The matter of 40 or so hill country Tamil detainees recorded in our Special Report No.4 turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg representing a large and potentially dangerous problem - dangerous because of the manner in which the state is handling it. Firstly there is the social problem of unemployment, meaninglessness and a lack of dignity faced by thousands of hill country youth. It is then estimated by leading trade union sources that during the IPKF presence 2 to 3000 hill country youth went to the North-East to receive some form of military training and employment under the umbrella of Tamil groups working with the IPKF. Many of them worked for the ill-starred Civil Volunteer Force. Several of those who went to the North-East came back home in disillusionment and the rest following the collapse of the pro-Indian groups in early 1990.
Even prior to the coming of the IPKF, a comparable number are said to have joined North-Eastern militant groups. Groups associated with numbers in decreasing order are said to be the EPRLF, EROS, PLOTE & TELO. The number associated with the LTTE is said to be neglegible. It is mainly these boys with past North-Eastern links who have been detained since June 1990. Ironically most of the groups with whom they were associated are now closely aligned with the government or are in a position to exert some influence on the government. But they have not come to the aid of these hill country boys who once worked for them and later got into trouble.
The other problem is the poor education and training of police personnel stationed in the hill country. Even ASPs are often said to be monolingual, not knowing Tamil or English. Their understanding of the North-Eastern militancy is said to come mainly from the popular Sinhalese press. Many of them cannot for instance make a distinction between the LTTE and the TELO .
A typical case is that of a young boy Kanagasabai who returned home to Dimbulla in the Nuwara Eliya District after serving in the TELO, fell out with a friend who petitioned the police and was arrested in December 199O. The only thing of significance he had was a military instruction booklet in Tamil issued by the TELO, which had something to say on attacking police stations, and which he had kept hidden in a neighbours line room. He was severely tortured and the charges framed against him were fantastic - even more serious than those framed against leaders of the UPF. On the basis of his alleged confessions he was accused of involvement with the LTTE (Kottiya), conspiring to attack a police station, overthrow the state etcetera. He had in fact confessed to involvement with the TELO , which the police recorded as Kottiya.
Most of those detained are said to be in similar categories. According to those who had pursued individual cases, if the matter is not resolved within a month at local police level, the problem becomes infinitely more complex once the file is sent to Colombo. The Attorney Generals office is said to hand over bundles of files to different lawyers, who may take them away and go somewhere on duty, and no proper records are kept. To find whether the file is in existence and to trace it often takes months. The AGs office is bound to take charges coming from provincial police stations seriously, however fantastic they may be, and the detainees are charged under the PTA. Even when someone of influence pursuing the matter convinces the AGs office that the charges are groundless, the detainee is usually released on a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to a minor charge. This is done so that the state is not held liable to compensate the victim. The process often takes well over a year. Kanagasabai too was eventually released. Even in several cases where the matter was settled at provincial level, the detention and release were both found to be unrecorded.
In routine police matters such as theft, the police do not appear to be making a distinction between these and cases where there is an alleged threat to the state on account of which the emergency regulations have been justified. One teacher in Hatton was arrested in connection with an old friend from Jaffna and the friends companion who had both called and had dinner with him, and were later wanted in connection with a car theft. Again two innocent CWC members were arrested in connection with tampering with a cheque. Those detained were badly beaten. Such routine torture is described as extremely brutal.
Many hill country boys detained and released have no security against re-arrest. The number is said to run into several hundreds and may be in the thousnds. In order to escape further harassment many of them have reportedly joined the EPDP, a Tamil group now closely identified with the ruling UNP. Hill country leaders fear that if the government changes or if the EPDP goes out of favour, these boys will be back to square one or worse. These leaders are pressing for a general amnesty as the only practical and expeditious solution to this particular problem.
The governments handling of this has only added
to the general volatility that is to be found in the hill country. The LTTE
is said to have recently recruited from hill country folk settled in the Wanni
or from among hill country young, either domiciled in or casually visiting
the North. These are people who have not the faintest understanding of what
is going on and have no stake in the LTTEs cause. In the late 8Os
several hill country boys joined the JVP for the mere reason that the
JVP was threatening estate superintendents. [Top]
Recently some hill country groups, incuding the UPF, have started raising the demand of natioanlity status and an autonomous region for hill counry Tamils. This demand has gained significant sympathy through long experience of oppression and a feeling that the state is constantly trying to short-change them. People also see that similar demands made in the North-East helped to internationalise the Tamil cause, without being very conscious of both the physical and internal damage to the Tamils resulting from the associated politics. Some see the use of such demands as a means to break the influence of the CWC.
At present, perhaps the more influential sections, see this demand as dangerous. They feel that the Hill Country Tamils are socially and economically too weak to withstand the repercussions. Moreover, they feel, they are physically and economically intertwined with Kandyan Sinhalese living in the same area, and that their main thrust should be to achieve equality with them. They feel that demands, such as for autonomy, could jeopardise the slow, but steady, gains the Tamils have been making by putting a weapon into the hands of Sinhalese communalists.
One Veteran trade unionist said that land for housing and home gardens was essential. But that a demand to dismember estates and give lands to Tamil workers or Sinhalese peasants was a purely emotional issue which was far from being a solution to the basic problems.
He said, I personally know that there is much poverty among Kandyan Sinhalese peasants. Many of them skip several meals. When Tamil estate workers receive regular wages, however small, or are given small concessions, emotional cries are raised by communalists about the government doing marvels for the Tamils. The SLFP in the 7Os made the carving up of estates and giving lands to Kandyan peasants an emotional issue. There was violence against Tamils and many rowdy scenes [See Special Report No.4], but there was no serious dismantling of estates. As a reaction, Hill Country Tamil groups too made a similar demand for land an emotional issue. Where land was given, experience has shown that the benefits were illusory.
When the late General Ranjan Wijeratne was minister for plantations he distributed lands in some estates performing badly. One acre per family was given to Tamil workers at St.Elias estate. Elsewhere lands were given to Sinhalese. Today very few of these families are in occupation of the lands. Most of them have sold out to Mudalalis (big businessmen), a large number of whom in this particular area of commerce happen to be Tamils. In Norwood, land was taken over and a Sinhalese village, Jayasirigama, was created. Only about 5 Sinhalese families remain, the rest having sold and left. Land is damn cheap at Norton Bridge, but hardly anyone is interested in going there. My family received 2 acres, but nothing has been done with it. Many Kandyan Sinhalese have been offered land in the Mahaveli scheme. But very few are interested in going. The reality is this. When it comes to hard practical realities, the people do not want land. Only the Mudalalis want land.
This is a small country. Modern land usage is capital intensive. You cannot in this country solve the problem of poverty by giving large tracts of land like in Canada which are viable units for modern mechanised techniques. It is neither a conspiracy nor an accident that large tracts of land coming under schemes such as the Mahaveli are going to multinationals. Some other means must be found to relieve poverty and generate employment rather than giving land, which costs the state nothing. What is needed is investment with clearly thought out goals.[Top]
Jaffna had previously enjoyed a better level of health than the rest of the country. With siege and war, this is no longer the case. According to one of the accepted methods of measurement, severe malnutrition among children in Jaffna is now 7-8%, while it is 12.8% for the whole of Sri Lanka. The figure for Killinochchi is 3%. Low birth weight among babies (below 5 ½ lb or 2.5 Kg) has increased from 19% in 1989 to 23% in 1991 to 25% in 1992.
The worst affected are among the refugee population. About 46% of the population of the North-East are officially displaced. The Jaffna District has an estimated 42,000 refugees in camps among whom 19000 are children. A total of about 120,000 are displaced. A study of pregnant and lactating mothers sampled in 12 refugee camps within the Jaffna municipality in 1991 found all those sampled to be anaemic. It also found 41% of children below 1 year in age and 73% in the 1-5 year range to be below the third percentile expected weight for their age against a norm of 34.7% for Sri Lanka. Other studies showed similar results. A number of diseases such as dysentry, para-typhoid, malaria and TB are on the increase.
While not being unduly alarmed, the medical authorities are concerned about a deteriorating situation and stress the importance of stabilising the situation and if possible reversing the decline. They point out that owing to bad communications a rapid deterioration may suddenly take place without the outside world becoming adequately aware of it. Jaffna folk received their December 1992 Christmas mail only in March 1993.
With the government banning movement in the Jaffna lagoon, questions were raised about the government sending considerably less than the food requested by the GA/Jaffna and about significant pilferage. A rehabilitation ministry official said at a press conference (4/3/93) that the monthly food requirement asked for by GA/Jaffna is 11,000 tonnes. The amounts sent he said were 2635 tonnes in December 1992, 5253 in January 93 and 11430 in February (up to 26th). The shortfall in December & January, he claimed, was due to the north east monsoon limiting the unloading days at Pt Pedro and the KKS port being unoperational. On (18/3) presidential advisor Bradman Weerakoon told the press that of the Rs 1181 million worth of food items sent to Jaffna during 1992, there is no account for food worth Rs.167 million. Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe attributed the theft to the Tigers rather than at the point of embarkation in Colombo. Mr. Weerakoon admitted that there was no clear proof to show that the Tigers stole the food and that the CID was investigating in Colombo. While the Colombo press generally blamed the theft on the Tigers, senior Tamils were convinced that it resulted from the general corruption in Colombo.
Subsequently several shiploads were sent in February and March. While the rate of loading at the port of Colombo with standard mechanical aids was said to be around 250 tons per day, the rate of unloading at Pt Pedro (in March) was 500 tons a day - fully manual with a disintegrating pier and work-men hopping from barge to barge transporting the cargo. The effect was a drop in the price of rice in Jaffna from Rs 55 to Rs 42 a kilo - still well above the Colombo price of less than Rs 2O a kilo. Kerosene dropped from Rs 250 a litre to Rs 125 and rose to Rs 175 - over 1O times the Colombo price.
Although displaced persons who are normally without a livelihood are entitled to government rations, they do not necessarily receive them. A family displaced by military action arrived in the village of Idikundady, near Navaly. Having starved for some days, they appealed for assistance where they could without success. During the month of February 1993, seven members of the family committed suicide by consuming ground arali seed. On orders from the authorities, the news was blacked out of the local media.[Top]
On the road going east from Karadippokku, near Killinochchi, an LTTE camp is sited (as is often the case) next to St. Theresas school. Shortly after 8.00 A.M when the road was crowded with civilians and children and the school about to commence for the day, a new jet bomber (known in the North as supersonics) dropped a bomb ostensibly aimed at the LTTE camp. The bomb as is usual missed the camp. Also fortunately it missed the school, falling away from the school on the side farther from the camp. A number of school children and civilians were injured by the exploding bomb which left behind a huge crater. One girl broke a leg when she ran in fear and had a fall. The navy had been involved in a firefight with the LTTE the night before, in the Jaffna Lagoon.
8.5 Crossing the Jaffna Lagoon:
With travel in the lagoon officially forbidden and no agreement reached between the LTTE and the government on the use of the lagoon by civilians, those travelling from the peninsula use LTTE supervised trasport for the lack of an alternative. The modus operandi was for the LTTE to deploy about 10 armed boats to patrol the waters on a day announced, while civilian boats do the crossing. On 11th February for instance 120 passenger boats and 40 boats with goods were involved in transportation. Due to a shortage of motor boats, some times one motor boat towed three other boats, taking over 4 hours to cross instead of the usual 2 ½. The travellers journeyed in constant fear amid a heavy exchange of fire between the armed adversaries. On 14th February the airforce shot and destroyed several boats parked along the shore.
Although the government tried to restrain travellers with constant scare stories about heavy armed engagements and several sinkings of supposedly LTTE craft, and a stream of civilian casualties reported by Tamil sources, the true nature of casualties remains hard to probe. The LTTE , for reasons described in Report No10, Ch.0, does not wish to alarm travellers and come under pressure.
A leading government official in Killinochchi said about mid-February that no bodies of persons killed since the massacre of 2nd January had been brought to the government hospital. About 10 bodies which reached the lagoon shores later in January with cut wounds and bullet wounds are believed to be victims of the incident of 2nd January. The LTTE is known to have charged Rs 25 000/- to transport bodies of some victims to relatives in Jaffna. It was clear that civilians still travel with no idea of the real dangers they face.
On 23rd March, a medical student travelling to Vavuniya to receive his Mahapola scholarship fell victim while crossing the lagoon. He went on his journey in response to an official invitation sent by a government which also killed him on the way. We pointed out in Report No 10 that this is an absurd position for a government which needs to win the political battle in order to win peace.[Top]
On 22nd January, LTTE personnel who came by sea and landed at Pesalai killed two policemen in an attack. Subsequently army personnel went on a rampage, killing one civilian in wild firing and injuring 5 others. The dead man was a Muslim who sold refreshments outside the UNHCR run refugee camp.
Subsequently Brigadier Karunatilleke who is in charge of the district, visited Pesalai and addressed the refugees in the presence of the local UNHCR representative. He accused them of harbouring the LTTE and warned that the next time they would come in and shoot.
On the 15th March the LTTE attacked a police patrol moving from Karisal to Pesalai killing 3 policemen. Subsequently the army arrived on the scene and did a round up. Vehicles were stopped and commuters between Mannar and Pesalai were beaten. A passenger van purchased the previous week for Rs 140 000/- was burnt. People were dragooned into forced labour, cutting palmyrah trees and strengthening the police post at Karisal with new bunkers.
Subsequently a curfew was imposed and a search operation was conducted in the area. This time the people had another speaker, Colonel Chandrabahu. He told them that they need not give information to the army. But they must not entertain the LTTE. Security, he told them, was the main reason why Mannar is not having development, unlike Batticaloa and Trincomalee, which are, according to him, now having development.
On the night of 5th April, according to a report in the Island, 7th April, Lieutenant Samarasinghe, Corporal Sumnapala and Private Karunaratne were killed by seaborne Tigers at 10.45 p.m. The casualties were part of a mobile patrol moving towards Mannar Island on a causeway. One officer is quoted as saying,The Tigers appear to have launched a determined campaign to disrupt civilian life on Mannar Island. [Top]
The Island of 6th April reported that the LTTE shot and killed H.E.Ranaweera (45) and Vinnie Ranasinge (19) at Suriyawewa, Welikanda. The two were bull-dozer operators working for the State Development and Construction Corporation. A dawn attack on the army at Kalyanapura, Weli Oya, by an estimated 150 LTTE cadre on 9th april 1993 claimed an officer and 18 soldiers wounding several others.
The following excerpt is from a front page piece by Daryll de Silva in The Daily News of 14th April 1993. It is also significant that during its recent attacks in Mannar (8.6 above), the LTTE has not targeted Muslims as it easily could have:
LTTE watchers believe the incident to be significant. The tigers outnumbered the troops by about four to one in this border area. What is strange is that being there in such large numbers, they did not pick on civilians, but took the opportunity to take on a military target that happened to move into their midst,
It has now been established that the LTTE lost Captain Ariyaman, six lieutenants, and two second lieutenants (unnamed) on Friday when they could just as easily have taken on a civilian target without loss to themselves, observers say. They were convinced that the Tiger group was one that was moving north when the soldiers were ambushed.
LTTE observers have also noted that the Tigers have recently changed their attitude towards the Muslim community. They recently released four boatloads of 18 fishermen and released three other Muslims to the ICRC without causing them any harm, sources said.
So Prabhakaran appears to now want to live upto the claim, he made in his BBC interview-that he had nothing against the Muslims or even the Sinhala community. This is quite a change of attitude and all for the better, one observer commented.[Top]
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