LLRC hearings: Missing kith and kin main concern of northern civilians

By N. Parameswaran

Over 500 people assembled to depose before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) las weekend as the panel held its second series of public hearings in the north. However, the majority of the people gathered did not get a chance to speak due to time constraints and instead offered hand-written notes to the LLRC. The panel had visited Vavuniya last month.

On September 18 and 19, as LLRC members visited the Wanni area and Kilinochchi, elderly men and women along with younger people flocked to the LLRC in the hope of “tracking down their kith and kin who went missing during or after the war.” A large number of young women whose husbands had either been former LTTE cadres or associated with the LTTE in some manner were also looking for their “lost husbands.” In Kandavalai, a woman told the LLRC her son had “escaped from the LTTE camp three times but was forcibly taken back by the militants, each time.”

She said her son had surrendered to Army personnel but she did not know where he was. Another woman by the name Krishnabalan Jeyabarathi said her husband who was a former LTTE cadre had gone missing and she was left to fend for her three children. Ananthi Sasitharan, wife of the former LTTE rebel in-charge of Trincomalee district, Elilan, told the LLRC that her husband had surrendered to Army personnel in her presence but she did not know his whereabouts since the end of war last year. Another woman told the LLRC her son, a former LTTE cadre, had been handed over to the Army by Catholic priests, Rev Reginald and Rev Joseph Frances, in Vadduvahal in May 2009, but she did not know where he was since then.

Most people participating in the LLRC hearings in Karachchi, Palai, Kandavalai and Poonery said Army personnel had taken the former LTTE cadres (who had surrendered) in 16 buses from those places but so far the families had no news of them. The LLRC commissioners also asked the people if the rebel leaders had used them as shields during the last phase of war. Most people present at the hearings said while the LTTE had “forcibly recruited their children to the movement” the children had surrendered to the Army but were disconnected from their homes due to the lack of information about their current status.

Another witness said that in the last stages of the war, whenever they “tried to escape from the then LTTE-controlled areas, they were beaten with green palmyra fibres.” He added that the Army would “also open fire” whenever it witnessed movements from the other side, so they were unable to escape and “continued” to live in LTTE areas. Some of the war-displaced people now living in Poonery and Kandavalai who had lived in government camps till recently told the LLRC that the Army had “taken the roof tiles from their homes after the resettlement, to build sentries’ huts.”

An Agrarian Officer also told the LLRC that “about 300 innocent civilians died and 1,000 people were injured in Puthumaththalan in April 2009 by aerial bombing and shelling.” “About 45 pregnant mothers and babies died in the same period due to bombing, while they were waiting in a queue to get triposha (nutrition dry food),” he added. A single piece of coconut sold between Rs 500 to Rs, 1,000 during the last stage of the conflict, witnesses told LLRC.

Witnesses hoped that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would give priority to solve the ethnic problem and find a permanent solution. Those were their thoughts on achieving reconciliation. The LLRC is scheduled to visit Jaffna early next month.

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