THE EAST : LOOKING BACK
9.2 Tamil - Muslim Troubles in the East, 1979 - 87
In our report No.4, we gave some indication of what had happened in this area. But precise information was unavailable. The following description of event was compiled for this report by a group of university students from that area.
We have already described the fighting at Kalmunai police Station, the death in an ambush of 11 soldiers and the killing by the LTTE of several policemen who had surrendered. What followed has remained largely unknown as the result of an official news black out. These massacres of Tamils, coupled with the highly visible use of Muslims by the security forces laid the ground for succeeding tragedies.
On 11th June there was a detachment of soldiers at the Kalmunai guest House which too came under attack by the LTTE. Eight soldiers escaped by sea while an unknown number were killed. Kalmunai town, which was mostly inhabited by Tamil was then shelled by the army from Kondavedduvan, 18 miles away. Of the 28 who were killed, nearly all were Tamils. On 21st June, the army advanced from Amparai into Weeramunai. 150 males were rounded up, tied, piled in groups surrounded by wooden blocks on four sides, and were then set on fire.
On the 20th, the Karaitivu refugee camp which was set up in a school and was flying a white flag, was bombed from a helicopter, killing 3 and injuring 3. The army arrived in Karaitivu on the 21st noon and rounded up all males. 26 of them were shoved into a room and a grenade was thrown, followed by automatic firing. There of them escaped miraculously. At about 3 p. m. 25 were burnt ar Karaitivu junction.
A large number of males were brought into Kalmunai on the same day. Over 250 were tied, shot and burnt. Of those who escaped, one fell into the police station toilet pit, one with burns fell into a well and died and another was admitted to the Nintavur hospital. 3000 were detained in the Kalmunai Kachcheri, three ladies amongst whom were raped. 100 of them were later taken to Amparai along with the forces who went to attack the LTTE camp in Kanjikuddichcharu. There is no definite information on what happened to them. It is believed that they were used in some way as a human shield. 75 of the detainees at the Kalmunai Kachcheri were murdered during the night. The rest were released. Many shops in Kalmunai were burnt with dead bodies inside them. Some of these shops are Photo Rio, Vel Stores, Uma Traders, Cecelia Recording Bar and Saraswathy Hotel. Skulls were also found in front of Wesley College. During the round up at Karativu, Muslim militants operating with the army had reportedly pointed out particularly those males who in time would become community leaders school teachers, university students and even professionals.
There was another round up at Karaitivu on the 27th. 75 were taken to Nainakadu and were burnt. 80 were taken from Pandiruppu and what happened to them is not known. There were to more round ups of Neelawanai, Maruthamunai and Pandiruppu. 34 were missing after the first and 40 after the second. During the following days. a white coloured van used to take away persons released by the army from Kalmunai and Karaitivu. A female teacher who went from the Kalmunai refugee camp to ask for food from the GS (HEADMEN) was raped by the army. In due course 27 headless bodies were washed ashore on Kalmunai beach.
Figures of missing persons compiled by local citizens groups stood at about 4000 for Batticaloa, 200 for Karaitivu, 5000 for the Kalmunai AGAs division and above 1200 for Amparai. Official sources put the number of Muslims killed at 7000.
August end, 1990.
The following brief outline of Tamil-Muslim troubles in the East was again complied by a group of university students from the area. There was suspicion and bouts of tension as would not be unusual between two communities living side by side. From the escalation that can be discerned in this account, it could be seen that earlier troubles were in the nature of minor clashes between rowdy elements on both sides. These differences assumed sinister proportions when the state set out to exploit these differences.
In 1979, Jalaldeen, a Muslim tailor in Akkaraipattu, cut the plait of a Tamil girl at the main bus stand. In the clashes that followed, some Muslims cut off the ear of a Tamil and the Tamils in turn cut the ears of 6 or 7 Muslims. Then things calmed down. In 1981 again rioting broke out after some Muslim boys bathing in the river splashed water on some Tamil girls who passed by on the bridge. This too calmed down quickly.
On 13th April 1985, members of the PLOTE in Karaitivu, took car of a Muslim at gun point and also robbed some bags of rice from Muslims. Muslims from Kalmunai and Maligaikkadu came along with the Special Task Force (STF), burnt over 5000 Tamil houses in Karaitivu and killed about 40 Tamils. Hindu temples were also desecrated.
At 10.00 p. m. on 15th April 1985, a cry went out over the hailer at the Kattankudy Mosque, saying that the Tamils are coming to attack, and called upon Muslims to come to the Mosque with sticks and knives. Because of the tension in Kalmunai, Tamil boys armed with petrol bombs, knives, swords and a few shotguns, had been guarding the Manjanthoduwa (Navatkudah) - Kattankudy border. Manjanthoduwa was inhabited by a Dhoby (washermen) community. They sighted an armoured car with rotating lights, leading a group of similarly armed Muslims. Suddenly, the house of a dhoby caught fire. No one quite knew how. The Tamils ran away. The Muslims proceeded to burn houses in Manjanthoduwa while the police armoured car circled the area. The Tamils returned in the morning and set fire to some Muslim houses in Manjathoduwa. Later on 9 Tamils who went into the area to retrieve belongings were hacked to death by Muslims. 5 Muslims who travelled to Kattankudy from Batticaloa, unaware of the disturbances, were killed by Tamils.
Following the LTTEs war with the IPKF, in December 1987, Muslim and Tamil LTTE cadre from the locality demanded large sums of money, amounting to several lakhs of rupees each, from Muslim businessmen in Kattankudy. Two Muslim supporters of the LTTE were shot dead allegedly by members of the Jihad. The LTTE took away 15 jihad suspects in a van and demanded that the remaining Jihad members should surrender. Again suspected Jihad members shot dead 6 Tamil labourers employed in Kattankudy, one of whom was an LTTE supporter. The Jihad consisted of Muslim homeguards trained and armed by the state during the last 3 years as a counter to the Tamil insurgency.
As a reprisal,the following day the LTTE stopped a passenger coach from the Hijira company at Navatkudah, carrying passengers from Colombo to Kalmunai and Kattankudy. 30 of the Muslim passengers were killed. The 15 suspects who were taken in earlier were also killed. Earlier during September, some LTTE cadre were also behind the burning of Muslim shops in Kalmunai. It can be seen that the LTTE as early as 1987 had adopted Sri Lankan army traditions in its dealings with Muslims. The totalitarian demands of its ideology led to poor quality of leadership in the East. Able local leaders such as Kadavul and Francis were driven to isolation while those amenable to Jaffna control were brought into prominence. The lack of democracy in the LTTE and its insensitivity to Eastern problems and to the vulnerability of Tamils there, laid the foundation for a major disaster.
9.3 The East : What the People feel
For the Tamil and Muslim people of the East, it is a time of major reappraisal. They have been victims of intrigue. The people were the victims of every move by the powers around. Following the IPKF inspired conscription campaign which was widely resented, for those not subject to Tiger suspicion and victimisation, the Tigers for a time appeared to offer them dignity. Tamil passengers could go past police barriers in the South, simply casting the logs aside while the police looked on. Such people found it an exhilarating experience in contrast to the memories of 1983. Tamils appeared to be strong for once a tragically shortlived illusion.
But when one looks closely, irresponsible and cynical as it was on Indias part, views on the conscription for the TNA in the East are more complex. Some Tamil villages in the East which felt most threatened by adjoining Sinhalese and Muslim villages, sent their young voluntarily to the TNA. In some ways the TNA was the direct result of the governments failure in its pledge to devolve power to the provincial council for the North- East, and most importantly its failure to appoint the promised police commission for the North-East. The SLMC leader has blamed the present tragedy on the security vacuum created as a result, out of deference to the LTTE. The LTTE with its power base in Jaffna failed to appreciate how the Tamils of the East had been cornered by events into depending on India. It simply branded as traitors all those who had dealings with the Indian state, something that it had itself done very prominently not long ago. In conniving with the Sri Lankan government to dismantle the prospects of a healthy provincial council for the North-East in control of its own security, the LTTE had removed the very basis for minimising dependence on India. To many in the East, the LTTE theoretician Balasingams pledge made in Jaffna on 18th May, that in the event of the government failing to do justice to them, they would not hesitate to take up to arms to protect our people and to carry on our aims, would seem a black farce. The LTTE simply took on the police and army sometimes killing them, and then withdrew from population centers, leaving the people at the memory of advancing forces in a vindictive mood.
A very eminent scholar with close connections in the East had this to say: I talked to some of my highly placed friends. They said that every gain made during the IPKF presence has been lost. The Tamils had been relatively secure and the coastal path from Jaffna to Trincomalee and Batticaloa was clear. I do not know how we are going to recover from this. People continue to disappear. A good deal of Tamil property in Trincomalee has been taken over. All Tamils in the residential area of Orrs Hill have been driven out. People are even afraid to complain about missing persons. The provincial governor is sympathetic, but he is helpless.
People in Jaffna fail to appreciate what the IPKF meant to the people of the East. True, had a nasty experience. But a price has to be paid for taking on an army. But in the East, many Tamils and even Muslims, have a good word to say for the IPKF. Do you realise what it was like for the people of Trincomalee during the dark days of 1983? The Sri Lanka forces,particularly the navy, went on a rampage. People were cowering in their houses. Suddenly, the house caught fire when burning oil soaked rags were thrown in. When they tried to escape being burnt to death, they were shot as curfew breakers.
You people in Jaffna cannot understand the gravity of the problems confronting the Easterners. When there is trouble, you find it relatively easy to find places to stay in Colombo or even to go abroad. Mow many from the East have facilities to stay in Colombo?
The government has gone back on every pledge made to the Tamils and has dishonoured every which will take every opportunity to ensure that the Tamils get nothing. The LTTE played into their hands. Take the EPRLF- led provincial administration. They were elected, though in a process which was as unsatisfactory as the presidential and parliamentary elections. They were, with there serious faults,willing to surrender their arms work within the framework of Sri Lanka. But the government failed to honour its pledges. The Chief Minister is blamed by the government for declaring a state of Eelam. But he did this only when the flood waters were at the gates, when the LTTE backed by the government was creating a situation where he had to flee. Instead of sympathising with him, the very government which let him down scorned him and poked fun at his discomfiture. That evinced a deplorable human quality very distant from statesmanship. What was one to expect in a deal between the LTTE and such a government? With all their sommersaults and their hypocrisy, the LTTE can out saying that the government had betrayed them and the Tamils. The government in turn would oblige by proving them right.
A Muslim government official from the East, expressed a feeling shared by many Tamils. He felt that the LTTE was not serious about raising their eastern recruits to leadership positions, where Jaffna influence was dominant. There was a tendency, he said, to use local Muslim and Tamil recruits as frontline material.
An eastern citizens committee figure, not unsympathetic to the Tigers, became reflective as the disastrous was progressed. He said, I wonder, whether at this rate, the Tamils have a future in the East. While saying that the Tigers had made sacrifices, he known to him, who had been bypassed or had been victimised with what he felt were undeserved allegations. He voiced strong feelings over the other Tamil groups and the SLMC, whom he thought were trying to use the Sri Lankan army to re-establish their influence. He added, If the Tigers were not serious about the East, they should have left us alone.
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