4 December, 2020

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‘Terrorism Tourism’ The Sri Lankan Way

By Namini Wijedasa –

Namini Wijedasa

“What I did was right,” read the words on the wall of chamber D-05, a small and dingy cell that still smells of urine.

Sivakumari, a Tamil woman, had left them there. The army believes she was killed by fleeing terrorists before the war’s end. She was among an estimated 76 people locked up in LTTE prison cells at Visuvamadu. Most of them were executed.

There are other, equally poignant, notes scratched into those dirty walls. An unknown prisoner in chamber B-08 writes, “Bad things befall good men”. Another nameless person in A-06 appears to profess his faith: “My mother, father, and Jesus”. Yet another has futilely scribbled, “Do good, speak good, think good, and good will happen to you.”

Order in chaos

The complex has 60 single-person cells and six group cells. It was opened by Pottu Amman, the LTTE’s feared intelligence chief, in 2004 and is believed to have housed men and women who had betrayed the organization, including spies for the government. The majority of them were Tamil.

The cells are miserable, poorly ventilated spaces. Some of them have ankle shackles on short chains attached to the ground. And each has an open latrine in a corner, emitting the smell of human waste.  Despite their grate doors the air inside was heavy.

The military wrested this area from the LTTE in January 2009. Back then, it was a war-ravaged mess. Today, there is order in chaos here—chaos that comes from the hundreds of busloads of “tourists” that continue to descend on the Mullaitivu district; and order that comes from the heavy military presence.

Army detachments have been set up at regular intervals, amidst the rudimentary housing of war returnees who are struggling to regain their lives. With the war over, soldiers are now regularly assigned to guide predominantly Sinhala visitors on the “terrorism tour”.

The grueling excursion takes them right across the Mullaitivu district. The main attractions are the LTTE prison cells; two underground bunkers used by Prabhakaran, one of them built four storeys into the earth; an open-air war museum; a swimming pool that was used, not only for the LTTE leader’s recreation, but to train Sea Tigers; the home of Soosai, the Sea Tiger chief; the rusting wreckage of the Farah-3, a Jordanian vessel hijacked by the Tigers; and the entire stretch of land along the northern coast where the final battles took place.

Till recently, these places were off limits to outsiders—that is, for those who were not military or inhabitants of those areas. But now that restrictions have been relaxed, Sri Lankans from other parts of the country are teeming in. Many of them are first time visitors. (You must still register your vehicle at certain entry and exit points; there are no other formalities).

It is a backbreaking journey, by no means for the faint of heart. The main road is still under construction and one line of traffic is frequently halted for interchanges to take place.  The internal roads are uneven and potholed. The dust is as invasive as the heat.

The tourists mostly arrive on buses or vans with the windows open. Among them are old men and women, pregnant women and babies. Some, particularly those from nearby districts, even travel on ‘Canters’. One such crowd—fromAnuradhapura—smiled broadly into our camera as they jolted violently along. Their faces were coated with thick grime. The back of their vehicle was packed with people, bedding, cooking utensils, water cans and provisions.

Indeed, many of these visitors bring with them all their requirements and buy only a few sundries from the north, like nelli cordial, dried palmyra roots or fruit. Even the sweets shops that have sprung up outside tourist venues are run by Sinhalese from Ratnapura. “We do the sweet shops everywhere, including in Jaffna,” said one trader, offering up some kalu dodol. And it is the army that operates the cafes adjoining the terrorist hotspots.

Bunker mania

At Visuvamadu, people lined up to enter one of Prabhakaran’s bunkers. Because these quarters can quickly get cramped, the army only sends in batches of people. This bunker is two storeys deep. One of its dense concrete walls has sustained a long crack as a result of an air strike. The crater can still be seen nearby.

The bunker is located next to a house that Prabhakaran had used while in the area. In its garden is the car that his younger son, Balachandran, used to ride.  From the sky, a pilot would only see a massive water tank. But underneath is the bunker. It has thick, bulletproof iron doors. There is a lecture hall, a dining area, toilets, an office room and a bedroom. An army guide explained that it had been air-conditioned. Now it was smelly and dark. The bedroom has a large oxygen cylinder and a nook for weapons. A cupboard for “secret documents” is now bare.

Many of the items in the bunker were removed by military intelligence but a container in which Prabhakaran stored his insulin vials still stands on a table. A model of a leopard, turned out by a disabled LTTE fighter and gifted to the terrorist leader for his 45th birthday, has also been left behind in the bedroom.

The queues to get into Prabhakaran’s bunker at Thevipuram are much longer. This is an astonishing construction comprising of a labyrinth of rooms scattered throughout its four underground floors. It has several bathrooms and also used to be air-conditioned. In addition to the main staircase are secret stairways leading to each level and, ultimately, to the surface. The LTTE leader was clearly conscientious about escape routes.

Despite crowd control by the military, this bunker was crammed to the brim with people. It stank strongly of sweat. Toddlers remerged into the light howling. Old people tried not to stumble down the stairs. Prabhakaran, who had built these hideouts for him and his inner circle, would spin in his grave if he knew just how many people were tramping through their narrow corridors today.

Here again were thick concrete walls and bulletproof doors. The complex has an underground car park—so that Prabhakaran could drive straight in—and a summer hut. There is a pistol firing range, living quarters for bodyguards and dog cages. There is also a funeral hall in the same premises and a jogging route.

“Apitath pissu”

There is a belief among Tamils that only Sinhalese are allowed into these venues. This is not true. The military makes no such distinction. Admittedly, however, the number of Tamils and Muslims visiting are far smaller than the number of Sinhalese. And all signboards are glaringly in Sinhala and English—even in the thick of Mullaitivu.

Balavisakan, a 35-year-old teacher from Chunnakam, was seated in the shade with his 4-year-old daughter on his knee. They were both dressed to the nines because they were going to the annual festival of the Vattrapali Amman Kovil in Mullaitivu. He was with a group of 75 Tamil students and it was the first time they were visiting the bunker at Thevipuram.

Surrounded as he was by military personnel, the man hardly said anything. “Jaffna life goes on as usual,” he muttered, “nothing special.” They had also stopped at the war monument in Elephant Pass but they would not be taking the whole tour, he revealed, before pointedly looking away.

Meanwhile, an old man was heard complaining loudly on his way to view the LTTE swimming pool. The vehicles had to be parked at the entrance so people were forced to walk a long distance. They were already tired from nipping in and out of bunkers. Why were the tramping so far in scorching sunshine “just to see where that devil swam”, he asked his group. “Apitath pissu,” he muttered.

Others nodded as they stumbled along in the crackling heat. Moments later, they gasped in amazement when they saw the swimming hole where Prabhakaran had once taken his dips. It was 83 feet in length and, at its deepest, 22 feet to the bottom!

Photographs released in the past by the government showed the rotund terrorist leader floating on an inflatable bed. But this pool was not built merely to give Prabhakaran something to do in his downtime. Frogmen of the Sea Tiger wing had trained in it for deep sea operations.

As she walked back slowly towards her bus, an old woman fromGalleconfessed that she had not anticipated the journey to be so tough. But she had to come, she said. So many men from her village had died fighting the LTTE and this was the closest she would ever get to seeing what it had been like.

Also in the tour is a visit to Soosai’s home. There is nothing special here but for some secret passageways (including one leading outside from his clothes cupboard) and a deep pit in his garden that had reportedly held 50kg of gold. “Now don’t ask me what happened to the gold,” said an army guide, in reply to the inevitable question. “I was also there when they took it out but I have no idea where it is now.”

The most gut-wrenching section of the tour has to be the route of the final battles. It traverses ravaged landscapes where the shells of bombed out houses share space with singed trees, emaciated cattle and piles of mangled vehicles. There is mile after mile of complete destruction.

The area remains almost untouched—but for the sprucing up of tourist sites—from those dark days of fighting. Tamil civilians take this route regularly on public transport but they don’t stop to “enjoy” the sights. There is much work to be done—demining, rebuilding, resettlement and serious psycho-social assistance.

For the moment, though, it is terrorism tourism that rules the day in Mullaitivu.

Courtesy dbsjeyaraj.com

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Superb reportage by Sri Lanka’s best contemporary journalist.

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      How generous and far thinking VP has been, not to have destroyed any place of interest, including his own bunker, allowing MR to market the places mentioned by the writer for posterity, to earn from the tourists who will visit in the future and also provide the locals with pleasure trips to the area. I honestly believed that folklore was marketable then, but to see it is possible to market even today.

    • 0
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      The article totally looks mouthpiece of Shingala Govt. which has butchered more than one hundred thousand innocent Tamil civilians.

    • 0
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      Dayan Jayatilleka’s praise is the only thing unsatisfactory about a typically good piece of Namini Wijedasa writing. The fact that this, ultimate Rajapaksa Sycophant, has given it his blessing does give one pause because it is the closest thing to a kiss of death to something good!

  • 0
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    As for the gold, it is under the constructive control of the Rajapakses!!

    • 0
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      So what you stupid !

      without the Rajapaksas there would have been NO Sri Lanka. They saved the motherland and deserve everything.

      Ungrateful ba….d

      • 0
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        Karolis:
        At least I won’t call you a b…d because YOUR parentage is very obvious and, without the shadow of a doubt, is connected to the biggest bunch of murderers and thieves to ever run this country. I suppose Sicily should be putting up statues to the mafia too or would you want to perform that task for them in your Miracle of Asia?

      • 0
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        Saved it so that they can consume it.

        Wake up Karolis, Sri Lanka is disappearing slowly by the day. We will wake up broke and with another uprising caused by frustrated youth, this time from the South.

  • 0
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    An excellent piece. I went on my own and found the bunker but never the swimming pool. And the edge of the lagoon where VP met justice is still off limits. And yes it is a long dusty drive. But few places on Earth allow you to visit a war zone so soon after the shooting stops. A fascinating trip any visitor should make. Would be easier if they had flights to Kilinochchi. A long drive even from Jaffna and the A35 is still very much a work in progress. So many speedbumps too.

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    There is another person I know personally who held office in the UN a Sri Lankan holding a PhD. He never displays or project himself as ‘Dr’ and when some one address him as ‘Dr’ he politely request to address him as Mr. instead. Possibly he is not suffering from ‘Heenamanya’ as others do.

    • 0
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      Gamini,

      We call that ” Walge “.

      Some wants to show this walge as to that they are the “”know it all”, like Mahadenamuththa as old time.
      some show that horns themselves to get respect.

      many got this walge too long also, but nothing inside the brain.

  • 0
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    Well done Namini.

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    This indeed is fascinating detail. One day I would like to make the trip. It is good not to make too much of logistics facilities. f army had taken photos prior to it would be a good idea to hang them around where the changes had taken place.
    One thing i love to hear bout is their jungle air strips. Does anybody know where they are? Did they opperate flights from South Indian camps?
    Did the South Indian Tiger suppoters like Nedumaran come to tese places? Where did he have that news conference?
    Thanks again for tantalising details.

  • 0
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    I can relate well to this report since about 2 years ago I myself toured all these places, courtesy a family friend who obtained a permit from the security forces to visit these places. During this tour I felt appalled and extremely sad and sorry for the residents in these terrorism ravaged areas. I would not call it a war as it was an internal conflict but the distruction was immense and I thought it might take a couple of decades to get back to normalcy just like the regions damaged by the 2004 tsunami. I was only happy when I saw school children chattering away playing pranks on the road, on their way home from school, showing a return to a semblance of normalcy to their lives, which would have been so different during the dark days when Prabakaran’s terrorists would ambush and drag them away for various nefarious purposes of the Tigers and never to return to their loved ones, ending up in the register of missing persons. It was very sad to see the many destroyed and abandoned homes, shopping centres, plantations and the many stray cattle roaming the mine scattered lands, from abandoned dairy farms and family homes. Seeing the inhuman conditions in the prisons and the human cages managed by the terrorists one could imagin the torture the unfortunate prisoners would have undergone. One must wish such horror should never befall any community ever again. This is the very reason why we must unite to stop Tamilnadu and the Tiger diaspora from re-activating a similar horror situation again in SriLanka. Let also, irrespective of political differences, be grateful to Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapakse, as well as the three armed forces, and the bravery of Sarath Fonseka and his foot soldiers, that fast tracked the defeat of the brutal Tiger terrorists, before their foreign friends could intervene, as they did in Iraq and Lybia.

  • 0
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    This place should open for Indian tourists. Man who ordered to killed Indian Prime Minister Rajivi Gandhi. Sri Lanka government can earn foreign exchange also. Government should put a board “Fortunate for Sri Lanka-Unfortunate for India”

    • 0
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      Why don’t you put a board , saying that “this is where we massacred the 40,000 Tamils, including babies, children, old people and terrorists with no clear distinction”. You all have such gloated chauvinism, don’t know when you are going to realize.

      • 0
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        Well, write about who put those Tamil men, women and children in front of an advancing army.
        Same tactics employed by the terror supporting Tamil diaspora in Canada and Britain in May 2009. Place the children and the women in the frontlines of a mad protest, so that the police in those countries cold not do anything to disperse the protestors for the fear of harming children. Cowardly and demanding Antics of some Tamils. Disgusting!!

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          Of course they will be in streets with there children, if you take away there lands and houses !!!!

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        There is a huge difference between “being on the streets with their children” and “placing the children at the front of the protest line”. As usual you are blinded to these realities.
        By the way, who stole who’s land and houses? Have you forgotten about the Tamils living in the suburbs of Colombo in the south of Sri Lanka, with houses and businesses?
        There were discriminations in the form of the language policy. There were the horrible riots in the 1950’s and the 1980’s against the Tamils. No one is denying that.
        Tamils fleeing SL at that time is understandable. Those who fled the violence made a life for themselves in western countries. So, live there and don’t spread falsehoods about SL now.
        Also, just as the Sinhala mob violence of 1950’s and 1980’s cannot be excused or condoned at any time, neiither can the revengeful behavior of the sections of the Tamil diaspora in the western countries during the 30 year madness of prabakaran. Terrorism was supported and funded for 30 long years and I know some of you rejoiced at each inciident of a suicide bomber killing him/her self and a whole lot of innocent civilians in the suburbs of Colombo or elsewhere in the country.. Shame on those people. We condemn the former president JRJ for allowing the mob violence to erupt agains civilian Tamils in SL in 1983. He is as guilty of murder as those who actually were killing on the streets. But, do you guys condemn the killers and the killings done by the LTTE ? I don’t think so? The TNA and some Tamil groups are still holding onto those separatist agendas of the LTTE and sections of the Tamil diaspora are hell bent on avenging the defeat of the saviours – the murderous LTTE at any cost. How can reconciliation ever take place in SL. Demands are on for the govt and the Sinhalese majority to grant rights and rights for the Tamils. What about the responsibility of the Tamils to make amends for supporting a terror movement against innocent civilians in SL? What about the responsibility of the Tamils to demand things that are fair and just and not things that may lead to laying the groundwork for the division of SL in the future?

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    Namini, now you can write how and the way each and every Colombo Tamil Companies funded to EXLTTE last 30 years. These Colombo Tamil Companies hevyly funded to EXLTTE to destroy Sri Lanka’s Economy. This is well known secret also. I am sure you can take all these names from Sunday Leader news paper and D.B.S. Jajaraj also who is now living in Canada.

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    BAD WILL NEVER PRODUCE A GOOD OUTCOME IT WILL ALWAYS PRODUCE ONLY A BAD OUTCOME .TERRORISM OR COMMUNALISM OR ANY OTHER FORM OF VIOLENCE WHICH SETS THE HUMANS AGAINST EACH OTHER BY PROMOTING FACTIONAL FIGHTING BRINGS ONLY IMMENSE SUFFURING TO THE MASSES AND ULTIMATELY THE VERY PROCRIATORS AND PEOPLE WHO SPONSER SUCH INHUMAN CAMPAIGNS END UP IN A MISERABLE WAY.THIS HAPPENED MANY TIMES IN HISTORY SEE WHAT HAPPENED TO HITLER,MOUSSOLINI, POLPOT.WIJEWEERA,PRABHAKARAN ,BINLADEN SAME FATE WILL BEFALL ON ALL WHO TAKEUP SIMILLAR VENTURES EVEN IN FUTURE.WAIT AND SEE

  • 0
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    A great eye opener – as usual – by Namini. Excellent report which bears historical value & significance. Velu P – like all of us – was entitled to have his dream but what a colossal waste of human and other resources with cataclysmic effects of bringing his own poor Tamil people from frying pan to the fire.
    Historically, our politicians are responsible for this mess. The Govt should Right the Wrongs and ensure all ethnic groups equally enjoy their birth rights which is the only way to prevent such human made calamities.

  • 0
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    Cheap crap from an equally cheap [Edited out]. Go get a life you moron.

  • 0
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    >>>>> “just to see where that devil swam”, he asked his group. “Apitath pissu,” he muttered.”

    Wise old man, why indeed do we want see that manic murderer’s swimming pool?
    What is wrong with us?
    If I had the power, I would flatten everything and leave none of that stuff lying around. Prabakaran and the gang were such a curse to the country, I shudder at the thought of their times and deeds. He was evil incarnate!
    For once in my life I’m thankful that there is a thing called Death!!!

  • 0
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    The writer looks like a mouthpiece of Shingala Government.

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    Tamil Diaspora is responsible for deaths of Tamil and Singala civilians in SrLanka for they gave money to the fat pig Sun God Prabakarn. The Diaspora traitors should be identified photographed and should never be allowed to step foot in Srzlanka again . Security forces should also visit their relatives in SrLanka and inform them of the traitors overseas. If the UNP had been in power instead of Mahinda. The Sun God Prabakaran would be ruling half of SrLanka today. The LTTE brought arms ammunition, ships and planes as well as ballistic missiles and huge antiaircraft guns when they were in power. In fact Premadasa gave arms to the Tigers to fight the Indian army but the tigers used them to kill SrLankan forces and civilians. Don’t ever allow them to come into power.

  • 0
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    Disappointing to see SriLankan Government propoganda couched in what is now known in that country as “journalism”!

  • 0
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    the author d.p jeyaraj is being paid to write this kind of nonsense. If you have guts put my comments. dp is a real neutral journalist why don’t you write about 14000 tamils killed brutally by sri lankan forces.

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