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Remembering the 2006 Sencholai massacre

Fifty three school girls were killed, along with three staff, on August 14, 2006, when Sri Lankan air force jets attacked an orphanage in Vanni. Photo TamilNet.

August 14 is the fifth anniversary of the massacre of fifty three school girls by Sri Lankan Air Force jets which bombed an orphanage in Vanni. Three staff were also killed.

Four SLAF jets dropped sixteen bombs in repeated passes over the children’s home run by the charity Sencholai.

See the list of victims here, and their photos here.

Also see a survivor’s account of the airstrike here, and photos of the aftermath here and here.

The children's home had been designated a humanitarian zone and its GPS coordinates had been passed to the Sri Lankan military via the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

As news of the massacre broke, the Sri Lankan government claimed it had bombed a training camp of the Liberation Tigers (LTTE) and killed “50-60 terrorists.”

That claim was rejected by international ceasefire monitors of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and UNICEF.

"These children are innocent victims of violence," said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF said in a statement.

UNICEF’s Colombo chief, JoAnna VanGerpen told reporters: "we don't have any evidence that they are LTTE cadres."

UNICEF staff from a nearby office immediately visited the compound to assess the situation and to provide fuel and supplies for the hospital as well as counselling support for the injured students and the bereaved families.

After visiting the site of the massacre, the Head of the SLMM, Ulf Henricsson said: “We couldn’t find any sign of military installations or weapons. … This was not a military installation, we can see [that].”

SLMM monitors said they found at least 10 bomb craters and an unexploded bomb at the site.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was described by a spokesman as “profoundly concerned at the rising death toll including reports of dozens of students killed in a school as a result of air strikes in the northeast.”

However, the air strike on the schoolgirls did not draw condemnation from the Co-Chairs of the peace process - US, UK, EU and Norway.

The Swiss government described the bombing as “an outrage.”

In a statement, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said:

“The heavy aerial bombardment on the premises clearly indicates that the attack was premeditated, deliberate and vicious. The heavy repeated aerial bombardment of the same premises clearly indicates the bombing was definitely not accidental. The ferocity of the attack clearly indicates that its objective was to cause the maximum possible casualties. The objective was to kill the maximum number of Tamil children.

We appeal on behalf of the Tamil speaking civilian population to the International Community particularly to India, to take the earliest possible action to stop the Sri Lankan State from proceeding with its genocidal program.”

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