Peace?

The northeast of Sri Lanka, where a brutal civil war was fought for decades, was just recently opened up for journalists. I happened to learn this by chance when I picked up an old newspaper somewhere, dated october 16th 2012. My eyes fell on the article that stated how “transparent” the government is to allow foreign reporters into the area – three and a half year after the end of the war.

During the final phases of the armed conflict, when the army of the Sri Lankan government fought the tamil insurgents with full force and killed tens of thousands, fighters as well as civilians, no journalist was allowed to enter the rebel territory. This also was the case for every international organisation. The UN wasn’t even able to distribute food to the starving civilians. So no international oberserver could report what kind of war crimes have been commited there.

cemetery

Well, now journalists are officially allowed to go. So I could travel there and ask survivors. I could hear their stories – and not only the government one. I could visit places and have someone describe me how they were displaced over and over again, being caught between the fronlines. How the army shelled the “no fire zones” it especially had announced. Well, I could. If I had a journalist visa. But the Ministry for Foreign Affairs didn’t grant me one.

So I’m here as a tourist. And I do what I should: Spend a lot of money. Even during the civil war tourists from all over the world enjoyed the sun and the palm trees in the south of the island, ignorant or anaware of what happened in the north. When the fighting stopped, more tourists poured in. And the figures are still climbing steeply.

Yin-Yang

Did the crushing of the terrorism by brute military force really let to peace? First I was surprised, how many religions and ethnicities live in Sri Lanka together in superficial harmony: Buddhist, Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays, the aborigional Vedda people and so on.

But my driver, a member of the Sinhalese majority, warned me I shouldn’t speak to moslems. I need to be careful: He once had his tyres pinched by moslems – this he said without knowing who actually damaged his car. He also told me about the heinous crimes the Tamils commited – bombing trains in Colombo for example -, but never about the human costs the actions of the military claimed. If I asked, he avoided the question.

Well, this is just a glimpse. And I am not able to tell what the situation in the northeast is like. All I can say is that the military checkpoints became more often the further north we drove. If I had gone into the area where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam once tried to errect their independent Tamil state, I would have had my passport checked – and I didn’t want to risk to be blacklisted. Before I flew in, I got clearly told over the phone: When you come on a tourist visa and do some sort of research, you’ll never be allowed to come back again.

So all I can do for now is watching the Channel 4 documentary “killing fields” and read the book “Still counting the dead. Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War” by Frances Harrison (here a review of the Guardian). Both I highly recommend.

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