JAFFNA REPORT : LATE AUGUST 1990
By July end attack had taken on a more indiscriminate and menacing character. Market places, churches and refugee camp became targets. A visitor who spent a number of days near Chunnakam said that gunships never passed that way without firing into the market. Aerial bombing went on quite often for 24 hours a day in different parts of the region. The Italian built Sia Machettis had been joined by Chinese built Y12s making the number in service in the Jaffna region around 10. The shells fired by the Y12 are said to be much more powerful. A vistor who witnessed a good deal of bombing said, I saw no evidence of anything other than military installations of some kind being targeted. But the bombs could hit anything within half a mile of the target. People have got accustomed to life in the trenches. The same visitor said: People normally will not leave their houses. They shelter in trenches until their house is hit. When there is nothing left to be salvaged, they go anywhere as refugees.
The bombing intensified following an attempt by the LTTE to storm Jaffna Fort on 4th August. The bulldozer broke down the outer door and the LTTE got in under cover of darkness. A helicopter which was summed lit up the area with flares, revealing the intruders to the defenders inside. 30 or so LTTE members were mowed down, according to reports.
Jaffna town and its environs have suffered much defacement from bombing. Nearly every church, school and convent in the area has faced various degrees of destruction. Even as far as the Roman Catholic parish of Passaiyoor, 3 miles from the Fort along the coast, people had been evacuated to refugee camps. The Roman Catholic headquarters was bombed resulting in extensive damage. More than ten refugees sheltering in religious institutions were killed in the bombing. Several trees had been uprooted and pockmarks from shrapnel are visible everywhere. The room where Rt. Reverend Deogupillai, the octogenarian Bishop of Jaffna resided was protected from damage by the trees in front. Many of the clergymens quarters were destroyed.
Leading LTTE persons have one way or the other let it be known that civilian casualties are good for international propaganda purposes, and to enhance recruitment. The governments visible callousness and reports of massacres in the East have been used to mobilise youth into up arms as the only alternative to being lined up and massacred once government troops break in.
Some see multiple purposes being served when the LTTE move in and occupy houses in an area hitherto spared from aerial attacks. With education at a standstill some prominent schools are used for defence training. Whether or not information is leaked, the attraction of the airforce is soon turned on that area. The civilian population is first afraid. After an attack, fear turns to hysterical anger. With the government showing a vindictive face and in the absence of any political force that could be trusted, the LTTE offers itself as their only, but dubious, saviours to mobilize all that anger into destructive energy.
A case in the point is the set of coincidences surrounding the bombing of 7th August, damaging Manipay hospital and destroying shophouses a few over many of the functions of the now abandoned Jaffna hospital. Towards the end July there was a significant increase of the LTTE presence in the area. There was then an attempt to big bunkers around the hospital. This was abandoned after the doctors protested strenuously that such proceedings would invite the unwelcome attention of the airforce. Just after the failed attempt to storm the Fort on 4th August, a massive meeting was organised in Mainpay to commemorate the LTTE members who died. This was followed by the bombing.
In the meantime exit permits for those waiting to leave had been imposed. The evident purpose was to harass those who wished to go without joining the good fight. Queues formed near Muthirasanthai as early as 3.00 a.m. and extended more than a hundred yards. When a helicopter went overhead, the people would disperse to take cover and lose their places in the queue upon re-emerging. Some would leave at 4.00 p.m. without getting anything done. The procedure could take anything from 3 to 10 days and several appeals. Initially at least, attitudes were hostile. A women who wanted to join her husband was told after rejection that the husband could come to Jaffna and see her. Even girls who had succeeded in getting exit permits were harassed and abused by members of the SLAF after they had boarded vehicles. Sometimes attitudes softened. A girl who was going abroad for university education was told after appealing, You must us. A van-load passengers was told at the last check point, that all this elaborate procedure was necessitated by spies. Later a total travel ban was imposed on all men women between 15 and 30.
Those leaving for the South now have to pay the extortionate fare of Rs. 1,000/- per head to the van operators to carry them to Vavuniya. Before the war, this journey cost Rs.35/-. Following the outbreak of war, stocks of food and fuel were taken over, and began appearing at inflated prices. There were no social measures to protect the poorer sections. The campaign for each household to contribute two sovereigns of gold or its equivalent and a son or daughter was aggressively pursued. Those without the resources were taken to dig bunkers in frontline which were susceptible to shell attacks. Like in the South, it was a system where the sons of the poor were the most put upon to give their lives for an obscure cause.
A situation Report sent by Fr. M. E. Pius of the Jaffna Diocesan Human Development Center contains the following:
Any vehicle on the move be they be carrying the injured, sick, dying, aged, medical aid, essential provisions, emergency assistance, or passengers are shot at by the bombers and helis. Boats plying between the Island taking provisions or refugee are targets for the bombers. The authorities do not understand that vehicles/boats are needed to serve the people to attend to various needs....The flow of essential items (food stuffs) should be in the region of 5000 M. Tons of rice, 3000 M. Tons of flour, 2000 M. Tons of sugar or 40 lorry loads daily for Jaffna alone. Only 5% of the people in Jaffna are served by the supply at the moment. People are already starving. Infants are dying due to want of milk powder. Medicine is in short supply and medical aid is very minimum. Most of the base hospitals in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu have been bombed and do not function....The situation of the refugee camps is very pathetic. The refugee camps and their surroundings have been bombed very often killing few people. Many are dying of hunger and disease. The overcrowded refugee camps report of infectious diseases particularly diarrhoea and skin ailments. Sanitary and toilet facilities are woefully inadequate. The fortnightly government ration of food had been given only twice during the last two and that too had not reached all the refugee camps. The NGOs are stretched to the maximum in providing relief. No water could be supplied to the refugee camps since the bowsers are being bombed. .... There are now over 327,000 persons in 396 refugee camps in the Jaffna district. People are also pouring into Jaffna from the districts of Trinco, Batticaloa. Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu districts which have their own quota of refugees of about 30,000 families. Due to the lack of normal facilities the whole of the Jaffna population could be considered refugees, 87,000 refugees have reached India. .... Now that curfew has been declared since the 22nd of August in the districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu, people on the move towards safer areas because of the bombings can be easy preys to the attacking helicopter gunships and bombers. The curfew imposed by the dropping of the leaflets from planes can be supervised only from the bombers and helicopters. The declaration of curfew is an open licence to kill civilians at will from the aircraft. The main mode of transport next to legging is the bicycle. People travel 60 to 90 miles to bring or sell procure food to the starved population in the Jaffna peninsula. Thousands of bicycles are on the move in and out of the Peninsula day and night through the available entry and exit points. Each bicycle reports back with a bag (sack) or provisions. Even these cyclists have been attacked by helicopter gunships and hundred have been killed. The will to survive urges them on even after such misadventures.
The following extracts are taken from a letter to the Sri Lankan Bishops, signed by Pax Chirsti activists, Father R. E. Jayaseelan, and Dudley Attanayake.
The Deputy Defence Minister Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne, informed the Tamil people that the safe areas would be one kilometre (or 3 kilometers) away from the existing army camp; then as the bombers found targets outside these specified areas, he enlarged it to areas outside the Jaffna Peninsula, and even up to Vavuniya. ...Due to the curfew, a ship that brought urgently needed provisions to Point pedro has left port after unloading only two lorry-loads of foodstuffs. Who will multiply these five loaves and two fishes among these five thousands? Jesus apostles watch, and insist that he send away the crowed. The militants, on the other hand, have increased the peoples hardships by shooting from residential areas and places of refuge,demanding money or gold, controlling the outlets to the peninsula and placing a tariff on certain essential goods. .....No war can ever be won , though one party or the other can claim temporary victories. It is the people of both sides who will be the real losers: the poor of the North and of the South who will pay for the costs of these wars and wepaons in the coming decades. ..... The Sri Lankan Christian has a tremendous responsibility. He has to affirm the Borrowed Dignity of Every Human Being (Borrowed from the Cross and Blood of Christ). May we affirm this though our lives and open witness (not just through printed platitudes) so that the new Redeemed humanity may tries from the ashes of this War. .......In conclusion, we beg you to be in solidarity with the suffering people in the North and in the South, to encourage genuine dialogue, to search for the truth that liberates, and to conscientize yourself, the clergy and the people of your flock.
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