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Peek at SL killing fields

- Short docufilm on Lanka violence screened in Delhi
Velupillai Prabhakaran and Mahinda Rajapaksa

New Delhi, Feb. 22: Balachandran Prabhakaran, 12, snacks on biscuits. Two hours later, the LTTE chief’s son is dead, shot in the chest five times at point blank range.

Shoba, a young television anchor for a Tamil channel, is reading the news in a bright yellow and red sari. Minutes later she is lying dead on the ground, hacked and shot.

Her killers aren’t satiated. “I want more…,” says a voice in the killing fields strewn with dead women, ironically in a no-fire zone that was under the UN’s supervision. Incessant pounding fighter jets and ground assaults had forced the UN to vacate the terrain.

A middle-aged hospital administrator speaks animatedly about a shortage of medicines and blood in a makeshift “hospital”. Patients needing transfusions were given blood pouring out of the gashes on other bodies, he says. Seconds later, the man is gone, his face lacerated with gunfire.

“Colonel Ramesh” (perhaps a pseudonym), wearing the mien of a hunted hare, is interrogated by soldiers in battle fatigues who taunt him as he replies in broken English. “Wait, wait, please, I understand,” he pleads. Cut. He is killed and his body burnt just outside the hut where he was questioned.

The images — rejected as “morphed” by Sri Lanka and not accepted at face value by India — are strung together in a film that indicts the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and its army.

A compressed version of the 83-minute documentary No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka was screened in Delhi today by Amnesty International India. The full film will be premiered at Geneva’s UN Human Rights Council on March 1.

Balachandran’s sequential pictures made it to the front page of several papers because the boy was the son of the slain LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The pictures symbolised the two conflicting strands in a 26-year narrative that nearly tore asunder Sri Lanka: the Tamil Tigers’ brutalities, even against cadres and sympathisers, and the Sinhala establishment’s determination to annihilate Tamil opponents.

Callum Macrae, the UK-based director of the three-part series filmed shortly before and after the final assault on the LTTE’s self-styled Eelam Republic in 2008-09, said in an address on Skype that he saw the documentary as a “record of sorts and a call to action”.

Macrae said he saw little hope of Rajapaksa even admitting that crimes were committed against Tamils, let alone taking action, and said India ought to be the frontline state in the deliverance of reconciliation and justice. “Otherwise the young generation of Tamils will take up arms again,” he said.

In a Skype chat with viewers, the director rejected the charge that the images were morphed. He said some pictures were taken by the Sri Lankan army as “war trophy” footage and some obtained by the country’s Journalists for Democracy that had Sinhala and Tamil mediapersons. “The pictures were extensively analysed,” Macrae said, denying he had any political agenda other than documenting war crimes, whether in Sri Lanka or Iraq.

Senior UPA ministers said they were aware Amnesty was showing the film and wondered why the Constitution Club, run by a committee of MPs, was sanctioned for use as a venue.

“The business of rights violations in Sri Lanka is a grey area. We can’t take a moralistic position,” a minister said, criticising the “Tamil parties” (the DMK and the AIADMK) for raising a furore over Balachandran’s photographs in Parliament.

The minister, who asked not to be named, said riling Colombo was “untenable” given China’s hawk-like gaze at the strategic potential the island offered.

That China has bagged plum infrastructure and satellite communication projects was a cause of concern for India, sources said, adding that the “preoccupation” with indigenous Tamil “sentiments” had muddled a “productive” relationship.

The minister recalled that when India voted for a US-sponsored resolution in March 2012 at the UN Human Rights Council, censuring Sri Lanka for alleged rights violation during the war against the LTTE, it persuaded the sponsor to soften the language to make it sound “non-intrusive”.

In reply to a question, a senior member of the governing council of Constitution Club said: “We don’t run an IB check on every event.” Any MP can ask for use of the club — in this case a DMK member sought permission — he said.