‘I want justice’ – Pulithevan’s wife speaks to Ceylon Today
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
The ‘white flag incident’ re-emerged when on Thursday (25), Kurinchi, wife of head of LTTE peace secretariat S. Pulithevan and son of LTTE’s Political Wing Leader P. Nadesan among many others who attended the 29th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), revealed the circumstances that led to their surrender and their subsequent disappearance. Reportedly, Nadesan and Pulithevan surrendered to the Army, holding white flags, on the morning of 18 May 2009, the final day of the battle.
Speaking exclusively to Ceylon Today from Geneva, Kurinchi said her husband, who was unarmed at the time of the surrender to the Sri Lankan Forces, possibly holding a ‘white flag’, was later found tortured and killed. Those photographs which she saw on various media had remained in her mind ever since.
Following are excerpts:
Q: What is your full name?
A: Please call me Kurinchi
Q: How old was Pulithevan at the time of his surrender to the Forces?
A: He was 40
Q: How old are you now?
A: I am 43 years old.
Q: In which year did you marry Pulithevan?
A: In 2001.
Q: Was he a member of the LTTE when you got married to him?
Q: What were you when you married him?
A: I was a teacher.
Q: When did Pulithevan surrender to the Forces?
A: On 18 May 2009
Q: Can you explain the events that took place from 15 May 2009 onwards?
A: During the last days of the conflict we were in Vellamullivaikal.
Q: Where were you before you went to Mullivaikal?
A: We were in Kilinochchi between 2008 and 2009 and were displaced more than 10 times before we arrived at Mullivaikal.
Q: Who else was with you in Mullivaikal?
A: I was there with a number of other civilians. Even the LTTE fighters were there. All of us got together and started moving together.
Q: It was said that the No Fire Zone came under attack. Was that true?
A: Yes. There were multi-barrel attacks along with shelling and gunfire.
Q: Where were you then?
A: I was with my husband.
Q: Wasn’t he fighting the war?
Q: What was he doing then?
A: He was talking to people overseas reporting on the events that were taking place. As he headed the LTTE peace secretariat he was constantly in touch with people outside asking them what to do next and telling them what was going on at ground level. That was his job till the last day.
Q: Wasn’t he wearing the LTTE uniform at that time?
A: No. He was in a dark green T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
Q: What else did he have on his person?
A: A satellite phone with which he was talking to many people.
Q: Who was he talking to at that moment?
A: I really don’t know who he was talking to. I was not in a mindset to inquire him about the conversations he was having and I never did even before. He was also not in the right mind to talk to me. It was a tense moment.
Q: Can you recall how big the crowd around you was?
A: I should say that there may have been more than 10,000 people there.
Q: Apart from Pulithevan and you, were there any other LTTE members there?
A: Nadesan was there.
Q: Was Nadesan’s family there too?
A: Yes, they were there too.
Q: Was there anyone from Nadesan’s family with you?
A: No. There was only Pulithevan and myself.
Q: Were you the only witness when Pulithevan surrendered to the Forces?
A: Yes. I was the only one from our family and we don’t have any children.
Q: Can you tell us briefly what happened on 18 May?
A: I was not there. From 16 May onwards civilians started entering the Army controlled area.
Q: When did you last see your husband?
A: On 16 May I left him and reached the Army controlled area on 17 May.
Q: Why couldn’t you stay with Pulithevan?
A: I was not well. There was no food or water. We were in the scorching sun. I was dehydrated and exhausted. The last days of the war was harrowing. The international community is aware of the sufferings that people had to undergo during those last days. Pictures are there for evidence. So I need not talk about it again.
Q: What was his last conversation with you before you departed?
A: He said ‘you go with the civilians and I will surrender to the military’.
Q: What was your reply?
A: I could only shed tears. What else could I have done?
Q: Did you insist on his surrender?
A: No. As I had to follow the civilians I had to leave him.
Q: When you reached the Army controlled area what did you do?
A: I was there and later, through the media, I read that LTTE members had surrendered holding white flags.
Q: Was it only through the media that you learnt that they were holding white flags when they surrendered?
A: Yes. It was only through the media. Media was reporting on the war.
Q: On which media did you read that news?
A: I cannot remember and I was not in a state of mind to register all what I heard and read.
Q: Do you believe everything you read?
A: If the media ran those reports, can they be wrong?
Q: Didn’t anyone else tell you that they saw persons holding white flags while surrendering?
A: I heard from various sources but it was the media that revealed about the white flag incident.
Q: What did you hear about Pulithevan later on?
A: Within the next one month or so, I heard about his death and saw the photos in the media.
Q: Where were you at the time you heard about Pulithevan’s death?
A: I was in Sri Lanka.
Q: Why didn’t you complain to higher-ups, perhaps Tamil politicians, about what you heard about Pulithevan?
A: For my security’s sake, I did not talk about it and I did not want to reveal about myself to anyone.
Q: Were you with your relatives then?
A: No. I was alone and now also I am alone.
Q: When did you decide to contact the international community to reveal what happened to your husband?
A: I was quiet for six years and no one brought the subject of torture and killing of my husband. I could not hold on further. I contacted the UN to tell my family’s story.
Q: Why did you tell this to the UN and not anyone in Sri Lanka?
A: As far as I know, the entire conflict was known to the UN, the Sri Lankan Government and the international community. It was on their advice that my husband and many others surrendered to the Forces unarmed holding white flags. So they should rightfully know what happened to my husband who was found dead after being tortured.
Q: How do you know whether all of them held white flags?
A: There are persons who had seen them surrender with white flags. Particularly, Sakthi TV’s special programme ‘Minnal’ by J. Sri Ranga aired an interview with former TNA MP Chandranehru Chandrakanthan, who described how the Sri Lanka Army gave tea to the LTTE members who surrendered with white flags during the final battle and then shot them dead. He shared his experiences of the tense final minutes of the final battle. When the senior members of the LTTE surrendered to the Army on 18 May 2009, Chandrakanthan had functioned as the communication facilitator between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tigers.
Q: What action do you expect the international community to take?
A: I want justice for a man who took no arms, who never fought the war or killed people. He surrendered on advise given by the international community. He was unarmed. It’s a human rights violation. I cannot accept his death in that manner.
Q: What do you want them to do?
A: I want a reason for such torture and killing. Why it was committed on him and by whom and is it right to take a man’s life when he surrendered with a white flag. If he was wounded and died at the last phase of the war, I would accept it. He was healthy, he suffered no injuries before he surrendered. The way he was found dead with wounds, I cannot bear the pain. Why did they commit a crime on him, I want to know.
Q: Is your plea to find the perpetrators and punish them?
A: I want an acceptable answer for the torture and killing of a man who was unarmed and surrendered to the Forces. Is it right to torture a man? Is it right to kill a man in that manner? I want answers. I am not here seeking punishment for criminals. I only want justice to that murder. What is the reply they have for me?
Q: How do you view the killing of your husband?
A: I cannot comprehend it. Can the country’s Forces, who should care for its fellow countrymen at any circumstances, be so cruel?
Q: After his surrender did you search for him?
A: Not really. I was in Vavuniya.
Q: Why didn’t you contact the Army headquarters or the Police to complain?
A: Army? Will they admit to it? I was scared. I did not know whom to approach. I was crying silently.
Q: Did you expect Pulithevan to return?
A: I thought he would come back.
Q: When did you see his photographs and what where your thoughts when you saw them?
A: Can you imagine my plight when I saw those pictures? I was shocked. I did not expect to see those pictures. I cannot accept that death. I saw him go. I remember the last words he spoke and then found his photographs of torture and murder. No person can live with it and no person can be mum about it. That picture is what I see daily when I think of him and this mental trauma I undergo for no reason is also a human rights violations. I am sure many Tamils are suffering from such mental trauma and they all need an answer to such sufferings.
Q: When do you want a final verdict on your husband’s murder?
A: If I hear it soon it would console my soul. Justice given will help me recover from the trauma I am undergoing. Why it happened to him and who committed this crime, I need answers.
Q: Will they do it? Do you want someone to come forward and admit to the crime committed?
A: If someone loses a loving family member, they would know the plight I am talking about. I don’t know what the verdict would be but the international community is responsible for the crimes committed against humanity. They should give a reasonable verdict and solution to the Tamils too. I cannot tell what we want but justice should be met and I am not here to suggest anything else. Loss of human life cannot be replaced with punishment. The only option is to give justice.
Q: Will you continue to fight for justice?
A: Yes. That is the only thing I can do for my husband. Can I stay quiet? Will you stay quiet if your family member is killed by responsible people who could be identified? Can you forget about the incident and continue with your life? I need a reason for the death of my husband who surrendered. I am not speaking on behalf of others.