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Mixed signals of horror from Wanni

- LTTE may engineer an ultimate bloodbath of civilians and will the Rev Father Pathinathar dare confront the LTTE and lead a march of the 491,000 people, the number he claims, out of this highly endangered zone where the final battle will be fought, to the freedom that awaits them?

By Ranjit Surendran and Roshanti Arasakularatne

(January 23, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is a fact that the LTTE-held area has shrunk to a part of the Mullaitivu District and continuing to shrivel at a rapid rate. Fears are now emerging that the Tigers may resort to a last desperate attempt and cause a bloodbath of 300,000 people of Wanni they are currently holding hostage. They are the only hope they have to bring about a halt of the army from mopping up what is left of the LTTE-held area.

While it is widely acknowledged the Tigers are not allowing the civilians to move to the areas freed by the government forces, it is also known that they are not allowing food and other urgently needed supplies to reach them. Amidst this extremely worrying concern for the fate of 300,000 people, a letter from the Rev Father James Pathinathar of St Jude’s Church in Udaiyarkaddu in the army encircled area of Mullaitivu District raises some serious doubts and concerns.

His letter addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, reproduced here below places the entire blame on the armed forces and gives a figure of 491,000 as having become refugees. It is certainly not a document representing as claimed by it the “Agonising cry of the people of Wanni, Sri Lanka” but an attack on the Government of Sri Lanka claiming that the “ongoing war is the structural injustice, a vehement denial of equality and dignity of the Sri Lankan Tamils, perpetrated by the successive Sinhala dominated governments of Sri Lanka for decades.”

The letter has in no way referred to the LTTE holding innocent civilians who have suffered horrendously for many years now, as human shield as a last resort in a war that they have virtually lost and their leader has possibly fled the country.

The Rev Father Pathinathar has every right to appeal for help to save the people held hostage and he should have also appealed to the LTTE to let the people go because facilities are available for them for refuge and help once they are released by the Tigers.

The very genesis of the LTTE has been from the lap of the Catholic Church in Jaffna and spoils from the various bank robberies with which Prabhakaran started his terror campaign were entrusted to certain priests of the Catholic Church. And now the letter from Rev Father Pathinathar to the General Secretary of the United Nations clearly indicates that what he wants is a halt of the army attacks against the LTTE.

This is a war against terrorism and not one against the Tamil people. The Tamils should not depend on the LTTE to voice their grievances. There is hardly any doubt that a large majority of the Tamils in Sri Lanka do not want to be represented by the LTTE and it was sheer fear that kept them scared to their marrows and silent.

Why has the Rev Father Pathinathar not appealed to the LTTE to let the 300,000 people which he overstates as 491,000 to go away from their hold? The fear that is utmost now is that the LTTE as a last act of terror revenge may cause the slaughter of the people they are holding hostage and blaming it on the army. It is an accepted fact that the LTTE is the most brutal terror force in the world bereft of just about everything that is human.

It is incumbent on the Rev Father Pathinathar and his Catholic Church to ensure that this tragedy that is highly likely is prevented. Will he dare confront the LTTE and lead a march of the 491,000 people as he claims out of this highly endangered zone where the final battle will be fought?

The letter of the Rev Father Pathinathar to the Secretary General of the United Nations:

The Agonising Cry of the People of Wanni, Sri-Lanka

We the Roman Catholic Priests and Religious serving the people in Wanni, the theatre of on-going vicious battles, make the following ardent and urgent appeal.

1. The "uncleared" area of Wanni which consisted of Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, parts of Mannar, parts of Jaffna and parts of Vavuniya districts has now shrunken to parts of the Mullaitivu district alone, as a result of the on-going military operations carried out by the
Sri Lankan security forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

2. About 491,000 people from the above-mentioned districts are now forced to live in the shrunken Mullaitivu district alone. Day after day, displacements continue unabated, as a result of the aggressive artillery poundings and aerial bombardments in and around civilian

3. In these indiscriminate attacks, babies in mothers' wombs, infants, children, women and men, young and old are killed and maimed and wounded everyday. Even schools, hospitals, places of worship, civilian settlements etc., the security and safety of which are guaranteed in the Geneva Convention on the Conduct of War, are not spared in this aggressive war.

4. The merciless Economic Embargo imposed on Wanni and the Eviction of the INGOs worsen the predicament of the innocent civilians. A shortage in fuel, food supply, medicines, shelter materials and drinking water weigh heavily upon an already beleaguered people.

5. As the geographical territory occupied by the people keep on shrinking daily, it is becoming almost impossible for the people even to move towards "safer" areas, away from the battle fields. A GREAT HUMAN TRAGEDY HAS EXPLODED IN WANNI. Such a gruesome experience is unprecedented in the recent history of these people.

6. In times of war, the parties to the conflict, particularly the Government which is a signatory to the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war has the bounden duty to uphold the Convention. The safety and security and human dignity of the innocent civilians cannot and should not be trampled upon by anyone, particularly by the Government, waging a war.

7. What is at the root of this on going war is the STRUCTURAL INJUSTICE, a vehement denial of EQUALITY and DIGNITY of the Sri Lankan Tamils, perpetrated by the successive Sinhala dominated Governments of Sri Lanka for decades.

8. Therefore, we earnestly urge Your Excellency to take immediate action to stop this senseless war and put an end to the untold sufferings of the innocent civilians in Wanni whose life has become a real struggle for survival. And kindly take the necessary steps to bring the parties to the conflict to the negotiating table in order to find a humane and just and lasting political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Signed Rev Fr.James Pathinathar,
On behalf of the Priests and Religious of Wanni
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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