6 August, 2021

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Row In Lanka As Govt Turns Tamil Killing Fields Into Tourist Hot Spot

By Frances Harrison

Frances Harrison

Local people who’ve recently travelled into Sri Lanka’s killing fields, where an estimated 40,000 people perished in 2009, say skulls and human bones have risen to the surface after this year’s flooding and abandoned belongings are strewn all over the landscape. “It is a horrible scene,” said one visitor, “there are still bunkers visible with saris, kid’s clothing and suitcases left open under the bushes; you can’t imagine what it must have been like for those people to have been crammed into that tiny place so close together”. This man was too scared to go close or collect the human remains lest there were mines or unexploded ordinance.

Mullivaikkal is the coastal village where the Tamil Tigers made their last stand in May 2009, along with more than 150,000 starving terrified Tamil civilians. It’s synonymous with the worst suffering and slaughter of the decades long conflict – the Srebrenica of Sri Lanka. It’s here that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed, according to UN experts.

The photographs show the last belongings of people who may well be dead now. By the time they reached this sandy spit of exposed land, some had already been displaced 40 times in five months. They’d shed almost everything they owned and expected to die. A Catholic priest writing to the Pope in the final days reported more than 3000 deaths and 4000 injuries in just one night: “It was a barrage of artillery, mortar, multi-barrel shelling and cluster bombs, which Sri Lankan government denies using on the civilians in the ‘no fire zone’.

The cries of woes and agony of the babies and children, the women and the elderly fill the air polluted by poisonous and unhealthy gases and pierced the hearts of fathers and mothers, of elders and peasants, of old men and women of all walks of life”.

The priest disappeared without trace after being seen by many witnesses surrendering to the army.

For the last three and a half years, Mullivaikkal has been off limits – strictly controlled by the Sri Lankan military. Even today locals say there are large numbers of police and army personnel who operate in pairs on motorbikes stopping anyone straying from the main roads. Visitors say local residents are terrified to talk about politics to outsiders. Widows are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse; some in isolated areas described being visited and questioned by male security officials.

Sri Lanka’s war zone area has partially opened up so survivors can return home, but also to enable a macabre tourist trail the military have set up primarily for people from the majority Sinhala community to see where their defeated enemy lived.

For decades these northern parts of the country under rebel administration were largely off limits to people in the South. Now busloads of Sri Lankan tourists are coming to see the rebel leader’s house and his underground bunker, swimming pool and shooting range. All the exhibits are neatly labeled – “Terrorist Swimming Pool” for example – and in the rebels’ erstwhile capital there’s even a souvenir shop next to the destroyed landmark of the water tower. Next to each of these sites, there is a cafe where visitors can enjoy a cup of tea prepared by a Sri Lankan soldier. In the official history there’s no word of the tens of thousands of civilians who died here – the majority as a result of a brutal government offensive that involved deliberately and repeatedly attacking hospitals, safe zones and food queues. And yet this is an area where almost every Tamil family lost someone in the 2009 war.

“The government has destroyed the childhood home of the rebel leader Prabhakaran, as well as rebels’ cemeteries, but has kept the Tiger bunkers and constructed war museums. Why? What kind of argument is being made here?” asks Amarnath Amarasingam, a post-doctoral fellow at York University in Toronto, Canada. “In a strange way, it amounts to a subtle building-up of the Tigers, a kind of glorification of the threat that they posed – openly on display at the war museum in Puthukkudiyiruppu. The government can then point to it and say, ‘look what we were able to destroy’ and, of course, ‘if we’re not careful, look what can re-emerge'”, he says.

Clearly this sort of triumphalist tourism does little to foster reconciliation between communities, nor does it do much to benefit the local economy. There’s a stark contrast between luxury tourist guest houses and the local living conditions nearly four years after the end of the war. In the war zone the tops of palm trees are now blackened stumps – an indication of the heavy fighting. Most buildings are said to have been destroyed, often razed to the ground. Visitors say most houses or huts along the coast are still without roofs – those that rebuilt them did so by borrowing or receiving money from relatives abroad. Some local families have been reduced to scavenging for scrap metal – often cooking pots or gold that people buried during the final phase of the war in the hope that they’d live to come back to reclaim their property.

*The writer of this piece is the author of “Still Counting The Dead”- a collection of survivors’ stories from the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war. This article was first published in The Times of India

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    This author says 150,000 tamil civilians were starving. What happened to the UN food shipments via the ship ?

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      Fat Rajapaksa ate them.

  • 0
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    Frances Harrison behaves like another Tamil who uses Tamils to live their lives.

    See all over the world how many Tamils are preaching about Tamilness in order to collect money but they never spent a penny for tamils.

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      What Frances Harrison says is absolute truth. During my visit to Colombo in early last December,I manage to visit the war torn areas. Every thing that was visible and experienced was same as what Harrison says. No dispute about it.

    • 0
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      that’s your opinion Jim but it does not mean that you are correct. for your information, anybody can speak up for the rights of the Tamils & other persecuted minorities. don’t kill the messenger.

  • 0
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    The building of a hotel in a mass graveyard is an indication of the grotesque and cannabalistic mindset of the Defence Secretary and his cahoots. He has no second thoughts regarding the sanctity of human life or respect for the dead.

  • 0
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    Frances,

    When will you write about the millions of GBP collected and transfered to the blood thirsty LTTE from the UK over 30 years? Those funds sustained the LTTE in Sri Lanka for 30 years. How come the God Mom of female LTTE child soldiers, Adele Balasingham still lives in the UK? What have you done about it so far? Are you just way to busy mourning the unexpected defeat of the once invincible LTTE?

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      You people simply don’t get it, do you? Frances is talking about the slaughter of the innocent Tamil civilians. It’s now clear that it was not collateral damage but a deliberate attempt to wipe out the civilians. yes, the LTTE was funded by certain elements overseas which was wrong, but please remember that two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • 0
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    jim kelly or who ever you are?.

    RECONCILIATION OVER KILLINGS AND DEAD BODIES???
    YOU MEAN THAT???????.

    BECAUSE, STILL YOU DID NOT SUFFER LIKE THOSE WHO CHEATED BY A SO CALLED REBEL VILLAIN.

    BUDDHIST SINHELAYEK.

  • 0
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    Frances!!! In your previous scrap, written about 80,000 or 100,000. But this one only 40,000 !!!! We expect atleast 200,000.Wowww Daniele Steele in the making.

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    Tourism depends on the availability of things rare or unique. This place is one of the world rare thing to attract tourist dollars. That is all. War make items for tourists to see. What about sites with Nazi camps in Europe?

  • 0
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    Frances Harrison, formerly employed by the BBC and Amnesty International, has now appointed herself witch-hunter in chief against the Sri Lankan people and government for decisively defeating the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in early 2009. Like all witch-hunters she refers to rumours and allegations as facts and presents only a highly selective account of the war betweeen the Tamil Tigers and the rest of Sri Lanka’s people.

    For example:
    1 – She claims “an estimated 40,000 people” perished in 2009. But an estimate must be based on verifiable evidence, even if that’s only partial. But there’s no such evidence-based estimate justifying a figure of 40,000 casualties at the end of the war in Sri Lanka. What this figure is based on is anonymous accusations repeated in the Darusman and Petrie UN reports with no evidence provided or witnesses cited to justify them, and unreliable and unverifiable population figures from years in the past.

    2 – Harrison also writes that the Tamil Tigers made their last stand “along with more than 150,000 thousand starving, terrified Tamil civilians”. But here she omits the inconvenient evidence that most of these civilians had been forced to be there by the Tamil Tiger cadres to be used as human shields and hostages in the Tigers’ desperate belief that this would force other outside governments to intervene and allow the LTTE leaders to escape. Needless to say the Tigers themselves made no attempt feed or provide medical care to the people they claimed to be protecting.

    Really, in my view, we can put these sorts of accusation from Frances Harrison on the same level as the anti-Semitic belief based on highly selective statistics that Jews have taken control of the world, or that Moslems will soon be a majority in Europe and black people a majority in the UK. It’s just hysterical ranting by someone with an irrational hatred for others.

    On an additional note, so-called war tourism is a quite profitable niche in the international tourism business, as a Google search will readily verify. Interestingly, the famous British travel agent Thomas Cooke began his career in the 19th century by organizing trips to American Civil War battlefields! One may find such tours distasteful, but there’s certainly nothing new in what these Sri Lankan tour operators are doing. In fact, after Harrison’s article in The Times of India, expect a lot more Indian tourists to be visiting the area!

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      yes, tigers did terrible things during their existence, most people including me accept that but then they were terrorists & sadly this is what terrorists do.. What Frances is saying is about the atrocities committed by the so called Government of SL & frankly let’s not pick hairs about the number of civilians killed. Whether it was 40 or 100 thousand, the fact is that innocent Tamils were killed. Every human life is precious–your Buddhism sys that.

  • 0
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    WHATEVER SAID AND DONE THIS PLACE SHOULD BE SACRED AS BOTH TAMILS AND SINHALESE, WHOEVER THEY WERE, PERISHED AND BULLDOZED INTO PITS WITHOUT A TRACE.

    THERE ARE NO BURIAL MARKINGS OR HEADSTONES FOR ANY ONE WHO WAS THROWN INTO THESE PITS.

    YOU DO NOT BUILD A HOTEL WITH DANCE FLOORS IN A PLACE WHICH IS SACRED.

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    When Mangala Samaraweera, truly a man with a strong leaning towards genuine reconciliation, was a powerful Minister under CBK, he was charged with the rebuilding of the Jaffna Library on his “Bricks and
    Books” programme. I am aware a Tamil member of the Committee that was working with him made a suggestion to build a prototype of the destroyed Library to be placed in the vicinity of the new one – to remind posterity of the sheer savagery of what was done – along the lines of the Coventry Cathedral in Britain. The majority of members in the Committee – all Sinhalese – over-ruled this on the explanation the gory past is best forgotten. One wonders how this suggestion to turn Mullivaikkal/Nandikadal into a tourist spot with reminiscences of the Tigers Waterloo can be reconciled with the shooting down of the Jaffna Library proposal.

    Senguttivam

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