Navali Church Bombing

On 9th July 1995, the Sri Lankan Air Force bombed the St Peter’s Church in Navaly and the nearby Sri Kathirgama Murugan Kovil, which were both sheltering displaced Tamils from army bombardment.

A total of 13 bombs were dropped on the sheltering shrines, killing 147 on the spot with many more succumbing to injuries later. The victims included men, women and children.

A ‘Pukkara’ Air Craft had dropped a cluster of many bombs on this crowd of refugees who had taken shelter in the church resulting in the death of over 65 civilians including women and children and over 150 were seriously injured sustaining the loss of limbs.

Besides many were rendered homeless as many houses were razed to the ground and others heavily damaged, including our church and priest’s house. All the people in this village have fled to safer areas as refugees.

According to eyewitnesses and survivors, on July 9 around 4.30 or 5pm, a Pukkara airplane  dropped 8 to 13 bombs over Navaly, around the church, the Sri Kathirkama Murugan Hindu Temple and in residential neighbourhoods, killing hundreds of people and injuring many more.

Those killed included a four year-old, and two 68 year-olds. The Grama Niladhari (village official), who was cooking for the displaced and youth volunteers, was among the dead. About 45 of those killed are believed to have been from Navaly but most were the displaced who had come to Navaly seeking refuge.

Thirteen members of one family were killed that day. The body of one young boy was never found. A woman described how she went home and found an infant of a relative alive under the dead body of her 18 year-old daughter. Some bodies were only discovered a few days later. Bodies were strewn all over the ground, with some decapitated  heads  found on trees. Many bodies were burnt beyond recognition. A Catholic priest narrated that he had seen bodies and body parts scattered across the road when he was cycling to Navaly from Jaffna that evening.

“Thirteen babies were among the 65 dead found under the rubble of a Catholic church bombed by the Sri Lankan air force, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) official said on Tuesday. ICRC field coordinator Dominique Henry said at least one bomb hit St Peter’s Church at Navali, north of Jaffna town, on Sunday, the day the armed forces launched their “Operation Leap Forward” against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The military, which said it was not aware of any church being bombed, had dropped leaflets warning civilians in the rebel-held peninsula to seek refuge in temples and churches to minimise the chance of death or injury in air strikes… `This is really a violation of humanitarian law if a civilian area has been deliberately targeted,” Henry said, adding that he had no information on whether the attack was deliberate or an accident. (Reuter 11 July 1995)

Bishop of Jaffna, Thomas Savundranayagam, 10 July 1995

In a letter dated 10 July 1995, the Bishop of Jaffna, Thomas Savundranayagam called upon President Chandrika Kumaratunga to stop these attacks on churches, temples and schools. He pointed out that at the time of bombing, displaced Tamil civilians had sought shelter in these places of worship. He wrote:

According to eye-witness accounts, this church and several adjacent buildings were hit by further air force strikes at 4.30 p.m. the same day. During the attack 65 people were killed and 150 wounded, including women and children. That evening and into the night Sri Lanka Red Cross staff evacuated most of the wounded by ambulance to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital. Delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) present the next morning at the scene of the attack noted the widespread damage and measured the extent of the tragedy: many of the bodies had not yet been removed from the rubble.

St.Peters Church and St.Peters School in Navaly at a great distance away from the line of battle and where hundreds had sought shelter was deliberately bombed on 9 July 1995. On the day after the attack, 56 bodies were retrieved from the debris, many of whom were women and children. The death toll in this incident later increased to 120. 13 babies died in their mother’s arms. Rescue workers reported torn limbs and pieces of human flesh strewn over the area.

“Pope John Paul said on Wednesday he was suffering along with the families of people killed when air force bombs hit a church in Sri Lanka.

“I want to express my deep-felt sharing in the suffering of so many people involved in the ethnic conflict that is tearing Sri Lanka apart,” he told pilgrims and tourists at his weekly general audience. “I share the grief of those who lost their loved ones in the bombing of the church and school of Navali,” he added.

Thirteen babies were among the 65 dead found under the rubble of a Catholic church bombed by the Sri Lankan air force, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) official said on Tuesday.

The military, which said it was not aware of any church being bombed, had dropped leaflets warning civilians in the rebel-held peninsula to seek refuge in temples and churches to minimise the chance of death or injury in air strikes.

`This is really a violation of humanitarian law if a civilian area has been deliberately targeted,” Henry said.Reuters (11 July 1995)

International Red Cross expresses concern at Navali bombing

The International Red Cross issued a Statement on 11 July 1995 on the Navali massacre:

” On 9 July the Sri Lankan armed forces launched a large scale military offensive against the positions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) north of the city of Jaffna. The operation involving intensive artillery shelling and air strikes, immediately forced tens of thousands of civilians to leave the area. Many of the displaced sought shelter in churches and temples, including several hundred people who took refuge in the Church of St.Peter and Paul in Navaly.

“According to eye witness accounts, this church and several adjacent buildings were hit by further air force strikes at 4.30 p.m. the same day. During the attack 65 people were killed and 150 wounded, including women and children. That evening and into the night Sri Lanka Red Cross staff evacuated most of the wounded by ambulance to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital. Delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) present the next morning at the scene of the attack noted the widespread damage and measured the extent of the tragedy. Many of the bodies had not yet been removed from the rubble.”

“Deeply concerned by the series of violent acts that have claimed innocent victims, the ICRC call on the parties involved to respect civilian lives, property and places of refuge. It also urges them to respect the protected zone around the Jaffna Teaching Hospital and to refrain from attacking any other medical facilities.”

The message to the air force pilots was very clear – “do what you want to do, we will defend you.” Guess what? Another of those pilots decided that some school children in a remote village were an easy target. No Tigers around, to shoot his plane down; bomb them! On Sep. 22, he bombed Nagar Kovil Maha Vidyalayam killing 23 children on the spot, during their lunch break. In repeated sorties, neighbours who rushed to help the injured children were also killed.

 Kumarathasan Rasingam,  Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org/


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