July 1983: Planned by the State or Spontaneous Mob Action?
"Nero's excesses were overtaken by disaster. Whether it was accidental or caused by the emperor's criminal act is uncertain - both versions have their supporters. Now started [during the night of 19th July A.D. 64] the most terrible and destructive fire which Rome had ever experienced...The flames could not be prevented from overwhelming the whole of the Palatine, including [Nero's] palace. Nevertheless, for the relief of the homeless, fugitive masses he threw open the Field of Mars... [He] also constructed emergency accommodation...and the price of corn was cut. Yet these measures for all their popular character, earned no gratitude. For a rumour had spread that, while the city was burning, Nero had gone on his private stage and, comparing modern calamities with ancient, had sung of the destruction of Troy."
- Publius Gaius Tacitus, from Histories
The original claim that the violence was highly planned came from none other than the Minister of State, Mr. Anandatisa de Alwis, barely 48 hours after the violence had erupted. This was even before other ministers had thought about how they were going to explain this to the outside world. de Alwis addressed the Press after the weekly cabinet meeting on the morning of Wednesday 27th July. Here is what he said from the leading report in the Sun of 28th July, titled, There is a Pattern in the Havoc: The similarity and the modus operandi in the execution of acts of violence shows a well organised and highly planned movement by anti-government forces. These attacks were not confined to a few places but were spread in many parts of the Western Province. There were no injuries to persons in general despite a few deaths resulting from these attacks. Goods were destroyed but there was no looting. The looting was done by the others who came later." Indeed, violence of this description is none other than highly organised.
The Guardian (London) quoted de Alwis saying: Some organised force has set this in motion, we have to find out who it is.
Douglas Liyanage, the Competent Authority in de Alwis ministry put the planned nature of the violence even more strongly in a TV broadcast 4 days later on 31st July (CDN 1st August): It is our belief that the Jaffna incident was only a trigger. This whole business was not planned in 48 hours. In other words, the killing of 13 soldiers had little to do directly with the violence.
Jayewardene himself gave a very elaborate version of the master plan in his address to the UNP parliamentary group on the 4th August 1983 (CDN 5.8.83). This appeared to be a reversal from his address to the nation a week earlier, calling upon the Sinhalese to lay down their arms. According to Jayewardene, the first attack was to be on Tamil households and means of production owned by Tamils. Special instructions were given to avoid looting. The places and households to be attacked in the first stage were identified previously and given to squads that were going to strike. The households of Tamils were identified from electoral lists and institutions of production owned by Tamils were previously earmarked. Some university lecturers were the local leaders of this strategy. The elements responsible for the implementation of this plan had a dialogue with Northern terrorists and agreed to strike simultaneously.
Jayewardene further added that the island was divided into 3 sections with 500 agents in each section. The group leader's task was to recruit the best known local thugs in a given locality and large sums of money were to be paid to them.
These claims by the Minister of State, his Secretary (called permanent secretary in former times) and Jayewardene himself give away a good deal. It may be argued that they were laying down this line so as to facilitate shifting the blame for the violence on to the Left. But why? For such a strong charge of elaborate organisation against the Left was easily discredited, and indeed the Police did not find a shred of evidence. Also many, including the IGP, knew that there was no truth in it. Organised communal violence is a very rare phenomenon - Nazi violence against Jews is one of those rare examples. One might for example say that the root cause of violence against Muslims in an Indian town was to do with speeches by Hindu extremist politicians. They already had a following of lumpen elements who would have rushed into violence watched by a lax police force. Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and members of the SLFP were widely blamed for the 1958 violence. But organisation and direct participation were not then suggested, not even by the Federal Party.
Following the 1977 elections, UNP thugs were let loose on the supporters of the defeated SLFP, while the Police and the Magistrates were asked to take a holiday. The election results were also being talked about as a victory for the Tamil separatists, and so the same mobs, in that holiday spirit, were instigated to turn on the Tamils and teach them a lesson. Individuals in the UNP were accused of complicity or inaction, but not then of organisation. Communal violence, however, continued to be used as a threat to deter Tamil separatism.
Thus if the Government wanted to blame the Left for the July 1983 violence, the purpose would have been served by simply saying that the Left wanted to create trouble for the Government and took advantage of the opportunity provided by the funeral of the 13 soldiers. That had a better chance of being believed. But there is no evidence of such an intention on the part of the JVP, which had a good case in court to overturn the Referendum. That would have given them a springboard to attack the Government democratically, which violence would have imperilled.
But de Alwis, Jayewardene and others in the Government spell out in detail a very elaborate plot. Though having a fair resemblance to reality it was an overkill for the purpose of blaming the Left. It would be inexplicable unless one takes it that the Government was conscious that the violence was indeed well organised and looked blatantly so to the causal observer. Moreover, there is little or no evidence of the Government in the first four days discussing how to stop the violence, while it was very much concerned about how to avert Sinhalese discontent from food shortages. The only testimony available to us from the books authored by Ratnatunge and Dissanayaka suggest indirectly that senior government members were talking about whom to blame for the violence and not how to protect the Tamils. According to Ratnatunge, a preoccupation at the first cabinet session on Wednesday (27th) morning was the suggestion to close down the Soviet (Russian) Embassy - the Left again. Following Mrs. Indira Gandhi's telephone call placing the Government under compulsion to curb the violence, it is notable that the first person Jayewardene talked to was Alle Gunawanse (Sect.12.7) - an extremist rightwing monk accused of compiling hit lists of premises! [Top]
During that period several ministers seemed to be inspired by the rulers of Malaysia and in particular Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, who of course never set fire to his economy. Mathew strongly advocated Malaysias Bhumiputra policy. He cited in Parliament (4 Aug.83) Mahatir's argument that the Chinese and Indians of Malaysia, if forced to leave, could find an alternative home, but not the Malays. Mahatir's assertion that an indigenous race is one that is 'truly identified' with a country was adduced by Mathew to make his case. Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, Minister of Education and Youth Affairs - who as Jayewardenes relative, shared with Jayewardenes chief henchman Mathew, his political estate in Kelaniya - closely followed Mathew in his view of the situation. Mr. Gamini Jayasuriya, Minister of Agriculture, said in an article (Daily News, 26 Aug. 83): The immediate cause of the recent outburst of violence is not an independent or spontaneous act. It was the climax of a long drawn-out and well-planned series of treacherous acts over the years committed by the terrorists of the North. Thus Mathew, Wickremasinghe and Jayasuriya advanced Sinhalese anger as the cause of the violence and failed to distance the Government from its planning and execution.
Mathew cannot be accused of not being frank. Speaking on the 6th Amendment in Parliament on 4.8.83, he was clear that it was the majority's prerogative to use violence against a minority who did not fall in line. He said, "70% of the people in this country are Sinhala people. In a country like Malaysia, there were only 53% of 'Malaysians' (i.e. Malays). The Chinese of the country acted high-handedly and the Malaysians had patience only for 6 days before taking action (i.e. the 1969 violence). But the Sinhalese people of this country had been patient for 10 years." As though his speech were wanting in candour, he uttered the cry, "If the Sinhala are the majority race, why can't they be the majority?"
However, apart from hinting at Sinhalese settlement in the North-East as a means to solving the Tamil problem (on the 6th Amendment, CDN, 6.8.83), Ranil Wickremasinghe's statements were more an attack on the SLFP than a defence of the UNP's role during the July violence. While saying it was 'unfortunate that certain Tamil prisoners were killed by some other prisoners', it should be remembered, he added, that the SLFP had killed about 10,000 youth [during the 1971 JVP insurgency]. He also opined that the 'tragedy' which had befallen the 'non-Sinhala' trader due to the 'machinations of an extreme political party' as a result of their factories and premises being burnt down, 'was nothing compared to the tragedy imposed on the Sinhala entrepreneur by the Bandaranaikes since 1956.'
He claimed that the nationalisation policies pursued by the Bandaranaikes had adversely affected private enterprise in areas dominated by the Sinhalese. But when the SLFP encouraged local manufacturing, he said, the bulk of the licences went to non-Sinhalese. He mentioned his cousin Upali Wijewardene among those Sinhalese adversely affected. In concluding his Daily News Interview (12.8.83), he stressed that the Sinhalese entrepreneur was complaining of discrimination against them by the Government. It was as though the July 1983 violence had redressed the damage done to the Sinhalese entrepreneur by the SLFP, which, according to him, favoured the Tamils. This theme of redress also appears in a speech by Athulathmudali cited below.
Combining this theme with the Left master-plan of Jayewardene and others quoted earlier, it may appear that the July violence resulted from the Left suddenly becoming zealous about improving the competitive edge of Sinhalese capitalists through the use of non-market forces.
The Rt. Rev. Lakshman Wickremasinghe, the Anglican Bishop of Kurunegalle, was an eminent public figure at that time. He was also president of the Civil Rights Movement. Soon after the 1983 violence, he returned from England, where he was taking a much-needed sojourn and visited most of the refugee camps in the island housing victims of the violence. He visited a refugee camp in Akkarayan with Dr. Luther Jeyasingham and Mr. Kanthasamy of the MIRJE, Jaffna. After talking to the refugees, he was discovered alone, crying. When asked he replied that from his conversations with the refugees, he had found that his family had been closely linked to the violence. The Bishop died on 23rd October 1983, a broken man. Persons close to him confided that the conduct of two members of his family in particular had grieved him.
Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister of Trade and Shipping, took off in a different direction without touching the causes in a broadcast in the night of 31st July. He did not have one word of sympathy for the Tamil victims. But for the others, sorrow and sentimentality were overflowing: I saw a sight which neither you nor I thought we would live to see again. We saw many people looking for food, standing in line, greatly inconvenienced, seriously inconvenienced. The scene made me very sad indeed . I promise you again, in a few days, in a few weeks at most, the situation will be back to normal, and these last few days that you have suffered so much, and I have suffered as much with you, will be a thing of the past.
A day earlier when Minister de Alwis announced the banning of the Left parties, he said, the plotters then anticipated a food riot. The ambitious politician Athulathmudali told them the next day that he had things under control. His words, thick with buttery platitudes, make one wonder if he had prepared for this drama well in advance. The 4th Cross Street wholesale market in Pettah was affected by the violence. An Insider in the Counterpoint of December 1994 said that Athulathmudali got over the crisis by efficient management and his policy of always holding 3 months' stocks of essentials in warehouses, introduced after the cyclone which devastated the Eastern Province in 1978.
It is the fact that he was a clever administrator and a very ambitious politician which suggest that if the violence was planned, and he was part of the planning, he would have also thought of taking credit to himself by keeping the food flowing after the initial confusion. In the same press briefing of 27th July where Anandatissa de Alwis spoke of a mysterious hand behind the highly planned violence, he also issued an official communiqué which said the following: The Government has moved in fast to meet a temporary dislocation of the movement of food supplies in the country. Supplies of food are being dispatched from warehouses for distribution through multi-purpose co-operative stores
It was a Government thinking hard and taking action to obviate possible discontent arising from food shortages. But it had nothing to say about finding out and checking the unseen hand spreading murder and mayhem. About the tail end of the violence, a well known journalist who was at a government department, casually mentioned to Athulathmudali the need for him to go home and find food for his family. What Athulathmudali said jolted the journalist and made a strong impression on him. Athulathmudali said that he was expecting such a situation and that there was plenty of food in the stores. He added that he could immediately dispatch 3 lorry loads to the government department from the CWE and asked him to put his name on the vouchers sent for that department and get his food. This could also have a more innocent explanation. Athulathmudali may have simply been trying to build up his image as a clever and far-seeing administrator who is ready for the worst.
Yet a speech he made at Piliyandale Central School in early October 1983 disclosed some peculiar notions he had about fair competition: "During the height of the trouble we opened a wholesale rice market at Duplication Road and challenged the Pettah Market into severe competition....but in no time we won - slashing prices by as much as Rs 10/- for a 67 Kg bag of rice...We did that amidst obstructions, barriers and objections. We then went to the notorious 4th Cross Street. The CWE (Co-operative Wholesale Establishment) is now getting a response from there!"
If the Tamil wholesale traders were profiteering, the Government had so many legislative and administrative means to deal with it. It did not need to send mobs to burn down shops and murder workers and owners. What he then meant by competing with a Pettah Market reduced to rubble and ashes is not clear. If these claims were not funny, they would be sinister.
Prime Minister Premadasa addressing the nation in the night of 29th July, made a bumbling populist speech. Today they had spread rumours that Tigers have come to Colombo and are in Colombo. Just imagine the great destruction and crimes committed based on such wild rumours. Our people not only got aroused, but also engaged themselves in violent acts. Some have taken clubs and other weapons and engaged themselves in such violent acts. As a result even our Sinhalese and Muslim brethren have been subject to such harassment. You just imagine what a catastrophe it is. He then went on to talk about punishment for separatists.
This speech was made on Tiger Friday, on a day that Premadasas men were known to be notably involved. Note the absence of Tamils from his brethren facing harassment. A Tamil doctor, who was then taking refuge with a Pentecostal pastor in Kandy, was told by the latter that it was a good speech. The former merely observed that he did not think so. Its appeal probably lay in crediting the Sinhalese with no more than responding foolishly to rumours and separatist provocations.
Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel made something of a dissenting speech taking his cabinet colleagues to task. But the dissent was lost in its nonsensical prelude. He opened with, I am not speaking to you in the spirit of rancour sorrow.... [or] in a spirit of remorse. He then spoke of Sinhalese having survived invasions from South India, beginning with the sons of a horse dealer, then colonial rule by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British and the 1958 (anti-Tamil) riots, and asked why they should fear destruction now. He then came to the point of his speech the destruction caused to the economy in the last week by looting, arson, burning and the blood-shed. Continuing, he said: "I do not know who does greater damage to the country. Is it those who advocate the division of the country or those who destroy the economy? I think both groups are traitors to the country and nation and should be punished. As though to bring himself in line with Mathew and the rest, he told the Economist (20 Aug. 1983): ".... the Tamils have dominated the commanding heights of everything good in Sri Lanka." He added that the 'only solution' is to 'restore the rights of the Sinhalese majority'. L. Piyadasa comments (p.118 of his book): "What kind of a Finance Minister would justify such destruction? In communal terms, de Mel's own Karava community is far over-represented in leading positions in the economy, society, politics, the church etc!" (See Chapters 8 and 12 of Piyadasa's book and Chapter 1 of the book by the Committee for Rational Development on myths of communal privilege.)
Lalith Athulathmudali could think of picking up some votes by crying for the Sinhalese in queues and sending them food. But, de Mels hopes for a booming economy by 1989 were in shambles. There was nothing for him in the violence. From what we have presented up to this point, there is no doubt about the Governments complicity in the violence of July 1983. But the important question remains not conclusively answered although strong opinions are held one way or the other: Did the Government merely blunder into the anti-Tamil violence of July 1983, or; was it the outcome of advance planning well before the event, involving agencies of the State?
If the latter, it raises even graver questions about the position of the minorities and the protection they enjoy, questions that have been fudged and largely avoided. We first present a version that points to the first by suggesting that the Government was all the way confused and helpless in the face of Sinhalese anger. Cyril Matthews role in the violence is admitted, but while leaving the others fairly clean. The version comes essentially from later conversations of journalists with the UNPs cabinet members at that time such as Athulathmudali and Dissanayake, who were undoubtedly charming and persuasive. This is also essentially the version of T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka.
According to this version, the Government was plunged into uncertainty after the ambush in Jaffna where 13 soldiers died. They felt very anxious about how the Sinhalese people would receive the event. Some wanted the bodies cremated in Jaffna and the ashes to be brought to Colombo. By the time it was decided to bring the bodies and have the funeral in Colombo, it became very late. The crowd in the meantime became angry and restive and started abusing the President. The President cancelled the funeral. The crowd went berserk and started attacking Borella and Narahenpitiya.
The Government, according to this version, was in a panic. In the night several ministers pleaded with the President to declare curfew. The Presidents response was Who is going to impose the curfew? He was in fact so unsure whether the Police and the Army would take orders from him. The Government, this version added, simply let go and tried to ride out the wave of anti-Tamil feeling. Then of course elements of the UNP went out and indulged in acts of violence to divert the anger against the Government towards the Tamils. There was no planning in any of this. Electoral lists carried by mobs did not need organisation. Every party office has these lists, this version pointed out. Ratnatunge says (p.25 of his book) that Jayewardene sent his brother Harry, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Paul Perera and UNP Secretary Abhayawardene from police station to police station in a bid to ensure their loyalty and maintain order in the City. (The last was angrily denied by a top police official: "I never heard about it. What were they wanting the Police to do? Burn the Tamils?")
Views supporting such versions are largely advanced by well-meaning and quite knowledgeable Sinhalese. That is, hardly any planning was involved, and that it was for the most part spontaneous. This also shifts much of the blame on to the Tamils for supporting separatism and provoking the Sinhalese. By sharp contrast most Tamils, including those who were occupying high positions in the security forces, state agencies and state media are strongly convinced that the violence was wellplanned and executed by the Government. We will now examine the evidence for this step by step. [Top]
The violence which erupted in Colombo on 25th July had already a trial run two months earlier at the University of Peradeniya (Sect. 4.7) and in Trincomalee the previous month (Chapter 5). In the outlying areas of the latter district Tamils were attacked, killed and chased away from their homes by hoodlums with Government patronage. The notice for this had been implicit in the press items of 28th November 1982 cited in Sect. 8.2. In Trincomalee town itself, the security forces went into Tamil areas to neutralise all possibility of self-defence before the hoodlums went in. In connection with the planning and the deployment of ruffians in Trincomalee, the names of Cyril Mathew and members of his coterie have transpired (p.86 of Piyadasa's book). Just before the July violence a ministerial team led by Gamini Dissanayake had given notice of strong measures against Tamil refugees of 1977 settled in the area, many of whom were forcibly transported to the Hill Country under cover of the Black July violence (Sect. 5.6).
Notice had been given of further extra-judicial measures from June such as the press notice of 12th June proposing additional powers to the Army to, in practical terms, kill Tamil detainees and claim that they were attempting to escape (Sect. 8.6). Then came the Presidents Daily Telegraph interview of 11th July, a speech in Parliament to match by Athulathmudali and the Gazette Extraordinary of 18th July with its section 15A (Sect. 4.5 & 10.3). All these point to a planned movement towards a major crunch by an influential section of the Government. [Top]
The suggestion that the Army wanted a military funeral in Colombo for the 13 soldiers killed in Jaffna (e.g. T. Sabaratnam in CDN 27th July 1999) seems hard to comprehend. If that was a popular demand in the Army, it would have ultimately come form the Army Commander, T. Weeratunge, who had gone to Jaffna.
But even as the time of the funeral approached and the relatives were gathered, there was, as the IG Police and other senior police officers have testified, no senior army officer of rank present in a responsible capacity.
The families of the dead soldiers were themselves treated in a most shabby manner. There was no senior officer to console them. When they asked for the bodies to have their own private funeral, they were told that it was not possible because the bodies were mangled beyond recognition. This they later discovered to be totally false (see Sect.12.4). It was certainly not the funeral the families wanted. It was much more the Cabinets funeral.
As the IG Police pointed out, more than 30 policemen had been killed and they had dealt with it, with the IG attending every one of them in his time. There was enough experience on how to deal with the problem. One finds it hard to believe that the Government thought the best way to calm the situation was to have a crowd-puller at the Colombo cemetery under arc lights and TV cameras, with perhaps the President making a 'Mark Antonys speech', and then, splashing it in the media. One knowledgeable trade union leader strongly believes that such a speech was part of the script. [Top]
According to what has been claimed by senior cabinet ministers later, when some of them asked Jayewardene to declare curfew on the night of 24th July, he had asked, Who is going to enforce it? Jayewardene had made the same excuse on subsequent days (see Minister Thondamans article, CDN 29th July 1999). It has also been said that the Government was confused and feared a near state of mutiny in the Police and the Army.
On the contrary, such excuses for the Government are unsupportable. Rudra Rajasingham who was the IGP had tried hard to control the situation and had told the President early on the 24th night that he must declare curfew. Jayewardene replied, I will think about it and not Who will enforce it?" What basis was there for the President to suggest later that a curfew cannot be enforced, unless he had been told this by his service chiefs?
IGP Rajasingham is very clear that there was far from being a state of mutiny in the Police. According to him, We were stretched, but we were trying to help in various places. There were policemen wanting to go with the mobs, but we brought them round in a day or two. In the Army of course it took longer.
Here too it must be kept in mind that problems of discipline were precipitated by the unloosing of state-supported mobs, who made their depredations the clamour of the day. The President cannot be taken seriously here because he never said, My senior Police and Army commanders say that curfew cannot be enforced. To our knowledge no responsible security official said so. Moreover, several senior policemen then were Tamil and Rajasingham, also a Tamil, was by all accounts a popular IG among his men.
But of course once the Government removed the constraints of discipline and allowed or encouraged the security forces to taste the freedom of a communal mob, even for a very short time, then the Government would have had good reason to fear prolonged anarchy. Obviously, there were hardly any signs of such a danger on a large scale on the 24th afternoon.
Thus the report, if correct, about Jayewardene sending his emissaries to police stations in Colombo asking for their co-operation, must be seen in the context of self-induced fears. We will now see what the Army was doing apparently under orders. One should also keep in mind the assessment of DIG Cyril Herath in Kurunegala that the Police could keep the peace if the Army was kept out. Also in Nuwara Eliya, the precautions taken by the Police were negated by a minister's arrival. [Top]
Several questions about the role of the Army during the July 1983 violence remain unanswered. The proposition that the cabinet of the day has tried to promote is that the officers had lost control and there was total confusion. But this does not explain why the Army was deployed along Galle Road and was seen abetting the mobs, while often the officers were not to be seen. Would it then not have been more logical not to deploy them?
The Army Commander, General Weeratunge had followed in a second aircraft the flight which took off from Jaffna on the 24th evening, carrying the bodies of the 13 soldiers to Colombo. Sinha Ratnatunge in his book tells us (p.13) that the flight carrying the bodies left Jaffna at 7.30 PM and was expected in Ratmalana (i.e. Colombo) at 8.45 PM. However, T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka says in his book (p.76) that the flight touched down in Ratmalana at 7.20 PM. At some point about mid-way, according to Ratnatunga, Weeratunge received a radio message from the President asking him to turn and go back, and to stay overnight in Jaffna. Dissanayaka (p.75) and Ratnatunge (p.14) say that this was to maintain order in Jaffna, where some soldiers broke barracks in the morning and went on a rampage. But then again, the order was given after there were signs of disorder in Colombo on account of which Jayewardene (about 8.30 PM according to Ratnatunga) cancelled the military funeral. We may take it despite the difficulties with the times, Jayewardene sent the Army Commander back to Jaffna only after he had decided to cancel the military funeral.
Subsequently UNP mobs were on the streets and the Army itself complemented the activities of the mobs in the very capital of Sri Lanka. Was the Presidents order to the Army Commander to spend the 24th night in Jaffna as innocent as it sounds? Was it to give him an alibi for the Army dissolving into an undisciplined mob? At a point when it was put to the IGP, Mr. Rajasingham, that he was then in a position of authority to exercise control of the situation, he said after some reflection, Yes, it seems so, but there were so many things going on above me. He indicated with a gesture that they were beyond him.
One must in fact be wary of accepting motives attributed to Jayewardene at face value. This is particularly so with reasons attributed by Dissanayaka and Ratnatunga to Jayewardene in sending the Army Commander back to Jaffna on the 24th night. It would appear that contrary to all earlier and subsequent indications, Jayewardene had in that chaotic situation acquired a sudden concern for the Tamils in Jaffna. David Beresford of the Manchester Guardian (Guardian Weekly 14 Aug. 1983) asked Jayewardene on 7th August about the failure to hold inquests for those killed by berserk troops in Jaffna on 24th July. Jayewardene replied, "I didn't know until a couple of days ago. It is too late now". He claimed that the Army had withheld from him information about the massacre, but maintained that only 20 were killed. Amirthalingam and others in Jaffna had told Beresford that 51 civilians, including school children, had been shot dead by troops at bus stands, on the streets and in their homes.
Lawyers had told him in Jaffna that when the Police started collecting evidence, the Ministry of Defence had told the Magistrate not to hold the inquest. Civilians in Jaffna also contradicted the claim that the troops had been ordered back to barracks. They said that troops in civils were out in jeeps raiding houses and shooting inhabitants, killing 16 persons in one incident.
Jayewardene characteristically kept giving different stories as suited his convenience. The story about Jayewardene sending back the Army Commander to Jaffna for the sake of the people appears to be no more than a later rationalisation. As for the real reason, we must set this beside the fact that Jayewardene knew of unrest on the streets of Colombo even as he sent the Army Commander back to Jaffna, and further, he failed to declare curfew, the reasons for which are even more unconvincing.
During that time Colonel A. Ariyapperuma had on the Commander's recommendation held the position of Commander (Operations), Colombo. We reliably learn that on 25th July officers in charge of army camps in the outskirts such as Homagama reported trouble brewing in their areas. But not getting instructions from Army HQ, or being virtually told to mind their own business, they kept aloof. In the absence of the Army Commander on the 25th morning, if fell to Brigadier Mano Madawala to intervene if Commander (Operations) was not doing his job, since he was virtually second in command. But this too did not happen. The chief-of-staff position appears to have been kept unfilled at that time.
Another stark instance of the negative impact of the Army that was deployed came from a senior police officer. This officer, a Sinhalese who was in the CDB was asked to take charge of Borella junction on the 25th July by the IGP since he was earlier OIC Borella. He found the mob and the army unit positioned there in cahoots, with the soldiers trying to play heroes. Since he was known, the mob did not trouble him. He remembers a tall building on fire with a Tamil youth and his elderly mother stranded on top. He directed a fire brigade lift to be sent up, which brought them down safe. At one point, to control the crowd, he had a tear gas shell fired into it.
The army lieutenant in charge of the unit there came up to him and pointed his service revolver at his head. The police officer warned the army lieutenant sternly that if he tried anything, he would empty his machine gun into him. He then radioed Police HQ and asked them to have the army unit withdrawn, for, if not, it may result in bloodshed between the Army and Police.
An even more suggestive instance of the Army's conduct on the 25th morning came from a General Council member of the Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU). He was in a vehicle on Galle Road, going south from Colpetty junction. He found himself stuck behind two army trucks, unable to overtake them. The leading truck carried armed men in uniform clearing the road as it were. In the truck behind were soldiers in civil with crowbars and a large stock of empty Fanta or Coca Cola bottles. Every time they encountered a Tamil shop, the men got down, broke the shop doors and windows with crowbars, poured fuel into the empty bottles, stopped the opening with a fuel-soaked piece of cloth, lit it and threw it into the shop. The trade union man followed the army trucks all the way from Colpetty to Dehiwela watching this operation. This was, as the CMU leader Bala Tampoe pointed out, a clear case of soldiers acting on orders from above.
The testimony of the scholar who travelled along Galle Road later on the 25th relates to the situation after the first bombing operation had been accomplished. He saw fires on either side of the road with army trucks plying up and down, and mobs cheering, "Victory to the Sinhalese Army!" He also learnt of mobs going area by area and saying, "We have cleansed this place". Put this together with the testimony of the army officer in Chapter 9 of Minister Cyril Mathew with a group of men in Colpetty not far from the UNP HQ, but towards Bambalapitiya, trying to set fire to Gnanam's Building which had apparently survived the first day.
The whole affair was clearly a planned operation. Soldiers running amok is one thing, but going out in two trucks with fuel and bottles, spending a long time going methodically over a four mile stretch of Colombo's most prominent road is inconceivable without orders cleared from the very top. It gives us a picture of what the Army was doing. They were deployed with orders, some to assist the mobs and some not to interfere. Others without clear orders would have been allowed to get the message from what the others were doing.
We also gain some insight into the behaviour of the soldiers stationed at Welikade prison during the two massacres of 25th and 27th July, and the attitude of the officers. They would also have had some idea of how their colleagues were behaving at Borella Junction two bus halts away.
The events also give us some insight into the dangers of politicians meddling in the choice of the Army Commander. In sharp contrast was the action of Brigadier Justus Rodrigo who had been recommended for the job of army commander by the previous outgoing commander. As GA, Gampaha, in July 1983, he went out and got the Police to open fire on the mobs. What the Army did during this period was a moral disaster from which it never recovered. [Top]
It was not as though the UNP on the 25th morning taking a cue from Cyril Mathew, picked up electoral lists from party offices and went about attacking Tamil homes. In the context of Jayewardene not taking advice from the Police to declare curfew, the methodical attacks with lists had started in Anderson Flats, Narahepita, by 5.00 A.M. (see T. Sabaratnam, CDN 27.7.99). Mobs entered Tamil flats identified from lists, smashed property and threw refrigerators over the balcony, but did not harm the people if they did not resist. It does not seem credible to suppose that taking advantage of there being no curfew, some bright sparks started something that quickly became widespread and moreover, uniform.
The attacks on the 25th were widespread in the Western Province. Thugs from one area went into another area, often to be joined by UNP local councillors with electoral lists taking on lane by lane. T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka himself comments on the methodical thoroughness in Athulathmudali's electorate of Ratmalana and in Dehiwela. Houses owned by Sinhalese and occupied by Tamils had the furniture dragged out and burnt. Thugs boarded the train from Galle at Attidiya, Ratmalana, and got down at various points in Wellawatte in an organised manner by pulling the emergency chord and went in to attack from the sea front. The attacks started at sharp 10.00 A.M. and stopped at 4.00 P.M.
A particular revealing instance was related by T. Sabaratnam, a Tamil journalist in the state owned Ceylon Daily News (article of 27.7.99). Having received a call from a friend of attacks on Narahenpitiya flats, he locked his house in Dehiwela and moved with his family to Castle Lane, Bambalapitiya. He later learnt from his Sinhalese neighbour that a gang had come late in the morning and asked for Tamil houses. The neighbour denied that there were any in the lane. The article runs, "The gang leader pulled out a list and showed my name.... Around the same time the houses of R. Sivagurunathan, P. Balasingham, K. Nadarajah, K. Sivapragasam, Ponmany Kulasingham and others who held influential positions in the field of Tamil journalism were set ablaze. The suspicion among us at that time was against the JSS, headed by Industries Minister Cyril Mathew."
This was the case of a special list of prominent Tamils prepared by JSS men in their departments. The gang attacking these houses was one delegated to work on this list. It was not part of the general sweep based on electoral lists. This special list had undoubtedly been prepared well in advance. [Top]
We now come to a powerful reason for more or less the entire UNP being involved or lending complicity to the planning and execution of the pogrom of July 1983. To begin we describe the very powerful machinery for intimidation and thuggery maintained by the ruling UNP. What follows is a summary of the document prepared by Mr. Wimal Fernando of the Movement for the Defence of Democratic Rights during the July 1983 holocaust. The document titled 'The Campaign of Intimidation and Thuggery' is based on information collected during the presidential election, the referendum of late 1982 and the equally violent bye-elections of 18th May 1983, two months before the July violence.
The document shows how thugs were brought into the party and given nominations, particularly in areas where the UNP felt insecure. A mixture of intimidation and thuggery and a shameless use of state patronage were used to browbeat the opposition. The bye-election in Mahara, in the Gampaha District, held on 18th May 1983, is described by Fernando as a 'veritable war'. It was contested on behalf of the SLFP by Mrs. Bandaranaike's son-in-law Vijaya Kumaratunge. Jayewardene wanted the election won somehow or the other and nominated Kamal Jayakody for his 'prowess at thuggery'. A supporter of Kumaratunge's was shot dead while talking to him and even the Police were made to arrest several of Kumaratunge's polling agents. He lost by 45 votes.
A timber dealer Vincent Perera was nominated by the UNP in 1977 to what was for 30 years the safe seat of the late Left leader Dr. N.M. Perera. As MP, Vincent Perera's illicit timber felling became public and notorious. A measure of his effectiveness is that this electorate of Yatiyantota gave the Government the biggest majority for the Referendum in the Kegalle District.
The summary which follows will concentrate on the environs of Colombo and it can be readily checked that the document is quite descriptive of where the goon squads for the July 1983 violence came from:
Campaign of Intimidation
The campaign of intimidation of the opposition and the ordinary people which was systematically carried out and maintained throughout the UNP reign, has two tiers:
1. By using the legal means of the Police, Army and the Law (Emergency Regulations,
Security Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act are outstanding examples).
2. By using extra-legal intimidation groups such as thugs. These groups are organised,
a. In general under the MPs in their electorates specially as youth organisations or
selected members of their party organisations. Almost all the MPs have them.
b. In their trade union organisation the J.S.S. which has branches for the various sectors:
eg. Jathika Bank Service Union (J.B.S.S.), Jathika Educational Service Union (J.E.S.S.), Jathika Transport Service Union (J.T.S.S.), which together form the J.S.S. Their head office is the party head office at Kollupitiya: Sri Kotha. The president of the J.S.S. was formerly J.R. Jayewardene and now [in 1983] Cyril Mathew is president.
The groups operate at two levels:
1. At their various work sites and ministries, mostly directed against their co-workers
who are of the opposition trade union.
2. As squads of thugs used as commandos to attack various protest actions. Usually they
appear suddenly, attack with bicycle chains, iron rods and once or twice with knives or bombs, and disappear as quickly. They use mostly government vehicles: e.g. buses of the Ceylon Transport Board, vehicles belonging to corporations. Police in those cases usually do not interfere if present or conveniently appear after the incident. Nobody has ever been prosecuted yet. Those thugs usually do not work at their work site, but enjoy enormous privileges (they sometimes challenge authorities of the various concerns such as corporations & ministries).
Also outside the J.S.S. there are other squads of thugs, who are otherwise employed like the municipal workers of Colombo (C.M.C.), rickshaw-drivers or common thugs whose major occupation is to live on kappan (protection money) organised under politicians.
One of the election promises of the UNP in their election campaign in 1977 was that they will send the Police and the Armed Forces on leave for 7 days after the elections, and allow the people to take their revenge on all the politicians of the then governing party, corrupt officials etc. It had a certain public appeal because of the deep hatred that people felt towards the repression, corrupt practices, nepotism and injustices of the regime of the 70-77 years. This promise was kept to a certain extent by J.R. Jayewardene. The Police was not actually sent on leave. But the widespread and extended attacks on the opposition after the 1977 elections were not stopped or checked for more than a week. But when it extended to attacks on Tamil estate labour, the Police intervened on orders from the Government. [Our note: This is a widely accepted, but simplistic reading of the 1977 violence - see Sect. 2.6-2.8.] This pattern was carried out throughout its rule with various alterations to suit the needs of time, place and ability. We now take a brief look at the deployment of goons in places in and around Colombo, which are relevant to the July 1983 violence.
R. Premadasa, Prime Minister, Minister for Housing and Local Government
Sirisena Cooray, Mayor of Colombo
M.H. Mohamed, M.P for Borella, Minister of Transport
Mallimaratchi, M.P. for Kolonnawa, District Minister, Colombo
Anura Bastian, M.P. for Colombo South, Deputy Minister
Premadasa himself does not participate. It is well-known that he has more or less organised the whole of the lumpen element in the Pettah and the surrounding areas, especially his native place Kehelwatha (Plantation Estate). Most of the pavement hawkers, small time boutique keepers especially in the Central Bus Stand and the rows of shops alongside the pavements are well-organised and even pay into his electoral fund monthly. Aloysious Mudalali, a small time boutique keeper in former days, but now a big time gambling house operator as well as businessman leads them. Sirsena Cooray's thugs are mostly given jobs as municipal workers, and are on call for Premadasa. M.H. Mohamed has his gangs especially for Borella, but also in the CTB (Ceylon Transport Board). These thugs had a struggle with the Chairman of the CTB, Mr. Gamini Wijesekera, over discipline. The Chairman resigned because the thugs were backed by the Minister and the Deputy Chairman, Mr. Bawa. It is said that Mr. Mohammed's son owns more than 30 private vans operating and competing with CTB buses, especially on the route from Borella to Fort. Mallimaratchi himself has his own gang from Kolonnawa. He was very active during the Referendum. Anura Bastian, a favourite of J.R.'s, went around visiting the polling stations in the Colombo South electorate during the (1982) Referendum with a pistol in his hand. He even threatened Mr. Nadesan, the well-known lawyer. He got a promotion as a Deputy Minister soon after the Referendum.
Cyril Mathew, M.P. for Kelaniya, Minister for Industries & Scientific Affairs.
Ranil Wickremasinghe, M.P for Biyagama, Minster of Education & Youth Affairs.
Kamal Jayakody, New M.P for Mahara
John Amaratunga, M.P. for Wattala.
Michael Joseph, M.P. for Ja-ela, Deputy Minster for Labour.
Cyril Mathew is well-known as a very hard man and is the most outspoken and virulent racist against the Tamils. Even J.R. called him the exhaust pipe of his party. He does not himself participate. He has his gang at Keleniya and he also commands the permanent squads of thugs of the J.S.S., who usually operate either from their work places or from 'Sri Kotha', the headquarters of the UNP. During university students strikes, some students were abducted, taken to 'Sri Kotha', kept there for more than a day, threatened with death, assaulted and later released. No action was ever taken. Ranil Wickremasinghe is also an outstanding supporter of thugs. During the Referendum, he himself participated. There was evidence against him that he went around intimidating and assaulting people. During the bye-elections also he was also active. One member of the SLFP group was shot dead. The leader of his thugs is Gonewela Sunil. Ranil is a relative of J.R..
Gamini Lokuge: New ('83) MP for Kesbewa
Paul Perera: New ('83) MP for Kaduwela
Gamini is a businessman of shady character, a supporter of the UNP, and a well-known thug even before he became an MP. He conducted a campaign of intimidation during the bye-elections and organised impersonations on a massive scale. Nine buses from Kesbewa depot and thugs from the Ceramic Corporation were used. They went from one polling station to the other casting the votes of mainly those who were in the Middle East (7000 in Kesbewa it is said). The polling agents were either scared, somewhere else or intimidated into silence. Paul Perera, chairman of the GCEC (i.e. Greater Colombo Economic Corporation, whose earlier chairman was the late Upali Wijawardene), and the main organiser of Gampaha District and Athanagala, conducted a well planned campaign of terror during the presidential election and the referendum. He was given free reign, since the SP was Udugampola 'of Pavidi Handa fame'. The president himself backs this man. The situation was so bad, that Sirima withdrew all her polling agents at the referendum. The terror campaign of the Mahara bye-election was masterminded by him. [Top]
Corporations - Semi - government concerns under Ministers
Ceylon Transport Board
CTB Depot, Kesbewa: Nine buses and J.S.S.- members working here were used to vote during the bye-election. They were also used on various other occasions. They are members of the permanent goon squads.
CTB Depot, Ratmalana is considered the head office of the goon squads used against protests. They were directed against the pickets protesting against the White Paper on Industrial Relations. They threatened the lawyers of Mount Lavinia Court when they picketed.
CTB Mattakuliya: Buses from this depot were used in the intimidation of Supreme Court Judges (i.e. 11.6.1983). The logbook was stolen. The serial numbers of the buses were changed. Members of the regular goon squads also come from here.
CTB Thalangama: Supplying goons for various attacks.
CTB Maharagama: Goons from this depot came in buses belonging to this depot and attacked lady-teacher trainees of Maharagama G.T.C..
Ceylon Ceramic Corporation, Piliyandala
Srinal de Mel, the secretary of the J.S.S., comes from this place. This is one of the worst places with regard to the supplying of goons. They were extensively used during the 1982 Referendum and the bye-election for Kesbewa (18.5.83).
Also recorded in the document of Wimal Fernando are the National Savings Bank Head Office in the Fort and the Petroleum Corporation Head Office in Colpetty. [Top]
What appears on the surface as a good reason against the violence of July 1983 being organised comes from persons who knew the prominent cabinet members well, say as journalists. It is pointed out that there were rival factions within the UNP engaged in bitter power struggles. For this reason, it is argued, they were thoroughly incapable of sitting down together and planning something so scandalous and full of dangerous repercussions as the July 1983 violence. Could one for example imagine arch-rivals Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake and Athulathmudali having got together and planned the violence? How much co-operation could one expect from similar aspirants in the present government?
The second question points towards the answer. As individuals, Athulathmudali and Dissanayake on the one hand, and G.L. Peiris and L. Kadirgamar on the other have a similar social background. But how they would act or might have acted needs to take into account the differences in the corporate character of the UNP of 1983 and the SLFP. In general all parties, in particular the UNP and SLFP, have used thugs, particularly when in power, to disrupt meetings and protests of their opponents. But an outfit like the JSS was unprecedented. During the late 70s and early 80s, it took on the character of a parallel totalitarian state machine. It had its own intelligence network, watched and intimidated individuals, maintained goons paid by the State, targetted the opposition and carried out its own ideological project.
The Police and Judiciary were made to toe the line of a regime whose standards of public morality plumbed the darkest depths. Under this regime, ministers and even some MPs maintained private armies to intimidate, injure and kill with impunity. Gangsters maintained by particular ministers were a law unto themselves and struck fear among all and sundry. This regime had been continually unleashed on the Sinhalese in several localised contexts. The communal violence of July 1983 was a case of this apparatus fresh from deployment against the Sinhalese at the December 1982 Referendum and the May 1983 bye-elections being unloosed on the Tamils. By whipping up chauvinism, the Government cornered the SLFP, a party then showing little intelligence or vision, and stabilised itself in the South for a few more years.
As for the leading ministers hopeful of stepping into Jayewardene's shoes, they could not, whatever their differences, afford to rock the boat which showered on them inordinate wealth and power. A particularly interesting feature of the JSS is that its founder president in the early 70s was Jayewardene. When he gave its reins to Cyril Mathew in 1977, it was to a Mathew who was his own creature and long-time intimate. The role of Mathew is hinted at in an instance cited by T. Sabaratnam in his Murder of a Moderate - A Political Biography of A. Amirthalingam.
The UNP had come to power in 1977 with the support of the TULF. In 1978, Amirthalingam complained to Jayewardene about Matthew's extreme chauvinism and his attacks on the TULF. Jayewardene replied, "Don't worry about him. There is some dissatisfaction among Sinhalese extremists about our close relationship with your party. Matthew's role is to keep them satisfied."
Further Wimal Fernando's document shows that the JSS was a power in every ministry, not just Mathew's. In general, people employed in government-related bodies were enrolled in the JSS and membership dues were deducted from their salaries unless they objected. We have given an instance where JSS agents compiled lists of Tamils occupying senior positions in the media - a ministry under Anandatissa de Alwis, a man who did his job without having a particular reputation for chauvinism.
Thus the party was already enmeshed in a way of functioning where, when it came to dealing with opposition to the Government, senior ministers were constrained to drop their differences and work closely with Mathew and the JSS. We give below an instance where Ranil Wickremasinghe worked closely with Cyril Mathew in 1978 in an attempt to subdue opposition at Kelaniya University. While Ranil Wickremasinghe did all the talking, most of the goon-work was done by Mathew. During the Jaffna DDC elections of 1981 several leading ministers including Mathew, Dissanayake and Festus Perera went to Jaffna. But the rank and file agents came from several arms of the UNP. There was a job to be done and personal rivalries mattered little.
Again David Selbourne who visited Sri Lanka in June 1982 was privileged to ride in a limousine with Jayewardene, Dissanayake and Athulathmudali who were, with their guard down, joking about solving the Tamil problem, displaying a shared contempt. Even in the run-up to the July '83 violence, most of the talking was done by Jayewardene, Premadasa, Athulathmudali and Dissanayake. Mathew, whom Jayewardene called the Party's exhaust pipe, found his turn to speak after the violence, during the 6th Amendment debate on 4th August. When he became embarrassingly too big for his boots, Jayewardene put him out not long afterwards.
It was also a time when Jayewardene was all-powerful within the party, and once a thing was decided, collectively or otherwise, deviations were not tolerated. Two examples come to mind. The first is from T. Sabaratnam's book (p.319). After the July '83 violence, India was insistent on a solution to the Tamil problem, and sent its envoy G. Parthasarathy to mediate between the exiled TULF and the Government. Prime Minister Premadasa had been avoiding him. "On the last day Jayewardene hosted a dinner for which Premadasa was not only invited but was made to sit at Parthasarathy's table."
Again after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, Premadasa and Athulathmudali showed their displeasure and tried to distance themselves from it in the face of rising violent opposition in the South. When the Provincial Councils Bill under the Accord was to go before Parliament, Jayewardene made Premadasa propose and Athulathmudali second it. When it came to facing the liabilities of particular actions, Jayewardene was not going to tolerate others gaining political mileage by distancing themselves after the end of good times, leaving him carrying the can. This is important in understanding the July '83 violence.
Thus where the planning of the '83 violence went, it was not necessary that the whole cabinet sat down and planned it out. The direction was set weeks ahead of the violence, and the exhaust pipe, Cyril Mathew, with Jayewardene behind him, knew his job. The JSS was active in all the ministries. We may take it that many, if not all, ministers knew it was coming. For example, Festus Perera evinced his knowledge of it weeks ahead at Brown's Beach Hotel, Negombo. They also knew what was expected from them when the signal was given. The UNP head office at Sri Kotha, Colpetty, was the nerve centre of operations from where the JSS functioned.
A particular example gives some idea of the suggestively evasive conduct of some ministers. On 25th July, the mobs did a clean job of Athulathmudali's electorate, Ratmalana, and the Minister was himself nowhere to be seen by his constituents. But, on the other hand he had been about Dehiwela the same morning on his own admission. The artistically designed luxury home of a Tamil professional friend of his on the bank of Bolgoda Lake was attacked by a mob and the valuables were taken away in rafts. According to a report from his circles, the friend complained to him and nearly all the stolen goods were located and returned.
We mentioned special lists sent from working places by the JSS. As for the group of Tamil media professionals referred to earlier, some of their homes were attacked by a group who went down their road and were only interested in their homes as opposed to all Tamil homes. Some others had their name underlined in red in an electoral list carried by the mob. Such instances of underlining were seen by neighbours when the mob made inquiries. This suggests that processing had been done at the JSS HQ and targets were assigned to hit squads.
In conclusion, we might say that there was a plan to launch a limited strike on the Tamils at a suitable time whose main purpose was political intimidation and a battering of their economic base. Killing was bound to take place, and was in many instances allowed or encouraged. These were essentially the conclusions reached by the Ceylon Mercantile Union after polling 195 members from 77 branches, 80% of whom were Sinhalese. These conclusions were communicated to President Jayewardene in a letter of 27th August 1983, signed by its General Secretary, Mr. Bala Tampoe. The poll further concluded with respect to the Welikade prison massacres of 25th and 27th July that 'there was no doubt that they were planned'. We will come to this shortly.
There was no need for the plan to have been a detailed one in all aspects. It was after all a crude affair whose main requirement was the availability of brute force to be mobilised at short notice. The UNP had this in place and had given it plenty of practice. Most of those who mattered knew it was coming and what was expected from them.
Those active in Maradana were widely identified as supporters of Prime Minister Premadasa. His men in the company of his henchman and municipal councillor Sangadasa were seen in the area around Deans Road where much arson was taking place from the night of 24th July.
The gangs active in Borella were widely identified as supporters of Transport Minister M.H. Mohamed, MP and UNP organiser for the area. His men are also said to have been active in Slave Island. His men have also been accused of being the agents used by the Government to foment Mossad-inspired violence in the East in April-May 1985 (see Chapter 20).
Sunethra Ranasinghe, the daughter of S. de S. Jayasinghe was both MP and a powerful figure in the Kohuwala area. Her supporters enjoy no mean reputation for thuggery. The following reference to Mrs Sunethra Ranasinghe appears on page 22 of Sinha Ratnatunga's book:
"At Dehiwela and at Kohuwela, just outside the city limits, the attacks on Tamil houses and shops appeared to be a well-orchestrated and planned operation. A few people down the many by-ways of Dehiwela and Kohuwela were spotted throwing molotov cocktails into these premises. As was the case in most of the other areas, the local member of parliament, Mrs Sunethra Ranasinghe, minister of teaching hospitals and womens' affairs, was of the view that the people involved in her electorate were not from Dehiwela or Kohuwela.
"As the news reached Mrs. Ranasinghe, the politically-minded daughter of a late cabinet minister, she decided to go immediately to the Accident Ward of the General Hospital where she saw for herself an endless stream of people being admitted with slashes, cuts and bruises".
This is followed by a claim from Mrs. Ranasinghe that she was herself treated insultingly by the mobs.
Lalith Athulathmudali, though MP for Ratmalana, admitted to being in (Vandewert Place) Dehiwela on the 25th morning. An up and coming UNPer living in Kinross Avenue, Bambalapitiya was reported having high visibility around Wellawatte on the 25th July.
It is interesting that Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, in a manner similar to Mrs. Sunethra Ranasinghe, and like whom he was well-known for having thugs in his following, made the claim that 'thugs had come to Kadawatta and to his electorate from outside and caused the damage' (CDN 6.8.83). However according to Wimal Fernando's document, there is evidence that Wickremasinghe was personally involved in intimidation in the neighbouring Mahara electorate two months earlier and previously during the Referendum. His principal henchman Gonawela Sunil, according to Fernando, 'led the gangs during the Referendum, in Kelaniya'. It is incredible that un-named outside gangs came to Wickremasinghe's electorate and ran riot during July 1983 while he could do nothing. Lionel Bopage's testimony given in Chapter 9, where he encountered killers outside the Tyre Corporation, which is under Mathew, and then a work-gang in a CTB vehicle, gives a part of the picture of what was going on around Wickremasinghe's area.
The JSS head office at Sri Kotha (the UNP HQ), and the Petroleum Corporation head office, both of which were in Colpetty were places where Cyril Mathew reigned as king. The Petroleum Corporation head office was identified by Fernando as the HQ of the regular junta - of thugs posted to and receiving salaries from various government bodies, freely indulging in corrupt practices without doing any work. Mathew must have taken great offence when he found that his storm troopers had missed Gnanam's Building. The general pattern of the violence is clear. Gangs were often, but not always, bussed to different areas where they would not be identified (e.g. a gang from Ratmalana in Allen Avenue, Dehiwela, and one from Maharagama in Station Road, Dehiwela).
The local representatives (i.e. MPs) kept away and remained inaccessible or arranged for distress messages to be taken from important Tamils in their circle. It was not the sort of violence, given its uniform modus operandi, that mushrooms in a fraction of a day.
The point we make is that once a course of action was decided and the ponderous party machine was in action, its members who did not want their careers jeopardised had to fall in line. In the Western Province in particular, the ubiquity of the JSS machine was a factor which went far to ensure that party members and MPs toed the line. If an MP, say, did not toe the line, he would have had his own local party organisation taken over by the JSS, which had already made inroads into it. He would have moreover lost his position in the party.
It is notable that the little resistance to the party line from within the UNP came from MPs well outside Colombo where the JSS was weak. There was Shelton Ranaraja, deputy minister for justice, in Kandy, who is said to have taken some action, but after the violence was over, to have the main agent of violence in the area arrested. Renuka Herath in Nuwara Eliya kept the peace until Dissanayake arrived, and then found that her orders had no effect. In Galaha, again in the Hill Country, Anura Daniel, MP, went with his men in a jeep, camped out, and ensured that there were no attacks on Tamils. Ronnie de Mel, the Finance Minister, almost certainly knew in advance, what was taking shape and after the violence uttered a token expression of dissent, but without a note of sympathy for the victims. His electorate was a rural one from Matara District. Ranaraja, Herath and Daniel were either marginal persons in the party or were not likely to go much further than where they were.
On the other hand, Tyronne Fernando, then deputy foreign minister and MP for Moratuwa near Colombo, is one who tries to cultivate a liberal image. However, no expression of dissent, or sympathy for the victims, came from him and thugs from his area were undoubtedly used in the violence. Thus we get some idea of how the JSS, whose strength was mainly around Colombo, influenced the choices of individual UNPers. It is not that the JSS was external to them. They had become part of the network. Had there been no plan with agents poised for execution at different points, it would have led to considerable initial confusion. Several influential UNPers would have dissented spontaneously, given that some of them were uncomfortable about it. But that did not happen. Their consent or silence had been secured in advance.
We now move on to examine the prison massacre. In setting out the context for it, we also have a look at how state facilities were used, public funds were abused and productivity thrown to the winds to turn work forces into strike forces. We also get an idea of the origins of violent conflict in the country. [Top]
What follows is an account of an early combined use of the JSS and private thugs in a prolonged and systematic use of intimidation and violence. The UNP had been building up the JSS as a violent arm from about two years before the 1977 elections. Non-party persons employed at its HQ Sri Kotha in Colpetty knew that something sinister was going on. They were not allowed to look into the backyard of the HQ. However, they came to know that outsiders were being brought there in batches and given training in violence. As soon as the UNP secured its 1977 election victory, its violent elements were let loose on the defeated parties while the Police and Magistrates took the hint and stood by, even as violence and arson continued before their eyes for several weeks. This was lawlessness of the new order.
In the meantime the TULF swept the polls in the North and won several seats in the East on a formal separatist platform. However, behind the rhetoric an understanding had been reached with the UNP that the UNP in government would resolve Tamil grievances, which were listed and acknowledged in its election manifesto. The TULF, then the leading opposition party, formally called upon the UNP government to put forward a viable alternative to a separate state. Having received an unexpected bonanza of a five-sixths majority, Jayewardene was not in a mood to give anything. As the violence against the opposition petered out, these same mobs were turned against Tamils in the South in August 1977. The use of state violence in turn against the Sinhalese and the Tamils seemed to have a cyclic fatality about it.
As moves towards the open economy were introduced by curbing rice rations and floating the Rupee, the Government became anxious to curb dissent and to demonstrate that its moves were popular. The following account of what happened at Kelaniya University is drawn from the testimony of the Ven. Batapola Nanda, a Left-leaning Buddhist monk who is active in resolving the ethnic issue through common understanding, and others with a similar outlook who were all then students at the University.
The student elections were held in Kelaniya University about January 1978. In the Arts Faculty, 8 places on the faculty union were won by the Left coalition and 5 by the UNP. In the Science Faculty 12 places were won by anti-UNP independents and 1 by the UNP. This meant that the student council was going to be overwhelmingly anti-UNP. Jayewardene's old Kelaniya electorate, not a secure UNP seat, was later divided into Kelaniya (won by Mathew in 1977) and Biyagama (won by Ranil Wickremasinghe). It fell to Wickramasinghe and Mathew to tame the University. Wickremasinghe did the talking. He visited elected student representatives in the night at private boarding houses and tried to win them over to the UNP by promising them perks. They were told that a bright future lay before them and it made no sense for them to take on the difficulties of opposing the Government. Those whom he did not meet were sent messages asking them to meet him. But this method failed to yield tangible results.
As the next step groups of thugs were sent to harass the students and to beat up male students. Nanda and other monks advised the students not to retaliate as the female students were vulnerable. One day Gonalwela Sunil who was about the most feared thug of the day and was very close to Ranil Wickremasinghe, came on a bicycle and threatened the students. On another night thugs went to the boarding house where an NSSP student Benson was staying and shaved his beard. This kind of low intensity harassment was going on until 16th March.
On this day the students who attended the 7.00 A.M. lecture in German and were going towards the canteen for breakfast along Wewalduwa Road at 8.30 A.M. Along the road were several loiterers, ruffians in dresses such as shorts and T-shirts. Anticipating trouble Hubert and another student had already gone to Peliyagoda Police Station to make a complaint. But the Police were unreceptive and did not move.
It turned out that the leader of this new initiative was Welipara (Sandy Road) Member Piyadasa, a henchman of Cyril Mathew's and appointed by him a director of the Hardware Corporation. That morning Piyadasa campaigned in the neighbourhood villages calling for men to attack the university students, promising them in return corporation jobs. This was among the JSS methods for recruiting goons. It was noticed by victims during the '83 July violence that several of the goons were persons whose faces clearly showed that their heart was not in the violent deeds they were asked to perform. It was a job.
In the canteen the students told the monks, of whom there were about 35, and a Roman Catholic priest, "You prevented us from attacking them, but now we are going to be attacked". The girls were sent away and the students and some of the clergy broke legs off canteen tables and got ready. In the meantime, vehicles with Tyre Corporation and Hardware Corporation markings, both under Mathew and located around Kelaniya, started arriving with more goons. (The registration numbers of the vehicles were published in the Aththa the following day - the same paper which was sealed just before the '82 Referendum.)
Piyadasa came into the canteen and started attacking the student Podi (Small) Sarath. He was warned by the monks. Realising that there would be resistance, Piyadasa went away to fetch more goons from Yakkala. The RC priest recognised the thug named Christopher Hyacinth Jayatilleke, who was quite often seen with Mathew. The students got word that he was coming for a cup tea. He came in with others and picked up a chair and threw it at some students. Then several chairs were thrown back at Christopher. A melee began in earnest with a thug named Gamini attacking the monk Ven. Baddegama Samittha, vice president of the students' council. Samittha chased him out, wielding a table leg. The students too exitted through a side door. Nanda and Samittha, a member of the NSSP, carried an injured student soaked in blood and passed him out behind through a toilet window, and then went towards the sick room to get Samittha's wound treated.
In the meantime Christopher who had lain injured under a pile of chairs came staggering out. One of his companions came to his aid and, supporting him, set off in the wrong direction. Seeing the pair passing below an embankment, the students rushed into the attack. Passions were high. The women fetched stones from a pile in the folds of their frocks, while the men shied these at the pair. The companion escaped, but the helpless Christopher breathed his last. Coming from the sick room, Nanda and Samittha found the place deserted. The other students called them to a two-storey building. From there their lecturer Dr. Buddhi Weerasinghe, who was also student union treasurer, telephoned the University Grants Commission (UGC) and informed Prof P.P.G.L. Siriwardene of the dangerous situation there. The Vice Chancellor and deans were then missing. It was subsequently at 1.30 PM, that the Police came with the Vice Chancellor. The University was closed and 36 students were suspended.
A significant event took place while the students sheltered in the building awaiting developments in anxiety and fear. Some moved to get hold of the pro-UNP students and throw them out of a top floor window. There was a mood where it seemed a reasonable thing to do. Fortunately others had intervened and stopped it.
A month later the University reopened amidst fear. The students prepared 120 posters, and given the situation, several of them went out and put up all the posters in about 5 minutes. They demanded that the 36 suspended students be taken back in view of the coming examinations and called for understanding between the students and the public in the area. Within an hour Ranil Wickremasinghe, minister for education and youth affairs in that government, came to the University and read the posters. This showed how closely he had been following the developments at the University.
About a month later three student representatives including Kumudu Kusum Kumara and Upali Amerasinghe went to the UGC by arrangement for talks on the suspended students. To their surprise Ranil Wickremasinghe was there to meet them. He delivered a homily, telling them that if they want to study they can study, but if they are going to have other interests, (such as political ones), then they (i.e. Wickremasinghe and associates) would have to deal with it.
The episode of 1978 is interesting for several reasons: It showed the Government's mindset and methods in dealing with those who opposed it. It was also a case of unsafe UNP seats being transformed into safe ones by the attentions of the two ministers. This success was short-lived.
The arrogance and violence of the Government, coupled with the constant humiliation sustained by the students over a period clearly brutalised them to a point of almost attacking their own fellows (supporting the UNP) and mercilessly stoning to death an injured adversary. To most of those students, these feelings would have been short-lived. Many of them would have moved into a white-collar job under the same Government and moved on to other concerns. But to the Tamils who came under such treatment from the Government on a wider, more varied and sustained scale, there was for most of them no escape. It was to be a thorn in the flesh from the system, for life.
The incident also shows how the two ministers, Mathew and Wickremasinghe, persons from widely differing backgrounds, the JSS goons of the former and the latter's thugs, worked systematically towards a common objective. Also of interest is the division of labour. Mathew's primary task was to supply violence on demand. The episode is also a pointer to Black July (1983) and the motivation behind it. This was the general situation in the UNP and does not point to any special role for Wickremasinghe in July 1983.
Kelaniya, with its state corporations (e.g. Tyre), became thus a major centre for organised state violence and conspiracy. A particular need for it was that it lay in an area (i.e. Gampaha District) where the SLFP was traditionally strong.
We now move on to the Welikade prison massacres, the connection of which to the foregoing will become apparent later. [Top]
In Chapter 8 we referred to the item in the Island of 12th June 1983 relating to proposed amendments to the PTA and the Criminal Procedure Code 'in respect of terrorist suspects attempting to break jail or making a bid for freedom'. In the case of such a suspect being killed, a mere report to the AG's department was to suffice. We argued that such a preoccupation, while Tamil suspects were being transferred from Panagoda army camp to Welikade prison, revealed, however tentatively, an intention regarding these prisoners. In saying that the proposals were before the Government, the report indicated that a draft had been made.
Such matters, including the 1978 constitution and the PTA, were, as we learn, entrusted to Athulathmudali, who then did little to hide his sympathy for repressive measures. In T. Sabaratnam's book The Murder of a Moderate (p.304), he names Athulathmudali, Cabinet Secretary G.V.P. Samarasinghe and Legal Draftsman P.A.K. Rodrigo as those entrusted by Jayewardene to draft the 6th Amendment banning separatism after the cabinet meeting of 27th July 1983. We may also note that the Cabinet as a whole was geared towards approbation of extra-judicial action.
We also received testimony about another measure taken at Welikade prison after the Panagoda detainees were moved there. All prison staff considered to be on easy terms with the Tamil PTA detainees were reassigned duties which kept them away from the detainees (i.e. hospital duty). Thus at the time of the massacre there were no Tamil staff about. The pretext for this reassignment is said to be that of a Tamil officer, a dentist according to some, from Trincomalee being caught passing on a letter to Kuttimani. Given the circumstance that these Tamil detainees were in practice only nominally under fiscal custody, the prison superintendent may not have had much choice in this.
There is then the stark fact about the two inquests into the massacres discussed in Chapter 10: The evidence was deliberately misled with glaring omissions in the choice of witnesses. The Magistrate, a man of ability, failed to ask questions an average layman would not have missed and drew conclusions strongly at variance with the testimony on record. To recapitulate:
a) Massacre of 25th July
* The army personnel it was claimed were unable to control the riot, while the testimony made it clear that they did not lift a finger and if anything encouraged the killers.
* The fate of the injured prisoners who were to be taken to hospital and then killed was ignored, leaving glaring gaps in the testimony on record.
b) Massacre of 27th July
* The apparent absence of the 3 most senior officers in prison despite warnings of trouble in the morning was not taken up.
* The failure to take the most routine security measures to protect life was not gone into.
* The reasons for the army personnel at the prison failing to come to the aid of Tamil
prisoners under attack are patently fake.
* The factuality of a mass escape attempt was asserted by the Magistrate contrary to the evidence.
In both instances, there were three competent lawyers involved. The inquest showed no interest in identifying the culprits or in holding identification parades. If these were spontaneous prison riots as concluded by the Magistrate, the tenacity displayed in covering up becomes inexplicable. It suggests not merely complicity on the part of the State, but gives us a further indication that the State wanted these done. We may go even further. First, we examine some matters that have a bearing on the affair. [Top]
The Security Council, which was meeting late afternoon on the 25th, was very much aware of the prison riot. Yet, no official was delegated to contact the prison authorities to find out the position and offer help. This was after all a singular incident where the State had a special responsibility. The Security Council meeting ended about the time when Acting Commissioner of Prisons, Mr. C.T. Jansz, having tried and failed to contact anyone in authority who could help him, left for Police HQ trying to get permission to take the injured Tamil detainees to hospital.
When Jansz, during the incident of the 25th, asked Lt. Hathurusinghe, who commanded the platoon at the prison for help, the latter almost certainly informed his high command as he was bound to, and appears to have received instructions not to interfere. The officer even prevented the Police from going to the assistance of the victims under attack. Despite the experience of the 25th, Lt. Seneviratne who was on duty on the 27th, showed no signs in his inexcusable conduct of having received instructions from the Army High Command not to let it happen again. The two officers must now be having the rank of colonel or brigadier.
After the attack on the 25th, the Army at the highest level appears to have decided that the injured detainees should not obtain medical relief. The injured were not taken to Army Hospital even as the Acting Prisons Commissioner was prevented from taking them to the Accident Service under prison escort. Jansz obtained permission belatedly from the Army Commander who already knew about it, and, besides, took no tangible measures to prevent its recurrence.
As for the agents who operated on the ground, Suriya Wickremasinghe had drawn attention to the failure at both the inquests to summon the jailors on the spot - the responsible officers - to testify, and raises questions about their role in these events. We mentioned the name of Jailor Rogers Jayasekere, who has been named as the chief executor on the ground by several sources. We do know that there was some kind of an internal inquiry in the Prisons Department. Scores of prisoners were identified as having taken part in the massacres and were transferred to Mahara prison.
Sepala Ekanayake was one of those transferred. Asked if these names were given to the Police, a former Commissioner said that he thought so. Rogers Jayasekere, we learn, later retired as Jailor Class I. We now try to fill in some of the missing links. [Top]
Rogers J hails from Kelaniya and is now in retirement there. During his career he was identified as a strong UNP supporter both in the Prison Service and in Kelaniya, and was proud of his connection with J.R. Jayewardene. Rogers J's father had worked for Jayewardene when he contested the Kelaniya seat in the 1940s and became its MP by defeating E.W. Perera. He started his career as a jail guard and went up the ranks as storekeeper, overseer and finally jailor. As an overseer he impressed his superiors and had an easy rapport with both the senior staff as well as minor staff. He was English-speaking, well-mannered and was depended upon by his superiors in maintaining order.
Opinions about Rogers J differed. A Left politician (twice MP) who was in Welikade prison in the early 70s described him as a "ruthless man and a strong UNPer". In the mid-70s, Rogers J was posted at Weeravila detention centre in the Hambantota area for surrendered JVP insurgents from the 1971 rebellion. Some of the inmates described him as one who was very friendly with them. But his ruthless side was also known or suspected by some of his superiors.
In 1977, the UNP came to power. Kelaniya had become a major centre for the UNP's rough tactics with Mathew and Jayewardene's relation and protege Wickremasinghe in charge. There was bound to be plenty of work for a man with Rogers J's connections and talents. Although his name is obscure today and perhaps hardly ever got into print, to senior journalists who covered events in the late 70s and early 80s, it was something of a household name that cropped up in discussions and exchanges of information. His name was mentioned as one of those behind-the-scenes actors in attacks on Kelaniya University students in 1978. Rogers Jayasekere's name has been associated with JRJ's son Ravi Jayewardene's in the latter's attempt to set up Sinhalese settlements in the North with convicts during 1984 (see Chapter 20).
Where Jayasekere's involvement in the prison massacres is concerned, we said that testimony to this effect came from former prison staff, one of whom had joined the service with Jayasekere and knew him closely. Another of them spoke to us in fear after being assured by a third party that we will not reveal his name. Rogers Jayasekere, Jailor Samitharatne (real name probably Samitha Rathgama), who was young, tall, on the dark side, and Location Officer Palitha, who was about 25 years, fair and on the shorter side, were named from the testimony of Sinhalese prisoners in an EPRLF document. The document was published in India after the escape of survivors from Batticaloa Prison in September 1983. Unfortunately, these allegations have never been examined in a bona fide inquiry. Whenever the massacres were brought up, such as in mid-1988 during the Indo-Lanka Accord, Athulathmudali and other officials took cover behind Magistrate Wijewardene's inquest reports and declined to proceed further.
The late Fr. Singarayar had pointed out Jayasekere as the main culprit to others who were with him in Welikade Prison after September 1983. By continuing to be in prison Fr. Singarayar would have had the opportunity to compare notes from various sources. The former JVP General Secretary Lionel Bopage told us that he was told of Jayasekere's role in the massacres when he was in Magazine Prison in 1985. Bopage was told this by prison officers who had become friendly with him during his earlier prison stint in the 70s.
A former senior prison official referred to 'malicious rumours' about some prison staff being involved. When the name of Rogers Jayasekere was put to him, he did not commit himself, but spoke of RJ's Kelaniya connections and his general bearing. He also said that when asked by prison officers about reports of his involvement in the massacres, RJ had replied that during the first riot attacking prisoners had locked him up in a cell. Asked whether he believed that there was any substance in these 'malicious rumours' where Rogers J. was concerned, the official replied, "I will put it this way. He is not incapable of it".
Another former senior prison official who referred to RJ's reply to the charge of his involvement, was more forthright in his opinion. The official said, "He said he was locked up. But no one else has testified that he saw RJ locked up or had let him out!"
RJ's denial also suggests to us that he was one of the jailors on the scene whom the first inquest failed to name besides failing to record his testimony. He may also have been one of the unnamed jailors on the scene during the second massacre, but it is not essential that he was. Its planning and execution had been made much easier by the State giving a clear message by its handling of the first. This is why even after army commandos had intervened to cut short the carnage on the 27th, the attackers were still straining to go at it again and finish the job.
We take Rogers Jayasekere's involvement as established beyond reasonable doubt. The attack was thus instigated and planned well in advance. RJ was a man with a good position, was careful to the point of not revealing his hand openly and it was most uncharacteristic of him to get involved in an affair of this nature without ensuring that he was well-covered. If the idea were his own and he and a few other staff had gone about instigating on the 25th July itself, a good deal could have gone wrong and he would have been exposed. We note the manner in which Jansz was handled when he rushed in. He was surrounded by prisoners swinging some object above their head, without, however, manhandling him, while at the same time keeping a distance. No one from the prison staff was hurt. This was, far from being ad hoc, well planned, taking into account contingencies like Jansz and Leo de Silva rushing in. It was not a riot.
The circumstances further suggest that assurances had been given to the planners in advance that the army platoon at the prison would not intervene and that there would not be a bona fide inquiry. The Government had armed itself with Emergency Regulation 15A of the Gazette Extraordinary published a week earlier. We pointed out that the inquest and post mortems probably resulted from Jansz's persistence on the 25th, which resulted in the corpses ending up in the morgue, although his original intention was to convey the injured to the Accident Service. It also appears, as pointed out, that the Army's preventing Jansz from taking the injured out and sending him running in circles as it were, came from a decision to avoid any legal entanglements and to use ER 15A. Even prison staff attacking the injured prisoners in view of several onlookers points to a determination to finish the job under a guarantee of impunity. The impunity with which the organisers operated is further exemplified by the fact that they went on to organise a second massacre 50 hours later, where the attackers were better armed and the three senior-most prison officers were absent.
We are thus left with little doubt that the planning for the murderous onslaught in Welikade prison is rooted in Rogers Jayasekere's powerful UNP connections in the Kelaniya area, who were also the President's most trusted lieutenants. This leads us to the next item. [Top]
If the prison murders were planned as we have argued they were, there would have been a need to identify and take into confidence a group of strategically placed prisoners, who would charge the rest with emotion and lead them forward when the signal was given. Rogers Jayasekere with the help of jail guards close to him could have identified prisoners. But RJ was not conspicuous for his power and influence. He was essentially a behind-the-scenes man. In the context of a plan, he was not the best person to give willing prisoners assurance of impunity and perhaps promises of reward. Leo de Silva was after all a prison superintendent with a reputation for toughness and integrity.
This brings us to Gonawela Sunil who was Kelaniya-based and was about the most powerful thug of his time and enjoyed UNP patronage at the highest level. His name has been from the beginning associated with the prison attacks. But we have been unable to trace any evidence of his direct involvement. Yet if the operation in Welikade emerged from UNP circles in Kelaniya as seems evident, Gonawela Sunil would have been drawn into the discussion for good reasons as we shall see.
Gonawela Sunil was sentenced to about 10 years in prison for rape - as we learn the contract rape of a high society woman around or just after the time of her marriage. Such persons with power and money, as is well-known, enjoy considerable privileges and cannot help flaunting their influence. Some of them have been known to bribe prison staff to take them out secretively in the night for a licentious binge and bring them back. With their political patronage, they begin to wield power over prison staff as well as prisoners.
An extra-ordinary circumstance turned Gonawela Sunil into a new kind of celebrity - the master of ceremonies as it were, in the celebration to mark the golden jubilee of universal adult franchise for the people of this Island, which fell on 7th July 1981. President Jayewardene announced an amnesty for prisoners who satisfied the conditions stipulated. These were, they should have been convicted for the first time and with less than 10 more years to serve, and for offences not including murder, treason, unlawful assembly, bank robbery, highway robbery, default of income tax payment, bribery etc. A singular omission in the offences listed was rape. It thus became only too obvious to all concerned, that the amnesty was tailor-made to fit Gonawela Sunil and was quickly dubbed 'Sunil Samawa' ('Sunil's Amnesty').
Sunil came out of Welikade prison, a proud demonstration of what the country had achieved in fifty years of universal adult franchise. It followed the burning by the Police of the Jaffna Public Library a month earlier. In the eyes of the prisoners and even junior prison staff therefore, Gonawela Sunil's stature towered above as a very powerful figure, almost a minister, who could get the Government to do wonders. What's more, he was later made an All-Island Justice of Peace! In planning the prison killings and setting the stage for it, his links and the fact that he was well-known to Rogers Jayasekere, give his presence in the picture a certain inevitability.
Like the Air Force helicopter remaining stationary above the prison during the massacre of 25th July, another peripheral occurrence saying nothing concrete, is also of some interest. During the time of anarchy, which prevailed during the massacre, there was an attempt to attack the prisoners in the Tamil Ward for normal Tamil prisoners. Malu Nihal, another famous gangster and a rival of Gonawela Sunil's, got into the Tamil Ward and fought off the attackers. We now move onto a figure who definitely featured in the massacre of 27th July. [Top]
He has been identified as an assassin in the second massacre by some of the surviving Tamil detainees and was the leading attacker to enter the Youthful Offenders Building. Independently, Major Sunil Peiris who led the rescue team confronted him carrying an object in his hand, and apparently thinking that the commandos had come to admire their work, told Peiris, "Sir, how is this job?" Repelled by what he saw, the officer delivered a blow while passing Ekanayake, which found him flat on the ground. The object concerned was a human head, about which more will be said below.
The prison authorities had later identified him as one of those involved, and all those so identified were transferred to Mahara prison. On the other hand, Suriya Wickremasinghe had found some other Tamil survivors disbelieving Ekanayake's role. Their experience of him in the Chapel Section was quite different. In a sign of goodwill, he used to greet them with "Vanakkam" ("Greetings") in Tamil and had words of solidarity for their cause. In turn they used to greet him with "Ayubowan" in Sinhalese. Those who had not actually seen him in action on the 27th found it difficult to shake off their earlier impression.
Ekanayake, this country's only hijacker so far, had made legal history. The saga had started apparently with the Italian embassy in Colombo refusing him a visa to join his Italian wife Anna and little son Free. According to him, he first warned the Italian Ambassador in Colombo that he would take drastic steps. He then went to New Delhi, boarded an Alitalia flight to Bangkok on 29th June 1982, and informed the crew and passengers that he would blow up the plane with the explosives said to be on his person if his demands were not complied with. These were that his wife and son should be brought to him, that he should be paid USD 300,000 in cash (as compensation according to him for what the Italian embassy did) and that he should be given a pledge to be left untroubled. He returned to Colombo on an Air Lanka flight with USD 300,000 in cash, his wife and child, and a promise from the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Bangkok that no action would be taken against him.
He arrived in style and booked into Hotel Intercontinental, Colombo, but the management asked him to move out when foreign customers objected to the hijacker. He deposited USD 299,700 in the Bank of Ceylon on 3rd July after which he was arrested by the Police on the Italian Ambassador's complaint that he was in possession of stolen money. In the meantime, the local press had been eagerly reporting Ekanayake's own version. This was that he had got his own back on the emissary of a powerful Western nation, who had tried to separate him from his wife and child, thus giving him little choice. He repeatedly asked, "What wrong have I done?" This made him something of a folk hero.
Understandably, pressure mounted on the Government. The International Federation of Pilots Associations for example, threatened to boycott Sri Lanka unless the hijacker was arrested and punished and the money returned. Sri Lanka had no law against hijacking. This was the first case in Sri Lanka where legal proceedings were, for the lack of local laws, resorted to on the basis of international law. A pronouncement was made that skyjacking an aircraft was an international crime and was an offence under international customary law. In preference to extraditing a local hero for trial in Italy, Parliament on 26th July 1982 passed a law making skyjacking an offence with retroactive effect. This was made possible by an ambiguity in Fundamental Rights legislation. The article concerned on FR was qualified by: "Nothing in this article shall prejudice the trial or punishment of a person for any act or omission which at the time it was committed was criminal according to the general principles of law recommended by the community of nations".
Ekanayake's trial commenced on 30th June 1983 in the Colombo High Court. He was given a simple life sentence for hijacking and 3 years RI for the possession of stolen money. The money was returned to Alitalia by court order. This verdict was contested in the Appeal Court by Dr.Colvin R. de Silva. Dr. de Silva argued that Ekanayake was being tried for something that was not an offence at the time it was committed. The Appeal Court however held that by having pleaded not guilty to the charges, Ekanayake had submitted himself to judicial examination. But the Court reduced the life sentence for hijacking to 3 years RI and that for the possession of stolen money to 2 years RI on the grounds that the prosecution had not proven the charge of his having possessed explosives during the hijack. The two sentences were to run concurrently. Dr. Colvin R. de Silva contested the matter further in the Supreme Court on the grounds that Alitalia was not a registered company in Sri Lanka. Ekanayake's prison term was to end on 14th December 1989, but he was released on licence nearly 9 months earlier from Mahara prison on 22nd March 1989. Evidently his involvement in the prison massacre had no effect on his release. On his release, he got good mileage out of the Press as a seven-day wonder.
At one level, this native of Matara was naive. He grossly underestimated the gravity of skyjacking and the reaction to it. But he had a shrewd knack for winning public sympathy for himself. As a commentary in the state media put it then, he "played no mean role in attempting to fashion public opinion in favour of a hijacker". His whole approach to the hijack drama, coming home with the money, checking into Hotel Intercontinental and thinking that he could live it up instead of having quickly gone underground, shows that he thought it was so simple and easy. In prison, he had become a dramatist. He understood the public appeal of soap opera and was the type who could not resist playing the hero when it appeared simple and easy. As much as the Press adulated him, senior prison officials were not impressed. He was thought of as a 'schemer'. With this background in mind, we try below to reconstruct the background to the 2nd prison massacre. [Top]
Sepala Ekanayake and his mates in Chapel A3 had a good view of the massacre of the 25th from the passage or at least came to know in fair detail what happened during and after the massacre in the afternoon. The army personnel watched approvingly and went off, the prison staff did 'nothing constructive' and some of them even killed off the injured and the Magistrate, the AG's department and the Police came and covered it up. If they did not know already, they would have easily found out who were the prison officers behind it. From what they knew of what was going on in the country, killing Tamils was the easy way to hero status. It was too simple and easy, the very thing after Ekanayake's own heart. From what we know, those in A3 probably remained locked up in the wing during the first massacre, and having seen everything, were itching to go. It was easily arranged.
On the 27th, the SP, two ASPs and two jailors who had been active in trying to curb the violence on the 25th seemed to be absent. The Chief Jailor who was left in charge seems to have been scared, willing or incompetent.
Even after reports of a possible attack, the most dangerous criminals in A3 were left in the passage even while the door was opened for serving food. Meanwhile the Tamil suspects were locked up in their cells at the YOB despite their having notified the authorities of the enhanced danger from being looked up, and all the keys were left with a guard outside. The easy access the attackers had to weapons was brushed off at the inquest after mentioning some broken locks and cupboard doors. These weapons were not used in the first attack, and these weapons from the woodshed seem to have been taken possession of in a very short time, even while apparently armed guards were about the place.
Now the object which Ekanayake was seen carrying by Major Peiris - 'like the head of John the Baptist in a charger' as described by him. This particular phenomenon has not been corroborated by prison officials and does not appear to have figured in post mortem reports. But then, even to this day, prison officials are very guarded in what they have to say about those events. What then happened is the sort of thing they do not want to remember. During the earlier inquest, a fuss had arisen over the photographing of the corpses. But on the other hand, Major Peiris had nothing to hide about his own actions during that period. On this occasion the Tamil survivors were unreserved in their praise for his action. Throughout his career in the Army, journalists who had dealt with him, have been impressed by his professionalism and directness and are willing to back what he says.
Take Ekanayake on the other hand, a man wanting to be a popular hero. If he had made his way out with something in his hand to flaunt before what he expected would be a cheering crowd, what else could it be? Seeing that in view of resistance from the Tamils the job was not plain sailing, Ekanayake, who was the first to enter the YOB had contented himself coming out with what he needed for his melodrama. The fact that his name had not transpired at the inquest after his uninhibited performance, tells us much about the state of things. We will not speculate further on this point. But we had pointed to the possibility that one or more of the attackers too may have died. Could this explain why the headless corpse was apparently not among those sent for post-mortem?
We have found involved in the massacres, on the best testimony available, Rogers Jayasekere of Kelaniya, whose family were strong supporters of Jayewardene. Then we have the inexplicable behaviour of the Army on 25th July. Quite apart from their behaviour when the attack began, what is more disturbing is their preventing Jansz from taking the injured to hospital and then doing nothing while the injured were being attacked. Here we have some jailors leading the attack on injured prisoners, the Army just watching after preventing the Police from coming to the aid of the victims, and the ASPs presumably helpless. The Army HQ was no doubt informed of what was going on.
It would have been better for the ASPs Amarasinghe and Munaweera, and Lt. Hathurusinghe, if the inquest had cleared up this matter rather than leaving all three of them under suspicion of complicity. Everyone concerned at the inquest must have known that this had happened and that even prisoners yet breathing were heaped into the truck to asphyxiate. Jansz would no doubt have told Mervyn Wijesinghe, Secretary, Justice, who arranged for the inquest.
In deliberately not touching on this episode, of which the inquest report contains tell-tale indications, it was not individuals that the legal professionals were trying to protect - not a couple of jailors, ASPs or a lieutenant. There was something more.
We have been able to get some partial answers to the glaring question about the seeming absence of the SP and ASPs during the second massacre of 27th July. The answer we got is that they were there. They were very much aware that the situation was bad. In the morning, SP Leo de Silva and ASP Munaweera were in conference with Jansz in the Commissioner's office just outside Welikade prison.
Their common concern was that the tense situation in the prisons and about getting the Tamil prisoners out. Jansz had informed Mervyn Wijesinghe in the morning that he feared a second attack on the Tamil PTA prisoners. That he was aware of such a prospect 'by morning' (inquest report) indicates that this happened quite early. While this conference was going on, according to one of those present, a telephone call came from Chief Jailor Karunaratne to Jansz, informing them that things were becoming worse, meaning presumably that he was getting more reports of something nasty afoot.
Where Jansz and the other leading officials were concerned there was an emergency, and their professionalism was on trial. The challenge was to maintain order until the PTA detainees had been despatched to safety. After this conference at the Prison HQ Jansz went to the Security Council and by 2.00 PM the plans to evacuate the 37 detainees were finalised (inquest report). He returned to the HQ about 4.15 PM after discussing arrangements with Brigadier Madawela. Jayewardene had himself observed that Jansz was worn down.
It is quite inconceivable that those like SP Leo de Silva and the ASPs who shared the same anxiety, simply went home. Under the circumstances, they would have waited anxiously to hear from Jansz upon his return from the Security Council meeting. They would have been very alert. We must accept the testimony given by one of them that they were all there - in the prison.
What is given in the report is a complete anti-climax to the sense of exigency in the morning. Nothing could be more incompetent and unprofessional. Hardly could there be a greater affront to the reputed professional that Leo de Silva was.
The Tamil prisoners concerned were locked up in their cells in spite of the greater peril to which they were, as the result, exposed as they had themselves pointed out to the authorities. The three senior officers seemed to be absent. The gate of the Chapel A3 was opened apparently to give dinner to the dangerous prisoners while they were let loose in the corridor. This permitted them to escape and stage an attack with the ease of going to a party. The Chief Jailor who said he was in charge claimed that he had posted armed guards outside, and asked the Army to increase the guard, to thwart a mass jail-break. Of such a plan there was not the slightest evidence, despite the Magistrate stretching the evidence past limits of credibility to maintain that there was one. Instead of answering the alarm and coming to the rescue, the Army, this time under Lt. Seneviratne, ran off elsewhere. The Chief Jailor, according to his own uncontested testimony, went to put down an armed riot in the Remand Prison - one that was total fiction.
There is no evidence in the proceedings of that morning that the possibility of a mass escape was being considered seriously. Jansz's call to Mervyn Wijesinghe, the discussion in his office, his subsequent discussion with the Security Council and his request to Brigadier Madawela to keep a squad ready for emergency action, had all to do with the security and transfer of Tamil PTA detainees. In running off elsewhere, Lt. Seneviratne showed no inkling of anticipating a mass escape from Welikade prison.
Looking back now, there is a slight ambiguity in the Chief Jailor's claim:- viz. "Up to this point to the best of my knowledge there were no officers superior to me in office in the compound. As the most superior officer available at that time... I had in that situation to make decisions..." Could it be that the SP and ASPs were not present in the prison 'compound' at the time of the second attack?
Through well-wishers we made parallel queries from Saravanaperumal Yogarajah, a survivor, whose testimony was quoted in the last chapter, and Danny Munaweera, who was then ASP. Yogarajah had referred to the SP inquiring after him while he lay injured after the second attack. We wished to know if he had erroneously referred to the Chief Jailor as SP - the distinction was clear at that time since the former wore uniform while the SP and ASPs wore plain clothes. Yogarajah identified his interlocutor as ASP Danny Munaweera. Danny Munaweera, when asked, said that he had been there and recalled that SP Leo de Silva too was present and had gone into the YOB to see the injured. There was yet a possibility that they were out of the 'compound' at the time the violence started, if Janz had summoned them. Even then they would have heard the alarm and come rushing in, since Jansz's office adjoins the prison, from where Jansz had himself come rushing in as soon as the alarm was raised on the 25th. There would have been no call on the Chief Jailor to 'make decisions'. Jansz does not think that he would have summoned Leo de Silva, as the violence began soon after he arrived from Army HQ, giving him just enough time to phone for the emergency squad and rush over to the prison.
It is clear that Leo de Silva and the ASPs were there and would have been immediately alerted about the attack. Why Chief Jailor Karunaratne dubiously admitted to being in charge and took upon himself the task of telling the inquest untenable stories remains to be explained. Only one solution suggests itself.
There was a state of open insubordination in the prison. From the attack on the injured prisoners by members of the prison staff on the 25th which they were privy to, Munaweera and Amarasinghe knew the source of that insubordination. Leo de Silva, we may infer, took up the position that if he were to testify at the inquest, he would not cover up something so glaringly scandalous and compromise himself.
This is also suggested by what happened some years later when the Civil Rights Movement started legal proceedings on behalf of some of the victims. Both Jansz and Leo de Silva, by then retired, took up the position that they would tell the truth in open court. The State settled out court, to avoid a hearing.
The inquest has clearly recorded claims that do not stand up to scrutiny and has tried hard to pretend that the SP and ASPs did not exist. Some crucial testimony from Yogarajah appearing in Amudhu failed to appear in the inquest report. The Magistrate was at pains to record that Yogarajah did not 'know' any of the attackers rather than the fact that he had 'identified' Sepala Ekanayake as being among them. It was a rigged inquest and required three different parties to play the game - the Magistrate, the AG's men and the Police who were ordered to conduct investigations and report to him.
If we accept that there was no riot, but that the second attack in particular, was executed by some members of the prison staff, we could dismiss most of the testimony at the inquest as fiction. Some of it is obviously so as we have pointed out. We also need to be very sceptical about the escape of the dangerous criminals from A3, who had readily armed themselves. The inquest itself comes out mainly as a staged affair. Note the reference to identification and the failure to hold an identification parade discussed in the last chapter.
Further, if members of the prison staff, including jailors, could act with such blatant impunity on two occasions over three days, in defiance of the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent, their source of power must emerge from a much higher authority. To place this source, look at two other aspects in the drama. One is the staged inquests, and the other is the role of the Army guarding the prison. The first occasion was bad enough. On the second, the highest levels of government had been warned in the morning of an impending attack and the safety of the prisoners had undoubtedly featured at the cabinet meeting in the morning of the 27th. And what does the army officer do when the attack takes place? He goes off on a fictitious errand. We have pointed out earlier (Chapters 9 & 10) that the Army was at this stage acting under orders rather than out of indiscipline.
The range of state agencies - Prisons, Army, Judiciary and Police - involved in both the action and its cover up, places the source of the operation at cabinet level. We may also mention here the Government's obsessive interest in legislation to facilitate extra-judicial executions down to the eve of the July 1983 violence. Sinha Ratnatunga in his book (see Sect. 12.2) informs us that on the 27th two ministers who were close to Jayewardene objected to the surviving prisoners being transferred to Jaffna as Jayewardene proposed. Although Ratnatunga is unclear about the timing of the objection, we may take it to have been at the cabinet meeting in the morning, since the transfer of prisoners would have come up there. Mervyn Wijesinghe on receiving alarm from Jansz in the morning would have, being a cabinet secretary, quickly referred it to the Cabinet. What is important is that the proposed transfer of prisoners was well known to those in authority many hours in advance.
Jayewardene too would have summoned Jansz to the Security Council only to discuss arrangements and not to have a debate about whether to transfer or not. Jansz told the inquest that by about 2.00 PM arrangements for transfer had been finalised. This suggests that Jayewardene had discussed it at the cabinet meeting in the morning. These are conditions where the interested parties would have sent messages to finish the job quickly, even if it meant going further than they went on the first occasion to neutralise officers who did not co-operate.
Lending complicity was not a problem for the Army. The Army Commander Tissa Weeratunge had been in charge of the 1979 operation in Jaffna where torture and extra-judicial executions were systematically employed for the first time, giving us an insight into his mind.
The considerations above further strengthen the evidence for the July holocaust having been planned and executed by the government of the day. Where killing came explicitly into the plan, the Welikade massacres took pride of place.
In forming our conclusions, we have given credit to Jansz and Leo de Silva for having a basic decency that led them to react against these massacres as inherently abhorrent. It is a decency which the government and cabinet of the day lacked. It is the actions of such officials motivated by this sense of decency that have made the inquest reports very revealing documents and a poor job at a cover up. It stands to the credit of Leo de Silva and his two ASPs that they declined to testify misleadingly at the second inquest, thus revealing its manifest difficulties.
What we cannot know are the precise links between the Cabinet and the events in the prison. But then again, there are tell-tale indications strewn here and there which give us a fair idea. More can of course be revealed by the former ASPs, former AG Thilak Marapone (now MP) and by the present SG (Solicitor General) C.R. de Silva. It is better for their name if they do.
We have thus found that alternative explanations, which hold the general violence of July 1983, and the prison massacres, to have occurred spontaneously without a core of advance planning, are defective in every respect. As to the planning, we have further the testimony of Tamil UNPer Mr. Ganeshalingam, former Mayor of Colombo. The following is an extract from Victor Ivan's article, "The best laid plans of government men..." in the Counterpoint of July 1993:
"The next question I put to him was whether Mr. Cyril Mathew had no connection with the incidents of July 1983. His reply was that not only Cyril Mathew but all the main leaders of the Government at the time had a hand in it and that those incidents were planned and implemented by the Government.
"When I asked him what the Government's aim was in doing it, he said the Government feared that the anger that was growing among the Sinhala people at that time against the Government might become an anti-Government insurrection, and that it was done to direct the people's anger away from the Government. The Government did not expect that there could be such far-reaching consequences as have ensued."
Mr. Hector Abhayavardana, who was then a leading intellectual in the LSSP was very clear that the violence had been well planned in advance. He observed, "This violence involved not only obtaining electoral lists, but also marking out the Tamil homes and assigning them to different squads. All these take time and organisation." As to which section of the Cabinet was involved, he thought 'it was the whole lot of them'. He was skeptical about Ronnie de Mel's attempt to strike a dissenting note.
In opening this chapter we quoted Minister Anandatissa de Alwis' statement of 27th July that the violence was "well-organised" and "highly planned", which was backed later by his competent authority Douglas Liyanage in his broadcast statement that "this whole business was not planned in 48 hours". Some months later, CMU leader Bala Tampoe went to de Alwis' ministry on some business. The Minister, learning of Tampoe's presence, summoned him to his office. Tampoe had been LSSP candidate for Colombo Central in 1960. Tampoe referred to de Alwis' statement cited above and asked him sardonically, "So, were you trying to say that some mysterious external hand was behind the violence?" de Alwis made a momentary grimace with his lips, and after a short silence, observed, "But after that [statement of mine] it stopped no?" In other words, he was staking some credit for reining in the violence.
Indeed one cannot exclude de Alwis from complicity in the violence. He was after all the man in charge of government publicity. He could not have been kept in the dark. He was a senior party man getting on in years and was not in the running for the top job. He had a reputation for being relatively sane in that lot and was not regarded as a notorious goonda agent. Perhaps he realised that things had gone dangerously too far and came out with something close to the truth to rein in his own party men. Fixing the Left as scapegoats was perhaps a subsequent innovation.
Direct testimony of Cabinet involvement in the violence came from an individual very close to them. He had told our informant that before the violence there had been meetings in a closed circle on dealing with the Tamil issue. He added that after he realised what it was, he kept away. On other occasions, however, this individual gave a different version when confronted.
A measured indictment of the Government came in the form of a statement by the Ceylon Workers' Congress, whose leader Mr. S. Thondaman was in the Cabinet (L. Piyadasa pp. 90-92 & Madras Hindu 13.10.83). It said: "There is substantial evidence to believe that the events of the last week of July are not a sudden and spontaneous outburst....It appears that a concerted attempt has been made by means of a carefully laid out plan over a long period of time to destroy the houses and belongings of persons of Indian origin in the professions and in trade. The objective of this exercise appears to be to deny this community all avenues of progress and condemn them to a permanent state of captive labour." To our knowledge, the Government did not contest this conclusion, although Gamini Dissanayake gave a long response to another charge in this statement (see Sect. 20.4).
A person outside the Cabinet who was by many journalists and political observers of the day identified as part of the 'core group' was the firebrand Buddhist monk, the Ven. Alle Gunawanse, who was behind the Bauddha Peramuna. We will examine his role in the next chapter. [Top]
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