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I looked earlier at 8 oft expressed concerns with regard to the conflict in Sri Lanka. Most of them related to the post-conflict situation, though I dealt with a couple that related to the previous period too. Perhaps the harshest criticisms belong to that period, so I will look now at more of those.

9. Concerns were expressed that the Sri Lankan forces systematically targeted hospitals. It has been claimed that this was done in spite of the ICRC having clearly provided information as to the situation of hospitals, including several hospitals set up on a makeshift basis by the LTTE. It has even been claimed that the forces targeted such hospitals immediately such information was given.

a) Puthukkudiyirippu (PTK)

The shrine room at PTK hospital

There were no allegations at all with regard to attacks on hospitals from the commencement of the conflict until the beginning of 2009. With regard to the main hospital in the area east of Kilinochchi, that at Puthukkudiyirippu, there were only two allegations of attacks on it between the beginning of January and the closure of the hospital. The first was on January 12th, when Tamilnet claimed that one person was killed when the ‘hospital premises and its environs came under artillery fire’. After that there was nothing till the very end of January, when several claims were made, though according to the American State Department Report, ‘According to satellite imagery taken on January 28, the Puthukkudiyirippu Hospital did not appear to show visible damage and appeared to be functioning’.

After the incident on January 12th, the ICRC records only one shell hitting ‘the southern end of the compound of the hospital’ which led to ‘1 killed and 4 injured civilians’ on February 1st. It must be noted that several sources record the LTTE firing from very near the hospital, so the fact that the hospital was hit only twice in three weeks in retaliatory firing shows comparative precision on the part of the forces.

And it should be noted that the LTTE was also accused of firing directly onto the hospital itself, for characteristically insidious motives. The University Teachers for Human Rights reported that ‘The Government we learn did not want the Hospital moved as they hoped to be in control of Puthukkudiyiruppu soon. The LTTE on the other hand wanted it moved so that it would have some assistance for its injured.

When the Hospital was hit for the fourth time on 2nd February at 6.40 PM or on a subsequent occasion, the hospital staff and the people around soon became quite sure that it was this time the LTTE that fired. Our sources do not have direct evidence, but the LTTE is linked to the people and information that filters down has considerable authority for them.’   Read the rest of this entry »

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The University Teachers for Human Rights, whose reports are a mine of information about what happened in the North during the conflict, have sections called ‘Bearing Witness’. These give personal accounts of people caught up in the conflict.

These are particularly useful, because one feels that UTHR has no particular axe to grind in quoting from such sources. They present a range of viewpoints, and while obviously one cannot be sure that all accounts are accurate, it is clear that UTHR does not doctor what they hear, or seek to present a particular perspective. This seems to me unlike many other reports, usually by journalists, which produce evidence to emphasize their own predilections.

Mullaitivu GA’s office

During my recent visit to the North, having looked carefully at various sites that figure prominently in recent critiques of government action, I thought it might be useful to talk to people who had lived through the last few months of conflict in the No Fire Zones. I spoke to three people at the Mullaitivu GA’s office, to two families at Suthanthirapuram and at the Udaiyaarkadu hospital, and to two people at the Vallipuram school that had been used as a hospital. On the next day, I spoke to 18 people at the last two sections in Manik Farm which still house the displaced.

Many had only come out at the very end, though a few had got away in April in the first great exodus. One enterprising old man had walked out on March 16th, while two had escaped by sea. One had got away reasonably early together with her husband and a couple of children, paying Rs 200,000 for passage for the whole family. A few weeks later the price had been Rs 200,000 for one person. The school teacher who had got away thus, along with his brother, told me however that the Sri Lankan forces had fired on their boat, killing several, before registering that they were not Tigers. They had then apologized, and treated the survivors well.

Udaiyaarkadu hospital

This was the only story I was told of casualties during escape from the Zone. In fact, apart from stories of individual deaths in a few other cases, this was the only account of people having lost their lives. None of the people I spoke to gave a single instance of women or children being killed. Seven men I spoke to in Ananda Coomaraswamy village in Manik Farm had all got away during the last few weeks with their entire families, one of them with seven children – and a few grandchildren – all now living. Of the seven women I spoke to, four were widows, but two of the husbands had died earlier, of fever and a fall from a tree respectively. All their children had survived, five in one case.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2019
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