Time Line Nov – June 09
The following is an attempt to catalogue events, quotes, reports from the capture of Killnochchi till mid June. We have searched through as much media coverage as provided, despite the Sri Lankan Government’s censorship.
We will be updating this timeline periodically and we welcome all suggestions – additions – corrections – updates in the form of an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or as a comment on this page.
2008. 29 November – The Sri Lanka Air Force attacked a Tamil refugee camp located in a ‘secure zone’ unilaterally announced by it, dispatching a cluster bomb, which killed 3 civilians, including a 5 year old boy. The attack came 5 days before a treaty was signed by 92 countries in Norway banning the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions internationally.
9 December – The Genocide Prevention Project includes Sri Lanka on its ‘red alert’ watch list of the countries of most concern for genocide.
12 December – The Sri Lankan government censors international and local news media.
The BBC World Service has been jammed by the state-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC) and one of the country’s most outspoken newspapers, The Sunday Leader, has been forbidden to refer to the president’s brother.
2 January – Allegations of Sri Lankan soldiers desecrating the bodies of fallen female Tamil Tiger fighters emerges as footage on the internet
Government troops capture the northern town of Kilinochchi, held for ten years by the Tamil Tigers as their administrative headquarters. President Mahinda Rajapakse calls it an unparalleled victory and urges the rebels to surrender.
“For the last time, I am telling the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to lay down arms and surrender,” he added in a nationwide broadcast.
3 January – The Sri Lankan government captures Kilinochchi, a town held by the Tamil Tigers for the past 10 years.
6 January – Gunmen set fire to a private television station in Colombo which has openly criticised the government.
8 January – Sri Lankan newspaper editor, Lasantha Wikrematunga is shot dead in the capital Colombo; two days after unidentified gunmen torched a local television station. He was highly critical of the Sri Lankan Government, and in his last editorial accused President Mahinda Rajapakse of pursuing the war against Tamil Tiger rebels to stay in power.
22 January – The Sri Lankan military shells a hospital and a village inside a government-declared “safe zone” for displaced families, killing at least 30 civilians.
1 February – Sri Lanka warns Western diplomats, foreign journalists and aid groups that they would be “chased” out of the country if they appear to favour the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse ridicules Lasantha Wickremanayake (recently murdered newspaper Editor) as an editor of a “tabloid,” and queries reporter Chris Morris as to why the media is interested in “one man” when there are thousands of killings and murders.”
2 February – Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse ”No hospital should operate outside the Safety Zone…everything beyond the safety is a legitimate target”
4 February – UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said at least 52 civilians had been killed in a shell attack on a makeshift hospital in Sudanthirapuram, in the north of the country, during a day of heavy fighting between government troops and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels. Mr Weiss said another hospital, the last still functioning behind Tamil lines, had been hit with cluster bombs.
Fifteen UN staff workers and 81 family members remained trapped in the Puthukkudiyiruppu area and the UN held “the gravest fears” for their safety, he added.
5 February – The US Secretary of State and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called for a “temporary no-fire period” and pushed for a “political resolution” to Asia’s longest conflict.
“Both sides need to allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies,” they said in a joint statement after a meeting in Washington.
Following a military parade, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that “the shadows of terrorism have almost been wiped out” after the Tigers’ 25-year campaign for a separate homeland.
“I am confident that the Tigers will be completely defeated in a few days,” Mr Rajapaksa said from a heavily fortified parade ground in the capital Colombo.
11 February – Sri Lanka plans to house war refugees for 3 years
The Associated Press obtained copies of the document separately from two aid groups and a Western diplomat. Rajiva Wijesinha, secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, said the camps would be run by the government but the military would have “great involvement.”
“There is a very clear security threat and we are not going to play games with the lives of our people,” he said.
Mahinda Samarasinghe, minister of disaster management and human rights, told journalists Tuesday that the camps will not be detention centers but will provide residents with education and vocational training.
“I am quite sure those who are there are at least happy to be there because they are out of a dangerous environment,” he said.
13 February – Gordon Brown’s appoints former defence secretary Des Browne as speacial envoy. Des Browne will “focus on the immediate humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka and the government of Sri Lanka’s work to set out a political solution to bring about a lasting end to the conflict,” the Prime Minister’s Office in London said in a statement on its Web site.
Sri Lanka declared a safe zone for Tamil civilians on the northeastern coast as the government said the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam controls only 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) of territory in the north.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama responds :
The appointment is “extremely unhelpful,” Agence France- Presse cited Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama as saying late yesterday in Colombo.
“It is tantamount to an intrusion into Sri Lanka’s internal affairs and is disrespectful to the country’s statehood,” AFP cited him as saying. There may be “major repercussions” for relations with the U.K., he said, without elaborating.
Mano Ganeshan, a Sri Lankan Tamil MP, said: “I don’t want to say concentration camp yet, but they’re already detention camps and military grilling stations. They should be run and monitored by the international community.” Suren Surendiran, of the British Tamils Forum, said that the camps were “like the detention centres where the Jews were held in World War Two”.
14 February – Reports emerge that SL officials have confirmed they will establish several “welfare villages” to house the estimated 200,000 Tamils displaced from their homes by the Sri Lankan army’s “final offensive” against the LTTE’s stronghold on the north of the Island.
Senior officials confirmed that those housed in the villages will have no choice on whether to stay in the camps. Aid groups, senior opposition leaders and Britain’s Department for International Development have all denounced the plan, which was on Friday compared to Hitler’s demonisation of the Jews in the 1930s.
Former Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera, a former close aide to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said it was part of a police to paint all Tamils, even moderate opponents of the Tamil Tigers, as potential terrorists and to silence all Tamil voices.
“It is amazing and terrible. A few months ago the government started registering all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that they could be a security threat, but this could be exploited for other purposes like the Nazis in the 1930s. They’re basically going to label the whole civilian Tamil population as potential terrorists, and as a result we are becoming a recruitment machine for the LTTE. Instead of winning hearts and minds of the Tamil people, we’re pushing even the moderates into the arms of the LTTE by taking these horrendous steps,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
A spokesman for Britain’s Department for International Development said, “We are aware of the Government of Sri Lanka’s plans for civilians displaced by the conflict in the Vanni. We do not believe current plans represent a sufficient solution by international humanitarian standards. Prolonging the displacement of this very vulnerable group of people is not in anyone’s interests. ”There is no UK Government money going into the camps. The UK is supporting international agencies on the ground like the Red Cross, who are in constant touch with the Government of Sri Lanka to find an acceptable solution for those affected. It is important to note that the Government of Sri Lanka has consistently followed a speedy resettlement policy and the experience in the East has been positive in this regard.”
15 February – Dr Thurairajah Varatharajah, the government health officer for the Mullaitivu district said artillery shells were persistently hitting civilian areas as well as a makeshift hospital he has been operating in a school in the coastal town of Putumattalan.
Kapila Fonseka, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan high commission in London, said “Nobody has been banned. There is not a blockade against UK journalists. Sky is there, ITV is there and many are applying. Earlier the BBC was there.”
“The military zone has been effectively sealed off,” said Yolanda Foster, of Amnesty International. “Civil society in Sri Lanka has been under siege given the curtailment of freedom of expression, the intimidation of editors and the detention of journalists. It’s a war without witnesses.”
Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, said the camps would not be detention centres but would provide residents with education and vocational training. He added: “I am quite sure those who are there will be at least happy to be there because they are out of a dangerous environment.”
21 February – Tamil Tiger planes conduct raids against Colombo.
2009 March – Former rebel leader Karuna is sworn in as minister of national integration and reconciliation.
Senior Tamil Tiger leader Thamilenthi is reported killed.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accuses both sides of war crimes.
The government rejects conditions attached to an IMF emergency loan worth $1.9 billion.
Four civilians died when artillery shells fell on a home for the elderly inside a demarcated safe area within Sri Lanka’s war zone, a doctor said Saturday.
Many elderly people were also injured in the shelling on Friday in the northeast Puttumattalan area, said T. Satyamurthy, a doctor working out of the makeshift community centre hospital.
He estimated more than 100 wounded civilians were coming to the hospital daily and most had shrapnel wounds. He did not know who had fired the shells.
3 March – Mahinda Samarasinghe Sri Lanka’s minister for disaster management and human rights talks to BBC
13 March – US Department of State
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa to express the United States’ deep concern over the deteriorating conditions and increasing loss of life occurring in the Government of Sri Lanka-designated “safe zone” in northern Sri Lanka.
18 March – In North Sri Lanka; 2,683 Civilian Killings this year, UN Leaked Documents Show
26 March – The United States accused Sri Lanka on Thursday of breaking promises to stop shelling a no-fire zone where thousands of civilians are trapped by fighting between separatists and government forces.
Sri Lanka rejected the allegation, saying the Sri Lankan military was not using heavy weapons to attack the separatist-held, no-fire zone in northern Sri Lanka.
26 March – Sri Lanka’s Ambassador H.M.G.S. Palihakkara rejected the accusation, though he acknowledged that the government was returning fire when attacked by Liberation Tamil Tiger Eelam (LTTE) forces from inside the no-fire zone.
“They (government forces) are not firing heavy weapons into the safe zone,” he said. “Because (Sri Lanka’s) forces have come so close to the military safe zone there is no sense in firing at short-range heavy weapons.”
“As you know, the LTTE is firing from the no-fire zone,” he said, adding that the automatic return fire might have resulted in some civilian casualties, but not deliberately. As expected, the council took no action at Thursday’s informal meeting on Sri Lanka. 5 April – Military says it has confined the rebels to a no-fire zone measuring just 17 square km (6.5 sq miles).
17 April – Rebels call for a truce after two-day government fighting pause expires. Government rejects the call as a ruse.
20 April – Sri Lanka gives the rebels 24 hours to surrender as tens of thousands of civilians flee battle zone.
22 April – The Red Cross warned of a humanitarian catastrophe yesterday as the Sri Lankan Army prepared for a final assault on the last pocket of rebel-held territory where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped.
The Red Cross disputed a claim by the army to have rescued 40,000 of the trapped civilians on Monday and 20,000 yesterday in what President Rajapaksa called “the largest-ever hostage rescue mission”.
A spokeswoman for the Red Cross — the only international organisation with staff on the front line — told The Times that it had witnessed only 4,000 civilians leaving the no-fire zone on Monday.
Several hours later the Tigers issued a defiant statement. “LTTE will never surrender and we will fight and we have the confidence that we will win with the help of the Tamil people,” said Seevaratnam Puleedevan, the secretary-general of the Tigers’ peace secretariat.
The army, which had said for weeks that there were fewer than 50,000 civilians inside the zone, estimates that there are no more than 30,000 left. The UN and the Red Cross said that there were more than double that number — many of them injured.
24 April – Indian National Security Adviser MK Narayanan told the BBC Sinhala service that he and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon informed President Rajapaksa that they were concerned about the severity of the crisis.
“We expressed our concerns about the humanitarian situation as a result of nearly 100,000 Tamil civilians coming out of the conflict zone since early this week,” he said.
“The president was receptive to our views and we hopeful of a positive outcome.”
The UN’s humanitarian coordinator, Neil Buhne, said tens of thousands of people were living in camps in the northern town of Vavuniya.
“I saw infants with dysentery, malnourished children and women, untended wounds, and people dressed in the ragged clothing they’ve been wearing for months,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.
Paul McMaster, a British surgeon with Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), told the BBC a “continuous stream” of patients had been arriving at the hospital in Vavuniya since the weekend.
He said the hospital was equipped with 400 beds but was treating nearly 2,000 patients, many of them with gunshot wounds and blast injuries.
“We are doing emergency surgery, but the hospital is completely overwhelmed,” he said, with patients lying on the floor, in corridors and outside under trees and temporary shelters”.
24 April – National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Monen headed on Friday to Sri Lanka to demand an immediate ceasefire in the bloody civil war as a private UN document reported that nearly 6,500 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the last three months of fighting.
“We are very unhappy at the continued killing in Sri Lanka. All killing must stop. There must be an immediate cessation of all hostilities” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishu Prakash said in a statement on Thursday.
25 April – U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration on Friday urged the warring Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tigers militant group to halt their fighting immediately and allow civilians to evacuate.
“The United States is deeply concerned about the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers, and the mounting death toll,” the White House said in a statement.
“We call on both sides to stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone,” it said.
The White House urged Sri Lanka’s government to stop shelling the safe zone and preventing international aid groups and media from gaining access to civilians who have escaped the fighting.
“International aid workers should have access to all sites where internally displaced persons are being registered and sheltered,” the White House said. “The United States is working with international partners to attempt to care for those civilians who can be reached.”
The White House called on both sides to “strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law.”
“We are very concerned about reports of violations, and take these allegations very seriously,” the statement said.
26 April – The Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes arrived on Saturday as the White House called for an immediate ceasefire and the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations made a strong statement.
“The top priority remains the preservation of the lives of the tens of thousands of civilians still trapped inside the combat zone,” Holmes said in a statement.
A British surgeon working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Paul McMasters, said his team in a state-run hospital near the conflict zone has been overwhelmed by the influx of injured civilians. “
It’s so crowded that the nurses cannot physically walk around,” he said, estimating the number of patients in a 45-bed ward at around 320.
“There are simply too many people to treat them all. We are not able to save some people because we need to provide more aftercare,” he said, adding: “There are simply not enough nurses.”
The LTTE issued their own call for foreign intervention, warning that the civilians under their control are facing “imminent” starvation.
26 April – The Tamil Tigers declared a unilateral ceasefire Sunday, but Sri Lanka dismissed it as a “joke” and said only a surrender would stop troops from finishing the last battle in Asia’s longest modern war.
“In the face of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and in response to the calls made by the U.N., EU, the governments of India and others, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has announced a unilateral ceasefire,” an LTTE statement said.
Sri Lanka’s defense secretary, the top civilian official in charge of the military and the president’s brother, laughed at the truce declaration.
“That is a joke. They were not fighting with us, they were running from us. There is no need of a ceasefire. They must surrender. That is it,” Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told Reuters in a telephone interview.
27 April – Sri Lankan government says it ceases combat operations with heavy weapons and operations will be confined to using only small arms and rescuing civilians trapped in the war zone.
The Sri Lankan government has ended the use of heavy weapons and combat aircraft in what it says is an effort to protect tens of thousands of civilians caught between warring sides in Asia’s longest-running civil war.
“Our security forces will confine their attempts to rescuing civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving civilians,” said a statement from the office of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
29 April – British and French foreign ministers urge government to implement a humanitarian cease-fire, as both sides in the war report continued fighting and casualties. SL Monks protest Miliband visit
29 April – A UN agency produced satellite photographs of damage to the conflict zone in Sri Lanka, but unlike in the Gaza conflict did not release them to the public. The UN Institute for Training and Research has a program known as UNOSAT which produced the attached April 19 photographic report on “Satellite Detected Damages and IDP Shelter Movement in CSZ, Mulattivu District, Sri Lanka.” Unlike UNITAR’s January 10, 2009 report on Gaza, however, the Sri Lanka report was not released by the UN, but rather was leaked.
29 April – British and French foreign ministers on Wednesday urged the government to implement a humanitarian ceasefire in the battle.
Earlier this week U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes called for both sides to stop fighting while on his three-day mission to the tiny island nation.
The estimated 50,000 people still trapped in the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka are at great risk and the top priority must be to get them out as quickly as possible, the top United Nations relief official stressed today, again appealing for a further humanitarian pause in the fighting.
“These people are in great danger from the continuing fighting,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters in New York, noting that the previously so-called ‘no-fire zone’ can now be more accurately described as a combat zone, given the ongoing clashes between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Mr Bernard Kouchner said that he had requested the government to allow access for aid workers and the UN.
Since September last year, only the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been allowed regular access to the conflict zone. Asked about the government’s response to their requests, Mr Kouchner said: “We insisted, and we insisted, but it is up to our friends to allow it or not.”
This week the government said the army would stop using heavy weapons against the rebels, but watchdog groups say that they have received reports that fierce shelling continues
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and Bernard Kouchner, his French counterpart, had pleaded with the government in Colombo to suspend hostilities so that humanitarian aid could be moved into the tiny strip of land on the north-east coast where the last remnants of the Tamil army are trapped, along with thousands of civilians.
Mr Miliband said earlier today that “winning the peace is as vital as winning the war”.
30 April – British Foreign Minister David Miliband said “This is a civil war that does have regional and wider ramifications and, obviously, a massive civilian emergency as well”.
Tamil National Alliance, Trincomalee district MP and parliamentary group leader, R. Sampanthan and parliamentarian told David Miliband, that 7,000 Tamils in Vanni have been killed and 14,000 injured in the last three months
US official from Washington have pushed for a delay in IMF loan in order to pressure Colombo to do more to help civilians caught in a civil war. “The officials say Sri Lanka has done too little to protect the civilians in the war zone or allow sufficient international aid workers to care for the near 200,000 who have already left.”
Since 10 February, the ICRC has evacuated close to 12,400 people – the sick and wounded and their accompanying relatives – from the conflict area by boat. The ICRC carried out its 28th evacuation on 29 April, with over 520 persons aboard the Green Ocean, an ICRC-chartered ferry.
Francis Boyle, professor of International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law, on Thursday called on India, the United States, Britain and France to fulfill their obligations under the Geneva Conventions and Protocol, and under the Genocide Convention by launching an immediate humanitarian air-drop relief operation for the starving Tamil civilians within the so-called safety zone, who are suffering without adequate humanitarian supplies for weeks. In a note sent to TamilNet, Prof. Boyle said starvation of civilians, as a method of warfare, can also constitute an act of genocide as defined by Article II (c) of the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Parameswaram Subramaniam has been on a hunger strike for 23 days. He recently stepped up his protest by refusing to even take water.
The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, called on Sri Lanka to halt their offensive in the north while visiting one of the displacement camps that have sprung up to house Tamil refugees and roo-t out Tiger fighters.
“The United Nations continues to urge the Government to make available all public buildings and usable land for the accommodation of the large number of civilians,” UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters in New York.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that as of today, some 172,000 people have crossed out of the conflict zone, where fighting continues between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The vast majority of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in and around Vavuniya.
1 May – Colombo invites neighbouring states to monitor EPC elections Sri Lankan Commissioner of Elections on Wednesday said India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan have agreed to send monitors to monitor Eastern Provincial Council elections. Eighteen monitors from foreign countries were expected to arrive in Colombo on May 05 to supervise the EPC elections.
Confidential UN satellite images leaked yesterday appear to show that the Sri Lankan Air Force bombed a safe haven for up to 150,000 civilians fleeing fighting against the Tamil Tigers.
The images contained in an internal UN report may constitute the strongest evidence yet of violations of international humanitarian law or war crimes, according to human rights activists. The report by Unosat, dated April 26, provides detailed images of the tiny strip of beach and coconut grove — now covering only 3.8sq miles (10sq km) — where the army has pinned down the Tigers along with thousands of civilians.
The Unosat report, based on images between February 5 and April 19, appears to back up the persistent verbal testimony to the contrary from doctors, aid workers and civilians fleeing the area.
“This is incontrovertible evidence that the Government has been lying for months,” Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, said.
“We have at no time gone for a ceasefire. We will not do so now,” President Rajapaksa said. “I don’t need lectures from Western representatives.”
The Sri Lankan army’s website has been targeted in a “cyber terrorism” attack by Tamil rebels, the defence ministry says, and replaced with gruesome photos of apparent victims of the civil war.
The http://www.army.lk site had been removed by hackers who replaced it with photographs of civilians said to have been killed in military action in the northeast of the island.
“The official website of the Sri Lanka army, http://www.army.lk, has been hacked by suspected LTTE hackers this morning,” the ministry said in a statement headlined: “LTTE resorts to cyber terrorism”.
It said the attack was “another sign of the LTTE’s inevitable defeat“.
2 May – Mano Ganesan, an outspoken Tamil politician from Colombo, fears Tamils will be more vulnerable after the defeat of the Tigers.
“I think this war is being waged not only against separatist terrorism but also against Tamil political aspirations,” he said.
“Tamil people here were unhappy yesterday, we are unhappy today and quite frankly we feel more vulnerable than ever. I don’t see any positive side for tomorrow.”
Mr Rajapaksa must find a way to deal with the sense of alienation that allowed the Tigers to wage such a long secessionist struggle.
3 May – Tamilnet says at least 64 civilians have been killed and another 87 wounded Saturday in an attack on the last remaining medical facility inside rebel-held territory in northeastern Sri Lanka.
Two shells fired by government forces hit the makeshift hospital at Mulliavaikal in the Mullaittivu district, three days after its location was given to the military through the International Committee of the Red Cross.
There was no immediate comment from the ICRC, which has limited access to the island’s combat zone, but the military denied targeting the area.
“We have not carried out any shelling, but we heard some loud explosions inside the no-fire zone and it could have been a misfire by the Tigers,” military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said.
Charges and counter-charges by both sides cannot be verified as there are no independent observers in the conflict area and the government has rejected international calls to allow neutral humanitarian access. (AFP)
4 May – Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said on Sunday that officials from the attorney general’s department were studying the legal basis for a possible pardon for separatists who surrender but that a final decision had not been made.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa told foreign diplomats on Thursday that a cease-fire with Tamil Tiger rebels would be useless and vowed to fight on and destroy the group.
Rajapaksa said that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels only understand the “language of terror” and therefore the government must confront them with military force, according to a copy of his speech released by his office. (AP)
The International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated 495 sick and wounded people and their helpers by ferry from a northeastern Sri Lanka war zone on Thursday, its first medical evacuation in a week due to heavy fighting.
“Heavy fighting is taking place near the medical assembly point at Mullavaikkal, which puts the lives of patients, medical workers and ICRC staff at great risk,” said Jacques de Maio, the ICRC head of operations for South Asia. “This hampers medical evacuations of wounded civilians and their families.”
“Not all the wounded could be evacuated today (Thursday), and it is of the utmost importance that more evacuations take place over the coming days,” he said.
The ICRC has evacuated more than 13,000 people from Sri Lanka’s conflict area by boat since Feb. 10.
5 May – Channel 4 News reports a camp in the northern Sri Lankan city of Vavuniya, where Tamil refugees have been taken. Shocking claims have emerged of shortages of food and water, dead bodies left where they have fallen, women separated from their families, and even sexual abuse. This programme obtained the first independently filmed pictures from the internment camps set up by the Sri Lankan government to house Tamils who have fled the country’s civil war. They gave the first independent testimony of life inside. Stories of children trampled in the rush to get food; of three women’s bodies found in a bathing area in the open.
7 May – Vanni Emergency OCHA Situation Report 8.
8 May – Congress says its in favour of a permanent peaceful political solution to the Sri Lankan Tamils issue.
Congress media in-charge M. Veerappa Moily said: “We want a permanent peaceful political solution,” but did not add within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.
This is the second time over the past couple of weeks that the Congress has changed its position on the Sri Lanka issue.
8 May – Independent United Nations experts today called on the Human Rights Council to urgently set up an international inquiry to address the “critical” situation in Sri Lanka amid fighting between the army and Tamil rebels. “There is an urgent need to establish an international commission of inquiry to document the events of recent months and to monitor ongoing developments,” the experts dealing with summary executions, right to health, right to food and water and sanitation said in a joint statement issued in Geneva.
Philip Alston, Anand Grover, Olivier De Schutter and Catarina de Albuquerque said the current humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka gives cause for deep concern, not only in terms of the number of civilians who have been and continue to be killed, but because of a dramatic lack of transparency and accountability. “There is good reason to believe that thousands of civilians have been killed in the past three months alone, and yet the Sri Lankan Government has yet to account for the casualties, or to provide access to the war zone for journalists and humanitarian monitors of any type,” said Philip Alston, the UN expert on summary executions.
9 May- The Sri Lankan government has ordered Channel 4 News’s Asia Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh to leave the country, after taking exception to a report broadcast on Channel 4 News on 5th May. The three-person team that has been reporting from the country were told they were being deported by the country’s Defence Minister earlier today.
Channel 4 News broadcast interviews with aid workers who claimed there had been ill-treatment of Tamil civilians interned in a camp in the north of the country. The aid workers said that children were being separated from their parents in the camps and dead bodies were being left out in the open for days, as people fought for food and water. They also said that women were being sexually humiliated, being forced to bathe publicly and sometimes abducted by soldiers. The Sri Lankan government denied these allegations.
9 May – HRW releases report which states the Sri Lankan government has attacked Medical facilities 30 times since December
11 May – A barrage of artillery in Sri Lanka’s northern war zone killed at least 257 civilians and wounded 814 overnight, a government doctor said yesterday. He described seeing shells fly through the air, with some falling close to the hospital, sending many to take shelter in bunkers.
Dr Shanmugarajah said. “We are doing the first aid and some surgeries as quickly as we can. We are doing what is possible. The situation is overwhelming; nothing is within our control.” Dr Shanmugarajah said he had sought the help of volunteers to dig graves
A military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, said it was using only small arms in its effort to wipe out the Tamil Tigers, and there “is no shelling taking place“.
11 May – The United Nations said a weekend attack in Sri Lanka that killed hundreds was the bloodbath it had feared. “We’ve been consistently warning against a bloodbath, and the large-scale killing of civilians including more than 100 children this weekend appears to show that the bloodbath has become a reality,” U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss said.
Getting a clear picture of events in the war zone is next to impossible, as those within it are not fully independent of pressure that is often applied at gunpoint. “The large scale slaughter is believed to be a result of India prodding Colombo to finish the war before the change of government,” TamilNet said. Sri Lanka’s war is an election issue in the Tamil-majority state of Tamil Nadu, where India’s ruling Congress party is keen to maintain power at a poll on Wednesday as politicians there push for a separate state for Sri Lanka’s Tamils.
12 May – Leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) V. Anandasangaree, who is respected by the government for his anti-LTTE stand, said in a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa a hospital in Mullivaikal was hit by shells today killing at least 26 patients.
He urged the President to arrange a medical team to visit Mullivaikal where over thousand casualties of other incident are also awaiting medical attention for two days.
“With deep regret I wish to inform you that this morning at 7.45 a.m. in a shelling incident at Mullivaikal hospital 26 patients died on the spot, ten a few minutes later and more than 100 injured. Please intervene and stop firing shells targeting terrified civilians. Also arrange a medical team to visit Mullivaikal where over thousand casualties of other incident are also awaiting medical attention for two days,” the TULF leader said.
12 May – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her UK counterpart David Miliband also expressed alarm at the large number of reported civilian casualties. Mrs Clinton and Mr Miliband issued a joint statement on Sri Lanka, following their talks in Washington. The statement urged all sides in Sri Lanka to “end hostilities immediately and allow for the safe evacuation of the tens of thousands of civilians trapped within the safe zone“.
It also said London and Washington were alarmed “at the large number of reported civilian casualties over the past several days in the designated ‘safe zone‘”. The two top diplomats called for “a political solution that reconciles all Sri Lankans, and establishes a meaningful role for Tamil and other minorities in national political life”.
12 May – dozens of people are reported killed after an attack on a hospital in the country’s no-fire zone. A makeshift hospital in the no-fire zone in the north of Sri Lanka has been shelled killing dozens of people, according to a doctor working in the area. The attack comes just days after a more sustained shelling reportedly killed hundreds in the safe area which is just a few square kilometres. The Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers have been trading blame for the attacks. According to the United Nations 50,000 or more civilians are trapped in the conflict. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) says 130,000 are trapped, while the government says no more than 20,000. Diplomats say the number is immaterial with so many in harms way. The civilians are in a strip of northern coast, with water on both sides, measuring 2.5 square km (1 sq mile).
12 May – Sri Lankan troops broke through Tamil Tiger defenses on Tuesday and aid officials said both sides were making it impossible to save civilians. In Geneva, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said intransigence by both sides had created an “absolutely awful situation.”
“The government have said they are not using heavy weapons. But the evidence suggests that they are continuing to do so, at least to some extent.”The allegations have been impossible to verify as the war zone is sealed off to most outsiders and those inside cannot be considered fully independent.
LTTE peace secretariat head Seevaratnam Puleedevan told Reuters the army had attacked a makeshift hospital on Tuesday, killing 45 people. Sri Lanka denied responsibility, accusing the LTTE of generating “shock and outrage at supposed atrocities” by forcing government-employed doctors in the war zone to give out false death tolls.
13 May – The leader of one of India’s largest Tamil parties has called for Indian troops to invade Sri Lanka to stop the “atrocities” on the island and help create a Tamil state. J. Jayalalithaa, the former chief minister who is expected to win the state in the final stage of India’s election campaign today, told a mass rally on Monday: “Just as Indira Gandhi created Bangladesh, we will create a separate Eelam [state].”
At a rally attended by an estimated 30,000 supporters, Ms Jayalalithaa said she would not compromise on the issue and would demand a Tamil state on the island as a price of her support for any new Indian government.
13 May – President Barack Obama urged Sri Lanka to stop “indiscriminate shelling” of civilians and the Tamil Tiger rebels to surrender, warning of a humanitarian “catastrophe” otherwise.
“Without urgent action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe,” Obama told reporters, with the United Nations estimating that up to 50,000 civilians may be trapped in the ferocious Sri Lankan fighting. “I’m also calling on the Sri Lankan government to take several steps to alleviate this humanitarian crisis,” he added.
13 May – UN Security Council Press Statement on Sri Lanka
The following Security Council press statement on Sri Lanka was read out today by Council President Vitaly Churkin ( Russian Federation):
The members of the Security Council express grave concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in north-east Sri Lanka, in particular the reports of hundreds of civilian casualties in recent days, and call for urgent action by all parties to ensure the safety of civilians.
The members of the Security Council strongly condemn the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for its acts of terrorism over many years, and for its continued use of civilians as human shields, and acknowledge the legitimate right of the Government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism.
The members of the Security Council demand that the LTTE lay down its arms and allow the tens of thousands of civilians still in the conflict zone to leave.
The members of the Security Council express deep concern at the reports of continued use of heavy calibre weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians, and expect the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitment in this regard.
The members of the Security Council demand that all parties respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.
The members of the Security Council call on the Government of Sri Lanka to take the further necessary steps to facilitate the evacuation of the trapped civilians and the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to them.
The members of the Security Council take note of the steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the humanitarian situation of displaced persons and call on the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the security of those displaced by the conflict and to cooperate with the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other international humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian relief and access to them as soon as they leave the conflict zone.
The members of the Security Council reiterate support for the personal involvement of the UN Secretary General and urge the Government of Sri Lanka to extend full cooperation to the United Nations in order to resolve the humanitarian crisis.
The members of the Security Council, mindful of the necessity to find a long-term solution without the threat of violence, underline that the needs of all communities in Sri Lanka have to be addressed.
14 May – Human Rights Watch, a research and lobbying group says the army has “indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals, in violation of the laws of war.” Analysis of satellite images of the war-zone, cited by HRW, reveals that a thickly populated patch of the beach was somehow cleared between May 6th and May 10th. Analysts say the more recent images depict at least 19 possible shell-holes.
The government’s response to these allegations is dispiriting. It has lodged a complaint against the UN’s spokesman, Gordon Weiss. And it has reissued its allegation that the Tigers are shelling their own Tamil brethren in an effort to spur international calls for a ceasefire, which America, Britain and other Western countries have been requesting for weeks.
14 May – UK has warned Sri Lanka that it may face potential war crime probes over deaths of civilians in the island’s conflict, a Foreign Office minister has said. Bill Rammell said a UN estimate of 6,500 casualties since January was “shocking and appalling“. He said Britain backed an early inquiry into shelling by government forces fighting Tamil Tiger separatist rebels. “We would support an early investigation into all incidents that may have resulted in civilian casualties, particularly the reported shelling of hospitals, to determine whether war crimes have been committed” stated Rammell.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs committee, appealed for UK intervention to stop the conflict. Mr Vaz said: “That so many people should be in such a small area attempting to live, let alone under fire, is absolutely horrific.”
The debate also heard demands for diplomatic relations be broken off with Sri Lanka. Labour’s Andrew Dismore, chairman of Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights, suggested it was “time the rest of the world turned their back on the Sri Lankan government, isolated them and held them to account“.
15 May – Sri Lanka’s apparent difficulty securing a $1.9 billion IMF loan — with its conduct in its civil war becoming a key sticking point. Groups such as Human Rights Watch have called for humanitarian conditions to be attached to any IMF loan. Ethnic Tamil protesters have taken to the streets in many Western capitals, demanding their governments act against Sri Lanka. U.S. and British officials have called for the loan to be withheld or delayed as Sri Lanka’s government repeatedly ignores international calls for a humanitarian ceasefire.
“We have … raised questions about the IMF loan at this time,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Thursday. “We think it is not an appropriate time to consider that until there is a resolution of this conflict.“
15 May – Gordon Weiss, UN spokesman in Colombo states ‘a terrible situation for civilians’.
Sri Lanka’s army says it is in the “final stage” of operations against the Tamil Tigers with troops just 1.5km short of “dominating the whole coast“. President Rajapksa was quoted as saying that all trapped civilians would be “rescued from rebel control” within two days. However the government has rejected international calls for a truce. The United Nations is sending a new envoy to discuss the crisis, but says a bloodbath “seems to be inevitable“.
15 May – Sri Lanka’s government and army vowed this morning to finish off the Tamil Tigers within 48 hours, despite warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe and international calls for a ceasefire to allow thousands of civilians to leave rebel-held territory. Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, told The Times that “the people will all be rescued within 48 hours,” he said, estimating that there were less than 15,000 civilians in the area, although the UN still puts the figure at around 50,000.
The Red Cross, which is the only international aid organisation working in the conflict area, also made a desperate appeal last night, warning that its staff were “witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe“.
15 May – U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay backs calls for an inquiry into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka’s closed-off conflict zone that may have already become a “killing field,” her spokesman said on Friday.
“We believe some sort of independent commission of inquiry is essential given the conduct of this war and the number of civilians who have been killed,” Rupert Colville told Reuters.
“Both sides are bound by the rules of war and there can be no impunity for war crimes,” he said. “There is a growing concern that given the presence of so many civilians in the last tiny strip held by the LTTE, this small corner of Sri Lanka can turn into a killing field — if it isn’t one already,” Colville said.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights has sought for years to deploy U.N. human rights monitors in Sri Lanka but has never gained permission. “The refusal to allow independent monitors, media, aid workers or other international observers to see for themselves what is actually going on has made it very difficult to cut through the mass of propaganda. It also heightens the impression that those blocking the access have something to hide,” he said.
15 May – Ignoring calls to relent in the face of what the International Committee of the Red Cross called “an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe,” the Sri Lankan military said on Friday that its forces had squeezed Tamil rebels onto about a mile-long strip of land in heavy fighting.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a speech on Thursday that government forces could seize the rebels’ last remaining refuge within 48 hours, the Defense Ministry reported. Also, a senior United Nations envoy arrived in Sri Lanka on Friday to try to persuade the government to agree to a cease-fire.
The director of operations for the Red Cross, Pierre Krahenbuhl, said relief workers were blocked for a fourth day from helping civilians escape and from delivering emergency food aid.
15 May – Sri Lankan troops advanced on the Tamil Tigers on Friday and more civilians fled the shrinking war zone, signalling a military finish to Asia’s longest modern war despite strong diplomatic pressure for a negotiated end.
The fighting came despite U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s urging that a $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to Sri Lanka be delayed until “there is a resolution of the conflict“.
15 May – A Red Cross rescue boat in Sri Lanka has been unable to reach civilians in desperate need of help for three days as heavy fighting made the mission too dangerous, the organisation said last night.
“Our staff are witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe,” Pierre Krahenbuhl, the director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in Geneva. “Despite high-level assurances, the lack of security on the ground means that our sea operations continue to be stalled, and this is unacceptable,” Krahenbuhl said. “No humanitarian organisation can help them in the current circumstances. People are left to their own devices.”
15 May – Aid minister Douglas Alexander’s remarks came after the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had been unable to reach people in desperate need for three days, as heavy fighting makes the mission too dangerous. “I am utterly appalled that the ICRC is no longer able to continue its operations in northern Sri Lanka,” he said. “Since September, the ICRC has been the only humanitarian agency allowed to work in the conflict zone. And now even this lifeline has been denied to more than 50,000 people.”
He noted that the ICRC had evacuated more than 14,000 people by ship over the past four months, adding: “Denying this life-saving evacuation and medical treatment is a fundamental violation of international humanitarian law”. “This deplorable situation rightly brings international condemnation of both parties to the conflict. There is simply no justification for allowing such needless suffering“.
15 May – UN spokesman in Colombo Gordon Weiss has said the situation in Sri Lanka is critical and changing hour by hour. He warned of a bloodbath and said it had become a truly terrible situation for civilians caught up in the conflict zone. He was speaking as senior United Nations official, Vijay Nambiar, headed to Sri Lanka to press for an end to the fighting to try to resolve the growing humanitarian crisis.
15 May – United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay supports an independent inquiry into the violence in Sri Lanka as evidence mounts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, her spokesman said on Friday.
Rupert Colville stated “We agree that something of that sort is now essential. There has to be accountability for what has gone in Sri Lanka, there has to be clarity, there cannot be impunity.” Pillay two months ago expressed concern that war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed in the conflict, by both government forces and the LTTE Tamil Tigers fighting for an independent homeland. “Nothing we’ve seen since then has caused us to change our minds. Quite the contrary,” her spokesman said.
16 May – Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Saturday warned Sri Lanka there would be “consequences for its actions” if Colombo did not allow humanitarian agencies access to civilians and end the conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels.
“Sri Lanka stands on the brink,” Brown said in a statement. “We have called repeatedly for the violence to cease“. “The humanitarian agencies must be granted access to civilians caught in the crossfire of a dreadful conflict. We are backing UN efforts to secure an orderly end to the conflict. The LTTE must lay down its arms and allow civilians to leave“. “Sri Lanka must understand that there will be consequences for its actions”.
16 May – Doctors who remained in northern Sri Lanka’s bloody conflict zone are now being held incommunicado by the government in Omanthai, sources tell Inner City Press.
Along with Doctors Varatharajah and Shanmugarajah, Dr.Thangamutha Sathiyamoorth, the regional director of Health Services in Kilinochchi whose May 13 dispatch about that day’s the shelling of the last remaining hospital in the “No Fire” Zone, is being held without visits even from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
In New York, Inner City Press had asked top UN humanitarian John Holmes weeks ago if he had heard that the government had stopped paying doctors in the conflict zone, and was threatening them, if they provided casualty figures or other information, with interrogation, torture and even death when they were captured. Holmes said he hadn’t heard of it.
In Sri Lanka, the UN provided assurances that it would provide security for the doctors when the time came, according to local sources. But now, even with Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff Vijay Nambiar in the country, nothing appears to be being done about these doctors. The question has been asked, but no answer received.
17 May – Fears are growing for the safety of the doctors who acted as the eyes and ears of the world during the Sri Lankan army’s final assault on the Tamil Tigers’s last stronghold in the north-east of the country. Doctors Thangamutha Sathiyamoorthy, Thurairaja Varatharajah and V Shanmugarajah, and London-trained administrative officer Vany Kumar, are understood to have been detained by Sri Lankan forces as they tried to escape the fighting on Friday. They have not been heard from since. The Sri Lankan army denies involvement in their disappearance.
But their reports – carried in the Guardian and the Observer, among other news outlets – have enraged the government in Colombo, which has dismissed them as pawns of the Tamil Tigers. Last month the health minister, Athula Kahandaliyanage, accused the two most outspoken doctors, Sathiyamoorthy and Varatharajah, of “mouthing the propaganda of the LTTE” and the government has warned that they would face disciplinary action over their allegations that Sri Lankan forces had been shelling civilians.
According to UN sources, they later attempted to escape from the area through the Omanthai crossing point and had not been seen since. UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said: “We believe the doctors came out and we are concerned for their well-being. We are now trying to discover their whereabouts.”
17 May – Mr Pathmanathan, Head of LTTE’s International Diplomatic Relations released a statement after the end of the war.
“This battle has reached its bitter end. Against all odds, we have held back the advancing Sinhalese forces without help or support, except for the unending support of our people. It is our people who are dying now from bombs, shells, illness and hunger. We cannot permit any more harm to befall them. We remain with one last choice – to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer. We can no longer bear to see the innocent blood of our people being spilled,” Mr. Pathmanathan said.
“We have not forgotten that it is for our people that we fight. In the face of the current conditions, we will no longer permit this battle to be used as a justification by the forces of the Sinhala state to kill our people. We willingly stand up with courage and silence our guns. We have no other option other than to continue our plea to the international community to save our people”.
17 May – … some predict mass graves and cover up, pleading via sat-phone to Inner City Press to please get the UN to take satellite photographs to preserve the evidence. But the UN withheld even the photographs their UNOSAT already had.
A press briefing has been set up for May 18 in New York, not by Ban Ki-moon’s envoy Vijay Nambiar but rather by humanitarian chief John Holmes, who was visited decidedly less bloody zones during Sri Lanka’s final push into the conflict zone.
17 May – Against all evidence, the Sri Lankan government claims that the shelling in which as many as 1,000 ethnic Tamil civilians have died is not even occurring.
18 May – Sri Lanka declared total victory on Monday in one of the world’s most intractable wars, after killing the separatist Tamil Tigers’ leader and taking control of the entire country for the first time since 1983.
In a climactic gunbattle, special forces troops killed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran as he tried to flee the war zone in an ambulance early on Monday, state television reported. Prabhakaran, 54, founded the LTTE on a culture of suicide before surrender, and had sworn he would never be taken alive.
Army commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka said troops had crushed the last Tigers resisting an offensive that has in less than three years destroyed a group that had cultivated an aura of military invincibility while earning many terrorism designations.”We have liberated the entire country by completely liberating the north from the terrorists. We have gained full control of LTTE-held areas,” Fonseka announced on state TV.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had already declared victory on Saturday, even as the final battle in Asia’s longest modern war was intensifying after the last of 72,000 civilians held in the war zone had been freed. The LTTE conceded defeat on Sunday.
18 May – Sri Lankan government has said its forces have rescued all Tamil civilians trapped inside the war zone in the embattled north without “shedding a drop of blood“. Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said “soldiers saved all Tamil civilians trapped inside the war zone without shedding a drop of blood“. “This great task was possible because of the care shown regarding this by President Mahinda Rajapaksa,” Samarasinghe said yesterday. Samarasinghe gave an assurance that all civilians will be resettled in their original living places after all landmines have been removed.
18 May – The European Union called on Monday for an independent investigation into alleged violations of human rights law in Sri Lanka’s war, and a “fully inclusive” political settlement following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said the 27-nation bloc was appalled by the loss of innocent lives and the high numbers of casualties, including children, in fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels.
“The EU calls for the alleged violations of these laws to be investigated through an independent inquiry. Those accountable must be brought to justice,” their statement said. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout told a news briefing that in principle the inquiry should be carried out by Sri Lankan authorities but it could involve non-government and U.N. bodies.
18 May – Three Sri Lankan doctors who treated hundreds of badly wounded civilians in understaffed, makeshift hospitals in the country’s war zone were detained on accusations they gave false information about the casualties to the media, a health official said Monday.
The doctors fled the conflict last week as the government’s fight against the Tamil Tiger rebels neared its conclusion. The government declared victory Monday in the 25-year-old insurgency. A health ministry official said the doctors were detained by the military when they fled and were later turned over to police. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
20 May – The UN and aid agencies have appealed to Sri Lanka to allow them access to injured and displaced civilians stranded despite an end to fighting. “Total access” was urgently needed to the rebels’ final stronghold, a north-east coastal strip, the UN humanitarian office said. Thousands of civilians, many injured and sick, are believed to be there.
Sri Lanka declared an end to civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels following the rebel leader’s death. “We need to have access, I repeat, total access, without the least let or hindrance, for the UN, for NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and for the Red Cross,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The UN also called on authorities to improve the situation at camps where thousands had arrived to escape the intensive fighting in the past few months. “It’s urgent that assistance gets into those camps and that we are able to deliver,” said UN refugee agency spokesman Ron Redmond.
20 May – The United Nations on Wednesday accused the Sri Lankan authorities of blocking access to civilians trapped in the former war zone or who have fled to camps for displaced people. In the latest sign of concern at the government’s treatment of ethnic Tamils and other civilians, the U.N. said it had no information on the numbers of sick or wounded still in the conflict zone.
Byrs said NGOs were encountering difficulties getting into camps for displaced people, even though the military authorities in the Jaffna region had promised them total access.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said it estimated that up to 80,000 people had left the former war zone in the last three days, bringing the total to have fled the fighting in recent months to 280,000.
UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said he did not know why the authorities were blocking access to the camps. He said the government must improve conditions at existing camps, allocate public buildings to house new arrivals while UNHCR prepared land for new camps, deal with overcrowding at existing sites, uphold law and order in the camps, clarify policies for screening former combatants from civilians and give non-combatants freedom of movement.
Redmond said the government had the right to screen former combatants from fleeing civilians. Although UNHCR was monitoring the process it was not taking part close up. “We want to see human rights upheld,” he said. – GENEVA, May 20 (Reuters)
20 May – Aid groups and the U.N. appealed Wednesday to be allowed to survey the aftermath of the final battle of Sri Lanka’s civil war and pushed for unfettered access to some 280,000 Tamils displaced from the former combat zone.
Pressure mounted on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to open areas that have been off limits to independent journalists and aid workers for months, amid reports that thousands of civilians were killed in the crossfire between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels in the final weeks of the war.
Since last weekend, aid trucks have been restricted from the largest camp, bringing the distribution of supplies there to “a temporary standstill,” said Monica Zanarelli, the deputy head of operations for South Asia for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
20 May – Aid groups and the U.N. pushed for access to Sri Lanka’s former battlefields Wednesday to treat and evacuate any wounded civilians stranded there, as the country celebrated a holiday to honour the military’s victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Though the president declared the country free from terror Tuesday, government forces shot and killed two squads of rebel fighters — a total of eight insurgents — who were preparing ambushes in eastern Sri Lanka, the military said. Pockets of rebel fighters are presumed still active in the east and officials suspect that sleeper cells are hidden in several cities — raising fears the war could continue in the form of an insurgency. Security remained tight around Colombo, which is filled with checkpoints and patrolling troops.
20 May – In Sri Lanka, access to the interment camps has been further reduced, the conflict zone still unvisited, doctors who worked there still detained. The day before the UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gets on a series of plane with the Press to Colombo, his Deputy Spokesperson acknowledged the reports of the doctors’ detentions, and that she had no update on the Red Cross getting access.
Inner City Press asked, to be sure, that Ban will be going to what was called the conflict zone. “He said he expected to go to the conflict zone,” she answered.
20 May – A number of children in camps for people displaced by Sri Lanka’s Tamil conflict have been abducted, international human rights groups say. The groups say they have verified reports of disappearances in the Vavuniya area and are calling for the United Nations to investigate.
Suspected former Tamil Tiger child soldiers are said to have been removed by paramilitaries for questioning. A Sri Lankan military spokesman denied the groups’ allegations. A spokeswoman for the groups, Charu Lata Hogg, said the motives for the abductions were unclear but some children were being questioned about alleged links to the Tamil Tiger rebels, or LTTE.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers is an umbrella group of global organisations which includes Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It said it had received verified reports of abductions from camps in and around Vavuniya in the north.
It alleges that groups like the EPDP, PLOTE and the TMVP-Karuna faction – all Tamil paramilitary groups affiliated to the government – have unfettered access to the camps despite the presence of the Sri Lankan military. “The motive is slightly unclear,” said Ms Hogg. “Some are being taken away for ransom, they’ve been kidnapped for ransom, and there’ve been certain negotiated releases where mothers had some jewellery and they could negotiate a release right within the camp“.
“In other cases the children have been taken away for questioning for their alleged links to the LTTE, so they are suspected of being former child soldiers with the LTTE.” She says there are fears for the safety of former LTTE child soldiers, who should be protected under international agreements. Sri Lanka’s military denied the allegations, describing them as yet another attempt to discredit the government.
Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said it was impossible for “anyone, even a child or an LTTE person, to be taken out from the camps without any proper or legal authority“. The coalition says the protection of children in the north and east of Sri Lanka is a matter of urgent concern, citing the refusal of access to international agencies responsible for monitoring the camps.
Without independent scrutiny, it says, children are at risk of human rights abuses, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.
21 May – Sri Lanka is under mounting pressure over alleged war crimes committed by its military forces during the bloody closing stages of the war with Tamil Tiger rebels. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who will visit Sri Lanka tomorrow, said any serious allegations of war crimes should be properly investigated.
The UN estimates at least 6500 Tamil civilians died between mid-January and early May, describing the closing phase of the conflict as a “bloodbath“.
The British Government also wants a probe into what it calls the “truly shocking and appalling” numbers of civilian dead. Amnesty International said “the mounting evidence of serious violations of international law” must be investigated.
Mr Ban said he was relieved by the conclusion of the military operation but troubled by the loss of so many civilian lives. “It is most important that every effort be undertaken to begin a process of healing and national reconciliation“. He said the legitimate aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils and other minorities needed to be fully addressed and he called for a “credible” devolution of power in Sri Lanka.
21 May – Western nations face an uphill battle to establish any investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka. The UN Human Rights Council has agreed to hold a special session in Geneva next week on alleged war crimes by Tamil rebels and Sri Lankan government forces, but European diplomats are struggling to muster support for a strong statement at the end of the meeting.
The seven EU countries on the council — Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia — are joined by Argentina, Bosnia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Mauritius, South Korea, Switzerland, Ukraine and Uruguay. Efforts to attract further support will intensify in the coming days.
They also want the Human Rights Council to voice concern about alleged violations of humanitarian law by the Government and to call for an investigation “in accordance with international standards”. Although negotiations continue, it is unlikely that the council will establish its own investigation as it did for the recent Gaza war. European diplomats emphasise, however, that the special session will help to give a public airing to alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
22 May – US military satellites secretly monitored Sri Lanka’s conflict zone through the latter stages of the war against the Tamil Tigers and American officials are examining images for evidence of war crimes, The Times has learnt.
Other US officials said that the Office of War Crimes Issues was investigating Sri Lanka and that satellite images were a crucial part of the investigation because of the lack of access on the ground.
Satellite imagery is valuable in the case of Sri Lanka because the Government has banned almost all independent aid workers and journalists from the front line, blocking examination of alleged war crime scenes.
The State Department has already used NGA satellite images to put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government. It released two pictures to the media in April that it said showed 100,000 civilians crammed on to a beach in the conflict zone.
In the same month, the UN leaked satellite images from multiple sources that appeared to prove that the Sri Lankan air force had bombed civilians there despite establishing it as a no-fire zone for them to shelter in. Sri Lanka admitted bombing the area but said that it was attacking Tiger artillery positions and that there were no civilians in the immediate area at the time. It accused the UN of spying.
22 May – Sri Lanka’s government ignored mounting calls by international relief organizations on Friday for greater access to the country’s swelling refugee camps, as the military continued to weed out people suspected of being former Tamil Tiger rebels hiding among civilians.
In a joint statement on Friday, 14 international relief organizations operating in the camps said that the government had restricted the movement of their vehicles, making it impossible to provide adequate services.
“The government is afraid that with such a large number of vehicles going in and out of the camps, some L.T.T.E. members may escape,” said David White, the head in Sri Lanka of Oxfam, one of the 14 organizations. He referred to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers. “Also, the large number of international vehicles in the camps makes it seem as if it’s an international relief effort, whereas the government is very keen on portraying this as a national effort,” he said.
After circling over the combat zone in the country’s northeast, Mr. Ban’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, described the area on Friday as “ravaged,” with many burned-out vehicles and clusters of battered tents. “What was truly striking was the almost total absence of human habitation,” he said at a news conference here. Asked about an investigation into possible war crimes by the Tamil Tigers and the government, Mr. Nambiar said the issue would probably be raised at a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council next week.
Aid officials with operations there said the government had set up the camps relatively well, with about 10 people sharing tents measuring 16 feet by 10 feet. “The camp management is actually not bad,” said one aid official. “That’s not why the government doesn’t want to let people inside. They don’t want the media to be talking to people about what happened in the conflict zones.”
22 May – Paramilitary groups with links to the Sri Lankan Army are abducting Tamil children as young as 12 from state-run internment camps set up to hold 300,000 people displaced by the Government’s war with the Tamil Tigers, a campaign group says.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said that children under 18 were being snatched from the camps, which are struggling to cope with refugees from the war zone on the northeastern coast.
Minors were also being taken from the northern town of Vavuniya by paramilitary groups with the tacit support of the Government, the coalition, which includes Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said.
Fourteen international aid agencies, including Oxfam and Save the Children, warned yesterday that thousands of lives were at risk because aid workers and their vehicles were not being given enough access to the camps.
“We’re asking the Sri Lankan Government to adhere to the guiding principles agreed by them with the humanitarian community, and to let us do our job properly.”
23 May – A former Tamil Tigers leader who defected to become a Sri Lankan Government minister has given the first official admission that a significant number of civilians were killed during the final offensive against the rebels.
Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, who is known as Colonel Karuna, said Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had made a mistake when he claimed no one died at the hands of the army. During his victory speech in the Sri Lankan parliament on Tuesday, Mr Rajapaksa said his army had achieved a “miracle” in winning the battle “without shedding the blood of civilians”.
“They made a mistake. The President knows the damage.”
23 May – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has visited a displacement camp packed with Tamil civilians. Nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians were displaced in the final months of fighting and sent to dozens of government-run camps in the north.
Ban toured a section of the massive Manik Farm camp, went into people’s tents to see their living conditions, spoke to displaced people and met with wounded in a hospital. “The situation, which I have seen for myself, is very, very difficult. It’s a real challenge,” Ban said. “There is clearly a limitation. The United Nations should try to fill this gap.” Ban called on the government to give aid groups unfettered access to the camps and welcomed Rajapaksa’s promise to resettle the bulk of the displaced by the end of the year.
“We will try to work hard to make sure that promise is realised,” he said as he toured the vast expanse of white tents. Roads between the tents are crammed with people, and barbed wire fences encircle the area, keeping the tens of thousands of civilians from getting out. Soldiers are stationed across the camp.
Aid groups have appealed to the government to allow the displaced more freedom, but military officials say it is too dangerous to let them out because rebels could be hiding among the civilians.
24 May – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned Sri Lanka’s government leaders not to view their civil war victory as a defeat of the Tamil people. Mr. Ban, at a joint news conference with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollogama, predicted that history could repeat itself if there is no reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils.
The end of the quarter-century conflict has scattered 300,000 Tamils. More than two-thirds of them are at a sprawling displacement camp called Manik Farm. The Secretary-General on a tour of it (Saturday) said it was clear Sri Lanka does not have adequate resources to handle the situation alone. He said such a huge challenge could only be adequately confronted with help from the international community.
“All the VIPs are coming and they are showing this area only. If they go the downside they can see the real situation of this camp. The people, they’re suffering,” said Kumar, a school teacher who wished to remain unidentified
24 May – The Sri Lankan government has deliberately concealed the number of civilians wounded during its final onslaught against the Tamil Tigers, according to new documents.
Aid workers and officials helping to evacuate refugees from the war zone said that more than 30 per cent arrived with serious injuries caused by shelling. Those figures have been logged by the Sri Lankan government.
Aid workers familiar with events during the final army push before the separatist terrorist group surrendered said that the Trincomalee casualty figures represent only a fraction of the total. Up to 60 per cent of more than 250,000 people who fled the fighting have injuries caused by shelling, mortar fire and gunshots, it was claimed.
“They are major wounds — legs broken, open abdomens, head injuries and limbs removed. All from shelling and flying objects,” said a medical official.
24 May – Reports emerged of two LTTE leaders who were gunned down as they marched to surrender. A Tamil who was in a group that managed to escape the killing zone described what happened. This source, who later spoke to an aid worker, said Balasingham Nadesan and Seevaratnam Puleedevan walked towards Sri Lankan army lines with a white flag in a group of about a dozen men and women. He said the army started firing machineguns at them.
The source said all in the group were killed. He is now in hiding, fearful for his life. Chandra Nehru has fled the country after being threatened, the MP says, by the president and his brother.
Yesterday international aid agencies claimed up to three families were crowding into each tent and being forced to queue for hours for water and food. One aid worker said there was only one doctor in a camp holding 44,000 people.
Reports were circulating that members of paramilitary gangs were seizing young people from the camps, accusing them of being Tigers and holding them in secret facilities, although this could not be confirmed. The president has talked of reaching out to the Tamil community, unifying the country and resettling 80% of the refugees by the end of the year. “I do not think that is realistic,” said Anna Neistat, of Human Rights Watch. “There is no procedure to release anyone.”
24 May – Sri Lanka’s president on Sunday rejected a call by the U.N. secretary-general to lift restrictions on aid delivery to overcrowded displacement camps, saying the army must first finish screening the hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees.
… Rajapaksa said security had to be assured “in view of the likely presence of LTTE infiltrators” among the refugees. “As conditions improved, especially with regard to security, there would be no objections to such assistance, from organizations that were genuinely interested in the well being” of the displaced Tamils, he said.
27 May – The United Nations Human Rights Council on May 27 passed a deeply flawed resolution on Sri Lanka that ignores calls for an international investigation into alleged abuses during recent fighting and other pressing human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today.
“The Human Rights Council did not even express its concern for the hundreds of thousands of people facing indefinite detention in government camps,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The council ignored urgent needs and wasted an important chance to promote human rights.”
“It is deeply disappointing that a majority of the Human Rights Council decided to focus on praising a government whose forces have been responsible for the repeated indiscriminate shelling of civilians,” said de Rivero. “These states blocked a message to the government that it needs to hear, to ensure access to displaced civilians and uphold human rights standards. They undermined the very purpose of the council.”
27 May – The Sri Lankan Government has been accused of “ethnic cleansing” following its victory over the Tamil Tigers in the nation’s 26-year civil war, as rivals clamber to fill the void left by the death of the Tamil Tiger chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Aid officials, human rights campaigners and politicians claim Tamils have been driven out of north-eastern areas by killings and kidnappings carried out by pro-Government militias. They say the Government has also encouraged members of the Sinhalese majority in the south to relocate to the north.
One foreign charity worker said the number of Tamils disappearing around Trincomalee, 80 kilometres south of the final conflict zone in Mullaitivu, had increased in the last three months. He claimed to have known 15 of those who disappeared, three of whom were found dead. He said the bodies showed signs of torture, and two were found with their hands tied behind their back and single bullet wounds to the head.
R. Sampanthan, the parliamentary leader of the Tamil National Alliance and an MP for Trincomalee, said he shared these fears. “It’s ethnic cleansing and we’re concerned that this is what they will also do in the north,” he said.
29 May – Evidence gathered by The Times has revealed that at least 20,000 Tamils were killed on the beach by shelling as the army closed in on the Tigers.
The 47-member body, set up in 2006 to replace the previous corrupt and ineffectual UN Commission on Human Rights, has abjectly failed one of its first and most important tests.
To her credit, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, insisted that there needed still to be an inquiry into “very serious abuses”. Those abuses, it now emerges, are far, far worse than the outside world imagined.
29 May – Reporters Without Borders is extremely worried by statements by Sri Lankan officials, including army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka, that journalists who visited areas formerly controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels will be prosecuted.
“The war is over,” Reporters Without Borders said. “There is no longer any reason for the army to impose so many restrictions on media working in the Tamil areas, including restrictions on access to refugee camps. The United Nations – which deliberately minimised the suffering of Tamil civilians, according to the French newspaper Le Monde – should make an effort to obtain unrestricted access to refugee camps for the press and humanitarian aid workers.”
A humanitarian aid worker said: “At the checkpoints installed on the roads leading to Tamil areas, soldiers always ask the same question: ‘What are you going to do there?’.” Journalists are turned back if they lack official authorisation.
Most of the Sri Lankan media have not sent reporters to the Tamil areas. The press have only managed to get into these areas when there have been visits by Sri Lankan and international official such as UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been allowed to visit some detention camps.
30 May – The Times news agency criticizes the UN :
The decision by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to resist setting up an inquiry into the conduct of both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan military in the recent hostilities is shocking and indefensible. Its rejection too of the advice of the UN’s own High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, that such an inquiry was needed, is even more aberrant.
And the resolution that the council did adopt, which implies that no human rights abuses occurred at the hands of the Sri Lankan Government, flies in the face of all the evidence that is emerging, not least from investigations by The Times. Seldom has the dictum that truth is the first casualty of war been demonstrated more clearly.
30 May – The strip of beach where tens of thousands of civilians huddled during the Sri Lankan military’s decisive assault against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month shows clear signs of heavy artillery shelling, according to a helicopter inspection of the site by independent journalists, interviews with eyewitnesses, and specialists who have studied high-resolution satellite imagery from the war zone.
That evidence contradicts government assertions that areas of heavy civilian populations were no-fire zones that were deliberately spared during the final weeks of military assault that ended this island nation’s quarter-century of civil war.
“We see a lot of images of destroyed structures and what look like circular shell craters and also, frankly, very large holes in the ground. If it was a shell, it must be a very large one to make 24-feet-wide craters,” said Lars Bromley, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, which was asked by human rights groups to study the satellite images.
June – Aid workers are forced to leave Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is reportedly hampering international relief efforts by forcing dozens of British and other foreign aid workers to leave the country because it considers them sympathetic to the defeated Tamil Tigers, The Times has learnt.
Aid organizations say the policy is costing them tens of thousands of pounds of donors’ money as they struggle to help 280,000 Tamil civilians in internment camps.The Government deported the Norwegian head of Forut, an Oslo-based NGO, on Saturday, and stopped a British employee of Forut from re-entering Sri Lanka last month, citing new rules that prevent them from staying in Sri Lanka for more than three years.
2 June – Between the May 27 and May 30 reports of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 13,000 IDPs simply disappeared from the camps.
OCHA’s May 30 report states that “276,785 persons crossed to the Government controlled areas from the conflict zone. This represents a decrease of 13,130 IDPs since the last report (Sitrep No.18) on 27 May 2009. The decrease is associated with double counting. Additional verification is required.”
UN sources in Colombo tell Inner City Press that senior UN officials above them, Sri Lankan nationals who are Sinhalese, are downplaying the 13,000 “missing” IDPs, which would otherwise be of much concern given the reports of disappearances from the camps, the seizing of teenage males for detention and females for other purposes, UK Channel 4 asserted with on camera interviews.
2 June – Reporters Without Borders is outraged by an assault on Poddala Jayantha, the secretary-general of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), the country’s leading journalists organisation, who was kidnapped yesterday by a gang on a Colombo street, tortured and then dumped at a roadside. He is now in hospital with serious leg injuries.
“Political gangs are celebrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in their own fashion, in this case by abducting and torturing a press freedom activist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The government must take energetic measures to put a stop to this continuing war against the media and human rights activists. We express our complete solidarity with Poddala Jayantha, who acted with courage in defending his fellow journalists.”
Known for organising many demonstrations in defence of press freedom, Jayantha had just left a pharmacy yesterday afternoon when he was kidnapped by about six unidentified Sinhalese men in a white van, who gave him severe beating and cut his beard and hair before abandoning him at the side of a road.
6 June – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sends his chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar back to Sri Lanka.
8 June – The following report was provided by a person who visited several relatives being held in one of the internment camps set up by Sri Lankan authorities to house nearly 300,000 civilians who fled during the final weeks of fighting between the army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
“Most parents with teenagers never sleep at night because they are worried their sons and daughters will be abducted. The names of young people are often called out and they have to go to the office. The officials say they are being investigated. Some of them come back, others do not. Even the parents are not informed where they have been taken and why. It is a terrible situation”
9 June – Grief and despondency in Sri Lanka’s camps. An excerpt from an independent writers personal account of the detained.
“What I saw was bad. Out of the two camps only one looked like it might reach Sphere minimum humanitarian standards – providing basic human needs. But just barely”
16 June – Sunila Abeyesekara, an international award winning human rights activist in Sri Lanka, says that nearly 20-30 youth have been disappearing from camps in Vavuniya daily. Sunila Abeysekara told BBC Sandeshaya that rights activists have received credible reports of regular abductions in the camps. “We accept that the government has the right to search the camps for security reasons. But our concern is that there is no formal registration process,” she said.