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Submissions and Transcripts : Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Notes of Public Sittings

Submissions and Transcripts : Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Notes of Public Sittings

2010 Nov 04

Date and time: 04 November 2010
Place: Lakshman Kadirgamer Institute
Time: 2.00 p.m.
Commissioners present:     Mr.C.R. de Silva (Chairman)
    Mrs. Mano Ramanathan,
    Mr. H.M.G.S. Palihakkara
    Mr. M.T.M. Rafiq

List of witnesses: Mrs. Imelda Sukumar
             Rev. Anagarika Dharmasekera
     Dr. Mrs. F. Haniffa- LST
Others present: Around 35 individuals including the journalists.

Key points made in the presentation of the 1st witness:
(Mrs. Imeklda Sukumar – Government Agent  Jaffna)
    Served as the government agent during the time of conflict in the areas affected.
    Served as GA Mullaitivu from 2002 to 2009.
    Before the time of the war there were developmental activities taking place in the area and was involved in those. But with the commencement of the war these activities were obstructed and had to face a lot of problems.
    Distributed medicine, building material and dry rations that were provided by the government and NGOs.
    When the war intensified displaced families were coming to my area from Kilinochchi, Vavunia and Mannar. There were LTTE cadres amongst them and the entire population of Mulaitivu increased to 350,000.
    On January 19th 2009 I was informed by Vavuniya Security forces via fax to declare a safe zone and to inform the people to make their way towards this safe zone.
    I was at Pudukuduirippu at the time I received the fax and they also informed me about the no war interval from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 22.01.2010.  When I received the fax, all the people in my area were informed about this and were advised to move into the safe zone. My officials did not want me to go there but I explained to them about my sickness and that I have to get medication from there. Then they allowed me to go there.
    I moved to Vavuniya but I made sure people in my area were provided with food. I was in touch with my additional secretary to check with the situation there. I continued to operate from there, by coordinating with the Essential services Commissioner and the World Food Program, to send food supplies via ship from Trinco to Mulaitivu.
    People continued to flee the area using white flags, and moved to Vavuniya between January and May.

C.R. De Silva
Q. When did you leave Pudukudiyiruppu?
A. On the 22nd January 2009.
Q. Were there any other people leaving on the same day?
A. When they declared a safe zone I immediately left and most of the people in that area left that night.
Q. When you were in Pudukudiyirippu what was the state of the hospital?
A. It was safe and good.
Q. Was the hospital damaged?
A. No it was not. I personally visited there and there were no damages.
Q. When did the doctors abandon the Pudukudiyirippu hospital?
A. I’m not sure about this as I was not there at that time. I heard about it over the phone from my additional secretary but as I was not there in person I cannot say anything about it.
Q. Were there any bombings in Pudukudiyirippu when people were there?
A.  No there weren’t any. I got a fax from the Sri Lanka Army asking me to vacate the people.
Q. Did the people start moving away from Pudukudiyirippu by the 22nd January?
A. yes they did move to safe zone.

Mr. H.M.G.S.  Palihakkara
Q. Did any member of your staff remain in the Puthumathalan, the safe area?
A. Yes, my accountant, A.G.A and some of the members of the staff were there till the 22nd of May 2009.
Q. How many civilians were there in the Puthumathalan area?
A. There were about 360,000 civilians but they were not only from Vavuniya. Some people got passes from the LTTE. Some carried white flags and came.
Q. How were the civilians in the area supplied with food?
A. The government transported food in ships to Puttalam.
Q. How often did the ships come to Puttalam?
A. About thrice.
Q. Who received this food?
A. The additional GA.
Q. Were there any international organizations present at the time?
A. Only ICRC was there. Fathers helped under divisional agencies.
Q. Did your members of the staff receive food?
A. Yes.
Q. Were there any obstructions from the L.T.T.E?
A. When the ships arrived there were people from the L.T.T.E as well.
Q. What is your impression about this?
A. I’m 100% satisfied. About 80% of the food was consumed by our people. I’m not very sure but there is a possibility of about 20% of the food being taken by the L.T.T.E. Anchor was sold for Rs.300.
Q. Did any of your staff members estimate the damage and the casualties?
A. No. Only when the resettlements started taking place we got to hear about the damages caused and of the natural deaths that had occurred as a result of shock.
Q. What did you mean when you said that L.T.T.E did not allow people to move and to move only with the L.T.T.E?
A. The L.T.T.E has a pass system and only those who obtain passes from the L.T.T.E can move out.
Q. Did the L.T.T.E use civilians as human shield?
A. Yes.
Q. How?
A. They did not let the people move. No chance for people to move to down south. For example both my accountant and the A.G.A sat for the foreign services examination and they were called for interviews. They tried several times to go to this interview but the L.T.T.E did not let them do so.

Q. As a civilian official what is your opinion about the cease fire? Was it a good thing or a wrong thing?
A. The people were with the L.T.T.E. they could not escape. L.T.T.E was targeting army officials and vice versa.
Q. Do you think people would not have moved if they did not declare a safe zone?
A. No, if they moved when there was no safe zone, the L.T.T.E would have shot them.

Mr. Karu Hangawatte
Q. Your impression is that the people wanted to move but the L.T.T.E did not let them move?
A. yes
Q. Why did all those 300,000 people move into your area?
A. The war advanced from the Mannar area so the people moved into to other areas. There were people coming from Madhu. People kept moving from one place to another and there was one particular family that was displaced fifteen times. They loaded everything in tractors and shifted from one place to another.
Q. Some witnesses have claimed that the L.T.T.E took food and did not distribute. Is it true?
A. Yes, there was once a black cab and I think they were from the L.T.T.E.

Mrs. Mano Ramanathan
Q. Now you are the government agent Jaffna. We heard that the Jaffna library got attacked recently. Is it true?
A. I was out of the country when that happened. So I don’t really know whether it actually took place or not. Besides, no one reported to me about this incident I only read about it in the newspapers.

Mr. C. Chanmugum
Q. During the period of evacuation were there any outbreaks of diseases?
A. No. I was in touch with many people and there were no such reports. According to the records no deaths have occurred as a result of malnutrition.
Q. How many doctors were present at that time?
A. There were about six doctors but there were some nurses and volunteers. These volunteers were trained by N.G.Os.

Mr. Palihakkara
Q. Do you have any idea about the total number of casualties?
A. Not at the moment, the statistics are with the divisional secretary.
Q. Amongst these casualties were there any L.T.T.E cadres?
A. Yes.

Mr. Hangawatte
Q. You said the military would inform you where the bombings would take place and give you the maps beforehand for people to move into safe areas?
A. Military only informed me in that manner about the 21st and 22nd January when a safe zone was declared.

Mr. C.R. de Silva
Q. It has been reported that when certain people were crossing over from L.T.T.E areas to army areas some people did so with white flags. It has also been reported that some of these people who were carrying white flags were shot by the L.T.T.E. Is it true?
A. No, it is not true. Even some of the people I know crossed over and as far as I know no one was shot at. Even my two drivers safely crossed over to Vavuniya.
Q. Then, did any one of them complain that they were shot by the army?
A. No.
Q. In newspapers it was reported that people in white flags were shot. Is it true?
A. No but the L.T.T.E tried to shoot them when they did not obtain prior permission.
Q. As you said you have spoken to a lot of rescues. Did they not complaint of being shot at, when they were crossing over, carrying white flags?
A. No nothing like that happened. If you want I can get you to people who crossed over to talk about this. No one was shot at.

Key points made in the presentation of the 2nd witness.
(Rev. Anagarika Dharmasekera)
•    Contested for elections in 1977 from Beruwela and received the support of many Tamils.
•    There is no ethnic struggle in the country. Tamils have problems like all of us but these problems have nothing to do with one’s ethnicity. For example in 1971, the insurgency happened. During that time I had to go to Jaffna for my safety. I was looked after and taken care of by my Tamil university friends who lived in Jaffna. For six months in life I was protected by Tamils.
•    However, as I mentioned earlier there is no ethnic problem in the country but a major problem that the country is facing today is a water problem.
•    This water problem is faced by people who live in Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya. Water is very important to these people as their main form of sustenance is agriculture. When observing closely one will get to know that terrorist movement has been strongest in these four areas.
•    As a solution we have to follow the example set by Mahatma Gandhi. He said that India has to be divided into thousands of grama rajya which are not based on one’s language, ethnicity or religion. Thus we Sri Lankans too should take into account to divide the country into grama rajyas, and that was also the method used by our ancient kings and chieftains.
•    The colonizers destroyed our country creating ethnic struggles. Therefore what we need at the moment is the Buddhist philosophy. Water is a universal thing. Thus, my proposal is to make necessary arrangements to develop the irrigation system in the country and supply enough water to the areas suffering from lack of water. This will solve all the struggles that we have been facing for a long time in the country.

Mr. C.R. de Silva
Q. You said that there is a major water problem and this affects farmers. How do you address this issue?
A. I live between the kalu ganga and the sea and the area I live was also affected by the Tsunami. Nine months of the year I drink water from the river. Sea water does not proceed from Narawela. A dam was built across kukule ganga to take water to the South. This water is sufficient to quench the thirst of six times the population of Sri Lanka. So, if the water from the kalu ganga is taken to Pedeniya, it could be taken to Jaffna. We can use the labour of the unemployed youth to do these constructions.

Key points made in the presentation of the 3rd witness.
(Dr. Mrs. F. Haniffa – LST)
•    In October 1990, the LTTE expelled the entire Muslim population of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka and as a result 75,000 Muslims residing in the districts of Kilinochchi, Malaitivu, Jaffna and Mannar were displaced.
•    Today, many of them remain displaced in dire conditions in areas outside the war zone.
•    The LTTE expulsion of Muslims from five Northern districts has not been integrated into any mainstream historical narrative in Sri Lanka. Either the commentators get the date or the numbers wrong or consider it an insignificant event. The larger society in Sri Lanka does not regard this as a serious issue.
•    Therefore a Citizen Commission has been formed to produce authoritative documentation of the expulsion and its consequences, and to list the community’s grievances through a document endorsed by a Commission that consists of civil society actors.
•    The government’s understanding of the IDPs is limited to those who were displaced from Vanni during the most recent engagements between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces.
•    The displacement of experience of the Northern Muslims is different from most other displacement experiences in the country.
•    The Northern Muslims are returning spontaneously but there is no plan or policy for their return. There is also the problem of Muslims not feeling welcome in the North. There is also a significant section of the community that is not willing to return.
•    Recommendations
•    The displaced Muslims made an appeal to request the commission to travel to Puttalam and have a public hearing there.

Mr. Rafiq
Q. From the paper that was presented it seems like the displaced Muslim community is depending only on the state. Has not the Muslims organized as a body and asked for support from other Muslims such as Muslim organizations, Muslim NGOs etc?
A. As citizens of Sri Lanka the Muslims have the right to ask for help from the government and it’s not their responsibility to look for help elsewhere. The state is the first place that citizens have to seek help from. The government has the responsibility to look after all its people.
Q. Why should not the community itself seek the help of Muslim organizations?
A.  One of the critiques of the essay that I just presented is that these people for years have been compelled to seek the help of their community. These Muslims do not only have to depend on other Muslims. Other IDPs do not have to do so. Then why should the Muslims do so? These displaced Muslims have to be better equipped to demand the rights from the state. They are almost 100,000 people and this number is too large to be assisted by any philanthropist or any such organizations. The problem is that Muslims have been always been depending on other Muslims and that is not a position that has to be advocated.
For twenty years the burdens of the IDPs has been carried by its host community. They have been bearing the pressures of the IDPs for such a long time. The state has only provided them with dry rations that are sufficient only for the poorest in that community. This is not an appropriate way to function therefore the state should address this issue immediately and this should not be done merely because there is a Muslim minister.

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