Freedom offered by Sri Lanka government to Tamil IDPs backlashes

(December 21, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Sri Lanka government says it has opened the main highway from Colombo to Jaffna and people now can travel on the road without passes issued by the Ministry of Defense. The government has sped up the resettlement of Tamil refugees and say they provide all facilities to the people 'liberated' from the iron arm of the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).

President Mahinda Rajapakse has called an early presidential to get himself elected for a second term before the warmth of the war victory wanes. However, with the ex-Army Commander Sarath Fonseka's coming forward as the opposition common candidate, Sinhala polity is divided and the winner of the presidential depends on minority votes.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has directed his powerful brother Basil Rajapakse, an adviser, for bargaining votes for freedom among the desperate Tamil IDPs. As a result, the Tamils of Vanni now enjoy better treatment from the 'liberator.'

But the 'freedom' also has repercussions. People are on the verge of opening their mouths on the experiences in the hands of the 'liberators' who are now facing war crime allegations due to the inhuman conduct in the final phase of war.

At least one Tamil woman who lived in the government declared 'no fire zone' until 'liberated' by the 'humanitarian operation' of the state security forces has opened her mouth to global media. Thamilvani Gnanakumar, 25, was in the 'no-fire zone' assisting people in health care and she was released after confining her for several months in Manik Farm 'welfare village' what she calls a concentration camp. Vani, a biomedical graduate, is a Sri Lankan origin UK citizen and talked to The Observer from her house in Essex describing her harrowing experience.

She says she waited until now to reveal the full scale of her ordeal in the hope of avoiding reprisals against friends and family held with her. They have now been released after the Sri Lankan government bowed to international pressure this month and opened the camps.

Following are several excerpts from her interview with the UK newspaper:

"It was a concentration camp, where people were not even allowed to talk, not even allowed to go near the fences.

"They were kept from the outside world. The government didn't want people to tell what happened to them, about the missing or the disappearances or the sexual abuse. They didn't want anyone to know.
"Sexual abuse is something that was a common thing, that I personally saw. In the visitor area relatives would be the other side of the fence and we would be in the camp. Girls came to wait for their relatives and military officers would come and touch them, and that's something I saw.

"The girls usually didn't talk back to them, because they knew that in the camp if they talked anything could happen to them. It was quite open, everyone could see the military officers touching the girls," she said.

"Tamil girls usually don't talk about sexual abuse, they won't open their mouths about it, but I heard the officers were giving the women money or food in return for sex. These people were desperate for everything.

"One time I saw an old man was waiting to visit the next camp and this military officer hit the old man. I don't know what the argument was, but the officer just hit him in the back.
"In the same area people were made to kneel down in the hot weather for arguing with the officers. Sometimes it lasted for hours.

"They were asking people to come in and take their names down if they had any sort of contact [with the Tamil Tigers]. They did an investigation and then a van would come in and they would take them away and nobody would know after that. I know people still searching for family members.

Kumar said that on arrival at the camp, near the northern town of Vavuniya, she was put in a large tent with several people she did not know. The camp was guarded by armed soldiers and ringed with high fences and rolls of razor wire. "The first two or three days I was alone there still scare me. When I arrived at the camp I put my bag down and just cried. That feeling still won't go. I just don't want to think about those two or three days in the camp, the fear about what was going to happen to me.

"For the first few days I didn't eat anything. We didn't know where to go to get food. I thought, 'Am I dreaming or is this really happening?' I never thought I would end up in a camp." Tens of thousands of people were crammed into flimsy tents which provided little respite from the intense heat. Toilets and washing facilities could not cope with the demands and food and water were in short supply.

"You have to bathe in an open area in front of others, which I find very uneasy. I stayed next to the police station, so every day I had a bath with the police officers looking at me, men and women. Everyone can see you when you are having a bath. So I would get up early in the morning about 3.30am, so it was dark," she said.

Kumar was held in the best-equipped part of the camp, but even there conditions were dire. "It is not a standard a human being can live in. The basic needs like water and food [were] always a problem. Most of the time you were queuing for water.

"The toilets were terrible, and there was not enough water, so we could not clean them. There were insects and flies everywhere. After two or three days of continuous rain, the sewage was floating on the water and going into the tents and everyone [was] walking through it, up to knee height." She was finally released into the custody of the British High Commission in early September.


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