University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)
In recent years Muslim militancy gained ground as a reaction to the LTTE treating them very badly after the 2002 CFA. The LTTE resorted to abductions, killings and organised Tamil mobs to attack Muslims. An undercurrent of this activity was to constrict the space and economic life of Muslims, and importantly use terror as a means to keep Muslims out of certain areas. The LTTE was interested in circling Trincomalee harbour with its own military and naval bases to interdict the Navy’s use of the harbour whenever hostilities broke out. To this end the LTTE tried to dominate the land between Mutur and Kinniya in addition to Mutur East. (See Special Report 14 and Bulletin 33.) The Karuna split in 2004 made the LTTE’s ambitions in the East unrealistic.
We mentioned earlier that Abdul Hakim, a Muslim militant leader in Mutur, was shot dead by the LTTE on 30th September 2005. Muslim groups were loosely called different names depending on the area. In Mutur there were two types of Muslim armed groups. One was generally referred to as the Osama group – just a label and nothing more, though during the anti-Muslim violence by the LTTE early in the CFA this seemed a useful name by which to refer to armed Muslims to promote the LTTE in the West. Armed Muslim activity in Mutur was purely a local reaction to the LTTE without further ramifications.
After Hakim died the militants divided. One group remained armed. The other felt that Jihad is a deeper, ethically demanding concept that is much more than carrying arms and became a non-violent religious group. The second group became law abiding citizens and started exposing crimes of the militant section.
Another set of armed Muslims is the home guards. Often in the same family, one would be a home guard, while another would be a militant without a state affiliation. The security forces did not bother about this as both served their purpose of controlling the LTTE by lawful and dirty means.
With the CFA breaking down in 2006, the Government began using armed Muslim groups openly as they were using the Karuna group. They were used to target Tamils supposedly friendly to the LTTE, inasmuch as the LTTE continued to target Muslims. When the Government definitely decided to restart the war by May 2006, it wanted the International NGOs out. To this end the Army assigned an officer widely known as Captain Silva to use armed Muslim elements to do the job.
From early May tensions built up with reports of the Army inducting members of the Karuna group and hosting them at Kattaiparichchan army camp as a prelude to an operation to capture Sampoor and Ralkuli. By 15th May, tensions reemerged between Muslims and Tamils because of some killings and disappearances on both sides. On 15th May, 700 Muslim people were reported displaced at 58th and 59th Milepost (Azathnagar, Jinnahnagar and Koorkandam). Mutur also saw some scare mongering with leaflets signed by such unknown groups as a Tamil Eelam Village Force of unknown origin threatening Muslims and Sinhalese to leave Tamil Eelam.
On 21st May grenades were thrown at the Mutur offices of the Non-Violent Peace Force (NVPF), ZOA and InterSOS, with no intention of harm to persons and at Emergency Architects a few days later. To a large extent such harassment succeeded. On the Magistrate pushing the Police, towards the end of July the Police arrested six persons in connection with the bomb throwing.
We documented in Special Report No.26 the use of Muslim home guards on 10th June 2006 morning to murder Krishnapillai Ravichandran (43) of Menkamam who was returning home by bus with his wife from Mutur Hospital. The killing was done on a short stretch of the road in town where the Army was present. A home guard got into the bus, killed the victim, and unintentionally a 12-year-old boy, and just got down and went away.
On the night of 15th June 2006, Emergency Architects was robbed. Two local security guards and two expatriates were threatened. Organisation money and documents from expatriates were stolen. While the earlier organisations functioned also in the LTTE-controlled area, Emergency Architects was involved in an uncontroversial housing scheme among Muslims and employed mainly Muslims. After this expatriates in Mutur left for a time. ACF was the first to return at the end of July.
Two weeks before there was an attempt to extort money from a Saudi Arabian NGO. The extortionists were trapped in a sting operation where fake money was taken in a suitcase and the Police arrested those waiting to receive it. The string of attacks and attempted robbery during this period was an indication that something was brewing.
The last incident was an interesting comment on what the Police hierarchy wanted. The sting was organised by Sub Inspector Athula, a man with a good reputation. He was then transferred out. According to persons close to him, the transfer was made on the order of DIG Rohan Abeywardene who was unhappy with Athula’s action in checking crime.
A number of persons were also remanded and a combination of home guards and militants was involved. The persons remanded over the robbery at Emergency Architects were militants Seiyathu M. Ameem and Kochi Mohamed Marzook. These two were in the remand prison in Mutur during the siege of August 2006. Someone at the Police Station, possibly home guards, had helped them to bend the gate of the cell and get out. There was no attempt to apprehend them later.
Mohamed Haniffa Mohamed Fareed, a home guard, and another (possibly the well known criminal Amir Naheem), had been arrested in connection with attempted extortion of the Saudi NGO and sent to Trincomalee prison. Jehangir, a home guard and helper of the militants had been wanted for the extortion case. He fled Mutur and had returned two weeks before the siege. It was he who took part in the ACF massacre.
A point that needs to be mentioned here concerns the group that functioned as a religious group after breaking off from the militants. In the Emergency Architects robbery case, two of them gave evidence before the Magistrate that led to the arrest of the culprits. They were Nazar and Ghazali. In connection with this case threatening calls had been made to the court and the Mudaliyar had been threatened. The witnesses had also told the court that they were under threat.
After the Siege: Crackdown on the Militants
During August 2006 itself the security forces had been tolerant of the Muslim militants and even helped them to get rid of their enemies. We reported the following in Special Report No.22 of 23rd August 2006:
“The Muslim refugees reached Kantalai on 5th August. That same evening S. Sriskandarajah, a Tamil tailor aged 35, was abducted after dusk and was found shot dead in a paddy field with his hands tied. On the 7th a Muslim woman relief worker had dinner at the home of a Tamil woman. The hostess remarked sadly over dinner, “They are catching our boys one by one, taking them and killing them.” After dinner she went to the Periatruveli (Moor through which the Big River flows) School, which had Muslim refugees and found the place in a commotion. She was told that some persons had come into the camp about 9.30 PM and woken up two sleeping refugee men. Those who came evidently knew the refugee men, who followed them into an auto rickshaw, which drove off. She also observed some masked security personnel who were posted in the camp supposedly to protect the refugees.
“People were generally reticent about the affair, except to say that the men were important, who stood up for the community, and were planning to go to Ganewela the next day. The bodies of the two men with faces partially burnt were recovered from the neighbourhood about 3.30 AM. Subsequent inquiries identified the men as Nazar and Ghazali. Nazar’s story is a sad one. His wife died of her injuries when a shell struck Al Hilal School in Mutur. His daughter was injured by shelling at Kiranthimunai during the march. (She and her two brothers are now with their grand father.) Nazar was planning get a vehicle from Ganemulla to go back and collect his wife’s body. The people suspect that their murder may have to do with the robbery of an NGO in Mutur, for which Nazar and Ghazali gave evidence and had the robbers convicted. But the fact that the killers, whose identities cannot be hard to trace, got away so easily raises pertinent questions.
“It appears likely that the killers here were Muslim criminal elements originally from Mutur, presently used by the security forces and placed in Kantalai to monitor the refugees coming in.”
That was the story of Nazar and Ghazali whose evidence helped to convict the robbers of Emergency Architects who escaped from the Mutur remand during the siege and are now free men. As for the atmosphere at the refugee camp from which the two hapless men were abducted and killed, we give a photograph below taken at the camp the same night Nazar and Ghazali were abducted and killed. The place was well guarded by policemen wearing masks.
The State’s use of armed Muslims to screen the Muslim and Tamil displaced has a strange parallel with what the LTTE was doing. We have argued before that the LTTE’s purpose in taking Mutur and using the exodus, which they encouraged, to screen the refugees at Kinanthimunai, was to pick out and get rid of Muslims and Tamils close to the security forces or involved in armed activity against them.
Crime as Part of Government Policy
This meant that the police were using the same criminal elements calling themselves Osama or whatever to screen the refugee population coming into Mutur – both Muslims and Tamils – and helping them to get rid of enemies who exposed their crimes. Even stranger is the sighting of Jehangir in Kantali on Saturday 5th August 2006, the day after the ACF massacre in which he took part. They were making good use of the motorcycles stolen from the ACF office to have another field day for their criminal activities in Kantalai, with the connivance of the Police.
On 5th August 2006, Mathivanan who was the court mudaliyar in Mutur and was part of the exodus, was travelling to Trincomalee with AGA Seruvila, a Sinhalese, in the latter’s vehicle. Muslim thugs from Mutur who were under the patronage of the Police stopped them at Kantalai Junction. It became clear that they singled out Mathivanan, because some of the armed Muslims in Mutur had been remanded by the Mutur court over several crimes. The thugs threatened him, “Your people threw our friends behind bars. We will kill you wherever you are.” They also issued threats against the Mutur Magistrate.
Mathivanan, recorded the incident in an appeal letter to the Judicial Service Commission, where he requested a transfer from Mutur because of threat to life. He took it to the JSC’s assistant secretary who refused to transfer him out of Mutur. Mathivanan had no choice but to resign his job. He is back at home in Kekirawa, teaching English for a living.
This falls into one pattern with Trincomalee DIG Abeywardene’s transfer of Sub Inspector Athula who apprehended the persons attempting extortion from a Saudi NGO. Indeed, extortion, abduction and murder involving Tamils and Muslims, where the Police turned a blind eye, had become standard fare in Colombo at that time. Crime was deliberate policy to cramp the minorities.
One event panicked the security forces and pushed them into cracking down on Muslim militants.
One Show Ends, What Comes Next?
We observed that two motorcycles were stolen from the Mutur ACF and the ACF had lodged a complaint about this. Before or about the end of August, two Muslim home guards were produced before the Magistrate for the theft of the motorcycles. They were Abdul Faleel Abdul Cader and Jamaldeen Muhamathu Imsham. The motorcycles were recovered in Kinniya. The two arrested said that they had found the motorcycles abandoned during a clearing mission. Of course they could not say that one at least was stolen in the presence of the Police and Navy commandos during the massacre.
What rattled the authorities is that during the siege from 2nd to 4th August, Cader and Imsham had being taking guns out of the Police Station and hiding them outside with the intention of selling or giving them to the militants. During the siege the Police were dependent on the home guards for intelligence and they were moving in and out. It was easy enough for them to walk out with a gun as though for their protection. Scores of firearms went missing, perhaps in the region of a hundred.
Further, once the Government started capturing areas of the East under LTTE control, the threat from the LTTE receded and the Muslims also became upset by moves towards Sinhalisation. The latter took the form of claiming lands for possible Sinhalese settlement and putting up new Buddhist temples in contested sites. This was when the authorities became nervous about the loss of weapons from the Mutur Police Station.
In June 2007, a CID team came from Colombo and began arresting Muslim militants and trying to recover weapons. Some weeks later the militants were released. According to local talk, they had all been tortured, given a severe thrashing and warned that they must not go to a hospital to dress their wounds. In early March 2008, the Police marched a companion of the notorious home guard Farook through Mutur in handcuffs. Evidently he was suspected of having arms.
The honeymoon was over. But if the Tamil case is any guide, this will not be the end of the story when the community is left feeling bitter and cheated. Like in the Tamil case when the community felt alienated, the people backed the armed groups to a point, and then felt thoroughly disillusioned by their crimes and authoritarian approach.
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