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Ever since the Sri Lanka’s brutal ethnic war was ended in May 19 2009, international human rights organizations, Tamil diaspora, a few UN agencies or renowned intellectuals have called for an independent investigation of war crimes committed by Sri Lankan armed forces and Tamil Tigers (or LTTE). To enhance this call further, there have been several footages and photos leaked to be published by a few international media and rights groups, notably Channel 4 in the UK, indicating very possible war crimes by Sri Lankan armed forces. It is estimated that, during the last 5 months of the war, the death toll would reach at as many as ‘40,000 plus’.
Since the latter half of 2008 through the whole period of the war till its end in May 2009, all the journalists and most of humanitarian agencies have been blocked by Sri Lankan government. As a matter of fact, this kind of blockade never was easy for decades except a period of ceasefire or ‘peace talks’. It remains uneasy till today, despite the conclusion of the war. Severe restrictions to the war-ravaged North and East, where people have started their lives from war debris, has virtually caused basic livelihood extremely difficult. Towards the end of 2010, the Sri Lanka government has reportedly ordered International Committee of the Red Cross (or ICRC) to close their offices in the North.
Since my first trip to the country, formerly known as the Island of Ceylon, in early 2005 – right after Tsunami hit the Island – I’ve been deeply into the Sri Lanka’s conflict in both emotional and journalistic. I’ve traveled the country during the last assault in 2009 but was ‘forced’ to have ‘second hand’ information due to restrictions on media. Sri Lanka has been one of the most difficult countries on earth being a journalist.
After a year and half in 2010, I have made a journey to the North, this time, to try to get accounts from those witnessing the ‘war without witness’. This is a second such attempt to get witnesses’ account, which I got from escapees of the internment camps – or so-called IDPs camps – in third countries. Last assault for months in 2009 was called, truly it was then, ‘War without Witness’. Yet, I believe the hundreds of thousands who were trapped in the war zones, were all witnesses of this brutal ending.
The following photos have featured a handful of those survivors and family members seeking where about of their loved ones. The project, in which ‘witnesses’ of Sri Lanka’s war will be featured, remains to be continued.
The Tamils sisters have gone through a bunker life for more than 3 years while being constantly displaced during the last years of Sri Lanka’s war. The family had been detained in the internment camp or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp for several months in 2009 after fled the war zone. Even after released from the camp, no livelihood available for the family, who has been living in the dramatically militarized Northern part of Sri Lanka. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
The 37 year-old Tamil man has lost his wife and two daughters as the family were fleeing the war zone, which had been under heavy shelling, on May 14 2009. He and two sons survived. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
The 53 year-old Tamil woman has been desperately seeking where about of her daughter, who was a LTTE conscript since 2008. According to witnesses, the daughter was last seen having severe injury but was taken away by Sri Lankan soldiers at Omanthai check point, the main reception point to the government side in the North during the last stage of Sri Lanka’s war. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
The 35 year-old Tamil woman shows a news report about her missing brother, who was last seen at the army check point in the North in 2007. She has lost her mother, sister and elder brother who all shot dead by Sri Lanka army in early 90s. Since the war in Sri Lanka has been resumed in 2006, thousands people – mostly Tamil youths – have disappeared. Some of them were last witnessed at the army checkpoint. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
Having gone through a decades-long civil war, there are tens of thousands war widows in Sri Lanka’s North and East. Many of their family members have gone missing, as they were passing through a military checkpoint. The woman (in the picture), whose husband has disappeared at the military checkpoint in the North in 2007, has kept all sorts of reports issued by from human right groups to police, hoping to find out her husband oneday. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
A Tamil family have kept tools, which they used for digging bunker while being constantly displaced for years during the last stage of war in Sri Lanka. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
A 5 year-old Tamil boy has shrapnel caused-scars over his body and part of a toe was blown off. He has lost both parents during the last stage of the war in 2009. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
A 10 year-old boy has lost his mother and two sisters as the family were crossing over to the government side during the last stage of Sri Lanka’s war. Visibly traumatized, the boy has often fainted. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
A decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka has created scars among children in both physical and mental. Sanjive Rubaganatha (3) has many scars caused by shrapnel pieces over his body. He often draws something, which he describes, ‘dead bodies’ or ‘shelling’. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
“I couldn’t leave my children (orphans) behind the war zone…” said a priest. As the army told all the religious leaders to get out from the war zone during the last stage of the war in 2009, 8 priests resisted to stay till last moment. One missing, one died of heart attack, 6 survived. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
“My son was conscripted by LTTE in April 2007 but fled the LTTE next year. I had had to hide him in a bunker, caring of his excrement” said the 43 year-old grieving mother. The son, however, has surrendered to the army as the family crossed over to the government side. Even then he has been detained one of dozens ‘rehabilitation camps’, where about 12000 ‘LTTE suspects’ have been detained without any charge or trial. While the government has claimed it has released 5,586 out of 11,696 as of January 2011, some of the released under the government’s “Ex-Combatant Rehabilitation Process” were allegedly re-arrested or abducted and have disappeared. The former detainees have claimed they got torture and routine assault. There’s no transparent process or international monitoring of these camps, creating fear of great human rights violations, and further disappearance. (Photo @ Lee Yu Kyung)
A 19 year-old college student has got one leg amputated due to wound during the last stage of war in Sri Lanka. Since then, he has a dream to become a doctor, wishing to help those who wounded.