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1.1  General Introduction

 1.2   Inter ethnic relations

 1.3   The consequences of the LTTE strategy

 1.4   Waiting for the Unknown   

 1.5   The Intrinsic unity of the East

1.1General Introduction

The common mood one comes across among Eastern Tamils is one of resignation and utter helplessness. The humiliation they feel has been rubbed in deep by the frustration they experienced in respect of missing persons, and the dire threats connected to burning tyres with which government servants were ordered to return to work. The Batticaloa and Kalmunai areas each have lists of dead and missing extending over 1000. The regime is not always so harsh now. Sentry point checks are mostly formal and policemen and soldiers could frequently be friendly and human. Yet there is an undercurrent of unpredictability. The massacre of 20 or so Tamil travelers in Eravur on 21st February, following the kil­ling of two Muslim homeguards is among several sharp reminders that lives are playthings for the state.

Apart from the fact that people are nearly always questioned in Sinhalese, there is the very visible fact in Batticaloa town, that Tamil and Sinhalese policemen are distinguished by the former being unarmed and the latter armed. This is a humiliation to which Sinhalese policement were not subject following the recent JVP uprising.

The visit by President    Premadasa on 14th February did not­hing to restore confidence    among Tamils. A delegation of Battica­loa mothers wanted the President    to look into the matter of 175, mainly youths, removed by the army from  the  Eastern University refugee camp on 5th and 23rd     September,  who then disappeared without a trace. The President told them  in effect: The mothers of those killed by the JVP are crying. The mothers of dead secu­rity forces personnel are crying.....To many people in Battica­loa, this sounded a piece of sarcasm completely evading the  fact that the President has an obligation to be accountable. The people also  noticed that the President visited Kattankudy where the Tigers killed Muslims,  but made no attempt to visit places such as Valaichenai where a large number of Tamils had been killed. The Presidents gift to Batticaloa town of a clock tower based on Kandyan architecture, topped by an ornament of Buddhist significance, only gave further offence. A university don obser­ved, Kandyan architecture may be good in itself. But we have been through an experience after which we see everything through coloured glasses. Could he not understand that?

Coupled to a measure  of   satisfaction that the LTTE is embar­rassing the government, there  are   very grave reservations about its record. When the LTTE ran away in  June  after announcing the final battle, deserting the people faced with an angry  army, there was both puzzlement and anger. After building heavy forti­fications,   the Tigers had abandoned the Oddaimavadi bridge ? the gateway to Batticaloa   District  without a fight. Many expostu­late dWhatever happened   to those arms captured from the TNA which the Tigers had displayed in lorry   loads. One observer said

that the Tigers had met their Waterloo in Kiran. Their failure to overrun the small unprepared army camp despite repeated attacks, he felt, had changed their psychology. Their policy then evident­ly changed to concentrating their military strength in the North and to provoking and using the conduct of the forces to turn the East into a source of recruits.

Like elsewhere, the  result   of the struggle particularly in the Batticaloa and Amparai Districts  is paradoxical.  A powerful driving force in these areas was to break out  of the hegemony of Jaffna and to assert an Eastern identity. The massive participa­tion  of Eastern youth in the militancy, it was once thought, would lead to this.  Eastern youth are today dying for the Tiger cause in larger numbers than ever before. But the hegemony of the Jaffna based leadership has been strengthened.  Myths far removed from reality, concerning the superiority of Jaffna, are  current in the East. Common ones are : Our Tigers are rotters. They  are only good at settling personal scores. But those in Jaffna are doing a splendid job, sincerely dedicated to a cause, and, We Tamils  in the East have no future. We are always cutting each others throats.  We have no leadership like in Jaffna. Ironical­ly, the Tigers have been saying repeatedly in Jaffna that it is the Eastern boys who are largely fighting for them, while Jaffna boys were being selfish and are running away. People have become tired and fatalistic, not wanting to talk about what happened (It is all history now!) and not wanting to analyse. Only a few understand that Tiger policy is a well coordinated policy with Eastern cadre doing a good part of the fighting and dying in the North. To enhance and sustain the Eastern mans loss of confi­dence in his own ability is an important aspect of Tiger poli­tics. When the Eastern University became a large refugee camp where people were learning to take up issues collectively, des­pite serious ups and downs, and the camp leadership was develo­ping a strong sense of responsibility, whom the people were looking up to, the Tigers forced the closure of the camp without any discussion with the camp leadership. People who were reali­sing some collective strength to fight back, were driven to become helpless fugitives in jungles, unprotected and facing many natural perils in addition to bombing and helicopter straffing. (See report). [ Top]

1.2 Inter Ethnic Relations

The lesson that has been   tragically brought home to both Muslims and Tamils is that the two  communities   are inseparably linked and that a sound basis for coexistence  needs to be  found. The fear of LTTE attacks on Muslims and Tamil fears of reprisals by Muslim home guards, directly or indirectly backed by the forces,  has affected  all areas of life. In the rice bowl of the nation, the fields of both communities  remain untended. Herds of cattle which used to supply  milk are unaccounted  for, because villagers dare not go far looking for them. On the road between Batticaloa and Kalmunai, passenger vans belonging to one communi­ty drive  at break neck speed through villages of the other commu­nity, not daring  to pause. The bulk of Muslim staff and students do not attend Eastern University because it is situated in a Tamil area, although the neighbouring area is Muslim.

Mutual necessity however     helps to build bridges. Kattankudy is a Muslim village heavily dependent    on trade. Owing to the security situation, Tamil traders lack the ability    to transport goods from Colombo. Within three weeks of the Kattandudy massa­cre, there were gestures of conciliation. Kattankudy traders have now reopened     their shops in Batticaloa town.

In many areas peace committee   meetings have been organised by security forces commanders and held in police   stations the most acceptable venue for both parties. The exercise has several drawbacks. With the state, ironically in concert with the Tigers, having actually encouraged and used Tamil Muslim differences, its motives are suspect, although individual officers may be sincere. An important draw back is that apart from expressing good senti­ments and bringing about some thaw, these committees can deter­mine very little.  They cannot give guarantees of safety. At least in the area of expressing goodwill and trying to understand  each others immediate difficulties, there  have been some successes. A notable  failure is Kalmunai.

The resumption of Kattankudy Muslims trading in Batticaloa was aided partly by good personal relations between the community leadership at Kattankudy and the Roman Catholic Church. The Church had also tried hard without success to get the LTTE re­lease three Muslim leaders it had abducted form Eravur on 4th July.

But the ultimate guarantee     for secrutity rests with forces outside the control of ordinary people,   pursuing  their own aims. Tamils fear getting back to Pottuvil and Eravur   because they  cannot predict how the security forces would react to acts  of the LTTE. Acts  of violence attributed to Muslims have almost never been  independent. Muslims  on the other hand are looking for guarantees, not from  the security forces  or from Muslim politi­cians, but from the LTTE. In town after town Muslims  has said that the Tamil Muslim differences would  vanish the moment the LTTE  states publicly that it would not harm Muslims.  The more mature Muslim leaders  are extremely anxious to reestablish good  relations with Tamils. Our discussions  were always cordial. After 9 months  of war, the LTTE is seen on the surface  as the major actor  it shows the  powerlessness of all the communities and  the destructive power of the LTTE.  [ Top]

 1.3   The Consequences of the LTTE' Strategy:

 From the time it massacred Muslim and Sinhalese policemen at the outset    of the war, the LTTE has pursued a clear strategy of attacking Muslims and   deepening  communal enmity. Even at the time some Muslims reacted in Kalmunai   following  the killing of Muslim policemen and the arrival of the army, there  were no  signs of unrest in the Batticaloa district. There was even a tendency  among  Muslims here to rationalise the Tigers actions. Yet from the  12 th July, the Tigers set about attacking Muslims in the Batticaloa  district,  starting with the massacre at Kurukkal Madam. It is this that argues against  the supposition that the initial killing of Muslim policemen among others was simply a mistake by a local leader. The Tigers have stirred the communal  cauldron and have used the anger and frustration resulting from government  actions to get their recruits. But at what price All creative  activity in the region has been brought to a standstill, and the Tamils in  parti­cular are on the way to becoming a smaller and fragile community.

While there is a limit     to which the state could afford to be seen as working towards anarchy,  the   Tigers have no such inhibi­tions. They have cloaked total irresponsibility     as a sacred prerogative. Thanks to their adversary, they have been able   to  demonstrate that they could frustrate anything by anyone else. If they   choose  to give a guarantee of safety to the Muslims tomor­row, the relief  will  be so great that if elections are held immediately afterwards, many  Muslims  would consider voting for them as a survival tactic. Such benefits  can only  be shortlived. In defying every human norm, the Tigers have also  sown the  seeds of their own destruction. The longer the crisis lasts the  greater the  anger against elders, who appear to compromise Muslim dignity  to survive.  More Muslim youngsters will draw the conclusion that to oppose  the Tigers,  they must imitate them. With economic hardship and confinement,  there are  disturbing signs of such a reaction. Posters have reportedly appeared  in Eravur threatening those who have dealings with Tamils. Many Muslims are  keenly aware what it would mean for the Muslim community. A Muslim leader  in Akkaraipattu said vividly:An attack is something that lasts a short time, some die and it is over. What we are worried about is the counter attack.   It grows within us and terrorises us, as it happened to your community.

The other danger referred to by both Muslim and Tamil lea­ders is that while the present state of communal enmity lasts, there will be no political initiative and matters of common interest vital to both communities will be lost sight of. While the Tamils and Muslims are preoccupied with each other and with the security forces dominating most of Amparai District, the state will push Sinhalese colonisation from the west. As it is few Tamils and Muslims are left in the Gal Oya scheme. With the commencement of the war, the few Tamils left in Amparai town and places such as Inginiyagala and Ingurana were killed or thrown out. Pottuvil is now a no go area for Tamils. While the Tigers have used the mad policy of state sponsored Sinhalese colonisa­tion of deprived Sinhalese for mobilisation, they have done nothing to address the issue creatively.  [ Top]

1.4   Waiting for   the Unknown:

    While the    Sri Lankan forces began the war in an orgy of blood, as though they were   cooperating in a recruitment campaign for the Tigers, the killing at present   is at a low ebb. The occasional massacre still does take place. From mid February to late March at least, those taken prisoner are generally said to  be alive.   In many cases visits have been al­lowed. In Thirukkovil Thambiluvil,   the last known killings by the STF were about early February. In Karaitivu   it is said that most of those taken in are released soon. There is some uncertainty    about what happens to the rest. We have no information on deve­lopments following  the deterioration  in Moneragala.

There appeared to be a   change of orders and a change of tactics. There are even cases in early March  where the STF had warned LTTE suspects and sent them home. These may have  borne some fruit if the government had launched a parallel political   initiative  to give confidence to the Tamils. But the forces have been sent   to do a thankless  and frustrating job in a total poli­tical vacuum.  The forces lack the  discipline, and character to match the Tigers destructiveness.  They  had discredited them­selves and hurt the Tamils too deeply. The  initiative  is thus clearly with the Tigers. Everytime the forces react by  punishing the Tamils, they move a step in the direction of defeat.

While the government  has   over 9 months not made up its mind on a political programme, the process    of destruction goes on. Barely three days after we had conversations with    Muslim leaders in Akkaraipattu, who were both warm and hospitable, a bomb    went off in the fish market killing at least six persons and injuring several    more. This coincided with LTTE attacks elsewhere in the East. In Akkaraipattu,     both Muslims and Tamils had to put in much creative effort to restore something    close to normal relations. Many old friendships had been reactivated and   even some inter communal organisations were functioning. It took only a  split second for an imbecile bomb to destroy that trust so painfully rebuilt.     The purpose of the bomb was to simply ensure that Tamils and Muslims   do not discover strength in working with each other. In handling the  aftermath, the forces have predictably failed, however determined they were  to prevent trouble. Local sources said that 23 Tamils had been abducted by  Muslim homeguards, not in Akkaraipattu, but in the sensitive region between  Kalmunai and Karaitivu. A senior police officer is quoted as saying that he is not aware of such abductions.

This would only further     enhance Tamil fears and distrust. To the Tamils, homeguards are simply  an   arm of the forces. In the incident of 21st February near Eravur,   where about 20 Tamil travellers were massacred, at least two gun shots were   fired and one or more persons in uniform were sighted. There was no attempt   to have an inquiry to punish the offenders and to reassure the Tamils that   this would not happen again. The late Minister for Defence simply contended   that homeguards were not involved, as if that were the end of the matter.   The state of mind of Tamils around Kalmunai should be understood. It would   take a generation or more for them to recover from the entry of the first   army battalion last June. Their subsequent experience is one of conti­nual   horrro mostly linked to Muslim home guards and their masters. They would   tell you today: Do not go on the streets after six, Do not go near the old police station. That is where   they behead people. To the outsiders, the burnt out shops of Kalmunai   are merely an eyesore. But those who pass them day after day are reminded   of corpses and skeletal remains. Whether the information concerning the abduction  of 23 Tamils is accurate or not, the authorities have to go far beyond simple  denial to the process of the law. It has been brought home to the Tamils  again and again that publicising Muslim deaths is good propagan­da, but  Tamils do not matter for the government. For the Tigers it is the reverse.   In the meantime the Tigers have launched a recruitment drive with the slogan    of liberating South Tamil Eelam (the East). Tamils in such an environment    will seldom see through the cynicism.  [ Top]

1.5   The Intrinsic unity of the East:
Barring a new initiative by a force that can give confidence to all communities, the East stands to slip further into tragedy. On a human level, the trage­dy of the East is beyond description. Its vast agricultural potential remaining unused is a mere symptom. Communities who had lived together have been split asunder by hatreds. The Tamils have been prostrated by a sense of division. Many families resul­ting from intercommunal marriages had been broken up. Communities of Sinhalese had sprung up in many Eastern towns in a healthy manner, through normal migration in search of oppotunities. These Sinhalese who had intimate social relations with those whom they lived among, have also been humiliated, killed or expelled.

The Muslims and Tamils spoke the same language, lived with each other and were bound by local customs. The question whether one is Tamil or Muslim is ironical at a time when perhaps the greater volume of literary output in Tamil appearing locally is of Muslim authorship. Tamils must face up to the fact that in­stead of using much that was common to strengthen existing ties, by giving respect to Muslims for their contribution to the econo­my and culture, they treated them as an appendage. Attempts to forge only a mechanical unity in the face of threats from the state, such as colonisation, exposed all the contradictions.

The tragedy of the East is one aspect of the corrosive politics that has been the bane of every part of the nation. Despite all this human destruction that is a living reality for the vast majority of people in this country, conventional econo­mic indicators blithely proclaim a growing economy. It is this that would weigh heavily with those powers who mechanically decide the fate of small third world nations.

In order for the Easterners to find a creative means of fighting back, they need to rediscover the history they had forgotten. Today they are dominated by a total sense of their division and worthlessness, coupled with an admiration for Jaffna that was initially a part of the middle class value system.

The truth is very different.   Until quite recently the Eas­tern militant cadre showed a community spirit which ignored group divisions. When this posed a challenge to the leadership in Jaffna, they had to send men from Jaffna to create division and restore  their authority. When the LTTE took on the TELO in May 1986, the native born Batticaloa LTTE leader, Kadavul, issued a statement expressing the need for Eastern Tamils to be united and assured the other groups that they would not be harmed. The LTTE leadership had to send Kumarappa and Pottu to enforce the divi­sion. Francis, another LTTE leader born in Batticaloa, was very  highly regarded and is said to have been against the killing of  Batticaloa  resident Sinhalese in October 1987. The killings were ordered by the Jaffna leadership. Francis later died a miserable man. Division, mutual suspicion and a feeling of worthlessness in the East are thus integral to the LTTE’s strategy, which based on Tamil chauvinism has also meshed  with the aims of  Sinhalese chauvinism. The organic unity of the East needs  to be rediscovered.    [ Top]       

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