Sri Lanka: Tamil refugees deny Damilvany Gnanakumar's accusations of sexual abuse in camps

The following is an article by Indian journalist P.K.Balachandran. It was first published on 24th Dec 2009.

VAVUNIYA: Tamil war refugees residing in camps in Vavuniya categorically denied that Sri Lankan troops guarding the camps had raped or indulged in any other form of sexual abuse as alleged by a former inmate [Damilvany Gnanakumar, she calls herself "Vany Kumar" these days] in an interview to The Observer newspaper of London.

“It’s a mischivous rumour,” Rasendran from Ponneryn, who had been living in the Kadirgamar camp for months, told visiting journalists on Wednesday.

“The troops never did anything of that sort.They don’t even come into the camp,” said Nityanandan from Kilinochchi.

Sharma, the priest of the makeshift Shiva temple, and himself a refugee, said that there was no truth in the allegations.

“We face no problems with the army,” he said.

The UK national, who managed to leave the camp, told The Observer that she had seen soliders putting their arms on girls, and charged that soldiers gave females food only if they agreed to have sex with them.

At a rehabilitation centre for young male and female LTTE cadre, the inmates said that the behaviour of troops was “exemplary”.

“They treat us with courtesy and understanding,” said Tharshini from Puthukudiyiruppu , who was being trained in tailoring.

{See photos from refugee camps in Vavuniya.}

“It was after seeing their behaviour that I revealed that I had been in the LTTE for a few months, a fact which I had concealed in the first instance out of fear of the consequences,” the 17 year old said.

“Till recently, the camps were so congested that a thing like rape or molestation could not have occured here. We were all here in the camp all the time, because till December 1, no one could go out of the camp,” pointed out the middle aged T.Sarawathy from Kilinochchi.

A Tamil employee of the postal department in the rehabilitation camp for LTTE cadre said that the kids (all between 12 and 18) felt pretty safe in the camp

“This is more like a hostel than a refugee camp or detention centre,” he said.

Asked if the London Observer story had any basis, the Competent Authority for the refugees in the Northern Province, Maj.Gen.Kamal Gunaratne, said that had only one term to describe such an allegation: “Bullshit!”

“There are far too many people in the camps for that kind of thing to happen. Besides, the army is a disciplined force,” he said.

He asked the visiting journalists to talk to the refugees and find out for themselves if these stories were true. True enough, officials allowed the scribes to go anywhere in the camps and talk to anyone without any armyman looking over.

Most of the inmates said that conditions had improved enormously since they arrived in April or May. The medical facilities are excellent with more than a hundred doctors on call

“Except for the shortage of toilets and cash, we are fine, and are being treated well,” said Loheshwaran, a herdsman from Pooneryn.

“Those who had relatives abroad got money through the banks in the camp, but those who did not have anyone, had to live only on the limited rations given by the government and the NGOs,” he said explaining the reasons for the cash shortage

From December 1, the inmates had been allowed to move out and work. Some of them did begin to earn to bring in some cash. But being basically farmers or fishermen ,the refugees could do little to earn money except as manual labourers.

This is why they are really looking forward to going back to their villages.

“I am part of the 1000 people leaving for Pooneryn today. I am happy to get back and start from livelihood which is animal husbandry. I am looking forward to selling milk in Jaffna across the lagoon,” Loheswaran said.

The LTTE cadre in the rahabilitation camp, are also looking forward to leaving the camp and joining their families.

“We have been told we’ll be let off in May,” said Suganthie from Trincomalee who got forcibly recruited to the LTTE when she was visiting a relative in Puthukudiyiruppu.

Suganthie, who was taking lessons in dress making and the use of computers, said she her ultimate aim was to become a computer engineer.

Most of the LTTE cadre looked very young, between 12 and 17. They were extremely small made for their age but were intelligent and spoke well. Almost all said that they were forcibly taken and given some military training, though only some had actually served on the front lines.

Asked what they thought of the LTTE and their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, the female cadre were categorical in their disapproval of the organisation. They did not feel sad when the organisation folded up.

But the reaction among the male cadre was mixed. They would not say that the movement had no base. But all of them said that it should not have gone in for forcible military service.

“Forcible recruitment became unbearable during the last year of the war. That is when the LTTE began to lose popular support,” said a refugee who had earlier beein a government servant.

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