Montage
Presentational white space

It has been 10 years for the reason that finish of the civil warfare in Sri Lanka. For 1000’s of individuals, lacking members of the family and mates are a relentless reminder of the trauma of the battle. That is the story of Father Francis.

Short grey presentational line

On 18 Might 2009, a brutal battle which lasted nearly three many years got here to an finish. It is estimated that a minimum of 100,000 individuals misplaced their lives. Many 1000’s are nonetheless lacking.

The warfare was fought alongside ethnic strains. A need for an impartial state amongst components of the Tamil minority gave rise to an armed separatist insurgent group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, often known as the Tamil Tigers. They took on the Sri Lankan army and each side stand accused of committing atrocities towards the civilian inhabitants.

On the ultimate day of the battle, a Catholic Tamil priest led and negotiated the give up of a minimum of 360 individuals, together with Tamil Tigers and youngsters as younger as two. All of them boarded army buses – by no means to be seen once more.

Presentational white space
Memorial
Presentational white space

Father Francis was an ardent supporter of Tamil independence however he by no means picked up arms. Phrases had been his solely weapon.

Eight days earlier than the warfare ended, he wrote a determined three-page letter to the Vatican pleading for assist and expressing a way of abandonment. It was written in a bunker, now a memorial of concrete blood-stained palms to commemorate the Tamil lifeless. The BBC contacted the Vatican for remark however is but to obtain a response.

Presentational grey line

10 Might 2009

To His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,

The Sri Lankan Authorities is waging the warfare to annihilate the Tamil nation, it’s a genocidal warfare.

The cries of woes and agony of the infants and youngsters, the ladies and the aged, fill the air that was polluted by toxic and unhealthy gases.

It’s unlucky that the Church in Sri Lanka doesn’t have the knowledge and guts to air her views forcefully and unequivocally relating to the continued warfare.

I’m not unaware that this letter would arouse the wrath of the Sri Lankan authorities, which can resort to the revenge by killing me. Imploring your holiness Blessings,

Rev Fr. G.A Francis Joseph

– Excerpts from Fr Francis’s open letter

Presentational grey line
Presentational white space

Shortly after writing his letter, and with the Tigers all however defeated, Father Francis walked alongside 1000’s of Tamil males, ladies and youngsters over Vattuvagal bridge within the north-east of the nation from rebel-held land to government-controlled territory. Witnesses say the waters had been teeming with lifeless our bodies and blood.

Presentational white space
Vattuvagal bridge
Picture caption

Vattuvagal bridge is a well-liked spot for native fishermen

Presentational white space

To at the present time, 1000’s of individuals – together with mates and former colleagues of Father Francis – commonly take to the streets of northern Sri Lanka to demand solutions in regards to the plight of the lacking.

Most of the protesters had been amongst 300,000 Tamils who had been squeezed right into a slender coastal strip within the remaining section of the warfare. The UN says as much as 40,000 of these individuals died within the remaining months and numerous others had been significantly injured. Nevertheless, the Sri Lankan authorities disputes that – it has previously put the death toll at less than a quarter of the UN’s figure.

The army insists that those that surrendered weren’t killed. It doesn’t touch upon particular person circumstances.

Presentational white space
Protesters at a march through Killinochchi, Sri Lanka, in February 2019.
Presentational white space

Moses Arulanandan, now in his 90s, is an in depth cousin of Father Francis. Haunted by the priest’s disappearance, he is urged an area court docket to assist and has petitioned the United Nations, each with out success.

“All we may do is fear about him and cry,” he stated. “We had been very shut. He was like my organic brother… He was the one son to his dad and mom and I am the one who used to assist his mom as she was dwelling alone whereas Francis was dwelling on the school.”

Presentational white space
Women protesters in the beach
Picture caption

1000’s of individuals stay lacking in northern Sri Lanka

Presentational white space

Father Francis first got here to St Patrick’s school in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, as a schoolboy. After being ordained as a Catholic priest, he returned to the campus as an English trainer and later grew to become college principal. Most of his life was spent between school rooms, the faculty chapel, and the oval the place he cheered on the varsity cricket group.

Former college students say that he knew everybody on the college by identify. At this time, his legacy looms giant and a cardboard cut-out of him watches over college students within the college library.

“Day-after-day I pray to God and Mary, to indicate me his whereabouts, to tell me of his standing,” cries Mr Arulanandan, his palms raised in prayer.

Presentational white space
Father Francis cut-out at library
Presentational white space

Whereas Father Francis was extremely essential of presidency forces, he remained silent in regards to the atrocities dedicated by the rebels.

Of their mission to create a separate Tamil state, often called Eelam, the Tigers employed brutal ways, together with focused assassinations, mass killings and using each female and male suicide bombers. Between 2002 and 2007 the Tigers are believed to have forcibly recruited a minimum of 6,000 youngsters, and greater than 1,300 stay unaccounted for, in keeping with the UN.

Within the week main as much as the ultimate give up, fighters and civilians alike awaited their destiny at a military checkpoint in a big discipline.

Jayakumari Krishnakumar was married to a distinguished member of the Tamil Tigers who boarded the bus with Father Francis. She stated the priest wrote a listing of all those that surrendered.

Presentational white space
Jakakumari along a barbed fence wire at the field
Picture caption

Jayakumari Krishnakumar

Presentational white space

“My husband boarded the bus first, then many others, and at last Father Francis. Father Francis believed the military would respect the white gown,” she recalled. “He appeared scared however believed he’d be OK. And other people believed that in the event that they went with him they’d be protected.”

“This explicit occasion is the only largest quantity of people that have been topic to enforced disappearances by the hands of the Sri Lankan military,” stated Yasmin Sooka, a former member of the UN panel of consultants on Sri Lanka.

The members of the family of the lacking say they haven’t been capable of finding any justice by way of the courts.

Ms Sooka says the state has failed the lacking individuals. “As soon as they’d surrendered, they had been entitled to the safety usually afforded below humanitarian legislation: to be handled with respect and positively that you just stay together with your life intact.”

The army denies that they may have been victims of a warfare crime.

“Individuals who have surrendered to the military haven’t been killed – that’s for certain,” stated spokesman Brigadier Sumith Atapattu.

He added that no prisoners had been being held at this time. “International delegates together with the UN have come and checked our camps. There isn’t any underground detention camps in Sri Lanka… Individuals who’ve surrendered or have been captured for terrorist considering have been accounted for.”

Presentational white space
Protesters holding a banner in Killinochchi, northern Sri Lanka
Picture caption

Protests proceed over Father Francis’s disappearance

Presentational white space

However the place is Father Francis?

After years of worldwide strain the federal government arrange an Workplace on Lacking Individuals in 2017. It was given the large process of discovering 1000’s of individuals unaccounted for.

Up to now not a single individual has been discovered. However the workplace insists it’s attempting.

“You may’t simply go to the sector and say ‘we’re on the lookout for individuals’ – it doesn’t occur that means. The method of tracing, the method of delivering lists, the method of making ready the databases are issues that do take time,” stated Saliya Pieris, who heads the workplace.

Presentational white space
Moses, Father Francis's cousin
Picture caption

Moses Arulanandan nonetheless has hope he’ll discover his cousin

Presentational white space

For the households of people who disappeared, there are heartache and hope in equal measure.

The wives of the lacking males nonetheless put on pink bindis on their foreheads, signifying their married standing.

Youngsters are nonetheless ready for his or her dad and mom to come back residence – and nobody has misplaced religion to find Father Francis, or a minimum of studying his true destiny.

“The reality will come out at some point,” stated Mr Arulanandan.

Reporting by Elaine Jung, Louise Adamou and Swaminathan Natarajan.