Abandoned bicycles in Mullaitivu

One reason why I suspect reconciliation will be easier in Sri Lanka than in many places that have suffered conflict is the level of suffering inflicted by the LTTE on the Tamil people. There was also an extraordinary hierarchical system, which gave great advantages to the privileged whilst the others had to serve them unquestioningly.

One aspect of this tyranny was the manner in which everyone was forced to flee along with the Tigers into smaller and smaller areas in smaller and smaller modes of transport. One family described how they had loaded all their goods, including the roof materials of their house, into a lorry as they were forced east towards Kilinochchi. When they had to move from Kilinochchi, they had only a portion of a lorry. Then it was a tractor, and finally bikes.

The magnitude of this pilgrimage of the oppressed can be gauged from the vast numbers of bicycles and motor bicycles collected in the strip of land on which the LTTE made its last stand. There are thousands, in a few separate lots, and most of them seem in a reasonable state of repair, so it should not be too difficult to restore some at least to working order and give them to the resettled people.

The cars however are another story. Many of them were deliberately wrecked, several in a final conflagration which the Tigers precipitated in their version of a Gotterdammerung, the twilight of the divinity they had exercised over the people for over two decades, ever since they claimed, on the grounds that they had fought the Indian army, to be the sole representatives of the Tamil people. That they should have finally got the TNA to accept this position too, after having killed off any leader who presented a challenge to them, is a mark of the power of violence – while the graveyard of the motor cars is an object lesson in how violence finally rewards itself.

It is not only cars. There are many sophisticated vehicles, most prominent a UN lorry with markings of both WFP and IOM. I was reminded, seeing it, of how an American diplomat expressed surprise that the LTTE would help itself to food direct from UN vehicles. They had fondly imagined earlier that the UN was able to resist pressure, and it was only the natives who handed over to terrorists rations for which the US amongst others had paid. But the tyranny of the Tigers encompassed everyone, white and black, rich and poor, even though a few pretended until the very end that things were not so bad, and that they themselves had not played ball along with the rest.

Incidentally, the government has very sensibly continued to use the services of the poor state sector employees who had to work under Tiger duress over several years. There are those who advocated a witch hunt, but the manner in which these generally excellent public servants did their duty by the people in spite of the difficulties they faced has been acknowledged and they are now doing even more to support resettlement efforts. The manner in which they work together productively with the military, which still has to provide massive logistical support, is an object lesson in how reconciliation and mutual confidence can be ensured in the absence of tyranny and insecurity.

After the LTTE had corralled people into smaller and smaller spaces began the process of killing them to prevent them escaping. The tactics they used are given in graphic detail in the latest report of the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights. Though that Report is also critical of the government, its more detailed critiques are of what the LTTE did, as in the following –

‘LTTE artillery was firing from Pacchaipulmoodai just north of where Maniam was. While listening to news from Sooriyan Radio, he noticed that at 6.11 PM LTTE cannon changed direction and fired three shells to the southeast. He later found out that the shells landed in Putumattalan, killing 17 civilians and injuring 23. Maniam confronted a strong LTTE supporter about this. The answer he got was that the whole of Puthikkudiyiruppu should be displaced and the people must suffer. This has been a regular LTTE refrain since the mid-1980s.’

The report records how the LTTE attacked the PTK hospital, because they wanted it moved. It notes how the LTTE pinned their hopes ‘on ensuring maximum civilian casualties, in the hope that Uncle Obama would intervene.’ However, in the particular case recorded, ‘the snipers opened fire killing four soldiers. But the other soldiers betrayed no signs of reacting against the civilians.’

But this callousness was not just at the end. I was able to see an LTTE jail near Visvamadu, a facility with forty narrow cells in which over 300 prisoners had been kept. The vast majority of prisoners seem to have been Tamil, not only political opponents, not only those who had tried to speak out against conscription and other outrages, but even

a businessman who was abducted, after which the LTTE made a ransom demand of Rs. 54 lakhs. Before his family could attend to the matter the man was transferred several times to other prisons and the family was unable to trace him.’

Meanwhile Mr Prabhakaran himself stayed in a complex north of the main road which included a concrete bunker three stories deep, with a sophisticated toilet and heavy internal doors and a small space under the last stair where presumably he could have crouched to escape even the heaviest of bombs. There were two large craters nearby, suggesting how close the air force had come to getting him, but neither the bunker, nor the house he usually stayed in, had suffered damage.

One can understand then the fury of the people, their welcoming of the armed forces who rescued them, even though in the process there was inevitably some collateral damage. They are working well now with the forces to develop the facilities they need. But it is scarcely surprising that their anger is directed more towards those who created and enforced a policy of oppression in what was fondly termed ‘Eelam’, as UTHR makes clear in a vivid description of one incident at Manik Farm –

‘Mathulan (31) from Vattakachchi was in the political wing and had been close to Tamilchelvan. A handsome actor-like figure, he was notorious for conscription. He left the NFZ with the people when the war ended and entered a ‘welfare centre’ in Manik Farm, where he was living in a room with a woman as a married man. He seldom went out. In time the others came to know. About 30 men, many of whom had a near relative conscripted and killed in the fighting went to his room, pulled him out and thrashed him. One of them said that for all what they suffered, this man should not use his right hand to eat and damaged his hand.’

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