Vankalai (AsiaNews) The massacre of another Tamil family in northern Sri Lanka last week has served to intensify the mortal fear of civilians in the island's war zones. Martin Moorthy, a carpenter, his wife, Chitra, and their two children a girl and boy aged nine and six respectively were hacked to death in the village of Thomaspuri near Vankalai, Mannar district, on the night of Thursday 8 June. The Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels have blamed each other for the killings.
Contacted by AsiaNews, the parish priest of Vankalai, Fr Victor Avithappar, said civilians were scared, insecure and indignant about the latest, particularly brutal killings. "People are panicked and afraid, they don't feel safe. They want peace, to live free from fear," he said. "Everyone is boiling inside but people fear to actually show it because someone will take revenge later."
Thousands of people flocked to the family's funeral mass, which was presided over by the Bishop of Mannar district, Rayappu Joseph, at St Anne's parish church in Vankalai on Saturday.
The victims used to be refugees in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Chitra grew up there and is fondly remembered by workers of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) as a dedicated teacher in one of their school projects in the camps. The family returned to Sri Lanka after the 2002 cease-fire because they felt it was safe to do so.
This was not the first family to be massacred wholesale in Sri Lanka's civil war: only last month, a family from Kayts islet, off Jaffna, also in the north, met the same fate. Civilians are killed every single day in the north and east, and no one is spared, not even children, as the murders take on an increasingly gruesome and ruthless nature.
It is not clear who perpetrated the killings in Vankalai: many residents blame the army, reportedly saying some soldiers were in the area on the day of the killings, asking for information from the locals.
However, Fr Avithappar said "we cannot tell who did this", because there were no eye witnesses to the killings, which took place at the dead of night. He added: "But this area is under army control. The soldiers are all over, their sentry points are everywhere."
Since the beginning of June, hundreds of people from villages near Vankalai have been spending the night in St Anne's parish church. They are afraid to stay at home since the army shelled the area from its Vankalai camp on 31 May, following the death of a soldier in a claymore mine attack.
Now civilians are more petrified than ever, and their fear is fuelled by the political failure or refusal to talk peace, clearly revealed when talks between the government and the rebel Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) foundered in Oslo last week.
"If things get worse, we will really be in a terrible situation. I plead to those responsible for this violence to please stop as soon as possible," said Fr Avithappar.
But is anyone who matters listening to him? It appears not: the army and LTTE are not taking concrete steps to ensure security. Instead, their response to civilian killings has been largely to use the atrocities to throw mud at each other and to further entrench their own positions.