Ummid Assistant

Applications open for Manmohan scholarship at Cambridge

IIM-Trichy to offer short courses too at Chennai centre

Welcome Guest! You are here: Home » Special Reports

A horror story on Sri Lanka's war

Wednesday January 02, 2013 11:31:03 AM, M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

If even half of what Frances Harrison has uncovered about what the Sri Lankan state did to crush the Tamil Tigers is true, then Colombo's political and military leadership can be in the dock for war crimes.

The former BBC journalist talks to a few who got trapped in the LTTE war zone until the Tigers were vanquished and later made their way to the West -- with revolting stories of death, destruction, savagery, torture, rape and humiliation of an entire community heaped in the name of a war on terror.

"Tens of thousands of civilians were slaughtered by the Sri Lankan government," a UN aid worker tells Frances, who painstakingly tracks witnesses to know what happened during the end stages of the war until May 2009 and, in some cases, beyond.

With international organisations abandoning over 400,000 Tamils they should have protected, there was no place to run as the military went on the kill, not bothering to differentiate between LTTE fighters and civilians. One UN official concluded that the government repeatedly declared safe zones "only to concentrate civilians in one place so as to kill as many as possible".

This, of course, was not the official line. To the world, Sri Lankan leaders kept parroting that they had a "zero civilian casualty policy". Frances says the UN and many Western diplomats in Colombo knew this was a lie "but remained silent".

Nobody knows for sure how many LTTE fighters and civilians perished in the military blitzkrieg that began in 2008 and reached its peak the next year. Sri Lanka adopted "scorched-earth tactics, blurring the distinction between civilians and combatants, and enforcing a media blackout". The world turned a blind eye, and countries from India to China backed Sri Lanka. Everyone was ready to accept Colombo's denials at face value. You get the bone-chilling truth from Frances.

Frances meets scarred survivors who recount how they walked to surrender to the army, "their bare feet stained with human blood" and seeing "still burning, and limbless, decomposing corpses … under vehicles or alongside bunkers". A priest remembers counting "thousands of dead on that journey, most of them civilians, not fighters". A Sinhalese soldier jeered: "We have killed all your leaders and you are our slaves!"

A journalist who worked for the pro-LTTE web site TamilNet describes seeing "children's brains exposed by shattered skulls" and hearing "desolate screams of their mother".

A doctor who remained in the war zone saving thousands of lives with a group of medics recalls that after January 2009, "people would arrive (in barely functional hospitals) with all the flesh blown off their limbs, the white bones visible like chewed joints of raw human meat". If doctors shared details of their hospital's location with the army, "the buildings were attacked (by artillery and air) within days, if not hours".

The doctor says the military used white phosphorous. By the end of the war, hospitals had no medicines, no bandages. Surgeries were conducted using knives. After having seen thousands of limbs and body parts, the surgeon today "cannot stand the sight of blood".

Each recall of the war's end stages - by a nun, a teacher, a volunteer, a LTTE fighter, a shopkeeper and a wife - is more horrific than the previous one. It is difficult to even imagine that civilians in no way responsible for what the LTTE did were subjected to such savagery by a state whose citizens they were. The account by a distraught woman married to a pro-LTTE man brings out shocking details of how Tamil women were raped at will.

Frances holds no brief for the LTTE. She denounces it for forcing Tamil civilians to forcibly live in rebel territory. "Tamil nationalist groups conveniently overlook the fact that the Tiger leaders deliberately exposed their own people to slaughter and refused to surrender…"

Sri Lanka's tragedy is not over. "Human rights activists and journalists have continued to disappear well after the war ended - not only Tamils but Sinhalese too." The book is a good guide to understand why the Tigers went down - after having been seemingly invincible for decades.

The book is also a powerful indictment of Colombo - and the LTTE. It should be read by anyone wanting to know what happened in Sri Lanka.


Book: "Still Counting the Dead";

Author: Frances Harrison;

Publishers: Portobello Books;

Pages: 259;

Price: Rs.399

M.R. Narayan Swamy is a senior journalist and the author of three books on Sri Lanka. He can be contacted at



Home | Top of the Page


Note: By posting your comments here you agree to the terms and conditions of

Comments powered by DISQUS



More Headlines

Israel launches cyber-warfare programme

Former, current India-Pakistan captains to be felicitated at Eden

Dhaka reels under high population growth

2013 will be year of Palestinian statehood and independence: Abbas

Death toll in Syria civil war over 46,000: Opposition

Ibrahim takes over as IB chief

Maharashtra BJP leader asks to cut down his security

Inter-faith prayers for Delhi gang-rape victim

Top Hindu priest advises women to wear Muslim veil to avoid rape

Bihar panchayat bans mobile phones in school

60 die in New Year stampede in Africa's Cote d'Ivoire


Top Stories

New Year Day: Cry for justice undimmed

People had started gathering from early morning to pay tribute to the physiotherapy intern, who was cremated Sunday, exactly two weeks after a trip to see a movie with a friend resulted in brutal gang-rape and torture.   »

'Let's turn Jantar Mantar into Tahrir Square!'

A quieter India, at stroke of midnight hour

Protesters hold ground despite biting cold


  Most Read

Top Hindu priest advises women to wear Muslim veil to avoid rape

The pontiff of Madurai mutt, Arunagirinatha Sri Gnanasambanda Desika Paramacharya Swamigal, popularly known as Madurai Adheenam, has appealed to women to impose self-discipline and  »

Ibrahim takes over as IB chief

Indian Police Service officer S.A. Ibrahim Tuesday took over as chief of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), becoming the first from the country's main minority community to hold the post. Home ministry sources said Ibrahim took over as IB director Tuesday. »

India set to get first Muslim as Inelegance Bureau Chief


  News Pick

Why Narendra Modi cannot be a National Leader?

Surely BJP winning the Gujarat state Assembly election under Narendra Modi’s leadership for the third time in a row is to be recognized. But to  »

Why Congress could not defeat Modi in Gujarat?

All set in Maharashtra for launch of direct cash transfer in six districts

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan will launch the scheme in Mumbai and Mumbai Suburban District while guardian ministers of Pune, Nandurbar, Wardha and Amravati will launch it in their respective districts. »

Direct cash transfer scheme rolls out in 20 districts Tuesday

IDB to finance projects worth $56mn in various countries including India

The 287th session of the Board of Executive Directors of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) held here on December 23 approved $600,000 in grants for three educational projects in Muslim communities in non-member countries, namely, Austria, New Zealand and India. »

Myanmar Muslims recount terrifying tale of exodus

Stranded beside their decrepit flotilla of wooden boats, on a muddy beach far from home, the Muslim refugees tell story  »

UN voices concern over situation of Muslims in Myanmar


Picture of the Day

Artists performing dance drama based on the ‘Geetgovindam’, by Shri Jayadev, at the inauguration of the 60th Annual Arts Festival, at Kalakshetra, Chennai on December 21, 2012.


Recommend the story to your friends



RSS  |  Contact us


| Quick links



Subscribe to

Ummid Assistant



Science & Technology



About us




Government Schemes










Contact us


The Funny Side

Education & Career

    Disclaimer | Terms of Use | Advertise with us | Link Exchange is part of the Awaz Multimedia & Publications providing World News, News Analysis and Feature Articles on Education, Health. Politics, Technology, Sports, Entertainment, Industry etc. The articles or the views displayed on this website are for public information and in no way describe the editorial views. The users are entitled to use this site subject to the terms and conditions mentioned.

© 2012 Awaz Multimedia & Publications. All rights reserved.