankan government to stop its indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas and to allow the UN access to the tens of thousands still trapped. The United States”, Obama says, stands ready to work with the international community to support the people of Sri Lanka in this time of suffering. I don’t believe that we can delay. Now is the time for all of us to work together to avert further humanitarian suffering.”

I remember the government’s announcement of the killing of Vellupilai Prabhakaran just days later.

I remember all those detained and brutalized at Guantanamo Bay and Bhagram Airbase in the name of the war on terror. I remember all those kidnapped and extraordinarily rendered” by the US government with the assistance of the British and other european governments, in defiance of international law and human decency. I remember the madness that took over my own country after September 11th, 2001. I remember all those killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I remember the words of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ban ki-Moon on 24 May 2009, whereby Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations.” I remember that The Secretary General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law” and that the Government promised to take measures to address those grievances.”.

I remember Gotabaya Rajapaksa telling a BBC correspondent earlier this year: Whether it is the United Nations or any other country, we are not “ I am not “ allowing any investigations in this country. There is no reason. Nothing wrong happened in this country. Take it from me. There will be no investigations for anything in this country”.

Alan Keenan is a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. He has lived and done research in Sri Lanka off and on over the past ten years.

End of War Special Edition

  • wijayapala

    Gee Alan, you didn’t remember the schoolchildren smiling as they passed you on the street? Or the obliging men and women who cooked your dinner and washed your clothes?

    You don’t even remember the deafening silence of the guns and bombs on the day after?

  • Sanjeeva

    All these happened but one must remember that it is not the govenment whos is fully responsible for this. The international community(mainly the Christian states) are also responsible for bring this blood bath by strenthing the LTTE in many guises(also the christian fundermentalist and the main stream churches who still are under the impression that this country belongs to them becuase the colonialist left it to them) which resulted in LTTE getting strenthened which ultimate resiuts is more deaths form both sides.

  • P.Riyad

    I also remember the thousands who have been killed by the ‘Hitler’ of our times, a megalomaniac named Prabakaran who ‘saved’ his Tamil brethren by leading them to destruction.
    Needless to say that Alan Keenan, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group cannot, or will not, remember all this, or the dread we had to face day in and day out with bombs exploding all around us, set of by this self-styled ‘saviour’ of his peoples. But you do remember the words of the US President and others from the West who are killing thousands, nay almost a million in Iraq and Afghanistan to ‘save’ the US from ‘terrorists’..which word you have scrupulously avoided in your article. You also don not remember that it was the LTTE and their ilk who started terrorism in our beautiful country and tried to destroy this beauty with their brutality Sufficient said.

  • rizan

    Alan Keenan is a senior analyst can you please show us who the senior analyst are in afhanistan and iraq are and thier value addition pls?

    International Crisis Group – is also a parasite which cant exisist if the wars arnt there, actually most INGO’s wont be existent not for confilict – so they also do what ever they can to stop a end to war, prolong it with peace talks and all..

    they continue to try and stoke the fire even after the war ends as they cant go to any other place and work as they will be told they failed.

    why doesn there people go to iraq and afganistan?

  • Punitham

    Rizan:

    ”why doesn there people go to iraq and afganistan?”

    Afghanistan:
    http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/afghanistan.aspx

    Iraq, Syria and Lebanon
    http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/iraq-syria-lebanon.aspx

    … and a whole heap of other countries too.

  • Suresh

    @ Sanjeeva – Please do not make unfounded comments regarding religions in this country. We have had enough trouble with racial issues without people like you trying to stir up inter religious issues.

    Sri Lanka deserves long lasting peace. Stop the hating!

  • dammi

    Suresh, I agree with you.

  • Sur

    Alan, did you remember your own country killing millions of Vietnamese and Koreans?

    Did you remember your own country bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima?

    Do you remember the murder of more than 600 000 civilians in Iraq carried out by your country?

    Do you remember the civilians dead in Afghanistan?

    Just asking.

  • Sri Lankan forever

    I remember the day I survived the central bank bombing.
    I remember my dear friend, who asked me to stop the motorbike when he heard terrorists’ shooting trying to get access to the central bank to cause maximum damages.
    I remember seeing that massive fireball near the bank and thinking how lucky I am.
    I remember the way I struggled to make a phone call to let my loved ones know that I was among the few lucky ones.
    I remember my friend telling me his stories of hiding in the jungle at night to save their lives. (That is how he is familiar with the noise of the T56)
    I remember been 100 meters away from the suicide bomber who attacked air force personnel in Wattala.
    I remember seeing my loved ones after another lucky day in Colombo.
    I remember listening to my ex-LTTE friend (while doing a night shift in a petrol station in London after leaving my executive job in SL) telling me about joining LTTE get a early release to his sister so she can get marry.
    I remember trying desperately to reach my brother and brother-in-law after every single terrorist attack in Colombo to make sure that they are safe.
    I remember trying my best to tell all the Tamil people I know in London that Sinhalese are not badder than any other race in the world. (Some of them have never been to Colombo even to leave the country or seen a Sinhalese person in SL)
    I remember reading some articles on SL on the web by some journalists who try to paint a different picture about the way we think and thinking about the damage they can cause.
    I remember reading some articles with tears in my eyes about some ordinary Sri Lankan folk’s ordinary deeds towards ordinary folk of a different race.
    I remember reading some racist comments written by readers underneath these articles.
    I remember watching and cheering SL cricket team winning the world cup with my Tamil and Muslim colleagues.
    I remember criticising Darrel Hair for calling Muralidaran a chucker, cheering Julian Bolling, Deepika Chanmugam, Ghefari Dulapandan, Angelo Matthews, TM Dilshan, Russel Arnold without questioning their race.
    I remember to remember the day a ordinary boy from north or east get his SL test cap.
    I remember to remember to keep my promise to take that Tamil family to the next SRI LANKAN BAILA DINNER DANCE and Festival of Cricket in London and get them to do some moves to finest Baila. (mother and son loves Sinhala baila even they don’t understand most of the words)
    I remember to remember my cause to bridge the gap between these two races.
    I remember to remember I’m a SRI LANKAN and I’m PROUD of it. (not a Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Bhurger, Chinese or Malay)

  • jayathilaka

    I remember the chief architect of the war victories Gen Sarath Fonseka who was named as No 1 Millitary General in the World is lagging behind bars as a political prisoner while one LTTE lerder karuna Amman ,KP are having a luxurious life with government,blessings.

    I remember that still hundred of thousands of tamils are detained in IDP camps even one year after the war for no reason but the failiure of the governemtn to resettle them .

    I remember government of Sri lanka is changed with war crimes by international c ommunitydespite the denial of the government.

  • Sanjeeva

    dear Suresh,
    I advise you to study the real history of this country before coming to conclusions
    The comments i have made can be proven when yuo analyse the bahaviour of these people during the last 30 years.The LTTE movement started in the 1960s when the abortive que by the church (when they lost power in 1956) where the chritians (most of the forces at that time was headed by the catholics and other deniminations) felt their power was taken away from them. The main cause for this problem is the missionary education system woh’s objective was to have people from all races to their side. I can come with many facts of proff but no space.to write.The curch (lukily many chitians are not like this) always wanted to devide this country as then they can have their say in those areas. ….

  • Johnny

    My dear sri lankans,
    thank you very much for taking your valuable time to give your best and honest comments for the aboue article,Please do not give up keep going so that everybody who reads newspaper regualarly will come to the know the real truth.
    God Bless you all.

  • Nicola

    Looks like this article has touched a nerve with a lot of people

  • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

    Alan Keenan,
    Thank your for the mode of expressing your thoughts and feelings through the “I REMEMBER” vehicle. Some have used it to state their values thoughts and feelings, in response to yours, without offending your feelings or of others or their commentary. It is probably a most unobtrusive and inoffensive way of expressing what is most important to the person on the conflict and the war. It is inward looking and begs others to do the same. I hope the readers would respect such outpourings rather than insulting the persons thoughts and feelings however one thinks it is right or wrong.

    Ganeshananthan.
    Thank you for your form and content of your thoughts and expressions and the sensitiveness of depicting the horror.

  • Burning_Issue

    Wijayapala,

    “You don’t even remember the deafening silence of the guns and bombs on the day after?”

    I am sure that many good thanks that he missed; this was not the purpose of the article, and you know that.

    We cannot simply draw a line under it and forget about it as if it never happened. I know that many Sinhala mothers are still grieving for their dead children during the JVP uprising let alone the dead and injured solders. There are thousands of Tamil mothers mourning for their loved ones. The legacy of last 30 year war is still fresh; there has to be a period of reflection and accountability on the part of all concerned for the benefit of the future generations.

  • rizan

    allen – whats is urs and your organisations view on civilian deaths in Afganistan – can you paste few quotes on how you have “pointed out” specific instances of these deaths to the US government –

    please do feel free to respond , as if you wrote a article here, you need to be here to defend it – cos its not gonna be write and forget.

    Punitham – stop barking for other people man -!

  • Tathagata Bose

    I am an Indian pediatrician who served with the Indian Medical Team at Menik Farm IDP center. The point I am trying to raise is this – we were managing scores of infants with bullet / shell blast injuries (some festering, mostly healed). It gives an idea of the extent of collateral damage suffered by the civilians caught in the last days of the conflict. If an infant could not be protected, imagine the plight of older children and adults. The so-called “Sri Lankan Solution” being touted as the panacea for dealing with terrorism worldwide needs a thorough relook.

  • Vino Gamage

    Tathagata
    This is seriuos – have you told Amnesty International Human Rights Watch, …

  • davidson panabokke

    I remember my uncle’s Sinhalese workmates were butchered by Sinhalese mobs in 1958 riots because they could not read Sinhala.

  • ampanai

    Great writing in deed. But, the story of Tamils should be told in context, as why they opted arms? And ( non state actor) are they really terrorists? when a government to this date continue unleash terrorism?

  • Realist

    I tend to believe such eyewitnesses . The Government must realize that outright denials will not convince any one. It is better to let the world community to its own devises. We should not be boasting about our great victory if it was achieved by such atrocious methods. men like Dr Dyan Jayatilleke can be left to do that. The UN is concerned lest other countries follow the example of Sri Lanka in their campaign against terrorism.that would negate the progress made in enhancing human rights after the terrible World War 2. If we are sensible we should be silent and perhaps pass an Amnesty Act by our Parliament to grant amnesty for our Armed Forces for any acts carried out during the war including the President and the Defense Secretary. It will not prevent them from prosecution outsdie the country but it will at least help us to face up to the truth without punishing anybody

  • Ilankaian

    We can blame each other for the horrible racial violence in Ceylon now Srilanka. It was the greed of the Sinhala majoritarianism, misconception, and twisted mind from mythical writings that caused all these carnage, Still many SL are pouring racial, religious hatred. I remember the Tamil politicians been stoned later thrown into biralake in 1956. I saw my neighbour had his stomach rippied open at the bustand on his way to work,he ran back to his house to fall dead at his door step. My school principal [Royal college Mr Silva] lost his eyes because he was unable to read a sinhala paper given to him. over 20,000 displaced in colombo and its suburbs having one meal using the few school toilets and caged at Royal, Thurstant, St.Peters and Saraswathi hall of Hindu college. before being shipped to northeast. in the 60’s missionary schools dismantling started to subortage the Tamil students chances of entering the university. many grievances from minority groups were ignored due arrogance, faiure to realise the out come. Things could have been changed but Sinhala politicians who should be blammed for createing the Prabaharan phenomena. All the atrocities carried out by srilankan army interligence and deep penetrating units were conveniently blamed on LTTE. The fleeing ‘kumthin boat’ people were murdered and set a light by the SLNavy in 1986, 1981 Jaffna library was burnt by police &two ministers, Killing of Luxshman Kadirgamer & Keethish Logeswaran blamed on LTTE. the surgeon who operated onLK found three bullets and do not match the sniper story given by police and government. there are many more hidden informations by the SLState and its armed forces. the last year’s activity are slowly trickling out. let us wait for natural justice wheels to turn. country is now pawned to China foolish India with a foreiner tea canteen women at the helm, is getting itself torn apart. the biggest joke Srilanka advising shivashankerM on how to curb naxalities. It was the same people who advised on destroying LTTE by gave saterlite detectors to located Tamil civilians &LTTE to be bombed, Indian men on ground many died along with SLArmy. now SL’s turn to supply men and their experience to India. let us think rationally bring reconciliation and build a peaceful nation, more discremination and subjugation will spill more blood.

  • Surendran

    I wonder if Dayan Jayatilleke remembers any damn thing.

  • Punitham

    Tathagata Bose
    Please inform Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group and Tamils Against Genocide:
    http://tamilsagainstgenocide.org/

    Thanks

  • Punitham

    Tathagata Bose
    Have you (or your teammates) written any article on the work you did in the camp to National Medical Journal of India or similar?

  • Punitham

    Tathagata Bose
    I wish to contact you – pl get my eddress from Sanjana.
    Thanks

  • Sri

    People are always ready to point fingers at others rather than admit that a crime or an atrocity was committed by their country. I’d thank Alan Keenan for making us remember what happened in Sri Lanka. I was born in ’86 very much after the incidents that instigated this war took place, but my parents have gone through hell and back and the stories they relate are nothing short of horrific.

    And yes, I am a Tamil.