Last Phase of Civil War at Mullivaikal: What happened really?

The memory of Mullivaikal’s dead men women and children was kept alive by the surviving victims. They will continue to raise the memory at all international forums and will not rest until the truth is revealed. Photo:Reuters

by Sivanendran

(April 30, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian)The events at Mullivaikal mark the climax of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the most vicious of the battles where the lives of poor civilians were totally ignored.

That the innocent civilians got massacred in large numbers is not in doubt, but the orthodox story omits entirely the context in which this occurred.

What is most important to keep in mind is that Mullivaikal today has sadly become largely a political tool, an excuse for ethno-nationalists on all sides to let loose their most radical sentiments and score points with their supporters. In the 2009 massacre in reports, the background and responsibilities for the disaster in Mullivaikal were absent. Preferred was the simple explanation: a black and white event in which the Tamils the terrorists were solely to blame.

"Truth and reason are eternal," Thomas Jefferson wrote to Rev. Samuel Knox in 1810. "They have prevailed. And they will eternally prevail . . ."

Mullivaikal was a village in Vanni besieged by the government forces. This massacre occurred because the Sri Lankan Army savagely lashed out s against the LTTE ignoring the civilian population of the area.. After promising safety and protection to the innocent inhabitants of Mullivaikal the governmental forces are said to have used disproportionate force indiscriminately attacking even assigned "no fire zones".

Throughout this period the U.N. adopted a position of "neutrality" that in practice meant inaction, even when large number of men, women and children were killed in these attacks. Sri Lankan forces attacked "no fire zones" or the warring parties otherwise violated ceasefire agreements.

It's a distasteful point, but it has to be said that, if you're committing whole scale slaughter, you don't let the women go since they are key to perpetuating the very group you are trying to eliminate. Many of the boys and girls were executed and buried in mass graves. Every day of this war has seen the most unspeakable atrocities committed against ordinary civilians. Trapped in this small land area, under constant Sri Lankan bombardment, sleepless and thirst-maddened, unarmed men, women and children succumbed to hallucinations, paranoia, and despair. The psyches of the people ruptured.

Mullivaikal is not simply a case of the international community standing by as a far-off atrocity was committed. The actions of the international community encouraged, aided, and emboldened the attackers. The fall of Mullivaikal did not have to happen. There was no need for thousands of skeletons to be strewn across that north eastern coast. There is no need for thousands of Tamil children to be raised on stories of their fathers, mothers, uncles and brothers slaughtered by Sri Lankan army.

How many died?

There are various estimates of the maimed and the dead. Some estimate the dead as about 10,000 whilst some others have even suggested as much as 100,000. The massacre accounts for an astonishing number of missing from the brutal conflict as a whole. By any standard, it was one of the worst and most concentrated acts of killing in the post-World War II era.

The fact beyond dispute is that during the siege of Mullivaikal thousands of Tamil men, women and children were killed. Most of them died when the enclave was completely encircled by the Sri Lankan Army and fell almost without a fight. A significant number reached safety only after the 18th May 2009.

It is now two years since the fall of Mullivaikal . Much has been written about the matter. Nonetheless the majority of reports have been limited to a broad media exposure of the event, with very little analytical rigor. Discussion of Mullivaikal cannot be limited to genocide and mass graves. A rigorous analysis of the events must take into consideration the background circumstances, in order to understand the real motives which led to the massacre.

Does Mullivaikal exemplify state brutality over the twenty five years of war? Let the truth be told. This is the question that needs to be answered by all including the international community.

Who is responsible?

The zone of Mullivaikal, like almost that entire coastline, is characterized by its flat terrain offering clear advantage to offensive forces. Sri Lankan army waited for months without attacking this enclave until the Indian elections were over. Given the resources available to both parties, and the characteristics of the terrain, it would seem that the Sri Lankan army had the necessary force to defend itself and be ever so mindful of the innocent people trapped in the war zone. This, however, did not occur.

Given the military advantage of the Sri Lankan forces it is very difficult to explain the amount of disregard that they showed to the innocent men, women and children in a siege situation, recklessly prosecuting a war in the absence of effective military resistance. The heavy casualties amongst the civilian population could have been avoided. The victims have many stories to tell. There are about 300,000 who survived these onslaughts waiting to tell their stories. There is no one asking for their stories much less to listen to them. There are many harrowing tales from these victims of Mullivaikal yet to be told.

The international community also bears responsibility for this massacre. Had the UN asserted its authority perhaps the world would have been spared of these mass killings.

The aftermath

Extensive forensic investigations of the Mullivaikal massacre sites have not been carried out systematically to identify the bodies and bury them appropriately. That area has been out of bounds to its inhabitants except the Sri Lankan military to enable them to clean up the land. We still do not know what the Sri Lankan army has done to the bodies. Is there a combined memorial or a mortuary in Mullivaikal for the dead?

The memory of Mullivaikal’s dead men women and children was kept alive by the surviving victims. They will continue to raise the memory at all international forums and will not rest until the truth is revealed.

Since the ending of the war in May 2009, the Tamil Diaspora has continued with their protest at the stalled investigations into the fate of their missing men, women and children and will do so again on the second anniversary of the massacre in May 2011. Their list of primary demands would include:

1.The full facts of massacre should be revealed and publicised.

2. A list of all dead and executed to be identified without delay.

3. A list of all survivors of Mullivaikal held prisoner in Sri Lanka should be released immediately.

So, here we are, two years later, going over the same old lines, while the families of the victims of Mullivaikal win nothing more than the moral high ground, which provides little in the way of closure. But, then, even closure is a tricky business. Even if the perpetrators themselves were to admit to the genocide and pay for their crimes, justice would not be served and the dead will not be brought back to life:

After all these years, there is still not a single high-profile political figure in Sri Lanka–who is capable of thinking of humanity over politics, of country over career. How can the people of Sri Lanka shrug it off not as the massacre of thousands of human beings, but as a tool to be used in political games?

UN Secretary General

A UN Secretary-General is not responsible for all UN actions - or lack of such, or for decisions made by the Security Council. Mr Bank ki Moon is however responsible for his own actions. During those fateful days in 2009, he had a choice: standing up against the Security Council in an attempt to shame politicians into intervening or keeping his head down and pretend he didn't know what was going on. Mr Moon chose silence, which satisfied the governments bent on ’business as usual’: seeing nothing and hearing nothing..

It has been argued that the Security Council was not really 'interested' or 'willing' to intervene and that this exempts him from blame. It is agreed that many politicians were extremely reluctant to intervene with force in Sri Lanka. But is it not exactly during such times when we most need a Secretary-General of the United Nations to speak up? Or, put differently, if politicians were head over heels to intervene to prevent crimes against humanity, why would we need a Secretary-General of the United Nations? Besides, the (unfortunately very belated) intervention of Britain and France almost at the end of the massacre showed that it was indeed possible to create enough public awareness for the international community to react.

If Mr Ban ki Moon had vigorously demanded a UN intervention and thereby confronted those governments in the Security Council that left civilians to their killers, he could rightly have washed his hands as he has since tried to do. However, for reasons of political and bureaucratic expediency he chose not to do so.

The United Nations must shoulder a large share of responsibility for allowing the massacre to take place under their noses however odious the LTTE tactics were. Through error, misjudgement and the inability to recognize the scope of evil confronting them, they failed to do their part to save the people of Mullivaikal from the mass murder.

The blame surely extends to the member states of the United Nations.

In the final days and hours of the advance on Mullivaikal, which American and Indian intelligence could monitor closely, the international community fell strangely silent. Mullivaikal duly fell, with consequences which were unspeakable in human terms, but not inconvenient diplomatically.

Mullivaikal– A call for justice

The Sri Lankan government deny that that there is anything to be explained or debated on this matter. This was only a problem of terrorism and its elimination. So many thousands people were killed and unknown number of prisoners were executed is not a matter that needs investigation. Even if a distinguished international judicial forum of unquestioned authority has found it to constitute unacceptable does not appear to persuade the Sri Lankan government that there is a need for an appropriate investigation of the matter. According to them there is nothing to debate because everything is settled and clear.

However, for the Tamils, it is noteworthy that "Mullivaikal" is used not as a geographic location but as a stand-alone term that denotes horror, "Mullivaikal" used in this sense has established itself as a horrible massacre of the innocent Tamils. Is Mullivaikal a hoax? Is it a myth based on a lie?

A distinguished panel of reasonable people with no ethno-religious axe to grind in the Sri Lankan quagmire have called for an investigation. If Sri Lanka has no blood on its hands why not agree for such an international investigation to bring a closure to this tragedy. We repeat- Let the truth be told.

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