1.1 Background to the Breakdown of the Accord
It was the tenth day of October 1987 as the curfew was being tolled. Dark billows appearing above the trees and a misty stillness foretold the oncoming rains. The last rays of the setting sun dimly pierced the western sky. There then appeared above, the graceful sight of wild-geese, our Russian winter guests, flying south in V-formation, to winter in the marshlands of peninsular Jaffna. The beauty of the darkening eve was not unmixed with grim foreboding. Our country had seen many tragedies in recent years. Many were hopeful that peace at last had a fighting chance with the signing of the July Accord. The sound of shells and bombs mangling civilians were deemed a thing of the past. But today the city had again reverberated to the sound of shell-fire, and the people once more were gripped by fear and uncertainty.
Many had watched with dismay the bizarre procession of events in the two months following the Accord. The inherent instability in the arrangements made it inevitable that the bubble should burst. For this reason, who fired the first shot in the hostilities that followed was a question of little importance. In the early hours of the morning, the I.P.K.F. had entered the premises of the Tamil newspapers Eelamurasu and Murasoli which they regarded as being close to the L.T.T.E.. After causing some damage, the I.P.K.F. took away several members of the editorial staffs and press workers. It was then announced that the two papers were sealed. The L.T.T.E. began to mobilise and its armed men were deployed around I.P.K.F. encampments. That afternoon firing was heard from near Jaffna Fort accompanied by the thud of exploding shells. Many said in disbelief: "It cannot be the Indian Army that is shelling us. It must be the Sri Lankan Army." It was announced on the radio that evening that the L.T.T.E. had fired on the I.P.K.F. at Jaffna Fort and in Tellipallai. Moreover, All India Radio's Madras station underlined the claim that the unit fired upon at Tellipallai had belonged to the Madras Regiment which, according to the same report, had suffered five casualties. Up to this time the I.P.K.F., which moved freely in the Jaffna peninsula, had visited several of the major L.T.T.E. camps. In the two months after the Accord, the I.P.K.F. should have had no difficulty in collecting all the information it wanted, were a surprise move against the L.T.T.E. in the offing. In fact, the I.P.K.F. had maintained a presence at the L.T.T.E.'s main camp opposite the University of Jaffna. What still puzzles many is the question why the I.P.K.F. should throw away its element of surprise in something so trivial as the closure of two newspapers and the confiscation of some television broadcasting equipment. With its man-power, technology and intelligence, there are so many ways in which the I.P.K.F. could have used the advantage of surprise with immense effect. Having alarmed the L.T.T.E., the I.P.K.F. waited for the L.T.T.E. to strike. This was the first sign that things had been terribly bungled. Worse was to come.The build up to the break down of the Accord has been described earlier.
On 4 October, seventeen L.T.T.E. men travelling in a boat were apprehended off Point Pedro by the Sri Lankan Navy. Those detained included the key L.T.T.E. leaders Mr. Pulendran and Mr. Kumarappa. The Sri Lankan Government claimed that these 17 were acting in breach of the Accord by transporting arms from Tamil Nadu and were also in breach of Sri Lankan immigration formalities. The L.T.T.E. on the other hand claimed that this group was transporting documents in the process of shifting their headquarters from Madras to Jaffna and argued that the question of immigration regulations did not arise, because their leaders had been flown between Madras and Jaffna by the I.P.K.F. without any formalities. The Trincomalee leader Mr. Pulendran had been accused by the Sri Lankan Government of being responsible for leading the massacre of 150 Sinhalese civilians during the unilateral cease fire declared by the Sri Lankan Government for the Sinhalese-Tamil New Year in April that year.
President J.R. Jayewardene spoke on the state television Rupavahini on two successive days. First he said that the 17 detained were smugglers and were not covered by the Accord. On the second night, he said that they were caught coming back from Tamil Nadu with arms and ammunition.
The Tigers further said that they were going in a slow boat (fishing trawler) from Jaffna to Tamil Nadu to bring back their furniture and equipment from their main Tamil Nadu office. They also claimed that they had asked the I.P.K.F. high-command in Jaffna to help them bring back the stuff, but their requests were ignored. They also say that only two of their men - Kumarappa (Jaffna commander) and Pulendran (Trincomalee commander) were armed: according to them, this was in keeping with the Accord, as provision had been made for the Tigers to retain arms for self-defence. It is significant that the state-owned Rupavahini did not display the arms and ammunition allegedly seized from the Tigers who were aboard the trawler.
When Lalith Athulathmudali, the National Security Minister, was asked by a journalist the purpose of detaining the Tigers, he had replied that he would bring them to Colombo just to make them pose before state-television cameras, and would then release them!
The Sri Lankan Government insisted on transporting the seventeen detainees who were held in Palaly to Colombo for questioning. The L.T.T.E. appealed to the Indian Government to prevent this. According to press reports the I.P.K.F. and the Indian High Commissioner, Mr. J.N. Dixit, did exert considerable pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to prevent the transport of the detainees. Mr. Dixit said later during a B.B.C. interview that knowing the L.T.T.E., he had warned the Sri Lankan Government of the consequences that may follow from such a course of action. The Sri Lankan Government persisted and a decision was taken to fly the detainees to Colombo on the evening of 5 October. It was later reported that the detainees swallowed cyanide as they were about to be taken on board the aeroplane and that twelve of them, including Kumarappa and Pulendran, had succumbed. The question arises, how did these detainees come into possession of cyanide? It can be assumed that the initial routine search of the persons detained would have deprived them of the cyanide capsules carried around their necks.
The mystery may not be that hard to solve. It was reported that the detainees were taken lunch at 2:00 p.m. on that fateful day by the L.T.T.E.'s deputy leader Mr. Sri Mahattaya in the company of its chief theoretician, Mr. Anton Balasingam. According to a senior official of the I.P.K.F. until the last minute Indian troops were preventing Sri Lankan soldiers at Palaly from taking the detainees into an aeroplane. Around 4:30 p.m., a call came from New Delhi to abandon the efforts and let things take their course. According to this same source, Kumarappa had told him the previous day in a tone of urgency: "You must see my wife today." This suggests that a battle of brinkmanship had been taking shape for at least a day.
Given in Appendix II is an extract from a report in Colombo's Sunday Times of 1 October, 1989. This again confirms that the I.P.K.F. was extremely concerned about what might follow if the detainees died. General Rodriguez of the I.P.K.F. had tried everything short of actual force to get the Sri Lanka Army to release the detainees. The stubbornness and a lack of concern for the consequences on Colombo's part, suggests that a section of the Sri Lankan authorities was using the opportunity to trip the I.P.K.F. into a military confrontation with the L.T.T.E..
While the U.N.P. was westward looking in its economic policies, the signing of the Accord brought into the open a power struggle within the U.N.P.. A faction which included Gamini Dissanayake and Ronnie de Mel, supported the Accord. A faction which included Premadasa, and had wanted links with the West to go even further, showed evident displeasure. Premadasa had once promoted Sri Lankan membership of A.S.E.A.N., the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Western aid and training too had been crucial to the Sri Lankan defence establishment in fighting the Tamil insurgency. While there was no ideological quarrel between these two factions, the failure of the Accord would have meant much to vested interests within the U.N.P. as well as the defence establishment. It is also remarkable that, later, in 1989, the Sri Lankan state under Premadasa and the L.T.T.E. should find common cause against the Indian presence.
1.2 The Night of Shame
During the night that followed there took place some events that every son of Jaffna should be deeply ashamed of. Eight Sinhalese soldiers were being held captive by the L.T.T.E., from pre-Accord battles. No one doubted that their release was imminent. The relatives of some of these soldiers had appealed to the L.T.T.E.. The father of one of them, a peasant from Galle, had appealed to a prominent Roman Catholic clergyman with connections in Jaffna, after several futile efforts at appealing to the Minister for National Security. On the 6th morning, the blind-folded corpses of these eight soldiers were found dumped in the city's main bus-stand with bullet wounds.
At the time, Mr. Jayamanne, the General Manager (G.M.) and Mr. Gajanayake, the Deputy G.M. of Lanka Cement Ltd. (or L.C.L.) were in Jaffna for the recommissioning of L.C.L.'s plant at K.K.S.. The plant had been closed on 22 April when an L.T.T.E. attack on K.K.S. harbour had resulted in the deaths of 18 Sri Lankan troops and the reprisal killing of five L.C.L. employees by the Sri Lankan Army. Seventy other employees then working at the harbour were saved by the timely action of a ship captain, a Sinhalese, who, fearing reprisals by Sri Lankan troops, promptly took them aboard his ship and put out to sea. The two cement plants at K.K.S. suffered considerable damage during the shelling of the subsequent months. In an unprecedented move which earned him the gratitude of the employees, Mr. Jayamanne took the lead in ensuring that even the casual employees of the two cement plants were paid during the long period of closure. Even those who did not agree with his methods of management, respected him as an able and enthusiastic engineer. On the previous day, Mr. Jayamanne had seen off some C.E.B. (Ceylon Electricity Board) engineers whom he had persuaded to come to Jaffna in order to commission a new transformer for L.C.L.. Mr. Jayamanne was amongst those Sinhalese who believed that Jaffna had a great future following the Indo-Lanka Accord. He was hopeful of restarting the L.C.L. plant the following day.
On the 5th night, Jayamanne and Gajanayake were having a friendly after-dinner chat with several colleagues, including engineers Sothilingam, Velayutham and Arivalagan at the L.C.L. guest house. Around mid-night several armed man burst into the guest house and wanted to take Jayamanne and Gajanayake away. Their colleagues protested. Velayutham who protested strenuously was badly assaulted. Jayamanne and Gajanayake were finally taken away and their dead bodes were found opposite the Cement Corporation gates the following morning.
There was a great deal of anger and sorrow at the two cement works at K.K.S.. They badly wanted to issue a protest leaflet condemning the killings of Mr. Jayamanne and Mr. Gajanayake and to send condolence messages to their families. But this desire was outweighed by fear. There were informers about and no one wished to be identified as being amongst the leaders of such a move. One leaflet purportedly issued by the cement workers expressed sorrow at the deaths of the twelve L.T.T.E. men. No mention was made of the murdered Sinhalese.
Another person murdered on the 5th night was an elderly Sinhalese baker who re-started his bakery at Chunnakam after the Accord. An A.G.A. (Assistant Government Agent) recounted his meeting with this baker. On that occasion he had been in his office when he was approached by a man with a bowed head. He had obviously suffered much hardship. This man addressed him as Mahattaya (meaning Sir). The A.G.A., surprised at hearing Sinhalese being spoken in Jaffna, listened to this man's tale. He said that he had to abandon his premises at Chunnakam and move south after the 1983 riots. Being a small holder he had no other means of livelihood and had no alternative but to come back and re-start his trade at Chunnakam. The A.G.A. was very much grieved at the killing of such a harmless man.
What follows is the account of the killing of a Sinhalese police officer at Valvetithurai (V.V.T.) on the 5th night as related by a professional resident there. Following the reopening of the Valvetithurai Police Station after the Accord, certain Sinhalese police officers used to pay evening visits to the local bar to drink and to fraternise. One such police officer was present at the bar on the 5th night. At about 8 p.m., Soosai, the Vadamaratchi leader of the L.T.T.E. and another person entered the bar and started assaulting the police officer mercilessly. He was then dragged out and was beaten to death with a wooden pole. The following day L.T.T.E. sources attributed this and the other killings of Sinhalese to the "people," who they said had become angry over the suicides of the twelve L.T.T.E. men. But the people of V.V.T. were deeply hurt that they were being held responsible for such an inhuman act.
Indeed, the Jaffna dailies attributed these killings to unknown persons. These were followed by a spate of killings of Sinhalese civilians in the Eastern Province. Thirty five long term Sinhalese residents of Batticaloa were gunned down. A land mine explosion killed Batticaloa's S.T.F. chief Nimal Silva. Mr. Antonymuthu (Government Agent, Batticaloa) who was travelling in the same vehicle was also killed. The B.B.C. reported that in the days that followed, a total of about 200 Sinhalese civilians were killed.
These events must be viewed in the context that shortly after the Accord, the L.T.T.E.'s deputy leader Mr. Sri Mahattaya told the Weekend, a national newspaper, that the Sinhalese civilians were welcome to visit Jaffna and that no harm would befall them. Thus many Tamils in Jaffna regarded these killings as a breach of hospitality. It must also be kept in mind that many Sinhalese who visited Jaffna after the Accord did so with a feeling that the Tamils were fellow countrymen who had been wronged and that it was time for them to understand the Tamils and to build bridges. Especially many women felt that it was very wrong to have killed those soldiers who had been fed with their own hands for several months. In another development four members of the Rupavahini (the state television station) crew were abducted in Jaffna and were presumed killed. A lecturer in English and his bride, both Tamils, who were spending their honeymoon at Subash Hotel were rudely awakened by armed men who were going room by room looking for Sinhalese.
One may ask, if Mr. Dixit did foresee the consequences resulting from an attempt to transport the detainees, why did he not use his authority to act decisively to prevent such an attempt as he very well could have? According to the I.P.K.F. official quoted earlier, the order to abandon efforts to prevent the transport of detainees had come from New Delhi. This means the decision did not rest with Mr. Dixit, suggesting that New Delhi was preparing to take its gloves off. And then, having got most of what it wanted at the time of Mr. Thileepan's death, why did the L.T.T.E. take such an unexpected course? Perhaps, the Indians were becoming tired of a role where they had to be constantly arguing with two sides, both of whom were in some way dissatisfied with the Accord.
The decision that the seventeen L.T.T.E. detainees should commit suicide together with the killings of Sinhalese from the night of 5 October, was an open challenge to the Accord. The Indian Government was already under pressure, being accused of inaction in the face of a drifting situation. If the Indian Government still did nothing, it would have been accused of badly letting down the Sri Lankan Government which had risked a good deal on the Accord which India was to implement.
The Indian Defence Minister, Mr. K.C. Pant, and the Indian Army Chief of Staff, Mr. Krishna Sunderji, promptly arrived in Colombo. The Ceylon Daily News of 9 October announced in its headlines that the I.P.K.F. was to launch a terminal campaign against the L.T.T.E.. Few will disagree that India was called upon to act. What is in question is the manner in which it acted and the tragic consequences that ensued. These will be dealt with in a separate chapter.
We note here that one conspiracy theory that gained a certain amount of popularity with Tamils was to the effect that President Jayewardene was such a cunning man, who having signed the Accord with India, played his cards with consummate skill - so much so, that it culminated in the suicides of twelve L.T.T.E. men, thus trapping India into taking on the Tamils. India, the theory proceeds to maintain, was cleverly trapped by President Jayewardene into doing a job which the Sri Lankan forces could not do. It is understandable that President Jayewardene, out of office since December 1988, should promote the first theory.
The weakness in conspiracy theories is that there are so many unknowns in human affairs that it is easy enough to invent another conspiracy theory which says quite the opposite. It can, for instance, be maintained that the Indians acted so cleverly, that upon finding the Sinhalese and Tamils of Ceylon such volatile and unreliable negotiating partners, the Indians trapped them into blundering themselves into corners. Thus the acceptance of Indian suzerainty became the only way out for them both. Quite apart from possible roles by vested interests, developments in the Tamil region by themselves, had already put the Accord into trouble.
The overwhelming evidence of events is that no party to the conflict possessed the delicate skill or means, by which to control events or even to fulfil its stated intentions. In statements issued soon after the Accord of 29 July, the Chief of the Indian Army's Southern Command, Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh, gave the impression that he had the means to disarm the L.T.T.E. with consummate skill if the need arose. The loss of life and property that followed in the wake of the Indian Army's action which commenced on 10 October, left the impression of a hacksaw having been used where fine surgery had been promised. The Indian Embassy which had been a severe critic of the Sri Lankan Government's military campaign in the Tamil areas, especially the shelling and bombing of the civilian population, was left reacting to events rather than dictating them when the Indian Army used similar methods. [Top]
Home | History
| Briefings | Statements
| Bulletins | Reports
| Special Reports | Publications
Copyright © UTHR 2001