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An Eye Witness Account.
I reached Colombo on the 23rd July, 1983. The purpose of the visit was to organise a regional meeting on the deteriorating human rights situation, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country. I had already fixed appointments with friends for the 24th and 25th July. After discussing and working out the details of this meeting, I was to leave Colombo on the night of July 25th
On the 24th, while at a meeting. I came to know of the killing of thirteen Sri Lankan soldiers by the "Tigers" in Jaffna. The killing was sparked off by reports of the kidnapping and rape of two Tamil women by the soldiers. One of the women had committed suicide.
My friends had at that time, expressed fears of retaliation by the armed forces in Jaffna. Our meeting broke up at about 6.30 p.m. and about an hour later, we decided to go and have dinner at the Green Cabin on Galle Road.
Next day, a friend rang me up at 9.30 a.m. to say it would not be possible for me to move out of the hotel, as there was trouble in the city. I went down to the lobby, and there was commotion all round. I heard a lady tourist say that she had not come here for this kind of excitement.
After discussing the situation with the receptionist, I decided to make a dash for the airport and wait there till evening for the flight. I did not wish to be stuck in the city because I had appointments in India the next day.
Consequently, I took a taxi and while cruising down Galle Road -- the main road of the city - I saw shops on fire. People were trying to break open the shutters of some shops. Washing machines, air conditioners, and other things were lying half -burnt and smashed on the road. Buses and cars were overturned and were burning. A man was lying on the footpath, bleeding. Here and there, I saw policemen but they were standing by, just watching. There were no fire brigades in sight. We had hardly gone about two furlongs when a mob stopped us. I showed them my passport and ticket and told them that 1 was a foreigner trying to reach for the airport. They allowed me to pass. By this time, I was getting nervous. I was in two minds on whether to proceed or turn back. While I was contemplating, another mob stopped us.
This time, before I could repeat my lines, one of them took out my suitcase and put it on the road. Within minutes, one of the chaps from the mob started to filter out the petrol from the car.
Finally, on the 29th July, we managed to get a flight out of Colombo. That ended the nightmare. It was a nightmare for me although I was not a target of attack. I shudder to think how those who were the actual targets must have suffered. What really hurt was that if the security forces had discharged their duties, this immense tragedy could have easily been avoided. Unfortunately, no such effort was made and the mobs were just allowed to run wild, playing havoc with peoples' lives and properties.
I have seen many riots in my own country, but nothing compared to what I saw in Colombo. If I were a Tamil, I would never ever feel secure in that country again. Since that week in Colombo, I have often asked myself: Did the Tamils deserve this? What was their fault? Why could not the Sri Lankan government act with responsibility in discharge of its duties? It is a government's duty to protect the lives and properties of all its citizens irrespective of whether they belong to a minority or a majority community.
My own feeling is that the Sri Lanka government miserably failed to discharge both its legal and moral obligations /duties towards the Tamils. Till today, there have been no expressions of regret on the part of the Sri Lanka government. Is such an attitude not an insult to our human conscience? How will the conscience of the international community react to this?"