For many years since 1986, a visit by any foreigner, or even by the Red Cross, into the towns of Mullaitivu, Pudukudiyiripu, Mullivaykal and Nandi kadal in the Northeast of the island, was not permitted by the Government of SriLanka. The media and the world were kept out from knowing the real situation of a bloody civil war. It was fought in four phases and raged for more than 25 years between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eellam who were fighting for an Independent Tamil state. The world witnessed a mass exodus of Tamils fleeing their homeland and seeking refuge all over the globe. But no one really cared.
The fight was so deadly and uncompromising, that the first phase during the early eighties saw heavy bloodshed among both parties who ultimately could consolidate positions amidst the heavy losses. In 1987 the Indian Peacekeeping force tried to implement a peace accord by forcibly disarming the Tamil soldiers. This led the LTTE into assassinating ministers belonging to SriLanka and also the former Prime minister of India. The LTTE who were, till then, looked upon as freedom fighters, then came to be branded as terrorists. This led to the second phase of the war in which the Srilankan army wrested back control of its lost territories, particularly the Tamil homeland of Jaffna, Elephant Pass and the neighbouring districts.
Eventually, the Triparte accord brought about by India was given up and shunned by warring parties and retaliation saw the beginning of the third phase of the war. The LTTE unleashed a retaliatory attack called “Operation unceasing waves” and shocked the world with stunning victories, overrunning the heavily fortified SriLankan army camps in Mullaithivu, Omanthai, Thandikulam, Killinochi, Elephant pass, A9 highway and Jaffna wresting back the Northeastern districts from the government forces. It went on to administer the territories and also grew to attack Anuradhapura airbase, the Trincomolee naval base and even the capital city of Srilanka, Colombo. The attack on Colombo by use of a single-engine aeroplane forced the final phase of war. Srilanka with the tacit support of the western world, China, India as well as Pakistan, unleashed the bloodiest war which is now described as a calculated cruel massacre of the Tamil ethnic community. This war zone in Mullaitivu, Pudukudiyiripu, Mullivaykal and Nandi kadal witnessed a genocide. It was termed to be as cruel as that of the Nazi Regime or the Khmer Rouge.
The end of a bloody era of about thirty years finally ended in 2009 with the Northeast now subjected to reconciliatory programs under the United Nations through the Government.
“Dark tourism” is how the visit into the war zone is described. The territory is dominated by the Lankan army camps and police. The Lankan tour guides, lead many Sinhalese groups into the War memorials and war museums in the Northeast of Srilanka. The visitors, quietly walk around the locales, shell shocked at the sight of the broken down remains of the ordnance factories, hospitals, barracks, dwellings and war machines used during the war. The ingenuity of the LTTE in making its own arms, ammunition, naval gunships, mini-submarines, bathospheres, tanks, single-engine planes, anti-aircraft light and heavy artillery machine guns, as well as infrastructure for developing and testing them, left them spellbound. A more than 15 meters deep swimming pool under the cover of a thick forest used by the Tamil forces to train swimmers for underwater attacks was another surprise. A half-finished huge submarine and many damaged gunboats, as well as small tractors used to drag the boats into the sea just a few hundred meters away from the sea, brought me to remember articles about the Libyan war of Independence against Italy. The small sized, single engine suicide bomber boats reminded me of the Japanese Kamikaze naval soldiers, who fought the war against the USA, in the Tadpole island or Corrigedor island in Manila. Many sand barriers on the beaches and lagoons added cover to these LTTE bases. Stories and events spoken about by the tour guides, were vivid narrations about the guerrilla war tactics and suicide attacks used by the LTTE and their narration, sounded as if the war had been over just about yesterday.
In the end, I looked upon the faces of the visitors and that of the natives. There was pride in both of them and yet both were muted by fear and bound by suspicion. Their eyes showed hurt. The thirty-year war, which was the reason for flirting with false pride, had fractured the free spirit of the people. They looked to be a condemned lot, forced into subjugation by the mindless politicians. A feeling of uncertainty overshadowed their every activity. Looking at their sad faces, I wanted to venture further beyond the museum base and the camps. I wanted to meet people and learn more but was told by the army guard that the zone was still filled with land mines. Its been years ago, since the war had ended and the reason for denying access to truth, I reasoned was purely a gag. I felt that this gag that prevented truth from being correctly understood were the real minefields, concealed in the mind, that when tread upon by freelancers like me, explode upon the face of those fearing the event.
To be honest, for the first time in my life, I felt in me the pangs of agony at that of the vanquished community and the fear among the vanquishers. An excruciating undefinable pain. It was eight years since the war had ended and yet pride and prejudice seemed to keep the memories of either side simmering and alive. History of conflicts, have taught us many lessons, yet we look upon contemporary conflicts in Israel, Palestine, Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Libya, Syria, Turkey, China and the rest of the southeast Asian as well as in the other Pacific islands only as political challenges and not as political crimes.
The journey of my restless mind ached for peace and I felt very sorry for this country and its people. This country has taught yet another lesson to the world. Yet we fail to learn, that armed conflicts and subjugation are inhuman. Unjust laws are no laws at all and only freedom can bring peace, to heal this Republic of hurt sentiments.