Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Ten Years Since the Exodus and Military Occupation of Jaffna

by, October 30, 2005

The night of Monday October 30, 1995 was the blackest night in the entire history of the age-old city of Jaffna. Never has history witnessed such an exodus of panic-stricken people, screaming and squeezing themselves out of the narrow roads and lanes of Jaffna. The nearly half a million population in and around the town was literally on the roads in pouring rain, inching its way out of the densely populated town into the sparsely populated and ill -equipped suburban villages of Chavakachcheri, Kodikaman and Palai. It was for everyone a flight for survival.

Thousands flee Jaffna

"A mass exodus of civilians was reported from Jaffna town today with thousands of people fleeing to the eastern Tenamarachchi section of the embattled peninsula even as the Sri Lankan security forces continued their onward march. ``Thousands of people are on the road,'' non-Governmental sources said today. ``The roads are clogged,'' the sources said, adding the movement of civilians was unprecedented. ``We are watching the situation with considerable concern,'' a United Nations aid official said. (Hindu, 1 November 1995)

Christopher Thomas in Vavuniya, Northern Sri Lanka reported in the London Times on 31 October 1995:

"Many civilians have been killed by government shelling and bombing, which has hit residential areas of the town. There is panic among the 600,000 Tamils on the Jaffna peninsula. The greatest humanitarian crisis of the war is in the making...Tamil civilians in Jaffna are evidently terrified by the advancing of the soldiers and are looking to the Tigers to save them from what they are convinced will be a massacre.."

From The Hindu, November 1, 1995

"Information from aid officials in Jaffna suggested that the town was ``empty'' while the Government Agent, Mr. K. Ponnambalam, said 65 per cent of the 850,000-strong population of the peninsula had fled to the eastern Tenamarachchi area. … In another development, the Jaffna Government Agent, Mr. K. Ponnambalam, said that 42 civilians had been killed due to aerial bombing at Chavakachcheri and Nunavil in eastern Jaffna peninsula as well as Manipay and Annaicodai, west of Jaffna town, yesterday. In a letter to the President, Mr. Ponnambalam said: ``On behalf of the fleeing innocent civilians, refugees and children I beg (you) to stop bombing and shelling and avoid deaths of innocent civilians, refugees and children.''

``As a matter of urgency please also announce safety (safe) areas for civilians fleeing away from shelling and bombing,'' the Government Agent said, asking the President to ensure that security forces did not bomb or shell the area. Several Tamil groups have also supported this call for the declaration of the eastern Tenamarachchi area of the Jaffna peninsula as a ``safe zone'' for the refugees who have fled there. A reference to the killing of civilians in aerial bombing was also made by Mr. J. Pararajasingham, TULF MP, in Parliament today."

Reuters reported on 2 December 1995:

"Estimates of how many Tamils have fled the besieged northern Jaffna peninsula vary from the government's 180,000 to as many as 500,000, some without shelter, but most finding accommodation in camps, old thatched huts or with friends or relations.

"The civilians are fleeing Jaffna where the armed forces are expected to capture Jaffna town, capital of the rebels' wouldbe homeland, any day. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fighting for the homeland in the north and east of tropical Sri Lanka, have ferried civilians in boats across Jaffna lagoon to camps on the mainland, more and more filtering through to the mainland from this frontline town. .. Families arriving in Vavuniya on Thursday said shelling had decreased in recent days in Jaffna and dry weather meant an easier time for the estimated 110,000 people gathered in Kilinochchi, eight km (five miles) south of the Jaffna lagoon.

``People are still coming into Kilinochchi because they are frightened the (armed forces') operation might start up anywhere after Riviresa,'' one man said as he was chanelled into the Thandikulam army camp for classification.

"Operation Riviresa was launched on October 17 in the north of the Jaffna peninsula and has brought the army into the heart of Jaffna town itself.

``People are running here and there to find relations at Kilinochchi,'' another refugee said. ``People are coming back up from Colombo to find their loved ones. A number are at the mainland ferry hoping they may be on the next boat to cross the lagoon.''

UN Secretary General appeals for assistance for 400,000 displaced Tamils

"UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali has appealed for assistance for up to 400,000 people fleeing bitter fighting between the LTTE and advancing troops in Jaffna. Boutros Ghali on Friday called on `all concerned to facilitate relief assistance to the affected population by humanitarian organisations,' spokesman Juan Carlos Brandt said in New York. ``Reports of the massive displacement of the civilian population in northern Sri Lanka are a source of deep concern to the Secretary General,'' he added, and said the United Nations was following the situation closely…

"Tamil sources said thousands of civilians were fleeing Jaffna peninsula by boat to the LTTE-held Kilinochchi region with barely any personal belongings. A senior Government official in Kilinochchi 320 kilometers (200 miles North of here, said nearly 60,000 refugees had poured into the area from Jaffna and the total would reach 300,000 soon. ``More than 10,000 people are streaming in every day,'' said the official, Thillai Natarajah, speaking in the Government held town of Vavuniya. ``Most people are housed in school buildings and temples. ``But the situation is getting desperate,'' he said. ``Many of those were drenched in rain and without a second set of clothes.'' He added that there were food shortages. (AFP, 4 November 1995)

"...Refugees arriving in the government-held frontier town of Vavuniya yesterday described how tens of thousands fled with only the bags they could carry as monsoon rains lashed down. They walked or rode by bicycle for about 20 miles to other parts of Tiger-run territory. In the Jaffna peninsula, schools, hospitals and government buildings are overflowing with refugees. The unlucky ones are seeking shelter from the monsoon rains under trees and shop fronts. (Philip Sherwell in Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka, Electronic Telegraph 6 November 1995)

Sri Lanka bans international agencies from aiding Tamil refugees

"While Sri Lanka's army fights to crush Tamil rebels, it's battling on another front against foreign relief workers trying to care for 400,000 war refugees. The refugees, including hundreds of wounded civilians, are caught behind the civil war's front line. Western relief agencies accuse the military of blocking desperately needed aid. Tight restrictions are preventing the delivery of drugs, tents and blankets as well as equipment to build latrines, said frustrated aid officials, who spoke on condition they not be named. ...

"About half of the 400,000 Tamil refugees are living and sleeping outdoors in heavy monsoon rains, said Gerard Peytrignet, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross here. The rest are holed up in churches, schools and relatives' homes. The refugees have very little food or proper sanitation, he added.Doctors are already seeing cases of dysentery and eye infections, and while cholera hasn't struck yet, the conditions are perfect for a deadly epidemic, relief workers warned.

"Sri Lanka's military won't let journalist cross into areas controlled by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Relief workers are so afraid of making the government angry, they refuse to photograph or shoot video of the refugees suffering and smuggle the pictures out to reporters.

"The war-zone's few hospitals are dangerously low on anaesthetics for surgery and several drugs essential to stopping the spread of diseases and treating war casualties, relief workers said. Few were willing to criticise the government publicly because they are afraid it will shut down their relief operation in retaliation.......'I think they don't want an International presence there to witness what's happening,' a senior Western relief official said. (The Toronto Star, November 5, 1995 By Paul Watson Asian Bureau)

The BBC reported on Monday, 6 November, 1995:

" Sri Lanka has banned international agencies from aiding Tamil refugees over fears that some are not impartial. We do not intend to permit any outside agencies, including the carry out independent operations", said Foreign Minister Laksham Kadiragamar. He also expressed displeasure at the appeal made by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali, whom he accused of exaggerating the situation. Tens of thousands of Tamil refugees are fleeing a government assault on the Tamil Tiger stronghold in the north."

The Sri Lanka state-controlled Daily News reported on 7 November 1995:

"Mr. Kadirgamar said he would write to UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali about his statement expressing his deep concern about the massive displacement of civilians in the northern province."It will be a little sharp", he said. He revealed that Boutros-Ghali had made his statement "without the full knowledge of the available facts" and despite pleadings by the Sri Lankan ambassador... Some reports place the number of displaced at 400,000. The minister questioned the veracity of the figure and said the government placed the figure at 100,000 after taking into account the numbers that had left the peninsula to the south and to foreign countries."


"At a Press Conference on 22 October, Sri Lanka military spokesman Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe,'denying the charge levelled by the LTTE that the security forces have resorted to killings of civilians and the looting of houses, admitted that non-combatants had fled from the area over which the security forces had established control.' According to the Brigadier, the civilians may have moved to places of safety following the air drop of leaflets warning of a fresh Government offensive against the LTTE. "We appreciate this," he said.(Hindu Report, 23 October 1995)


When the people of Jaffna and Valigamam in the peninsula fled before the advance of the Sinhala army which came as self proclaimed 'liberators,' the Sri Lanka government shifted its position and claimed on 4 November that the exodus of Tamil civilians was somehow 'contrived' by the LTTE to deprive the government of 'the stated rationale for its military action, namely to liberate the people of the peninsula from LTTE control'! The explanation would have been farcical if not for its callous disregard of the unfolding human tragedy in the Tamil homeland, caused by the wanton actions of the Sri Lanka armed forces.

First, Sri Lanka said that the non combatants had moved because of the warning leaflets dropped by the Sri Lanka airforce. Then, Sri Lanka said that the exodus was 'contrived' by the LTTE. Later, Foreign Minister Kadirgamar quibbled about numbers, suggesting with equanimity that a figure of 100,000 displaced Tamils without shelter and food was somehow an acceptable level of suffering.

But, the UNHCR Resident Representative Peter Meijer told the Colombo press that, according to reports:

'about three fourths of the population of Jaffna had been displaced.' Medicine Sans Frontiers Country Director said the organisation normally works in colloboration with the Health Ministry and that the organisation had so far not been called by the Sri Lanka Government to assist in the matter. (reported in the Sinhala-owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times on 5 November 1995)


"…On the idyllic island of Sri Lanka today, a reported half-million Tamil refugees are fleeing troops of the central government homeless and exposed to monsoon rains, falling sick and dying from-disease. The Sri Lankan government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga has insisted that it be the entity to distribute international humanitarian aid, complaining that nongovernmental organizations have permitted relief supplies to benefit the secessionist Tamil movement known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

"Since most of the refugees who fled the government forces closing in on the nothern city of Jaffna are now in territory controlled by the Tigers, relief supplies channeled through the government could not help those in need, whatever the intentions of the government.

"Because the war zone has been closed to reporters and cameras, the human calamity visited upon the Tamils has become a tree falling unheard in the forest. Yet their suffering is as grievous as that of refugees in the former Yogoslavia.

"For the sake of a single humane standard, the United States and other governments should insist that humanitarian aid to refugees be delivered under international supervision. There is also a need for outside parties willing to help broker a ceasefire and a negotiated peace between the Tamil minority and the Sri Lankan government. As in Bosnia, millions of civilians must be saved from the madness of their leaders." (Boston Globe Editorial November 27, 1995)

Please read the HISTORIC EXODUS OF TAMILS - An eye-witness account: by Rev. Dr. S.J. Emmanuel.