Friday, August 31, 2007

Artillery Guns at Madhu Shrine and other Shameful Facts

The Our Lady of Madhu Church is over 400 years old. Each year, large numbers of Catholics visit the Shrine for the Madhu Church Festival celebrating the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. The church had remained untouched despite the death and destruction in the Madhu area resulting from the decades old war. However, reports indicate the situation would have been different had the military reacted without caution to an LTTE offensive in June this year.

Military Intelligence sources claimed in June 2007 that the LTTE had used 122mm artillery guns from the grounds of the sacred Madhu Shrine in the three-pronged attack launched on 2nd June 2007 on the Army’s Artillery Units at Pompeimadu. A large stock of artillery shells and at least one artillery gun was destroyed in the attack. The LTTE was also able to overrun the Army’s Forward Defence Line (FDL) at Mullikulama and recapture over 25 square kilometers. The LTTE Operation was stalemated when members of the newly-formed 57th Division resisted the Tiger advance and secured the other two FDLs.

The military’s claims have now been proven with pilgrims returning from the shrine claiming they have spotted several artillery guns in the vicinity of the Church. Military Intelligence also believes that the guns could still be placed in that location. Although aerial and other reconnaissance has spotted the guns, the LTTE’s frequent use of decoy guns is a matter of concern for them. But perhaps the most serious concern is the location at which the guns, whether decoy or not, are stationed, which is in the vicinity of the sacred shrine. The Army is cautious of the danger to the shrine, and the devotees arriving there, in the case of retaliation by them using Kafir, MIG27 or Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers. The Military is also cautious of launching attacks on its own accord to destroy the guns, due to the possibility of causing collateral damage.

The military has been accused of attacks on places of worship by the LTTE and Human Rights groups in the past. The Air Force was accused of attacking the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Navaly located on the Jaffna peninsula on 9th July 1995. The Military was also accused of bombing the Thurkkai Amman Temple Tellipalai in July 1992 and St.James’ Church Jaffna in November 1993. In an interesting twist to this story, Intelligence Officer Glen Jenvey of the British MI-6 has been quoted as having seen video footage of an LTTE anti-aircraft attack on the Airforce plane from the grounds of the Church of St. Peter and Paul. It is claimed that this attack prompted the Pilot to retaliate causing unforeseen collateral damage to civilians seeking shelter in the Church. In the other incidents of collateral damage, the Security Forces held steadfast to their claims of LTTE provocation as the cause.

The LTTE has also launched several devastating attacks on places of religious worship in the past. Whether the provocation for such attacks comes from alleged military attacks on places of worship or for simple provocation of the Buddhists and Muslims to commit atrocities against the Tamils, is a question. On 14 May 1985, LTTE terrorists shot and killed 120 devotees, including children and wounded 85 others in an attack on the Anuradhapura Sri Maha Bodhi, a site containing a Fig Tree (Ficus religiosa) considered sacred by Sri Lankan Buddhists. On Friday 4th August 1990, suspected LTTE terrorists opened fire and killed 103 Muslims and injured 70 others while they were praying at the Meera Jummah Mosque in Kattankudy. On 25th January 1998, LTTE suicide cadres used a powerful truck bomb in a devastating attack on the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic) in Kandy killing 12 devotees and injuring 13 others. The explosion caused considerable damage to the Temple. In a recent trend, the LTTE has been using places of religious worship for concealing suicide jackets, firearms and even their intelligence cadres.

The significance of Churches or Kovils for staging insurgent attacks attests to the moral degradation of the parties to the conflict and their inability to respect the religious ideologies of the world’s foremost faiths. Let us hope that Sri Lankan militants do not become as unethical as the various fundmentalist Islamic sects in Iraq who are killing their own brethren in the streets of Baghdad. The Security Forces, to their credit, have refrained from launching attacks even on identified LTTE targets if they are situated close to a Church or Kovil. This is an encouraging sign from a counter-insurgency point of view.

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