The Eastern Borderlands
The material in this chapter was drafted in close consultation with a Human Rights Group the Movement for the Defence of Democratic Rights (MDDR), based in the South, that is in close touch with the areas concerned. The reports on the LTTE massacres of Sinhalese civilians in Athimale and Niedella were presented by activists who visited the villages immediately after the attacks. [Top]
The following sketch gives an impressionistic picture which it is hoped would clarify current issues. We mentioned in Special Report No.3 the existence in the East of what was known in Survey Department parlance as Park Countries. These were fertile lands once cultivated and abandoned to the advance of the jungle, because of war or other calamities, perhaps a millenium ago. That was a time when people had no notion of modern ethnicity and it would be absurd to term them Sinhalese or Tamil. There have also been other communities present on the South Eastern seaboard such as those who were descendents of seafarers presumably from the East Indies (Malaya,Sumatra, Java), whose culture and religion (animism) were unique.
There are also Gypsies (Kuravar) speaking Telugu, who are now Roman Catholic Christians. (See Special Report No.3).
The East came under the Kandyan Kingdom which was neither Sinhalese nor Tamil in the modern sense. Although the Amparai District was largely depopulated in recent times, the state of affairs in some of its purana (ancient) villages give a hint of their history. Among these villages are Uhana, Komariya, Bandaraduwa, Dhamana, Thottama, Padugoda, Gonagolla and Inginiyagala. Barely 40 years ago,people living in these villages were equally fluent in Sinhalese and Tamil, and several of them sported Tamil names like Selladurai and Sellamma. If not for the aggressive interposition of Sinhalese nationalism, this state of affairs would have continued and any change would have been healthy.
To the West of Amparai District lies the Moneragala District, once the rich province of the Kandyan Kingdom known as Velassa. These rice growing peasants took part in the rebellion against the newly imposed British crown in 1818. In quelling the rebellion, the British largely depopulated the area. The recolonisation of this area began under D.S.Senanayake in the early 50s. Colonists were brought in from hill country villages such as Welimada and Nuwara Eliya. The induction of colonists did not threaten the old residents as there was land. The latter rather prospered as traders and had a labour force at their disposal. They thus became the local elite.
Further North, near Kalmunai, the Central Camp colonies were established about 1952 to 54. Colonies 3,16,18,19 and 22 were largely settled by Sinhalese from the Kegalle District.
Further North, the Trincomalee District was also characterised by a history of human diversity. Although the Sinhalese population in recent times was very small, there had been surviving Sinhalese villages, often closer to the Tamils in culture (e.g. women’s dress, water pots made of a copper alloy etc) Their folk memory traces their origin back to Velassa in 1818. Further back in history, the building of Kantalai tank is attributed to Agrabodhi, King of Anuradhapura. The tank fell into disuse with the decline of Anuradhapura about a millenium ago. In recent times Kantalai was a Tamil speaking village until colonisation began around 1952. Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese were given land. In recent times the drive for Sinhalisation through administrative means has been more overt.
Violence against Tamils in Amparai during 1958 was largely by the employees of the Gal Oya Board rather than by colonists. Starting from modest positions, several of these employees became rich businessmen. With the commencement of the war of June 1990 the expulsion of Tamils from the Gal Oya Board areas neared completion. [Top]
Athimale is a village in Velassa 5 miles west of the Amparai District boundary, adjoining Pottuvil. Following massed attacks in Mannar and Karainagar, the LTTE had by indications banked on a ceasefire by the Sinhalese ‑ Tamil New Year ‑ 13th April. The government forces had signalled their lack of interest in a ceasefire, which they suspected to be disadvantageous for them, by resuming limited bombing in Jaffna, and firing shells from Palaly, killing two women in Colombogam, about the time of festivities. That Tigers would attack Sinhalese civilians had also been widely anticipated by the government.
Until the terror bombings of 1986, attacks on Sinhalese civilians had been rationalised by regarding colonists in the Tamil provinces as a paramilitary arm of the government. The attack on Athimale and on other parts of Moneragala lacked even this justification. They were simply easy targets.
Athimale is a reasonably well to do farming village with about 350 persons. It had a police post commanded by a Sargeant, with 12 men. For a few days before the incident villagers had observed armed men dressed in shorts and jungle green shirts in the vicinity. This was conveyed to the police. The police took little notice, evidently because false alarms were a regular phenomenon. On the evening of the 14th April, shortly before the incident, a young man reportedly told the police about the presence of intruders. A skeptical policeman gave him a whack and sent him off.
About 5.30 p.m. a party of armed persons approached the village along a track leading to it from the jungle. The first persons they accosted were two young men on bicycles proceeding to look over their rice fields. they were stopped and hacked to death. There was no alarm since guns were not fired. Further down the track the armed prowlers encountered Jayasundera (60), father of 7, a respected farmer and village elder and also a reputed snake‑bite physician. He too was similarly done away with. A man tying his cow met with the same fate.
By the time the attackers, said to be about 20 in number, reached the village, it was nightfall. They ignored the first few huts which were quiet and walked into the 5th where two neighbouring families had got together for the festive evening meal. There were two husbands, their wives and five children in all. The two men were ordered to face the wall and an attacker swung a sword at them. One man after receiving an injury, sprang out of the hut before the second blow came. He ran towards the police station. Alarmed by his screaming, others in the village started running in panic. The attackers then proceeded to cut the remaining man, mothers and children, in the hut.
A man from another hut had started running, leading away his expectant wife and 3 children, the eldest of whom was a boy of 7. This family was accosted by a group of 5 armed men who killed them all.
The first hut was set on fire with the dead and the dying inside. A girl of 5 with a piece of her ear cut and cut injuries on her body, crept out of the burning hut and lay down under a papaw tree. Subsequently, she crept further away. In the morning other villagers spotting caked blood under the papaw tree, found this girl unconscious, having turned blue during the cold night. She is now warded in hospital, an orphan.
Having finished their hacking of humans, the attackers raided a chicken coop, and their choppers got to work again. the headless chicks were taken away in sacks in addition to cooking material such as onions. The attackers withdrew, evidently in no hurry, placing at least 3 Johnny mines at the bends at locations with a high probability of someone stepping on them.
The injured man who went to the police, got there by 8 p.m. grabbed a gun and threatened to go himself. The police told him that they could not go just like that and appealed for help from Siyambalanduwe and Arugam Bay. A police party from the former and an STF party from the latter reached Athimale police station by midnight. They set off at 4 a.m. when a Buffel armoured car arrived. It was considered too risky without the armoured car because of the mines.
In the morning Piyadasa, the local co‑op manager lost his leg after stepping on a mine while walking with the police. The search drew a blank. Later in the day a mine clearing operation was done in the area.
It has been customary for some time now for persons in isolated villages in the area to move into the jungle for the night.
No one doubts that the attackers were the LTTE, having free movement in the jungle belt from Kanjikudichcharu. The mines used were of the kind normally used by them. After such massacres, the LTTE is usually silent, neither accepting nor denying. But its propaganda machinery overseas would argue, using discrepancies in the reporting that the government or someone else was responsible. Any self‑respecting liberation group would not merely deny being responsible for such atrocities, but would express horror on principle and show by its general conduct that its behaviour is far superior to the forces opposed to it. [Top]
In Rajaela (King’ Canal), Colony 94, in the Kantalai scheme, people were out on the streets late into the night to observe New Year festivities. But underneath the conviviality, there was an air of foreboding. Kantalai lies on the Habarana‑Trincomalee road. At each dawn, route clearing patrols march along the road between Kantalai and Habarana. Some of them are ambushed. It is only after 8 a.m. that the road is opened to traffic. By common consent it is accepted that being on the road outside town after 4 p.m. is dangerous. On normal days the town is nearly empty by 4 p.m.
According to village leaders, they will not be attacked in the immediate future as there are still settlements on either side of them. Many of these settlers work in cane fields. But one day, they are sure, when the adjoining settlements have been attacked and dispersed, their turn would come. They are skeptical about the ability of the forces to defeat the LTTE. They think the LTTE would survive, and one day the Sinhalese would be pushed down to Habarana.
In support of their skepticism, a villager spoke about his having been in the police station when a radio message from a police vehicle, attacked out of town, was received. The police left the station after 20 minutes. By then the attackers had fled leaving behind two dead policemen.
The settlements were formed about 1952/53 and now the third generation of Sinhalese are living there, with ties to the land which they developed for a livelihood. After some discussion, several of them agreed that the Tamils had a problem. But the government had brought them there having told them there was land, and moreover, were not after all Tamils living in Sinhalese areas? they had never been warned that there would be trouble of this kind. Although they see little hope in the future, they think it is the reponsibility of the government to salvage the mess. [Top]
Pushparani (26) a final year Dental student at the University of Peradeniya was to sit for her final examinations. A native of Karaitivu, she left on the 3.30 p.m. bus from Kalmunai, which started late at 5.00 p.m. The bus stopped at the STF check point at the 17th mile post past Amparai town and all the passengers were asked to get down. After being checked, the passengers got inside the bus. They were asked to get down again on the pretext that there was a bomb inside. This time Pushparani was given a lot of attention. She was questioned closely about her personal details. After a delay of about an hour, the passengers were asked to get inside and be seated. The bus was then sent off.
Barely two miles away, about 9.30 p.m. the bus was stopped by armed men. The men got into the bus and made straight for Pushparani who was seated near the rear, and dragged her out. The driver was ordered to proceed. The bus then stopped at Siyambalanduwe and a complaint was made to the police.
Nothing more has been heard of Pushparani. [Top]
20th April. Rumours of an LTTE presence had been about for some time. Nimali Rajapakse (21) a pre‑school teacher was at home about 7 p.m, when her younger sister Malkanthi came running, asking others to hide. Just then they heard gunshots from across the field. From their experience during the JVP troubles, they recognised the firing of an automatic. Once more, after a long interval, they took off to hide in the bushes with some of their close relatives, until it was past dawn. The attackers had come from the direction of the river. The occupants of the first house, P.R. Gunapala, his wife and two children (5 & 3) escaped by climbing a tamarind tree. In the next house 75 yards away, two children Thakshila (5) and her brother Ratnayake (2 ) were beheaded. Their father escaped, but the mother is warded in Badulla hospital with a neck injury. Those in the following house escaped by hiding inside the well.
From the house across the stream from Nimali’s they first heard hammering on the walls followed by the screams of a mother, “Oh! my children, Oh! my children”. Then silence. It was discovered later that the mother and three children, Radhika Priyantha (6), Dhanushka Sampath (4) and Surangi (2 ) had been killed.
M.M.Dharmasena (30), a farmer, thinking that the noises he heard were firecrakers, went out to investigate about 7.30 p.m. Hearing a gunshot from the neighbouring gem merchants house, he ran back home. His wife, who had already hidden with her children inside bushes, called softly to him. They lay hidden until dawn. The horn of the car next door was sounded for about 20 minutes, which alerted many.
Dharmasena’s brother escaped while his wife and two children had been beheaded. His brother went back to the scene and let out a loud cry. He ran into the jungles when someone shined a torch. The wife’s gold chain was taken, while the children’s earrings had been removed by tearing the ears.
W.M. Premasiri (25), cultivator, had a similar experience. He lay hidden with a group of 30. He first took the firing to have come from the army. When it was quiet, his brother Jayatilleke went home to investigate, when he was chased by two women. He escaped into the jungle losing his clothes on the way. About 12.30 a.m. three vehicles, which they took to be army vehicles, sounded their horns. No one risked leaving their hiding places. The vehicles went away. The attackers were said to be dressed in military type uniforms.
In the morning Premasiri found 6 shiny empty shells and a katty (traditional knife, used for lopping branches). Nine persons, including 3 women and 5 children, who were gathered in a house for a ceremony had been killed by cutting blows aimed at the back of their necks. An ear on one side was also cut. The attackers had removed chillies, flour and torch batteries. Ananda, who was hidden with A.M. Punchibanda (30), his wife and 4 children, went towards his house on a Land Master tractor to check on his family. He was shot dead on the way.
The attackers also killed Kuruwita Mudalali, at whose house they had stopped to drink tea.
The 22 human victims were buried in a mass grave at 3 p.m. the following day in coffins brought by the STF. Included among the victims were two new born calves that were beheaded.
Prior to the burial, 15 soldiers had come in two trucks. Some officers in a jeep were driving up and down. About 2 p.m. a red car arrived with its horn blaring. Then the car left followed by the military party. The frightened villagers were left to cremate the dead with whatever flammable material they could gather.
Who was behind the massacre?: In 7.2 we referred to the confusion and panic prevailing in the area. When the villagers were probed about details such as times and juxtapositions, there was confusion. Persons in the village claim that some of the attackers spoke fluent Sinhalese. The gem merchant had been individually summoned, it is said, by an attacker who spoke good Sinhalese. The attackers had come in two or three groups, some of whom it appears, were women. Nimali Rajapakse, for instance, who says she heard one of the attackers say in Sinhalese, There is no one in this house,maintains that some of the attackers must have known the village. This is also the opinion of Dharmasena, who adds that even villagers sometimes lose their way in the area.
The attackers appear to have been around until 3 a.m. at least. This time, the army and police had come shortly after the police at Okkampitiya were alerted ‑ just after mid‑night. But there was no confrontation. The attackers had looted food supplies needed for jungle survival. amongst the incongruous things they did, in one house they took the women’s and children’s clothes, but left the men’s clothes strewn about.
One indication that the Tigers were involved was their standard signing off by strewing Johnny Battas (soap sized mines that blow off the foot that treads one ‑ a Tiger invention). Several of them were discovered in the mine clearing operation, including two in Nimali’s garden. The person who went to the Okkampitiya police and returned with 4 policemen at mid‑night, had stepped on a Johnny mine and is now in Badulla hospital with an amputated foot. This manis a full time SLFP worker who offered to walk ahead of the policemen as the latter were afraid. This is of significance in view of allegations hinted at by the government, suggesting that the SLFP was playing a sinister role and creating a scare.
Though the people strongly suspect the Tigers, there is also much confusion. One story in the village holds that a JVP killer from the village had told the police upon arrest, that there is a combined party of 250 JVP and LTTE in the jungle. The villagers are themselves cynical about everyone. When the JVP insurgency was on, the village was suspect. Some of the shot guns in the village were taken away by the JVP. The police then retrieved the balance.
The aftermath: Panic was rife in the Moneragala district after the massacre. As it was, many villagers were spending their nights in the jungles. As soon as the news reached Okkampitiya the following morning, the shops closed instantly. A Tamil boy raised by Sinhalese who had said that he had seen someone running off into the jungle, was taken away by the STF, despite pleading by his Sinhalese family.
At Buttala, at 4 p.m. (21st ), a crowd of 5000 gathered at the police station in search of protection. Two Tamils travelling in a bus were pulled out and assaulted. Unconfirmed reports said that Tamil workers at the Pelwatte Sugar Factory had been attacked.
The Island of 25th April, said, quoting a police spokesman, that two Tamil tea estate workers were killed by a mob at Badalkumbara on the 22 nd night, and that line rooms occupied by Tamil labourers were burnt at Badalkumbara and neighbouring Rambukkana. It added: “Unconfirmed reports indicated that an undisclosed number of Tamil workers had been seriously injured... A large number of Tamils living in the area had sought police protection fearing further attacks, the officials said. The report further said that no further incidents were reported after Monday night and that the police were intensely patrolling the area. A military spokesman in Colombo was quoted as confirming the communal unrest, but adding that the police had the situation under control.
For the villagers in Niyadella itself there was no assurance of any further protection beyond the promise of shotguns from the Chief Minister of Uva. In terms of its present military and political framework, the government had no answer. In a further twist to the developing tragedy, the Hill Country Tamils of Indian origin, appear to be getting dragged into this mess involuntarily. Dinesh Watawana, writing in the Sunday Times of 28th April, quotes a defence official in Colombo as saying that: About 30 suspected LTTE terrorists were believed to be mingling with estate labourers disguising themselves as estate workers. The killers believed to be in groups of twos and threes are said to be hiding in different estates. With their weapons hidden in nearby jungles, the terrorists have, on several occasions, assembled together with weapons to attack Sinhala villages
The recent attacks on civilians were not in operational areas. This shows that a group of terrorists have infiltrated into Sinhala areas to create havoc,a military official said.
A senior STF official in the area was more forthright when he told a very responsible person that they did not believe that the attack was conducted by the LTTE. He suspected that the attackers were estate Tamils.
The STF’s reasons for saying that are understandable. They have more or less maintained that areas under their control have been cleared of the LTTE. If otherwise, their peculiar methods and professional competence will be put into question. The recent attacks on estate Tamils in the area must raise the disturbing question of what kind of security they would enjoy in the light of such suspicions becoming common currency.
We know from past experience and the progress of the current war, that the methods of the government forces can only result in hopeless deterioration, adding to alienation and intensification.
Further Reports of Attacks on Estate Tamils: At 11.00 p.m. on 24th April, 12 attackers entered an estate owned by the Edna group in Kumbukkanna, in the Parawilawatte division, and set fire to 14 line rooms built by workers themselves, and a further 4 constructed by Edna group. 32 workers were injured. The estate is 6 miles from Okkampitiya.
1500 up country Tamils live in an estate in Srigalawatte formerly owned by the Upali group and presently under Janavasa. Since there is no work on the estate, the community depends on 150 workers who travel to Moneragala town to do a variety of menial work, as seasonal workers. 100 of them were attacked and had to spend 3 days in the jungle without food before trekking back home. The community is now without means.
100 seasonal workers used to go from Koslanda estate to work in sugar can fields owned by the Pelwatte Sugar Company. These workers were beaten and had to shelter in the jungle.
A south based human rights group which visited these up country Tamils with the aim of providing relief, was unable to confirm reports of killings. The Ceylon Workers Congress visited the Edna group estate in Kumbukkana.[Top]
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