19 September 2010
We are in the same position now as we were when we went to the IDP camps with only the clothes we were wearing
Show us a way to live: People of Killinochchi tell the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission
‘Forget the bitterness of the past and think about our future.’ ‘We are in the same position as when we went to the IDP camps with only the clothes we were wearing’. ‘Enable us to build prosperous lives for ourselves.’ These heartrending requests were made by the people of Killinochchi to the members of the LLRC when the Commission, under the chairmanship of C.R. De Silva, held sittings on Saturday at the Karachchi District Secretariat. A large number of people from the villages, particularly villagers close to the urban areas attended these hearings which were held until 1 pm on the day. The people said that in the past they had experienced hardships that could not be expressed in words; hardships which could not be unknown to everyone. They said they’d let go of the bitterness of the past and believed the reassurances given to them that their children would be released within 6 months or 1 year, which has not happened to date. They therefore asked that the release of their children be expedited and information provided about their family members who disappeared before and during the war. The people stated that they were currently living only on hope even though they were not aware whether their loved ones were alive. The lack of facilities in return areas was also pointed out to the Commissioners by those who made representations, who said that they had been abandoned by everyone.
Mathivannan Mathusha of Vivekananda Nagar said that from 2004 to 2006 her husband was engaged in paid work at a LTTE establishment. A few inhabitants of the IDP camp informed the authorities about his connections and he was taken away. He is currently being held at the Omanthai camp. She said she has no means of livelihood- not even money to purchase milk powder for the children. Speaking through tears, she asked the Commissioners to help bring her husband home.
The Commissioners while reassuring her that they would take immediate action to assist her asked her whether during the last stages of the war anyone had prevented the people from leaving the LTTE controlled areas and moving to the No-fire Zone or areas under the control of the army. The woman replied that the LTTE prevented them from leaving. She said that although she’d pointed to the plight of her child who was afflicted by a spinal injury which had rendered him immobile, the LTTE refused to let them leave and instead destroyed her son’s medical records.
An elderly man named Aiyakooku from Malayalapuram village said the following in his representation: I have three children. A son joined the LTTE when he was around 17/18. The other son was taken away. The third son and his wife were taken away 18 days after their wedding. Both are now dead. My elder son is also dead. The other son is missing. My wife and I are grief stricken. We ask that we are told whether he is alive or dead.
Requests were made to the LLRC to allow people to return to their lands in the high security zones. For instance, the people of Ponnagar do not know who is in control of their village. The LLRC which requested more information on the matter, stated that people cannot live on or claim rights over land distributed either by the LTTE or affiliated organisations as the LTTE did not possess the authority to distribute land. Therefore, before the end of the year the people of Ponnagar will be provided with alternate housing in other areas by the District Secretariat.
Those making representations to the LLRC said that although persons identifying themselves as CID had promised to release their loves ones from the detention camps in exchange for large sums of money, to date detainees have not been released. The people said they had lodged complaints with the army and police about continuing demands by these supposed CID officers but the police and army had said they couldn’t do anything until the complainants identified the perpetrators.
The Commission was also told that at present visiting time at the rehabilitation/detention camps has been reduced from 45 minutes to 15 minutes. Further, many stated they were not in a position to visit their family members at the detention centres. At the detention camp in Maruthamadu Veriyakulam area even though visitors are being asked to sign 4 forms/documents which are applications for the release of detained persons, the family members of those who’ve signed the forms haven’t been released yet.
The Chairperson of the Commission, C.R. de Silva stated that the aim of the Commission was to inquire into the problems and past grievances of these people who are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and resolve ethnic, religious and community differences. Therefore the problem faced by detainees is an important issue that merits attention. He said the Commission intended to discuss the issue with the CID and find a resolution to the problems of the people.
At the sitting many submitted written representations detailing disappearances and the plight of detainees and war widows. The sitting concluded with an in-camera representation.
19 September 2010
Search for our kith and kin and find them for us
The Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission commenced sittings at the AGA office at Kilinochchi yesterday. More than 200 women turned up to make representations to the Commission. At this sitting a large number of women begged the Commission to search for their missing family members. They stated that they were only seeking the safe return of their missing family members and were not interested in land or property. The members of the LLRC informed these women that action would be taken in this regard. As there was a large gathering to make representations they were asked to submit written representations. A spokesperson for a women’s organisation made the following observations about this sitting- women have been the most affected by the war and are undergoing immense hardship. The active participation of women in the proceedings of the Commission can be attributed to this factor. The Commission gave preference to those who had applied in advance to the Commission to make representations. A translator was available and questions were posed in Tamil. Unidentified persons photographed those who appeared before the Commission and recorded their representations on mobile phones. Persons who desired to give evidence in camera were given an opportunity to do so.
20 September 2010
What is the fate of my children who were taken along with former combatants in 16 buses? : A mother tells the LLRC that Puthuvai Ratnadurai and Yogi were with them
A mother giving evidence before the LLRC said that her children were among the former combatants who were loaded onto 16 buses and she still does not know of the fate of her children. For the second day the LLRC sitting continued at the Kandavalai Pradesha Sabha Office on Sunday. The woman further stated as follows:
My daughter, her husband and two children surrendered to the army at Vadduvakal in May on the request of Rev. Francis and Rev. Reginald. Later they were all taken in 16 buses along the Mullativu Road. I witnessed this. Today their whereabouts are unknown. I have searched for them at all detention centres and prisons yet I haven’t located them anywhere. The families of the two priests who sent them along with the Army personnel have stated that they are now not aware of the whereabouts of the priests.
Krishnapalan Jeyabarathy, a mother stated that she has 3 children, and at the request of the two priests, her husband too surrendered to the Army Along with Yogi and Ratnadurai and she does not know his whereabouts. Consequent to this the Commissioners inquired whether they were both members of the LTTE and she replied in the affirmative. The Commission then told her that they would look into this matter.
When the people of Kilinochchi gave evidence they said that the armed conflict was the result of the of the feelings of those who were affected by ethnic conflict that took place from time to time in the history of Sri Lanka. Since both sides have experienced losses due to the war the people stressed that finding a permanent political solution for the Tamil people was imperative to prevent future generations from taking up arms.
The people of Kandaavalai in their representation said that throughout the years due to ethnic tensions the Tamil community has been subjected to riots and acts of violence. The Tamil people therefore engaged in a struggle to find solutions to these problems/grievances. At this juncture when the struggle has come to an end there must be a permanent solution to the grievances of the Tamils.
People are being taken to their places of origin in the name of return/resettlement. Yet, people haven’t been able to resume their normal lives. Land issues and livelihood concerns of families whose breadwinners have been killed or gone missing remain unaddressed. The government must therefore declare its position with regard to missing persons and those who have been detained. The government must at least tell us whether our children are alive or not.
Appakutty Iyampillai in his representation said the following:
When we surrendered to the army in February 2009 our houses and vehicles were safely in the custody of the army. Yet now we do not know the location of our vehicles. Our houses have been completely destroyed. The identity of those responsible for the damage should be disclosed and we should be compensated for our losses. When one of the Commissioners asked him whether the LTTE used civilians as human shields he responded that the LTTE placed themselves on the frontline and fought against the army. He further stated that even after Suthanthirapuram was declared a No Fire Zone the area continued to experience shell attacks. Following that around 75,000 persons surrendered to the army.
Devaruban Susilavathy in her testimony stated as follows:
My 19 year old son was forcibly recruited by the LTTE in March 2009. Although he escaped from the LTTE and returned home twice they took him away a third time. Today I do not know where my son is. I ask you to find my son and return him to me.
In response to the LLRC’s question regarding reasons for past destruction and hardships and how they can be avoided in the future the people said they would not be willing to engage in an armed struggle in the future and asked that a permanent solution is found for both their basic needs and the ethnic conflict. They reiterated that people should not be used as political pawns as they were in the past and asked that their requests are viewed with magnanimity.
21 Sept 2010
Our boats were attacked repeatedly by shells even though we cried out that we were civilians: Testimony before the LLRC at Mullaitivu
Although we cried out that we were innocent civilians and asked the troops not to harm us our boats were shelled 8 times as a result of which many were killed.
Ratnasingham Easwary making a representation at the hearing of the LLRC convened at the District Secretariat on 20 Monday said the following:
At around 3 am on 10 May 2009 we escaped by boat via the lagoon without the knowledge of the LTTE. Along the way our boats were intercepted by the Navy. We called out that we were civilians and asked them not to shoot at us. Yet minutes later 8 shells were directed towards our boats from the Navy ships. Of the 20 who travelled in our boat 8 were killed. The rest who were struggling to keep afloat were rescued by small navy boats. We were then taken to Pullmodai, where my sister’s husband was taken away by the Navy. Today, we do not know of his whereabouts. Although we have made complaints to the ICRC and the Human Rights Commission he has still not been found.
A Commissioner who intervened at this point queried whether any LLTE boats were in the vicinity of their boats and if they had any arms on board when they were attacked by the Navy. The woman replied in the negative and said the boat’s inhabitants were all civilians and that they shouted out many times that they were civilians.
Kanagasabai Selvanayagi of Vattraapalai in her representation stated as follows:
On 15 May 2009 I, my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren escaped from Mullaivaaikkal and were en route to the government controlled areas. During a shell attack at the time my daughter died instantly. When we were trying to lift my daughter’s body my son-in-law was killed on the spot in another shell attack while my granddaughter was seriously injured. The army carried my injured granddaughter away. My grandson remained on the spot. I was escorted away from the area by the army. Those who passed by the spot later informed me that the bodies of my daughter and son-in-law were lying on the bridge. To date I have no idea about the whereabouts of my granddaughter and grandson.
Many people made representations about the failure to allow IDPs to return to many areas of the Mullaitivu district. They said that the most number of disappearances had taken place in the Mullaitivu district and requested once again that the government make available information about those who have disappeared.