5.1 Jaffna: The Unseen Battle and
the Propsect of Total War
5.1.1 The mood of total war
5.1.2 The South
5.1.3 The use of bombing and shelling
5.1.4 Disappearances and Massacres
5.1.5 The War against historical memory
5.1.6 Breaking the colts
5.1.7 Mobilising the civilian population
5.1.8 In conclusion
5.2 Crackdown in the University of Jaffna
5.3 Martyred at Silavaththurai
5.4 Jaffna Fort : The Propaganda
and the message
5.5 The Vanni
5.5.1 Disappeared in Vavuniya: 1st February
5.5.2 Uyilankulam: April
As in all wars, the
sensational siege at Elephant Pass, the suicide assaults, the sea landing,
the relief column hopping from one Dutch fort to the next in imitation of
the thinking of Dutch strategists three centuries ago when air power was not
dreamed of, the victory of one side or of both; this was the fare dished out
by the media and eagerly swallowed by the public. Recriminations of one section
of the forces against the other, a hasty news conference summoned by the Air
Vice Marshal to counter allegations, unaccustomed questions raised about the
tardiness of the political establishment in putting forward a political solution,
all suggested that the Colombo establishment was shaken. We will not know
for some time what questions were raised within the ranks of the LTTE, which
it is reported lost 65 women of its cadre on the first day alone. In
an Eastern town where business was generally down, a Muslim news agent said
that there was a tremendous increase in newspaper sales. Easterners were generally
eager for developments in the North in a manner not even slenderly reciprocated
by the Northerners. It would thus be true to say that every community felt
that something momentous and perhaps decisive was happening at Elephant Pass.
We draw attention here to a battle that has been fought behind the scenes for months, which has not been written about and whose effects are much more far reaching. Now that the dust has settled for the present on Elephant Pass, those who wish this country and the Tamils well must look more closely at these pernicious developments. It is true that the LTTE banked much on Elephant Pass. Jaffna had been literally plastered with notices saying that Elephant Pass was the `last army camp on the soil of Tamil Eelam', that it was some kind of a final battle, and calling for the whole-hearted support of the people. All indications coming from Jaffna suggest that the LTTE's real motive was to secure the surrender of the camp with hundreds of its men and equipment, and use it as propaganda as well as a bargaining chip. The planning for this had gone on for more than 3 months. There was a concerted attempt to place Jaffna on the footing of total mobilisation. Main roads were blocked to expedite the movement of reinforcements and casualties. Schools were closed to receive the injured. People were called upon to volunteer material and blood. When it became clear that the operation was in a stalemate, people were woken up with loud speaker cries in the night, "Awake, O Tamil people. Do you sleep while your young warriors are dying?" Then grew the fear that having secured Elephant Pass, the army would march into Jaffna.
According to observers, there was a widespread mood among the people that it would be worthwhile to go forward and resist the army with bare hands. These were the same people who a year ago were skeptical and angry with the LTTE for having started the war. It is therefore necessary to look behind the news and understand the new dangers and their consequences. [Top]
The desire of a large
number of Tamils to flee Jaffna together with thae fact that a large
number of those who joined the exodus are living around Colombo, all the way
between Negombo and Panadura, was a major victory for the government, which
to some extent diminished the stigma of July 1983. The LTTE found itself imposing
an embarrassing pass system. The JOC bomb explosion and the prospect of an
army defeat at Elephant Pass, brought back old fears among Tamils. A large
number of Tamils were taken in for questioning by the police in Colombo from
their homes and from check points, and were abused in harshly communal terms.
A young political refugee from the LTTE retorted angrily after his release,
"Only Prabhakaran is right for these people!" A remark from a trishaw
driver was typical of the mood among the sections that went on the rampage
in July 1983: "When we watch the news, we get angry and want to teach
a lesson. But the `Boss' has not ordered us to do anything."
If the Elephant Pass had fallen as it nearly did, and strained nerves in the South had snapped, the disaster of a repetition of July 1983 could easily have compounded a defeat in the North. Then the unity of the country for all practical purposes would have been severed, and to talk of soldiers giving their lives to preserve unity would have been an insult. This is why we have argued that there must be a free open discussion of the blunders of the past, including those of this government, to exorcise once and for all missing the legacy of Sinhalese chauvinism. If not and the cause of a united Sri Lanka is lost. [Top]
We welcomed the
halt called to aerial bombing in March as an enlightened step. But there has
since been shelling from time to time and aerial bombing has some times been
resorted to On 14th May Daniel Sutharshan Samuel (15), a grandson of Leslie
Samuel, who taught many members of the Colombo elite at Royal and St.Thomas',
was killed at his home when the army shelled Vaddukoddai from Pallay. Also
killed was the two year old son of a teacher at Jaffna College. The army had
shelled Vaddukoddai and Chavakachcheri, apparently in order to disrupt the
LTTE's plans for holding public meetings. During the Elephant Pass campaign
shells fired from Elephant Pass killed up to 6 persons in Chavakacheri,
including Ranjit Kumar, Assistant Lecturer in Political Science at the University
of Jaffna, who was to go to Britain shortly on study leave. His body was found
severed at his home by his students, with his liver some distance away. His
sisters had also recently lost their father. In all fewer than 15 civilians
were reported killed by bombing and shelling in the Jaffna and Killinochchi
areas, during the Elephant Pass campaign.
We have dwelt repeatedly on the political consequences, apart from the human tragedy, of such actions, and have condemned both the use of, and the philosophy behind them. If in the event of a lack of political initiative, the situation continues to deteriorate, bringing the spectre of total war ever nearer, the army would find good military reasons for the use of widespread bombing and shelling on the grounds of disrupting the LTTE's attempts to mobilise the civilian population. Then total war would become a reality.
It must also be mentioned that the Airforce showed commendable restraint during the Elephant Pass operation where civilians were concerned. On two occasions there was random shelling in the Karaveddy and Chavakacheri areas. But when people of the area concerned made complaints to the government through the Government Agent and the ICRC in Jaffna, the ejection of missiles was largely stopped. This suggests that the political establishment retained some initiative and wanted at least to minimise the use of missiles. It is thus important to take steps to guard against a situation where nerves snap and there is a plunge into total war, where political initiative is cast aside regardless of the resulting discredit.
The government has consistently condemned all acts of the LTTE resulting in civilian deaths as terrorist acts. The attack on the JOC, a military target, which also resulted in many civilians dying, was indeed termed such. In this instance again the government was guilty of double standards. For it had condoned and justified aerial and artillery attacks on supposedly LTTE targets which resulted overwhelmingly in civilian deaths. [Top]
The fact that these continue to occur because of the activities of the security forces has enabled the LTTE to mobilise the population towards total war while justifying such repression as would have seemed an Orwellian fantasy ten years ago. About March, when aerial bombing was stopped, there was a tendency among the people to feel that the Sri Lankan forces had learnt from the past. This was also spurred by reports of disappearances in the East and of bodies in sacks floating in the Batticaloa lagoon. These reports were highlighted in the LTTE controlled media. With the news of the Kokkadichoalai massacre in June, the tide decisively turned. This was an important part of the background to the mood of the people during the Elephant Pass siege. [Top]
Every oppressive political
tendency needs to erase historical memory and substitute its own mytho-history.
Everything that is a big lie must shrink and shrivel before even a tiny beam
of the light of truth. The LTTE understood this well. The extent of repression
to which it could allow itself to go depended much on the visible threat posed
to the Tamil people as a whole. During the period of good relations with the
government, in early 1990, its oppressive methods were running into trouble.
Even after the war had begun, its new wave of repression coincided with news
of large scale massacres and disappearances in the East, and began about early
Regardless of their current passivity and resignation, it set about arresting those with remote past militant connections - particularly those small but politically articulate groups - the others having fled or having already faced death or imprisonment. Those in Jaffna from these groups, which had long been defunct, had quietly become inactive without ever challenging the LTTE. The LTTE's moves against these persons appeared to be mere paranoia at that time. But the situation has become clearer now. These persons were living monuments to historical memory, an intolerable link with the past, with past ideals of the militant movement and a time when there were many groups fighting the oppression of the Sri Lankan state.
The war against historical memory has now been organised on a systematic and thorough footing. The most recent purge of May-June was aimed at the Theepori (Sparks) group. This group had split from the PLOTE in early 1985 protesting against its internal repression, and the most remarkable thing they did was to document their experiences inside the PLOTE in a book with the title `A new kind of world'. They remained totally passive and their book was and continues to be widely circulated by the LTTE. Three of its members recently detained were students of the University of Jaffna. [See 5.2 for report].
Within the University of Jaffna itself the 1st and 2nd years are isolated from 3rd and 4th years and are handled differently. They are addressed, admonished and warned in separate meetings. The 3rd and 4th years are a link with the history of the university when it was a different place, when discussion was open and the university took positions against oppression, irrespective of whether it came from the LTTE or the IPKF.
In schools again, the teachers are watched by students taken out, trained and brought back. The LTTE frequently addressed meetings at schools. In addition to the public display of weapons and uniforms, young teenagers are fed with a history which is totally sanitised. There is thus very clear evidence of an attempt to mould a generation without links with the past. As we have seen, several academics and members of the elite have been co-opted in this exercise. Young teenagers are thus pushed into dying for leaders and members of the elite, who as far as they and perhaps their families are concerned, have no intention of dying. [Top]
With all the allures
of falsehood and deceit, children are children. That such large numbers are
mobilised into a fighting force seems remarkable to many. Many of them remain
in the movement with grave doubts and die with them. We shall take one aspect
in breaking them, presented on the basis of testimony given by teenagers who
succeeded in leaving the movement.
After a couple of days inside, the initial allure had gone, life inside was oppressive and many of them wanted to leave. One of the children told the man in charge that he wanted to go home. Immediately, everyone was called together and he who wanted to go home was given a sound public thrashing. The others who also wanted to go then kept quiet. Their parents who succeeded in tracing them came to the camp and asked for their children. Each child was faced with his parents and asked if he wished to go home. The answer was consistently `no'.
In due course a few were given drugs that made them feel violent. They were given the freedom to let loose by torturing prisoners.... and so it went.
Another revealing instance is that of a young girl from Karaveddy who joined the LTTE. Her father had been a toddy tapper who had died when he fell from a palmyrah tree. Her mother was desperate. During the Jaffna Fort operation last year, the mother received a letter smuggled out of a camp by a labourer. The letter from her daughter said that she was in the Nelliady girls' camp and desperately wanted to go home. She added that four girls from the camp had been taken to Jaffna Fort and had not come back, making her very much afraid.
The mother went to the camp with a friend to plead her case. The leader of the camp repeatedly denied the girl's presence. In desperation, the mother produced her daughter's letter. The leader read the letter, called out the girl, and in her mother's presence slapped her and kicked her with her boot. She then sent the mother away telling her that her daughter will never be released.
Those who normally succeed in getting their children out are members of the elite. It is a reflection of Tamil politics today that a force which cynically treats those at the bottom of the social ladder in this manner is projected as a revolutionary force. Some western academics even appear to credit it as standing for caste liberation. [Top]
One aspect of mobilisation
of civilians is propaganda and a genuine fear of the Sri Lankan army. Those
whose children get killed in the LTTE's cause are at first angry. Subsequently
their child is praised as a martyr and the parents are made to feel that they
had done an invaluable service in sacrificing a child.
In many areas economic life is at a stand-still because of a situation created jointly by the LTTE and the government for different reasons. In some areas people have had little choice, but to sell their labour to the LTTE in return for daily wages. In the Vanni region much damage to economic life has resulted from the `guerrilla operations' of the Sri Lankan army - Advance, Loot, and Return to Base. Here, a special propaganda appeal is being made by the LTTE to the people by promoting their legendary hero, Pandara Vanniyan, as the forerunner and prototype of Prabakaran.
In some areas, government rations to displaced persons have been used as a means of securing forced labour. Here the Grama Sevaka has to complete two sets of forms, one for the government and the other for the LTTE. The LTTE has to certify a day's labour by a member of the family before the week's ration's could be released.
The two sovereigns of gold tax per family in Jaffna is now being vigorously pursued. In some cases people had been imprisoned until the money was found. In one school near Thinnevely, about May, ten girls were picked up after school, several of them daughters of out-of-work farmers. They were released after the sovereigns were paid - often after borrowing from several friends and relatives. [Top]
The LTTE, it could be said,
has tried nearly every means in the handbook of repression short of physical
conscription. Its uneasy edifice cannot hold together or derive whatever legitimacy,
without the fear of, and oppression coming from the politics of the Sri Lankan
state. The people of course resent both and would like to protest. But every
little space has been smothered by intertwined events. Every turn of the LTTE's
screw of repression received its licence from, and is traceable to repressive
actions and massacres by the state. The invisible spiral of events has thus
been moving towards total war. As we have shown in this and the previous
volumes, total war and not peace is the logical culmination of the LTTE'S
politics and its only hope of survival. Yogi had said on May Day of 1987,
that civilians dying is a small matter. A small fraction of its population
then, he said, was enough to people the new world of Tamil Eelam.
It is left to those who mean well to understand this politics as not just abominable, but also fragile, thriving merely on the weakness, wickedness and stupidity of others. Total war is an unmitigable tragedy that must be averted. [Top]
Dominic (Nobert) was
a leading member of the `Theepori' (Sparks) group described in the last section.
Following the repression that began in September last year, Dominic fled Jaffna
in October. He returned to Jaffna in May in order to make arrangements for
the safety of some members who were associated with them and were stuck in
Jaffna. The news that he was staying in a house in Kokkuvil was leaked to
the LTTE by an informer in the neighbourhood. He was soon picked up by the
LTTE. This was quickly followed by the arrests of another 3 members of this
group from the university.
The arrests of these students took place about two days after the arrest of Nobert. On 22nd May Sellathurai Srinivasan (2nd year Geography Special) of Potpathy Road, Kokkuvil, and Nagalingam Govindarajan (3rd year Commerce), of Varani, were arrested.
Srinivasan was from a family of 7 boys and 2 girls. Two brothers had been in the PLOTE and later among the Theepori dissidents in 1985. Nobert is said to have hidden in Srinivasan's sisters house at the time of his arrest.
Another student Thirukethees (1st year Arts) was arrested at the university a few days later, by LTTE cadre accompanied by MMK students, the MMK being a one time cultural organisation and now effectively the policing arm of the LTTE within the university. Thirukethees had wanted to see the Vice Chancellor. He was told, in response, "There is no need. If he knows the LTTE took you, he will understand". This was later represented by the LTTE as Thirukethes running into the university to hide.
A few days later Editor Ravi, an LTTE functionary addressed the junior students in isolation. The students had been demanding to see their detained colleagues. Editor gave the charges against those detained. Srinivasan, besides his associations, is accused of planning to help in running a dissident paper for the Theepori. The charge against Govindarajan was more ironic. He is said to have in 1985 hidden a Theepori dissident hunted by the PLOTE! Thirukethees had the vague charge of supplying information. Editor then went into a harangue calling those detained not just traitors to the LTTE, but also to the student body. Having worked himself upto a climax, Editor asked the students what punishment should be given to the detainees. A silence followed. A lone voice then suggested meekly "Pardon them", turning what should have been a gory climax into an anti-climax.
Editor went into a rage. "That word is not in our dictionary", he said. He then warned them not to be funny because they are university students, adding that they have a large number of detainees and do not care whether someone is from the university or not. The students were also told that the LTTE was not concerned with 3rd and 4th years as they were going out, but that the others had better look sharp. An MMK student duly rose and gave Editor the vote of thanks, expressing the students' gratitude for his profound discourse. We have already observed that this is part of the effort to break with tradition, obiliterate history and mould a new generation within narrow mental confines.
About a month later, the LTTE radio announced that a student union meeting would take place at Kailasapathy Auditorium the following morning, 24th June.
The students were surprised to find a senior academic and former senior student counsellor going up the stage to address them. In addressing the students, he told them, "There are still weeds left in the university. They will not be tolerated. These weeds must be plucked up and cast away..." The students were shell-shocked, and afraid. The former senior student counsellor went on to call the detainees traitors, despite earlier having said that inquiries had not been concluded. He also listed Muslims among the traitors.
Following the meeting, the students found that all exits from the university had been shut. The students were herded out through the main entrance, were handed prepared slogans, and were importuned to participate in a demonstration protesting the arrest of a student Jayaseelan in Batticaloa by the army and the massacres in the East. To bar escape, the demonstration was escorted on its flanks by the MMK. After the demonstration had commenced there was suddenly a change of slogan. The cry, "Release all students detained", was heard coming from the middle section. The `police' rushed to the centre of the commotion and an argument ensued, mainly with 1st years.
The senior academic addressing a student meeting not called by the union, and in such intimidating terms, is something totally unprecedented in the history of the University of Jaffna. Such persons would at other times remark that should the army come into Jaffna, they would all become `born again Sri Lankans'. Nor do they act under compulsion. There are humble school heads who have refused to receive the LTTE's leading personage Anton Balasingham during his routine `Pied Piper' missions to schools. The LTTE knows the limits to which it can push individuals. Sycophancy has long been a respectable academic tradition in this country. By comparison the decency and courage of a number of ordinary, vulnerable, students in an atmosphere of terror, is remarkable.
We had observed that the Theepori group had existed passively, at best as a literary circle. While telling the public that they were traitors, the LTTE circulated copies of their `A new kind of world', found where Dominic was staying. More ironically, the same book describing the repressive atmosphere within the PLOTE, is now being serialised in an LTTE journal published in Canada. Those authors now in LTTE hands, may be undergoing much of what they had described in their own book, as a prophetic warning about the direction of the militancy in general.
We observe that the backdrop to the singular event in the university on 24th June was the situation in the East, culminating in the Kokkadichcholai massacre. At present the students are mostly cynical, are waiting to get out, and will only raise issues in a cursory manner that is not sustained. With the socially conscientious students suppressed and without the ability to organise around issues, it is the frivolous element that gains publicity, and this in turn is used by the Tigers to isolate the university. The situation contrasts sharply with times when there was a great deal of free discussion. In May 1977, the university Science Students Union even sent a team to investigate the plight of hill-country Tamil workers from Delta North Estate, Pusselewa, who had been subjected to a grievous communally motivated attack, and a balanced, mature report was published and distributed. The student body then was conscious of playing a role in nation-building, embracing the wider Tamil speaking community. Today all that has been dashed to pieces. The handful of students at present who are seen to have character and have personally refused to compromise with untruth are closely watched by the MMK. The students detained had previously received several visits from the MMK.
During the recent Elephant Pass campaign, the LTTE's propaganda chief, Yogi, observed angrily in a public speech, that young persons in their early teens were dying on the battle field, while those in their twenties were donating blood. He said that it should have been the other way round. Why this reversal of roles over the last five years before when it was those of a mature age who died fighting, is a question that Yogi dare not ask. [Top]
Senthooran (Castro) of Kali
Kovilady, Jaffna, was among the brightest students at Jaffna Central College,
having scored 8 distinctions at his O.L's. Both his parents were in Germany.
Shortly after the outbreak of war in June 1990, he went to Colombo with the
intention of joining his parents. He was refused his visa as the German embassy
found an apparent hitch in his papers. His father sent a message asking him
to get back to Jaffna and follow his A.L's. He went back to staying with his
aunt in Jaffna and was unhappy, thus losing interest in studies. This is when
he decided to join the LTTE.
Having joined, he told friends whom he met, "I would like to leave. But a gun is ever before me." In March this year he went as group leader in one of the many units sent to attack the army camp at Silavathurai in the Mannar sector. He was asked to advance against the camp. According to accounts coming from survivors, he protested that it would be suicidal to advance by daylight towards a camp sited in open land. He was reprimanded and ordered to proceed. He was an early victim of the army's shelling.
Senthooran's death did not at first receive official publicity. His friends were the first to print and circulate condolence notices privately. It was then that the LTTE appeared to take notice.
His picture then went up on posters and in speeches he was commemorated a worthy martyr for a cause close to his heart, and an example to others. So rests another in the arms of eternity - a small atom of a big lie. [Top]
Thileepan gave the
Dutch Fort in Jaffna momentous significance just before commencing his fast
to death in 1987. He called it a symbol of oppression of the Tamil Nation.
Thus early in the war, the LTTE banked much on capturing the Fort. The Sri
Lankan army withdrew from the Fort in September last year. The LTTE then commenced
the demolition of this archaeological treasure turned symbol of oppression.
About the first to go after the LTTE takeover was the large church, one of
the finest pieces of Dutch architecture in this country, handed over by the
government to the Jaffna Christian Union in the 60s. The walls of the
fort are now in the process of demolition.
The `Muththamil Vila' organised by the LTTE during the middle of the year to commemorate Tamil culture was one of those occasions when streams of visitors were allowed into what remains of the Fort.
One of those things that survives intact is the Fort prison, not lacking in inmates. Additional housing for prisoners took the form of several tin huts with slits about a foot above the ground, and circular holes with tubes above the slits, for prisoners to pass urine. Persons inside were trying to attract the attention of the visitors, who had accidentally strayed from the visitors' area. An LTTE man came rushing and shooed them away. He then banged the tin hut to stop the prisoners from calling out. Each hut was estimated to contain up to 20 persons.
An LTTE boy casually explained later that the prisoners were LTTE cadre who wanted to leave the organisation and had given notice. Their punishment was to spend a year on one meal a day demolishing the Fort stone by stone. They are allowed visitors once a month. After a year, they could leave. A prisoner told a visitor, "This thing is so torturous that it would have been easier to join the Black Tiger suicide unit". If this is the condition of prisoners who are LTTE members, the conditions under which other prisoners live are left to conjecture.
It looks as though the treasured parts of the Fort would go. But the prison quarters may remain. Is that the symbolism of liberation? [Top]
The two reports given here are from the Vanni where there are several check points and frequent forays by the army. Little news comes out on what happens to civilians. [Top]
(30) father of two, and Paramasamy Uthayasooriyam (28) were standing in the
queue at the Vavuniya army check point. Both were traders from Kayts transporting
goods from Colombo to Jaffna. They had much money in bank drafts and in cash.
They were directed to the PLOTE Office by the army to get a permit. Subsequently
several witnesses saw them being taken by the army. Since then they are missing.
Their relatives made inquiries at all the army camps in the area and were
told that since they are not with the army they must be with the PLOTE. The
ICRC was also informed.
Representations were made to Tharmalingam Sitharthan in Colombo, leader of the DPLF, the political wing of the PLOTE. On one occasion while a relative was speaking to Sitharthan by telephone a friend of the relative's was in the PLOTE office. With Sitharthan was a key military leader of the PLOTE, who appeared to be very angry with traders. While Sitharthan was answering questions on the telephone very politely, the military leader was telling him angrily, "Tell them they have to pay five lakhs of rupees to see a person, and 25 lakhs for their release. These lorry fellows must be taught a lesson. When we ask them to bring jeans and shirts from Colombo, they ignore us. But they give the LTTE what they ask.
Nothing else so far been heard of the prisoners. Though they were taken by the army, people generally blamed the PLOTE. It shows that these Tamil groups are working with (for?) the army under conditions where they cannot do anything for the people, and in turn increasingly become angry and alienated. [Top]
On receiving news that
the army was advancing S.Peter went with his tractor and trailor to fetch
his uncle S.Pushparajah, together with some of his valuables. Looting by the
army was known to be routine. While returning the army fired from a distance
killing Peter. The trailor then overturned. Soldiers then came nearby and
shot Pushparajah at point blank range. [Top]
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