25 November, 2020

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New Book Details Sri Lanka’s ‘Habit Of Denial’

By Helena Williams –

It saw one of the bloodiest conflicts of this century, and yet many still only see it as a tropical paradise.

While the south boasted palm-fringed beaches – a picture-perfect destination for cocktail-sipping tourists – northern Sri Lanka was a hell on earth for the Tamil minority as government troops clashed with Tiger insurgents.

“Denial has become a Sri Lankan habit,” explains Frances Harrison, ex-BBC Sri Lanka correspondent and author of Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Civil War.

The book details the devastating accounts of survivors of the 26-year conflict.
“Europeans sipped coconut juice and stared out at the horizon of the ocean, unaware that just an hour’s flight to the north, people were dying in First World War-style trench warfare.”
Channel 4’s The Killing Fields brought the story of Sri Lanka’s war crimes back into UK mainstream media.

Now, Harrison retells the conflict with a clarity and impact only a seasoned journalist can deliver, having travelled extensively in the war zone and reported on the Tamil Tigers during the peace process.

“Like the tourists, the world turned a blind eye to the tens of thousands of civilian deaths that took place in the north-east of Sri Lanka in the space of just five months in 2009,” she writes.
A media blackout imposed by the Sri Lanka government means that the death toll is impossible to pinpoint: estimates run from 7,000 to 147,000.

Now, the United Nations says there is evidence that up to forty thousand civilians could have been murdered in just five months.

These revelations are all the more bitter when Harrison writes,
“At the same time that Sri Lanka’s vicious war was raging, the world’s attention was focussed on the Israeli incursion into Gaza, where the death toll was about 1,500.”

Having witnessed the war in the early noughties, Harrison recounts the bloody climax in 2009 through harrowing stories from those she met along the way – tales of extraordinary survival, as well as devastation and death.

A young journalist covering the atrocities for the local TamilNet website; a Catholic nun who
enters war zones to comfort the dying as other flee; a woman who worked in the Tiger media unit, now a mother of two living in South London – Harrison touches upon all walks of life, painting their stories sensitively and in detail. It is the first time some of these stories have been told.

Grasping an underreported and extremely complex subject, Harrison demonstrates journalism at its best by backing up her emotive portraits with hard facts and figures.
As a new UN inquiry calls for further investigation into the atrocities committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebel fighters, Harrison tells more than figures ever could by bringing to light the human cost of war.

Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War’ is published by Portobello books on October 4, 2012.

*Helena Williams is a London-based freelance journalist and news assistant at the International News Safety Institute. Her particular interests centre around foreign affairs, women’s issues and the media. 
She is a City University Newspaper Journalism MA graduate and has written for The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and others. She also blogs for The Frontline Club. Courtesy huffingtonpost.co.uk

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    Frances.. try travelling closer to your home , ireland perhaps.. and when you are done with that try Iraq, Libya , syria, palestine, etc etc… after this go back home, coz u aint understood the conflict in sri lanka..

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      The habit of denial is entrenched in politics in Sri lanka.
      Today we see the politics of violent DISTRACTION: we see religious nationalists who are protesting events abroad when there is so much crime, corruption, violence and STATE TERRORISM unleashed by the Rajapakse regime and Gota the white van goon- right here in Lanka
      The Muslim fanatics protesting outside the US embassy and the Buddhist fanatics outside the Bangladhesh embassy are being kept distracted by their leaders so they will not be protesting the Rajpaakse dictatorship. Rauf Hakeenm and the JHU leadership are playing this game and are distracting the people from the real problem which is the rotten and corrupt dictatorship in Lanka.

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    She must be a “Tiger operative” LOL

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      If someone claiming to be a journalist details only the suffering of the Tamil Tigers and those Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka who mistakenly put their trust in them, yet ignores completely the suffering of the Tamils who opposed the Tigers and the suffering of the Sinhalese and Moslems during the period of conflict, then it’s reasonable to draw the assumption that that person is biased in favour of the Tamil Tigers.

      What would British people think of a journalist who wrote describing the undoubted suffering of the German people at the end of World War 2, but failed to put that in the context of the brutality of the German Nazi regime against so many other people, including their own? They would question the author’s judgement and their loyalties, as they have done with people such as David Irving. People are entitled to do the same with Frances Harrison and this reviewer, Helena Williams.

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    @fayaz
    You too haven’t understood the problems in Ireland, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Palastine. The problems in those countries while being unique in their own way also have lots of similarities to those faced by the Tamils in Sri Lanka. According to your reasoning, it would have been all right if Frances wrote about the conflicts in the countries mentioned above, but when she writes about what happened in Sri Lanka it’s a BIG NO NO! I guess you would have been happy if she wrote that all the LTTE were devils and all the SL armed forces were angels and there was ‘zero casualties’ where not a single Tamil man, woman or child was killed!

    I propose that you read “The Cage” by Gordon Weiss. I read the book recently and it only confirmed what I had already heard from people involved in the war, and what I had seen in the Channel 4 videos. Gordon Weiss witnessed the conflict first hand as a UN spokesman. His account unravels the compelling history that led up to the final horrific episode where tens of thousands of civilians perished along with the LTTE. The Government of Rajapaksa was successful in hiding what happened for a short while…but nothing can be hidden for long.

    Fayaz, read the book. There are eyewitness reports by the UN’s veteran security chief retired colonel Chris Du Toit of the South African defence forces and by retired colonel Harun Khan from Bangladesh(a Muslim like you)who led “Convoy 11” which was to supply food and medecine to the Tamil civilians trapped in the no fire zone. Even if you don’t have time to read the whole book, at least take time to read the chapter called “Convoy 11.”

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    This isn’t really a review of Frances Harrison’s book, is it? More like a one-sided endorsement of Ms Harrison’s prejudices against Sri Lanka’s government for defeating the Tamil Tiger terrorists.

    In fact, once the tide turned against the Tigers, they then proceeded to herd the lower castes and poorest people into a massive human shield to try to prevent to destruction of the Tigers fanatical leadership. In this review Helena Williams seems to be saying: “The civilian deaths are the fault of the government. If only they’d given in to the Tamil Tigers’ demands, none of this would have happened.”

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    These condescending white “journalists” from Britain and America who claim credibility on Sri Lankan forums due probably to the generosity of Sri Lankans, attempt to paint a picture of virtue of their own kind.

    The worst atrocities known to man in recent history were committed by the Anglo-American governments in Iraq with at least two million innocent people murdered with impunity, on trumped up charges against their government.

    The lies, complicity, duplicity and double standards are staggering in their magnitude. These writers are nothing but the dredges of those societies, pretending to be good samaritans for cheap publicity.

    The atrocities committed by these writers’ governments should cause enough shame to them not want to venture to write about war crimes in a far-off small foreign country. Their hypocrisy is mind boggling.

    To make a quarter of the population of a large country like Iraq to be displaced and not be brought to justice simply demonstrates the power structure of geopolitics and the status quo that protects monumental criminals like GW Bush and T Blair to remain free.

    The writer should be ashamed to write in these fora with the kind of background she and her people have.

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    i think its good that sri lankans can forget and move on. Denial may be what’s helping us to stay sane despite being exposed to brutal violence for 30 plus years, right on our doorstep. Almost every family in this country has experienced some form of violence, be they committed by LTTE, JVP, Sri Lankan forces or random other goons. I personally experienced the horror of the LTTE suicide blast at the central bank, and have every right to consider myself a basket case. But it is not helpful to dwell on who did what, which acts were more horrific and so on. We need to start healing and look forward to a better, more inclusive and equitable future. I wish those who wish to help, would be a bit more thoughtful and try to help in a more constructive way…

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    I lived in Sri Lanka throughout the war and can confirm what this book describes so well. Tourists were not ansd still are not aware of the rape and murder which was going on during this civil war in the North of the island. Even more shamefully, the UN, UK, US and so many others, with the possible exception of Norway, turned a blind eye to it. Just as tragically, Sri Lanka continues to mutate into a totally lawless state today under the Government of the Rajapaske family who prosecuted the war and egged on the Sri Lankan military to slaughter innocent people as well as Tamil Tigers. Today, October 2012,indiscriminate rape, torchure and murder of locals as well as foreigners, including UK nationals is rife in that country. My advice to all British nationals thinking of visiting Sri Lanka is don’t. Its not safe there for locals or foreigners under the current Government.

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    A Brirish man was murdered in Tangalle Sri Lanka in December 2011 and his girlfriend gang raped by a local politican and his gang. His girlfriend was warned to leave the island before making any statement or identifying her attackers to the Police and the Brirish mans murder has never been investigated properly by either the Sri Lankan authorities or the UK Foreign office in London. Give Sri Lanka a wide berth if you value your safety and that of your family.I have many other instances of the rape of foreign women by Sri Lankan men which have never ever been investigated by the Sri Lankan Police who seem to think that foreign women are fair game for lawless Sri Lankan men !

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      John,

      It is pretty clear you are a Tamil diaspora member living in the West and using an Anglo-Saxon pseudonym. The real testament to what is happening in Sri Lanka is witnessed by the Millions of tourists coming to Sri Lankan shores and also visiting while ted T20 World cup is on.

      You and your sour grapes diaspora can clean toilets in Canada and work in Gas stations in London and do continue with your gang wars on their turf.

      You people are a shame to humanity and the Tamil culture.

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        what caused you to think that John is Tamil diasphora ?

        According to you – everyone who goes against current regime should be shame – how pathetic – :(

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      John,

      It is pretty clear you are a Tamil diaspora member living in the West and using an Anglo-Saxon pseudonym. The real testament to what is happening in Sri Lanka is witnessed by the Millions of tourists coming to Sri Lankan shores and also visiting while the T20 World cup is on.

      You and your sour grapes diaspora can clean toilets in Canada and work in Gas stations in London and do continue with your gang wars on their turf.

      You people are a shame to humanity and the Tamil culture.

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    Please visit the south of the island and count the dead, the orphans who have lost both their parents suicide bombed by Tamil tigers before the two parents of a family decided never to travel in the same public transport at the same time to ensure that in case of a suicide bomb at least one would b saved to look after the children. Thank God Sri lanka had the gumption to finish Tamil tigers off their island (which I visit often on business and pleasure) to bring peace and stability.

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      Yeah, also count the thousands of tamils abducted, massacred, made to disappear by the sinhala military forces since 1956 when the first state sponsored anti tamil violence started.

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    No doubts this women is a tiget terrorist operative.Who can save death in war.there is death.But SLA did its best to safeguard human life.Most of so called deaths are kiths and kins of Tiger Tamil Terrorist.So now tiger is hurt and trying to bite.Who cares after all we managed to destroy Tamil tiger terrorist.Now Tamils too can live without fear.This women talks about one side of the story,we know as Srilankans how much we suffered due to Tiger tamils.So thank God SLA crushed these bunch of fanatic terrorist.

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    Books like these will help keep alive the clamour for justice for the tens of thousands of innocent tamils slaughtered by the sinhala military at the behest of the Rajapaksa regime.

    Calling people who expose this atrocity LTTE supporter and white Tiger no longer wash with the international community who rightly supported the UNHRC resolution earlier this year.

    Rajapaksa first screwed the tamil people and made them submissive and now is screwing the sinhala and muslim people with the same intention. If he is not brought to justice the whole country will suffer regardless of race or religion.

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    Frances Harrison or Gordon Weiss cannot be expected to write about all
    the conflicts in the world. It is up to us to show the world that what they state is not true, as our Government keeps insisting. Credible investigations must be carried out and if it turns out that some of it is true, then they could be perhaps be excused due to the war situation. Burying our heads in the sand will not make people like Frances Harrison go away. If the country is to move ahead, we must put this to bed once and for all – perhaps with new leaders (on all sides) who are not tainted by it all.

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    What she wants is to breast feed the ruthless terrorits in the world or as NATO does drawn attacks on innocent? Come to reality than get bribed by terror organizations !!!!
    She has no idea of waht innocent tamils, sinhalese and muslims went through this 26 years. Do not be bised and come and interview us too.

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    Gorden Weiss, Please pen a paragraph about Ms Adele Balasingham,Cyanide vials and underaged femae LTTE FREEDEM fighters!!!!

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    Cashing on the dead……………. Pathetic.

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    One point I must insist that where ever there is terorism,any legitimate Army must crush these idiots.
    This Women trying to earn a buck by selling a book.Srilanka is a soverign nation and elected goverment in power,must defeat terorist.
    Its highly commendable how SLA handled the situation,even though they fought with suicide Tamil terrorist.No doubt there can be deaths in war,but who unleash this loosing battle.No doubts India & TN politicinas supported these Tamil terrorist but they bit the hand that gave food to eat.Now these Sympathises who has no future,trying their best to take revenge.What ever it may be,we Srilankans won the war.Now we must reconcile and create opportunities for all citizens of Srilanka.Not for bone eaters of Tamil Terrorist.

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    Anybody ever prosecuted for their crimes, even in two southern uprising? You will not build a just society if you sweep all under the carpet. Once all Tamils are gone they will come for you.

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    There’s an even more biased review of Frances Harrison’s book on the AlertNet website here:
    http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/detail.dot?id=f37596ff-6289-4e43-8877-d76b6cf63ad1&dotcache=no#comments

    It’s by someone called Ellen Otzen who also totally ignores the suffering of Tamils at the hands of the Tamil Tigers with their forcible recruitment of children, industrial scale deployment of suicide bombers and deliberate movement of their weapons amidst the civilians into the no-fire zones.

    People have sent comments criticising this review, but only favourable comments have been published.

    AlertNet have an office in Sri Lanka. Come on Sri Lanka’s media, why don’t you challenge their obvious bias in helping cover up the brutality of the Tigers?

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    where have you seen zero casualties on civilians
    and acrobatics in a bloody war between two forces? even
    the western powers having such sophisticated, advanced,
    hightec weapons could not save civillians in iraq, afghanistan
    pakistan, also boasting having well deciplined armies in
    their governments havent they done any acrobatics in
    wars they engaged? what a shame……

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