During early May 1993 the Buddhist festival of Vesak was being celebrated in the lately Sinhalese dominated market area of Trincomalee. Tamil music was first played over the public address system. The chief guest invited for the occasion also happened to be a former Tamil member of the urban council who belonged the TULF. Since very recently Tamil and Sinhalese vendors have been selling their wares side by side in the market. This marks a happy turn of events considering the brutal and tortuous history of communal relations over the last decade and a half. It is also the culmination of initiatives coming from and taking shape in the hearts and minds of ordinary people for over four years. This is easily discerned in conversations with ordinary folk. [See Ch.7]. But that is how this country had been for dozens of centuries before the last four decades gave rise to a river of blood.
Again, people are distrustful of the surface of calm.
They are powerless to determine their future in the face of power games played
from Colombo, Jaffna and beyond these shores. In Chapter 2 of our last report, we raised questions
pertaining to land, colonisation and administrative arrangements where the government
must find a just settlement to the grievances of the Tamil speaking people,
if a lasting peace is to be secured in the district. It is here that the real
intentions of the government in particular will be crucially tested. It is therefore
no exaggeration to say that Trincomalee will be a litmus test for the prospects
of peace. We will here examine in some depth several of the issues highlighted
in the last report. [Top]
Alankerni is a Tamil village adjoing Kinniya where many mothers are widows. In many ways it is typical of Tamil villages in the district. Its surviving inhabitants have been refugees for just under 3 years, much of it spent in a wartime aircraft hanger at Clappenburg. [See 4.8]. Their houses looted and destroyed by the Sri Lankan forces are almost completely rubble. People are just beginning to come back to clear their compounds prior to resettlement. Some of the folk point to the remains of houses of middle class folk that would have been worth more than Rs 5OO OOO/- at today's prices. "That was the house of Manoharan, Electrical Superintendant. They are now in Canada. That house belonged to .............. now living in Colombo. Those from that house are in Trincomalee....." and so it goes on. What becomes clear is that those in a position to give leadership are not going to return. Many of these villages are going to be dominated by helpless widows, old men and farmers. Some of the sinister purposes of the state and its forces in bringing this about become apparent. The only person in Alankerni now in a position to provide some leadership is a project officer representing the Trincomalee District Development Association, a retired gentleman normally resident in Trincomalee town.
The most a refugee could hope to receive for his destroyed house is a pittance of Rs. 15OOO/- from the government. But first they are to receive Rs.5OO/- worth of cadjan to rig up temporary shelter and live on their premises. Then comes along an official from the government's Emergency Refugee Rehabilitation Programme (ERRP) in a brand new Japanese pick up, the like of which the earnings of a cabinet minister over ten years can barely purchase. The vehicle has the markings `Donated By UNHCR'. The official apologises profusely for the non availability of the Rs.5OO/- per family for cadjan sheds. He promises to press the rehabilitation ministry to send the money without delay. The refugees stare in bemused disbelief. At least vehicles were running about in their name, which from their capacity may as well be F-16 fighter jets.
The head of a local NGO, not among the top elite, but generally acknowledged as feeling for the ordinary folk as well as being hard working, could not restrain himself: "One cannot help feeling deeply sad when one sees the plight of ordinary people. A very large section of the administrative hierarchy is living it up in their name. The place is stinking with corruption. Even sadder is the fact that many Tamil officers are quite at home in this set up. You see how difficult it is for these people to get even cadjan to keep away the elements. But many government officers who were not affected or were not in the district during the troubles have got themselves money on all possible grounds - including Rs. 50 000/- for houses supposedly affected. The refugees starve because their rations are systematically swindled as part of an ongoing racket." Such are allegations one repeatedly hears. What is really behind this and the implications we will examine in the sequel. Some of these complaints come from refugees themselves. [See 4.1 & 4.4.1].
We raised in the last report some urgent questions concerning land policy in Trincomalee town. Some veteran Tamil leaders met (late) President Premadasa in Colombo on 31st January 1993 to raise these and other similar issues. The discussion was cordial and the president was eminently reasonable. He agreed with most of their suggestions. He asked his secretary to issue directions to drop proposals to build 36 houses for Sinhalese on Theerthakkarai along the Koneswaram Kovil approach road and for the land to be cleared. The proposal to build houses had been agreed to at the Presidential Mobile Secretariat the previous week. Sinhalese had lived in temporary huts at Theerthakarai following the disturbances of October 1987. The president also agreed that the 42 Tamil houses from the NHDA self-helf housing scheme in Love Lane, now occupied by Sinhalese squatters, would be restored to the Tamil owners. Since it was a private meeting with no stenographer, he asked the Tamil leaders to give their written suggestions in point form so that the cabinet could act upon them and issue directives.
Since the military is the highest authority in Trincomalee, a leading Tamil townsman had a late evening discussion by appointment with a key military official towards the end of April. The matter to be discussed was land. The official began the session by picking up a sheaf of papers and reading aloud. It went on about how the government is conniving at giving Tamil lands in Trincomalee to Sinhalese and then dwelt on land concerns commonly voiced by Tamils. He stopped at the end of the first page and showed the Tamil citizen the front. The emblem showed that it was a document of the LTTE circulated presumably from London. The citizen was nonplussed. He wondered with some trepidation if he would be suspected of drafting the document for the Tigers if he said what he had to say. He took courage and raised the matter of Sinhalese squatters on temple lands. The official replied that alternative lands would be found for them. The citizen then raised the matter of Sinhalese huts on Theerthakkarai, which showed no signs of removal. The official said, "You come with me I will show you. Even now someone will be putting up a hut there! " The citizen pointed out that it was the problem they wanted the authorities to solve. The official replied, "Yes, yes we will find alternative land for them" On the matter of 42 Tamil houses in Love Lane occupied by Sinhalese, the official argued that if Sinhalese had not occupied those houses, they would have been destroyed, without of course mentioning who destroyed houses.
It was almost 3 months since the president agreed upon
solutions to some of these matters with Tamil leaders. Was it that none of it
had filtered down the line, the military was above the president, or was some
game being played? A cabinet decision taken about the beginning of March threw
some light on the matter.This will be discussed. It is also significant how
the military official dealt with Tamil concern through a mixture of disarming
frivolity that was necessarily accompanied by a hint of menace. How the system
works, if we agree to call this conglomeration of chaos such, cannot be understood
without the submerged experience of terror. [Top]
As recently as Tuesday 20th April 1993 the entire population, effectively of Tamils, from Trincomalee town was asked to report at the St. Joseph's College grounds for screening, leaving one person at home. Young, old women and children waited in the sun from 7.00 A.M. without water. A number of people fainted. A number of middle aged men were beaten by armed men including soldiers and Tamils of unknown affiliation. An old man who fell down while being beaten was bodily carried and thrown. A number of persons were detained and taken to the police station or to the army camp at Plantain Point. A 70 year old woman who had not drunk water since early morning was being conducted by armed Tamils at Plantain Point. A soldier shocked by the state of the woman screamed at the Tamil thugs. [According to senior political sources, the armed Tamils did not belong to any militant group]
Thus the system bestirs itself now and then to thrust home who is boss and to remind the people of their powerlessness. If one talked to Trinco folk just before the incident or a few days after, one would have been assured that things are normal and peaceful. The consciousness that under this dispensation the worst they have been through could happen again is submerged, as is the experience of 1990. In order to survive most people made a conscious decision to know as little as possible about what happened. Although people are dimly aware, it is difficult to get them to talk cogently about what happened during the second half of 1990, the days when a white van went about abducting people.
People are more aware of the story of half a dozen or so Kumars. The army wanting to question one Kumar detained about 6 or 7 persons with their name ending with Kumar - like Chandrakumar. All but one disappeared. One of them was the son of a post master.
Less known in detail are things which happened in poorer areas. When the army came into Trincomalee on 13th June 1990, several young men from Anna Nagar through fear tried to hide in the hospital, some dressed as patients. One was spotted through a window climbing into the ceiling. The army took 35 or so young men out of the hospital and shot them dead. This is what was behind the 38 bodies reported by a witness, recorded in our Report No.4 of 9th August 1990. These young men were mostly from a community of Indian Tamils who are hospital,sanitary and urban council labourers. This incident was related by a medical officer.
A local activist of a political party related what happened in Chelvanayakapuram, another poor suburb. Shortly after the army's entry in June 1990 many of the women were raped. Women were forcibly taken away in the nights and brought back in the morning. As the younger women left, even 50 year old women were taken. This stopped after the early weeks. A few months later, just before December 1990, a group of soldiers came to drink illicit liquor that was brewed in the suburb. Once drunken, the soldiers asked for women. Some of the local men replied that nothing like that was available there. The soldiers took away about six men, all of whom disappeared.
Throughout all this terror the poeple were powerless. A dim consciousness of these events beginning from 1983 have been assimilated in the form of certain taboos. Something that goes to make a wholesome being had snapped. Instances of the effects of violence have been studied in several parts of the country. A study was done on how Sinhalese in a part of Badulla District have responded to violence, in particular that which marked the JVP uprising in the late 80s. The study observed, "They are singularly reserved about what happened in the late 80s. It is only now that they are willing to open up and discuss what happened during the anti-Tamil violence of 1983. Also surprisingly, their voting pattern during the recent Provincial Council elections was not determined by a sense of indignation for what the state did to Sinhalese youth. The pattern was rather determined by how best they could survive the uncertainties of the near future."
One also finds similar patterns in Jaffna where in order to survive people try to know as little as possible about the LTTE's repression. There are several undercurrents resulting from the repression in Trincomalee.
We are concerned here in particular about the effects
on the administration of Trincomalee. We mentioned the role of corruption in
the last report. When the North-East Provincial Council was a going concern
during much of 1989, the administration was relatively uncorrupt despite ongoing
killings. There was a sense of purpose and a hope that something could be done
for the people of the North-East. Today that collective elan is lost. The
administration is marked by enforced complicity in blatant administrative irregularities
that futher the state's ideological aims. This is accompanied by a resort to
individualisation and corruption for private gain that is the price of complicity. [Top]
5.4 Administrative Irregularities and Corruption
There is little that is shocking about the magnitude of corruption in high places in Colombo that runs into tens of millions of US dollars. Nevertheless one sits up when a government official in Trincomalee says sarcastically, "Do not think that we are poor over here, even brand new automobiles are given as birthday presents!" This relates to an event widely talked about in Trincomalee where a private trader who distributes rations to refugees presented a key government official with a new car. The purposeful looseness that prevails in administrative arrangements is best understood in the context of irregularities that further ideological aims in relation to land.
From 1st January 1990, following from the 13th amendment to the constitution, land alienation was ceded to the provincial administrations. The new system was that to alienate crown land in a division, the AGA (now Divisional Secretary) must first make an application to the Land Commissioner of the Provincial Administration and receive approval.
But this is not how things are being done in Trincomalee. In the land controversies within town limits taken up in the last report, the land conferences of 28th December 1992 and 6th January 1993, referred to, appointed a committee of 3 to interview applicants and make alienations. One member of the committee was the reputedly weak Acting AGA. The key member of the committee whose influence was dreaded was a Sinhalese land officer. He was formerly a surveyor, once interdicted for bribery and recently appointed land officer by the central government. In reality the role of this land officer and the committee above have no place or legitimacy in the current administrative arrangements, since land is a devolved subject. The whole thing was a mystery.
Also mysterious was the appointment of a Sinhalese lady from Kurunegala, the native place of the GA, as Assistant Land Commissioner in the land branch of the provincial administration. She was previously a clerk in the Trinco Kacheri. Her appointment is also said to be by recommendation, whereas she does not satisfy established criteria for such appointments. Nominees for the said position should come from either the SLAS (Sri Lanka Administrative Service) or through departmental examination from persons who have a given length of service in the land branch. (The positions in descending order are Land Commissioner, Asst. Land Commissioner, Colonisation Officer and Field Officer. The first two are SLAS appointments.)
The serving secretaries in the provincial administration left in early 1990 for security reasons as the LTTE moved in, and later the provincial council was dissolved. Subsequently new secretaries were appointed to the six provincial ministries, who under the governor run the administration. According to the principle established by the government, the appointment of secretaries should conform to the ethinic ratio in the province. As it turns out 3 secretaries are Tamil, 1 a Muslim (Education) and 2 Sinhalese (Land and Health), whereas just about 10% of the North-East population is Sinhalese. (How many secretaries in the Central and Uva provinces have been Tamil?) On land matters thus, things have been rigged up to ensure that when needed, Tamil officers can be bypassed. How else could one explain such methodical irregularity? [See 2.3 of Report No.11]
Also of interest is the position of the GA (Government Agent). Appointments to this position in recent times have made the Tamils very uneasy - Trinco and Amparai being the two districts in the island which never had a Tamil GA despite their Tamil speaking majority. Following the appointment of Divisinal Secretaries to former AGA's divisions in accordance with recent administrative changes, the GA becomes redundant. It is learnt that the GA/Trincomalee is to continue in order to co-ordinate rehabilitation and supervise public administration.
A senior Tamil administrator was asked what would happen if he protested at the blatant administrative irregularities. He was surprised that such a question should be asked. "You must have heard about the white van that went about collecting people", he replied, "Well, we got the message!"
What comes through is a picture where the central government,
the district administration and the military are executing a concerted policy.
Human rights in the purely technical sense may have imporved. Brigadier Siri
Peiris, who when in Mannar encouraged people to view him with some dread, may
have become an urbane gentleman in Trincomalee. The costumes may have changed.
But the show on the road remains the same. [Top]
Stories of corruption in Trincomalee are many, involving building contracts, supplying of damaged laboratory equipment to schools on money coming from the Asian Development Bank, the individual wealth of public officials and so it goes. But in the case of refugees who depend on relief for food and shelter, they suffer tremendously because of corruption.
Following on allegations of the head of a local NGO quoted above, a respected official was asked about this. He confirmed the allegations. He said, "If all the relief provided by the rehabilitation ministry and donor agencies reach the people, they will be amply cared for. A family for instance is meant to receive for a month 4x500 gram packets of Lakspray powered milk, 8 kg of green gram and so on. But not one division is getting the full amount. I would say they would be lucky to get half." He also said that there has been discrimination against Tamil refugees, adding that in 1985 all Sinhalese GS's divisions were supplied in addition to rations, oil, firewood and water for displaced persons. He also gave the experience of a GS(Headman) in the 80s who had supplied Rs.66000/- worth of coconuts on credit to refugees. The ADSS wanted Rs 5000/- to pass the bill for payment. The GS refused and the matter stands unresolved. The corruption today he said had vertical tie ups involving huge sums of money. He said once while addressing newly appointed GSs in the presence of superior officials, the GS above had told them, "If you want to make money, make it, put into your pocket and keep quiet. But don't get involved in making money for those higher up. When something goes wrong, investigators will come from Colombo, who need to prove they are clever. Whom will they screw up? Not those higher up, but only the poor GS!"
Another official described the racket involving cadjan for refugees. The ministry of rehabilitation provides Rs 500/- for a family, for which the family should receive 200 olais (palm leaves) of cadjan in 8 stacks containing 25 each. Since coconut palm is available in the area, if some of the money was utilised locally it would have provided employment for refugees. But upto April most orders were said to have been placed in Kurunegala, the GA's native place. What the refugees typically receive would be 5 stacks of about 17 olais each. Each stack it is said would have good olais at the top and bottom with defective ones in-between. The number of families to be resettled in the district is more than 30000. Supplying cadjan to 10000 families would therefore involve dividends in corruption of Rs 2 million or more to be shared out. This practice was corroborated independently by other officers.
Regarding the supply of rations to refugees a typical instruction given to a division is to distribute 60% through the local MPCSs (Multi Purpose Co-operative Societies) and 40% through private traders. Where the instruction originates is not clear. Some put it on the GA and the GA, it has been reported, put it on the Governor. Others point out that this has no meaning since the MPCSs are functioning and they had been doing this distribution for a long time. Moreover they are more accountable locally. From our own inquiries complaints of being served underweight have come from refugees who receive rations from private traders.
One official described how refugees are cheated of
dried milk. A family say entitled to 4 packets of milk will be asked to sign
in duplicate for 2 packets at the beginning of the month. The trader will then
date the receipts, say 1st May 1993 and 16th May 1993. On paper therefore he
has supplied 4 packets in two serves. The total profits from this could amount
to considerably more than Rs 6 million per month spread among several persons
in the network. It comes as no surprise that cars could be given as presents.
Since the game involves some delicate diplomacy, even Sinhalese associated in
it have been suspected of having an understanding with the Tigers. [Top]
We touched on this issue in the last report and gave some pointers. Attention was also drawn to acquisition of huge extents of land by state bodies, including private and temple lands which served as a means of unfair land alienation to Sinhalese (e.g. SLPA land). We expand on this here with more concrete detail.
To term as resettlement or rehabilitation what the government is doing is to put an undeserved positive construct on its activity. What we have recorded starting from its destruction of civilian life and habitations to what has been achieved to date is more fairly described as unsettlement. We mentioned in the last report the problems of refugees in Muthur in contrast to Sinhalese settlers who are readily receiving housing grants from the rehabilitation ministry.
The position of Muthur refugees and its implications.
Following displacement shortly after June 1990 the position in early May 1993 was as follows: 11 836 refugee families were `resettled' in 42 GS's divisions. This meant that they had gone back to their residential premises and were living on rations in cadjan huts. 1388 families were living in 6 refugee camps (St. Anthonys & Methodist Church, Muslim High School (2 camps) & Pachchanoor among them). Out of 42 GS's divisions 10 have been issued the SIA (Settling In Allowance - Rs 2000/- per family). Only 1 GS's division has been issued the PEG (Productive Enterprise Grant - Rs 4000/- (US$ 90/-) per family). This is the progress in more than two years considering that a large number of them have been living on their premises from about September 1990. The Rs 15000/- per family for housing, also due from the ministry of rehabilitation, will not come within the foreseeable future. A senior government official in Trincomalee said in fact that they have been asked to go slow on rehabilitation because the ministry faces a liquidity (cash) problem. That is the reality that underlies the public relations about rehabilitation.
What then of the refugees in transit camps who have returned from India? It would appear from the fate of internal refugees that the UNHCR is in no position to give assurances. They will be resettled in the sense of living in cadjan huts on their lands. But for the rest, as a face saving exercise they may perhaps be given priority over internal refugees.
More attempts at unsettlement
The authorities evidently did not run short of ideas to unsettle Tamils after the worst was over in 1990.
At Linganagar LDO (Land Development Ordinance) permits were issued on a piece of land to 14 Tamil families. Adjoining this land was a piece of land 47 acres in extent held by the army with a ridge running through its middle. One day, sometime during 1992, the army advanced the sign boards marking its territory and claimed in addition the land on which Tamil families had their allotments. In the resulting dispute a survey was done and it was established that the 47 acres belonging to the army did not include the land first named. Using a piece of military logic, the army wanted 47 acres to be measured excluding land on one side of the ridge in the piece acknowledged as belonging to them. The dispute is still unresolved.
Interestingly there were plans to settle on the land which the army was trying to capture, families of urban council workers of Indian origin. Over 500 of them were being displaced as the result of hospital expansion. Although many Tamil officials participated in the land conferences of 28/12/92 and 6/1/93, the minutes did not reflect the true position of the land. It was merely recorded that the army wanted the land for use as a firing range. Other officials said privately that a land so near the main road cannot be used as a firing range.
The army's record for displacing Tamils began a long time ago. Plantain Point, the army's main camp near Orr's Hill, has an interesting history. The area was in occupation by Tamil squatters who were registered for land alienation in terms of the circular of 1978 [Report No 11]. This was then the general practice throughout the country. Shortly before the DDC elections of 1981, Jayasuriya, a Divisional Land Officer, came with a police party and ordered the Tamils to vacate within 24 hours. The land was taken over by the army. Then Bandaragoda was GA and Nanda Abeywickrema, Secretary, Lands, under Minister Gamini Dissanayake.
State aided settlement of Sinhalese encroachers on private land
10 acres of prime land is owned by Tamils at Linganagar within UC limits between Yard Cove and Kandy Road. The owners meant to develop it as an industrial estate. During the disturbances of June 1983 the land was occupied by Sinhalese squatters. Legal proceedings were promptly instituted. On 11th December 1989 the Court of Appeal verdict (CA No. 229/84) restored the land to the owners who put up a boundary wall at a cost of Rs. 360,000/-.
Following the outbreak of the current war in late 1990, the wall was broken down, and about 25 squatters occupied the land. In due course the ministry of rehabilitation that is keeping thousands of Tamils waiting for their Rs 2 000/= SIA, released housing money for the Sinhalese squatters, and the NHDA has put up houses for them. The present list of householders number 24 Sinhalese and a Tamil lady (Inthumathurakanthi) who is not in occupation of her house.
A mere 25 squatters have been sufficient for the state
to formulate proposals to acquire 10 acres of Tamil land. [Top]
Multi-Ethnic Housing Schemes: Propaganda and Reality
Shortly after June 199O in the wake of Tamil houses being destroyed, the authorities came up with an interesting public relations exercise to give their role a benign colouring. Every delegation going to Trincomalee was told about multi-ethnic housing schemes around town where all communities were supposed to contribute voluntary labour and houses were to be given to the three communities according to the district ethnic ratio (roughly equal numbers for each community). The government was thus it seems for equality and national unity. The proposal itself was questionable.The population in the UC limits of Trincomalee is 12% Moors & others, 64% Tamils and 24% Sinhalese. Most Sinhalese in the district were in 4 AGA's divisions some distance firm town where colonisation schemes were instituted.
The other questionable feature is this. There was a need for new housing in Trincomalee and a large section of those needing them are UC & health labourers of Indian origin who were being displaced for hospital expansion.The principal problem of others whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim within town limits is not a need for new housing. Many of them were displaced. They were meant by the government's procedure to return to their former premises and resettle in temporary accomodation. They were then eligible to receive rehabilitation aid in stages. What was then the rationale behind these multi-ethnic schemes under wartime conditions, when the majority of those displaced, mostly Tamils, were languishing in temporary huts for over two years? Further, under present conditions of fear and the record of the forces, would Tamils or Muslims wish to live alongside Sinhalese? The real intentions are not hard to guess. We look at some of them.
The LEADS houses: LEADS', a church based NGO, first approached the provincial government in 1989 and proposed to build 1000 houses - 500 for Tamils, 500 for Sinhalese and Muslims were, it is said, not mentioned. The provincial administration maintained that houses should be built for each community in proportion to houses of that community destroyed. According to a senior official LEADS did not make a commitment and the matter dragged on. The governor is said to have expressed his displeasure with the administration. The provincial council was later dissolved and the war came. The late Brigadier Lucky Wijeratne was a strong exponent of multi-ethnic housing schemes. LEADS reappeared on the scene and put up houses near Thambalakamam as mentioned in the last report. The recipients up to that time were 58 Sinhalese and 27 families of gypsies in Telugu Nagar.
We make a slight correction. These houses were not put up in Palampottaru I & II as mentioned in the last report. The latter are long the Kandy Road covering 2/3 mile from Palampottaru bridge towards Thampalakamam. The LEADS houses start from here and cover a further 1/2 mile towards Thampalakamam. To the East of the road is Jayapura, 125 allotments of 20 perches, and to the west Sinhapura 75x20 perches. The project involves 200 houses. For Sinhapura 10 acres of forest reserve planted with teak were dereserved. Officials said that this would never have happened if the houses were meant for Tamils. Captain Nanayakkara, then in charge of the local army camp, was freely allowed to use materials from the project to put up a Buddhist temple at the juction. Rs 15000 for each house was released by the ministry of rehabilitation.
So much for the multi-ethnic scheme. But how were these Sinhalese settlers going to live? Some had jobs such as railway labourers. The land alienation guidelines were a maximum of 20 perches of residential land and 2 acres of low (agricultural land). There is no agricultural land in the area for these families, even if there was land they could work in security. They could be given agricultural land quite some distance away if the war ends. So what do they do for a living now on 20 perches of land? One could hardly blame them if they start stripping the nearby reserve for teak wood. According to people in the area, this is going on.
Palampottaru I & II : As mentioned in the last report most allottees were Tamils who are now refugees and are unable to cultivate. According to official sources Brigadier Wijeratne and subsequently his successors have asked for a cancellation of land permits in order to institute a multi-ethnic scheme.
Ganesh Lane, Andankulam (near 3 1/2 mile post, Kandy Road): Champa Lane and Ganesh Lane were Tamil residential areas from which residents were driven out during bouts of violence. Now a multi-ethnic scheme for 30 houses (10 for each community) has been instituted. The Rotary Club is said to be in charge of 3 houses and Lions Club the balance. A Lions official was asked how they could build houses on lands that were said to legally belong to Tamil owners. He replied that they would check the deeds before building. The other question is that if Tamil owners have so far been afraid to reclaim their property, will other Tamils go there under the present circumstances if there is a multi-ethnic scheme?
There is much more that could be said about settlement
and unsettlement. Some Sinhalese families living near the old Muthur jetty were
displaced in June `90 They went to Kantalai and are said to have received land.
Some returned to Muthur and stayed in vacated and partly damaged government
quarters. During the Trinco Presidential Mobile Secretariat in January they
submitted a petition claiming that they had lived in the quarters for 30 years
and that the Tamil and Muslim AGAs had not co-operated in giving them land.
Without any verification, secretary, ministry of Lands ordered that land should
be alienated to about 12 Sinhalese families. This has caused disaffection among
local Muslims, also in need of land and has been raised in parliament by the
It was mentioned earlier that on 31st January 1993, the president met Tamil leaders and undertook to resolve most key grievances in accordance with their suggestions. A few weeks later the cabinet met and considered a Cabinet Paper (93/340/043) submitted by the Minister of Housing and Construction dated 23rd February 1993. The title was "The aquisition of land in Trincomalee". The decisions taken ran totally counter not just to the undertaking given by the president. But they seriously vitiated the authority and functions devolved to the provincial administration as a means to resolve the ethnic conflict in this country.
We examine some features of the policies and procedures listed. The two clauses running directly counter to the aims and the spirit of devolution are:
(10). A Committee chaired by the Land Commissioner and including the Government Agent, Add1. Director-General (Planning) of the UDA, General Manager/NHDA, Provincial Land Commissioner and Surveyor-General should be established, with powers to co-opt other members to examine and decide on all requests for acquisition and alienation of land in Trincomalee.
Authority was given to the Minister for Housing and Construction to establish this committee.
(11). All proposals for acquisition of land as well as the alienation of state or acquired land, should be examined and approved by the committee proposed under (10) above. The Committee will consult the Minister of Housing and Construction as necessary.
Clauses (5) and (8) went far beyond vitiating the devolved functions and established special rules for Trincomalee.
(5). If an owner whose land has been encroached upon, requests state assistance to resolve the problem, such requests sould be examined on a case by case and pragmatic basis. For example, in agreement with the owner, a land re-adjustment exercise, as undertaken by the NHDA in urban low income land, can be initiated. These requests should be examined and decided upon by the Committee referred to under (10) below.
(8). The alienation of state land to families in the Trincomalee Town should be on the ethnic ratio of the District. However, the allocation of land for commercial, industrial, recreational, tourist and other development activities, should be based on the national policies and procedures for similar allocation in the country.
Alienation of crown land was a function devolved to the province. The disposition of private land is governed by the law of the land. The Minister of Housing and Construction usurped not only the first but also the law on these matters. (8) has been commented upon in connection with multi-ethnic schemes.
This decision therefore effectively legitimises all the irregularities that we had earlier dealt with. In fact the Presidential Mobile Secretariat itself marked a usurpation which would have flared up in friction if a North-East Provincial Council was functioning. The PMS avoided these pitfalls only because all other provincial councils until recently were UNP controlled and the NEPC was dissolved. The Muthur land allocation above, ordered by the PMS, is a totally arbitrary action. The only motivating principle is `settle Sinhalese wherever you can in the district'.
How sensitive or serious is the government about giving
confidence to the minorities and ending this war? [Top]
A dark cloud hangs over the future of Tamil speaking people in the Trincomalee District. State aided Sinhalese colonisation so positioned as to dominate major resources of water, brought mounting ruin to a significant section of Tamil and Muslim farmers. Next came state instigated violence which destroyed lives and homes. Military backed administrative manipulation placed a legal stamp on their deprivation and insecurity. Corruption, an inevitable concomitant of such manoeuvring erected more obstacles in the way of helpless refugees created by the state.
It is a healthy sign that many Tamils are reflecting on their own role in furthering this tragedy. The homicidal turn in the Tamil militancy resulting from Tamil ideology aided their isolation. It further prevented the Tamils from finding allies among the deprived Sinhalese brought in by the government to corner them. Ironically many of the so called Sinhalese killed were intrinsically Tamils who were not hostile to them. [e.g. the Kokkilai massacre in December 1984]. A former MP reflected, "In 1970 some of them told me, `Iyah, we are Tamils. The Catholic Church suddenly stopped Tamil services and had only Sinhalese services. But we had to worship. They also stopped Tamil schools. But our children had to study and only Sinhalese schools were available. If you give us places in Tamil schools we are only too happy to remain Tamils. But your people are also rejecting us'." The former MP added, "They were people from around Negombo. Yes, we rejected them. And once our boys started massacring them, we made enemies of them". Indeed the prospect of finding allies among the Sinhalese had always existed, as the turn of events in the market area described at the beginning shows.
True, an injustice was done to the minorities in the manner in which colonisation schemes were instituted. But it would be wrong to say that relations between Tamils and Sinhalese were always bad in colony areas. This may come as a surprise to Tamils from elsewhere who only read about these schemes. The former MP quoted above said, "We had no problems with the bona fide Sinhalese farmer-settlers in the Allai scheme. In fact they were very close to us. They used to come into the Tamil villages very freely to buy fruit, curd and such like. My father was a registrar of marriages who could write Tamil, but not Sinhalese. Even after a Sinhalese registrar was appointed, most Sinhalese preferred to come to my father while he was in service. The violent elements among the Sinhalese were seldom the farmers. One lot was brought into Neelappalai by C.P de Silva during 1958 and settled over-night in alottments meant for Tamils. They were known trouble makers".
Many reflective people see the ultra-nationalist politics of the LTTE as incredibly insensitive to the plight of the Tamils. One lady in a responsible position commented on the worsening position of Tamils as a result of colonisation by the state: "The leaders in Jaffna are not thinking at all about Trincomalee. Surely, it is unacceptably inhuman to ignore ongoing developments and think complacently that one could solve this one day by shooting Sinhalese."
A local TULF activist observed poignantly, "This politics has only brought moral and physical ruin to the Tamils. It has made it easy for one section to go to the West and talk Tamil nationalism, Tamil valour and the purity and virtue of Tamil women. The reality of the position of Tamils is forgotten. In the Tricomalee District, many Tamil women and widows, left unprotected and without means by this politics, are being driven to sell their virtue to non-Tamil men."
He then read out a letter from a colleague now in Canada, "......Our people here are getting funds from the state for cultural activities, forming societies and are trumpeting things Tamil. That is only for this generation. The growing generation will not know Tamil and hardly anyone cares. Mun(Land), Pon(Gold) and Pen(woman), the great vices of Tamil culture, are only too easily and abundantly available here. Our community is going to pieces. I am sick of all this hypocrisy. The only achievement of our community here will be to add a shade of tan to the human species in Canada. I am only waiting for some members of my family in Madras to get their visas and come to Canada. Then I will lose no time in returning to Trincomalee."
That is a statement of the unresolved dilemma confronting
the Tamil community. In the face of internal and external oppression the Tamils
have also been given some long ropes. Will they hang themselves by taking them
or find life through prudence and humanity. [Top]
The foregoing reports dealing with Trincomalee were compiled during the middle of this year. No major rehabilitation has taken place since then. According to leading citizens only a group of refugees in Ichchilampattai AGA' s division have since then received their SIA(Rs 2000/- per family).We also learnt that a group of 80 Tamil families from Muthunagar ( now Ranmuthugama!), presently refugees in the Thampalakamam AGA's division have been asked by the army to return although the refugees themselves have reservations regarding security. The Tamils in Kuchchaveli are to be resettled in January 1994. At present a hospital is being built there with Swedish aid.
Land matters: An interesting development is that top ranking officials based in Trincomalee have called for the transfer of the Sinhalese Land Officer mentioned above and in the last report. According to a Tamil party spokesman, they reliably learnt that the transfer was ordered by the Lands Ministry and is being objected to by the Security Council - namely the army. Leading officials including Sinhalese, regarded his activities as creating discord in Trincomalee. He was said to be breaking all regulations in alienating state land to Sinhalese (often from the forces), issuing permits on his own initiative and putting people in possession. He had also, it is learnt, recommended acquisition of Tamil owned lands to the committee set up by the Minister for Housing & Construction (see 5.7), claiming consent from the owners, without even having spoken to them. Although Divisional Secretaries (DSs), who replaced AGAs were appointed early this year, this officer is believed to be still issuing land permits and back - dating them. (Since land alienation has now to be initiated by the DS).The GA who reportedly said that he was unaware of the activities of this officer is said to have called for all the files. Why this officer was so bold is also an open secret. Leading Sinhalese officials have said privately that he was unstoppable because be had the express backing of a key military official with wide powers - his namesake.
This goes to show how the military and sections of the government have abused their powers over 3 years of military rule in Trincomalee. Thampalakamam is another division where the government's attentions are directed on land. According to the same sources, former Secretary, Public Administration, recommended the appointment of a Tamil DS for Thampalakamam, which was over- ruled by the Security Council. A Sinhalese was then appointed.
The Governor, NEP, according to Tamil leaders, has been generally fair in his decisions. Only, they say, he may not have fought back when directed by the central government.[Top]
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