Page last updated at 23:09 GMT, Saturday, 13 June 2009 00:09 UK

Tiger prisoner describes end of the war

By Saroj Pathirana
BBC Sinhala

Burning bus in Sri Lanka's 'safe zone'  image by pro-Tamil website TamilNet
The claims of both sides are impossible to verify

A former prisoner of war of the Tamil Tigers who managed to escape days before their final defeat has denied reports that he was used to carry a surrender message from the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) leadership.

Chaminda Kumara Hewage of the Sri Lankan navy was captured by the LTTE with six others in November 2006.

The group managed to escape with fleeing civilians and Tamil Tigers early in the morning of 17 May.

"Many Tamil Tigers had already surrendered and the unit guarding us also decided to give themselves up so we made use of the opportunity to flee," he told the BBC's Sinhala Service.

Chaminda Kumara says he saw pistols and other weapons being thrown away by the fleeing LTTE members.

"There were pistols, LTTE tags, belts and cyanide capsules thrown away in LTTE camps and all along the road" he says.

Underground bunkers

The Sri Lankan government announced the killing of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the end of the war May 19.

Chaminda Kumara said it seemed as if the Tigers lacked ammunition for their heavy weapons in the final days of fighting.

The prisoners, who were kept in underground bunkers in a cemetery near Mullaitvu beach, regularly heard shell attacks nearby as the fighting intensified.

"During the final stages of fighting some bullets even fell in our bunkers".

"But we did not hear heavy weapons in the last days. The LTTE fired about two or three mortars a day but I think they were running out of ammunition. At the same time the Sri Lankan army did not use heavy weapons," he adds.

We had to walk during the night chained together in groups of up to 50
Chaminda Kumara

Mr Kumara denied reports in media that the LTTE leadership used them to send an offer of surrender to the Sri Lankan army.

"We did not meet any senior LTTE leader when we escaped and there had been no offer of surrender," he says.

Held in chains

He said the prisoners were registered with the Red Cross and were not ill-treated by the LTTE.

And in the last days of their captivity the Tigers had wanted to hand them over to the ICRC but couldn't because it was prohibited from entering the war zone.

But, he says, that the Tigers deliberately built their camps alongside civilians in government no-fire zones.

"The LTTE was hiding among civilians and firing at the army. There were LTTE camps around our bunker," he told BBC Sinhala.

The prisoners did not see any shelling but they heard attacks very close to civilian settlements as fighting intensified.

A mass of displaced Tamils are received by the army (file image provided by Sri Lanka military on 15 May 2009)
Civilians fled as fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the army iintesified

The prisoners were initially kept in Kanakapuram, in Kilinochchi district, for nearly two years.

But the Tamil Tigers had to move them from place to place as the Sri Lankan army gradually captured their territory.

"Initially they moved us in vehicles but that became dangerous as we came under attack. So then we had to walk during the night chained together in groups of up to 50."

While on the move they clearly heard fighting nearby and the Tigers said they feared shells would land on their temporary prisons.

The Sri Lankan military was accused by the LTTE and human rights groups of constantly using heavy weapons despite repeated pledges not to use them on civilian settlements.

The former PoW says he did not see any such attacks but said civilians told him that the army continuously launched shell attacks on their settlements.

Nearly a month after the end of the conflict it remains difficult to find out the truth, the first casualty of war.

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