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In the claims and counter-claims swirling around about what happened in the last days of the conflict, logic and intelligence seem to have gone by default. There is little effort to look at evidence, and to consider the wider implications of the few facts that can be discerned.

One assertion that there is no reasons to think false is the fact, as reported in Wikileaks, that the ‘Norwegian DCM told PolOff that a priest in Jaffna had called her to say that another priest in the conflict zone had called him on a satellite phone. He said he was with a group of 40 children, who were pinned down in bunkers in the conflict zone and dared not move because of intensive incoming shelling.’ Wikileaks does not tell us what happened afterwards, but the Norwegian DCM is now the ambassador and, when I asked her about this statement, she was able to tell me that the story had a happy ending. The pastor and the children were brought to safety. This happened, she said, after a message about their existence was conveyed to the Sri Lankan authorities, though it could not be affirmed that it was that information that had led to the children being kept safe.

Corroboration of this story comes from an article that appeared in the ‘New Yorker’ in January 2011. The author, Jon Lee Anderson, writes that A survivor of the final stand at Mullaittivu, a young pastor, described the scene to me. He and four other pastors and a group of sixty orphans in their care had been dug into shallow bunkers on the beach. “It was the first thing we did whenever we reached a new position—digging and making bags with cut- up women’s saris,” he said. “Only afterward would we go and look for food or water.” The Tamil fighters were in bunkers all around them. “Most of them were Black Tigers,” he said, referring to the Tamil suicide squad. “Prabhakaran was among us, too, but none of us saw him.”

He described a charnel ground, with artillery shells landing at random. “All we could see was dead people, people crying for food and for water, and burning vehicles everywhere.” On May 16th, Army troops took the last coastal positions, and, as they pursued the remaining Tigers, the Army commander, General Sarath Fonseka, declared victory. The next day, a Tiger spokesman posted a statement on the organization’s Web site: “This battle has reached its bitter end. . . . We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer.” In the bunker, the pastor’s group talked by cell phone with a brigadier general in the Sri Lankan Army who told them to stay there until they saw soldiers, then identify themselves with white flags. The group had run out of food and went foraging in an abandoned bunker nearby. “We found food packets—meat, chocolates,” the pastor said, and they took as much as they could carry, dodging incoming fire.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2011
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