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3RD LEAD (Adds details)

Pesalai victims traumatized

[TamilNet, Sunday, 18 June 2006, 05:02 GMT]
Bishop Rayappu Joseph, one of the first persons to enter the church, Our Lady of Victory, after the attack targeting civilians who had taken refuge in the church, told media that the attack was carried out by men in blue uniform, alluding that the attackers were Sri Lanka Navy men. "There was no fight on land; no LTTE cadre was present at the attack site in Pesalai," the Bishop of Mannar Diocese told BBC Tamil Service Saturday. Fear has gripped civilians of Pesalai, who have no other place to seek safety, says Parish Priest Vincent Patrick. Nearly 3000 civilians, most of them women and children, were forced to remain inside the Church, for hours, among the flesh and blood of the victims.

A traumatized victim talking to Vanni district Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian Vino Noharathalingam

The attack on the church and the coastal villages started at about 7:00 a.m. and lasted an hour. Batticaloa Bishop reached the area around 9:00 a.m., but was blocked from reaching the Church by Sri Lanka Navy soldiers guarding the premises.

Civilians living along the coastal areas of Pesalai, Kaattaspathiri and Vankalaipaadu settlements adjoining the Gulf of Mannar are in a state of panic after the attack against civilians by SLN troopers on Saturday.

The Bishop also said that four fishermen had been shot through the mouth. He said he had seen the bodies of the fishermen on the beach still holding their ID cards in their hands.

He also said as he was traveling to the scene he saw huts belonging to the fisher families burning along the coastal way to Vankalaipaadu.

The Bishop said there was no land battle or attack on the police station by the LTTE or any one else as claimed by the Sri Lankan officials and the SLMM spokesperson, Thorfinnur Omarsson, in Colombo.

Sri Lankan Minister and Defence Spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, on Sunday said LTTE had fired grenades inside the church. The huts and boats were burnt by LTTE firing, he said.

"The media should be wise to terrorist methods as they are similar to those of disinformation campaigns of Fascist dictators," the Lankan Minister has advised the media in a news release posted on Government website.

Also, the SLN Spokesman Commander Dasanayake, who joined Rambukwella, said that the LTTE has fired "scores of grenades," using grenade launchers.

Neither Rambukwella nor Dasanayake explained how the civilians were killed by gunshots through mouth.

The floor of the Church where one grenade exploded

The killings and violence inside the church have rocked Pesalai, Kaattaspathiri and Vankalaipaadu areas and have traumaized residents of Mannar villages.

Until the Mannar Additional Magistrate Mr. D.J. Prabaharan went to the area and ordered the SL Navy to leave, instructing the police to handle the situation, the movements of civilians including the Bishop’s were severely restricted.

A health official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the memories of the events in Pesalai, on Saturday, were similar to the massacre that took place in November 1999, also on a Saturday, in the holy shrine of Madhu Church, where 37 refugees, including 13 children, were killed in targeted artillery fire by the Sri Lankan troopers.

"Today, four Sri Lanka Navy men entered the premises of the church and lobbed two grenades. One did not explode, the other exploded outside the church. Then, the troopers, wearing masks, shot at the civilians inside the church and lobbed the third grenade through the window into the Church where more than 2000 civlians had sought refuge," the official added.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph told BBC that the men wearing blue had first gone to the hospital next door to the church and held a doctor at gun point, threatening him with expletives before throwing the grenades in to the church from the fence.

The grenade landed on a 70-year old woman, Manuel Clara Amma Leema, from 4th Division in Pesalai. She was killed on the spot inside the church with severe injuries to her skull. There were also gun shots fired. Due to the great numbers injured there was blood splattered on the walls and flesh everywhere.

There were three weddings scheduled for Saturday and one of which was for deceased Clara Amma’s grand daughter’s.

"When the nerve centre of this community, the church itself, where people have sought refuge, gets attacked in this manner, it shakes the soul of every person," an elderly villager said.

"Revenge on civilians after each and every attack," has become the doctrine of the Sri Lankan Navy in Pesalai, he says, reminding the terror during the last Christmas when four persons of two neighbouring families were burnt to death inside a house in Pesalai after a Claymore attack that claimed the lives of 13 Sri Lanka Navy troopers.

"For each soldier killed in action by the LTTE, the navy troopers warned, they would kill us, innocent villagers in multiple numbers," he added.

Simlar warnings have been issued also to residents of Vankalaipadu.

On Saturday, 44 civilians, most of them with grenade-splinter injuries, were rushed to hospitals. Some of the victims also had gunshot wounds.

No one was allowed to go outside the church after the attack and remained inside till Mannar Additional Magistrate D. J. Prabakaran, ordered the Sri Lanka Navy troopers to vacate the location and instructed the Police to take care of the law and order.

The Bishop intervened and summoned the ambulances to take care of the injured.

At least seven civilians were killed Saturday.

The four fishermen killed in Kattaspathiri, were identified as Thurairajah Vijayakumar, father of 3, from Tharapuram, Abdul Rahuman Lathib, 28, father of 4, Jesudasan Jude Nixon, 24, from Pesalai, and Siril Appar Sen Jude from Vidathalthivu.

Body of another fisherman, Koodalingam Linganathan, 20, was recovered from a boat on Kattaspathri shore, where more than 40 boats with engines and fishing nets were set on fire by the navy troopers.

Remains of a youth burnt inside a boat was located by villagers, later in the day in Pesalai. The body has not been identified yet.

Three more youths were reported missing from Pesalai area.

73 huts of the fishermen in Vanakalaipaadu have been burnt to ashes. The fishermen had come to Vankalaipaadu from Vankalai due to restrictions on fishing imposed by the SLN and were living there in temporary huts with all their belongings.

5 fiber-glass boats were burnt in Vankalaipadu, 15 boats were partly destroyed and 90 expensive Out Board Motors (OBMs) were destroyed. Two oil shops, one grocery, a generator and a mini-theature were also destroyed.

Fishing nets worth 10 million rupees were burnt.

In Peasali, 40 boats and 25 huts were damaged.

Fishing communities have suffered severe financil loss, said TNA MP Vino Noharathalingam who visited Pesalai Saturday. He took part in an urgent meeting with the Bishop and the Commanding Officer of the Sunny Village Sri Lanka Navy camp.

Eyewitnesses in Kataspathri alleged that the killers were riding in a Police ambulance.

The killers, who entered the church premises in Pesalai were riding in motorbikes and the fellow troopers were guarding the area when sections of the troopers went amok, killing, burning and destroying the huts.

Parish Priest Vincent Patrick said that the villagers were demanding that the Church site to be declared a safe and holy zone, where noone, including the Sri Lankan forces, should be allowed to carry weapons.

The Liberation Tigers Mannar Political Head S. Iniyavan said that SLMM should be present at the church site Pesalai to guarantee security civilians in the area .

Most who witnessed the grenade explosion and indiscriminate firing have been traumatized and would need help. Many live in fear that more carnage could happen and they would be potential victims. Mannar villagers are concerned about their security and feel even the church premises is not safe. Besides there are hardly any resources available to help the poor fishing communities to handle post-traumatic medical conditions.

Mannar Additional Judge, D. J. Prabakaran, inspecting the site


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