MASSACRES IN THE POLONNARUWA DISTRICT
7.2 The villages
7.3 Aspects of deterioration of communal relations
7.4 Aspects of the massacres
29th April 1992: The Muslim village of Alinchipotanai was attacked by 30-40 members of the LTTE about mid-night on 29th April 1992. 27 policemen and 12 homeguards attached to the police post fled into the jungle-the only resistance being offered by the Sub-Inspector who was badly wounded. In the orgy of killing and looting that followed, 69 died, five of them babies. Of the 148 families in the village 4O were directly affected. The attack ended about 3.30 A.M. The army which was camped in Welikanda 8 miles away arrived in the village between 7.00 & 7.30A.M.
About 6.OO A.M. Muslim policemen and homeguards who had fled to the jungle during the LTTE attack returned to lead reprisals against the neighbouring Tamil village of Muthugala (125 families, about 65O people). Once again there was killing and looting. 24 men and 25 women were killed instantaneously. Of the 17 hospitalised, one later died. Sinhalese homeguards from Madurangala and policemen from Karapola were involved in one incident where 6 Tamils were killed and dumped into an irrigation canal. Much later, about 11.OO A.M Mahaveli Development Board officials arrived in a vehicle and with the help of a villager called out other survivors who were hiding in the jungle.
About 7.OO A.M the Tamil village of Karapola, a mile from Alinchipotana was attacked by Muslim homeguards from the latter. The attackers broke into 3 groups and attacked people on the road and inside houses. The number killed was 38 (17 men,15 women and 6 children) When a couple complained at the local police post, they were blindfolded, beaten and tied up. The policemen then went to the couples house nearby, picked up 6 men who had taken refuge there, kept them in the sun and beat them up. A police party from Welikanda, alerted by the Mahaveli Authority, came to the village with an ambulance about 1O.OO A.M.
There were two other events of significance. A team of doctors had arrived from Polonnaruwa to perform post mortems at Alinchipotanai. Though requested by the police, the doctors declined out of fear to perform post mortems in the Tamil village. They had been told by the police that they should reveal to no one what they had spied. The bodies from the Tamil villages later taken to Polonnaruwa hospital by the army were found to have besides cuts and bullet wounds,in some cases, portions of the ears and noses ripped off for the ear-rings and nose rings.
The army had arrived at Karapola about 6.3O A.M, in 5 vehicles and an evidently high ranking officer had asked an elder whether he was aware that there had been a massacre at Alinchipotanai, before going past Muthulala to Alinchipotanai [(1) below argues that this must have been the case, but does not mention, as seems likely, the this is the same group of the army which arrived there about 7.OO A.M or after]. This would imply that the army both saw and passed the homeguards and policemen attacking or about to attack the Tamil villages and did not stop it.
15th October 1992: About 300 members of the LTTE including women cadre attacked the Muslim villages of Palliyagodelle, Pangurane, two ancient villages, and their satellite villages Akbarpura and Ahamedpura, all northwest of Alinchipotanai. Owing to past LTTE attacks, these villages had a sentry point manned by 1O army personnel and two platoons making up a total of 52 policemen. These battled the attackers, according to (3), until their ammunition ran out. One set of attackers looted and massacred, while others in a cordon around the villages, warded off reinforcements and airforce helicopters. They left at 7.30 A.M after airforce planes arrived.
Palliyagodelle had borne the main brunt of the Tiger attack. 90 injured were taken to Medirigiriya hospital, 8 miles away, 40 being dead up on admission.
Although men seem to have been the main targets, a number of women and children were killed. In one case a group of attackers seeing a woman and her children cowering, remarked at it and wanted to leave with the loot. One from the group then shot the mother saying that she had recognised him and this may lead to repercussions for his own family. The mother survived. Some of the attackers were said to be very young.
All events mentioned are connected. What was very unusual about the first attack on Alinchipotanai was that civilians from the neighbouring Tamil villages are said to have come with the attackers - including women and children. With the Muslim homeguards and policemen who attacked the Tamil villages came children to do the looting.
These are the bare facts of the massacres taken from two reports compiled by fact finding missions sent by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo. They are:
(1) The Welikanda Massacre, (2) The Medirigiriya Massacre.
The two reports establish the basic facts, have placed on record a number of testimonies from survivors, have ascribed responsibility for these violations and have made several useful observations and recommendations.
Independently of this, work has been done by a group of Muslim intellectuals and students aiming at unravelling the social intricacies of the area, the impact on these of the clash of ideologies at national level and the resulting impossible position of Muslims of the area. The import of this work is long term in nature.It also lays bare the manipulative actions of the security forces which helped to drag the Muslims into a conflict not of their seeking, and finally left them as clay pigeons. We have been given a draft of this manuscript which we shall refer to as (3).
When a series of events like this intervene, the idyllic picture of village life is shattered. The news is flashed across the worlds airwaves by correspondents in Colombo, often quoting official security spokesmen. Thus the news of the Muthugala and Karapola massacres of Tamils came nearly a day later than that of the Alinchipotanai massacre, although when the army first visited the area the Muthugala massacre was evidently in progress, and the Karapola massacre was about to happen.
Next the foreign correspondents visit the area and perhaps some NGOs. Then the world for all practical purposes turns its back on them. (3) says of Palliyagodelle that it seldom saw any vehicles except at election meetings and during police missions. The incidents would somehow leave outsiders with an impression that the people are themselves hopelessly barbaric. When two neighbours quarrel, both suffer a loss of dignity. Ultimately in supposedly the interests of greater causes, people who asked for so little in life and have suffered so much, are driven to ruin, scrummaging among the debris of their former existence. Little is ever understood about the manipulation of their sensibilities and fears, originating from way beyond the confines of their villages, which rendered them largely victims. It is the attempt to tackle this aspect that is most commendable in (3). The statements recorded in (1) & (2) do assure us that these people are human.
Drawing largely on these three sources,
we put down some thoughts. Finally the questions arise, do we really understand?
and when talking to these people, were the right queries made to further understanding? [Top]
Alinchipotanai, Muthugala and Karapola are 3 villages of the Polonnaruwa District in the vicinity of the east bank of the river Mahaveli and about 4 miles NNE of Mannampitiya. In earlier times these villages were inhabited by people making a living through chena (cut, burn and sow) cultivation of rice, only possible during rainy seasons, together with river and tank fishing. There was then no friction. Following the cyclone of November 1978 which devastated the East, the 3 villages changed sites retaining their former names. The Muslim village of Alinchipotanai moved from the bank of the river Mahaveli to the former site of one of the Tamil villages. This was a response to a natural disaster and no hard feelings were involved.
During the mid-eighties these villages came under the Mahaveli scheme, with each family receiving 2 acres for rice cultivation and ½ an acre for a homestead. This allowed the villagers two seasons of cultivation and therefore greater prosperity. Social relationships and commercial transactions between Tamils and Muslims continued normally. According to (3) the prosperity of Tamils declined for reasons of social habits such as drinking and also because of their inability to trade directly with the Sinhalese in nearby towns. This meant that trade was through Muslims who had a commercial relationship with the Sinhalese. Although lands under the Mahaveli Authority cannot be sold for a number of years, several Tamils who fell into hard times, about 5O families in number, unofficially mortgaged their lands to Muslims. Some of these families seem to have subsequently left the area for the Eastern Province, while others worked their lands as labourers for Muslim creditors. This was perhaps the beginning of an undercurrent of resentment.
The essentially good relations between Tamils and Muslims held until the LTTEs massacre of Muslims in Kattankudy in early August 1990, particularly in the weeks following the outbreak of war in June 199O, when Tamils moving about the area were in grave danger from the security forces on the lookout for Tamils to assuage their anger against the LTTE . Our Reports No. 4, 5 & 7 recorded several disappearances of Tamils from the area about that time.
(3) says that on several occasions after the July 1983 anti- Tamil riots, the Muslims had acted as good neighbours to the Tamils. During this period the armed forces used to harass Tamils during round ups and sometimes caused grave physical harm. Tamils often ran into the Muslim village at the approach of the forces and were duly protected. At the outbreak of the war of June 1990 two bus loads of Tamils going from Jaffna to Batticaloa were overtaken by events in that area. They left the main road and drove into Alinchipotanai where the Muslims provided them with cooking facilities and shelter.
The group of 4 villages including
Palliyagodelle were cut off from Tamils, were sited on the west bank of the
Mahaveli and their external relations were mainly with Sinhalese. These too
were not strong, as the Sinhalese were newcomers brought under the Mahaveli
scheme. The population of 4000 as described earlier were poor, & families
were large. Education was up to grade 6, less than 5 persons with G.C.E. A.Level
passes and not a single degree holder. Their income was derived from farming
and livestock breeding. The villages were surrounded by thick jungle. [Top]
According to the authors of (3) these villages which bordered the jungle lay astride a communication route from the North to the East used by Tamil militant groups. Muslims who went into the jungle in connection with checking livestock, chena cultivation and firewood collection did often encounter Tamil militants. As long as they were believed to keep such meetings to themselves, which they of necessity did, there was no room for conflict. It is also likely as elsewhere in the East, that Muslims provided some essentials to the militants and at least reluctantly paid taxes. The reluctance appears to have been greater in Palliyagodelle which was more a Sinhalese area.
From 1984 a conscious effort was made by the state to use existing tensions to foment a Tamil - Muslim cleavage as a means of containing the Tamil insurgency in the East. Matters were not improved by indiscipline among Tamil groups as well as by agent provocateurs brought in from outside. The foreign press associated a prominent Colombo - based Muslim cabinet member with the latter.
The LTTEs attacks on Muslims culminating in the Kattankudy and Eravur massacres of August 1990 created an impossible situation. The security forces used the opportunity to start arming Muslims of the area.
(3) states in effect: Muslims who showed reluctance to accept weapons provided by the forces were intimidated by being branded terrorists. One Muslim youth, it says, was held at the Mannampitiya army camp for no reason and released 3 months later. Shortly after the arming of Muslim homeguards, on 22nd November 199O, the LTTE shot and injured two villagers in Allinchipotanai. The following day the army set up camp in the village ostensibly to protect the Muslims.
This was followed by the army going regularly from the Muslim village to the Tamil villages, harassing civilians and sometimes returning with young men. The latter were then subject to physical mistreatment, some of whom joined the ranks of the disappeared. On another occasion, following some peculiar circumstances involving a few individuals, 3 Muslim home guards accompanied the army to a temporary jungle camp of the militants resulting in one militant killed and the goods at the camp taken away.
After deepening the cleavage between the Muslims of Alinchipotanai
and the neighbouring Tamil villages, and having done everything possible to
label the Muslims unfairly as informers, the army withdrew its camp at Alinchipotanai
on 13th July 1991. This was replaced by a police platoon of up to
3O men. During this period Muslims had understandably become negligent in the
payment of taxes demanded by the LTTE. In some instances idividual Muslims
had identified Tamils connected with the LTTE. Uncharacteristically,
the army took them in and released them. This was seen as deliberate. [Top]
The drift of the LTTEs approach to the Muslims
and its purely instrumental approach to the Eastern Tamils, whose real problems
were not addressed by the LTTE, have been covered in a separate section of this
report [6.4]. But once on a course of deliberate
brutalization of relations with Muslims, matters like massacres and ethnic
cleansing for security reasons, assume a logical necessity.
As in the case of these massacres, there was also total callousness towards
local Tamils. They were left unprotected and isolated to face the wrath of all
surrounding interests. [Top]
This is a real problem concerning both Tamils and Muslims in the East although the LTTEs interest in it was mostly instrumental. We have observed in Special Report No.3, Report No.7,and Chapter 2 of this report the general drift of state sponsored colonisation. The general strategy is to push Sinhalese colonies eastwards from the interior towards the coast. In the course of this local Tamils and Muslims suffer from triple disadvantages. These are loss of land, loss of physical security and loss of control over water resources, key to their economic existence.
The states agenda progresses through violence, administrative manoeuvring and attrition. The unplumbed psychic damage done to the people of the area, the resulting brutalisation and the actions of state forces have conspired to set the scene for massive human rights violations.
The villages in question are part of the Mahaveli settlement scheme that is pushing eastwards using huge sums of borrowed money from the world bank and the West. The villages in the incidents are old villages whose inhabitants received land under the scheme. At the same time there is an induction of a large number of Sinhalese settlers from elsewhere. (3) states that Muslims feel that in consideration of the Tamil insurgent response that would inevitably have sympathy from the Tamil villages, in this instance the Muslims were being used as a buffer between the Tamil villages and Sinhalese settlements. The behaviour of the army, police and the Sinhalese homeguards towards the Tamil villagers in this instance is the reflection of an old story. The Tamil villages to the east of this area, ranging down from Trincomalee to Valaichenai suffered total devastation from army and Sinhalese homeguard violence between 1984 and the arrival of the IPKF. Most Tamil villages were destroyed and their inhabitants rendered refugees.
The Muslims of the area know that under this dispensation they would ultimately suffer utter deprivation and perhaps, even state violence. But now a combination of events - the manipulation of the state and of Muslim interests in Colombo, together with the brutal bankruptcy of the Tamil militancy - have placed the Muslims uncomfortably and unwillingly in the position of appearing a buffer to serve the interests of the state.
A particular well-informed account of how state policy works in the region is given by D.P. Sivaram in his article The strangling of Menkamam in the North-East Herald of January - February 1993.
This ethos gave rise to a generation of Tamil youth in the area who felt that they were with their backs to the wall. The LTTE thus mobilised youth from rural areas with real grievances. The late LTTE leader Pulendran is an instance of the archetype that emerges from a culture that drives people to embrace the motto kill or be killed.
This is one aspect of the barbarism seen at Alinchpotana
and Palliyagodelle. For the local Tamils of the region, rendered refugees or
living as if under siege, almost anything connected with colonisation touches
off a violent chord. The international community which has funded these colonisation
schemes in the absence of political safeguards for the minorities, should share
some of the responsibility for this state of affairs. [Top]
The causes of this seem less problematic. Tensions between these villages and the LTTE had been in the making for years. The LTTE had been demanding taxes which were grudgingly paid -these people had absolutely no stake in the Eelam struggle - and cattle were occasionally taken away. During the rapprochment with the government, the villagers complained to the forces about tax demands. On coming and discovering that the group asking for tax was the LTTE and not the EPRLF as they had presumed, they chatted with the tax men and departed. (3) continues, Soon after the massacre of Muslims at Kattankudy and Eravur in 199O, the government issued (more) shotguns to the villagers. These were more than enough to sharpen enmity between the LTTE and the villagers, but far from adequate to defend the latter. The LTTE first launched a direct attack on the village in September 1991, killing 16 civilians. One of the attackers, possibly the leader, was killed by the defenders - an achievement that gave satisfaction to the poorly armed villagers, which in turn would have further angered the LTTE.
(3) believes that the direct cause of the massacre at Palliyagodelle was that some homeguards from Palliyagodelle had taken part in the reprisals against the Tamil villages of Muthugala and Karapola 5 ½ months earlier. Two or more Sinhalese from that area were reportedly abducted by the LTTE prior to the massacre and were released subsequently. It is believed that they were used an information source on the villages and surroundings.
Concerning the role
of girls and of very young cadre in the attack, an observation made by several
people and also suggested by the reporting in (2), is that these were
new recruits deliberately brought in to harden them against taking human life,
particularly of persons who were helpless, as the group required. Having been
taught that all Muslims were traitors, they would have had little difficulty
in killing unarmed Muslim men against all traditions of heroism. But to their
youthful sensibilities, even at this stage of brutalization, there seems to
have been some inhibition against killing women and children. One attackers
reason for killing a mother appears to have been that the mother had recognised
him and he therefore feared repercussions against his own family. The looting
further underlines the level at which this liberation group operates. [Top]
What is problematic here are not the massacres themselves, but the widely talked about role of civilians. The people of Alinchipotanai believe that the LTTE met some of the villagers of Karapola in the village itself and conferred with them about the attacks that took place 5 days later. A delegation that came to the Muslims from these villages to discuss the redemption of mortgaged Tamil lands is seen in retrospect as an LTTE instigated camouflage operation to divert attention from the real reason for the LTTEs presence. Soon after they had been attacked (a partial attack on about a third of the village, apparently to drive them out) the Muslims quickly formed the impression that the Tamils were collectively behind the outrage - an erroneous, but common, mutual impression in the East, eg. Sammanthurai and its Tamil neighbour Veeramunai through the vicissitudes of the last few years.
We feel uncomfortable with such conclusions. Two things are almost certain. Under the bullish dispensation of the Sri Lankan army and the threat of colonisation, it is inevitable that the LTTE would have picked up recruits from the Tamil villages. The two Tamil villages, like the Muslim village are small, each having 600-800 persons. Any visit by the LTTE to one of the Tamil villages would have been widely known to the Tamils, as the Muslims knew and the Sri Lankan police at Karapola do not seem to have had an inkling of. But the claim that Tamils in general knew about the coming attack in Alinchipotanai can be ruled out. Such a claim would have involved more than 1000 people keeping a secret that was bound to cost them dearly. These were two small isolated Tamil villages in a hostile environment. They would have known the nature of repercussions. Their testimonies in (1) show that they were not suicidal maniacs driven by hatred.
The men among the survivors of Karapola said that they were remaining in the village rather than move to a safe area because they were anxious not to give the impression that they were party to the attack on Allinchpotana (Those in Muthugala were evidently not allowed to move). This can virtually be taken as proof that the men concerned were not involved, nor could they have approved of what took place. Anyone who took part had some chance of being identified, as several of them were. Those from the village who took part in the night attack, by the accounts given, appear to have been reckless using their familiar voices and calling one another by name.
By morning the Tamil villagers would have had some idea of what happened the previous night in the Muslim village, given all that shooting. Knowing the possible consequences why did most of the Tamil villagers sit pretty waiting for the armed authorities to arrive, instead of taking to the jungle as they did later? The only possible answer seems to be that the villagers were in a panic. After conferring briefly they would have assumed that army would be on the way and anyone found missing would have become suspect. They would have concluded that staying put was the best strategy. (1) also points out that goods looted from the Muslim village, if searched for, were not found in the Tamil villages.
Normally anyone from the Tamil villages who got wind that an attack on the Muslim village was being planned would have expressed their anxiety at least to cadre known to them, particularly from their village. Such cadre, as we have recorded in previous reports, are often anxious to shield their families and their villages. This points to a decision to attack taken at a higher level.
In such instances the LTTE is even callous enough to assure the villagers that nothing would happen to them. We have recorded how the LTTE have in many instances fired at advancing troops of the IPKF from civilian positions and then ran away after assuring the protesting civilians that the troops would do nothing to them.
How about the Tamil civilians who co-operated in the LTTE attack? One accused by the Muslims is a postman and another a school mistress or two who taught Muslim children. These persons had regular human contact with Muslims. They are accused of having provided information on houses with a large number of children to be targeted for elimination. For a young woman to plan the elimination of children she talked and played with is very unusual. If these allegations have substance, and these persons had co-operated under duress, would they not have whispered a warning to some Muslim? Or were they so terrorised? On the other hand if they had co-operated cold-bloodedly, they would have harboured some deep hatred for the Muslims or were hard-core LTTE operators who could act mechanically. Strangely the postman had remained with his family at Muthugala and was killed according to (1)!
The presence of Muslim civilians among those who took reprisals on the Tamils is explainable in terms of spontaneous anger. The presence of Tamil civilians among those who attacked the Muslims is far less easy to explain. Did some of them lose close relatives to the forces when the army was stationed in the Muslim village and went about with homeguards?
There is a great deal that we do not understand. Perhaps finding out the truth requires long term confidence building with the villagers and cannot be elicited in a day or two, however valuable information so elicited may be.
According to (1), Tamil villagers
had said that there were Tamil civilians among the attackers, but they had left
the area a long time ago. The content of that answer has no straightforward
explanation. (2) gives us an instance of defensive answering. Palliyagodelle
had a Tamil barber who was among the victims of the LTTE massacre. He
had been married to a lady from Eravur, whose son by a previous marriage had
spent much time in Palliyagodelle. Shortly after the June 1990 war he seems
to have joined the LTTE. The lady solved the delicate problem of explaining
her loss of contact with him by saying that he had been killed in the violence
around Eravur at that time. It is suggested that a Muslim lady had recognised
this boy as being among the attackers, and was in turn shot and wounded by this
boy who wished to protect his parents. Such has been the web of violence in
which people have been caught up doing things they never dreamt of. [Top]
A three man committee of inquiry consisting of a retired supreme court judge a senior police officer and a senior army officer went into the massacres of 30th April 1992 and based on its findings some Muslims who attacked the Tamil villagers were charged. The report, as far as we are aware, is not public. We were told by a well placed journalistic source that at the request of higher authorities it was re-written to move the colouring of the armys conduct so as the lighten the shade of complicity and have a heavier shade of negligence, which is not so culpable. The police were reprimanded. But no further action is envisaged.
(1) makes a pertinent observation which suggests that the ideological basis of the armys role in the region had driven it to cultivate exclusively Muslims as sources of information and hence be in a permanent antagonistic position to the Tamils. On the other hand, Tamils would not readily give information unless they see some legitimacy in the armys role. This will never be as long as the army is seen to spearhead the ideological agenda of Sinhalese colonisation by force of arms.
It is notable that the STF in the Amparai District
has fared much better. This was helped by the fact that there is no major effort
at colonisation in the area, and a political decision was taken to return Tamils
to the villages, from which they were driven out, under STF security.
These measures made a more - even handed role for the STF possible. To
a good extent there is trust in the intentions of the STF, and its sources
of intelligence now are probably mostly Tamil. It thus seems to be in a better
position to take pre-emptive action against any disruptive moves. This is very
different from the situation in Welikanda. Unless a political decision is taken
to ensure that the minorities are equal partners in the Mahaveli project, their
fears are listened to and the partisan colouring and secretiveness which recent
history has given the project are removed, the army will be trapped into a position
of antagonism to the Tamil people. Then little will change. [Top]
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