4 December, 2020

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One Hundred Thousand Tamils Missing After Sri Lanka War

By Frances Harrison

Frances Harrison

World Bank population data from Sri Lanka indicates up to a hundred thousand Tamils are unaccounted for after the final war against the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, raising questions about whether they could be dead.

A UN report cited a death toll of forty thousand for the climax of the war in 2009 but a UN internal inquiry last month acknowledged for the first time that up to seventy thousand civilian deaths were possible.

The leaked World Bank spreadsheets broken down by village for the north of the island estimate numbers of returnees to the former conflict area in mid 2010. The Bank also cites Statistical Handbook Numbers for population in 2007 – before the fighting intensified. The two sets of data reveal 101,748 people missing from Mullaitivu District – the area that bore the brunt of the final fighting. This is the equivalent of 28,899 households. This number has been confirmed to me by the World Bank, though they add “other interpretations about the population data that are not included in the document can not be attributed to the World Bank”.

A similar conclusion about the missing population can be drawn when comparing the 2010 World Bank data with census numbers from 2006. The latter were the result of a joint government and rebel head count in the area.

Sceptics might argue the 2006 figures were probably exaggerated by the Tigers and local officials close to them in order to secure more aid. However exactly the same argument could be made for inflating numbers in 2010, which were similarly used for allocating aid.

It’s also not clear if the 2010 World Bank resettlement estimates include the 11,000 Tamil combatants held in detention at that point – or many thousands of Tamils who bribed their way out of the internment camp and escaped to southern India. It’s also possible some of the missing Tamils settled elsewhere in the island but unlikely very large numbers because they do not appear elsewhere in the northern provinces judging by the Bank’s own data. The onus is now on the Sri Lankan government to explain why huge numbers of people appear to be missing from their own population data.

“I lost count of how many bodies I buried in 2009,” says Murugan, a Tamil fisherman from Sri Lanka now in France, with a scar under his right eye from fighting for the naval wing of the Tamil Tigers. “I just keep seeing the bodies of babies just four or five months old, their limbs and heads and body parts spread all over the place,” he says, tormented by nightmares.

By the climax of Sri Lanka’s conflict in 2009, hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were penned into a tiny spit of sandy land along the eastern coast, living in squalid makeshift encampments, starving, exhausted and under fire from the Sri Lankan military. Rebel fighters like Murugan couldn’t go out to sea to fight in their gunboats because they were hemmed in, so these burly men were ordered to dispose of the bodies as quickly as possible before they started to rot in the tropical heat. They had experience – after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami Sea Tigers pulled out the rotting limbs from the marshes.

By late January 2009 the corpses started mounting up as the army shelled a safe zone it had demarcated for civilians and hundreds of thousands of people fled under fire towards the coast. “I saw a river full of dead bodies. I can’t describe it. It was as if a tsunami had come again but this time inland,” says Murugan.

In March in a small coastal village called Puttumattalan where a hundred thousand people had taken shelter, Murugan says he was ordered to bury 700 people who died trying to cross over the lagoon to the army side at night. “I think the army must have thought they were Tigers advancing on them and they were all killed near the edge of the water,” he says.

It took five or six days to dispose of all the corpses. Murugan had to erect a fence to block the view of the Sri Lankan snipers on the other side of the water so he could bring in an earthmover to scoop up the dead without being shot at.

“We just dropped the bodies in ditches because there were so many. It was the worst thing in the world. They were all sorts – men, women and kids. More women than men, but children of all ages. Sometimes even now I think of committing suicide. It was terrible. It was like a crematorium, bodies and more bodies and blood everywhere. Till I die I will never forget what I saw there”.

Murugan’s account is consistent with testimony from many other survivors, who describe a nightmarish place. Many have stories of climbing out of their primitive bunkers after a night of relentless shelling only to find the dismembered body parts of their neighbours strewn about.

Today the scale of the tragedy in 2009 in that tiny corner of Sri Lanka is not known. The Sri Lankan government excluded international aid workers and independent journalists from the war zone, making reliable information hard to come by. We now know a UN data collection team received unconfirmed reports of fifty thousand deaths and injuries during the war but by the final weeks it was impossible to count bodies. Wikileaks cables reveal the UN came to a very rough estimate of between 7,000-17,000 people missing presumed dead in the final week of fighting in May 2009.

By then the makeshift hospital had ceased functioning, leaving the injured to die. Already the survival rate had dropped drastically; people were exhausted, their reserves depleted. Medicine and food were desperately short. On May 10th a Catholic priest wrote to the Pope saying there had been 3318 dead the night before and 4000 injured. On the final day of the war another Catholic priest told me he’d seen thousands of bodies lying about as he left the war zone. I questioned him about whether he meant hundreds and he repeated thousands.

Nearly four years on there is no agreed death toll, even to the nearest ten thousand lives. That’s why an international investigation is required to establish the truth about what may be one of the least reported but worst atrocities of recent decades – both in terms of the speed and the scale of the killing.

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Latest comments

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    Statistics from the LTTE and testimony from an “ex”-terrorist – sorry poor innocent LTTE fisherman – fleeing justice. LOL.

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      If you belive World Bank is run by LTTE then you are right.

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        The WB report was quoting “statistics” provided by the LTTE, genius.

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      Oh Sankaracharia!
      Go blow your Conch somewhere else! Were there any Brahmins killed? If not I guess it is OK by you? Funny how you after kicking Buddhism out of India are now partners in crime with the Buddhist MARA! What irony of history?

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    Were the world bank officials in Mullativ during the last stages of the war . The figure has been continually risng from 20,000. to 40.000 to 60,000 and now 100,000. When will the next figure come of over 200,000 or more ??? This is so ridiculous ,. who is doing this head count of missing people????

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      Pl go by the govt statistics on the population given by GAs and quoted by Rev Rayappu : 140,000

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      @Kumudini
      Isn’t this the very reason an independent investigation should be set up to find out exactly how many civilians were killed? In today’s day and age, you cannot sweep things under the carpet like it was done many years ago.

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      Why are you so surprised about numbers, Kumuduni!
      Murugan and a catholic priest has confirmed it .. Not only they confirmed but repeated it few times to Frances H ..
      Look how this award winning journalist says about it ….
      “… On the final day of the war another Catholic priest told me he’d seen thousands of bodies lying about as he left the war zone. I questioned him about whether he meant hundreds and he repeated thousands…”

      This is called journalism, Kumudini …. FH questioned him whether he meant hundreds … See how thorough this journalist pursue the truth by that kind of questioning … He repeated thousands .. Remember he REPEATED thousands .. Truth revealed and FH writes 100,000 killed ….

      You are still not sure about 100,000? You must be kidding, Kumudini …

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      I bet you would want them to count you if you were one of the dead rather than ‘pretend’ you never existed in order to reduce the death count.

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    “War is hell”, “The fog of war” are oft used phrases that describe the madness that is war. This is exactly why an independent inquiry is required to make some sense of the madness and to bring closure. There are a large number of missing on the Government side too, whose family members are being denied assistance as promised. A few soldiers are being showcased but the majority are being neglected.

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    I am sure these deaths will be avenged by the re-emerging Tamil resistance that the Rajapaksa regime is unwittingly/foolishly creating. Before that, resistance from the Sinhala people in response to the Rajapaksa clan’s dictatorial, criminal and unjust acts might finish them off.

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    Siva Sankaran Sarma

    Menon

    Statistics are two edged swords. Also it is useless if it is in the wrong hands, like yurself and LTTE propagandists.

    Country does not need to resort to muddy statistics or depends on people like you or LTTE propagandists to find the truth if at all you really want to know it.

    First you stop being in constant denial.

    If you want to clear your name set up an independent investigation commission which would be empowered to collect information, collate and present the results to the people. Let the people audit the results and agree or disagree on the commissions findings.

    The commission can be modeled on South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The idea is not to punish the culprits but to dig out the truth or dark past of the country. This arrangement will protect people like to confess to crimes that you personally committed or witnessed.

    The investigation should cover the period from 5th April 1971 to May 2009 and beyond.

    Then of course we can once and for all put this deeply upsetting issues to rest.

    If you have nothing to hide why not give it a try.

    Sorry what does LOL mean to you?

    In the meantime investigation into genocide of my people can wait.

    You are not obliged to respond to my above comment.

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    This is a serious issue. All Patriotic Lawyers, Judiciary and Supreme court judges should follow these.

    1) Inform UN, EU, USA, UK and Asian Judiciary services on this incident.

    2)Adopt more security and defensive measures and be more vigilant.

    3)Intelligence gathering on these white van personnel and to educate public on the white van abductors with information and photograph gathering hotline and reward them to trace the sources of white van and other murderous sources.

    4)Use of Private Security Agencies to gather information on these sources of white van abductors and to give special security for needed Judiciary and Senior Lawyers.

    5)Using self defense equipments such as Stun Guns, pepper spray, and pepper Guns, Ciren horns and whistles,Swiss knives,etc.

    5)GPS and Google Maps and cellphone photo cameras to locate the white vans and the abductors.

    6)Use International Satellite Imaging and International Intelligence services to locate white vans, their sources and the abductors.

    7)Special Security apparatus for Supreme Court, Confidential Files and all Patriot Judges and Lawyers.

    7)Special training on Firearms and way to counter GOSL. State Terrorism activities.

    8)Complete vigilance and sharing intelligence and information on these abductors among Lawyers,judges and others is a must.

    9)Employ Spies, Decoys,Dummies and Moles to penetrate Govt. Intelligence unit for early information gathering.

    10)Move in Groupes and avoid isolation and isolated travel and constant conferances and updates to inform Citizens and international community on developments.

    11)Also take other Local and International Security related professional help.

    Good Luck.

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    GOSL has unleashed it’s wrath on Senior Lawyer Gunaratne Wanninayake and could continue this to other Patriot Lawyers and Sc and JSC personnel also.

    Therefore I give some security measures to follow.

    1) Inform UN, EU, USA, UK and Asian Judiciary services on this incident.

    2)Adopt more security and defensive measures and be more vigilant.

    3)Intelligence gathering on these white van personnel and to educate public on the white van abductors with information and photograph gathering hotline and reward them to trace the sources of white van and other murderous sources.

    4)Use of Private Security Agencies to gather information on these sources of white van abductors and to give special security for needed Judiciary and Senior Lawyers.

    5)Using self defense equipments such as Stun Guns, pepper spray, and pepper Guns, Ciren horns and whistles,Swiss knives,etc.

    5)GPS and Google Maps and cellphone photo cameras to locate the white vans and the abductors.

    6)Use International Satellite Imaging and International Intelligence services to locate white vans, their sources and the abductors.

    7)Special Security apparatus for Supreme Court, Confidential Files and all Patriot Judges and Lawyers.

    7)Special training on Firearms and way to counter GOSL. State Terrorism activities.

    8)Complete vigilance and sharing intelligence and information on these abductors among Lawyers,judges and others is a must.

    9)Employ Spies, Decoys,Dummies and Moles to penetrate Govt. Intelligence unit for early information gathering.

    10)Move in Groupes and avoid isolation and isolated travel and constant conferances and updates to inform Citizens and international community on developments.

    11)Also take other Local and International Security related professional help.

    Good Luck.

  • 0
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    Another project funded by LTTE…

    This is not the right way of doing your profession ……We feel sorry for you Lady (Frances Harrison)

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      True says:

      “Another project funded by LTTE”

      Could you tell us the size of the budget for this project and project objective.

      “This is not the right way of doing your profession”

      What is the right way of doing her profession?

      “We feel sorry for you Lady (Frances Harrison)”

      Why?

      And what will make you happy?

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    Magic numbers from a magic Nona!
    40,000, 80,000, 100,000 …
    Way to go is up always …
    FH, please go for 200,000 if you feel like changing again …. Talk to Mutugashu ask what about 200,000?
    He likes you madam … He would never refuse …

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      Mahida Rajapakse figures zero to 8000?

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    It would help if CT could provide a link to the report cited by Frances Harrison so that people can examine the allegations for themselves. The apparent link above does not lead to the original report.

    The headline (“One Hundred Thousand Tamils Missing After Sri Lanka War”)is also misleading as this is only a claim, not a fact. Remember Mark Twain’s saying: “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics.” maybe now we have a fourth kind – journalists’ citations of anonymous “estimates”.

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    Sorry i wish i could be empathetic about it. But the fact that the testimony is from an ex-LTTE makes me want to just ignore the innocent civilian casualties of the war. BTW i don’t believe a single word of sorrow of this individual. let him “commit suicide”. Mind you they were the one’s who employed child soldiers. Every war has casualties. Stop this non-sense. and lets enjoy the freedom. starting with kicking out the corrupt politicians. (yes its a long short) but try to educate public in ways we can. Starting with kicking out Ranil from the opposition and restoring the regular system of appointing the leader on a shorter term.

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      “Sorry i wish i could be empathetic about it.”
      So what you are saying is I could be empathetic if they were Sinhala Buddhist????

      “Stop this non-sense!!!!”
      Wishful thinking HATER……

      May be as your Rajapassa govt claims it could be ZERO(0)-8K casualties over the last 3 years or 40K-120K casualties as per UN, world bank, NGOs and Pro LTTE elements. So as long as there is a credential international mechanism to verify what happened during last phase of the war and how many were dead(massacred by GoSL & LTTE) I guess this non-sense is going to haunt Sri Lanka FOREVER.

      :-(

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    Here we go again.

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    Among the dead how many are LTTE cadres?

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      sach asks:

      “Among the dead how many are LTTE cadres?”

      Do you have the numbers?

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    Normal journos always clarify controvertial or unrealiable information thoroughly befpre they publish them.

    Here is information from the defeated terrorist organization the LTTE and the information is purportedly collated by a Sea Tiger who escaped from Mullativ at the last minute.

    With Google scans of even the clothese lines in Western back yards clearly visible on the Web free of charge, surely the US, EU and UK would have their super duper spy satellites taking fotos of the Mulltiv jungles and the coastline 24/7 for the safety of the ICRC operators and also looking for safe landing places for the Navy Seals in the event Blake Solheim and Milliband succeded in forcing Rajapaksa to bend over.

    This Western journalist surely could have checked these from any of the intelligence agencies of these countries .

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    7,000… 40,000…. 80,000….. 100,000….. 200,000….80 Million (Whole bloody lot including T/nadu.)

    He!!he!!heeeeeeeeeeeeee.

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      Sulary says:

      “7,000… 40,000…. 80,000….. 100,000….. 200,000….80 Million (Whole bloody lot including T/nadu.)”

      In fact I am reliably informed by the government sources that the actual number of people killed in the war could be anything from 0000, -7,000, -40,000, -80,000, …………to minus infinity.

      What is your take on that? Give us a figure.

      Come to think of your figures, I am surprised to know there were 80 million Tamil terrorists and all of them have been single handedly killed by Gota. What an amazing achievement.

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      You wouldn’t be laughing so insensitively & foolishly if you were one of the (-) minus numbers now would you?
      Thought not.

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    It’s not about the Tamils, even less the LTTE. Wrong, in such a massacre everybody is a loser. And responsible. This is what people don’t understand in Colombo. Until justice will be brought to the 100 000 victims and their families, everybody is an accomplice. It’s not about foreign intervention in a sovereign state: it’s being human and feeling mercy and shame for what happened.
    If you can kill all this human brethren and we don’t care, we are not anymore human.
    My appeal goes to the Sinhalese friends: please, help us to feel human again.

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      what is the evidence for such a massacre? what is ur final figure? Once Weiss told it was between 4000-40000 then media picked up the 40000 figure which is more news worthy. Now this woman comes up with a 100000 figure she made from LTTE witnesses. Got it? This war which is the attempt of this country to eradicate a menace that had killed its ppl for 30 years is now used by the DEFEATED ELEMENTS. The supporters of the terror who funded the suicide bombers, murderous gang that hacked ppl to death have turned into human rights advocates. the joke of the century!
      where were u when LTTE conscripted child soldiers? when they killed people like true babarians? when they throw children of 10-12 to battle fronts to clear land mines? when they hid behind women?

      I ask again where were u?

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        sach asks:

        Umpteenth time

        “what is the evidence for such a massacre? what is ur final figure? “

        Please refer to my comment above
        Native Vedda – December 17, 2012
        10:43 pm

        This is in response to Siva Sankaran Sarma

        Menon.

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        Hey you prick it was by demand a war without witness’s. I don’t believe whether you are Sinhala Tamil Muslim or Burgher you can finally get away from it because even Libya with its wealth never got away.

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    Most have migrated to greener pastures as economic migrants.

    Ms Harrison should also look deeper in her own backyard as to how many Iraqis and Afghans have disappeared when her own government waged brutal wars against hapless nations.

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      Kalu Malli :

      “Ms Harrison should also look deeper in her own backyard as to how many Iraqis and Afghans have disappeared when her own government waged brutal wars against hapless nations.”

      We are discussing Sri Lanka in the context of war crime and not her country.

      Well we all know the west massacred millions of people in the past 100 or so years. The drone attack (bug splats)continue to take place day and night.

      What are you doing about it? As a moral crusader you can lead the campaign to frame war crime charges against puny USA and its allies.

      I will back you.

      Be a man/woman and take on the puny USA. I will be right behind you. When can we start?

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    Even the dead LTTEyers have now become “missing civilians”.

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      KM:As long as you call every Tamil a LTTE member then you are saying around 80 million folk world over. You are the by-product of Vijaya the Bandit from Bihar and his heenan dakapu mahahenya written 500 years after the death of Gautama. Just remember one thing beggar boys the west is listening to them because if you include all Diasporas then they have an annual turnover of $120 billion from registered businesses and that is what you don’t have- your budget is $60million.The world banks have better places to invest monies and Africa needs aid the most. 3 ½ years after the war was won you have not set up one industry in the NE but you have employed LTTE as ministers and advisers. So who is the terrorist? kalu monkey army and Rajaporkistan.

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        Put a slice of that $120 billions towards some ESL classes for yourself. You’ll be doing everyone that comes across your incessant drivel a huge favor.

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      Not really, Thanks to SL army mobilephone video unit……some of those missing LTTEers are now confirmed dead after analyzing these videos.

      Also about those rape allegations ………………

      “Our troops carried a gun in one hand and a copy of the human rights’ charter in the other. … Our guns were not fired at a single civilian.”- Rajapassa

      So go and figure it out, how the hell these smart soldiers managed to pull down their pants and raped those LTTE carders while carrying gun and the human rights charter in their both hands.

      :-)

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    As the casualty bingo number reaches stratospheric heights, it places GoSL in a bind. If they don’t reply with a convincing rebuttal, this figure through insistent and uncontested repetition will become a ‘fact’, as did previous figures of 20,000 and 40,000.

    Oddly, it’s quite a jump from 40,000 to 100,000, without having gone through the arithmetic progression to 60,000 and then 80,000 to arrive at a nice round figure of 100,000. We’re privileged to witness a new branch of mathematics being created, henceforth to be called Eelam Casualty Maths. Just take a prime number and add multiples of 10,000.

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      As the saying goes u cant awaken anybody who pretends to be asleep, Tamil diapora would never think rationally and give up proganda. Because their ultimate objective of harming SL.I dont think that much Tamils believe in the very propaganda they spread.

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    Ms. Harrison,

    I hope you won’t get distracted by the level of debate in the comments, as i see this and your book “still counting the dead’ as a valiant effort to force the world to look for deeper answers for this harrowing string of events over several years, not just culminating in 2009 but continuing in other forms now in Sri Lanka.

    Your writing, sources and even arguments may be scoffed at, but there is no denial that there were enormous atrocities. And your efforts stand out, considering UN comes up with a mea culpa and the persons who were very well positioned for example, the then UN resident rep. (Mr. Buehne) conveniently excused as “not professionally experienced enough” for the conflict situation in SL but since then, of all places, Director, Geneva Liaison Office, UNDP-Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

    I’m sure your conviction that you will do your bit to make the world seek for deeper answers will guide many of us.

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    TamilNet is considered a pro LTTE website which boasted of having their agents even in the battle field. In their Website, the TamilNet meticulously and continuously reported every single death/killing of ‘Tamil civilians” The total number of such deaths reported during 2008 up to the end of the war in May 2009 was less than 8000.
    Can the World Bank or the UN claim that they had better information?

    • 0
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      I doubt even The-Ass-Pora monkeys are retarded enough to believe half the stuff they spew.

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    Gota is privy to all that happened in the war-without-witnesses and
    only an International Idependent Investigation will bring out the facts,
    mostly from the MOD Archives. There are many in the Field Forces who
    are itching to speak and clear their conscience, given the chance. This
    journalist has done her job, fearlessly. Thanks.

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      Yes let’s invite Russia and China to do the investigation. Nice neutral countries that haven’t been soiled by The-Ass-Pora monkeys and don’t have to pander to any special interests.

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    1.I think as a nation we need to stop playing hide and seek on numbers and come up with a proper system of accounting. This should be based on the dynamics of all sociopolitical and economic changes that took place. A comprehensive team of researchers would be required. It would also be nice of Frances could unfurl how the calculations were done.
    2.The excuse of venting anger on the Tamils by calling ths whole 30 year war a war of terrorists who are terrible and unreasonable to wage war against the poor innocent Sinhalese who are the most reasonable beings on earth should stop forthwith.
    3. Do away with this nonsensical slogans of triumphalism
    4. Establish the truth and reconciliation Commission or its equivaent forthwith. LLRC is not a substitute for this. It is only a precursor however well done.
    5. Make the truth and reconciiation commission work in reality for the people – all Sri Lankans
    6. Let people mourn, repent and atone
    7. Then only can peacebuilding and political processes begin.
    8. This has to be absolutely participatory. Not something poured from the top.

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