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Report 11

CHAPTER 2

           

TRINCOMALEE: DESTROYING THE BASIS FOR A POLITICAL SOLUTION

2.1 The current situation : Ideology and inequality

2.2 Land alienation in Trincomalee Town.

2.2.1 Sobithagama, Love lane:

2.2.2 Forty two houses in front of Sirimapura, Love Lane Housing Scheme No.2

2.2.3 Encroachments in Love Lane area now named Wijesekerapura

2.2.4  Mattikali :

2.2.5 Palampottaru Stage II, Pattinipuram

2.2.6  Main features of land settlement and its implications:

2.3 Implications of land on administrative structures: The creations of new ethnically dominated AGA divisions .

Mass deportations of the autumn of 1983:

2.5 Discrimination in the use of land temporarily abandoned by owners

2.6 The land problems of returning refugees and displaced persons

2.7 Some salient features of government policy in Trincomalee

2.8 Tamil responsibility for the fate of Trincomalee

2.1 The current situation : Ideology and inequality

On the surface the situation in Trincomalee appears calm. There have been no major incidents in recent times. The open cases of missing persons in the last 6 months are 3 or less according to the best sources. Those detained are usually processed within a week and are either released or sent to detention centres in the South. The esplanade in town is filled with large crowds in the evenings, and eating houses and bars are open till late. The Superintendent of Police is acclaimed as a fair man who tries his best. At sentry points the atmosphere is relaxed. Yet one is told again and again that the peace is artificial.

A Hindu schoolmaster in Nilaveli remarked,” I have no problem with language or religion. Language is only a medium of expression. It does not make one more or less human. It is the quality of thought that matters. Religion is just a mode of worship. I visit all places of worship on festival days, whether Pallivasal(Mosque), Kovil, Church, or Pansale (Buddhist temple) and eat with the devotees”. These are sentiments of a man, not young, but old enough to remember better times. They reflect a certain harmony that prevailed in the Trincomalee District, which extended to the East as a whole, and gave it a plural character. Cast iron divisions on the basis of language and religion are recent impositions mainly resulting from state ideology.

Many traditions of the district going back more than a millennium centre around Koneswaram temple at Fort Frederick. Names of villages such as Thiriyai and Mallikaitivu are derived from services they performed for the temple. The role of the tank at Kantalai which watered the fields at Kantalai and Thambalakamam, and provided for the maintenance of the temple was recognised by the government in an agreement in the 195Os. This safeguarded the water rights to 5000 acres of these traditional fields.

The ancient Buddhist temple Vilgam Vihara between Kanniya and Mudalikkulam (Morawewa) on the Vavuniya Road is another testament to the plural character of Trincomalee. It has the Tamil name Rajaraja Perumpalli and carries an inscription marking the endowments granted to it by the Chola king Rajaraja about the turn of the last millennium. Although the Chola Empire was an outgrowth of militant Hinduism in Tamil South India, religious polarisation does not appear to have reached this country. Pragmatic Chola kings endowed kovils as well as vihares in Ceylon [Chola inscriptipns in Ceylon, Prof.K.Indrapala, University of Jaffna]. There are strong grounds for believing that Vilgam Vihara was a shrine of  Tamil speaking Buddhists [cf:Indrapala].

Hindu pilgrims of the East to the shrine of Kathirkamam (Kataragama) , in the deep South, passed through Sinhalese villages in Panamapattu along the southern coast of the Eastern province who hosted them and even intermarried among them.

Gomarankadawela( Kumaresan Kadavai) in the north-west of the district had a bilingual population, which  now,as a consequence of state ideology, have identified themselves as strongly Sinhalese. Its Wannihamys, Wannikuralas and Korala Mahattayas (ancestors of former minister and one time deputy prime minister, Maitripala Senanayake) often studied in Tamil.

Subsequently Muslims and  later during the British period, Tamils from Jaffna and Sinhalese migrated into Trincomalee for mainly economic reasons and blended into its traditions.

This condition of peaceful co-existence was brought to an end when state  ideology from the 60s used its administrative power and from the 80s brute  force, to sunder the historical continuity of the East. The healthy traditions  inherent in this country’s history by which communities had co-existed and  intermingled in a plural environment were violently cast aside. The thrust  was towards mono-ethnicisation and on rewriting history to suit the dominant  state ideology.

What happended is well-known. From the early 80s Tamils were subject to violence by politically instigated hoodlums backed by the forces. In the wake of the July 1983 holocaust and its sequel, many Tamils physically witnessed known people and even close relatives being hacked to death. As a reaction many young joined a number of militant groups. Almost every Tamil family had a close militant connection, frequently a son or a brother. In addition to fighting the Sri Lankan forces many of them were also party to internecine strife and reprisals against Sinhalese civilians. A responsible government which had upon the arrival of the IPKF in 1987 accepted its past mistakes, should have, however late, initiated a politics of healing.

With the onset of the war of June 1990 the Tamils were at their weakest since July 1983. In place of a politics of healing, the political weakness of the Tamils and their lack of representation in the   provincial council or parliament is being used to lay the foundations for endless strife. Under the guise of resettlement the administration and the military are working fast to settle Sinhalese in a manner that would trap Tamils into insecure pockets. In the absence of Tamil representation, the laws of the land concerning property ownership, distribution of crown land and places of worship are being broken with impunity. Most of this activity is shrouded in secrecy.

There are many visible signs of this policy. For a district with a Tamil character, from Kantalai to Trincomalee, along the main Kandy Road, there are hardly any signs in Tamil except in a pocket or two. At Thambalakamam, a Tamil village, in front of the army camp a considerable Buddhist temple has sprung up where earlier there were only shrines to St.Mary and Pillaiar (a Hindu God). The next step is not hard to guess. New names like Lucky Wijyapura and Ranmuthugama (formerly Muthunagar) have suddenly appeared without any reference to history or tradition.[Top]                             

2.2 Land alienation in Trincomalee Town.

Questions of land have been dealt with by the government unilaterally during an extended period of transition in the country’s affairs. Meanwhile the government repeatedly pledged to solve the minority question and did next to nothing. In the early stages the matter was dealt with by administrative sleights of hand by bending or breaking the rules where convenient. When the Government Agent and the Land Officer could get together a good deal of mischief could be done under wraps. It is hardly surprising that Trincomalee, a majority Tamil speaking area, is the only district in the island, which never had a Tamil government agent. The present land officer is regarded as one ideal for his given job. In 1979 when land alienation to Sinhalese under Bandaragoda ,GA, was getting out of control, a group of Tamils set fire to the land office in protest,in a bid to slow down the alienation. Bandaragoda is described as a perfect gentleman who believed that every man was communally inclined. Under his administration in Trincomalee, Sinhalese officers were appointed to predominantly Tamil AGA’s Divisions, including Town and Gravets, as Additional AGA’s and Additionsl Grama Seveka officers. Trincomalee is the only District which had these communally based special appointments.

The present war has made the government’s task far easier, since a very large number of Tamils are refugees or have been forced to flee the district. Recently an attempt to regularise encroachment of land by the sea used in temple festivals (Thirthakkarai) was stopped only through taking up the matter at the highest level in Colombo. Earlier land in Fort Frederick (Papanasam Theertham) used on Hindu festive occasions at Koneswaram temple, was suddenly turned into a parade ground for the army. Nearly all decisions have been unfavourable to the Tamils. Lands vacated by Tamils owing to insecurity have been suddenly christened with Sinhalese names unknown to the general public. We shall now look at some specific instances of this policy; some of them refer to decisions taken at a land conference in late December with leading officials from Colombo in attendance.[Top]

2.2.1 Sobithagama, Love lane:

The area known as Love Lane, just north of the town, once consisted of 33  lots amounting to 70 acres, all owned by Tamils. In August 1939, just about  the outbreak of World War II, the British administration aquired these lands  as part of its expansion of naval facilities in Trincomalee, for use as storage  facilites and such like. When the British quit in 1958, the government of  Ceylon did not use this land for any public purpose. The land was left idle.  For the last 20 years, to this date, Sinhalese encroachers have settled in  the area with encouragement from ruling interests in Colombo as suggested  by new names like sirimapura, Nelsonpura and Sobithagama. The almost total  devastation of the area shows what this policy meant.

33 Muslim and 14 Tamil families who were living on the land and had to flee  in the aftermath of the June 1990 war. The local Buddhist priest used his  influence to have the land released to his temple. Thereafter he alienated  the land to 34 Sinhalese families. The former residents now in refugee camps  complained. The land authorities decided that it was ‘not practicable’    to evict the present occupants to make room for the former. But for the  sake of propriety it was decided to cancel alienation done by the priest and for the selection to be made at an interview by officials ‘with the consent of the priest’![Top]

2.2.2 Forty two houses in front of Sirimapura, Love Lane Housing Scheme No.2

In 1980 the NHDA decided to build houses for Sinhalese at Love Lane and  named it the Nelsonpura scheme. This being a majority Tamil area, the MP,   Sampanthan , protested. Premadasa, then prime minister, personally  intervened and ordered that the Nelsonpura scheme could be proceeded with  only after an equal number of houses had been built for Tamils. Hence the  scheme above was set in motion by the NHDA under the Aided Self Help Programme.  In the wake of July 1983, the Tamil occupants fled and the houses were taken  over by Sinhalese. When the IPKF arrived in 1987, the squatters fled  and the Tamil owners come into reoccupation. Following the June 1990 war,  the Tamils fled once more and Sinhalese took occupation. Now 22 of the former  Tamil owners have returned from India.

The land authorities discussed the ‘complex’ problem and left it for an ‘amicable’ settlement between the parties!

2.2.3 Encroachments in Love Lane area now named Wijesekerapura

Since a Land Ministry circular forbade regularisation of encroachments after 27.10.89 it was decided to hold  a land Kacheri. A notice was issued to hold interviews for land alienation. Three senior citizens pointed out in a petition that the names Wijesekarapura and Sobithagama have no legal status, the ordinance invoked (Land Development Ordinance or Crown Lands Ordinance)   was not stated, nor were the total area of the estate and of each allotment given. A further point made was that the land to be alienated is required by law to be first cleared and should not be squatter occupied. They also observed that an applicant was envisaged to be any one who has been a resident for 5 years according to the notice. They concluded that the motivation behind the exercise was merely an administrative means of getting round the circular and regularising encroachment by those who had no permanent abode in Trincomalee. For these and other reasons they called for a cancellation of the exercise.[Top]

2.2.4  Mattikali :

This land is on the edge of town on the left as one enters Trincomalee through the Kandy Road, just before Orr’s Hill and the main Police station. At the land conference the secretary ruled that this land should be put to urban use as a middle class residential area planned by the UDA. He also said that encroachments should be prevented. But the land is being rapidly encroached upon by Sinhalese, no one knows from where. A Sinhalese when asked believed that it was land which once belonged to a Sinhalese, Balasooriya , and was donated to Sri Jayasumanarama  Buddhist temple by him more than 70 years ago. He cited a current court case as an indication of this.

A senior Tamil citizen when asked about it said that the land in fact belonged to Shanmuga Boys Home, an orphanage, and Justice Krishnathasan. He also said that the court case involves a small piece of land at Mattikali accommodating the YMBA (Young Men’s Buddhist Association) and a garage, the plaintiff being Balasooriya’s grandson. The case,he added,is against the YMBA and the Buddhist priest. The inmates of Shanmuga Boys Home abandoned the site in the wake of the 1983 communal riots.

Such problems are common in Trincomalee where the ownership of several lands is being decided by squatters who indirectly have the blessings of the authorities. Another example is land now termed Vijithapura -part Kovil land and part private land - now occupied by Sinhalese fishermen. As we have seen the tendency of the authorities is to decide in favour of squatters and hold that it is impracticable to move them. Regularisation is a technicality easily dealt with. This is not squatting under normal conditions, where there is a case for sympathetic consideration. But this is squatting under military occupation by persons coming from far away, in conditions favourable entirely to one ethnic group.[Top]

2.2.5 Palampottaru Stage II, Pattinipuram

Between Thambalakamam and Palampottaru (Monkey Bridge), the land to the east of the road up to the railway tracks was the Tamil settlement of Pattinipuram (Palampottaru stage 1). The action of the Sri Lankan forces from the mid-8Os rendered the lands practically inaccessible to Tamils. On the opposite side were lands designated for the scheme Palampottaru Stage II that was not implemented [See Appendix IV]. Now new houses for Sinhalese settlers have been put up with help from NGOs LEADs and Sarvodaya, according to well placed sources. LEADs is expected to put up 300 or more houses. According to sources close to the LEADs, the organisation has so far put up 85 houses, 58 for Sinhalese and 27 for mainly members of the deserving gypsy(Kuravar) community. For each house Rs 15000/- came from the Rehabilitation ministry housing grant to displaced persons, and the balance Rs 10000/- from LEADs. Many of these settlers were persons who had lived on encroached lands in that area prior to the arrival of the IPKF and had then lived in refugee camps for Sinhalese.   [Top] 

2.2.6  Main features of land settlement and its implications:

Land acquired by Sri Lanka Ports Authority: In the early eighties more than 5000 acres of land was vested with SLPA [See Appendix III]. From the very beginning Tamil leaders protested that the SLPA would never use so much land and that the move was meant to facilitate unfair land alienation at a later date.In fact the SLPA barely used 100 acres at any time. Following the outbreak of war in June 1990, a number of Sinhalese encroached on these lands without any obstruction.It was reported  at the land conference of 6th January 1993, with the minister of lands in attendance, that a number of persons were living on SLPA land, some on plots of the order of 1 acre and that the SLPA had agreed to release 700 acres. A proposal was made to regularise the encroachments and to limit further alienations to 40 perches (1\4 acre). The cost of land in the area nearer town is 3 to 4 thousand rupees a perch, so that some encroachers could receive up tp Rs 500 000/- worth of land! Once more the matter was taken up at the highest levels in Colombo and the verbal undertaking was given to limit any alienation to 20 perches.

We have seen that there is an underlying trend in and around Trincomalee with the assistance of the whole state machinery at its disposal. The state is bent on Sinhalisation of the whole area. The general approach is that any Sinhalese coming to Trincomalee to do business should by hook or by crook be given a permanent home. This is done under conditions where Tamil land owners cannot exercise their ownership. Other than through squatting, the Ministry of Fisheries for instance, has acquired land in Pallaththottam (3rd mile post) and settled Sinhalese fishermen. In the case of Vijithapura above Fisheries has made a request to acquire land which consists of both private and temple land. 50 families, nearly all Sinhalese, either government officers or connected with the forces, were given housing land in the vicinity of Dhoby tank near the railway tracks. This was done after June 1990.

There is also land hunger locally which is not addressed. 500 families of sanitation, health and UC labourers in town have only recently been offered alternative land, mostly outside the UC area, because of their present land being required for hospital expansion. They are people of Indian origin who have been there more than 40 years. Their area is now very crowded with often 5 families in an allotment meant for one.

It is important to note that, private land owners in Trincomale are neither rich by national standards nor hold large extents of land. The richer among them would hold at best 2 or 3 acres through which they derived an income from coconuts and such like. One could hardly compare their wealth with their counterparts in other parts of the country. Their lands are being acquired for a song while they are being reduced to a very straitened existence, not to benefit the local landless but to settle persons from the south and others like fishermen who have come there seasonally for about 10 or 15 years at best. Even if the  government was genuinely concerned about the land problem faced by people in the South, it would have given them land not by moving them to a distant place in controversial circumstances, but by using state land near their homes or by acquiring land from the local land-owning class. The motivations here are therefore mischievous.

Even  in naming places a procedure has to be followed. Under the Renaming of towns and villages Ordinance the Home ministry must first receive a request and advertise it. If there are objections then there is a procedure to resolve it. Here hatchet men in the local administration and Buddhist monks pull names out of hats. Moreover, amidst a civil war situation where the people see the armed forces as aliens, naming places after soldiers who were killed, shows the blindness and insensitivity of government policy. On the other hand it also shows that the government does not have any concern even for these dead soldiers. If it did, they would have named in their memory, places close to their native homes, where it would have a meaning.

All this activity involving wide discretionary powers in regularising encroachments, urban development, cancelling permits of absentees, such as government servants who were given residential land, and reallocating the land, is going on without reference to the war, to the fact that a large section of Tamils are refugees who cannot make a decision about their land, and have no representation. The changes are such as to make Tamils feel more threatened and less willing to live in Trincomalee.

It is believed that the manner in which Sinhalese are being settled in the town area, while Tamils are encouraged to move out has two motives. One is to break the control Tamil speakers have in the urban council. The other is to divide the Town and Gravets AGA division into a Sinhalese and a Tamil division.

We are able to see something of what is going on here because there are senior citizens doggedly fighting a rearguard action and there is documentary evidence to be examined. If one extends what is going on here to the whole district, the picture becomes much more frightening. With the carving up of new Sinhalese AGA’s divisions things will become harder to probe until confronted with a fait accompli-at election time or during a bout of communal violence.


When a state violently and in a brutal manner continues to follow a policy   which earlier forced Tamil youths to take up arms, ordinary people because of their powerlessness, would legitimise any act, however inhuman, which gives an impression that it counters the strategy of the all- powerful state. The whole exercise of finding a political solution and portraying the current war as fighting terrorism becomes a facade [See 2.5].
[Top]

2.3 Implications of land on administrative structures: The creations of new ethnically dominated AGA divisions .

Since the outbreak of war the move to rapidly induct Sinhalese into the Tamil AGAs division of Thambalakamam, with a view to creating two AGAs divisions, is under way. Already it has two AGAs (now Divisional Secretaries) a senior Sinhalese assisted by a Tamil. Morawewa (Mudalikkulam) was a 40% Tamil speaking division with the AGA’s office at Pankulam. With the introduction of the Air Force farm near the head works in the late 6Os, Tamils have been subject to violence. In the 80s nearly all of them fled as refugees. Now the AGA’s office has been shifted to Mahadivulweva (Periyavilankulam) and the division is virtually Sinhalese. The objection is not to do with having Sinhalese public servants. But from the mid 80s experience has shown that key officers are picked persons with the qualities for the task at hand. Often a pliant Tamil public servant can do equally well. Consequently the level of corruption in areas subject to an ideological programme is notably higher.

A good example is the land officer referred to above. He had been a surveyor in

Trincomalee for a long time. In 1982 he had faced interdiction for bribery. Recently, he was made a land officer and given crucial responsibilities influencing the future of Trincomalee. The appointment was not calculated to give confidence to the Tamil speaking people. The administrative machinery and the military co-ordinating officer are said to be in close consultation with him.[Top]

Mass deportations of the autumn of 1983:

What we have been saying is that the Sinhalisation of the administration is not a neutral affair of changing Tamil heads or pen pushers for Sinhalese ones. It is a prelude and a means to an ideological programme adversely affecting and impinging on the rights of the Tamil speaking peoples. A stark manifestation of how the fixing of the administration was used took place about November 1983 in the wake of the July 1983 violence.   

A number of Tamils of recent Indian origin from the hill country and the deep South, who were victims of the communal violence of 1977, settled in the Tamil districts of the North-East, including Trincomalee. Communal attacks with the backing of the armed forces began in Trincomalee on 3rd June 1983, well before the July holocaust. Subsequently many Tamils of both local and Indian origin were living in refugee camps. Those of Indian origin displaced from places including Pankulam, Alles Gardens and Kappalthurai (near 6th mile post, Kandy Road) were in refugee camps at Nilaveli, Sambaltivu, Pankulam and Trinco town among others.

An order went down the line through Captain Marshall of the Navy, Co-ordinating Officer/Trincomalee, to the AGAs, to compile separate lists of Tamil refugees of Indian and local origin. Senior Tamil officers, such as the Additional GA, were kept in the dark. Later, one night, hand picked Sinhalese staff officers from the Trincomalee Kacheri were asked to go with the lists in the company of the forces to the refugee camps above. They were asked to get hold of the AGA concerned   or the Grama Sevaka of the division if the AGA could not be located.

The names of Indian Tamils were read out, after the night callers had aroused the refugees from their sleep. Terrified families meekly came forward and got into commandeered CTB buses as they were ordered. Even if some of the family were not present, the rest were ordered to get in, their pleas being of no avail.

The GA/Trincomalee, a Sinhalese, was then out of town. About mid-night the Tamil Additional GA was aroused from his sleep by a telephone call from Captain Marshall. The Additional GA was told of the plan then under execution. The call, he was given to understand, was to keep him informed for courtesy’s sake.

Several bus loads of Indian Tamils were driven under armed escort to various parts of the hill country and dumped in places with which they had no connection. Many families who had already suffered from the violence of 1977 and ‘83 agonised for weeks not knowing what became of their kin from whom they were forcibly parted. Most deportees collected whatever relief payment was available and eventually found their way back to Trincomalee.

Captain Marshall, a Burgher, himself acted under orders from the government in Colombo and was deeply unhappy. He was powerless when naval ratings under his command ran amok in Trincomalee town during July 1983.

This gives a picture of what the administrative machinery was primed to perform. The official culture has not changed. But brazenly crude manifestations such as these deportations and the national security minister’s remarks below are unlikely to surface today. We are faced with the same game in more subtle forms. It is significant how Tamil officials can be unethically bypassed when needed.

With a GA and the AGA who understand their ideological task well, a new Sinhalese AGA’s division created will first become a no-go area for Tamils. Special arrangements can be worked out and what happens then is anyone’s guess. Now Sinhalese who had lived on encroached land have been brought back into the Thambalakamam area and have quickly received the benefits of displaced persons. In many such situations, Where they come from?   From where and when were they displaced? Why did they not go back to their original homes? What is the rationale behind settling them in a Tamil area? are questions no one can ask. Only the GA, AGA and the GS concerned will know the special arrangements. Again there are Tamil AGAs divisions like Mutur which have not received their housing entitlements after their far-more-valuable houses were bull-dozed. At each succeeding elections there have been new voters lists more unfavourable to the Tamil speaking people, whose dependability have diminished with the rise of cloak and dagger methods by the state [Appendix IV gives a note on land encroachment] .       [Top]                    

2.4 Colonisation in the district: The case of the Weli Oya Scheme

This is perhaps the archetypal cloak and dagger scheme to crush a minority through a mixture of administrative and military manipulation. There is so little accountability in its execution that its protagonists could reap massive dividends in corruption.

Manal Aru (Sand River) runs through the Mullaitivu, Vaunia and Trincomalee Districts. The area was virgin land. Before July 1983 there were two projects in the area, Kent Farm and Dollar Farm, run by Tamils partly with a view to getting young men involved in agriculture and partly to rehabilitate Hill Country Tamil victims of the 1977 communal violence. Otherwise the area came under the proposed System L of the Mahaveli Project, one of the last stages, and was not even part of the accelerated programme formulated in 1978. With the July 1983 violence the Tamils were driven out of the area. Then a plan to physically divide the North and East was set in motion.

Once again the timing, like June 1990, was crucial. The moment, like with the deportations above, was chosen when the Tamils were at their weakest. They were reeling under the violence of July 1983. The sixth amendment wiped out their parliamentary representation by the TULF. Under Gamini Dissanayake as minister for Lands & Mahaveli development, the lands were brought under the Mahaveli Authority in the spring of 1984 by his ministry under an extra-ordinary gazette notification. With Manal Aru renamed Weli Oya, a project in that area was commenced. Although the lands acquired were from the Tamil districts of Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee, the administration was transferred to Anuradhapura. The military took control and the area became a no-go-zone for Tamils. Even administrative officials of the three Tamil districts of which it was part could not enter the area without military clearance.

The progress was then monitored by JOSSOP at Anuradhapura under Mr.Bandaragoda [See 2.2], Additional Secretary, Ministry of Mahaweli development and former GA, Trincomalee. Very little was known about what was going on   Weli-Oya until the Tigers carried out a massacre of about a hundred men brought in for the project in Novemeber 1984. It was also about the time Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister for National Security, boasted that his Government would solve the minority problem by settling Sinhalese toughs such as ex-convicts and fishermen in all Tamil areas. It turned out that most of those there together with most persons killed were in this category - being ex-convicts or prisoners reprieved if they would go to Weli-Oya.

To this day persons sent there live in fear of Tamil militant attacks, spending the night near army sentry points. According to a source who had spoken to officials on the project, there were recently 3564 families on the scheme looking after 10 000 acres of coconut. There are no houses for these. The buildings of Kent and Dollar farms are used by the Mahaveli   board as offices. There are some quarters for board officials. According to our information, the incentive for the settlers is Rs 50 000/- for those settling permanently, 5 years of dry rations and 3 ˝ acres of high coconut land. There are no schools in the project area. The nearest schools are at Parakramapura, 4 miles from the Mahaveli Office and   Padavisiripura a further 8 miles away.[Top]

For military purposes the project area is considered a district, with a co-ordinating officer in charge.

A senior Tamil leader who had gained indirect access to the records at Anuradhapura through more than one agent, said that the figure of 3564 families is an exaggeration way off the mark. The true figure, he said, was about 300. He said “Although very attractive incentives are offered people are generally unwilling to go. Real figures are systematically exaggerated so that when things are quiet more Sinhalese could be settled without any fuss. There are no schools in the area because, even if teachers could be persuaded to come, there are hardly enough children for a school”. Indeed, the government would be loath to admit that it is maintaining a military district with a couple of battalions, if not a brigade, to protect a few hundred Sinhalese families.

How are people chosen for such projects? It is likely that prisoners still have this option. There are also politicians from the ruling party recruiting through agents. One man who was working as a watcher opted for one such project. He was first taken to Polonnaruwa, then to a border area, and was promised Rs.50 000/- with other benefits if he would remain. After a week he returned home saying that this life was not for him. The sums involved are notably very large compared with what a Tamil refugee who lost everything at the hands of state forces could ever hope to receive. The payment is part of the price for being cannon fodder and a civilian shield for the armed forces.

In Weli Oya itself a good part of the funds are believed to come from the defence budget. By the manner in which the project has been administered, it is to be expected that some funds would have been diverted into the project from the Mahaveli Authority, the Rehabilitation Ministry and the Coconut Cultivation Board.    

It is well known that defence ministry requirements in this country however  sketchily and vaguely stated are seldom challenged or checked, and are audited  very leniently. This also allows wide scope for misuse. The defence budget  now at an annual Rs.24 billion (US $550 million) is a fifth of the national  budget. [Top]                          

2.5 Discrimination in the use of land temporarily abandoned by owners

Much paddy land was temporarily abandoned by Tamil owners who fled as refugees. We learn from several sources that some of these lands in relatively secure places are being cultivated by Sinhalese in arrangement with the armed forces. One such area is Pankulam where some of the lands along the main road, near Pilliar Kovil are being so cultivated. These lands are irrigable and can yield 2 or 3 crops a year. The Tamil owners have, at the time of writing, not been given security clearance to return. Another is Mulltipotana, Thampalakamam West Unit 9 of the Kantalai scheme. Originally 56 Tamil families were given allotments, which expanded to encompass about 250 acres with natural increase, encroachment and regularisation.

It is now reported that arrangements are being made to return the Tamil refugees to Mullipothanai in May 1993. There are now altogether 216 families.

There is on the other hand a sharply contrasting attitude to lands in the Batticaloa District. Many lands there   are at present inaccessible to Muslim as well as some Tamil owners not on good terms with the LTTE. Several of these lands are now known to be leased out by the LTTE. These are cultivated by farmers not for the joy of it, but because they have no other livelihood. After they had sunk in borrowed capital and put in hard work, risking their lives and risking damage during military operations, the army has recently been confiscating or burning paddy harvested on such lands. The highest military officials have justified this in the name of depriving the LTTE of food and resources. What is really happening is that unlike their Sinhalese counterparts, hard working Tamil peasants are being driven farther into bankruptcy. The latter problem does not appear to exist in the Trincomalee District. According to Muslim sources in Mutur, the LTTE is demanding written permission from Muslim owners for the cultivation of their lands in the interior by others.

It has recently been reported that several Tamil farmers in the interior of the Batticaloa District allegedly cultivating lands leased out by the LTTE, have been taken away by the army and have not been accounted for. [Top]

2.6 The land problems of returning refugees and displaced persons

The government is under pressure from various sources to resettle Tamil refugees and those who returned from India. But this is being done in a manner that leaves Tamil refugees anxious and deeply suspicious. Up to Uppuveli just north of town, shells of Tamil houses destroyed between 1983 and 87 are a prominent eye sore. Hardly any Tamils were being resettled there. Nearly all those settling in that area are Sinhalese and there are constant moves to regularise encroachments. Several houses built by the NHDA and the provincial administration once occupied by Tamils are now in occupation by Sinhalese.

Then between Sambaltivu and Nilaveli  to the north, including 6th mile post, security approval had not been given for Tamils to reoccupy their lands and damaged houses. But the Kuchaveli refugees in Nilaveli were in February being urged to return, Kuchaveli being further north of Nilaveli. But their village which faced much deliberate destruction is now dominated by a sprawling camp of the army, navy and police containing the Roman Catholic Church. There is then an unresettled gap between Nilaveli and Kuchaveli. These arrangements raise many obvious unanswered questions. The refugees would feel more secure if the resettlement proceeds by continuous stages starting from Trincomalee town. Several refugees have found their properties in town encroached by Sinhalese and are afraid to take legal steps to dislodge them. While gaps were being left in resettlement, there is seeming connivance by the authorities in encouraging Sinhalese encroachments under protection of the forces and consequent moves to regularise them. These have given rise to both anger and resentment among Tamils. To them, the formula followed appears to be: Destroy Tamil houses, Help Sinhalese to build houses and create conditions where many Tamil refugees cannot or will not return.

Against new houses being put up for ‘rehabilitated’ Sinhalese, new Buddhist temples and existing Buddhist temples gaining in political and material power,most Tamils outside town languish in huts and refugee camps. Several Hindu temples have been damaged, some badly (e.g Sivan Kovil; Madathady, Veeragathypillaiyar Kovil and Krishna Kovil in Trinco town) . The unfairness becomes further evident, considering that in most villages outside town, few Tamil houses are left standing. Some refugees said that they had rebuilt their houses during the IPKF presence after they were destroyed by Sri Lankan forces between 1983 and 87, only to have them looted and destroyed once more after June 199O. Tamil houses along the road from Kiliveddi to Muthur and beyond were looted by the forces and levelled down with bulldozers or explosives. The Muslim village of Jinnahpuram was   similarly treated, because having to live with the LTTE by night and army by day, the army was annoyed with their ‘lack of co - operation’. Those who had got back to their lands in the Mutur area were entitled to their meagre housing allowance from the state which they did not receive for nearly two years. They are more hopeful now after the matter was represented at the Mobile Presidential Secretariat in February.

Tamil community leaders feel that if the government has security reasons for its attitude towards resettling Tamil refugees, it must say so openly, and not use the current weakness of the Tamils to alter the demography and destroy the Tamils’ economic and cultural life.    [Top]                                                   

2.7 Some salient features of government policy in Trincomalee

We have referred to the secretive induction of Sinhalese into the district along main roads and in a manner so as to isolate Tamils into pockets. Even if a military motivation is cited, the government will not be open about it. Because it would contain the assumption that the Tamils will continue to be rebellious, cannot be trusted and therefore must be herded into enclaves where they could be monitored. This would amount to an admission that the government is in fact seeking a military solution to the minority question and that the president’s repeated pledges to the international community and to donor nations that he is earnestly seeking a political solution to the problem, will be seen as eyewash. It would further imply that the government is not interested in earning the trust of the minorities and whether in military, political or administrative terms, they will remain second class citizens.

The crucial aspect of the ethnic question in Sri Lanka relies on the character of the state and its ideology. It is not that ordinary Sinhalese people wanted to marginalise the Tamil people. The ordinary Tamil people who live in the South do not feel threatened by their Sinhalese neighbours. But they are aware of the government’s ability to threaten their security with direct or indirect involvement of its machinary. All the violence unleashed on them in the past involved conspicuous complicity   of the government and its machinery. Ordinary Sinhalese people are simply the pawns of  these bigoted politicians. Hence it is superficial to argue that since the Tamils are at present living in the South there is no ethnic problem. As we have shown above, the state has not changed its character apprecialbly in this respect. The armed forces are very much ethnically based.   Those seriously concerned about a political solution need to take into account these realities and work towards temporary structural reforms, such as might help in overcoming barriers to a settlement imposed by past actions of the state.  

On the other hand if the government continues to pursue the present course it is only destroying the basis for peaceful solution and forcing the Tamil people into a very desperate position. Where the Sinhalese are concerned, it would mean that instead of seriously addressing their deep rooted socio-economic problems, the government is callous enough to use their poverty as a military weapon, through planting them as colonists in a war-zone.

Again where Tamil refugees abroad are concerned, it would appear that host countries are simply trying to wash their hands off them without ensuring that political and economic conditions are right for their return. The reality on the ground in Trincomalee is that many of these Tamil refugees were contented farmers who built up wealth and stability over a decade or more. Their houses worth two lakhs or more were destroyed by the forces rendering them penniless. The government has through manipulations we have cited, shown that it is not serious about their returning to their lands and livelihood in security. Their housing allowance from the government is only a small fraction of the houses it destroyed. Is this fair by the refugees?[Top]

2.8 Tamil responsibility for the fate of Trincomalee

We have in earlier reports criticised the military strategy, particularly of the LTTE, which for its short term ends such as recruitment, placed the Tamils in a helpless exposed position having to stomach the depredations of the Sri Lankan forces. Most exposed were the Tamils of the East. Back in 1989 when the LTTE entered into a partnership with the Sri Lankan government, its supporters in Jaffna boasted that the first task was to get rid of the IPKF and next the inevitable war with the Sri Lankan forces to attain the separate state of Eelam. In trying to be smart without reference to principle the LTTE and the Tamils have been taken through a series of somersaults and humiliations. The people of Trincomalee and the East in general saw nothing but disaster in this approach from the very beginning. If the strategists in Jaffna ever thought little about Trincomalee, they are not thinking about it at all now. The key issue seems to be how to let people travel between the Jaffna peninsula and the mainland without jeopardising the LTTE’s income.

The general approach of the LTTE in particular was that the structural problems confronting the Tamils could be resolved by talking through the gun. The need for sound and capable political leadership was neglected. The LTTE regarded such leaders as a challenge to their sole dominance and hence an anathema. In this destrctive approach the initiative was handed over to the government and the forces, who not just had more guns, but resorted to every other form of trickery at their disposal. By massacring Sinhalese, it made it much easier for ordinary people, who happened to be Sinhalese, to rationalise the injustice being inflicted on the Tamils.

Abandoning the political approach and consistently placing its own survival first,  the LTTE threw away every opportunity to stabilise the position of Eastern Tamils. The LTTE refused to accept the fact that its intolerance of other militant groups, and the consequent weakening of the struggle and gains by the Sri Lankan forces were the primary reasons, which legitimised the arrival of the IPKF among the Tamils. Even at this stage it could have accepted its errors and have forged a common front uniting Tamils and Muslims in the interim administration. During its war with the IPKF it blocked attempts by the IPKF and the provincial administration to rehabilitate and stabilise the position of Tamils who endured much destruction during 1983-87. Its only reason was that someone else would have received credit for benefits acquired by Tamils. In early 1988 an IPKF vehicle involved in the resettlement of Tamils in Pankulam was blasted with a landmine, resulting in people being beaten and the exercise largely abandoned. Attempts to resettle refugees in Thuwarankadu, Kanniya and Thambalakamam met with obstruction from the LTTE,which by then was in league with the Sri Lankan government. For the Tamil refugees these years became wasted years, with even the ruins of Uppuveli near the town remaining as the Sri Lankan forces had left them in July 1987.

In an ambience where the LTTE competed with other groups which mistakenly tried to imitate the LTTE and degenerated to new depths a number of Tamil civilians were killed by Tamils. Among them were some of the ablest and loyal sons of Trincomalee, whom the Tamils could ill afford to lose. B.Vijayanathan a doughty fighter of high integrity was killed in August 1988 either by the LTTE, or more likely the LTTE with the help of the EROS. The killers of Ganeshalingam, a highly respected administrator killed in early 199O, are not known. But a pro-Indian group is suspected. Dr.Gnanasekaran, a man both dedicated and remarkably unselfish in his actions, was killed in September 1989. Almost certainly some high ranking leaders of the EPRLF were involved.

In leaving Tamils without representation at this crucial juncture, much mischief was wrought by the LTTE in partnership with the government. At the February 1989 parliamentary elections the EROS put forward several candidates backed by the LTTE’s guns. Others contesting the elections were threatened and sometimes killed by the LTTE. We pointed out in Report No.2 that the EROS shamelessly carried on without condemning the use of violence to prevent the people from choosing candidates of their choice. These 12 EROS MPs went to parliament and walked out when the LTTE pulled the leash, just after June 199O. They effectively accepted that the LTTE elected them and saw no obligation towards the people who gave them their vote. Presently the Trincomalee District has a Sinhalese SLFP member identified with the extremist Hela Urumaya and a Muslim member. Of the two EROS MPs elected, largely through Tamil votes, one, a Tamil, is said to be doing business in London. The other, a Muslim, went back to teaching.

The North-East Provincial Council,the first step in an exercise of devolution, was dissolved by the government after the commencement of the war with the LTTE, acting on a request by the LTTE made before the war.

This lack of representation at crucial fora has greatly facilitated the changing of the ground situation to the detriment of the Tamils. Ironically, it is former Tamil MPs from the TULF who are working hard behind the scenes for the Tamil speaking people of Trincomalee. A brash and violent militant politics which arrogantly claimed to have the answers to everything, finally showed itself weak, cowardly, sycophantic and totally irresponsible.

It looks as though everyone is still learning lessons that they are finding hard to swallow. The Sri Lankan government is yet to learn the consequences of trying to resolve minority questions through force and deception. The IPKF interlude has been forgotten. Through all this suffering Tamil society still remains corrupt and insensitive.[Top]


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