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Sri Lanka’s tsunami-hit Tiger rebels dig mass graves


Wednesday December 29,
© 2004 Khaleej Times / Reuters

29 December 2004 (Reuters)

The mother of a victim of Sunday's tsunami cries near a mass grave in Mullativu, eastern Sri Lanka. Photo: Reuters

MULLAITTIVU, Sri Lanka - Hemmed in by a landmined border in Sri Lanka’s northeast, feared Tamil Tiger rebels appealed for help on Wednesday as they dug mass graves to clear thousands of reeking corpses strewn by a deadly tsunami.

Cut off from the rest of Sri Lanka by a no-man’s land, a legacy of their bloody two-decade civil war for autonomy, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s northern and eastern coastal strongholds were ravaged by Sunday’s giant waves.

The Tigers said nearly 10,000 people had perished in areas they control, while almost as many again were missing. The dead represent nearly half of Sri Lanka’s overall death toll.

The Tigers’ main naval base at Mullaittivu was devastated, as was part of its fleet. Bodies littered the ground like an upturned graveyard and the overpowering stench of death wafted over the area.

Children accounted for the bulk of victims in nearby fishing villages. All 135 children at an orphanage run by female Tigers were swept away to their deaths.

“We have only found bodies so far,” said Col. Soosai, head of the Tigers’ navy arm, the Sea Tigers. “We have not received any aid from the government yet.”

“If the government warned us early when the quake struck, the devastation could have been partially avoided,” he said angrily.

The rebels, whom the United States have placed on a list of banned terror groups alongside the likes of Al Qaeda, said just 15 of their cadres were among the dead.

A whole batallion of Sea Tiger cadres in fatigues collected bloated bodies and lined them at the roadside ready for mass burial. Some wearing white medical masks and gloves used leafy branches to swish away thousands of flies swarming over the dead.

Few buildings on the coast were left standing. Mangled wreckage of trucks, mopeds and fishing boats lay twisted along the shore, and crumpled bodies were tangled in fishing nets. Telephone lines to the south were disrupted.

Aid workers said that residents in the northeast now faced a new threat, from thousands of an estimated 1 million mostly plastic landmines sown across the region and now uprooted by floodwaters.

Fishing fleet destroyed

Officials said just 12 of 1,500 local fishing boats were still seaworthy. More than 120,000 people in Tiger-held areas had been displaced from their homes, many now housed in makeshift refugee camps.

Roofs sagged, walls crumbled and bricks littered the town. Many distraught survivors could only look on in desperation.

“Of my three children, only one has survived because he was with me in hospital when the wave hit,” wept 40-year-old Mary Celestine, speaking in her native Tamil tongue.

The scene mirrored mayhem across Sri Lanka, where doctors took photographs or fingerprints of the dead before speedy burials because morgues were filled to the brim and officials feared a spread of disease.

Holed up in one refugee camp with 1,400 other homeless, 18-year-old Tamil fisherman Rajan Xavier had lost his entire family.

“I have lost three brothers, four sisters, and my father is missing,” he cried.

After two decades of war in which 64,000 people have been killed, Sri Lanka’s worst natural disaster in living memory has finally given the Tigers and the government a common enemy.

The disaster came as tensions between the two sides over the Tigers’ demands for self-rule reached fever pitch. The Tigers threatened just a month ago to break a three-year truce and resume its struggle unless autonomy negotiations start soon.

“The Northeast of the Island of Sri Lanka awaits relief assistance from foreign governments, donor agencies and international governmental agencies,” rebel spokesman Daya Master said in an email.

“At present all rescue efforts are by the Tigers and local NGOs,” he added. “The fear of the spread of infectious diseases is high.”

The tsunami was triggered by an earthquake off northern Indonesia on Sunday. Waves up to 5 metres (15 ft) high crashed onto Sri Lanka’s eastern, southern and northern shores, flooding towns and villages and sweeping thousands of people away. 

Mullaithivu situation grim amid rising toll

[TamilNet, December 28, 2004 20:42 GMT]
Three thousand three hundred and seventy three people were killed by the Tsunami in Mullaithivu according to local rescue workers and the Liberation Tigers. Kallapaadu, a coastal village near Mullaithivu town, was completely wiped out by the Tsunami. "So far we have been able to recover 1300 of the 2214 who resettled in village after the Sri Lanka army garrison there was overrun in 1996", said Mr. S. Senthan, the village officer (Grama Sevaka) for Kallapaadu told TamilNet Tuesday.


Mr. S. Senthan
Mr. S. Senthan

He lamented that no international aid organization has come to the area until Tuesday afternoon to assist rescue and relief work.

"Refugees are crammed in public building and churched in the interior. They desperately need food, clothing and medicine", Mr. Senthan who escaped the catastrophe said.

Ms. Vaitheki, the head of the LTTE's political division for Kallapaadu told TamilNet that she struggled with the rushing waters to save some children at the Senthalir orphanage. "I heard the children scream as they were pulled by the waves force while I was struggling to revive children who were choking", Ms. Vaitheki said.


"There were more than hundred and fifty orphans in the Senthalir Home. Only twenty children have been rescued. Sixty five are dead. Some were away from the Home when the Tsunami struck. The toll might be higher when we account for the children who were not there on Saturday", she said.

The death toll in Mullaithivu is expected to mount as more bodies are retrieved and the missing are accounted for, Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation officials told TamilNet.

The parish priest of St. Josephís Church in Mullaithivu said that many refugees are suffering without shelter as the few structures in the coastal region that survived the Tsunami are already congested with the thousands who have lost their homes and all belongings.

Parish priest of St. Joseph's Church  

He said more than thousand five hundred people would have been killed by the Tsunami if the waves had hit the Mullaithivu town during mass at the St. Josephís Church.

The executive engineer of the Road Development Authority (RDA) in Mullaithivu, Mr. S. Jeffrey told TamilNet that the entire RDA office and works complex situated about five hundred metres from the shore in the coastal town was destroyed by the Tsunami waves.

"The RDA building was put up at the cost of five million rupees. Road construction equipment worth two million and vehicles worth three million have been completely destroyed by the sea", Mr. Jeffrey said.

Mr.Jeffery Mr. S.Satheesavaran
RDA Executive Engineer Mr.Jeffery RDA Watcher MR.S.Satheeswaran

"I heard a sound like a loud explosion coming from the direction of the sea. When I looked I saw a massive wall of a wave rising out of the sea. I ran for more than two kilometers to escape the speeding waters", said Mr. S. Satheeswaran, the security officer at the RDA office in Mullaithivu town.






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