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Sencholai massacre remembered in defiance of Sri Lanka police and military crackdown

Remembrance events for the victims of the Sencholai massacre, in which 53 female students and three of their teachers were viciously slaughtered by the Sri Lankan air force, took place in Mullaitivu this morning, despite a ban announced by Sri Lankan police earlier this week, and heavy military surveillance.

Commemoration events are usually held annually at the memorial arch at the Vallipunam Junction near the site of the bombed home. This year, while arrangements were being made to hold a remembrance this morning (14th August 2020); organisers were called to the Puthukudiyirippu police station on Wednesday, and informed that the commemoration events could not be held. The police also threatened the organisers with arrest if they went ahead and organised the event.

Despite the threats from police and military forces, organisers went instead to the site of the bombing and held a vigil at around 6.15am. They were followed by families of the victims who held vigil around half an hour later, joined by Vanni parliamentarian Selvam Adaikalanathan and former Northern Provincial Council member A Puvaneswaran.

Later in the morning, local politician M K Sivajilingam held a vigil at the memorial arch, despite being confronted by police officers and told commemorations at the arch were banned. Locals of the area and parents of the massacre victims joined in the commemoration again.

Armed troops patrolled the area, while police and intelligence personnel photographed individuals participating in the events.

The massacre

On August 14 2006, the Sri Lankan air force launched an attack on the Sencholai orphanage home in Vallipunam, Mullaitivu, throwing sixteen bombs over the home and killing 53 female students and 3 teachers, as well as seriously injuring over 150 girls with profound wounds, lost limbs and grave burns.

The children’s home was designated a humanitarian safe zone and its GSP coordinates were provided to the Sri Lankan military by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) just before the orphanage was attacked by the Sri Lankan air force.

The Sri Lankan government had originally denied responsibility for the massacre, but later attempted to defend their actions as an attack on a masked Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) training site.

Keheliya Rambukwella, the government representative insisted "If the children are terrorists, what can we do? The fact is that gender or the age limit is of no concern when it comes to training and when it comes to soldiers, because they are carrying arms in order to kill the enemy.”

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and UNICEF, international ceasefire monitors, had instantaneously inspected the site, and rejected the claims made by the government.

Ulf Henricsson, the chief of the SLMM stated “We couldn’t find any sign of military installations or weapons… This was not a military installation, we can see [that].”

Joanna Van Gerpen, UNICEF’s Colombo leader informed journalists: "We don't have any evidence that they are LTTE cadres... From what we understand at this point, these children were from surrounding communities."

To this day, there has been no accountability for the deaths of the schoolgirls and their teachers.

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