Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Sri Lanka's Continued Ethnic Cleansing ...
 - after Tamil Armed Resistance Ends on 17 May 2009
 - the Record Speaks...

A constant stream of refugees fled the war zone in the last days of the conflict

The latter stages of the war in Sri Lanka have been carefully choreographed and hidden from the outside world, with the voices of victims silenced through fear and insecurity.

There are allegations of war crimes, rape and torture, summary executions and prolonged bombardments by a government which, it is believed by human rights organisations, killed thousands of its own civilian citizens.

Al Jazeera has conducted its own investigation into the conflict and spoken to Tamils who have suffered and aid workers who have remained silent until now, revealing testimonies that call into question the version of events Sri Lanka's government wants the world to believe.

After enduring months of appalling conditions in the final stages of the war between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the suffering continues for the Tamils displaced by the fighting.

One month after the government declared victory in the war, Tamils continue living in what the government calls "welfare" camps but what critics claim are little short of the world's biggest open air prisons.

It is almost impossible for journalists to get into the camps except for strictly controlled government tours such as the one given to Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, in May. But these visits do not show the reality of life in the camps.

Crammed into camps

More than 250,000 men, women and children are crammed into conditions human rights groups call a disgrace, with as many as 15 people living in tents designed for five.

Contrary to international law there is no freedom of movement for the displaced, and no transparency in registration and interview processes. The standards and amounts of water, food and sanitation are well below what they should be and half of the children under age five are suffering from malnutrition. There have been outbreaks of diseases such as Hepatitis A, chicken pox and skin ailments, and there are fears that cholera may develop. There have already been protests in some of the camps.Menik farm, one of the biggest camps, was supposed to cater for 100,000 people but is home to 180,000.

Poor conditions

"We are now in refugee centres and there is no proper water, food or sanitation for us," one Tamil refugee says.

Some 250,000 Tamil refugees remain in what critics call open air prisons [AFP]

"For the past three days we have not taken a bath. We are only getting one meal a day in the night. We have been living in dirt and there is a bad odour in the air everywhere." The refugees, who are guarded by armed security services, are scared to speak out for fear of reprisals. Even international aid workers are scared.

"The conditions are very poor, shelters are inadequate, the water and sanitation is extremely inadequate, they are extremely overcrowded," one aid worker says.

"And what they all share in common are the IDPs [internally displaced persons] are detained within the camps, they are surrounded by razor wire and no one's allowed out so, yes, I think I would call them prison camps."

Abuse allegations

There are also increasing allegations of sexual and physical abuse, impossible to prove conclusively without independent investigation which the government refuses.

"There are cases of abuse by the army, some of the cases include girls and women who have become pregnant," the aid worker says.

"I couldn't say who the perpetrators were � there's also harassment and inappropriate behaviour among the IDPs, and because of the frustration those incidents are growing, but I think the more serious incidents have tended to be from the army."

The government rejects all allegations, maintaining that it has liberated the Tamil civilians from the tyranny of the LTTE and saying the accusations are part of a propaganda campaign.

"At one time it was murder. Other times it was killings. And now it has come to the extent of rape and other sexual abuses," says Rohita Bogollagama, Sri Lanka's foreign minister.

"These are all made up. And in the event any such abuses is there, we have had the most disciplined administration in taking care of the IDPs all this time. Why is it surfacing now? And why is it being planted like this? Because they want to discredit every effort of the government of Sri Lanka."

Those who are criticising the government have little power or influence. The UN voted against pushing for a war crimes investigation, mainly because countries such as China and Russia, which supported Sri Lanka in the war, were against the move.

But the strenuous denials that the Sri Lankan military continually shelled and bombed the so-called safe zones during the war do not convince everyone, especially those who say they endured it.

Surviving witness

One man who was in the conflict area until May 16 - just days before the war ended - says he knows the Sri Lankan military was shelling them during the final assault despite government claims all civilians were out of the zone.

Independently verifying government views of the conflict has been impossible [AFP]
"The rounds of gunfire were by the Sri Lankan army [SLA]. We know for sure it is the SLA because of the sound. We had difficulty in moving and running as there were people falling dead and lying all over the place and we tripping on dead bodies as we ran for our lives.

"The people died in buses, bunkers and open spaces as they were hit by bombs landing in areas wherever they were. We also saw people being shot at close range by the Sri Lankan army."

The Sri Lankan government is refusing to allow neutral observers to examine the combat zone which gives ammunition to those who claim a clean-up operation is being carried out to hide evidence.

John Holmes, the UN's humanitarian chief, says it is "the primary responsibility of any government to establish accountability".

"If you look at the record of the Sri Lankan government � if you look at its records on impunity � records as one of the top countries in the world with the highest number of disappearance, you may appreciate that we would like this to be an international, as opposed to a national, investigation."

World silent

The UN is co-operating with the Sri Lankan government in developing zone five at Menik farm even though its own guidelines state displaced people should not be put in camps with more than 20,000 people.

Assurances have been given by the government that 80 per cent of the civilians will be able to return to their homes within 180 days but critics feel this is an unrealistic pledge.

The building of banks, a post office and stores lead some to believe that this is the start of a semi permanent settlement.

The government also promises peace and reconciliation, a fair political process and a life for the Tamils free from tyranny.

But there questions about who will keep the government accountable since international criticism and action have so far been insignificant at best.

Governments and aid organisations have remained silent for a variety of reasons and the people living in the squalid camps of Sri Lanka have paid the price for that silence.

  • N.Ram, Editor in Chief of the Hindu in Tamil Nadu says that "visiting the Vavuniya IDP camps was an uplifting experience" - except the little matter of freedom of movement!

Comment by tamilnation.org "We are reminded of the visits of foreign dignitaries to Hitler's Germany during the early 1930s - they too saw a 'resilient' people everywhere and they too were persuaded that the Jews were safe in Hitler's hands. Many of them were taken on conducted tours of ghettoes which were set up 'for the benefit of the Jews' where the Jews lived in peace and joy - and where, surprisingly, as it were, 'children were playing and went to school'. Many of them found the experience uplifting. Some were even granted interviews with Hitler and were impressed by his charm and his intelligence. Others were secretly thrilled at the attention that they had received - it was not altogether unpleasant to walk in the corridors of power."

The photographs by Thilak Bandara � taken during our visit on July 1, 2009 to some of the Zone 1 IDP camps on the outskirts of Vavuniya town in Sri Lanka�s mainland North � speak for themselves. They are testimony to the Sri Lankan government�s efforts, with international assistance, to care for a brave and resilient Tamil community, which will be resettled and rehabilitated in the next few months through an ambitious programme.

Colombo: The last phase of Sri Lanka�s low-intensity military conflict saw the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a military force. It simultaneously witnessed a poignant human drama in which some 300,000 Tamil civilians were rescued by force of arms from a terrorist organisation that, claiming to fight for their freedom, had no compunction in using them as a human shield.

Most of these internally displaced Sri Lankans are now housed and cared for by the government in transitional relief camps located in five demarcated zones of the 1500-acre Menik Farm on the outskirts of the town of Vavuniya in the mainland North. International concern has been expressed over the present condition and the future of these Tamil civilians, who include a large number of children, women, and senior citizens.

Following a three-hour conversation, including a recorded interview, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at �Temple Trees� in Colombo, I had, at his suggestion and thanks to the helicopter and other facilities provided by the Defence Ministry, the opportunity of seeing for myself how the Tamil IDPs were being sheltered and cared for in the camps. It was an uplifting experience, which is reflected in some measure in the photographs by Thilak Bandara published on this page. The sight of tens of schoolchildren returning from makeshift schools and of the distribution by the Controller of Examinations and his team of preparatory material for the A-level exams, which will be taken in a month, was special.

What became clear during the visit to Anandakumaraswamy Village in Zone 1, through glimpses of other camps in the vast IDP relief complex, and in conversations in Tamil with some of the displaced people was this.

Conditions in these camps are much better than what has been depicted, mostly second-hand, that is, without visiting the camps, in western media reports. Moreover, they are visibly better than conditions in Sri Lankan refugee camps in India, which are still mostly inaccessible to journalists, researchers, and other outsiders. Basic needs, including education for the schoolchildren and vocational training for older boys and girls, are being met by the Sri Lankan government with assistance from the United Nations, a number of countries, including India, and more than 50 INGOs.

Hearteningly, the best hospital in the Menik Farm IDP relief complex is the one staffed and provisioned by the Indian Medical Team with its eight doctors, four nurses, and overall strength of 60, including senior and junior paramedics. After this highly skilled and dedicated medical team, led by Dr. K. Vasantha Kumar, moved to Settikulam from Pulmodai (in the East) in March, it has treated close to 13,000 Tamil civilians and performed several surgical operations.

In his interview, which will be published in The Hindu on Monday, President Rajapaksa claimed, without exaggeration, that �the condition in the camps is the best any country has.� He admitted some �shortcomings,� chief among them being a lack of �freedom of movement.�

But he also emphasised his responsibility for the security of his people and pointed to the need to speed up the work of de-mining in the heavily mined Wanni, which needed to be certified by the U.N. He reiterated his personal commitment to resettle all the Tamil civilians speedily.

The Sri Lankan government is now confident that the President�s 180-day resettlement plan can be implemented. This confidence would have been boosted by the unexpected success of the first meeting of the All Parties Committee for Development and Reconciliation, in which all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance, promised cooperation and support to the project of reconciliation and development in the North.


A friend asked me to look at the last page of the Hindu today (July 4th, 2009). At a first look, it appeared as though there were a lot of advertisements on the page. After a closer observation, I found out that I was not far from the truth. The lead article �Visiting the Vavuniya IDP camps: an uplifting experience� is nothing short of an advertisement for the Lankan government. The article flows like a good corporate ad � the (non-existent) virtues of the Lankan state have been overstated while its miserable failures have been understated.

I�ve been associated with the media enough to know how the Hindu functions, what are its holy cows, and its perception of �ethics.� I understand �Manufacturing Consent� well enough to know how your dependence on being in the good books of the government and the corporates influences your paper�s stance. But what I don�t understand is your paper�s belief that your reader will accept your stories as gospel truth � this reflects in the quality of quite some your articles which are ideal cases of pamphleteering. And today�s article by Mr N. Ram takes the Oscar.

I fail to understand how a visit to any refugee camp can be an �uplifting experience,� as Mr. Ram describes it. Every refugee is a tale of tragedy, a product of unfavourable circumstances beyond her/his control. And in Sri Lanka, they are products of an ethnic war, the roots of which lie in decades of state sponsored discrimination against the Tamils. Do you seriously think that all of your readers would fall for those pictures of all smiles and no tears?

Do you think that we would believe that the Tamils would be happy in camps set up by a government that massacred their people by the thousands to apprehend a handful of so-called �terrorists�?

Never would the Hindu publish a story that is even mildly in praise of Israel. Never would the Hindu miss an opportunity to highlight the plight of the Palestinians. But different standards apply for genuine liberation movements in India, Sri Lanka and China. But then, you have no interests worthy of concern in Israel. The Israeli govt doesn�t give your journalists free access like Sri Lanka or China. You don�t ruffle feathers in the Indian govt by adopting a pro-Palestinian stance but you might lose your precious government ads by being pro-Tamil or even mildly supportive of those brave tribals of Lal Garh. And let us not forget the Sri Lanka Ratna conferred on your Editor-in-chief by the Lankan state. Thus, the mistakes of the Lankan govt and the misery of the Tamil people � they don�t exist for the Hindu.

You try to portray a picture of being an �ethical� newspaper but your selective morality stands exposed in your coverage of people�s movements in and around India. You are no where near radical � you want to play it safe, be on the good side of the establishment. And your leftist stance? A farce, that will dropped at the first instance of trouble. I am willing to bet that if the Maoists target your interests tomorrow, you will sing paeans to the Salwa Judum. Even pro-right media orgs are better than you. At least they are honest about their stance.

PS. I know that this letter will not be published. Truth hurts, and a paper like yours that lives in a world of constructed falsehoods wouldn�t want to face it. This exercise is  to let you know that your readers are not fooled by your stories. That there are quite some who know the Hindu for what it is � a pro-establishment, bordering on the reactionary,  newspaper. There are others who are willing to wage an ideological war against such forces of reaction � through written letters, e-mails and blogs. Of course, we do not have a media mafi a to back us, only the truth. And our conscience which we haven�t sold for some Ratna.

I wrote this letter as a response to the article �Visiting the Vavuniya IDP camps: an uplifting experience,� by N. Ram in the Hindu, Saturday, July 4th, 2009. A reliable contact within the Hindu told me that it was highly unlikely that my letter would get published. That was expected. My intention was to get the point across to the paper that there is resistance to their propoganda.  



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