Aerial Terror results in massacre of innocents

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

It was 6.40 - 45 am on Monday August 14th.

Four Israeli built K-fir bombers appeared suddenly on the skies above a place
called "Vallipunam" in Mullaitheevu district in the North - Eastern Province of Sri
Lanka. It is believed that the planes piloted by foreign nationals had started out
from Trincomalee and flown north  over the sea and turned westwards towards  
Mullaitheevu .

The air craft were spot on. Instead of hovering in the air for a while as most
bombers do before releasing their deadly cargo these planes set about their
murderous task quickly and precisely. Like the four horsemen of the
apocalypse these agents of death and destruction dropped their bombs below.
With each K- fir dropping four bombs a total
of sixteen was dropped in a matter of
minutes. There was a cluster of small
buildings  and a large number of human
beings on the ground. Some of the bombs
hit the groups of humans with pin point
precision while others hit buildings and
clumps of trees. People apparently were the
prize target while buildings and trees
"collateral damage".
An exploded shell in the compound of
Except for one which failed to explode the other fifteen wreaked havoc. The
human targets most of them teen - aged girls ran in fear seeking refuge as
aerial terror rained on them. Frenzied pandemonium reigned.The planes that
dropped the bombs were also visually recording  the desperate scene below
with their sophisticated visual recording equipment.The four planes then turned
back after accomplishing their mission of aerial terror.

It was hell on earth below. More than 200 women most of them teen - aged
students were victims. Bodies lay in pools of blood with mangled flesh and limbs
strewn around. At least 30 to 35 were killed on the spot. The death tally
increased as victims were taken to hospital. By evening the death count was
reportedly sixty - one. Around 260 - 275  were injured.
In addition to Govt hospitals some were treated at Private clinics too.Some with
comparatively minor injuries got treatment and returned home.

155 seriously injured victims were hospitalised. They were warded at the
Mullaitheevu (52) Kilinochchi (64) Tharmapuram (26)  and Puthukudiyiruppu
(13) hospitals. Many of the victims according to UNICEF officials had lost their
limbs.The condition of about 40 of these victims was extremely serious.
Unconfirmed reports by Thursday 17th night said that the number of deaths
was nearing ninety. Independent confirmation was not possible.

UNICEF Kilinochchi Head Penny Brune and SLMM Kilinochchi monitor Matti
Vanionpaa inspected the massacre site and visited the hospitals where the
injured girls were being treated.The UNICEF also provided fuel and medicine to
expedite and aid the medical treatment given to the victims.

The SLMM later observed that the place was not a military installation. The
SLMM also said that ten large craters had been made by the bombs. The
UNICEF went on record that schoolgirls had been killed and injured in the
incident and that there was no evidence of the victims being LTTE cadres.

In terms of human cost and suffering  the incident was terrible. Yet the Colombo
based media with a few honourable exceptions downplayed the incident. The
focus was more on the "claymore terror"  in Kollupitiya which killed seven and
injured ten rather than the " K- fir terror" that killed 61 and injured 155. Even
the official statements of Countries like the USA and India were concerned with
the alleged attack on the Pakistani envoy and ignored the Mullaitheevu

UN officials were more concerned than Colombo - based diplomats. UN
Secretary - General Kofi Annan was "  increasingly alarmed at the ongoing
violence in Sri Lanka" said a press release." "He is profoundly concerned at the
rising death toll, including the seven people killed in a bomb attack in Colombo
today, and reports of dozens of students killed in a school as a result of air
strikes in the north-east." noted the communique.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman  called on both the Government
and the LTTE to “respect international humanitarian law and ensure
children and the places where they live, study and play are protected from
harm.” A UNICEF statement  pointed out, "The bombing on Monday of a
Vallepuram compound in Mullaitivu district that reportedly killed dozens of girls
and wounded many more is a shocking result of the rising violence in Sri
Lanka." "These children are innocent victims of violence," noted  Veneman.

“The latest shocking developments in Sri Lanka show once again that
children continue to bear the brunt of this conflict,” said the Secretary-
General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika
Coomaraswamy, calling on the parties to cease hostilities and return to the
negotiating table."Independent sources have verified that a compound in
Kilinochchi was bombed reportedly killing around 50 adolescent schoolgirls and
injuring 100 others. These schoolgirls were injured while taking part in a
training course on first-aid. Fearing reprisal, the Government has closed all
schools disrupting the education of children throughout the island," she said.

The bombing incident had shocked and deeply troubled the Tamil people. The
on going conflict has seen much aerial bombardment of the Tamil homeland.
Notorious among these incidents were the  Navaly church bombing in 1995,
The Nagar Kovil school bombing of 1996 and the Puthukudiyiruppu market
bombing of 1999. But the Vallipunam bombing due perhaps to the fact that
most victims were innocent  schoolgirls horrified most people. Adding insult to
injury was the blatant denial by the state that the victims were schoolgirls and
the puerile attempt to describe them as child soldiers.

Diaspora Tamils and those of Tamil Nadu were quick to react. The Tamil Nadu
legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution condemning the incident
and expressing condolences. Many political parties including the Indian
Communist and Marxist parties issued statements. Moves are afoot to get
Colombo censured in the Lok Sabha too. There were also many protest
meetings, demonstrations and processions in Tamil Nadu. Posters were
plastered on walls. Effigies of Mahinda Rajapakse were burnt. Tamil Nadu chief
minister Muttuvel Karunanidhy described the Colombo Govts conduct as
"Sandaalathanam" (atrocious villainy).

Tamil expatriates in the West too were active. Newspapers, radios and TV gave
sustained coverage to the issue. Sympathy fasts and demonstrations were
staged. Religious observances were held. Efforts were on to lobby Politicians
and the mainstream media. It appears that the issue would be exploited by pro -
tiger elements to whip up support for the Tamil cause among the Diaspora and
possibly  the mainstream communities too.

Reinforcing the cliche about truth being the first casualty in times of war is the
"spin" being put on the incident by both the Govt and LTTE.The Govt
particularly its hyper active cabinet spokesperson on defence affairs Keheliya
Rambukwella says that the bombed site was a tiger  transit training camp and
those killed and injured were child soldiers. When evidence to the contrary is
pointed out Rambukwella and other defence spokespersons go off at a tangent
making bizarre arguments in support of their case. However much the Govt may
try to justify the incident the plain , harsh truth is that aerial terror has been
unleashed to perpetrate a massacre of innocents.

The LTTE went to town initially saying that its orphanage "Sencholai" had been
bombed and orphaned children killed. As more information came to light the
tigers began changing stance. Many contradictory statements were made by
tiger agencies. As more details were revealed it became clear that the LTTE
had not been stating the whole truth. While the victims were certainly not child
soldiers as made out by the Govt it is also incorrect to assume that the LTTE
had no connection whatsover to the teen - aged students attending a
residential workshop at the targetted site.

While the Govt and LTTE put their respective spins to the incident very little is
known of what the families of victims think and feel. Politico - military arguments
and counter - arguments virtually ignore the tragic human dimension to this
endless and unnecessary conflict. The respective arguments leave many
people confused about the real situation.Furthermore many of the positions
articulated are based on ignorance and half truths. What is required is to shed
more light than generate heat on the tragic  incident.

Let us take the "Sencholai" girls orphanage  first. Setting up of  "Sencholai" for
children orphaned by the war was a brainchild of LTTE supremo Velupillai
Pirapakaran it is said. It was set up in Sandilipay in Jaffna peninsula in 1991. It
was relocated to Kilinochchi in 1995 and to Mullaitheevu district in 1998. As
time went on other social service institutions were also set up.The orphanage
for boys for instance was called "Kantharuban Arivucholai".

Some  of these institutions were housed at a place called Vallipunam. It is about
five miles from Puthukudiyiruppu along the Mullaitheevu - Paranthan road.
Vallipunam originally had chena cultivation and hence its name. Later several
large farms owned by Jaffna Tamils came into being. A rain fed tank
Naddalmottankulam helped irrigate fields. There were teak and Cashew groves
in addition to livestock, paddy  and cashcrops in the vicinity at one time. To its
interior lies thick jungle infested by Elephants. The postal address of
Vallipunam falls under Viswamadhu.

Five institutions were housed within a one mile radius in Vallipunam after the
tsunami..  They were the Sencholai orphan girls home with 245 children. The
Bharathy Illam girls home   for girls physically affected by the war and the
tsunami. There were 160 girls here; The Iniya Vaalvu illam was a home for deaf
and blind children and had 78 children. The Vasanthan Childrens home with 60
girls was for children mentally challenged due to the war and tsunami. The
"Senthalir" home for very young children with 120 children was the fifth.

.The area in which four  institutions were housed was called peace village. The
"Senthalir" home for very young orphaned children was also in the vicinity but
not within the peace village premises. It was earlier in Mullaitheevu town area
and was hit by the tsunami. Scores of young kids perished. Vallipunam was in
the interior and away from tsunami wave reach.

"Senthalir" reportedly is run by agencies independent of the LTTE or its
affiliates.The Bharathy and Iniya Valvu illam homes were run by the Tamil
Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) while the other two including Sencholai  were
directly run by the LTTE

Apart from a token armed tiger presence for security reasons the zone was
empty of armed personnel. Besides most of the tigers there were females. The
"Sencholai" compound housing teen - aged girls had parapet walls all round.
The Sencholai place was called "Valaham" or  campus.The administrative
director of Sencholai is Janani whose nom de guerre when being an active tiger
was  Sudarmahal.

Male tigers were declared out of bounds unless for an approved , specific
purpose. The tiger leader being a man of puritanical  discipline  was not taking
chances with the orphaned girls for whom he had deep attachment and
concern. Prabha would often visit the peace village and meet with these
innocent victims of war.

The area also had a number of bunkers where people could hide if there was
bombing.  This was a precaution in case of possible aerial bombardment The
location and description of the peace village and its inmates were well known to
the Government and NGO's and international aid organizations. Many NGO
representatives often visited the place.

The "Sencholai" however was relocated to a place on Iranaimadhu road in
Kilinochchi in January this year. LTTE chief Praba himself formally declared the
new campus open.The new campus contains eleven residential blocks for
different age groups.  It also contains a special block for infants, dining, study
halls and two kitchens.The campus also has an administration block, a skill
development center, a cultural hall, a health center and a library. The program
for building the campus started in June 2003 Plans of adding computer
facilities, audio-visual facilities and other features to the new  campus are being
worked out.

Though the orphanage proper moved to Kilinochchi in January the older  
campus remained as "sencholai" still.Though not utilised fully it was used at
times to house woman members of the peoples militia for physical training.
According to an European NGO official he had seen  people undergoing
physical exercises on at least two occasions in April - May this year.In any case
the LTTE never kept its "Makkal Padai" ( people force) a secret and flaunted
pictures of such training publicly through its media organs.

On some occasions even Sencholai kids were brought here for week - ends as
a form of a picnic or excursion. In recent times the LTTE was also
contemplating a relocation of Sencholai to its former venue because it thought
Kilinochchi would be targetted indiscrminately in an escalating conflict.

Among the various administrative structures the LTTE has is the Tamil Eelam
Education Board which coordinates educational functions. The director or
shadow education minister is "Baby" Subramaniam or Ilankumaran. Within the
LTTE , Ilankumaran is second in seniority only to Prabakharan. The Education
board has very little independent resources and relies mainly on the
Government's educational infra- structure and personnel to implement its  
projects. As is typical of many things in tiger controlled regions a curious
parallel administrative network is in force.

One project envisaged by the TE educational board was a residential workshop
for teen - aged schoolgirls. With the conflict escalating and bombing and
shelling on the rise the need for first aid knowledge and disaster coping
techniques was essential.It was decided to hold a residential workshop for ten
days to focus on these matters.It was organized by the TE educational board in
association with zonal education departments and the Principal associations. It
was funded by an NGO called the Centre for Women's Rehabilitation and
Development (CWRD). The ten day workshop was held at the old "Sencholai"
campus in Vallipunam on Aug 11th and scheduled to end on Aug 20th.

"The workshop aimed at developing student leaders by building self confidence
through understanding self, building inter-personal relationship, knowing
leadership qualities, effective time management, helping self and others by
learning first aid, and learning principles of gender equality," said V.
Ilankumaran in an interview to the "Tamilnet" website.The idea was to train girls
with leadership potential who in turn would train other girls in their respective

Participants were selected from eighteen schools in Mullaitheevu, Kilinochi and
Oddusuddan. The respective schools were Paranthan Hindu Maha Vidyalayam
(MV), Kandawalai MV,  Murasumottai MV, Tharmapuram MV, Piramathanaaru
MV, Bharathy MV, Viswamadhu MV, Udaiyarkattu MV,  Iranaippaalai MV,
Mullaitheevu MV, Semmalai MV, Kumulamunai MV, Vattraappalai MV,
Oddusuddan MV, Valathukarai Muthaiyan Kaddu MV, Katsilaimadhu Govt Tamil
mixed school, Vithiyananda Kalloori, and Puthukudiyiruppu Central College.

Only the brightest and best girl students from the GCE )OL and AL classes
were selected. In addition some seniors in "Sencholai" were also enrolled. Many
parents were reluctant to send their young teen - aged daughters for a
residential workshop. But since the LTTE was behind the whole project neither
the parents nor te teachers or for that matter the students had no choice. The
decision had been made by the tigers and the people had to simply obey.
Nevertheless several parents had openly grumbled about the project to the
LTTE themselves.

About 400 students ranging from the ages of 14 to 21  participated at the
workshop. Most girls were in the 16 - 19 age group. The day began with
assembly at 7 am and ended with lights out at 9. 30 pm. Apart from leadership
training first aid measures etc there was also disaster management techniques
pertaining to natural calamitieslike fire and floods,  tsunami. aerial
bombardment and shelling etc.There was also time for games, singing,
debates, drama , poetry etc.  Great emphasis was laid on practical training in
first - aid.

Some of the instructors were from the LTTE's medical corps. There were also
other senior and senior ex - tiger woman cadres as workshop assistants. There
were some  school teachers - both male and female - as administrators,
lecturers, instructors and resource persons.Officially the workshop was
conducted by the principals Associations of Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu with
the assistance of both  zonal Educational divisions. Unofficially it was a Tamil
Eelam Educational Board project. Many people sent their children only due to
coercive LTTE pressure.
Parents were allowed to visit the participants in the evening and those from
distances were allowed to sleep on the premises. It was a pleasant school
boarding house like atmosphere that prevailed.One of the participants was a
14 year old girl from Vavuniya town who was visiting Kilinochchi. She had gone
along for a "lark" and  was killed.

Monday Aug 14th was the fourth day of the workshop. The itinerary on that  
was something like this. 7. am - Assembly; 7.15 to 8.00 physical exercises;8 -
8.30 breakfast; 8.30 to 9.30 Self - Confidence and Personality Development; 9.
30 to 10.30 Artificial respiration training;10.30 - 11.00 interval;11.00 - 1.00 First
Aid practicals; 1-2.00pm lunch; 2-3.00 rest; 3-4.00 lecture on determining your
future;4-4.30 tea;4.30 - 5.30 games;5. 30 - 6.00 break ; 6. 00 - 7.30 poetry
reading; 7. 30 - 8.30 dinner 8. 30 recreation; 9.30 lights out. Alas this time -
table turned terrible that bloody Monday.

The girls were moving to the middle compound for assembly to begin at 7. am.
They were chatting to each other in scattered, small groups. One large group
was huddled around a radio listening intently to the news. It was then that death
and destruction came down from the skies. It was the group listening to the
radio that suffered greatly.The identities of all victims are yet to be established.
It appears however that some of the tiger instructors and senior cadres
assisting the workshop were also affected.
Among those killed Fifty - One  were students from 11 schools. Four were
education officials and teachers. The others are presumed to be LTTE
instructors and woman cadres.

According to reports filed by Kilinochchi Education director T. Kurukularajah
and Mullaitheevu Educaton Director P. Ariyaratnam the  breakdown of the  
killed 51 students and respective schools was as follows.Udaiyaarkattu Maha
Vidyalayam - 11;Viswamadhu MV- 09; Mullaitheevu MV - 08;  Kumulamunai MV
- 05; Semmalai MV - 04; Vithiyananda College - 04; Puthukkudiyiruppu Maha
Vidyalayam - 03; Tharmapuram MV - 03 Muruganantha MV - 02Oddusuddan
MV - 01; Pirammathanaaru MV - 01.

With parents and family members coming to know of the calamity people were
running to hospitals in search of their loved ones. There was also a
groundswell of anger against the LTTE . They felt that the LTTE had
unnecessarily contributed to the situation. They opined that such a residential
workshop was ill - timed and ill - advised.With the conflict intensifying the tigers
had carelessly exposed their dearest ones they felt.While blaming the LTTE for
its irresponsibility most people however were extremely critical of the Govt for
the massacre and its callous denial.

Speaking  in Canada to the uncle of a dead girl was a sorrowful experience. He
spoke of the academic brilliance of his niece and how the family was planning
to send her to a foreign university. "Aniyatamaik Kondu poi Kaavu
kodithittaangale" ( They have taken her unnecessarily and sacrificed her) he

Realising perhaps the depth of feelings among families the tigers did not try to
derive propaganda mileage by staging mass funerals. Instead they allowed
families to take  the bodies and hold individual funerals. The Wanni in particular
and Tamil areas in general are in a mournful atmosphere. The victims were not
tigers but  mainly , academically clever teen aged students with hopes of a
bright future.
A mother, who lost her daughter mourns at the hospital
The Government continues to insist that the victims were child soldiers of the
LTTE. This is a blatant falsehood. There is no denying that there are child
soldiers in the LTTE. But these were schoolgirls not child soldiers. Even if they
were child soldiers the state cannot kill them Rambukwella asks rhetorically
"Are we to hug and kiss a child soldier" No! But they cannot be massacred by
aerial bombardment indiscriminately either. They can be killed only in combat
and what happened in Vallipunam was no combat but a cold - blooded masacre
through aerial terror.

It is hyppocritically ironic that the Government and other Sinhala chauvinist
organizations who shed copious tears for the plight of Tamil child soldiers are
geefully justifying a massacre of Tamil children. As stated in these columns the
Rajapakse regime has embarked on a war that has genocidal attributes. By the
way what has Mullaitheevu got to do with the "water war" in Maavilaaru?

While Rambukwella and the various defence service spokespersons incriminate
themselves as war criminals  through their boastful utterances the supreme
commander has gone one better. Mahinda Rajapakse reportedly told a
gathering of Newspaper editors that his air force could have bombed the
vehicles taking the injured to hospitals but did not do so out of magnanimity.
This man who calls himself a true Buddhist and specialises in taking "
Malthattu" to "Pansalas" does not seem to have any awareness of war
conventions or humanitarian law. After all Rajapakse is a lawyer.

The Sri Lankan Government is in the dock..The massacre of innocent
schoolgirls through aerial bombardment is nothing less than a war crime or
crime against humanity. Will Justice be done?
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Contact:  D.B.S. Jeyaraj [ ]
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