heroes of two kinds
just in battle, where the two warring parties have used totally
different methods of warfare - conventional and guerrilla
- but also in honouring their dead, the two sides, the Sri
Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers have their own
difference is not only in
the monuments and commemorative programmes of the armed forces performed
at regimental level in contrast to LTTE's regionally set up mass
graveyards named "heroes cemeteries" or 'martyrs
graveyards," but it is also apparent in the type of funeral rites
performed for the fallen heroes.
Media Spokesman, Colonel Sumedha Perera observed it to be a
for our soldiers, recovered bodies are handed over to the respective
families and it is families who organise the funeral rites. Whatever
religious backgrounds they may be from, funeral rites have always been
an important part. It is embedded in our culture and one that the forces
also respect," he said.
absence of one single mass monument - similar to 'The Wall'
in Washington D. C. for the Vietnam War
victims - is more or
less due to the scattered nature of these war heroes' resting places.
All records are maintained at regimental level and thus, the fallen
men's names get included in the respective monuments put up and
maintained by each regiment.
the differences in honouring the two side's dead, is not just a cultural
issue but a social one as well. Heroes from the south who have died in
battle are allowed individual burials and cremations as their bodies are
brought to their respective homes whereas combatants of the Liberation
Tigers who die are mostly youth from displaced families. They have
either fled their homes during attacks or have been forced to live in
refugee camps. As such the families of the fallen LTTE heroes do not
have access to local cemeteries in their villages.
reason is the LTTE's
rules and regulations when it comes to the final rites of their
conventional defence forces -
in all three armed services - we don't have restrictions on bringing home the dead,"
said Perera. According to him the mortal remains are handed over to the
fallen heroes' kith and kin, allowing them the full liberty to decide on
the dates, rites and resting place for their family member killed in
action. However, they are accorded military honours
keeping with tradition.
contrast, for fallen LTTE cadres the choice of the final resting place
does not lie with their families. Instead it is decided by the
organisation depending on each cadre's place of birth. The issue in fact
comes under rules and regulations for the movement's cadre as these
young men and women once recruited are no longer considered part of
their families but of the movement. Even in death, they remain severed
from civil society and given a "heroes" burial at a LTTE
cadres' families are not allowed to carry out individual burials. They
may be allowed to take home the mortal remains and to keep for maximum,
a day or two but they have to be handed back over to us," explained
LTTE's Media Spokesman, Daya Master. Instead of family burials or
cremations, all dead LTTE cadres are given a place in these regionally
set up heroes' cemeteries.
are 24 cemeteries built and maintained by the LTTE and the largest one
is the Visvamadu Martyr Cemetery in Kilinochchi.
unique feature is that there are no religious rites performed by the
organisation for those who have given their life in combat. "Even
the families who take home the remains for their private grieving would
only have a public ceremony with eulogies but no religious rites are
conducted," said the LTTE Media Spokesman.
war heroes' cemetery in Kilinochchi that The Sunday Leader visited is
one such resting place where 1700 Tiger cadres rest. Visitors to the
site - known as the
"martyrs' memorial" - are confronted with rows and rows of
coffin shaped, grey coloured tombstones with polished, granite- looking
surfaces spread over several hectares. Nearly one third of all tombs
here bear the date July 18, 1996, as most of the buried are casualties
of a battle at Elephant Pass.
of the dead
and every death is recorded and nothing goes unaccounted," said
Daya Master adding that while some graves contained the cadres' remains
for those whose remains were not found only the tombstones are there
"with the names of martyrs' inscribed," as the LTTE has
decided to honour them despite there being no recovered remains.
only consider cadres' birthplace when deciding the resting place. Both
male and female cadres in
combat units including the members of the Special Task Force or the
LTTE's police battle units are accommodated in heroes' cemeteries.
"We consider all our dead cadres as heroes who have sacrificed
their lives for the cause and all are given equal recognition,"
said Daya Master.
the heroes' cemeteries is a costly affair for the organisation.
According to Daya Master the LTTE spends around Rs. 9,500 per tombstone.
"The movement has lost a total of 17 651 cadres from
November 1982 to October 2002," he said. This number
includes 78 Black Tiger cadres as well as 163 Sea Black Tiger cadres
according to LTTE statistics.
workforce comprising of more than 10 cadres
headed by a female LTTE cadre are employed for the maintenance
and upkeep of the Kilinochchi cemetery. And the same goes for their
other heroes' cemeteries as well said Daya Master. The organisation
takes their dead seriously and the spotless clean granite tombstones
despite the area's dust filled roads with dry mud bore testimony to this
fact during The Sunday Leader's impromptu visit to the site.
war heroes' cemeteries are considered sacred sites and visitors are
requested to remove all foot and head covering before entry. Vehicles on
the roads are not allowed to toot their horns within close proximity to
the "heroes' resting places."
amongst many other practices of the organisation the revered status
given to its dead combatants in elaborate heroes' day ceremonies too
comes under heavy criticism from the southern side of the ethnic divide.
An army official who requested anonymity said, "the monuments and
the ceremonies are played up with wide publicity as it is one of their
recruitment tactics. It is only to attract more youth for their cadre
and also to motivate the ones who are already in. We, the army have
never used our dead for recruitment purposes. We have never showed
videos and displayed dead bodies to attract recruits or to boost
morale," he charged. Quoting Herbert Spencer the army officer said
"hero worship is strongest where there is least regard for human
freedom," and said the sole reason for the Tigers to be giving so
much importance to their dead is to lure the youth into their ranks.
three armed forces whose number of losses during the two decade war
amounts to 18, 468 have several monuments erected and dedicated at
regimental level in their memory.
for the navy and air force with their killed in action numbering 785 and
402 respectively, the monuments honouring the dead heroes are found in
the Trincomalee naval base and at the Ratmalana air base.
Spokesman, Sri Lanka Navy, Commodore Jayantha Perera told The Sunday
Leader the monument at the entrance to the Trincomalee naval base bears
the names of all 785 killed todate. "We don't have plans to set up
a separate memorial as such but all our fallen heroes are recognised in
the one we already have at Trincomalee naval base," he said.
it comes to commemorating our heroes our policy includes the idea that
while those lost will not be forgotten, those who remain will not be
alone," asserted Commodore Perera.
celebrations for Navy Day on December 9th each year also includes visits
to families of the dead by navy officials. "We also organise
get-togethers at provincial level for the families, especially the
children of our dead heroes," he said.
Spokesman, Sri Lanka Air Force, Group Captain Ajantha de Silva too
shared similar views on the issue of honouring their dead. "There
aren't new plans for a separate monument and all our Air Force Day
celebrations on July 2nd every year are held at the monument at the
Ratmalana air base. We also have another monument put up at the Borella
cemetery but we don't hold any functions of remembrance there,"
said De Silva.
personnel killed in action numbering 2, 387 are all honoured at the
monument at Police Field Force Headquarters in Bambalapitiya said a
police spokesman adding that police heroes' are remembered every year on
July 23 at Police Day celebrations.
Lanka army has suffered the highest number of losses out of the three
services and the number currently stands at 17, 281.
to army sources, currently except for two regiments - Sri Lanka Light
Infantry (SLLI) and Vijayabahu - all the other regiments have their own
monuments dedicated to the heroes and commemorative ceremonies conducted
on respective regiment days at these memorial sites. The biggest
monument is to be found at the National Remembrance Park in Mailapitiya
in Kandy. This solemn tribute to the armed forces' lost comrades is set
in a scenic site overlooking the Randenigala reservoir.
heroes' data at Mailapitiya Remembrance Park are computerised said
Colnel Perera. "Visitors if they wish to locate the name of a loved
one can do so with the help of the computer system. And the staff on
duty will direct them to the respective area where the name is engraved," he said.
for the building of all regimental level monuments have come through the
respective regiments' funds and never have any state funds been used,
revealed an army source that claimed anonymity.
those categorised as MIAs
or personnel Missing In Action there are no separate monuments built
bringing little consolation to the anguished families. All three
services include the names of their MIA personnel along with those
killed in action in the already existing memorials.
names of those missing in action too are added to our monument in
Trincomalee as they are considered dead after one year from the date of
missing," said Navy Media Spokesman. Similar to the navy's
procedure the names of air force personnel missing in action are added
to the monument after one year from the date of considered missing. The
army too follows a similar procedure and MIA names are engraved in each
cemeteries and monuments while paying tribute to those who have
sacrificed their lives in the protracted war act as
reminders of the deadly violence that a war invariably brings.
Despite the gallantry recognised and honour bestowed on the dead
fighters from each side, these monuments with their eloquent verses of
tribute piece together a
part of the country's history marred by bloody conflict of a people - a
people of one country. And it is history,
the future generations are unlikely to be proud of.
words of one soldier The Sunday Leader interviewed - who has fought in
the frontline with death staring in his face several times in the
northern battle fields is quite fitting. "People think of war as a
glorious thing. And take pride in monuments and tributes and call the
fallen, national heroes. But whether won or not all wars include acts of
violence and cannot be fought without casualties nor avoid the spilling
of human blood that leaves behind widows, orphans and irreparably
shattered lives. Thus, isn't it true when they say that the victories of
peace are ever more glorious than the victories of war?"
Wall - The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a symbol of America's honour
and recognition of the men and women who served and sacrificed
their lives in the Vietnam War. Inscribed on the black granite
walls are the names of more than 58,000 men and women who gave
their lives or remain missing. Yet the memorial itself is
dedicated to honour the "courage, sacrifice and devotion to
duty and country" of all who answered the call to serve
during the longest war in US history.
Wall was built in
Constitution Gardens in Washington, D.C., through private
donations from the public, and dedicated in 1982.
than 20 years after its dedication, the memorial remains the most
visited in the nation's capital with more than four million