Vulnerable people remain forgotten in Sri Lanka
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Aug 19, 2008

Wars, either it be civil or global, always take the lives of more innocents than combatants. This was demonstrated on August 14, 2006 in Sri Lanka, where, while engaged in first aid training, 62 children were wantonly massacred by the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) aerial bombardment at the Senchcholai orphanage in Kilinochchi. The world paid little attention while the people in Eelam shed tears for weeks. Although the Tamils mark the conclusion of the second year after their death, the Sri Lankan government still continues to bombard civilian institutions with impunity. In the guise of fighting terrorism for its own political and economic benefits, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) still shows no compunction in deploying thousands of armed soldiers to hunt down more innocent Tamils. The tragedy is that the international community (IC) remains silent while the Tamils continue to fight for their own survival.

After years of fighting with the Sri Lankan armed forces, the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2001 during the festive season in December while the GoSL, under the premiership of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, engaged the LTTE, with the aid of Norwegian government, to sign a ceasefire agreement in February 2002. This ceasefire agreement provided the opportunity for LTTE and the GoSL to enter into several rounds of peace talks.

However, the Sinhala leadership failed to reciprocate the Tamil gesture of goodwill by letting them live "free" without the disturbance of Sri Lankan armed forces. Even during the peace talks, the Sri Lankan armed forces tightened their military bases and maintained high security zones restricting free movement.

The LTTE peace talk appeals to allow the residents to return to their homes and create normalcy in order to put trust on the hearts and souls of Tamils were never met by the Sinhala leadership. Tamils allege that this is but one of many occasions since the country gained independence in 1948 where Sinhalese regimes hoodwinked the Tamils.

In 2004, Chandrika Kumaratunga took harsh actions against the Tamils thereby failing to respect the ceasefire agreement two years after it was signed between the LTTE leader V. Pirapaharan and then Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Events worsened after Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power in 2005. On his coming to power, he told the public that he would eliminate the Tamil Tigers, and thereafter the problem of the Eelam Tamils would be solved naturally. However, he failed or refused to recognise the fact that the Tamils had political grievances long before he came to power. Also, he directed his armed forces to launch attacks within Tamil areas.

On August 14, 2006, 62 people, 53 of them girls, at Senchcholai, an orphanage in Vallipuram of Kilinochchi, were brutally killed by SLAF aerial bombardment, which angered the Tamils and despite the tragic event, the LTTE remained silent respecting the IC's frequent call that both warring parties should work toward a peaceful settlement. However, the GoSL never respected it. Rather, they targeted more innocents. The schoolgirls were undergoing first aid training at the Sencholai orphanage when the SLAF launched the aerial attack. These children from various schools in the Vanni region were participating at seminars in the Senchcholai orphanage premise.

The target of the Vallipuram school camp was not destined to be the schoolgirls in general. Indeed, the strike was designed to target the children of the LTTE leader, Mr V Pirapaharan, who had, before the agreement, been waging war to make independent state 'Tamil Eelam'. The LTTE leader himself wanted to personally look after the orphans. The two-decade-long war killed over 80,000 civilians, created over 20,000 widows, and left thousands of children orphaned.

The realization of this noble objective was Senchcholai, founded originally in 1991 in Sandilipay, in the northern Jaffna peninsula. The children of Senchcholai were displaced four times prior to and since the exodus of Tamils from Jaffna peninsula in 1995 and relocated in Vallipuram.

The declared objective of the 10-day seminar at Vallipuram school camp was to teach community leadership skills, first aid, gender equality, confidence building, time management, and teamwork. Activities included fire safety, water safety, electrical safety, chemical safety, and safety during air raids, creative self-expression through drama, music and comedy, relationships between social institutions and the younger generation, gender issues in society during teenage years and in adulthood, and extensive first aid.

It was Monday morning, on August 14, 2006, when 500 girls were getting ready to attend the first aid seminar. Four Israeli-built Kfir jets dropped 16 bombs on the Vallipuram school camp premises. It was shocking news for the Tamils around the world. After hearing about the aerial bombardment, the LTTE leader did not open his eyes for many minutes. He burst into tears, and he remained in deep thought for hours after the incident. Local NGOs immediately reported that sixty-one girls confirmed killed. Later another girl died at hospital. One hundred and fifty-five girls were receiving treatments at hospitals and of them, 25 were in a critical condition. Many of the injured girls lost limbs and some lost both legs or arms.

The GoSL declared it had killed LTTE child soldiers and destroyed LTTE training camps. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and UNICEF visited the scene and rejected the Sri Lankan government's claims. The SLMM, UNICEF, and other NGOs confirmed that the Vallipuram school camp area was 100 percent residential. This area is home to many orphanages and welfare organizations. These homes were also registered with the Sri Lankan government, and Sri Lankan government officials had even visited this site in the past.

Upon hearing the killing of 62 people, including 53 girls, Tamils the world over started protests in their home countries, protests that demanded their respective governments take action against Sri Lanka. They demanded that the IC brand Sri Lanka as a country that dispenses state terrorism. They also urged the IC to recognize the Tamils' right to self-determination and to an independent Tamil homeland called 'Tamil Eelam'.

The Tamils of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is home to over 65 million Tamils, staged protests throughout the state against the killing of the Tamils girls in Sri Lanka. The Tamil Nadu assembly condemned the Sri Lankan government for the cruel and wanton act. Tens of thousands of students throughout Tamil Nadu took part in protesting the killing. Setting aside party politics, all political parties in Tamil Nadu condemned the Sri Lankan government for unleashing violence against innocent Tamils on the island. The leaders of all political parties in Tamil Nadu demanded that the Indian government not supply weapons to Sri Lanka and that the Indian government exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government not to target innocent civilians in the fight against the LTTE.

However, the memories of the deaths of these 62 children are fading and the international community, including India, continue to provide direct or indirect military or financial support to Sri Lanka. The Tamils living in Sri Lanka are becoming victims of further state terrorism. Vulnerable women, children, and elders seek bunkers to hide from air raids of the Sri Lankan Air Force, which are closely followed by the spy planes and other military aircraft.

Children are increasingly under threat as they are displaced due to the ongoing fighting in the North. A report recently released by North East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR) stated that in July alone, there were over 130,000 internally displaced persons in the Kilinochchi area. Of these, over 28,000 were students and young children. Violence against children by the Sri Lankan security forces has been increasing as the conflict has escalated over the past few years. Early this month, a local human rights monitoring group reported that the Sri Lankan army launched an indiscriminate artillery barrage in a residential and medical area, killing an 18-month old baby. Within a week of this incident, five schoolgirls were abducted by armed men in a van in Batticaloa. The local monitoring group quoted witnesses as saying that the van was seen stopped at a Sri Lankan police division area, fuelling concern that the government is sponsoring or supporting these abductions and extrajudicial killings.

In this context, people's future becomes questionable, as they do not know what will happen to them when the sun next dawns. Schoolchildren cannot go to schools in Vanni with daily shelling and aerial bombardments the common practice. Yet, the Tamil leadership maintains silence with the hope that the international community will open their eyes towards the oppressed and suppressed people who fight for right to self-determination.

The Tamils globally yearn for a peaceful life for their brethren living in Eelam. Tamils believe that the Sinhala leadership has no mercy at all, instead they believe the Sinhalese regime will continue killing many more thousands of innocents like that of the killing at Vallipuram school camp because Sinhalese regime is intent on exterminating the Tamil race from Sinhala-Buddhist Lanka. However, they launch ethnic cleansing without naming it but under the guise of fighting terrorism, so they kill civilians so that the civilians will flee the country or so they can easily wipe them out without international condemnation through killing smaller numbers rather than killing tens of thousands of people in a day or week or month.

It is, however, pathetic that the neighbouring India and other members of the international community maintain silence and indirectly aid the Sri Lankan government to exterminate Tamils. Senchcholai is a classic example of how the Sinhala leadership are determined to wipe out the Tamil race from Sri Lanka. Children are the future, and hence by killing them or starving them, they eliminate the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

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