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Sri Lanka Slaughter in the No Fire Zone

Sri Lanka Slaughter in the No Fire Zone

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Published by Thavam

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Published by: Thavam on Sep 04, 2013
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09/04/2013

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The Sri Lankan government still denies responsibility for the killing of up to 70,000Tamil civilians at the end of the civil war in 2009. So why has it been chosen to host aCommonwealth summit asks Callum Macrae, director of a harrowing film about themassacreTwo young girls caught up in the shelling … a still from No Fire Zone.
Callum Macrae
Tuesday 3 September 2013I have spent the best part of the last three years looking at some of the most terribleimages I could have imagined. I've covered wars and seen some awful things, but fewthat could prepare me for the hours of video and mobile footage that emerged from thelast 138 days of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war between the government and the Tamil Tiger secessionists; a war that ended four years ago – and whose bloody denouementis the subject of my filmNo Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.The film records what happened when the government of Sri Lanka told some 400,000civilians to gather in what they described as "no fire zones" – and then subjected themto merciless, sustained shelling. We humans are good at reducing terrible massacresto statistics. We instinctively distance ourselves from the lost humanity represented byheaps of corpses or rows of dead bodies. But it is more difficult to avoid the anguish of those who survive.
 
For example, the two young girls, crying hysterically in a fragile bunker of sandbags inthe immediate aftermath of a shelling. They want to rush from their shelter to help theinjured, but a woman is holding them back – because one shell is almost inevitablyfollowed by another. The girls are weeping as they look at the carnage in front of them. And then, in a chilling moment, one of them recognises someone, and her hystericalcries turn to anguished screams: "Mama!"Two men – one is probably the girl's father – ignore the danger and stumble blindlyfrom the bunker to fall beside, and hold, the horribly damaged corpses in front of them.This awful story is just one of tens of thousands of such incidents.The most recent UNreportsuggests that as many as 70,000 civilians died in the last few months of the war in 2009, possibly more.
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Reading this on a mobile?Click here to view A few of those who died were killed byTamil Tigers, who are accused of shootingTamil civilians attempting to escape the no fire zones' killing fields. The Tigers saw thecivilians as a bargaining counter that would force the international community tointervene, and so would not let them leave. That was a crime, a betrayal of the trust of the civilians – and also a terrible miscalculation, because the international communitydid not intervene: it did not even impose meaningful diplomatic or economic sanctionsagainst the Sri Lankan government.These crimes by the Tigers – and the failure of the international community – must notbe forgotten. Butthe vast majority of the civilians were killed by government forces. And that too, we must remember. Another incident in the film provides some relief from the carnage. Two young brothersare sitting in a makeshift hospital. Their parents are almost certainly among the nearbydead and maimed. The person filming them asks: "Are you injured too?" "No," saysthe older brother quietly. He is 11 or 12 years old, and holding his younger brother protectively round the shoulders: "Not us." The younger child turns to look at thecarnage around them but his brother gently guides his head back towards him and
 
away from the terrible sights. Humanity survives in this awful situation.I watch these two scenes and still find myself crying. And that is why I am sodistressed thatDavid Cameron has agreed to go and shake the hands of the menresponsible for these crimes. The next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (Chogm) is to be held in Sri Lanka in November – and he has said he willgo. I find that particularly distressing because it is clear these men think the event willmark their rehabilitation in the eyes of the world – and if Cameron is not careful, hisactions will be interpreted as lending support to that view. A boy protects his littlebrother after the artillery fire in a scene from No Fire Zone.I know he is broadly aware of what happened in those terrible weeks in Sri Lanka. Infact, in 2011, the day after Channel 4 broadcast our first film on this subject, SriLanka's Killing Fields, he told parliament it was "an extremely powerful programme"that referred to some "very worrying events". He did add, though, that he hadn'tactually seen it himself. For his benefit – and those who remain largely unaware of these events (and this includes most people) – I will briefly recall the facts. After decades of violent repression of the island's Tamil minority by the SinhalaBuddhist majority, a brutal but effective secessionist rebel force, the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, launched a 26-year war that saw the establishment of a de facto independentstate of Tamil Eelam in the north-east. The Tigers ruled this state with an iron grip inwhich dissent was not tolerated – but with the undeniable consent of the majority of the Tamil population. In pursuit of this war they were prepared to use child soldiers andsuicide bombers against civilian as well as military targets.But by January 2009the new president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had inflictedmajor defeats on the Tigers. Bolstered by – and often appropriating – the west'srhetoric of the war on terror, he was poised to launch a final offensive, not just againstthe Tigers but against the Tamil people themselves.No Fire Zone shows the relentless horror of those final weeks. These are images soshocking that they changed votes when we showed a cut of the film at the UNHuman

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