Chapter 8


8.1 The Airdrop and the L.T.T.E.'s Dilemma

With the Indian airdrop of relief supplies on 4 June, the Sri Lankan army was forced to call off its offensive in Jaffna after scenting victory. The L.T.T.E. had been administered an unpleasant shock and was reeling. India had demonstrated to the Tamils that it was ultimately India on whom the Tamils must depend. India now wanted a presence in Jaffna and there was much talk between Colombo and Delhi. It was agreed that Indian relief supplies would be distributed to the people of Jaffna, jointly by a team of Indian and Ceylonese Red Cross personnel. India underlined the allegedly humanitarian nature of its mission. During Operation Liberation and earlier All India Radio had given publicity to the L.T.T.E.'s version of civilian casualties. The figure went up to 2000 dead, while later estimates of the figure were between 400 and 700. India had also alleged carpet bombing of Vadamaratchi. The Sri Lankan government tried to make much of this. When foreign journalists were flown later in by the government, they could see few signs of carpet bombing. All this was to irk the Tamil people later when All India Radio would switch from the exaggerations of May (with which the Tamils were happy) to obvious untruths in the wake of India's own offensive in Jaffna later in October. One consequence of India's vocal criticism of the Sri Lankan government's use of air power, was that India was slow to admit its use of air power during its offensive in October.

        During 1987, the Sri Lankan use of air power had a deliberate vindictive purpose. Civilians were expected to get killed. Its main effect was to keep the L.T.T.E. shifting houses. Still most of the time, as FM conversations between airmen showed, its use was usually restrained. The nature of the target was generally verified before action was taken. By restraint, one means that those lucky enough not to live within 100 yards of an L.T.T.E. camp could consider themselves reasonably safe during air raids. This did not apply to shelling. The element of discrimination was even more vitiated when fertile minds in the national security ministry introduced the Avro-dropped barrel bomb.

        The L.T.T.E. was now facing a crisis of prestige, as India was set to become top dog. After casting about for an issue on which to build up support, it picked on G.C.E. A. Level examinations. Its student wing, the S.A.L.T. wanted a boycott of A.Level examinations in July for the reason that Vadamaratchi was in a bad way, with its education disrupted, so that it was considered wrong for other Tamils to do their examinations unless a postponement was granted. The S.A.L.T. leaders went about schools canvassing the boycott. The response from boys' schools was of a noticeably low order in comparison with that from girls' schools. Young men with a military bearing led by Major Murali of the L.T.T.E. canvassing in schools brought about a flutter of response in the girls' schools. Middle class girls were quite prominent in the boycott movement.

        But the boycott move was unpopular with the parents and a silent majority of the affected students. Many influential persons with children who were A.Level candidates busily ran around canvassing opinion and getting through to key L.T.T.E. leaders. Pressure was brought about even from within the ranks of prominent L.T.T.E. supporters. The L.T.T.E. thought it wise to backtrack.

        The boycott was ceremonially called off. The L.T.T.E. was praised for its show of wisdom. Tamils from devastated areas outside Jaffna wondered why there was no call to boycott when they had been affected. Many girls had become enamoured of the L.T.T.E.. This remained true. The role of girls in the L.T.T.E. had by now become significant. Several were to die in action against the I.P.K.F. in October, including at least one girl from Chundikuli Girls' College.

        One often finds amongst intelligent middle class girls from English speaking homes, a reckless emotional drive to serve a cause like that of the L.T.T.E.'s. Being very articulate speakers, they bring in many village girls who are anxious to imitate them. But the middle class girls soon get frustrated by fascist tendencies in the organisation. Many of them develop problems of conscience and are unable to conform their independence and initiative to the tastes of the organisation. Once the honeymoon is over, many of these girls wish to leave. The parents quickly get into the act and pack off the girl to stay with an aunt in Colombo so as to get over the trauma. An S.O.S. would then be sent to a relative abroad to get her out. The girl would then continue with her studies abroad and get over the past. But for the village girls who get into the organisation under the influence of their middle class peers, things work out tragically. They too may want to leave the organisation for very much the same reasons. But they have nowhere to go. Their parents may not have the means to help them. For them it requires a great deal of courage.

        On 25 June, the Indian ship Srivastava, bringing relief supplies docked at K.K.S.. Crowds lined the route taken by the Indian embassy officials Mr. Puri and Captain Gupta together with the Indian Red Cross team, on their way to Jaffna. This resembled something of a triumphal march. The L.T.T.E.'s position was a difficult one as the Indians aimed directly for the people's affections. It tried to give the event a different colour, by trying to behave as though it was the power in charge and was welcoming Indian efforts as helping the L.T.T.E. to achieve its aims. It urged the crowd to shout amongst other slogans, a request for arms. But the real feelings of the crowd came out as people again and again broke down in front of the Indian officials, saying simply, "India save us."

        On 5 July, the L.T.T.E. launched a suicide attack against the Sri-Lankan army camp at Nelliady Central College. The Sri Lankan army had reduced its strength in Vadamaratchi from 8000 to 3000 men. No one was expecting a major outbreak of violence. The government had agreed to a ceasefire to facilitate the distribution of Indian relief supplies. The L.T.T.E. was also understood to be a party to this. But as in the past both sides could find excuses for not honouring ceasefires. The Sri Lankan S.T.F. action in Batticaloa was as good as any. Earlier that day, armed L.T.T.E. men were spotted at Nelliady and something had been expected. The entrance to Nelliady Central College was located in a narrow road connecting Nelliady town with Vathiri junction. Civilians were living just opposite the school and the army encouraged the use of the road as a public relations exercise. Miller, a member of the L.T.T.E.'s new black Tigers drove a van packed with explosives through the school gates into the front building. The government claimed that 20 of its soldiers died. Publicising its action through notice boards as a "great achievement," the L.T.T.E. claimed 100 soldiers killed. Other sources said that the government figure was much nearer the truth. The army had been expecting something of this nature, and what took place was not a major setback. Troops took up positions and the Nelliady camp held out. What was surprising was the manner in which the army reacted. The government had been keen to revive confidence in the people and make Vadamaratchi a success. An elaborate public relations exercise was going on. All this was shattered as the army let loose with a barrage of cannon fire. Perhaps up to 20 civilians died in the shelling. Several others were shot as they fled. In one incident at Navindil, a group of 12 elderly persons were moving towards Udupiddy. When a round of shelling commenced they took shelter in the porch of a house, which the owners had apparently fled. A group of soldiers who arrived peeped through the window and observed that cooking had been going on for a large party. The 12 persons were accused of feeding the L.T.T.E.. Despite their denials, they were shot and pushed into the trench by soldiers of the 4th Division of the Gajaba Regiment Only the wife of a Singer company agent escaped by feigning death. In another incident a shell falling on the Karaveddy Roman Catholic Church killed 5 refugees. People were not taking chances this time. An estimated 90% of the population fled Southwards as refugees. A few remained close to the towns of Pt. Pedro, Udupiddy and Valvettithurai. Vadamaratchi was described as a place for goats and stray dogs. The lack of clear policy and army discipline demonstrated to India's advantage the Sri Lankan government's limitations in making headway with solving the problem.

        With many people, the L.T.T.E. had redeemed its reputation after running away in the face of Operation Liberation. This again pointed to the fickleness of public opinion in Jaffna. In the rest of Jaffna things went on as if nothing had happened. Refugee woes in newspapers were part of the fare. To the L.T.T.E. it was a desultory achievement which once again underlined its dependence on civilian cover. Once the civilians fled, the L.T.T.E. found it difficult to stay on in Vadamaratchi. The L.T.T.E. withdrew from Vadamaratchi on 13 July. On the same day a group of the notorious Black Shirts, a unit of the Sri Lankan Army trained in Pakistan, moved from Polikandy towards Navindil looking into houses and killing the aged who were left behind. According to an engineer from that area, at least 20 persons, nearly all above 70, were shot dead.

        It may be assumed that India had no foreknowledge of the L.T.T.E.'s attack on the night of 5th July. Indian officials were critical. Members of the Indian Red Cross team were amongst those trapped in Vadamaratchi. Reports at that time spoke of a heated argument within the L.T.T.E. over whether its members in Vadamaratchi should be ordered to stay or be withdrawn. With hardly any civilians left, it had become difficult to remain there. If the event worked to the advantage of India, it was an unintended consequence of the L.T.T.E.'s action, and the Sri Lankan army's ineptness in dealing with civilians.

8.2        The Accord, Colonisation and

      Human Rights

The process which began with the Indian airdrop on 4 June resulted in the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 29th July. The ideas contained in the deal envisaged for the Tamils were similar to those put forward by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's special envoy G. Parthasarathy. The Northern and Eastern Provinces were to be linked for a year with the permanency of the link to be decided by a referendum in the East a year later. In the Eastern Province, the population was divided into Tamils 42%, Muslims (also Tamil speaking) 34% and Sinhalese 24%. The last group had come in mainly through colonisation over the last 40 years. According to a senior official who worked for the first such scheme, the Gal Oya project, in the 1940's, when the houses in the scheme were ready for occupation the first offer was made to people in the locality. The official had gone about contacting District Revenue Officers (or D.R.O.s) in and around Batticaloa calling for volunteers. The response from the Tamils had been poor. Offers were then made elsewhere and large numbers of Sinhalese came from areas such as Kegalle. Within 18 years they started paying income tax. At this point, the government of Ceylon could not be blamed. But this set a pattern. Alarm bells started ringing when politics acquired an increasingly chauvinistic note. Some of the worst violence against Tamils, during the 1958 race riots, came from Sinhalese in the colonisation schemes at Gal Oya and Padaviya. In the meantime movements to defend the Tamil homeland had come into existence. Prominent amongst the early leaders was the late Prof. C. Suntheralingam, former Mathematics teacher at the Ceylon University, ex-Minister and M.P. for the frontier electorate of Vavuniya. Together with the ideology that Ceylon was for the majority Sinhalese had also arisen crusaders amongst leading Sinhalese wanting to populate Tamil areas with Sinhalese. Government policy too naturally veered in this direction. Attempts to settle the matter through the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam pact of 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake - Chelvanayakam pact of 1965 failed because of a lack of decision amongst the two Prime Ministers resulting from pressure invoking the Sinhalese-Buddhist ideology.

        The Buddhist clergy propagated the ideology that Ceylon was a land sacred to the Buddha and the chosen repository of his teachings. The chosen guardians were of course the Sinhalese people. Professor Leslie Goonewardene (in "Ethnicity and Social Change in Sri Lanka," Social Scientists Association, 1979) argues that the term Sinhala in the ancient chronicle Mahavamsa, actually referred to a particular dynasty that was then favoured by the Buddhist clergy. The priestly chroniclers of the 4th century A.D. presented a version of history that attempted to justify through reference to antiquity, a symbiotic relationship between themselves and a particular dynasty. Over the coming centuries of migration from India, assimilation, comings, goings, and transformation of both language and religion; the group of persons referred to as Sinhala underwent changes according to the political ends to which it was put to use. These ends were usually determined by the need to preserve and advance the interests represented by the Buddhist Sangha. Ironically, the allegedly chosen and exclusive group represented today by the term Sinhala is made up to the extent of 40% by caste groups (Karawe, Durawe, Navandanno, and Salagama) who trace their origins in South India to about 450 - 800 years back. Although current popular Buddhism has assimilated and legitimised the religious practices and cults of waves of migrants, the Sinhalese-Buddhist combination today represents something aggressive and unpleasant. It seeks to drive minorities to the wall. It was natural that the Buddhist clergy should form the vanguard in the cause of populating Tamil areas with Sinhalese. Such activities had as little to do with Buddhism as the Crusades with Christianity.

        By the early 1970's the Sinhalese squatter townships of Sirimapura, Abhayapura, Mihindapura, and Pattispura had come into existence in Trincomalee. These became a major irritant to the Tamils during the race riots of 1977 and during and after July 1983. From 1977 government ministries used their facilities to provide employment for Sinhalese in Trincomalee. Prominent amongst such ministers were Cyril Mathew (Scientific Affairs and Industries) and Gamini Dissanayake (Lands, Irrigation and Power). From 1983, colonisation acquired a more terrifying aspect. Many shops in Trincomalee town were taken over after the Tamil owners had been driven out. The same thing was being done to houses and lands. The law and order machinery for redress was spiked as far as the Tamils went. From 1985, the army was used in large scale evictions of Tamils. Scenes of unbelievable devastation are still evident as one drives into Trincomalee through Pankulam, Anuradhapura junction and Uppuveli. Things were not helped when Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali, the National Security Minister, announced in Parliament in December 1984 that the government was hoping, in a move towards finding a solution to the ethnic problem, to settle a large number of Sinhalese in the Tamil areas. Many of the prospective settlers were to be drawn from fishermen and ex-convicts. To this period may be traced the first attacks on Sinhalese settlers by Tamil militants.

        Tamil - Muslim relations in the Batticaloa district had been fairly good. The evidence of many Western journalists describes how the government fomented trouble between Tamils and Muslims in Batticaloa as a measure to contain the Tamil insurgency.

        The foregoing digression briefly describes how complex and anarchic the problems of the East had become. The Tamils felt cheated. There were now many Sinhalese who regarded the East as their home. The Muslims were confused and in a quandary. The actions of the government had made it easier for the Tamils, in their minds, to condone attacks on the Sinhalese civilian population which was regarded as an ultra-military arm of government policy. The bitter experience through which some of the Tamil militant leaders were born has been alluded to earlier. The East had changed qualitatively from the time of Parthasarathy's visits in 1983.

        The East was the weak link in the Accord of July 1987. On the surface, the position on the North-East linkage seemed a compromise between Tamil and Sinhalese positions, aimed at providing the L.T.T.E. with a face saving formula to accept the Accord. Though perhaps well meaning, the Indian negotiators do not seem to have paid much attention to the complexities of the East. Many leading Tamils would have preferred the North and East to have separate provincial councils. They felt that the Tamils, Sinhalese, and the Muslims of the East had to live with each other and left to themselves, would find the most rational basis on which to co-exist. The Muslims of the East had already expressed a desire to go a separate way from the Muslims of the Western seaboard. They recognised that they had different interests. One senior Tamil civil servant pointed out that for reasons of economic self-interest at least, the Sinhalese in the East will have a vested interest in stopping further Sinhalese colonisation. But if the Tamils of the North, particularly from Jaffna, were to have a commanding voice in the East, the Eastern Tamils may tend to gang up with them against the Muslims, who in turn would tend to gang up with the Sinhalese against the Tamils. The resulting instability may then provide the centre with room to interfere.

        Substantive issues such as colonisation were left as a matter for further talks. There was also a referendum hanging over the East which would decide the fate of the linkage in a year's time. If all parties were to act cynically in terms of their perceived interests, the government would try to push Sinhalese colonisation in the East surreptitiously using its machinery and would try to sour relations between Muslims and Tamils; and the Tamil militants would try to create conditions which would pave the way for a mass exodus of Sinhalese. To some extent all these happened. The Accord provided for the presence in the North and East of an Indian Peace Keeping Force (I.P.K.F.) to ensure its implementation. Some role for such a force was necessary.

        There were two key factors that placed the Accord on a weak footing. First, it did not provide for a mechanism to correct human rights violations. Thus it also ignored the primacy of reaching a democratic consensus. In time, the Accord tended to look more and more like a strait-jacket imposed on the people of the island. In the months that followed the Accord, the Indian Army in the Tamil areas and the Sri Lankan forces in the South, would be led to seeking political solutions through military means that involved gross violations of human rights, making a political solution even more unattainable. (See sections 8, 9 and 10.4 of Volume 2).

                The second factor that weakened the Accord, is related to the first. It is the question of whether President Jayewardene enjoyed the legitimacy to negotiate with India on such an important matter. In answering this, one is left with little doubt, if one looks at the growing repression over the past ten years, and the methods used to perpetuate power, such as regular constitutional changes and the 1982 referendum.

8.3    The end of a Long Road to Nowhere

As for the Sinhalese people, it finally began to dawn on them that they had been on a long road to nowhere. With them doubts gave way to euphoria with the successful launching of Operation Liberation. This reached a peak when the fishing vessels carrying the Indian Red Cross meekly turned back. Sabre rattling statements by senior politicians and newspaper columnists were the order of the day. With the Indian airdrop of relief supplies, euphoria gave way to indignation, followed by a long hangover during which doubts re-emerged. It was perhaps easier for a Sinhalese living outside Ceylon to see the unreality of the government's approach in the light of how dangerously out of tune they were with the rest of the world. In contrast the Tamils generally felt that it was a great thing to gain international sympathy by hook or by crook, without themselves doing anything positive in the meantime.

        We quote below an extract from an article which appeared in the Weekend of 19 July 1987 giving some reflections on the 4th anniversary of the 1983 race riots. The article "Still at square one four years after?" by Kumudini Hettiaratchchi is made all the more remarkable by its having appeared in the Weekend:

Mea culpas during the last four years have been of no avail. What positive action has been taken to redeem this country's image to what it was before the debacle? The Sri Lankans had been thought of as a nation of peaceful and tolerant people comprising a multiracial and multi-religious community. The recent developments, not only in the regional scene but also in the international sphere regarding the ethnic crisis, create serious doubts as to whether we have been successful in retrieving our lost image.

        What does the world think of Sri Lanka today? Has the government campaign to propagate the truth of the real position been a success? Have we been able to impress the world that in the stand taken by the majority community in the country we have held up the ideal that in the relationships between the various communities, particularly the Tamils, the virtue of justice and not that of charity should be the foundation and the norm?

        "Recently, I had the opportunity of meeting and discussing our ethnic problem with a number of persons in the United Kingdom. Those who made observations belonged to different nationalities. The general opinion was vacillating between a military solution and a political settlement. On several occasions I was asked whether Sri Lanka was interested in settling the ethnic conflict once and for all.

        "In fact there is a very serious misconception among some of the people there that we are thinking of ourselves as a chosen people. It was tragic that some experienced and senior journalists there too had formed the impression that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka would never be settled because of diehard attitudes. It is a tragedy that even though the world community was initially shocked by the Pettah bomb blast, which killed over 100 innocent persons and injured several hundred others, the inexcusable slaying of 30 Buddhist monks and the brutal murders of numbers of harmless villagers in Arantalawa and other areas in the North and the East, every country in the world had reiterated that the Sri Lanka should go in only for a political solution to the ethnic problem.

        "In the present perspective Operation Liberation was regarded by them as an 'ill-advised move.' Instead of helping the country regain some of its lost reputation for loving peaceful methods of settling disputes, it seemed to have created the impression that Sri Lanka was only paying lip service to a 'political solution.'"

      "The offensive, it appears, had pushed this country further into the abyss of isolation among the comity of nations. Several journalists and others in the United Kingdom were generally "cold" towards even the violation of Sri Lanka's airspace by India dropping food aid from in planes escorted by Mirage Fighters. The "mercy mission" violation of Sri Lankan territorial integrity by India was not condemned as it should have been by the West. It was only mildly deplored as it were by the European Parliament. A family that I knew in Oxford expressed horror at what they had seen on a programme on British television three weeks previously. "How could the Sinhalese be so brutal?," the materfamilias asked me. The man of the house was adamant that there had been "firebombings" in the North. "What of the children shown with severe burns?" he asked. "Who is responsible for ordering Vietnam tactics in your country?" he asked me in the presence of several journalists from a number of countries, he had invited for supper.

      "A journalist listening in on our conversation laughingly quoted, "Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile" about Sri Lanka. In Britain it was also difficult to explain the "arbitrary arrests" and the alleged "disappearances" of some of those arrested.

      When one compares the protest from the international community in the case of Afghanistan, Grenada and earlier Kampuchea, not to mention the Nicaraguan crisis, with our own ethnic debacle, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that there had to be serious rethinking on the absolute necessity for an early settlement.

      But the most important and essential ingredient for peace, is honesty and sincerity."