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How a British medic got access to LTTE-controlled areas

world Updated: May 31, 2009 23:19 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

“At least three shells fell inside or around the hospital this afternoon. It’s a disaster here. Really afraid to get out of the bunker. People do not want to move,’’ Damilvany Gnanakumar, a British citizen of Sri Lankan origin, told HT over phone (060-2244029) from the ‘no fire zone’ (NFZ) on May 13.

Gnanakumar, a bio-medical sciences graduate from the Greenwich University in UK, was among the last group of civilians inside the NFZ.

In the background, sporadic sounds of heavy gunfire could be heard.

Vany, as she introduced herself to HT, was speaking English with a distinct accent.

She had added that a lot of people were “dying or losing their families. We have to make a choice…a decision...whether a patient can be saved or not. It is a difficult decision,’’ she had said when asked about medicine shortage, adding that the “International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) ship could not send the supplies.’’

“Why are international aid agencies not allowed inside if the government claims we are lying,’’ she said before the line got abruptly cut.

That was the last time anyone picked up the phone.

Vany was among the last few to come out of the NFZ alive but is now in one of the many refugee camps in Vavuniya district.

Questions are now being raised about how Vany got access to LTTE-controlled areas in the North after returning to Sri Lanka in 2008.

The ceasefire was broken in January 2008 and access to the north was barred other than with permission from the defence ministry.

“If you are a (bio) medical graduate but get caught in LTTE-controlled areas, there must be some reason. It suggests sympathies for the LTTE,’’ foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona told HT.

“How did she land up in Tiger territory? Did she come on a tourist visa?’’ an official asked.

Vany returned to Mullaitivu from UK in 2008 and was among the Tamil civilians to move with the LTTE as it gradually got cornered into the NFZ on a coastal strip of land in Mullaitivu.

In the last few weeks of the war, she was a volunteer at the makeshift hospital inside the NFZ. HT was in touch with her over phone on several occassion; her descriptions were grim.

The Guardian newspaper has reported: “diplomatic efforts to secure her release have so far been unsuccessful and last night her family appealed to the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to allow her to return to the UK.’’