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June - July 2009
“YOU WILL SOON RETURN TO YOUR HOMES IN PEACE,” SRI SRI TELLS DISPLACED IN SRI LANKABangalore: Art of Living founder and humanitarian, H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar concluded his three-day peace mission to Sri Lanka assuring the displaced Tamils that they would return in peace to their homes very soon. “A new dawn is in the offing. Stay calm and peaceful. The Art of Living Foundation and I are right with you in your hour of need,” Sri Sri said after visiting a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Vavunia, Sri Lanka.
Sri Sri’s visit offered a ray of hope, and an opportunity for people to vent suppressed emotions. An engineer in one of the camps said, “We will lose our mind, we are going crazy as we have been here for four months.”
During his visit, Sri Sri also met with the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse and conveyed the desire of the Tamils to return to their homes soon. “The untold suffering of the Tamils will make any heart bleed. In a place that has never seen beggars, people have to beg for water, food, clothes and for life itself,” he said.
He also appealed to the President to avoid prolonged stays of Tamils in the IDP camps. “Pregnant women, the elderly, the rich, the poor… they are all languishing in these camps,” he said.
Earlier in Colombo, Sri Sri was honoured by Ven. Bellanwilla Wimalaratana Thero, Chancellor of Sri Jayawardhanapura University and a number of Sinhalese Buddhist monks and lay people. The Chancellor expressed his happiness at Sri Sri`s visit and said that this augurs well for the people of Sri Lanka.
During his peace mission, Sri Sri met with several other leaders including Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe, American Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake, and ministers in the Sri Lankan Cabinet.
Tamil civilians slaughtered as army shells 'no-fire zone'
Red Cross doctors treat 1,500 injured evacuees
Hundreds of civilians are being killed or seriously injured in artillery and gun attacks as the Sri Lankan army attempts to finish off the last Tamil Tiger rebels trapped in a shrinking pocket of land.
Injured civilians lucky enough to get out have told of carnage in this so-called "no-fire zone" - a 17 sq km strip of coast where the Tigers are penned in with their backs to the sea.
Horrific stories of limbs ripped off by shellfire and bodies buried where they fell are emerging, despite the government's efforts to hide the scale of the killing by confining the injured to hospitals in a military area around the government-declared no-fire zone, from which the media are strictly excluded.
The casualties' graphic accounts of a fierce onslaught on the no-fire zone, supported by the evidence of their severe wounds, have been reported by doctors who have treated them at a field hospital at Pulmoddai, inside the military area, where thousands of evacuees have been taken by ship. According to the senior doctor handling the casualties for the Sri Lankan government as they arrive at Pulmoddai, shells are falling among the tightly packed tents and shelters that are home to tens of thousands of civilians, killing and wounding dozens every day.
"Most of the people have shell blast injuries and gunshot injuries. Some people have lost their limbs, other people have lost other parts of the body, some people have wounds in the abdomen, some in the chest," said Gnana Gunalan, a doctor who treats the flood of casualties as they arrive by Red Cross ship.
Gunalan, chairman of the local Sri Lankan Red Cross, said: "All these people are very badly traumatised. Some have lost all their loved ones and come here alone, one boy losing both legs. One girl came who had lost her husband and children and everybody."
Gunalan, who is based in the town of Trincomalee, surrounded by heavy Sri Lankan army security - said that the field hospital at Pulmoddai had treated 1,468 casualties among the 5,456 people evacuated by sea from the no-fire zone in the last month.
Determined to resist international pressure to stop the fighting before it has finished off the hardcore rump of the Tamil Tigers cornered by the military, the Sri Lankan government has kept casualties away from the eyes of the world. The government has rejected an appeal by the UN to give civilians more time to leave the no-fire zone. The Sri Lankan military sources said 2,857 civilians had broken through Tamil Tiger lines and made their way to safety during the day. They added that 5,000 people had tried to escape and had come under fire from the rebels. But it was not possible to verify the reports because the military has denied access to the area surrounding the no fire zone. The government allowed civilians injured in the no-fire zone to be taken to the larger hospital in Trincomalee, but then decreed that they must be kept inside the military area.
At Pulmoddai the most serious injuries are stabilised by a team of Indian doctors working in temporary metal huts. It is not possible to verify the doctors' accounts, because neither side will allow access to the no-fire zone. The military has permitted international media access on occasional day trips to the surrounding military area only.