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ON THE TRAIL OF VICTORY - Sunday Observer pays tribute to the Security Forces on Second Anniversary

A remarkable humanitarian saga


Soldiers lending a helping hand to an old woman

Selvaraja's family is waiting to go home, in Puthumathalan, where they were held in hell by those whom they thought were their 'saviours'. The de-mining process, which is being carried out carefully in the former battle field, where the last battle to defeat decades long terrorism, has delayed resettling them in their villages.

Out of several thousands of displaced who shared the Menik Farm, the welfare centre in Vavuniya at the end of the battle, only a few thousand are remaining, which will be closed down soon.

When talking to Selvaraja, I recalled how I reported about the plight of nearly 280,000 civilians fleeing for survival from the iron grip of the LTTE, which mercilessly left them to die.

It was honoured as the world's biggest humanitarian operation. If the government did not launch the mission to rescue the civilians herded by the LTTE since its defeat in Mannar, many would have perished in Mullaithivu.


Soldiers distributing food to little children

Selvaraja was among the massive 'human river' that flowed through the last earth bund of the LTTE at Ampalavanpokkanei in the No Fire Zone on May 16, 2009.

Empty handed, they ran for safety like walking skeletons. They cursed the lTTE for destroying their future and reducing them to nothing.

Each one has his or her own story to tell. They were rescued by the military - Army and Navy- in the humanitarian operation, launched with strict instructions to save lives trampled under the world's most ruthless terrorists. They lived in hell and the iron gates which locked them in were not opened until the LTTE felt that they were boxed in from all four sides in the area where they caged thousands of civilians in a small patch of land.

Until May 15, the LTTE had shot people to prevent them from fleeing. But, the people broke this hellhole and fled to Government-controlled areas despite the LTTE shooting them down with paddle guns and deploying snipers to shoot fleeing civilians. People poured in their thousands and were warmly welcomed by the 58 Division by crossing the LTTE earth bund at Ampalavanpokkanei, and the 59 Division crossing the causeway connecting the Nanthikadal lagoon along the A35 road.

Though the painful memories of the deadly journey through LTTE terror still haunt their memories, the plight shows the world the courage of the Northern people and also the human in military fatigue.

If the soldiers were 'killers or rapists',as some have described over 280,000 people and 11,600 ex-LTTE cadres would not be alive to tell their stories today, which will tell the plight of those people who defeated terror and all other odds in their journey to freedom. At last they entered the land of justice, where they were fed, sheltered and medically treated.

It was a saga which any human being should not dream of experiencing. When I was interviewing those who were entering the government controlled areas just two days before the military killed the LTTE leader, I was speechless when these people who once lived their lives just like you and me pleaded for just a few drops of water or a tiny bit of biscuit. The efforts of the soldiers to keep these people alive and happy were commendable.

The Iranapalei-Puthumathalan gravel road leading through the Ampalavanpokkanei earth bund to the North of the No Fire Zone (NFZ) had fallen to the troops and people had started pouring in.

I still recall how a young solider, Corporal Ratnayake of 8 Gajaba Regiment was cycling on this bumpy road, transporting a woman with head and leg injuries. She was shot by the Tiger 'Police' when she was trying to flee. "Thanni" (water), pleaded the 30-year-old Chandrakumari Balasingham whose eyes told her agony. Being a nurse at the Puthumathalan Hospital, she said that she was compelled to work at the hospital and could not flee earlier due to threats.

Corporal Ratnayake, ending his rescue mission, peddled the cycle fast to transport another hostage. Purugei Sellathi, the 80-year-old mother was feeding her son with a plate of rice with sambol, dhal curry and chicken given by the soldiers of the Alpha Group of the 8GR. Her son was differently abled. "I had two sons. The LTTE killed their families. The LTTE left us to starve and die". She threw away a fistful of sand and cursed the LTTE.

The Northern part of the NFZ, where the LTTE kept over 104,275 civilians hostage, was a real hell. Passupathi Rasaratnem (48) told me about how the LTTE had stolen all the food sent to the people by the Government and distributed only a kilo of rice per family. "The ration to even for large families was the same. We had to manage with the ration. No spices or vegetables, we only had kanji . They tried to take me to fight, but my wife who was bedridden pleaded with them and they released me and took away the elder son of my neighbour", said Rasaratnem who appreciated the military's move to rescue them and added that though people were not aware of the exact day of rescue, they had prayed to see the soldiers.

He said two days prior to the Army's arrival, the LTTE, using loudspeakers, announced to the civilians not try to escape and announced the penalties for those trying to escape.

"So, we did not try because we saw how people were punished and shot at when they got caught. But we had hopes that soldiers would come and rescue us", he said.

There are enough and more examples of how Tamil civilians live today thanks to the humanitarian mission of the government. For Muthurasa Sivanesarasa age is no barrier to catch up with lost opportunities. At 25 he was studying in the Advanced Level class. He had to shift from his favourite field - medicine to agriculture.

As a youth he aspired to become a doctor but that dream could not be realised since the LTTE conscripted A/L students including Muthurasa who was studying biology. "The LTTE said that they also could give us the same education and we don't have to sacrifice our youth for five years. If we joined their medical unit we could become 'doctors' sooner as they give us the same education", Muthurasa, the former LTTE cadre said.

The LTTE's assurance became a ruse just after six months of their training. The newly 'graduated' LTTE 'doctors' had acquired some experience in dispensing drugs, cleaning wounds, applying dressings and other basic first-aid.

The new batch was asked to be on-call to go to the Forward Defence Lines (FDLs). Muthurasa escaped from the outfit and started attending classes to pursue his childhood dream. In 2002 he sat for A/L and got one Credit pass for Bio-Science and three simple passes, which were not enough to enter a university.

The life for Muthurasa was not as easy as he thought as he lost his mother and sister during the tsunami that stuck Mullaithivu district. His father became disabled. Abandoning his plans of higher education, he did odd jobs to feed the family.

Step by step, the military push entered the door-step of the Mullaithivu district. They felt the gravity of a fierce battle and had to share the land with thousands of displaced civilians who had been herded by the LTTE. The LTTE started grabbing whoever could fight to strengthen its man-power but left a trail of disaster for the breadwinners of displaced families. That brought luck for Muthurasa as he was the only soul left to feed the family. Muthurasa's brother-in-law, who was dragged by the LTTE to fight, was killed and later the LTTE 'Police' seized his 15-year-old son. The following day the boy returned home and Muthurasa had to hide him in an under-ground bunker. The LTTE Police threatened to take Muthurasa to treat the wounded cadres at the FDLs if he did not return the boy.

During the closing months of the 30-year-old conflict nearly 12,000 LTTE cadres surrendered to the military. Majority of them were youth who had been abducted by the LTTE during the final months of the battle to strengthen its shrinking man-power against the military push.

The ex-media spokesman of the now defunct LTTE, Daya Master is the best person to give evidence against the LTTE as he, dissatisfied the behaviour of the LTTE, got sidelined.

He would have given enough and more evidence to the Darusman panel on how the LTTE threw the lives of innocent civilians to die in a deadly battle.

"It was a very successful humanitarian operation. People were waiting for the soldiers to save their lives. The government treated me nicely after I surrendered. They fed us and looked after well until I was bailed out. We have suffered enough and it is enough. We, the Tamils suffered immensely. The LTTE terrorized the North and East to achieve Eelam. Normally Tamils hate violence. They did not want war. The LTTE made them fight and converted their mind set for a useless cause. They were sandwiched between the LTTE and their perceptions. Especially the young Tamils were compelled to fight. The LTTE did not honour human rights. They ordered all Tamils to fight for its leader's dream.

"The humanitarian operation needs to be honoured as it saved the lives of over 280,000 Tamils. The LTTE during the final stages used us as hostages. They exposed people to fight. They fixed their heavy guns in the highly populated small patch of land in Puthumathalan. It was a No Fire Zone and but the LTTE attacked the Army from there, their intention was to get the Army to retaliate.

I think we are fortunate to be liberated by the Army. I was with the civilians and if the Army retaliated, I would not be here to talk to you. They never shot at civilians. Step by step the soldiers rescued us", he said. Two years have passed. Over 280,000 displaced civilians are weaving their lives and happily contributing towards the development taking before their eyes after decades. The Darusman panel missed hearing the agony of displaced civilians like Selvaraja and Daya Master whose stories would be credible case studies to tell the so-called international community how brutal the LTTE was. These civilians, those who are already resettled in their own homes and youth like Muthurasa would tell the panel how they were waiting for the soldiers to open the iron gates of the LTTE's hell.

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