By Paul M.M. Cooper, Friday, August 14 2015
The following account is based on interviews to Together Against Genocide (TAG). Personal details of Kaalidasan (not his real name), place names and dates have been changed to protect his identity.
Kaalidasan was working as a volunteer in a medical tent when the Sri Lankan Army closed in on his position. For weeks people in the area of Mullivaikal had been hearing the thud of artillery in the distance, as the army encircled the retreating Tamil Tigers and the Tamil civilians behind their lines, with concentric lines of artillery. To the East and West of the medical centre, the separatist group had dug in their own artillery divisions, returning fire through the day and night. The South of the medical centre was exposed directly to Sri Lanka army’s artillery, and to the North the only protection was the Indian Ocean. The sound of the guns was nightmarish, never-ending. People were lying everywhere on the ground, packed in tightly on waterproof tarpaulins and mats, watching the pillows of black smoke rise over the trees. Kaalidasan delivered medical supplies to the increasing flood of wounded, and helped the doctors tend to the patients. He helped serve food to the children who every day grew more hungry.
The children were fed in a tent to the North of the complex, across 500m of the loose scrub and jungle and red earth of the Vanni landscape. The tent had the UNHCR sign clearly painted in white on its canvas roof, and Kaalidasan would sometimes look up at it as he helped to feed the increasingly hungry children: the pair of hands tented over a fragile human body; the whole ringed by a wreath of olive branches.
As the days went by, the Sri Lankan Army gradually encircled the artillery positions of the Tigers. Shells started falling closer to the camp, driving people closer together into tighter and tighter huddles. On 10th April, the artillery barrage came down on the dining tent itself. Shells fell mostly to the north, right between the remaining lines of LTTE artillery destroying everything, sending shreds of people’s meagre possessions into the air, vaporising trees and tents and people. The noise was horrific: the screams, the explosions, the whistles of incoming shells.
To the north, the children huddled for shelter in the dining tent, under the UNHCR logo. . Kalidasan thinks there were some 75 children in the tent at the time. Later, when he thinks about it, Kaalidasan imagines them staring up at the light coming through the blue canvas, shining brightly through those tented hands. He imagines the whistle of the shells coming closer. When he picks through the wreckage later, after the frantic rush to save the dying children, and the mad dash to get the 25 injured into the remaining medical facility, when the screaming and crying fades from his ears but not his mind, he’ll pick up the shreds of that tent and see the UNHCR logo still just recognisable on its singed tatters. A piece of olive branch. A piece of hand.
Kaalidasan’s story is also that of thousands of Tamils who witnessed Sri Lanka's Killing Fields
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