University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)
Further Background to the Five Students’ case
In Trincomalee District where the three communities live together and deal with each other, a form of governance dedicated to equality and fair-play would have helped them to find their balance. Their economic life for example is interdependent. Soon after the December 2004 tsunami there was a manifestation of spontaneous unity and mutual sympathy. These relations have suffered both by governments intent on pushing Sinhalisation as well as the spur this provided for the growth of a countervailing Tamil extremist force – the LTTE. The present government has shown a strong tendency to use the slogan ‘fight against terror’ to crush the minorities and push for Sinhalisation aggressively.
While the conflict has perverted relationships and concentrated power in a few players leaving the people out in the cold, the fact that the three communities are culturally very close has also factored into these relationships. Because of this inherent closeness, tragedies too became poignant during outbreaks of violence.
Until July 1987 Tamils were at the receiving end of violence by the security forces when a large number of Tamil houses and premises were destroyed and scores were killed. Soon after the Indo-Lanka Accord, in September 1987, a Tamil mob, which also included Tamils released from detention under the PTA, went on the rampage in Trincomalee against the Sinhalese. Special Report No.8 gives a scene whose poignancy is enhanced because the two communities are far from being strangers:
“An old [Sinhalese] man who went to a Tamil house to purchase milk for his grand-daughter when confronted by Tamil hoodlums pleaded for his life from the lady of the house. She was unable to stop them chasing the man and beating him to death.”
Under the perverting influence of conflict, inter-communal cooperation tends to show up in criminal activity and in the deplorable activities of intelligence agencies rather than in healthier activities that promote goodwill. This made Trincomalee a place where what seems is not quite what is.
Sakthy Festival 2000: On 12th April 2000, Sakthy TV organized a New Year Tamil music festival at McHeyzer Stadium Trincomalee. A bomb was thrown at the back of the stage 10 minutes before the concert, killing eight, including a policeman and injuring scores. In the dark the bomb thrower was seen getting away. The universal opinion among Tamils was that the bomb was the work of Sinhalese extremist elements among the security forces who could not stand any assertion of Tamilness in Trincomalee. The fact that the bomber was not apprehended added to this suspicion.
It was recently that we received the testimony of a bodyguard of Paduman, the former LTTE leader for Trincomalee, now in Switzerland. He said that Ruban (an LTTE political leader now dead) paid Rs. 2000 to the Sinhalese underworld element Ice Manju to throw the bomb at the music festival. Ice Manju whose father used to break ice for packing at the Trincomalee fish market managed to operate keeping links with both the LTTE and the security forces. One could name a number of Sinhalese businessmen in Trincomalee who functioned in this manner. It was realpolitik.
The LTTE had business dealings with Chooty Mudalali, whom it gave fishing rights in Pudawaikkattu, Kuchchaveli and areas to the north of these. A Sinhalese underworld element Kapila used to attack Chooty as pro-LTTE. Ice Manju shot Kapila in the fish market during the CFA guarded by four members of the LTTE. Manju also acted as an informant to army intelligence, which the LTTE used to lure Colonel Meedin of army intelligence and kill him in October 2005. Manju is now believed to be with the LTTE.
Both sides are guilty of actions calculated to spread misery and keep tensions high in Trincomalee. The bomb at the music festival illustrates the brand of politics advanced by the LTTE. Such actions were a way of fostering the ferment of extreme Tamil nationalism among the young, greatly aided by the constant threat of Sinhalisation pushed by several governments and the security forces.
Many Tamils understood that extreme nationalism is disastrous. The LTTE constantly countered such voices. One was its notable assassination of the moderate Tamil MP A. Thangathurai on 5th July 1997. Even among the young it allowed no room for alternative views and it used persons in civilian life to spy and do its dirty work. Pakkiyanathan Vijayashanthan (Vijayan) was a young activist who on Human Rights Day in December 2000 spoke at a meeting making a plea for Tamils to accommodate Muslim aspirations.
A few days later, Thandaham, an NGO in Valaichenai brought fisher folk for an outing in Trincomalee hosted by local fisher folk. Some who wanted to see Koneswaram Temple from the sea were taken in a fishing boat. Three of those in the boat, who were pro-LTTE nationalists pushed Vijayan into the sea and did nothing to rescue him. Some who saw it some way off rushed there in their boat and pulled him out. Those who pushed him in simply said that they wanted to see if Vijayan could swim!
While the LTTE attempts to manipulate the political space in Trincomalee, Tamils had also to rely on the goodwill of some influential Sinhalese to negotiate life in an environment dominated by Sinhalese security forces. Albert Hendrik Weerakody of Orr’s Hill, a largely Tamil neighbourhood, was one such person to whom Tamils turned.
Opinions among Tamils about Weerakody vary. Some credit him with being a good man who stopped attacks against Tamils after 1985. Some felt he was communal minded but they could not live in Orr’s Hill without him. Whenever people had problems with the security forces regarding for instance arrests, they went to Weerakody and he helped. The LTTE in mid-October 2005 inexplicably began killing a number of Sinhalese businessmen.
In mid October 2005, Rupasingha Arachchilage Hemapala (56) better known as Baby Mudalali, a strong UNP supporter and a well-known businessman in Mattikali, who had lived more than 50 years in Trincomalee and had very good relations with the Tamils, was killed by the LTTE.
On 3rd December, K.B. Hemasiri alias Lokka Aiyya (49) was shot dead. He grew up in Trincomalee since he was 13 years of age and owned a fish stall in Trinco. He was killed at his business premises.
On 19th December H.M. Chandradasa, a father of six, of Lenin Street, Abhayapura, who had been in the vegetable business for over 25 years at Anuradhapura Junction, was killed in an eating house nearby.
This is the context in which Defence Advisor Kotakadeniya, with the Defence Secretary’s consent sent an STF team of 28 persons under Inspector VAS Perera to operate under the instructions on SP Operations Kapila Jayasekere. The killing of Weerakody followed on 24th December 2005, immediately after which two Tamil auto rickshaw drivers were killed in reprisals.
A person of mixed parentage who attended Weerakody’s funeral had told others that Weerakody’s son who was a security guard at People’s Bank had threatened at the funeral that ten Tamils must pay for his father’s life.
In the normal vein of its politics the LTTE wanted to heighten tensions in Trincomalee. On the other side there was a new government dominated by Sinhalese extremists who wanted to teach the Tamils a lesson. We have no doubt that the incident where the Five Students were killed was planned with a vindictive purpose with the full force of the Defence Ministry behind it, with all arms of the security forces ordered to cooperate with the Police that was executing it (Special Report No.24).
As to why the beach was chosen for exhibition murders, it was a place the young gathered in the evenings and the friends who were targeted were also there regularly. We have also pointed out that the LTTE moved aggressively to control all the openings for political discussion and opinion. Wherever the young gathered, the LTTE was there in some form canvassing support for its destructive politics. For this reason many parents discouraged their children from going to meeting points. With the extremist drift of politics in the South, many, or even most, young Tamils are bound to accept LTTE propaganda about the plight of the Tamils uncritically and that is not their fault.
A student who was present at the scene who was two years senior to the five boys killed. For his own sake his testimony must be obtained and the matter cleared. We will refer to this student as S.
*About 5.00 PM on 1st January, S with the circle of boys that included the victims were eating at Kumar’s restaurant that is next to Jothy Theatre. An STF vehicle that came very fast stopped at the restaurant and then STF men came in, questioned the boys, checked their identity cards and went away taking S. But they dropped him at the Post Office Junction within a short time.
*We have given in Special Report No.24 and earlier, a number of indications that the incident of that evening had been planned. A brother of one of the victims described what a stallholder at the beach next to EHED told him he witnessed. That evening one of the victims Rohan and some others bought some sweetmeats at the stall and as a friendly gesture gave a piece to the navy man on duty at the checkpoint nearby. The navy man told them not to hang around there but to go away quickly.
*When the bomb was thrown from the green auto rickshaw, S too received a slight injury on the foot and ran away, possibly through Customs Rd. and was in hiding for several months. He apparently did not go to any clinic to treat his shrapnel injury.
Because S himself was at the scene and was injured, it seems very unlikely that he was in any way party to what happened. Quite possibly when the STF took him the previous day from the restaurant, as one of the parents thinks. They may have talked in a friendly manner with the frightened boy and obtained information about the habits and movements of the others. It would be better for him if he testified and put the record straight.
As for Hemachandran-Aathavan, who drove the auto rickshaw from which a son of Weerakody’s and a vegetable seller threw the bomb at the boys, he is now believed to be in Qatar. He is the Tamil version of Ice Manju. Trincomalee awaits a healthier political dispensation where the two communities would have a meeting point in true friendship rather than in crime.
Trincomalee has since the killing of the Five Students been continually troubled and polarised. On 12th April afternoon, a bomb blast in the Trincomalee market which resulted in six deaths led to a rampage by the Navy, some members of the Army and a Sinhalese mob in which seven Tamil civilians were killed, nearly 30 Tamil business premises being burnt and violence spread to surrounding areas led by the security forces. What was striking was that the riot started within five minutes of the bomb and we now have a senior navy officer telling a Tamil friend that the Navy was involved in the organisation. The Police kept away and the phones of all the security forces commanders in Trincomalee failed to answer.
To this day even the best-informed are not sure about who planted the bicycle bomb. One businessman told us, “The LTTE has not denied planting the bomb, but then there was organised rioting within five minutes of the blast.” Some with a good knowledge of the workings of the intelligence services are skeptical about the LTTE planting the bomb. They see it as part of the trend of the State’s actions at that time, starting from the abduction of TRO members and the killing of the TNA politician Vigneswaran in Trincomalee five days before the market bomb blast. It was a time the Karuna group and some cadres of the EPDP were being used by the State in dirty operations.
The trouble at that time was that there was no qualitative difference between the actions of the LTTE and those of the State. The killing of the Five Students served for the LTTE the same purpose served by the Sakthy festival bomb blast. But one was the work of Sinhalese extremists while the other was the work of the LTTE.
On 25th April 2006, following a suicide attempt on the Army Commander by the LTTE, naval shelling from Trincomalee and air force bombing killed 13 Tamil civilians around Sampoor. This was attack for the sake of attack. An air attack on an uncertain target killed four Muslim civilians in Vattam adjoining Mutur town. To cover it up the Police prevented the Magistrate from going in saying it was dangerous.
On 1st May an LTTE bicycle bomb apparently aimed at a navy patrol on Vidyalayam Rd. killed four Tamil civilians, a mother her two children and their auto rickshaw driver, besides a navy man.
From August 2006, the security forces, Sinhalese home guards and Tamil paramilitaries began killing, quite openly, anyone with a past association of even the most innocuous support for the LTTE. The latest innovation is a novel addition to the modus operandi of state terror anywhere.
The Hearse: In the wake of government bombing in the Vanni and LTTE bomb attacks targeting civilians in the South in January and early February 2008, a Sinhalese mob in Abhayapura wanted to attack the Tamil area of Anbuvelipuram. The Police stopped it. But that was not the end. On 6th February at 6.45 PM some youths were chatting on the road at Anbuvelipuram. Ten security forces men on five motorcycles appeared accompanying an auto rickshaw with its sides draped in black like a hearse. The funeral procession stopped. A man in the auto rickshaw, who could not shoot straight, opened fire. The intended targets, two youths who had during the CFA helped to decorate for the LTTE inspired Pongu Thamil celebrations, ran through a saloon and escaped. Two youths Jeevakanthan and Kutti, who had nothing to do with the LTTE were killed. An aid worker who was talking to friends received a slight injury on his foot.
The next day the Army washed the bloodstains from the road. For the State, murder is so simple. No newspaper reported this.
In the same area again another sadistic act was performed on 29th February 2008. On 4th February three youths were abducted from the area of whom nothing more was heard. One of them was Thiyoda Christopher (20) whose wife was under 18. On 29th February Christopher phoned his wife and told her that he was being released and was coming home. The wife happily spread the word. But her husband did not come. The same night, a van came into the area, dropped a man, made a turn, shot him dead and went off. It was in the morning that the wife found the victim to be her husband. There were marks on his hand to suggest that he had been administered saline, probably after torture. The same day the Karuna (Pillayan) group came and explained to the people that these killings and abductions are not done by them. The people are now convinced that the Navy and Sinhalese home guards are behind these. So much for Sri Lankan culture as portrayed by this government.