Friday, August 6, 2010

Sri Lanka 13 - From the Frontlines

Every 50 yards or so there was some young man aiming his gun at me during my visit to northwestern Sri Lanka.

I do not have a personal photo to share of these men and their guns.  I sensed that they would not take kindly to a foreigner pointing his camera at them or their outposts. So here's a stock photo of the Sri Lankan Army. It gives you an idea of the faces and guns I saw constantly up north.

They stopped us at many checkpoints.  They even took our passports for over an hour when we tried to enter a certain war-torn village. My American passport (I was travelling with Sinhalese, Tamil, Australian, Mexican, Maltese and Indian Brothers) seemed to raise particular suspicion. 

"Must be a journalist!" 

The international press has been covering the slow pace of reconstruction in Tamil areas.  The Sri Lankan Government does not want any more stories or photos coming out of these locations. 

We were denied entry.  However, we eventually entered the village via another route, less well guarded.

The heightened security remains because of suspicions that there still exist elements of the "Tamil Tigers" (LTTE), especially in the northern and eastern areas of Sri Lanka.  The United States, by the way, also recognizes the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization. So peace here is tenuous indeed. There are soldiers and frequent checkpoints throughout Colombo as well.

While the omnipresent guns certainly unsettle me, land mines frighten me more.  The signs are in abundance in the village we stayed in. There are so many types to watch for.

LAND MINE caution tape bordered our roads. 
Clearing fields is a slow meticulous process. 

The USA has given 12 million dollars 
for demining operations in northern Sri Lanka.

Families cannot return until the property is cleared.
It will be a long road back to normalcy.

Although the war is over, many people remain in IDP (Internally Displaced Person) Camps.  These camps stretch for miles along the road. UN vehicles, with their huge antennae and baby-blue coloring, drive back and forth in front of them. The camps are guarded by the Sri Lankan Army, and edged about with barbed wire and concertina wire. Barbed and concertina wire are everywhere in fact!  After the war, people do not seem to know what to do with it. It is rolled up and placed in corners now, almost decoratively. Kept just in case, I guess.

Destruction, war's only souvenir, is everywhere.  
Take a look.

 Remnants of homes.

Houses riddled with bullet holes.

The Brothers' School - bombed.

I cannot share all I have seen.  
I cannot show the man maimed by a land mine,
or the young widow's raw grief, 
or missing girls and stolen boys,
or the dead, buried in forgotten places, stumbled upon now.

The parish priest making rounds on his motorcycle

I can share with you that 
the Church is here:
 feeding the hungry;
    giving drink to the thirsty;
       clothing the naked;
          sheltering the homeless;
            visiting the sick;
              ransoming the captive, 
                and burying the dead.

Residents of the Christian Brothers' Home for teenage Tamil Orphans

The Church is here: 
   instructing the ignorant; 
   counseling the doubtful; 
   admonishing sinners;
   bearing wrongs patiently; 
   forgiving offenses willingly;
   comforting the afflicted;
   praying for living & dead.

The Church is here gently showing a wounded world Christ's peace.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
deacon bill+

I have never had so many guns pointed at me in my life!