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Testimonial: A Sinhala Priest Visits the Vavuniya Camps

March 13, 2009

Vavuniya — This is a brief account of what I experienced during my short visit to Vavuniya from the 24th to 26 of February. I had the opportunity see the camps where IDPs are kept and meet some persons and go to the Vavuniya hospital with some priests who are also displaced and have come from Vanni area.

More than 30000 displaced persons who had come from Vanni are given temporary shelter in govt. schools and other buildings. According to priests and nuns who were permitted to enter these places, (now some are given special pass to visit these camps) the members of the families are dispersed among the camps and reunion of them is not allowed at the moment. There are elderly and pregnant mothers, mothers with newly born babies who should be given special care, attention and place which Fathers and sisters are ready to provide but waiting for a positive response from the authorities which they say has to be given from the ministry of defense in Colombo. As buildings are not sufficient to provide accommodations to such a big number, some temporary tents have been built in play grounds in the scorching sun where no one can stay during the day. In some cases there are two or three families in one tent. The govt. through all media constantly announces that every thing is ready and asks the people caught up in Vanni to come to Vavuniya promising them all facility and security there. But it is very clear that govt. is not ready at all to accommodate if those people come to Vavuniya as they are unable to provide basic facilities to those who have already come. Except the places, every other basic need such as food, water, sanitary, clothes, medicine are provided by the NGOs. Still they are ready to provide whatever they can but due to very strict restrictions imposed by the govt. they are unable to do so.

These cannot be called as camps for displaced people rather prisons or still concentration camps heavily guarded by armed soldiers and covered with barb wires. We were not allowed to enter any of these camps.

While we were standing in front of one of the camps on the main road, behind barb wires which were removed when UN officer John Holmes visited the camps and returned to the same places immediately after he left Vavuniya, a soldier came and made a sign with his hand to a lady (mother) standing beside us to move away from that place. As she began to move slowly soldier yelled at her saying “Don’t you understand Sinhala- Sinhala therenne nadda?” Then he pointing his finger to us and asked the officer at the gate in signs what’s to be done with us.

Then he approached me and asked whether I know Sinhala thinking that I am a Tamil priest. As I replied, yes, he asked whether there is any relation of mine in the camp. I told him I am going from camp to camp to find out whether my family members and relations are in the camps. But how could I find when as you don’t allow us to go in and still you chase away us not allowing us to stay out side far away from the camp. Then he politely said “what can we do father, we are carrying out the orders coming from the top.” Later somebody sarcastically said these are orders from Rajapaksa family and which is also the truth. One of the priests told me that his parents are in a camp but he is not allowed to visit them. As we also moved away from that place, we approached that lady and asked whether she has anybody in the camp.

This was her reply:

I came to Vavuniya some months ago and husband was in Vanni. Now he has come from that side and is in this camp. First day I saw him, spoke to him staying out side but he did not understand what I said. I found that he can’t hear and he is deaf. He was not so before, now he is unable to hear due to shelling and bombing while he was in Vanni. Today I came to show him some photographs of our grand children who live in abroad. (She showed us some photos of the children). But I don’t see him or unable to contact him. Soldiers chase me away” she told in tears and with utter helplessness.

Even the worst criminals have the right to see and speak to their family members and friends. If then why these innocent helpless people are not allowed to see their loved ones and detained them behind barb wires as criminals?

Isn’t it a grave violation of their basic human rights?

Isn’t it because that for them every Tamil is a terrorist or suspected be so?

Is it difficult to understand that they are being treated so inhumanly for the mere fact that they were born as Tamils in this country?

Here are some painful and agonizing experiences revealed by some injured persons whom I met in the hospital

A 23 years old young girl

We all were in the bunker without food for the whole day and came out to eat something. Then suddenly shells fell and we all got injured. I am without a leg and a hand. Brother and sister were also injured and they are too in the hospital. Father’s whereabouts are not known.

20 years old seriously injured young girl:

While I was bathing shells fell around our place. One of the brothers and I were critically injured. Another brother and a sister are in Vanni and do not know what has happened to them. My father died some time ago. Her mother is there to look after her. She has got 3s for A/L and now worried about her studies.

26 years graduate, a voluntary teacher:

We were all in the bunker whole night and came out in the morning to go to the announced safe zone. Then suddenly shells fell on us. Now the mother is with me. We do not know where my father, brother and sister are.

This is what I heard from a nun:

There is a boy who has lost his both hands in Mannar hospital. He got through his O/L with 10 As. Parents are there to look after him. But now army wants to send away the parents. Then who will be there to help this helpless boy who is still under treatments.

I met a young pregnant mother on the corridor sitting with her 6 year old daughter. She has lost toes of her one leg and three fingers in one hand. Daughter had wounds all over her body. Husband and the other two children are in Vanni. She is worried that if they are sent to the camp, how she can manage with her small daughter as she is unable to attend to her own work.

Priests and nuns are ready to take those pregnant mothers and mothers with new born babies as they need special care and attention but the authorities have not given a positive response yet.

This is another experience of a priest:

I met a small boy and a girl in the hospital. They are from the parish where I was, before I came to Vavuniya. The boy requested an apple and the girl some grapes. So I came out and went in with apple and grapes for those children. I was stopped at the gate by a policeman and asked to hand over my N.I.card and then to go in. I refused to hand over but showed it to him. So he could see that I am from Jaffna and shouted at me asking why you are here. In return I asked him from where are you. I told him I am a Sri Lankan and I have the right to be any where in this country. He continued to shout at me. So I asked him not to shout and if you don’t allow I will go back without giving these apple and grapes to those two kids. I told him pl. remember if you and your children face such calamity and if there is nobody to help you how would be your position. He stopped shouting and I came back with grapes and apple. He further continued to say with much sadness and pain, when I see the children here in the church I remember children in Vanni where I was working. Immediately after mass they all come running to hold my hands and then to say that I touched father’s hands first. I do not know where those children are now. What crime these children have committed to be abandoned and treated in such a brutal and inhuman way. When we see the tragedy of the children can any one say a word in favour of this brutal war?

Can we who live in the South especially as church leaders be indifferent and keep silent before this genocide?

This is again an experience of a nun:

A child who is with the mother in the camp came running to see his father out side the gate who came to see them. The mother wanted to give him to the father over the gate to be kissed. But a soldier chased him away. Seen this heart breaking incident Sister approached that soldier and asked if it is your child what would you do? Then he immediately called the father and allowed him to kiss the son.

How can we who have not experienced the gravity of this brutal war at all, who have not travelled at least to Mannar and vavuniya, who have not met and spoken to victims of this stupid war, justify and make statements in favour of it.? How can we be indifferent and take it so lightly or remain completely unaware of this human disaster? From all these, are we not indirectly saying to the war mongers that we are not against war, we are with you, we believe what you say and not interested in what the Tamils say and finish the so called humanitarian war (annihilation) you have waged against them?

Here is a horrendous experience of a young person whom I met. I will not write down everything I heard as I still want to see these people alive.

So many dead bodies of young boys and girls were brought under the tag “terrorists killed in battle” In the post mortem it revealed that all the girls were raped. There were clear signs to prove who they were but buried as terrorists. Though I have no right to ask any question I just inquired that person what have you got to say. With full of tears in eyes replied “We may not born as Tamils in this world again, especially as tamil women.”

There is so much to be written and that is again the agony and the tears of our Tamil brothers and sisters who cry for life and freedom which is their RIGHT.

Right to live in their own homes and land as true citizens in this country with human dignity.

Is it not the state terror of the successive Sinhala rulers treated the Tamils so brutally and suppressed their just demands?

At least now stop our petty arguments to show that we are neutral or do not take a side which reveals our hypocrisy. We believe in a God who takes the side of the oppressed. Hence we have a moral right to take the side of the oppressed the Tamils. The need of the hour is that, not sympathy.

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