Rangana Weerawardhana and Pavithra Gunaratne, two of the first women pilots in the Sri Lankan Airforce (SLAF) thanked the Indian Air Force (IAF) for facilitating their training, as New Delhi's military assisstance to Sri Lankan continued regardless of the countless alleged human rights abuses.
The two pilots started training in June of 2017 with the SLAF and after completing a basic training course, they were sent to the Dundigal-based Air Force Academy (AFA) near Hyderbad in 2018-2019. Gunaratne spoke fondly of the AFA stating, “We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to IAF [Indian Air Force] for helping us achieve our dreams.”
“We had great excitement when we stepped into the AFA. The feeling we had was totally opposite on the day we had to return to our country. With all the memories of the academy and India, it was not easy for us to leave,” Gunaratne stated.
Gunaratne also went on to comment on her Indian cadets while training at the AFA stating, “They were like our brothers and sisters who made us feel at home throughout the training period. Their smiling faces gave us extra strength during the rigorous training. The stories we shared during leisure gave us an opportunity to have a great understanding of each other’s cultures and traditions.”
Weerawardhana and Gunaratne went on to state that their training in India was their first trip abroad. The two were among the 53 cadets commissioned as officers this week and were appointed on 15 November 2020 at the China Port Faculty of Science camp before Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne and Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathiran.
The SLAF's countless Human Rights Abuses
The Sri Lankan Airforce has been accused of committing war crimes, especially nearing the end of the armed conflict which saw tens of thousands of Tamils killed.
Recently, Canadian's called on the government to reject Sumangala Dias, a former SLAF commander as SL ambassador to Canada. They highlighted the indiscriminate bombing missions against civilians by the SLAF stating countless divisions of the SLAF which were "credibly accused of war crimes."
They also cited the SLAF "trophy footage taken by army personal themselves [which] show the killing and maiming of innocent civilians by aerial bombardments of hospitals and government announced "No Fire Zones" where Tamils were urged to take refuge by the Government of Sri Lanka.”
In 1995, the SLAF bombed a Nagarkovil school schoolyard crammed with 750 children on their lunch break, killing more than 30 – of whom 12 were six or seven-year-olds – and injuring 150 others, 40 seriously.
In another incidence in 1995, 65 civilians were killed and 150 seriously injured, when St Peters Church and the neighboring Murugamoorthy Hindu Temple in Navaly were bombed by the SLAF. These places of worship were filled with hundreds of people after the SLAF dropped leaflets saying that they should seek shelter in places of worship to avoid being targeted.
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Sri Lanka has continued its involvement with training programs abroad and expanded its military ties, despite a lack of accountability for rights abuses.