6.6 Trincomalee:"Normality" Restored!
On 10th June 1990, the day the Batticaloa police station was surrounded by the LTTE, the situation in Trincomalee was confused. The Buddhist monk from Uppuveli went to Trinco town and inquired from some Christian clergy whether there would be trouble in the district. He was told that according to the LTTE, they had no intention of starting anything.
On the 11th Uppuveli police station was surrounded by the LTTE and both the police station and the CTB depot were attacked. After some firing, the police surrendered. A number of policemen were killed by the LTTE. According to local sources, 11 bodies of policemen were dug up from a nearby pit by a police party several days later. Orders were then given to all LTTE cadre in town to abandon their sentry points and withdraw into the jungle. Confusion reigned in town that night as the people found themselves in no-mans land between the security forces still afraid to leave their camps or slowly edging forward, and their protectors-in-name who had suddenly vanished. Uppuveli was shelled that night by the navy and the army from Fort Frederick and Orr's Hill. About 35000 people, mostly Tamils, left Trinco town by night and set off on foot northwards to Nilaveli, where the LTTE had apparently indicated that they would be safe. The Muslims largely remained in town, while the Sinhalese sought safer places.
A shell fired reportedly from the army camp at Orr's Hill struck a rice mill at Nilaveli killing up to 45 refugees - Tamils and Muslims - sheltering there. The number of policemen killed by the LTTE in the Trincomalee and Mutur areas is placed at around 100. [Top]
On 13th June 199O, troops under the command of Colonel Saliya Kulatunge (Sinha Regiment) entered Trincomalee town from Fort Frederick. This was followed by soldiers in civil indulging in widespread looting and burning. The husband of a school principal went with a senior citizen on a motor cycle to look for a close relative, one among a number of persons arrested. They were first stopped by a party under a lieutenant and then again in front of the urban council building. They got by, mentioning the name of a senior army officer known to them. What this showed was that the looting and burning were very much under the supervision of the forces.
During the 4th week of June the Trincomalee residents were asked to assemble at the stadium, leaving one person at home. The residents were paraded before masked informants in the presence of Colonel Saliya Kulatunga and other senior citizens who were allowed to observe the proceedings from a distance. About 5OO suspects were taken away for interrogation under a unit headed by Colonel Kotegoda. A Tamil speaking interrogating officer, Corporal Ismail, was brought from Colombo. Many of those taken for interrogation were subsequently released. But what proportion is not clear. Several like Balthaazer, a burgher, and Sylvester were released through personal interventions. Among the suspects taken were 7 girls from Mutur, then in Trincomalee. The matter was taken up by a women's organisation in Trincomalee, including others. One of the girls, a student about to enter university, was released that night with her jewellery missing. A senior citizen, over the next few days, gained access to a captain through an interrogation officer, Corporal Srilal from Negombo, who had earlier served in Trinco. After promising to release the remaining girls, another 4 were released at the former VIP's hotel. One girl released was the sister of a woman police constable.
Three weeks after the arrest, the two girls not released were painstakingly traced to the army camp in Thambalakamam. When the matter was reported to Colonel Saliya Kulatunge, he got the Thambalakamam camp on the phone and let loose in unprintable language. He then assured the citizens that the girls would be released in one week's time. The hidden implication was that they were not in a state to be released. Following the release of the girls, a lady medical officer in Trincomalee was prepared to examine them. The frightened girls refused. Their captors had warned them that they had been marked for elimination and had been saved in the nick of time.
Among those arrested and beaten were several employees of the CTB and of the Port Cargo Corporation.
The foregoing complements accounts in Reports 4 & 5. The killings by the forces during the actual takeover of Trinco town do not appear to have been as numerous as in the Amparai and Batticaloa Districts. One witness (Reports 4 ) saw about 4O bodies in an area near the hospital. Several of the killings were more isolated and are difficult to quantify. Many of the Tamil refugees in the area were housed in the aircraft hanger at Clappenburg.
Chelvanayakapuram was bombed prior to the army moving in on the 3rd day. Once the army moved in, people were asked to return. K.Velupillai, a retired principal, was taken to the army camp. When the wife went looking for him, she was told that she could see the husband's ashes. [Top]
During the months following the outbreak of war, several civilians were reportedly stopped and knifed to death at the Monkey Bridge army camp. One case is that of a young man who lived with his mother at Green Road, Trincomalee. His brother had worked for the late TULF leader and Leader of the Opposition, Mr. A. Amirthalingam. The young man did well buying Elf vehicles, repairing and selling them, and was fluent in all three languages.
While driving to Colombo the young man was stopped by soldiers at Monkey Bridge. Friends travelling from Colombo to Trincomalee saw him at the army camp in a poor state with blood on his face. When they spoke to the soldiers, they said that they would release him.
When the friends reached Trincomalee, they contacted leading citizens. These persons in turn made representations through Major Induruwa and through Ananadarajah, DIG of Police. There was no response. The young man had a child and his wife was then expecting the second. His car however continued to be seen at the Monkey Bridge camp for several more days.
Later on Major Rockwood assumed command at
Monkey Bridge. Thereafter the soldiers were disciplined and there were no further
incidents of the kind above reported at Monkey Bridge.
Following the outbreak of war there were 3 refugee camps in Nilaveli Methodist Church (8th mile post), Roman Catholic Church (9th mile post) and the Mosque (1Oth mile post). The last, housing Muslims and Tamils, was run by the government. Most of the time it was the first two refugee camps that were subject to frequent round ups. On the first occasion 2O were taken from the Roman Catholic Camp and several of them were not released. 14 were taken from the Methodist camp and all of them were released.
Ratnam Master was a 6O years old retired teacher who spent the day at home and went to the Methodist church for the night. On the day of the round up mentioned, home guards working with the army came to his house and demanded cattle. On being refused they threatened him and went away.
The same evening there was a second round up of the Methodist camp by the army and home guards. Nine, including Ratnam Master, were taken away. Seven, including Kennedy, but excluding Ratnam Master were later released. Later inquiries at the Nilaveli army camp elicited the response that he may be in another army camp.
The rest of the story, which shifted to Plantain
Point Camp in Trincomalee, did not come out until long afterwards. Ratnam Master
was taken to Plantain Point Camp where a band of old rubber was wound around
an arm and set on fire. He was kept with others with one hand of each chained
together. Together with their chains the prisoners were marched to bathe in
the sea, while the movement of all civilian traffic on the adjacent road was
stopped. Left in this manner without medical attention, Ratnam Master's wound
became septic. Others who were chained to him then complained that the smell
was unbearable. Two young prisoners were then given detol to clean the wound.
They found that the wound had reached a stage where the bone was showing. In
the sequel, Ratnam Master, smelly and feeble, was detached from his companions
and placed on the verandah for the night. Untended and unprotected, Ratnam Master
breathed his last in the cold hours of the night. The last resting place of
the venerable old schoolmaster was a giant pit in the compound of the army camp,
where he, like many others, was turned to cinders.
Like many parts of the East, Mutur was an area where the powers that be had used the simmering tensions between Muslims and Tamils to their advantage. In 1985 when the government was using these tensions, Tamil houses were burnt. During the IPKF presence Tamils attacked Muslims. When the LTTE was in charge before the war, the Muslims were again antagonised.
Following the outbreak of war, many prisoners from other parts of Trincomalee were brought to Plantain Point Camp. Hundreds were reportedly killed and burnt [Chapter 2, Report No.5]. Among the materials used for burning bodies was cadjan sent by relief agencies to house refugees.
Shortly after 1Oth June 199O, Tamil families fearing the worst, left the elderly in their homes and went into the jungles. The army established itself at Mutur under Lieutenant Nanayakkara (Officer in Charge) and Lieutenant Bandara (killed later that year). The families then returned leaving the young males behind in the jungles. They were asked by the army to call their young men, promising that no harm would befall them. When they returned at the end of July they were beaten by the army, who also invited Muslim thugs from the bazaar to beat them. Sixty of them, including S.Suthahar, and the Dhoby's son Babu, were taken to Plantain Point Camp.
6.5.1 Festivities at Plantain Point: There was a standard routine when prisoners were brought to Plantain Point Camp. For soldiers bored with torture, it was a festive occasion. There would be wild howling, and soldiers would assemble with a variety of gadgets to swing at prisoners. Babu, who was hit on the head with a hammer, went insane and later succumbed. In the meantime Babu's father went to the ICRC. But his name was not found in the lists at detention camps. Babu had been arrested in early May 1987 by Sergeant Piyadasa and Homeguard Salim, and then released after the matter was reported to (now Brigadier) Srilal Weerasooriya.
6.5.2 Suthahar and hostage patrols: On three occasions Suthahar was taken by soldiers, petrol was poured into tyres, and he was threatened with the fate associated with these symbols. All three times he closed his eyes and said, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus". There was another practice in vogue at Plantain Point. Young prisoners were dressed in army uniform, given unloaded guns, and made to walk at the head of foot patrols. About 5 to 1O miles out, when Suthahar was ahead in a patrol, a soldier behind struck an anti-personnel mine, loosing a foot. Suthahar then heard the other soldiers asking for the `Demala Ekkenek'(Tamil fellow). Suthahar quickly hid among the bushes. After some time the patrol returned to camp. Meanwhile other representations had been made and Colonel Tennekoon, in charge at Plantain Point, was asked about Suthahar by higher authorities. The colonel then reportedly ordered that no harm should be done to Suthahar. When the patrol returned, they were asked about Suthahar. Others were then set to fetch him. Suthahar was released.
6.5.3 Dr. (Mrs) Saverimuttu was an Ayurvedic doctor serving in the Kinniya area. Following the outbreak of war, she moved in with Muslim friends in Vellai Manal. Later she was arrested and taken to Plantain Point. Fellow prisoners once heard a Muslim Homeguard telling her, "Akka (elder sister), there are orders to kill you". Since then they never saw her. [Top]
Shortly after the outbreak of war, Lucky Wijeratne replaced Srilal Weerasooriya as brigadier in charge of the region. As the weeks wore on the usual Operation Jackal followed the first body blow of the military takeover. This consisted of nocturnal predators going in white vans and such like abducting people, many of whom subsequently disappeared. The operation which was headed in Batticaloa by Captain Munas was headed in Trincomalee by a Captain Suresh Cassim working with homeguards.
Many Trincomalee citizens spoke of Brigadier Wijeratne as a `good officer' in Sri Lankan terms. He was described as a professional soldier who was readily approachable by citizens and would face an awkward issue rather than put it off. He well knew, and at least accepted, what was happening under his command. On occasions he had acted on representations and released persons taken. One citizen said, "When it came to operations he stuck to his own way of doing things. If he was ordered to take a place, he had his methods. There was no listening to representations about how the people may suffer or be cut off without food. But once in control soldiers would go and offer food, or tell people, `What a pity some terrorists have burnt your roof. We will give you the materials for repair'."
Lucky Wijeratne and Richard Wijesekera, SP, were killed in a landmine explosion in the spring of 1991. Chandra Perera who succeeded as SP did much to raise the reputation of his office. As a person, he is well-regarded by the public without reservation. [Top]
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