Clothes, suitcases on Sri Lanka beach recall war's bloody endgame

Fri Nov 15, 2013 10:33am EST
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By Frank Jack Daniel

PUTHUMATHALAN, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Scraps of clothes, rusting cooking pots and broken medicine bottles are scattered across Puthumathalan beach, the litter of 300,000 civilians who crowded into the hamlet in the final days of Sri Lanka's civil war.

Ethnic minority Tamil rebels made their last stand on the beach in 2009, after 26 years of fighting to set up a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka's north and east.

With the rebels were more than 300,000 civilians, squeezed for five months into what the government said was a safe area but which increasingly came into range of the army's artillery as government forces closed in.

The result was a massacre though the numbers are disputed.

The United Nations estimates 40,000 civilians were killed, most from army shelling, in the months leading up to the defeat of the rebels. The rebels used some villagers as human shields.

The strip of beach, wedged between a salty lagoon and the Indian Ocean's pounding breakers, is still guarded by 800 soldiers of the Sri Lankan army.

Residents say some of the dead lie buried beneath the sand, which is marked by small indents, all that's left of trenches people dug to try to escape the exploding shells. Faded suitcases and water pots lie half buried by the sand.

"It was a terrible time, we had no food, this beach was packed full of people for five kilometers," said Sivaratnam, 70, who was among the masses who retreated to the beach as the army advanced trough territory the rebels had held for years.   Continued...

File photo of a Sri Lankan soldier silhouetted against the sun as he jumps off the top of a battle tank in the northwestern town of Madhu March 23, 1999. REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi