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How it all began..
In September 1998, when the Kilinochchi Sri Lankan Army complex as attacked and overrun by Tamil Tigers 609 Sri Lankan Army personnel were reported missing in action. This high figure served as call to action for parents and family members the missing men.
In October 1998, parents of missing military personnel along with villagers from Walgampaya Danture held candlelight vigil to bless those missing as well as draw their general public’s attention to issue. At very successful event proposed on specified day the whole country light lamp to bless the missing and ask for speedy return home.
In November 1998, a small group of missing personnel’s parents came together to discuss ways and means of addressing the issue. The group agreed that necessary steps should taken to know fate of reported missing, as well as secure the release of detainees. It is further agreed by bringing peace to country can further disappearances prevented. The Association of Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action (PSMIA) was formed to work towards peace the heart of conflict – the battlefront.
Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action proposed the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) register all missing individuals and initiate tracing requests for them. The ICRC Colombo delegation, informed us no provision open tracing requests without official recognition of missing by commanding force. We learned that Sri Lankan Army takes more than six months give such information the ICRC as requires lengthy process involving the Court of Inquiry. An ICRC brochure regarding missing clearly states those disappearances must be reported within six months for effective results. We found this situation disturbing and set forth to ensure the issue was addressed.
PSMIA wrote letter to head of Colombo ICRC delegation, visited the Sri Lankan Army Headquarters, and met the Director of Personnel Administration requesting him to take necessary steps to speed up the process. As successful attempt, by end of December 1998, the Ministry of Defense provided the ICRC with list those missing from Kilinochchi.
To announce the formation of organization held flower offer ceremony on 27th of March in Gatambe, Kandy. All families those missing from Kilinochchi were invited. An estimated 800 people from across to country attended bringing thousands of flowers. Various donors provided sounds, food, and refresh ment for occasion. Buddhist and Catholic priests addressed the gathering along with poetry readings by mothers of missing in action. After the flowers were collected and floated down the Mahaweli River. Thousands of flowers floating on gentle waters were deeply moving sight. TNL TV network provided the media coverage of event. At the end of meeting ICRC’s mailing address and telephone number given to parents for registration at ICRC Colombo office. A five member committee was formed to carry work of organization.
Of primary goals were to reduce the high number of missing servicemen. This number was high partly due that Sri Lankan Governmental authorities’ lack of interest in identifying dead bodies. PSMIA hand delivered letters to ICRC and the Sri Lankan Army explaining the urgency of situation, and suggesting steps to reduce number of missing in action. We suggested the ICRC take still and video photographs of bodies upon contact, comparing them with photographs on file for verification the dead. Also asked the ICRC collect items which could for identification and most importantly advise combatants to wear and respect identification discs (dog tags).
We requested the Sri Lankan Army wear identification discs at times, irrespective of station. We asked that service personnel have dental records and personnel details in computerized and securely stored files that possible means of identification by family members kept, that Sri Lankan Army take still and video photos of bodies, and most importantly, that promptly accept the bodies before to decompose.
Finally, we asked the ICRC, LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army to agree on mode transfer for bodies that plan of action is place.
In addition to suggestions, PSMIA requested that Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE follow, at Law of War and International Humanitarian Law regarding the treatment of wounded and captured personnel.
We strongly felt that wearing and respecting identification discs, will reduce their number of missing; of major projects was to ensure these combatants from both sides do so. We prepared booklet featuring photographs of soldiers wearing the identification discs with request in English, Sinhala, and Tamil that would wear it and respect the tags sake of families.
The booklet was launched in Anuradhapura on the 22 nd of October, 1999. Participants included the Deputy Minister for National Integration, Mr. Dilan Perera, the Brigade Commander of Anuradhapura Sri Lankan Army, the Sri Lankan Army Director of Additional Directory of Welfare, as well as many senior officers of Army, Navy, and Air Force and police officials. The audience was massive crowd more than 3,000 family members of reported missing in action. Nine hundred gas balloons were sent by parents with messages of peace to Northern areas. This occasion at parents of servicemen called for peace in public.
That same day sent copy of booklet together with request letter to LTTE leader, Mr. Prabakaran.
It is certain at most soldiers who are reported missing are dead. Eventually, when mothers receive, the news loved ones are no more they will need place to share that feelings, about the loss. Of purpose as well as establish connection with these mothers of Northern and Eastern areas, the Association of War Affected Women (AWAW) was established.
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