WAR AND THE CIVILIANS: It must be borne in mind that detailed information on civilian causalities during the course of this war will not be known for several months. in view of gross public misrenpresentations, particularly in the press, about the scale of civilian suffering, we find it necessary to put down what has been said by reliable witnesses and has been cross shacked throughout other sources. Our Sources are almost all persons holding responsible positions in public life. A failure to understand the immense tragedy of this conflict and the manner in which divisions are being used for tactical military advantage, raising old suspicions to vicious hatreds, will only deepen the moral drift and uncertainty in this country.
EASTERN PROVINCE (SOUTHERN SECTOR): Most observers agree that the unjustifiable suffering inflicted by Sri Lankan forces on civilians here, must also be seen in part was reprisals for the killing by the LTTE of unarmed policeman who had surrendered. While the decision to take on Sri Lankan forces in all sectors was almost certainly taken by the LTTE at top level, the decision to kill the policemen may have been taken by the local leadership. It may be noted that police personnel who surrendered in Batticaloa were handed over to the air force. It is also puzzling that a Tamil guerilla group should do something calculated to make sworn enemies of Muslims and Sinhalese in an area where the Tamils were weakest and vulnerable.
It has been noted that the police personnel in the area surrendered to the Tigers on 11th June. Policemen from the areas surrounding Kalmunai were assembled at Vinayagapuram, south of Kalmunai. The Sinhalese and Muslim policemen were herded into one lot and the Tamil policemen into another. Both lots were assaulted by LTTE cadre. Boys as young as 12 are said to have been used in this operation. Subsequently, the Sinhalese and Muslim policemen were driven westward into the jungle in buses, in batches. That many of them were massacred has been corroborated in several reports. The first report came from a Sinhalese policemen who escaped with injuries with the help of Tamil village women. Tamil police sources, now living in fear, said that the operation went on over two days, and the number of policemen killed is put at above 200. The Tamil policemen were released. Six of the latter were said to have been killed, either by police colleagues or by the army. According to local sources, there were among the victims 105 Muslim policemen from the nearby areas of Komary, Akkaraipattu and Attalachchenai. A senior Sinhalese police official and his wife were kept by the Tigers ia a house at Tambiluvil and were released later.
When STF commandos subsequently advanced to Kalmunai, a number of Tamils were killed on the first day. The killings continued on subsequent days as young men were rounded up or detained. The post master of Kalmunai, one of whose sons disappeared after being detained in Kandy in 1986, lost two more of his sons during this period. It has been said by many persons that anyone arrested, whether on information, suspicion or on fancy, is in grave danger. A Muslim serviceman may have put it only a little too strongly, when he told some civilians, "No one who goes into the Karaitivu army camp as a detainee comes out alive." A unit of the Sinha regiment had later replaced the STF. Nearly every Tamil shop in kalmunai was burnt, quite often with mutilated Tamil corpses inside.
Apart from the agony, there was among the people a sense of outrage and disbelief. Several young boys had been picked up and killed because they had been friendly with the Tigers. The owner of a photographic Studio in Kalmunai had been killed, because Tigers had come to him to be photographed and had paid good money. They asked, "Was not President Premadasa himself happy to have his photograph taken with Tiger leaders? Did not the government itself place a seal of approval on friendship with Tigers? Why kill a man who made his living taking photographs? Why kill young boys for whom it is natural to strike up conversations out of curiosity, with those in uniform carrying arms?"
The following details were supplied by a senior figure from the East in a national political party, a Muslim. He has himself cautioned that the figures should be looked at less for accuracy than for an impression about the scale of the problem. Those reports nearer his home are more accurate.
20.6: 40 arrested at Veeramunai and killed and burnt inside two houses at Walathapiddy.
26.6: (Press report - Virakesari) 29 bodies burnt in Kalmunai and 20 at Karaitivu.
27.6: (Press report - Virakesari) 400 youths were arrested at Akkaraipathu and taken to Kalmunai.
29.6: 82 persons were killed and burnt at Weddukkadu.
1.7: 45 persons, including 4 women were killed and burnt at Weddukkadu.
5.7: 85 skulls were found opposite Wesley College, at Kalmunai.
5-7.7: About 100 persons were killed at Korakkovil.
7.7: A temple was burnt and about 45 persons were killed and burnt at Ninthavur.
10.7: 15 persons were arrested by the army at Kalmunai market, of whom 4 were stabbed to death.
In the meantime many Tamil civilians had been killed at Amparai as the result of mob violence in which policemen in and out of uniform played a key role. One witness said that he had escaped by hiding in the lavatory when policemen in uniform came looking for Tamils. Mr. & Mrs. Sinnathamby who were senior members of the Methodist Church in Amparai, took refuge in their church. On receiving advice that this church was unsafe, they went to the Roman Catholic Church. A mob which broke in took people away, including the Sinnathambys. The couple has since been missing. The number killed at Amparai is placed at over a hundred.
10th July was the 30th day following the abduction and killing of policemen in the East. The day started quietly in Kalmunai. A group of Soldiers was seen taking up positions at the Kalmunai Rest House junction. Several passers by were detained, including Dr and Mrs. Shanmugam who had come from Paddiruppu. Four of the detainees were stabbed to death and their bodies were thrown behind two Muslim shops which were set on fire. There were evidently no more Tamil shops to burn. It must be noted that nearly all killings of civilians took place when there was no threat to the lives of servicemen. That there were four mutilated corpses behind the shops was established from Muslims who came to retrieve what could be saved from the burning shops. But we have not been able to establish with certainty whether Dr & Mrs Shanmugam were among them.
The soldiers withdrew to the camp that morning itself with some detainees. About mid-night the same day, a single burst of machine gun fire was heard from the army camp. It was clearly not a confrontation. A senior citizen reported several days later that 42 persons were killed on that day. A Tamil MP who toured that area said that more than 160 persons were killed in the Kalmunai-Karaitivu areas.
TRINCOMALEE: Trouble was rumoured on 13th June. Residents cringed in fear during the night while the LTTE and the army exchanged fire, with the LTTE shelling army positions. Civilians pleaded with the LTTE to withdraw, and by morning the LTTE had withdrawn from Trincomalee town. It was quite on the morning of the 14th and the civilians hoped for the best. Across Cottiar Bay during the night, the LTTE had ambused a group of l00 commandos who had been landed at Brown Rock Point, killing over 40 of them including Major Azad.
When the army came out, there was no provocation from the LTTE. An executive who lived near the Fort Frederick area said that the army rounded up 38 young men from his neighbourhood and promptly shot them. He had been in one of the two houses left out. He had personally identified 60 dead persons. There were a number of cases of persons being burnt with tyres, even while alive, and of patients being dragged out of hospital and not heard of again. A young boy of about 15 was admitted to hospital with leg burns after soldiers had tried to burn him alive with a tire. He was under the care of the MSF (Medicines Sans Frontiers). Soldiers who came into the hospital forcibly removed him and the he was not seen again. Most patients admitted to hospitals had burn injuries.
An elderly father going with his young son was seen by the army. The son tried to run away in fear and was shot dead. As he was burnt with tires, the father was ordered to lie by his side. Unable to bear the pain and agony, the father asked a soldier to shoot him as well. The soldier pushed him aside with his foot. The father was admitted to hospital with burn injuries.
There was also widespread burning of houses and buildings. A lady pleaded with soldiers not to burn her house as her husband paralysed from neck downwards was inside. She went away after soldiers threatened her, thinking that her husband would be spared. She returned to find her house burnt with no trace of her husband. The Assemblies of God church where a Sri Lankan army brigadier was a regular worshipper had also been burnt down.
A number of refugees had gone North to Nilaveli, in the hope of making it to safer places further North. From Nilaveli, many walked along jungle tracks to Mullaitivu. Two professionals who came back to Trincomalee to fetch their wives said that 4 boat loads of refugees who had tried to make it from Nilaveli to Mullaitivu by sea had been sunk by the Sri Lankan navy.
Trincomalee folk who were in refugee camps were urged by the authorities to return to their homes. But after such an experience the people felt safer in numbers. The reason for this urging is said to have been the smuggling in of foreign correspondents by the LTTE. However, people began to leave after the army took over the protection of refugee camps. The number of civilians killed in the Trincomalee district will certainly run into several hundreds.
BATTICALOA: In comparison with Trincomalee, the effect of the army's entry into Batticaloa town were not server. But there had been causalities due to aerial strafing. Mr. N. Mahesan, Lecturer in statistics at Batticaloa University, was amongst those killed, when a passenger van was fired at from a helicopter. One reason given for the lack of severity in Batticaloa is that the LTTE had handed over the policemen who surrendered to the Sri Lankan air force. The initial entry of the army into Kallaru is also said to have been relatively without incident.
When the army encamped at Valaichchenai, Mr. Jegarajasingam, a senior member of the citizen's committee and a member of the IVS (International Volunteer Service) approached the army in the morning and was courteously received. He told them that they would like to co-operate with the army to look after the interests of the people. He was asked to return that afternoon. Mr. Jegarajasingam returned to the army camp that afternoon and was not seen alive again.
As days wore on army round ups and picking up of suspects commended, in Batticaloa town and in the surrounding suburbs. Burnt dead bodies by the road side, reminiscent of the campaign in the South, have since then become a regular feature. The rough rate is estimated at about 5 a day, based on eye witness reports.
At the time of writing, the army had vacated many of its positions outside Batticaloa town. In Valaichchenai, a witness saw Tigers standing with their guns `as if nothing had happened'.
The villagers were terrified. Men, women, children, infants in arms, with bags, on bicycle or on foot can be seen moving to and for in a mood of uncertainty and fear. Many people trek miles to the big Roman Catholic church at Thethathivu for the nights and return to their homes by day.
HOW THIRUKKOVIL WAS SAVED: During the third week of June, the Tigers were in Thirukkovil, a town south of Kalmunai, while the army was approaching it from the north and the STF from the south. The people were in a state of great anxiety. The local citizens' committee comprising the AGA, and two clergymen from the Methodist and Roman Catholic church, took stock of the situation and went into action. They knew Mr. Ratnayake, the STF chief commanding the advance from the south. He had been posted in the East during 1987 and had earned an uncommon reputation for being concerned about the civilian population under his charge.
The citizens' committee members approached the LTTE and persuaded them to leave Thirukkovil. They then went to Mr. Ratnayake and told him the situation and requested him to occupy the town before the army came in. This was done, and Thirukkovil remained largely trouble free. It also become a place of refugee for people in neighbouring areas. Thirukkovil was held up as one ray of hope in a picture of unrelieved gloom.
JAFFNA: About mid July, the mood in Jaffna was one of panic. There had been a good deal of aerial bombardment which was mostly concentrated around Jaffna Fort, in the vicinity of the town, where the government was a attempting to bring relief to its besieged troops. Parts of town around hospital road and First Cross Street were badly damaged. Bombs also fell in parts of the city far removed from the Fort. Helicopter strafing was more indiscriminate. According to Roman Catholic church sources, "It will not be an exaggeration to say that around 50 civilians were killed due to aerial attacks around town." In a country where a life time's earnings barely suffice to build a house, a person who loses his house is totally destitute. For this reason many people in threatened areas, take a fatalistic view and remain in their homes.
Everyone who has been through such experiences knows that the government's claim about attacking well identified targets is an eye wash.
We give below excerpts from a statement made by a senior Roman Catholic clergyman from Jaffna: "Several of us came out of the Bishop's House after a meeting on the 14th of July, when air craft appeared and proceeded to bomb. Several bombs were dropped in places far apart. A bomb apparently aimed at a house near the OLR church, once occupied by the LTTE, flattened the Bible Center adjoining Main Street. A bomb aimed at the Jaffna kachcheri, already vacated by the LTTE, fell near the Boy Scouts' HQ. Six civilians were killed on that day. The single LTTE casualty had nothing to do with the bombing. That was caused by the overturning of an LTTE vehicle."
"The government's stated policy of hitting terrorists from the air is like swatting mosquitoes with a hammer. Many of the aerial attacks on civilians are not necessarily planned, but come from a casual indifference to civilian life. For one thing, the LTTE is very mobile. They fire at aircraft, from wherever they are sighted, at any time. No harm comes to the aircraft. But the airman is angry, and gives a chase."
"About 10th July, a vehicle from which the LTTE had fired at passing aircraft was chased. The vehicle was abandoned near the Colombogam Seminary and the LTTE vanished. A missile aimed at the vehicle hit the Old Peoples' Home. Fortunately there were no casualties from the home. Some clergy at the seminary tuned into the FM band to listen into the air-men's talk. They heard the command, `Mission aborted. Return to base.' On the way back, the helicopter gunships emptied their ammunition into the village of Ariyalai. I do not know how many, but I was told that there were civilian casualties.
"To get some idea of the accuracy of aerial attacks, take the Jaffna Fort. It is a large target of about 1/4 square mile. When the airforce tried to drop food parcels to the men besieged in the fort, they felt all over the place. A food parcel even came crashing through the roof of St. Peter's Church, 1/3 of a mile away. How can they bomb houses and vehicles?"
"On another occasion, some young men were playing volley ball near a church under construction. A helicopter pilot angered by the sight directed a sortie. An old man who heard the air-men's talk on his FM radio came running and asked the boys to take cover. The pilot of the attack craft came in and reported that the could see no one playing. The operation was called off."
People are afraid of travelling in vehicles. Patients from the Jaffna General Hospital have been distributed over a wide area. Doctors have to travel large distances on bicycles to care for the patients. There are no medicines."
What the young fear
The actions of the government are very much to blame for creating a sense of helplessness and hysteria among young Tamils. The tales of thousands of Trincomalee refugee who are trekking into Jaffna after witnessing wanton killing by government forces, indiscriminate aerial attacks etc. are persuading the young that the worst is in store for them. All this is reported in the local press. Many refugee families from Trincomalee are scattered, one member not knowing what happened to the rest. They insert advertisements in the press informing others of their whereabouts. Young boys and girls are actively encouraged to believe that they are going to die, which they are told, they may as well do carrying weapons. Boys and girls are ferried from tutoris and employed in digging bunkers and are brought back at nightfall. In some places, youth have voluntarily set about building air raid shelters. In case of a land attack such shelters could be a liability. In 1987, troops went on the rampage upon seeing such shelters, saying that people built these
on LTTE orders. The atmosphere there is one that promotes total civilian mobilisation, like in Cartage before its destruction by the Romans. The people are in need of urgent reassurance by the Government, rather than further abandonment. [Top]
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