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University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)

Sri Lanka

UTHR(J)

Special Report No. 31

Date of Release: 28th October 2008

Pawns of an Un-heroic War:

Part I. For Whom There Are No Spoils of War

Part II. The Politics Behind Dismantling Humanitarian Capability in the Vanni

Part III. The Drive for Hegemony and Debilitation of the North-East: Cases and Reports

 

Summary

The human rights situation in Sri Lanka is deteriorating with signs of it getting worse. At the same time the President’s pledge of a political solution once the war is won is disingenuous if one looks at the East where he claims he has restored democracy by instituting a toothless provincial council.

Today we are again witness to militaristic euphoria being sustained by an increasingly authoritarian regime terrorizing the people, the press and silencing voices of caution and humanity. The Government’s ‘war on terrorism’ quickly took on the character of an ideological crusade against the minorities in general, focused on the Defence Ministry. Fighting the LTTE has become almost secondary to the prerequisite of the extremists close to the corridors of power to establish a Sinhalese-Buddhist state and erase all semblance of pluralism. It is this obscurantism that in the first place kindled the present ethnic conflict. An important category that became targets of the State’s killer groups are those who are not LTTE sympathizers, but were active in defending and speaking up for legitimate Tamil interests. The result is the further isolation of the State from the Tamils. 

A responsible government must think and do the political work it is there to do, in winning over the Tamils and to persuade the world that it has a viable plan to minimize the damage and loss of life, before sending in the armed forces. To conduct a war with the present chauvinistic outlook is utterly irresponsible by the Sinhalese youth being sacrificed, even if the State has no empathy for the Tamil victims. But what is to be gained by giving the Tamils the message that they would lose everything and have no place in this country if the LTTE is defeated?

On the other side the people are in this terrible plight because the LTTE for its totalitarian ends repeatedly spurned opportunities to reach a political settlement. The people’s relationship with the LTTE is complex. The general mood among the people of the Vanni was strongly anti-LTTE four months ago, and resistance continues. Resistance however to the LTTE is either passive of tragically fatalistic. With increased aerial bombing and shelling and stories of increasingly repressive treatment of minorities coming from other parts of the country, the mood is changing. Despite this the LTTE, by October 2008, had once again become very aggressive in conscription.

There was fear under the LTTE, but now there is terror, violence and extreme uncertainty under the much travestied label of democracy. The natures of internal terror and external terror and their dynamism have been regularly discussed in our reports. The first destroys the soul of the community and the latter creates continuous uncertainty and fear; both take away hope and dignity from the people. That is why for us the choice is not between an LTTE victory and a Government victory. Both are obnoxious in their aims and inimical for the people. Any evil ultimately burns itself out. We could only hope and pray that the suffering of the people would be brief, followed by a dawn of fresh hope.  

The current political and human rights situation in East Lanka portends a dismal future for democracy and security in Lanka as a whole. The LTTE has regrouped and is carrying out regular attacks and there is a reported upsurge in incidents of abduction, searches and abuse of women by government security forces and allied paramilitaries. In the East where the Government’s public relations men boast of development and the restoration of democracy, there is greater fear, uncertainty and a deliberate cultivation of communal tensions.

In the North as the Army advancing along the western half of the Vanni edges closer to Killinochchi an estimated 200 000 displaced civilians are getting hemmed into the north-eastern corner of the Vanni, attempting to escape the ravages of the fighting. Facing abysmal conditions with continual bombing and shelling and forced to move at short notice, they had even stopped putting up temporary shelters. The choices for them were never human. Initially they moved north to escape shelling from the advancing army. Then the LTTE prevented those who tried to move into government-controlled areas. The Government in turn confines those escaping LTTE-controlled areas in mass detention centres from which they are not allowed to leave. Those in Vavuniya find themselves in a place of crime and lawlessness, where torture, murder, extortion, abduction and rape are routine and women are powerless. The blame lies mainly with the security forces and Tamil paramilitary elements working alongside them.

The South too will not escape unscathed. A very disproportionate burden in fighting the war is placed on the backs of rural Sinhalese youth sowing the seeds for future discord. For the poor everywhere it is their families that are their main source of joy. Instead of protecting and fostering that source of strength, the Government abuses their children as cheap cannon fodder for their perverted ideology.

The plight of the people of the Vanni, whose children are forced into military service by the LTTE and have suffered continuous death, deprivation and displacement because of the Government’s heavy weaponry, has long been headline news. The UN and international agencies were the only ones present to provide reliable humanitarian capability as well as to witness. That the whole structure was dismantled literally overnight on an order from a government too well known for its disregard of the rule of law and humanitarian norms, should make us wonder at the fragility of international machinery we expect so much from. It raises questions about what the international order and agencies should realistically aim for. Have humanitarian norms fallen victim to the ‘war on terror’, whose rhetoric so many nation-states across the globe find useful? Are influential governments being soft on the Lankan government, because they were earlier soft on the LTTE?

Since 1986 many people have posed the exasperating question, ‘How on earth does one deal with a phenomenon like the LTTE?’ It has over the years shown a capacity to descend to the lowest depths without any qualms in the treatment of its own people, do the unthinkable such as conscripting children as young as ten, exploit and betray the most intimate forms of trust and one could go on. To those who understand that this phenomenon grew out of a persistent denial of political rights to the Tamils, accompanied by humiliation and violence, it is in addressing these that the cure should begin.

In our past reports we have given more detail to exemplify the trends. We give a few cases here to show that if anything the human rights situation is deteriorating with signs of it getting worse. We do not minimise the importance of complete documentation. But the task is so demanding that it needs to be undertaken by organisations with the dedicated resources. It may not even be possible in the current climate of terror. Inquiring into an individual case is much more demanding and frustrating than it was two years ago and one is left with the uncomfortable feeling of being a source of danger to someone. One feels truly humble before those who are willing to expose violators under these perilous conditions.

Part I. For Whom There Are No Spoils of War

CONTENTS

1.1. How Many Corpses to a Political Settlement?

1.2. ‘Heroes’ under Duress

1.3. In the North

1.4. The Civilian Dilemma

1.5. What of the People?

1.6. Mass Detention Centres for Civilians who happen to be Tamil?

1.7. Mistaken Priorities leading to a Fusion of Evils

1.8. Prospect of Prolonged Instability

1.1. How Many Corpses to a Political Settlement?

Under a government-imposed straitjacket, the media in Colombo presents the current military campaign in the Vanni as moving towards a total rout of the LTTE. This perception, which some experienced journalists have cautioned against, fails to take into account the deep-set insecurity felt by victims on both sides.  Their sense of alienation should not be treated with complacency. How easily the decision-makers forget our recent past! In 1987, the social rot in the South caused by militarisation and chauvinistic hypocrisy was so deep that the horrors of the JVP insurgency followed on the heels of euphoria over the Army’s major victory against the LTTE in Vadamaratchy. Once more the social rot and discontent are very deep.

Today we are again witness to militaristic euphoria being sustained by an increasingly authoritarian regime terrorising the Press, silencing voices of caution and humanity from civil society and managing the news about the war. Accordingly casualty figures that were in the past around 1:1 are now touted as overwhelmingly, 1:4 and 1:20, in the Government’s favour. The Defence Secretary vaunts that the “continuous and historic victories of the Security Forces” would soon lead to a landmark victory – the long heralded capture of Killinochchi. But then the town has changed hands twice in two and a half decades of war.

Having ordered the INGOs to quit Vanni, the only independent institutions present to monitor humanitarian aid, the Government has practically decapitated humanitarian capability in the Vanni. It has rendered the sufferings of the people an open area for propaganda games, with the Government and the LTTE throwing unverifiable charges at each other.

At the root of the present crisis lies the Sinhalese polity’s inability to offer a political settlement acceptable to the minorities; and in this regard, President Rajapakse’s record has been one of patent duplicity. Having launched an All Party Representatives Committee to find a political settlement, he reduced it to a sycophantic parody. The Commission of Inquiry into selected serious violations has been sabotaged by subterfuge from the President’s office.

The President’s pledge of a political solution, once the war is won is disingenuous if one looks at the East where he claims he has restored democracy by instituting a toothless provincial council. The putative Tamil leaders his intelligence services patronised, divided and nominally empowered – the TMVP – are at each at each other’s throats. The spate of violations, in which State’s role is dominant, frame its patently sectarian agenda – one that prompted the Tamil youth rebellion in the first place. The independent voices in the East that survived the LTTE and its progeny are now being methodically targeted or intimidated by the Government’s killers.

The latest community representative to fall victim was Siva Shree Siva Kadacha Sivakugarajah, priest of Koneswaram Temple, Trincomalee, who had recently been confronting the authorities on the extra-judicial killing of civilians. The Government was quick to blame his murder of 21st September 2008 on the LTTE before any investigation. But our own inquiries place the culpability decisively at the door of the military authorities in Trincomalee. State terror in the East is deeply pervasive and sinister and more so because all news is controlled and distorted by the Defence Ministry and goes into the wire services unchallenged. (See Part III.)

On the other side, the people are in this terrible plight because the LTTE for its totalitarian ends repeatedly spurned opportunities to reach a political settlement. Its supporters will not face up to the reality of those forced to fight and die for a cause they do not believe in and the agony of families providing abducted sons and daughters for its cannon fodder. On the ground a hapless people are confronted with things others do not want to face.

Chief among them is the issue of protection of civilians in general, who are increasingly coming under the government security regime that acts with complete impunity. Despite the assurances the Government regularly gives, its own record of routine abductions and killings is atrocious, and is perhaps worst in Vavuniya where the government plans to house the Vanni displaced in what are prisons all but in name. Once again both the warring parties have sought to control the movement of Tamil civilians for propaganda and military purposes.

At the start of the government offensive from the Mannar-Vavuniya Road in 2007, the people moved a little north on their own when shells started to fall. Neither did they have the option of staying in their homes nor did the LTTE force them to move. The LTTE used force only when the civilians wanted to cross over to stay with relatives in the government-controlled area. The Army too wanted total displacement. Had the Government announced safe places for civilians beforehand in every village; the LTTE would have found matters difficult. Presently, in view of humanitarian pressure from India, reports coming out are of an intensification of fighting and the Army being pushed to finish the job sooner. The danger to civilians too becomes greater. 

1.2. ‘Heroes’ under Duress

Early September 2008 saw some heavy fighting with heavy casualties on both sides. According to reports from the ground, the injured were first taken to Anuradhapura Hospital. But when the Sinhalese public got upset and emotional, many of the casualties were directed to Vavuniya and Mannar Hospitals that lie in largely Tamil areas. A soldier with an amputated leg told a Tamil civilian that they were sent to the front through deception. He was in a group that was told that their duties would be to provide security for a road bridge blown up by the LTTE in 1990 that was to be reconstructed with Japanese aid. Another soldier said that they were brought there with an assurance that they would be used only for logistics work and then sent to the front.

Another soldier who had just been trucked to Murunkan south of the northern front asked a Tamil civilian where he was. When the civilian explained to him, the soldier slapped his forehead and exclaimed, “We were told we are being sent to Badulla!”

At a village near Madhu, which the Army captured recently, an army officer and his men stopped a group of civilians. The officer poured out his heart and told them, “When we see people here with their families, we are reminded of our own homes and families. We hoped that this problem would be solved peacefully, but that was not to be. We will soon be sent to the front. We are anxious and afraid. Please pray for us.”

The young soldiers who spoke to Tamil civilians were very young and barely adults. They were given a different picture of military life than the butchery involved in the context of this war, and were conned into going to the front – into a fate that is glorious and exhilarating only for politicians and generals who ride on their backs to transient fame.

According to sources close to a Buddhist women’s group in Anuradhapura, there are hundreds of ex-soldiers who lost limbs during the last two years languishing in the border districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. They are the flotsam and jetsam of war that must be hidden from serving soldiers and prospective recruits.

Lankadissent.com (2 Aug.02) quoted the Sinhalese weekly Ravaya, which placed the number of desertions from the Army at 9500 since hostilities commenced in the North-East in 2006. The report clarified, “Since the resumption of hostilities, an estimated 25,000 soldiers had deserted their ranks, all of whom had later been allowed to resign officially. The latest desertions are by those who had joined the army recently, [Ravaya] added.” The Ravaya quoted the Military Spokesman as having placed the number of desertions at 15 000 in January 2008 of whom he said 4000 rejoined after a government amnesty. Deserters thus make up a significant fraction of the Army.

In the border areas of the North, civilians are generally aware that the young soldiers have been sent there without being warned of the grave threat to life and limb, but were rather told that their work is to provide security in captured areas. Once they are taken there they are closely monitored and desertion becomes difficult. Also when buses stop at checkpoints, those with a military look are separated from the other passengers and are told that the Army would see them to their destination. They are then checked to find out if they are deserters. We reliably learn that the number of desertions by soldiers in the Vanni was about 700 during August and September.

1.3. In the North

As the Army advancing along the western half of the Vanni edges closer to Killinochchi an estimated 200 000 displaced civilians are getting hemmed into the north-eastern corner of the Vanni. Facing abysmal conditions, they have even stopped putting up temporary shelters. They move north and as shells begin to fall they know they must move again. For the night they spread a mat under a tree. When they roll the mat in the morning, it is not unusual to find snakes and scorpions sheltering under the warmth of the mat. Several of them see it as a miracle that no one has so far died from these poisonous reptiles, although several persons bitten have been hospitalised. Recent rains have increased the number.

The LTTE is presently not talking far ahead. It claims that the Army advanced only in areas they allowed them to (i.e. the western sector of the Vanni). Until recently it did not officially say that every family would have to contribute a second fighter, but the message was that they must all fight to the finish, and if it comes to the worst, each person must kill as many soldiers as possible before being killed.

The people’s relationship with the LTTE is complex. The general mood among the people was strongly anti-LTTE four months ago, and resistance continues. But with increased aerial bombing and shelling and stories of increasingly repressive treatment of minorities coming from other parts of the country, the mood is changing.  We have seen this happen repeatedly from 1987. But the fact that a large number of unwilling persons have been conscripted to fight must have an adverse internal impact within the LTTE.  Resistance to the LTTE is either passive or tragically fatalistic. Our sources affirmed that a few girl conscripts used their weapons to kill themselves, but were unable to give more details. The girls found the militaristic environment and the injunction to kill utterly unbearable. On further inquiry, we were assured that such things do happen, as people hear when they move around areas where battles are fought and meet LTTE cadres who talk. What is more significant they said was inexperienced new conscripts faced with the terrible sensation of battle and deafening explosions around them, taking refuge in their cyanide capsule or their own bullet.

A number of Christian churches in the Vanni are stridently pacifist. But as a group, they found themselves unable to resist conscription of their young. When one of their young dies in battle, the ministers of the churches and the Pentecostal Sisters have preached at funerals that God in his mercy took away these young persons to spare them the pain of killing others.

Young conscripts, who resist the LTTE as conscientious objectors, are liable for heavy punishment. For this reason several of them have taken personal vows and informed their parents and guides not to worry on their account as in whatever situation they find themselves, they have sworn not to kill, but are ready to be killed instead.

The LTTE had a large camp at Moonru-Murippu, now overrun by government forces. It had scores of metal cages, with pointed wires extending inside. Conscripted persons who refused to fight were shut inside. The pointed wires ensured that they had to stand in a bent position and get pricked if they tried to move. They were let out only when they agreed to the LTTE’s demands. These cages had during the ceasefire been used to coerce particularly businessmen abducted for extortion.

By October 2008, the LTTE had once again become very aggressive in conscription. They visited families with lists provided by Village Headmen (GS officers). For a family with 3 or 4 children, they demanded two fighters; one for a family with two; and none for a family with one. The general attitude of the populace now is not to quarrel with the LTTE. They figure that many of those who objected to conscription had been placed on the frontline and are dead. But many of those who joined without resistance have been placed in safer areas and have survived. Since early September, sources from the Vanni say that the LTTE has conscripted 9000 ‘very young’ persons who are now under training.

A large number of desertions have also been reported in the LTTE. Recently, we learn, about 250 cadres ran away and are hiding in the jungle. These sources said that about three of them are very senior. Other sources said that many of the LTTE’s conscripts are desperately trying to identify escape routes to the government-controlled area.

After the Army announced safe areas for civilians in East Vanni in Viswamadu (Vattakachchi and Dharmapuram) and Oddusuddan, by 9th October, the civilians were moving towards these areas. Yet their utility remains questionable without agreement from the LTTE and the absence of a sufficient number of neutral monitors. A section of the civilians, both natives of Kilinochchi District and those who came from further south had plans of moving to Jaffna in fishing boats that came from Jaffna. Around September end, nearly 2500 of them had gathered in Ruthirapuram, three miles northwest of Killinochchi, with plans of crossing the lagoon to Jaffna. At this time there was a wave of bombing and shelling around Killinochchi, in which the LTTE political office was hit. A shell fell in Ruthirapuram, injuring a girl in her 30s.

The LTTE came there and wanted to shift the people to the East Vanni. Some people objected saying that they want to go to the government-controlled area. The LTTE named a large sum of money adding that if anyone would pay that sum, they could pay and go. The people were then shifted to the east.

Apart from the LTTE stopping them, there are other pressing reasons why families are reluctant to flee from the Vanni. Many of their children have been conscripted and are either dead or serving on the battle lines. As far as the Government is concerned they are marked, irrespective of the fact that their children were forcibly removed. Once in the government-controlled area, they would be photographed, confined to camps and paraded before masked informants, often persons from their area who know their family history.

1.4. The Civilian Dilemma

As to the fate of the conscripts who might survive the current round of war, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s interview in Lakbima News of 21st September 2008 reaffirms the grim prospect that is public knowledge: “Yes. You have to remove everybody (i.e. all LTTE cadres). At the same time, you could rehabilitate them. In the East, we have identified about 1,300 cadres who were active before and who now live with their families. It’s not that we kill everybody. But as long as they carry the weapon and are waiting to fight, you have to remove them.

The Defence Secretary is here making a fairly frank statement on what several rights groups have charged was government policy from 2006. Under this policy, government assassins killed fishermen with families the LTTE forcibly took from Jaffna to the Vanni during the ceasefire and trained for a few weeks (Special Report No.28). It is the Defence Ministry’s agents who decide ‘when a person is waiting to fight’. It is like an open licence to kill Tamils. How capricious these judgments can be, is illustrated by the case of the conscientious foreign humanitarian worker, Giovanni Porta, whom in September, based on “intelligence” from these agents, the Defence Secretary wrongly accused of joining the LTTE (see Part II).

As another indication, the Government’s nominated Tamil leadership, the former LTTE Pillayan group, was meeting the public in Trincomalee. The question was asked why they were killing former LTTE cadres who are no longer combatants. A Pillayan man replied, “If they had left the LTTE, they should have joined us. If they have not done so, we are bound to treat them as LTTE sympathisers.” In fact, Karuna and Pillayan had conscripted many of them for the LTTE as children, when they were Prabhakaran’s Eastern henchmen. 

In the face of this, what would be the fate of the people in a ‘liberated’ Vanni? For a cadre who manages to escape from the LTTE, family is the first and last line of defence. The foreign humanitarian staff quit well in advance of the deadline set by the Government without forcefully arguing the case of the people they are meant to protect. This places the families of LTTE conscripts in a difficult position. How can they run away without knowing the fate of their sons and daughters conscripted by the LTTE, leaving them at the mercy of two sets of predators? That they are running into the dubious protection of what are virtually government prisons, makes the decision that much more heartbreaking.

1.5. What of the People?

Having taken out expatriate aid staff, the Government suggested that the local staff of these organisations could work as government volunteers paid by their nominal employers. This has created a painful dilemma for agencies who instilled into them certain ethics appropriate to their calling. As government volunteers, they would report to the government machinery in their area, which has no choice but to take orders from the LTTE and perhaps later, the Government – something they have been trained to resist.

By pulling the expatriates out, the Government has created a situation that has strengthened the LTTE’s control over people and resources. A number of articles in the press have raised questions about what this could mean in a conflict where military and political stakes are high, given the LTTE’s record of unscrupulous use of the civilian population and the Government’s proverbial callousness. A particular fear is the control of food rations to locate the people. The other is the distribution of food.

Presently over 80% of the population is displaced and their own resources of food are negligible. Of the three other sources of food, the first is the food rations distributed by the Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES) to displaced families not resettled during the ceasefire amounting to Rs. 1000 a month. This is all the food supplied by the Government and it covers a very tiny fraction. It is also very slow and also inadequate. The second source is the World Food Programme in an agreement with the CGES, which covers most people, including now most of Mannar District. This aims at providing each person with 2100 calories per day. At the last reckoning the food going into the Vanni to feed an estimated 430 000 people was 750 – 800 tonnes, while the actual requirement was 1500 tonnes. If the Government believes that the estimated population is excessive, it must tell us with evidence what the real figure is. If not the Government and the agencies open themselves to the charge of starving the people.

The third source and the only one meaningful in an emergency are the INGOs, who immediately provide two weeks of rations to the newly displaced. This source is now in disarray. Although the Government claims to be able to look after the people, its machinery at best is very inadequate for that purpose as seen in the bureaucratic delays and lack of capacity – many government officers are absconding. With a view to blunt criticism, the Government hit upon the idea of allowing UN food monitors to go with WFP food convoys and hand over the food to the government administration. This accomplishes little in overseeing the distribution of food.

It is remarkable that while the Government carries on shelling and displacing people, nearly all the money to feed the displaced comes from foreign donors, who are in turn abused and flayed on the charge of supporting the LTTE, and finally the government gets is own way with them. What it wants them to do next is even more grotesque.

1.6. Mass Detention Centres for Civilians who happen to be Tamil?

No less a person than the Army Commander anticipates that recapturing land earlier controlled by the LTTE would not end the war but transform it into a long running guerrilla war. In the East in 2006, the civilians were deliberately displaced and a great deal of land was taken over under the pretext of security. In the Vanni too the Government does not seem to intend speedy resettlement of the displaced, and to this end what are in fact detention centres were set up for the civilians who fled the LTTE area.

The Government set up camps in Kallimoddai and Sirukandal near Murunkan in the Mannar District for persons who escaped from the LTTE-controlled area. Some paid boatmen several lakhs of rupees for a ride into the government-controlled area. Initially the youth were allowed to go to Mannar town with an army escort, who took them in a bus and brought them back. That has been stopped after one youth taken to town escaped. Due to a water shortage in the area, the inmates of the camp need to go outside to bathe. Anyone going to bathe must find someone to stand surety. The inadequacy of government-funds for the centre has meant that many of the inmates, who belong to about 243 families, live in tents. With the onset of rains their situation becomes horrible.

One aspect confirming the prison status of these camps is that families are not allowed to seek shelter with host families – hitherto a common arrangement for the displaced in this country. We also learnt that displaced persons who had made arrangements to go abroad before they were displaced – such as young women whose fiancés are waiting to receive them into marriage – are not allowed to pursue such legitimate ends. University students have after some delay been allowed out.

The Government as usual expects foreign governments and INGOs to pick up the bill for the misery it causes. So far INGOs have avoided getting involved in what is in effect illegal confinement of citizens of the same country not charged with any offence. It is something they would find hard to justify. The Government is evidently satisfied with this pilot project and is planning to have one in Vavuniya on a huge scale for civilians presently living under LTTE-control it expects to ‘free’. What is worse, Vavuniya has become a place of crime and lawlessness, where torture, murder, extortion, abduction and rape are routine. Women are powerless. The blame for their plight largely owes to the security forces and Tamil paramilitary groups working with them (see Part III).

Once confronted with the misery of these inadequately financed detention centres with children, mothers and infants whose basic needs are not met, the INGOs would face a severe dilemma whether to go in and, in effect, sanction this arrangement, or to turn a blind eye to gigantic misery. Unfortunately the UN and most INGOs have too readily compromised with the LTTE and the State, and it becomes difficult to start putting up a fight.

We recently learnt that some of the virtual detainees at Kallimoddai and Sirukandal have become mentally ill, one of them badly. But the doctors who visit these centers have not been competent to treat such illness. Lately, we learn that permission may be given to take the patients to government hospitals. Many of the issues have been dealt with in the timely report of the Civil Society Field Mission to Vavuniya (http://transcurrents.com/tc/2008/09/post_36.html

1.7. Mistaken Priorities leading to a Fusion of Evils

Since 1986 many people have posed the exasperating question, ‘How on earth does one deal with a phenomenon like the LTTE?’ It has over the years shown a capacity to descend to the lowest depths without any qualms in the treatment of its own people, do the unthinkable such as conscripting children as young as ten, exploit and betray the most intimate forms of trust and one could go on. To those who understand that this phenomenon grew out of a persistent denial of political rights to the Tamils, accompanied by humiliation and violence, it is in addressing these that the cure should begin.

Sinhalese supremacists who believe that there is no ethnic problem, no question of political rights and only a question of terrorism that must be crushed ruthlessly, dominate the present government. It gave its signature at the outset, at the turn of 2005, by the assassination of a Tamil politician at Christmas Mass followed by the staged incident where the STF executed five innocent Tamil students on the Trincomalee sea front.

Everything else followed logically. Killer squads under the Defence Ministry were let loose to ‘remove’ potential LTTE supporters, displacement of Tamils, placing them in refugee camps where they could be checked and if needed ‘removed’, and assassinating a second Tamil parliamentarian at the end of 2006 became all part of policy. As representatives or spokesmen for the Tamil people, the Government would only tolerate groups who would provide killers and flatter them in positions of nominal power.

The Government’s ‘war on terrorism’ quickly took on the character of an ideological crusade against the minorities in general, centred on the Defence Ministry. Fighting the LTTE became almost secondary to the prerequisites of the extremists in power to establish a totalitarian Sinhalese-Buddhist state and erase all semblance of pluralism. An important category that became targets of the State’s killer groups were those who were not LTTE sympathisers, but were active in defending and speaking up for legitimate Tamil interests (see Part III).  

The result was the complete isolation of the State from the Tamils, no Tamil with whom the Government could discuss pressing security problems like bomb blasts in Colombo. The progress of the Government’s policy logically resulted in restrictions on the movement of Tamils from one place to another, Tamils having to register and get passes to move and be treated as terrorists by the security forces. Detention centres for Tamils from the Vanni grew out of these measures.

The Government cornered itself into a position where it could not tolerate any independent Tamil voice even on the most mundane of issues. Mr. Sinnathamby Shanmugam was Government Agent (GA), Vavuniya, with a few months to retirement. At a meeting presided over by the President’s brother Basil Rajapakse, Shanmugam expressed reservations in very mild and diplomatic terms about why the people would not readily come to the virtual detention centres the Government was establishing for the people fleeing the Vanni. Basil Rajapakse reportedly lost his cool and blasted Shanmugam for speaking as though for the LTTE. Shanmugam was promptly removed from his post (about 22nd August 2008) and transferred to the administrative service pool.

The actions of the Government from late 2005 have strengthened the admittedly negative political appeal of the LTTE. Apart from the LTTE’s own killings, the Government’s actions have done immeasurable harm in suppressing any Tamil political alternative to the LTTE. It has left the Tamils feeling bitter and angry against the Government. Consequently the upsurge of independent Tamil activism both locally and in the Diaspora, that contributed to the LTTE being banned in several countries, might die a natural death.

Tamils who firmly believed that the LTTE’s politics must be destroyed to give their people a decent chance in life, are likely to see themselves as having no role, if what they do would only be used by the Government to deny the Tamils their basic rights. It would seem justifiable to subsume the LTTE’s dominance under the fatalistic question, “Who are we to kick against the karma of the Sinhalese polity?”

In this reality, despite the military setbacks, the demise of the LTTE should not be taken for granted. Besides the heavy economic cost, the Government is sustaining this war by using deception to send young recruits to the battlefront. The casualties and desertions are far higher than officially admitted. The Government has been constantly recruiting soldiers. According to the Defence Secretary (Lakbima News 21 Sep.08), the Government increased its troop strength by 50 000 two years ago. The Army has launched its fourth recruitment drive for the year on 1st October, which is expected to bring in 14 000 new soldiers, or nearly 50 000 for the year 2008. This does not match the Government’s claim that the LTTE is on its last legs.

Sources with a good knowledge of what is happening in the Defence Ministry, disclosed that the Government is anxious to complete the capture of the Vanni by the end of 2008, because of the largely suppressed effects of casualties and the pressure of desertions. To those familiar with the ups and downs of the fortunes of the antagonists over the decades, the Army’s position in the Vanni today is not a happy one. What this indecisive scenario means for the displaced and the people of the Vanni is unthinkable.   

1.8. Prospect of Prolonged Instability

The LTTE has vacated Killinochchi, the Government’s much-hyped goal. Looking at matters realistically, the LTTE seems set to offer resistance to maximise army losses and withdraw to more defensible positions. A tired Army might then stagger into Killinochchi, which would then be used for political mileage. Then a great many uncertainties would confront both sides. The LTTE’s claim that it has allowed the Army to advance only where it allowed them to is not entirely without substance. There has been no significant army advance in the more crucial East Vanni. The LTTE has been telling the people that they are awaiting the northeast monsoon rains to counter-attack. Without indulging in undue speculation, one could say that it is going to be a long haul for the civilians.

It means that many innocent Tamil civilians would remain vagrants in a war zone or languish in virtual prisons under government control. Others would face regular harassment, ad hoc pass systems, humiliation and restrictions on their movement. What is even worse, the Government would continue with its programme of ‘removal’ of persons indefinitely. And its chauvinistic constraints do not seem to offer any other alternative. This could be seen in the East. The fanfare of liberating the East and offering ‘democracy’ is over. The LTTE has regrouped and is carrying out regular attacks. And thus it crossed the Defence Secretary’s mind that some of the 1300 former LTTE cadres identified by them might become candidates for ‘removal’ and there is an upsurge in incidents of abduction, searches and reported abuse of women (see Part III). The South too will not escape unscathed.

A very disproportionate burden in fighting the war has been placed on the backs of rural Sinhalese youths. Notable among them are those who come from colony areas of the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Districts. Promises of making them prosperous through repairing abandoned medieval reservoirs and giving them land to cultivate have turned sour. It was among the poor youth of these areas that the JVP recruited large numbers for both its rebellions. Life in the Army too led to loss and disillusionment, sowing the seeds of future discord. For the poor everywhere it is their families that are their main source of joy. Instead of protecting and fostering that source of strength, the Government abuses their children as cheap cannon fodder for their perverted ideology.

Those in power thus, assail anything said that gives them discomfort as treachery. Wise rulers use institutional force sparingly and as the last resort. In Lanka the rulers have forgotten democratic norms and rely on the Defence Ministry’s use of latent and actual force, as the first resort to deal with criticism. This is premised on the supposition that legitimate criticism of the State and the inner workings of the military apparatus helps the LTTE and is therefore treachery.

Thus film directors who explore the militarisation of society, editors who publish reports on the plight of the displaced, journalists who expose irregularities in defence purchases, favouritism that is detrimental to the Army’s efficacy and lawyers who campaign for human rights or expose corruption in the State have had unpleasant, life-threatening brushes with agents either from the Defence Ministry itself or acting with its complicity. What we see is the picture of a government, both terribly nervous and whose arrogance far overreaches its wisdom. An example of arrogance is the Army Commander’s repeated affirmation on behalf of the ruling clique that the country belongs to the Sinhalese.

The cockiness is also reflected in the Defence Ministry and the Press giving new Sinhalised or allegedly original Sinhalese names to areas captured by the Army. Reminders of the country’s pluralist legacy are being erased by what has become virtually a Sinhala Only State. The Army as developments go is becoming a narrowly political affair rather than a professional institution upholding the law. 

At the same time these efforts are breeding hardship and explosive discontent among the Sinhalese themselves. The bombing of the residence of Mr. Welimuna, human rights lawyer and head of the Sri Lankan chapter of Transparency International is the latest in the catalogue of growing repression. The trends strengthen rather than weaken long term prospects for the Tigers. That they think for the long term is again evident in the 6th October 2008 suicide bomb assassination of Major General Janaka Perera, Rtd. at a UNP party office in Anuradhapura, killing over two dozen persons. The fact that the General was killed in part due to the pettiness of those in power who in spite of a court order failed to afford him the requisite security, indicates where fighting the LTTE stands in their scale of things.

That again illustrates the futility of the current round of war in which both sides are sacrificing the young and unwilling, bringing misery to hundreds of families. Besides, neither side is going to be victorious.

A responsible government must think and do the political work it is there to do, in winning over the Tamils and persuading the world that it has a viable plan to minimise the damage and loss of life, before sending in the armed forces. To conduct a war with the present chauvinistic outlook is utterly irresponsible by the Sinhalese youth being sacrificed, even if the State has no empathy for Tamil victims.

What is gained by giving the Tamils the message that they would lose everything and have no place in this country if the LTTE is defeated? What would be the long-term effect of the Government’s anti-minority stance and its penchant for ‘removals’? Perhaps around 5000 experienced ex-LTTE men and women living in the Vanni have refused to rejoin the LTTE. What is their choice if a Government victory means a fair prospect of their ‘removal’? It is all ludicrous as strategy and morally obnoxious.  

There should be no return to the kind of appeasement that sweeps the crimes of both sides under the carpet for an unstable, oppressive peace. But there is open the prospect of minimizing the suffering by taking cognizance of available international mechanisms that could help us. That challenge falls to those willing to see that the country is poised on a precipice.

Part II: The Politics Behind Dismantling Humanitarian Capability in the Vanni

CONTENTS

2.1. INGOs to Quit Vanni – Getting More Bizarre as the Drama Unfolds

2.2. In the Light of the Mutur Experience

2.3. The Saga of Giovanni Porta

2.4. What should the Legacy of Humanitarian Agencies be?

2.5. The Art of Controlling the UN

 

The plight of the people of Vanni, whose children are forced into military service by the LTTE and have suffered continuous death, deprivation and displacement because of the Government’s heavy weaponry, has long been headline news. The UN and international agencies were the only ones present to provide reliable humanitarian capability as well as to witness. That this whole structure was dismantled literally overnight on an order from a government too well known for its disregard of the rule of law and humanitarian norms, should make us wonder at the fragility of international machinery we expect so much from. This is after all a world where we have for 60 years been talking of solidarity and universal norms.

It raises questions about what the international order and agencies should realistically aim for. Have humanitarian norms fallen victim to the ‘war on terror’, whose rhetoric so many nation-states across the globe find useful? Are influential governments being soft on the Lankan government, because they were earlier soft on the LTTE?

Then what were the objectives of humanitarian work in the Vanni? Was it aimed at long term social well being or just basic needs in war? Was not the LTTE’s conscription of the young a humanitarian issue? That delimiting their mandate puts humanitarians in difficult positions appears from the fact that the Government is now trying to obtain their complicity for detaining residents of the Vanni in camps in Vavuniya, under conditions notorious for crime and abuse. 

2.1. INGOs to Quit Vanni – Getting More Bizarre as the Drama Unfolds

On 8th September the Defence Secretary instructed all humanitarian agencies to quit the Vanni and set up base in Vavuniya. It was an order although the UN in its statement of 9th September, with little hint of protest or alarm, used the term request: “The UN in Sri Lanka acknowledges the announcement by the Government of Sri Lanka that they can no longer ensure the safety of aid workers in the Vanni, and their request that UN and NGO staff should relocate to government-controlled territory.” At a press conference on 16th September Human Rights Minister Samarasinghe emphasised that the decision to move foreign humanitarian staff to Vavuniya was ‘not negotiable’ (Island 17 Sept.08).

Some humanitarian professionals felt that it was wrong of them to leave the people and local staff behind and quit just when they were needed most in the context of a government military offensive towards Killinochchi. Some humanitarian staff felt disturbed that the UN fell into line without a fight, following their very conservative security guidelines, quitting in eight days with most expatriate staff when they had asked and been given three weeks. They felt that the UN should have dragged on negotiations with the Government rather than scamper. The ICRC was staying as they had a different agreement. 

The UN’s approach was reflected in a statement by Gordon Weiss, its spokesman in Colombo (Daily Mirror 10 Sept.08): “It is the prime responsibility of the government to provide security to humanitarian workers and if they cannot give it to us then we will leaveThe UN cannot do any thing about the safety of the civilians as this is once again the responsibility of the government.”

This gives a different impression from the statement Gordon Weiss made as UNICEF spokesman to the Sunday Observer last November (25 Nov.2007) when the UNICEF came under attack from the JVP: “… we would not be able to carry out humanitarian work for children in Vanni if we do not have an office in Vanni. We usually work in conflict areas in 160 countries but [have] never withdrawn our offices due to dangerous situations in these countries. Under humanitarian principles the UNICEF is there to provide humanitarian assistance when they need.” On the cardinal importance of the UNICEF’s presence, he said that the Killinochchi office ‘is the only link to provide humanitarian assistance for children trapped in uncleared areas’. This situation reveals a mismatch between what UN agencies could provide within their security constraints and the humanitarian needs on the ground.

The main criticism of the aid staff who have set up base in Vavuniya, is that they are in a militarised town generating traffic, while doing nothing to protect civilians in the Vanni. Rather, they are duplicating their infrastucture in Colombo, generating emails and guidelines. It helps the Government to keep up a pretence of dealing with the humanitarian problem.   

In the wake of protests against the Government’s quit order to expatriate humanitarian staff, the Government’s Peace Secretariat claimed in a statement (early October) that the Government wanted the UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) to continue in the Vanni and added, “When they were guaranteed safe passage to Wanni in mid-September, all of them refused the offer on security grounds. Sri Lankan NGOs were the only ones to travel.” This, with other reports, indicates that the Government was having second thoughts once the dismantling of humanitarian capability in the Vanni was underway.

While the UN acted according to the premise that it was there at the invitation or sufferance of the Government, most other INGOs have people with an activist background that is distrustful of governments and considers their main obligation and loyalty to the people, especially when they are endangered. From their own backgrounds, many individuals in UN agencies are sensitive to the latter standpoint. Using its tremendous influence, the UN could play the essential role of in addition giving cover for others with an unorthodox people-centred approach to work more effectively.

But given the record of a State that has been bombing and shelling its civilians for over 20 years and freely uses killer squads, the UN knew what the people would confront once they left. By the UN saying they would leave if the Government cannot ensure the safety of humanitarian workers, what ensued was that the expatriates left leaving their local humanitarian staff and the people in greater danger. What was really needed, as far as the Government was concerned, was an assurance that they would not bomb or shell in a manner that would place humanitarian staff in danger. Practically that was all the Government could guarantee and has hitherto guaranteed. Was that too much to ask this time? The rest of the assurance has to come from the LTTE and they would not have stayed unless they had something in place with the LTTE.

If the Government could not give this minimal assurance to the UN, how seriously could one take its pledges to protect the civilians, or to ensure zero civilian casualties as the Human Rights Minister put it (Daily Mirror 17 Sep.08)? If the Government was serious about protecting the civilians, it should have been the most keen to ensure that the international agencies remained.

In Special Report No. 26 we pointed out that the Government’s military operations in the East in 2006 and 2007 involved driving civilians out by shelling, killing over 250 of them, and appropriating their lands without due process as high security zones or for economic projects aimed at changing the demographic balance. Such are a travesty of humanitarian law. We cited among a number of international laws and advisories, Article 7 of the Rome Statute of The International Criminal Court. Among crimes against humanity, it lists (d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population and (i) enforced disappearance of persons. Further, international humanitarian law regards a war crime or crime against humanity, indiscriminate attacks on areas populated by civilians (e.g. Article 51 (4) of Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions).

2.2. In the Light of the Mutur Experience

Both the Defence Secretary and Minister for Human Rights have defended the order for the evacuation of expatriate humanitarian staff from the Vanni by claiming that their safety is the Government’s responsibility, which cannot be ensured during continuing military operations. As for the safety of the civilians, one could judge from what the Defence Secretary told Lakbima News (21 Sept.08): “There’s a breaking point. At that time, nobody can stop them. Till such time, [the civilians] will wait there but when they realise that troops are moving in and they can no longer stay, they will come out.”

As for the real reasons for not wanting expatriate staff in the Vanni, we might judge from the Mutur experience. From May 2006, the Government through paramilitary agents mounted pressure on international agencies in Mutur to quit. On a Sunday afternoon grenades were thrown at the offices of three INGOs and an employee of the Non-Violent Peace Force was injured. Three weeks later the office of the Emergency Architects was robbed and two foreigners there were threatened. Threatening letters were sent to others including ACF. Circumstantial factors point to the involvement of Military Intelligence with the complicity of the Police hierarchy (see Appendix I to Special Report No.30). ACF too pulled out, but later sent local staff back to Mutur a short while before the tragedy.

In early August 2006 when the LTTE took over Mutur after the start of hostilities, there were no expatriates. The Army retook the town after indiscriminate shelling in which about 50 civilians were killed. Shells struck the Hospital and places of refuge such as Arabic College. When there was a lull on 4th August the civilians vacated en masse. We could thus judge what is in store for the civilians in the Vanni from experience and the Human Rights Minister’s inapt remark that they could ‘pressure civilians to quit the LTTE-held area’. From 2006, there have been no guarantees for civilians. Schools, hospitals and paces of worship have been hit.

It becomes much harder to give meaningful assurances to civilians in Vanni after removing international staff. Their presence would be the strongest deterrence against the LTTE provoking the Army from near places of refuge.

The BBC feature ‘Pain’ of Sri Lanka aid pull out (23 Sept.08) written by an aid worker who left the Vanni on 16th Sept.08 confirmed the greatest fear people had of the departure of international staff: “It was the prospect of our physical departure that terrified them. With no international presence and no witness to the conflict, they believed that many atrocities would occur and no one would see this.”

Knowing all this, many people wish that the UN, before leaving, had negotiated a compromise for willing aid staff to remain. They were instead party to a conscientious humanitarian worker who took his obligation to the people seriously becoming isolated and impugned as a terrorist.

2.3. The Saga of Giovanni Porta

Giovanni was known among his colleagues and the people around for his principled humanitarian commitment and his abhorrence of violence. It was this that gave him the flair for confronting the LTTE and securing space for the people. He was able to protect his local staff from forced conscription by the LTTE. There is an irrefutable record testifying to the determination with which he upheld humanitarian principles and forced the LTTE to recognise that he could not be pushed around.

When the quit order came, to ones who had developed a relationship with the people to whom one’s presence gave courage and confidence, besides a feeling of reciprocal trust and obligation, quitting seemed an act of desertion. That was the plight in which Giovanni found himself when marching orders came.

The manner in which the local press dealt with him places Lanka in a very poor light. It also reveals the extent to which Sinhalese chauvinist sentiment has clouded caution. What the country owed to the man was gratitude and not abuse. The Island of 27th September carried the sensational lead, “INGO kingpin with Italian passport joins LTTE as fighter, Zoa informs MoD of its project Manager's decision.” The writers Shamindra Ferdinando and Norman Palihawadena sourced the claim of Giovanni’s joining the LTTE to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse. It is also a telling comment on how the latter picks terrorists destined for ‘removal’.

As reported in the Island’s sister paper Divaina, the Sri Lankan embassy in Italy wasted no time in petitioning the Italian government based on the Defence Secretary’s allegation! Having charged recklessly to earn brownie points, they were stuck when the Italian government reportedly pointed out that the matter was very serious because the LTTE is banned in Italy, and called for the evidence that they might act. The Nation of 28th September 2008 carried the story announcing Giovanni’s deportation, ‘Errant INGO manager ordered out’. But the story below gave the facts correctly. It quoted ZOA Country Director Bernard Jaspers-Faijer declaring that claims of the individual having joined the LTTE were complete fabrications and that ‘the staffer in question abhors violence of all kinds. His primary concern was leaving the civilians of the Wanni behind, in what he believed was their greatest time of need.’

Jaspers-Faijer added that in the interest of transparency they told the Ministry of Defence that this gentleman was reluctant to leave, but that ZOA was doing everything possible to get him out of Kilinochchi ahead of the Ministry’s September 29th deadline and ‘even communicated to them that the aid worker was threatening to resign from ZOA, hoping that would enable him to remain in Kilinochchi’. 

ZOA had in fact persuaded Giovanni to leave the Vanni on 26th September, well before the Government’s deadline. That would not have become an issue but for the rush of other expatriates to quit the Vanni and the President’s brother’s licence for rashness that costs him nothing.

The saddest part of the affair was that none of the INGOs or the UN, individually or otherwise, had a good word for Giovanni. That one or more individuals were attempting to cover themselves by giving Giovanni a bad name is evident in what the Nation (5 Oct.08) carried: “NGO sources told The Nation that Puerto [sic] had been recognised as a deviant by more reputable organisations including the UN working in the Kilinochchi area…

In the same issue, the writer cited a series of allegations thrown supposedly by a UN employee. Giovanni was described as a ‘troublemaker’ given to ‘overzealous remarks and behaviour’ who was ‘kicked out’ of security meetings conducted by the UN and other INGOs in Killinochchi, and whose dealings were of a ‘dubious nature’. The reader was given no idea of the issues involved. The report’s lack of substance was made up by gossip of a vile, personal nature, which we checked and found to be absolute slander. 

The Nation report further said: “According to senior government sources, the twin sagas of NPA and Puerto have given credence to what has thus far been dismissed as conspiracy theory. In fact, these sources reveal…Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa [has warned] INGOs working in the Wanni…that the government is fully aware of how NGOs operating in rebel held areas are aiding and abetting the LTTE.”

No sane person would believe that the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) that was demining in the Vanni would have gifted trucks and earth moving equipment to the LTTE. NPA told the IANS that it discovered the theft of its vehicles in Killinochchi on 24th July 2008 and did report the matter to the Nation Building and Infrastructure Development Ministry and both the Norwegian government and the NPA demanded that the LTTE return them. There is a dispute about whether the vehicles should have been moved out of the Vanni earlier, but that is a different matter.  

This however has nothing to do with Giovanni. There has been as far as we know, no specific allegation against his organization, ZOA. Even in the Giovanni affair, no one in the Government has faulted the organisation on a lack of transparency. It takes a fevered imagination to blow this up into a conspiracy. 

The difference is perhaps that most of the ‘reputable organisations’ went along without reserve during the 2002–2005 peace process when the international community went all out to appease the LTTE ignoring the people and human rights in general. Today many of them are similarly complying with the Government, without putting up a fight on behalf of the people who are the victims of both the LTTE and the Government. Several influential governments evidently believe that the priority is to crush the LTTE or are prepared to stand aside and allow the Sri Lankan government to have a go at it regardless of the people.

A word must be said here about the Nation and what its staff has been through. It used to be a good paper with some admirable investigative reporting. Once the Government became embroiled in the war and began issuing a succession of deadlines, it became very nervous of the Press and began threatening the media – a prerogative of the Defence Ministry.

The beginning of 2008 was ominous. Speaking to Irida Lankadeepa in January, the Defence Secretary called for full censorship of military matters, declaring “there is no need to report anything on the military”. On 2nd January 2008, Army Commander Fonseka told Dinamina that media refusing to toe the government’s line were “unpatriotic” and “the biggest obstacle” to the Military’s war efforts.

The Nation’s defence correspondent and deputy editor Keith Noyahr in the issue of 11th May 2008 accused General Fonseka of favoritism in promotions and medals to senior officers and blamed one instance for a recent disaster in Jaffna. On 21st May, Noyahr was abducted and tortured before being dumped near his home, badly bruised. The regularity of such incidents despite the high security in Colombo left people in no doubt who was behind them. Despite initial defiance, the coverage of the Giovanni affair points to the paper having been brought round to the conformity demanded by its assailants.   

These are conditions where individuals with a conscience who try to stand up for human rights and humanitarian principles, to which all governments pay lip service, become hopelessly isolated. And there is scant gratitude from the country for Giovanni Porta, who tried to ease the pain of civilians, inflicted in good measure by their own government.

2.4. What should the Legacy of Humanitarian Agencies be?

The accusations against Giovanni in the local media also reflect the anger harboured against him by some humanitarian colleagues. Based on this the writer in the Nation delivered a stinging rebuke: “Giovanni Puerto [sic] has left behind a lasting and dubious legacy for his colleagues still engaging in humanitarian work in Sri Lanka.”

Persons close to government and NGO circles in the Vanni told us that accusations against Giovanni stem from his setting new horizons for humanitarian work which several others disagreed with. He was strong on matters like catering to the displaced in places that they found safe rather than insist on the places being more accessible to relief staff. He was never thrown out of any security meeting. He was in fact the security coordinator – the focal figure for all relief staff on security matters.

When humanitarian agencies were asked to leave the Vanni, Giovanni understandably argued against haste. Being in the Vanni was not something humanly easy to cope with. The BBC feature article ‘Pain’ of Sri Lanka aid pull out (23 Sept.08) says:

I remember one morning when an air attack happened very close to me. I managed to get into the bunker quickly and narrowly escaped being hurt. I will never forget the noise of that fighter jet, the unbelievable sound of the engine as it swooped from the sky and the explosions of the bombs dropped close by.

But the lasting image I have is of the sheer panic and traumatised people when I emerged. As aid agencies we have concrete fortified bunkers, but the population of Kilinochchi has muddy holes in the ground. I saw children shaking with fear and mothers trying to calm them while they themselves were shaking with fear.

For the final two days in Kilinochchi we spent much time in our bunkers as the artillery and air attacks intensified in and around the town. The sound through these days was tremendous, everything would shake and the air implode as the shells landed… I remember feeling deep shame as I drove past civilians who were watching me from the side of the road, in my ballistic vest, heading for safety, as they stood there in their trousers and shirts and saris…There is the pain and guilt of saying goodbye and good luck to our staff who had worked so hard and with such passion for the victims of war in the Vanni - and leaving them behind.”

Giovanni had the courage to follow the calling of a non-violent soldier to want to stay through this, until 10 days later when he was persuaded that there was no possibility of his staying on. Not all of us have the courage to follow such a course and cannot be expected to. But the least we could do is not to calumniate those who take their calling to empathise with and serve victims of man-made disasters, as binding them to the victims, with a tie that goes beyond the vagaries of bureaucratic decisions.

It does not look good on the humanitarian community when it is silent while a few have used the press to harm Giovanni. When there is an attempt to isolate those like him who try to set high standards and hold them out to derision, it condemns humanitarian action to lower standards and leave behind too poor a legacy to build on. It would not be one that would challenge, uplift and give dignity to those who are down. It would leave the victims at the mercy of armed parties whose goals have nothing to do with their welfare.

Both parties to the conflict have studied the politics of humanitarian agencies and have learnt to bully and tame them although the parties spend hardly a cent on the welfare of the victims. Many see the Giovanni affair as one where the Government delivers a few exemplary knocks to expatriates to cater to its xenophobic political following and tames leading agencies to toe the line, without upsetting the flow of aid. The ACF massacre of 17 local aid workers was a point where several of the leading aid agencies lost their way.  

When the 17 locals were killed, many NGO members wanted either a strong protest or a temporary work stoppage to renegotiate humanitarian terms with the Government in the interests of their work. This was stopped by a number of key people from a few INGOs contending that the ‘humanitarian imperative comes first’, even though nothing would have been lost if rehabilitation work was stopped for a few days. A concerned foreigner who followed the discussion remarked indignantly, ‘Would they have been so passive had one foreigner been killed instead of 17 locals?’ Strangely today, many INGOs and UN staff are criticising Giovanni for actually standing up for the humanitarian imperative. Now as, many feel, humanitarian principles don’t seem to matter anymore.

The first anniversary of the ACF massacre observed by humanitarian staff on 6th August 2007 was again one where Human Rights Minister Samarasinghe was allowed to take the stage and deliver an offensively political speech after the solemn tone set by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. John Holmes. Samarasinghe praised the Australian expert Dr. Dodd in trying to exonerate the Government from the crime. Dodd had very questionably retracted his earlier identification of a bullet type (see Special Reports Nos.27&30). The Minister tried to detract from the cold-blooded massacre of aid workers and the question of the State’s accountability by referring to others who died – in fact they died mainly from government shelling.

The Minister was given the stage after it was generally known that the Government was responsible for the massacre and the Minister was part of the cover-up. Many of those in the audience were seething with anger at the Minister’s misappropriation of the occasion and badly wanted to hoot him down. But they held their peace out of fear because the television cameras were turned on. Unbelievably though, the Minister had, we understand, been invited to speak by the representative of the UN OCHA (Office of the Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs). 

Most INGOs blamed the ACF for having left its local workers in Mutur at that time of conflict. Yet practically all local staff of the UN and INGOs remain in the Vanni. The Defence Secretary has said that he was trying to avoid a repeat of the killing of the 17 local aid workers in Mutur from Action Contre la Faim in August 2006. The Daily Mirror (8 Sept.08) quoted the Defence Secretary saying, “We don't want to get into a situation like that, so we are giving (the aid groups) adequate notice”. It is in fact the local staff of the ACF who were killed. What is then the point of the Defence Ministry, the UN and INGOs agreeing to pull out the expatriate staff from the Vanni, leaving the local staff in the same position as their ACF counterparts in Mutur?

In an earlier report (Special Report No.30) we have demonstrated that the killing of the 17 aid workers was carried out by two police constables and a Muslim home guard in the presence of commandos from the Special Forces, and circumstantial factors point to the orders having come from DIG Rohan Abeywardene and SSP Kapila Jayasekere based in Trincolmalee. Thus if the objective of the Defence Secretary is to avoid targeted killings by the State of aid workers, a more effective method of ensuring the safety of aid workers would be to assist in the investigation and prosecution of the those responsible for the killing of the ACF aid workers and simultaneously to order all members of the security forces to not kill aid workers.

2.5. The Art of Controlling the UN

We pointed out above how the local office of the UN OCHA invited Minister Samarasinghe to take the stage on the occasion of the first anniversary of the ACF massacre, and the audience of humanitarian staff though angry was in no position to protest. The OCHA set up office in Lanka after the December 2004 tsunami, when its role was uncontroversial. That changed after the war commenced in April 2006 resulting in a rising incidence of displacement, where the State was the party most culpable. It became a humanitarian problem from which human rights could not be isolated – such as in shelling, abduction, killings of displaced persons, night harassment in refugee camps etc. Once the OCHA started doing its job, the Government started accusing it of human rights monitoring, while accusing all relief agencies of aiding the LTTE.

UN agencies in general started being overcautious to the point of compromising their mandate. Many Tamil refugees from Mutur were by late 2006 in refugee camps in Trincomalee. The Government while giving assurances to the contrary began forcibly deporting them not to their homes, but to camps in Killiveddy where they were kept out of sight. UN agencies objected. On 2nd December 2006, the security forces commenced the forcible deportation of 66 families at Cultural Hall, Trincomalee. We learn that the UNHCR restricted the movements of its staff in Trincomalee for the apparent reason of the attempt on the Defence Secretary’s life in Colombo the previous day. Some staff were allowed to travel between the office and their residences, but were told not to stop at the Cultural Hall, which was on the way, where forcible deportations were in progress.

Next the OCHA worked with other agencies and NGOs to compile an inter-agency report on displacement. The Government watched with alarm. Thalif Deen from the UN wrote in the Sunday Times of 22nd April 2007 under the item ‘…OCHA to be booted out’: ‘A letter, to be sent to the UN office in Colombo, says that OCHA is “overstaying” its mandate. The UN's Office of Humanitarian Affairs came to Sri Lanka primarily for post-tsunami rehabilitation but has continued to stay “under various new guises way outside their mandate”. The government, which is also livid that OCHA wants to play the role of a human rights monitor, has told the UN humanitarian body that this is not acceptable as there are other more appropriate agencies to do this.’ But none was permitted in Lanka.

In the resulting exchange, the OCHA buckled down. This is seen in the fate of the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) report ‘Conflict Related Internal Displacement in Sri Lanka: A study on forced displacement, freedom of movement, return and relocation’ covering 6th April 2006 to 6th April 2007. We learn the OCHA, which was tasked with releasing the report, delayed by at least a month to 15th July 2007.

Many organisations and individuals who worked hard in compiling the report hoped that it would lead to an international debate on the issues of displacement and protection. The delay meant that immediacy was lost, and some window dressing had been done in the sequel. When the report said that ‘there have been some improvements in the protection of IDPs’ it only meant that the worst was over. The fact is that many of them had become permanent refugees with the Government having no intention of giving back their land. The grave and protracted abuse of their rights was lost sight of. The effect of the report, which documented their shocking experiences, was largely muffled.

It was three weeks after the release of the report that the OCHA invited the Human Rights Minister to address the ACF anniversary observance. One of the OCHA’s immediate problems was that it needed to fill some positions, and needed the Minister’s goodwill to facilitate their visas.

The manner in which the Government cowed other UN agencies is similar. On 3rd June 2007 two members of the Red Cross in Batticaloa were abducted from Fort Railway Station, taken in a white van and their bodies were dumped near Ratnapura. On 3rd July 2007, the humanitarian community organised a vigil at the Railway Station. That the UN was, rightly, party to the vigil is seen from the full coverage given to the event in the UN OCHA’s Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) under the title SRI LANKA: No tangible progress in investigations into murdered aid workers.

Some members of the UNICEF attended the vigil. That quickly became a screaming issue for Sinhalese extremist groups close to the President. In November 2007, in the wake of allegations by Weerawansa, who was then in the JVP, that UNICEF had aided the LTTE with funds and precooked combat meals, the state-controlled Sunday Observer (25 Nov.07) carried the following:

At a meeting, UNICEF country representative Phillipe Duamelle was requested by acting Foreign Secretary T. B. Maduwegedara to take appropriate action against some staff members who participated in a public protest here, organised by a local human rights group to condemn the killing of two Red Cross workers by unidentified gunmen. Duamelle assured the Sri Lankan official of appropriate and stern action against the staff members, including the withdrawal of the concerned international staff and the termination of the local staff, the Foreign Ministry said.”

We have here a further indication of a UN agency lacking the will to stand up for its staff members doing what the management encouraged them to do. We learn that a notice of the vigil for the slain Red Cross workers was sent to all staff by the senior management of UNICEF in Lanka. Another manager, not the Chief, followed this up with an email encouraging the staff to participate. This was in agreement with the OCHA’s support for the vigil. This second manager himself attended the vigil, but his name did not appear in the media. Only they whose names appeared in the Press or the government media and were still in Lanka at the time the Government brought up the issue in November 2007, were penalised.

UNICEF could instead have argued that its employees, or foreigners in general, attending human rights events as a mark of universal solidarity had hitherto not been an issue in Lanka. Here is a government harping on sovereignty to penalise foreigners, without any commitment to investigate what is a crime in international law. Few seem to be able to point out that such use of sovereignty makes it too tattered to deserve respect. The LTTE has in instances abused the Red Cross. But such arbitrary justice should not be tolerated.

The use of continuous wild allegations which keep the UN and other aid agencies on pins, worrying about their security and right to serve, are part of the means of controlling them and it appears to have largely worked. The Defence Ministry web site (defence.lk) carried on 19th April 2008 an item reflective of the Defence Secretary’s mind and the chaotic state of governance, speculating that OCHA had acceded to an LTTE request to do propaganda work for it:

“…the LTTE has been able to fund its bloodshed in Sri Lanka mostly through effective false propaganda campaigns conducted with the help of unscrupulous INGOs. At present, the “dollar vultures” of such vicious INGOs…are equally anxious as the LTTE…that their “War of Fortune” will be ended. defence.lk does not wish to comment whether the UNOCHA officials or the above-mentioned INGO representatives had agreed to carryout the orders of LTTE's megalomaniac leadership or not. Only their future actions would prove their integrity.”

The message is, toe the line. The problems of many of these organisations began when, during the ceasefire, they were encouraged by donor countries to undertake projects jointly with the LTTE and to turn a blind eye to its abuses. The Government is now using methods of control not dissimilar to the LTTE’s. 

One begins to understand why the high hopes pinned on the UN Human Rights Council to take a stand and the prospect of UN human rights monitoring to curb abuses in Lanka came to nothing. One is also amazed by the lack of a single policy with common ethically based positions by the UN as a whole in Lanka. In this ambience the Government was able to isolate and virtually punish organisations like the International Commission of Jurists that took an independent interest in the ACF case. The Government literally gets away with murder.

Part III: The Drive for Hegemony and Debilitation of the North-East: Cases and Reports

CONTENTS:

3.1.  Introduction. 1

3.2. Vavuniya. 4

3.3. The Murder of Journalist Thevakumar, Jaffna, 28th May 2008. 6

3.4. The Murder of Sivakururaja Kurukkal of Koneswaram, Trincomalee, 21st Sept. 2008. 7

3.5.  Trincomalee, the Murder of Chooty Mudalali, 29th September 2008. 11

3.6. Batticaloa, Extra-Judicial Killings. 12

3.7. Batticaloa-Amparai: Civilians in what is not their war 15

3.8. South-Eastern University and Eastern University: Khaki Fronts Intellectual Freedom.. 18

3.9. Further Tokens of Growing Anarchy in the East 23

 

3.1.  Introduction

In retrospect early signs of the deluge of impunity were evident by January 2006, but we had been complacent. The execution of the five Tamil students on the Trincomalee sea front in January 2006, the undermining of the Commission of Inquiry into the ACF and other cases through the combined efforts of the Ministry of Defence, AG’s office and lawyers of like ideological frame, is perceived by the Tamils as a signal that they must be resigned to living in a Sinhalese hegemonic order. The cooperation of most arms of the security forces in Trincomalee in the sea front atrocity was a cue for killings to proceed on lines aimed at instilling a new source of fear into the minorities and rendering them docile. This was also the aim of killing 10 Muslim labourers in Pottuvil in September 2006. The statements the Army Commander repeatedly made to the media speaks for the present regime’s mindset. He told the Canada National Post (23 Sept. 08):

I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minorities and we treat them like our people. We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country…We are also a strong nation …They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.” 

When people of such mind believe, like LTTE leader Prabhakaran, that they have a god-given right to murder and do what it takes to ensure that their putative country remains the property of their tribe, the unthinkable is to be expected. Previous governments have killed and indulged in ethnic violence. But they have refrained from touching elected members of Parliament. We have said that the State was responsible for the killing of two Tamil MPs and ex-MP Sivamaharajah. We have since learnt from well-placed sources that the Army Commander and the Defence Secretary were present at the Security Council meeting in late 2005 where it was decided to kill Batticaloa MP Joseph Pararajasingham. A second MP, Raviraj, was killed in November 2006.

The MPs killed were not less or more opportunistic than the run of MPs anywhere. But they had considerable acceptance among the people. For the Government to target them is like foreclosing any prospect of talking to representatives of the Tamil people. The public killing of the five students nine days later had the same kind of tribal inspiration coming from the top.

The trend was towards terrorising the minorities; eliminating prospective voices in their defence and to render them as people insensible of their rights and dignity. The menacing trend could also be discerned in the killing in Trincomalee District of Sivapragasam Mariyathas of the Socialist Equality Party (7 Aug.06) and Balachandran, an auto rickshaw driver and former member PLOTE (24 Aug.08). These persons were seen as contributing to the morale of Tamils in the District, just when there was an ideological thrust to crush them by fear and murder. They had no links to the LTTE. The recent killing of Sivakugarajah, the priest of Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee, falls into this category.

The Government had hit upon a novel idea; it would first sweep away all natural representatives of the Tamils capable of a measure of independence. It would then choose as Tamil leaders, persons who had enough skeletons in their cupboard to guarantee obeisance, and take them on trips to any country that would have them, as a show of Tamil support. For its dubious goals, the Government kept these selected leaders in a continual game of snakes and ladders.

A very telling sign of repression in the East is in the way the Eastern and South Eastern Universities are run. Armed security has been placed inside ostensibly to protect newly inducted Sinhalese students, and the university authorities and staff are themselves under constant surveillance. Students no longer feel that these are places where minds are free and one could talk freely at least to some. Attendance has dropped. The Tigers had their surveillance, but it was not so intrusive as policemen all over. Why should the Government do this in the East after supposedly liberating it? There is a much bigger game being played there, which is inimical to the minorities and the Government is trying to ensure that these universities do not become active in mobilising protest.

In the East where the Government’s public relations men boast of development and the restoration of democracy, there is greater fear, uncertainty and a deliberate cultivation of communal tensions. The people had learnt to cope with the LTTE’s terror and conscription of their children. At least one knew what to expect and the disruption of economic life was limited.

The scale of repression may be discerned from the killings and disappearances. Of late the LTTE has boosted infiltration into all areas of the North-East. The overall killing rate is above one a day. The ratio of killings by the Government and allies to killings by the LTTE is going by news reports roughly 15: 5. What it offhand suggests is that the Government whose link to the Tamil people is through some dubious actors is killing many innocent Tamils in the guise of fighting the LTTE.

But the fact is that a great deal doesn’t get reported. In Vavuniya alone, the rate of disappearance based on officially recorded complaints is about one a day. It is a place saturated with state forces and paramilitaries. The total killing and disappearance is a couple a day. This is hardly surprising given Vavuniya’s large displaced population and the fear to report. An activist told us that if a displaced woman goes to a shop and an armed element sees her on the road and orders her to get on to the pillion of his motor cycle, she has no choice. She is abused and dropped back sometime later. That is the only way she could protect her family. Protecting honour ensures the men do not talk about it. 

Herding in queues, held for a day without food or water, being registered, photographed and held up long at checkpoints, are means to breaking a people down. And then their houses are intruded into; people are removed and often killed. In one case in the East that received some publicity, the photographs and details obtained for ‘security purposes’ were used to target women for brutal sexual orgies.     

The conditions in Vavuniya, where the Government hopes to house the people in the Vanni in virtual prisons gives some idea of what they are in for. Added to what the LTTE has done in conscripting their sons and daughters, the combined effect, without exaggeration, would be tantamount to the end of a proud people. 

There was fear under the LTTE, but now there is terror, violence and extreme uncertainty under the much travestied label of democracy. The natures of internal terror and external terror and their dynamism have been regularly discussed in our reports. The first destroys the soul of the community and the latter creates continuous uncertainty and fear; both take away hope and dignity from the people. That is why for us the choice is not between an LTTE victory and a Government victory. Both are obnoxious in their aims and inimical for the people. Any evil ultimately burns itself out. We could only hope and pray that the suffering of the people would be brief, followed by a dawn of fresh hope.

In our past reports we have given more detail to exemplify the trends. We give a few cases here to show that if anything the human rights situation is deteriorating with signs of it getting worse. We do not minimise the importance of complete documentation. But the task is so demanding that it needs to be undertaken by organisations with the dedicated resources. It may not even be possible in the current climate of terror. Inquiring into an individual case is much more demanding and frustrating than it was two years ago and one is left with the uncomfortable feeling of being a source of danger to someone. One feels truly humble before those who are willing to expose violators under these perilous conditions.

The present Government has been given plenty of rope by the international community and India – a fact reflected in the weakness of the UN as regards its missions in Lanka. But sooner rather than later they will make up their mind on what really is going on in this country. The killings of civilians by the State and its associates as we have indicated are far out of proportion to pass off as collateral damage, if the aim is to combat the LTTE. Most of the victims are innocent. One then begins to suspect that killing is a means to terrorise and decimate the minorities, adding to the enormous damage LTTE has done, so that they do not as the Army Commander put it ‘demand undue things’.

To describe the position of minorities in Lanka as that of second-class citizens is a gross overstatement. Second class citizens may be discriminated against, but they enjoy the protection of the rule of law to some extent. Where Tamils stand with regard to the rule of law at present is exemplified in the fate that overtook two Tamils in Batticaloa detained during a security operation to prepare for the Chief Justice’s visit.

We also record here the fate of another group of Tamils not protected by the rule of law in Ceylon - Lanka although their rights were clearly defined in international law:

I have been witness to one of the cruellest chapters in this saga which saw the marginalising, pauperisation and death of the almost 750,000 repatriates (people of Indian origin) from Sri Lanka during the '70s and the '80s. In two phases, under the Shastri-Sirimavo Pact of 1964 and the Indira-Sirimavo Pact of 1974, three-quarter of a million 'stateless people' of Sri Lanka — the descendents of the 19th and early 20th century indentured labourers to the tea plantations — were lock-stock-and barrel repatriated to Tamil Nadu in one of the most infamous instances of human engineering in recent times. The reception they had from fellow-Tamils was less than human. It has been documented that they were rapidly dispossessed of their meagre belongings. A few found 'jobs' in the exploitative special 'rehabilitation' schemes created by the state government. A conservative estimate by a fact-finding team surmised that at least 25% died within the first three years of landing in India, of starvation. It is a memory that cannot be erased.” (Sadanand Menon, Business Standard, 20 Oct.2008)

For this, the Ceylon Tamils, their leaders and the British must also share in the shame. The country has been cursed ever since.

3.2. Vavuniya

The Misery that is Vavuniya: Vavuniya has long been the border town at the entry to the North. In the old days, those travelling to Jaffna used to be psychologically relieved when the train from Colombo steamed into Vavuniya. They had passed the region that saw communal violence and humiliation of their compatriots. It was the town where its one time MP, Prof. C. Suntheralingam, organised Tamils with hunting rifles to hold the frontier against mobs during the communal violence of 1958. Today it holds no comfort for Tamils. It is a militarised town bristling with government and paramilitary troops, and having ready LTTE infiltration, where life could be short and women live in fear. It is where the Government hopes to house the Vanni population in virtual prisons. The violence there is so routine and we would only illustrate its flavour, which is marked by killing and abuse of women.

The Murder of two women, Vairava Puliyankulam, Vavuniya, 22nd September 2008: The two women Sivasankari and Devika were neighbours. Gunmen, whom locals believe came for Sivasankari, left after killing both women – Devika apparently because she looked out of her house. There was no doubt that the killers were from the security forces or their paramilitary allies. Initial speculation was that Sivasankari had been suspected of sheltering LTTE suicide commandos who attacked the Vavuniya base in the early hours of 8th September 2008. Further inquiries into the background of the two women showed that this was out of the question.

Sivasankari was originally from Karainagar, Jaffna, which her family left for Kandy in 1985 after some militant group demanded a large sum of money from them. She was educated in Kandy and then lived in Colombo. She had no contact with the North-East. She was employed by a state bank and went to Vavuniya only because she had been posted there. Those in Vavuniya rule out her having had any link with the LTTE. 

Devika was from Nedunkerni. She had come to Vavuniya, according to locals, with the intention of going to Canada where she was to be married to her fiancé. She was regarded an innocent woman.

Further inquiry yielded a story in the grapevine with a variation. According to this, Sivasankari and Devika were friends, and a youth from a party in the democratic stream for some years wanted to marry Devika, and her refusal led to her being killed. Sivasankari according to this version was killed because she had come to her friend’s assistance and had seen the killer.

The truth behind the killing is hard to judge at short notice and such are often passed off as killings of LTTE sympathisers. There is so much impunity and so many questions jostling about and anyone connected with the security forces has the licence to kill. A young man who was picked up on suspicion and served time in prison met many dregs of war. He learnt that Military Intelligence has distributed pistols to all kinds of subterranean elements in Vavuniya. They include ex-militants and deserters from the LTTE for whom there is no honest way to survive. Most of the killings they do are on instructions from their handlers, but a small fraction for their own ends.

Arutchothy (44), 27th September 2008: Arutchothy was shot dead at Paataali Puliyankulam, Vavuniya around 11.00 PM. One version we were able to gather is that she was killed when she screamed at intruders with guns who came home in the night.

Sexual Violence Against Women: A source we have absolutely no reason to doubt, said that several instances of rape have taken place in Tamil villages north of Vavuniya. The source did not want to disclose more specific details, but said that security men enter houses in the nights. They come in large groups or groups of two or three and force the women to go with them and drop them back in the morning. Some groups of security men are Sinhalese speaking while Tamil speakers have also been observed in groups that came to abduct the women. The number of women victims he had knowledge of was about 20, some of whom were pregnant after the ordeal. We checked this with another Tamil person in Vavuniya, whom we think honestly, denied that there was anything happening on such a scale. When we received such a report more than a year ago, we checked with a leading citizen in Vavuniya, who felt that it was an exaggeration. We believe in the integrity of our first source as also substantiated below. It is also in the nature of affected parties to seek help discreetly and would fear going to the Police. No family or village would like to admit such trauma within. A quiet marriage to an understanding man would be the preferred solution for an unmarried woman.

The Civil Society Field Mission in September 2008 gives an idea of the gravity of the problem when it quotes an NGO in Vavuniya, which has documented 14 cases of sexual violence in August 2008, on women between the ages of 12 and 35. It mentions as perpetrators, ‘members of para-militant groups working with the Security Forces’. The report also cites other aspects of the vulnerability of women in the militarised environment, such as women going missing when looking for missing kin. Our next report further highlights this problem. 

A Detainee’s Ordeal: A young man was detained by the security forces in Vavuniya and taken to what was evidently a large camp. In the night he was walked from one building to another. The night air was rent by screams of persons being tortured. What gripped him most were the screams of defenceless women. He too was tortured and later made his escape when being transferred to another place, and lived to tell the tale.

3.3. The Murder of Journalist Thevakumar, Jaffna, 28th May 2008

Paranirupasingham Thevakumar (34) was the Jaffna reporter for Sakthi TV based in Colombo. While returning home to Vaddukottai from Jaffna about 4.00 PM, he was accosted in Kakkaitivu, a lonely stretch between Jaffna and Araly and hacked to death His pillion rider, Mahenthiran Varathan died later in Jaffna Hospital. The instinctive reaction of the Jaffna public was to blame the LTTE for the killing. The reason being that just a short time before his death, Sakthi TV had relayed a mass function organised in the Jaffna esplanade by EPDP leader and minister Douglas Devananda, a bitter opponent of the LTTE, with Jaffna’s military top brass in attendance. The festival was aired widely abroad. Thevakumar had played a prominent role as announcer.

This instinctive decision that the LTTE was responsible has not changed over the succeeding months. The Jaffna public was hardly ever wrong. Asked recently, observers pointed out it is so obvious that neither Sakthi TV nor the community of journalists in Jaffna, paid more than token heed to Thevakumar’s murder. This they said was minuscular in comparison to the publicity Sakthi gave the antics of Minister Mervyn Silva. A fact not given much publicity is that the pillion rider who also died was the son of Valluvan, a senior member of the EPDP.

One keen observer cautioned us against the conclusion that the LTTE were the killers, even if that is what the journalists, the public and his employer believe. He had known Thevakumar. Once the Army had suspected him and had taken custody of his identity card to restrict his movements. Later they gave it back, but obviously had their eye on him. This observer said that he later received confirmed information that the LTTE communicated with Thevakumar, and he was probably used in their communication network. Upon this knowledge, he distanced himself from Thevakumar. He had his doubts about the LTTE being the killers. Months later, he confessed that he had not been able to resolve his doubts.   

As with most journalists in his situation, Thevakumar’s work was delicate, with several parties trying to use him and to control what he said. And there was the ambient terror from several quarters. One could not directly say ‘No’ to anyone. That was how one had to negotiate one’s existence.

3.4. The Murder of Sivakururaja Kurukkal of Koneswaram, Trincomalee, 21st Sept. 2008

Sivakururaja, a Brahmin from Thickham, between Pt. Pedro and Valvettithurai in the North of Sri Lanka, was a dedicated Tamil nationalist and had joined the TELO in the mid-1980s, the group founded by Kuttimani and Thangathurai in which Prabhakaran was for sometime a member. After July 1983, many young boys spontaneously joined one militant group or another. After the LTTE decimated the TELO in 1986, Sivakururaja began practicing his hereditary vocation and in 1994 became the priest of the country’s most prestigious Hindu Temple – Koneswaram. As it was situated in Fort Frederick, which functioned as the regional Military HQ, the people had been reluctant to go there for regular poojas in the early 1990s. Sivakururaja by his energy revived regular worship at the temple. Since most Buddhists readily worshipped Hindu gods, the temple maintained in general the goodwill of soldiers and officers.

After the tsunami and the erection of the illegal Buddha statue in front of the fish market with the connivance of the navy chief in Trincomalee, the old agenda of stamping a Sinhalese Buddhist character on Trincomalee received a major boost from the election of Mahinda Rajapakse as president in November 2005. The appointment of an ideological compatriot, General T.T.R. de Silva Rtd., as Government Agent (Trincomalee), the displacement of the Tamil population of Mutur East, the creation of a Special Economic Zone preventing the return of the displaced Tamils to their homes and the administrative launching of Eastern Revival, with a patently Sinhalisation agenda, placed the minorities at the receiving end. It gave a new impetus for the appropriation of temple properties and over time giving these areas a Sinhalese-Buddhist character.

Illankaithurai on the coast of Mutur East for example, had two temples on either side – Palamukan Alayam and Kallady Neeliamman temple. According to the people who have been resettled, the Army has destroyed these two temples and the Buddhist shrine Samudragiri Vihara it built is now being developed as a Buddhist site. The people are unable to protest for fear of the consequences. The Government’s intentions in this connection are clearly seen under its plan for Eastern Revival, under the Ministry for Nation Building. Its plan under Cultural Heritage (http://www.neweast.lk/heritage.html) lists several conservation projects. With one token exception of a Hindu temple in Thirukkovil (not the historic Koneswaram), these are mainly sites with Buddhist remains and colonial structures – the latter to raise money. The Buddhist sites are focussed on Trincomalee and Amparai Districts. In Amparai it speaks of the declaration of an Eastern Cultural Triangle connecting Lahugala, Pottuvil and Dighavapi and identifying a development plan. It was in connection with this that the STF killed 10 Muslim labourers near Pottuvil in September 2006 to keep Muslims off their traditional habitat, which was destined for inclusion in the Buddhist project. The plan is a JHU blueprint.

It was under these conditions that Sivakururaja set off, virtually on his own, to revive Hindu temples and sites in Trincomalee town that were falling into neglect and were being encroached upon by Sinhalese squatters with the encouragement of the military and civil powers. To this end Sivakururaja obtained the cooperation of the Pillayan faction of the TMVP or Karuna group, which due to government patronage was given nominal control of the Eastern Provincial Council. With the help of this group Sivakururaja asserted the legal rights of the Amman Temple at Madathady, refurbished it and revived regular worship as he had done at Koneswaram. He recently went to India and returned with images for the Amman Temple.

Koneswaram Temple too owns land near the beach used during the ritual of bathing the god. Not long ago a Buddhist temple was put up near the entrance to the uphill path to Koneswaram. Sivakururaja was intent on asserting the Hindu character of the area. Sivakururaja’s activities ran directly counter to attempts by the State, security forces and their local supporters to stamp their ideological claim on Trincomalee.

Another characteristic of Sivakururaja was that he was a maverick who maintained relations with all the powers that be, bent a little when needed, but fiercely kept his own independence. Recent times saw him becoming more assertive. When someone was arrested or picked up, he often went to the likely place of detention and demanded the release. This leadership role made the people look up to him with tremendous affection and made him a leading unofficial representative of the people.

Several of those questioned spoke of his assertiveness at meetings where the security and state authorities met religious leaders. He spoke out against the spate of killings and disappearances and blamed the security authorities for most of them. These sources also told us that at a recent meeting, perhaps a week before his death, an official present responded to Sivakururaja’s allegation by asking, “How do you know? There are so many parties in Trincomalee with guns.” This is of course a hackneyed dodge when government killer groups use a diversity of agents to smear the blame. To this Sivakururaja, replied that he would produce the evidence, throwing a direct challenge at the authorities. This account is widely credited by responsible members of the public.

Sivakururaja also told a friend that the GA, Gen. T.T.R. de Silva Rtd., whom he had confronted on several occasions, is very angry with him. The General was given the civil job mainly to facilitate the Sinhalisation of Trincomalee. Less known however is that he told another friend shortly before his death that the ‘Karuna’ group had demanded money from him, but he would not give them a cent. We understand that Sivakururaja had given money to groups, the problem this time was very likely to do with the way it was demanded and what it involved for his independence. Karuna did not in September 2008 have a properly established presence in Trincomalee. He had an office on Orr’s Hill under a Jana, which was open during the day and closed in the night. What Sivakururaja meant by the ‘Karuna’ group could have meant either the Pillayan or Karuna factions of the TMVP. The Defence Ministry handlers installed the Pillayan faction as the major presence in Trincomalee in latter 2007 after the engineered split in the Karuna group in mid-2007.

Sivakururaja was killed on the evening of 21st September 2008 while going on his motorcycle along Vidyalayam Road. He had stopped to talk to a friend near the point where Saratha Lane branches off from Vidyalayam Rd., a little before the police checkpoint at Sri Shanmuga Hindu Ladies’ College. Two men then accosted him and an argument in Tamil ensued. Sivakururaja was also a fluent speaker in Sinhalese. During the argument, we learn that an assassin held him by the throat and the priest had slapped him. The man pulled out a pistol from the region of his waist. Sivakururaja grabbed his wrist and a scuffle ensued. The second man pulled out his own pistol and shot Sivakururaja in the back of his head.

There was security on both sides of Vidyalayam Road from the place he was shot. One was at Dr. Hemachandra’s and the other in front of Sri Shanmuga Hindu Ladies’ College. An office of the TMVP (Pillayan group) is also nearby, about 40 yards into Saratha Lane, near the scene of crime, which leads to Mohideen Jumma Mosque 600 feet away. The area is under very high security because security forces officials move along the main roads, and there are frequent checkpoints, bunkers along roads and foot patrols. In the circumstances, the local folk are confident that there is no chance of the LTTE having done the killing.

The scene of the killing was visible from at least one of the police checkpoints and those at the checkpoint, who saw the argument, heard the raised voices for some minutes followed by the scuffle and shooting, did not respond at all. Normally, they would at least have fired into the air to alert others and attract help. The gunmen calmly went away.

Many leading personalities in Trincomalee from judges to government officers and security officers went to the funeral house. According to those present, the Pillayan group came briefly and went away. The Karuna group helped at the funeral and served refreshments to those who came. The case is an easy one to solve. There were witnesses, people who saw what went on from varied distances, some who heard what was spoken and others who could identify the killers if they saw them. Yet the Police without any investigation blamed the LTTE.    

Based on these general considerations, the conviction in Trincomalee is that the killing was done by the security apparatus in Trincomalee at the bidding of the Sinhalese extremists controlling the establishment. In particular many pointed the finger at a killer group under the Navy, operating with armed Tamil elements and local Sinhalese jingoes, with police connivance. It is the Navy that is in full operational control and other elements that are part of the official and unofficial security apparatus would not act without a nod from them.

We also learnt that at a meeting of NGOs with the Army Commander in Trincomalee around April 2008, the question was asked why there are so many killings and no investigations? He replied that if the individual concerned had a ‘history’ not to ask him, as he can do nothing. This history appeared to mean having very generally the slightest link to the LTTE, such as even having a telephone number on the cell phone record to a suspected person. As the record shows anyone with a militant past, even opposed to the LTTE, has a good likelihood of becoming a target. Those who kill are not answerable to anyone. Sivakururaja had a militant history, he was in the TELO – above all he was a Tamil nationalist. Would those who kill freely make the distinction? (See the case of Gunaratnam below.)

Some observers have suggested the possible use of the Pillayan faction in the killing. They point out that although the priest once had good relations with the Pillayan faction, these had soured after he started demanding the release of persons detained by them, and often succeeded. He did this with all arms of the security forces. There had according to local observers, been a cooling of relations between the priest and the Pillayan faction. The Pillayan group is part of the security apparatus coming under Naval Intelligence as seen below.

The Koneswaram priest is a man of high standing, and paramilitary elements would not have gone for him in such a public and protracted manner without the sanction of their handlers – the security commanders in Trincomalee. We gave an account in Special Report No.29 of the splitting of the Karuna group between two Sinhalese extremist factions close to President Rajapakse – the one under Karuna patronised by the JHU and the one under Pillayan by the PNM, with state intelligence officials handling both. Kamaldeen, an officer of Naval Intelligence, close to the Defence Secretary, installed the Pillayan faction in Trincomalee. The security of Trincomalee is under the Navy. We have also documented state intelligence using cadres of the ‘Karuna’ faction in the assassination of MPs Pararajasingham and Raviraj in 2006 – Kamaldeen was part of the apparatus involved in the latter. Pillayan in Trincomalee answers to Naval Intelligence, which also has other Tamil-speaking operatives.

A point about Koneswaram Temple is that Sivakururaja and his elder brother revived its prestige when it was largely unused for four years after the beginning of war in 1990. According to local sources, the temple trustees had become largely inactive and the control of the finances fell largely to Sivakururaja and his brother. Against this backdrop, one line of thinking among locals is that the authorities may have conceived of the Pillayan faction taking over the administration of the temple as a means of ending Sivakururaja’s activism on behalf of the revival of Trincomalee’s Hindu heritage and human rights. He was a stubborn man and the authorities may have made up their mind that he had gone too far in challenging them. Whatever the finer detail, it does not change the essentials of the State being the prime mover in the murder. We said earlier: Both well placed official and unofficial sources in Trincomalee point to Naval Intelligence.

The next two cases exemplify the atmosphere in Trincomalee under which these killings are carried out. More than the fight against terrorism, there is racism, greed and the aim of bringing the minorities to their knees. The next case points to how Sinhalese who have good relations with Tamils might suffer under this dispensation.

3.5.  Trincomalee, the Murder of Chooty Mudalali, 29th September 2008

Prasanna Pushpakumara (45), better known as Chooty Mudalali, was a Sinhalese fish merchant and a prominent figure in Trincomalee. His home was near the 4th Mile Post Junction on the Colombo Road; very near a police check point. On the day he was inside his compound, near the gate, supervising the loading of a lorry. A man was seen coming with a sack with a hole. One of the men doing the loading from the top of the lorry shouted a warning to Chooty. It was too late. The man with the sack pointed a gun through the hole and shot Chooty dead. Also killed in the firing was Kingsley Udayakumara, who acted as a kind of bodyguard for Chooty. The area is a fully Sinhalese area and there was no chance of the gunman getting away if he were an outsider or not from the security apparatus. Those who were there found that the policemen at the police sentry point had largely vanished at the time of the incident.

Chooty-Pushpakumara was a man one could call an enlightened pragmatist – a quality that would in the world over be found prudent in a businessman. He had cultivated the goodwill of the Tamils in the region and many of his employees used to be Tamil. At the same time he was a pillar of Sinhalese society in Trincomalee. Even during times of war he used to transport fish between Pudavaikaddu north of Trincomalee and Trincomalee town. It was the common opinion in Trincomalee that he could not have done this without doing the LTTE favours like providing them fuel and provisions. If so he could not have done this without the consent of the security forces that manned several checkpoints on the way. Such dealing was also common in the North and if the South needed fish from Pudawaikaddu, there was no way that was completely legal. Trade must go on even in war and people whether in Jaffna or Colombo needed to eat. No one has accused Chooty of going beyond bending the rules to carry on his trade.

While the Buddha statue incident and LTTE’s assassinations of several local Sinhalese businessmen in late 2005 exacerbated tensions in Trincomalee, the situation changed irreversibly under the present government. Following the massacre of five Tamil students in January 2006, threats to witnesses and families from elements in the security forces took on racist tones, telling them that Trincomalee is Sinhalese and they must leave. Judging from what followed there is little doubt that this was unwritten official policy. The killing of Muslim labourers in Pottuvil and the Buddhist cultural triangle launched in the same area follow the same pattern.

The next step announced in Trincomalee through anonymous posters and leaflets in early 2008, while the Government kept silent, was on the same lines. These announced that Sinhalese businesses and Sinhalese owned establishments must get rid of employees from the minorities and employ only Sinhalese. The businessmen knew that this call was backed by the terror apparatus of the State and dared not disobey. Chooty Mudalali had to lay off some trusted Tamils who worked in his administrative office. But he continued to help many poor Tamils as well as Sinhalese. The branding of Chooty as an LTTE man in the new fascist dispensation led to what was not unexpected.

There is no doubt in the minds of the people that Chooty fell victim to state terror. A large number of Tamils went to his home at 4th Mile Post. The body was then due to be taken to Trincomalee town. Many Sinhalese received anonymous phone calls threatening them against attending the funeral. But this did not stop a large number of Sinhalese and Tamils paying their last respects. The Police was forced to send about a hundred men to maintain order at the funeral, which Chooty’s killers wanted to turn into a damp squib . Knowing the mind of the movers and shakers of this government, one wonders when Sinhalese employing Tamils in Colombo would start receiving threats. The next case is one of the same ilk.

Bar Owner Thurairajah Gunaratnam (46) (Comrade Neelan), 7th July 2008, Trincomalee: Gunaratnam of Trincomalee was in the EPRLF during the latter 1980s. He then married, had a happy family and recently celebrated his 19th wedding anniversary. He ran a bar and was a respected member of society in Trincomalee. He had no enemies and got along well with other Sinhalese and Tamil bar owners.

On the day in question he came home about 2.00 PM, stopped his motor cycle at the gate of his home near Sivan Kovil and got down to open the gate. A gunman alighted from an auto rickshaw that had been waiting for him and shot him dead. Persons knowledgeable of the local situation described the killing as typical of ‘bearded fellows’ (navy personnel) in mufti who roam around in auto rickshaws.

No one knows the reason why Gunaratnam was killed. Was it part of the campaign to eliminate Tamil businesses? Did his phone number turn up in the cell phone of a suspected person? Gunaratnam had many friends and they are all worried. What if they are detained on suspicion and Gunaratnam’s number is found on their phone record? One is reminded of the local Army Commander telling NGOs not to ask him about persons with a ‘history’. A good segment of a generation of Tamils has a ‘history’!

The killing of S. Nesarajah in Vihara Lane, Wellawatte, Colombo on 13th October 2008 afternoon, with several others, reflects a similar modus operandi. This is a very public place under high security. Three killers came in an auto rickshaw, shot him dead and went away. The Police are investigating! Nesarajah (32) owned jewllery stores in Wellawatte and Vavuniya.   

3.6. Batticaloa, Extra-Judicial Killings

Torture and Extra-Judicial Murder in Preparation for the Chief Justices Visit, 2nd October 2008: Chief Justice Sarath Silva was due to open the high court and appeal court complex in Batticaloa on 4th October 2008. Valampuri is a store in Batticaloa, owned by persons from Jaffna and has been in service for a long time.  On the morning of 2nd October, the Police conducted a round up to secure the town for the CJ’s visit. Several persons were detained of whom were six employees of Valampuri Store, including K. Kuharaj (17)from Vavunativu and R. Gunaseelan (26) from Pullumalai. Gunaseelan’s family of Hill Country origin settled down in Pullumalai and were displaced by the Army in 1990. He had worked 14 years for Valampuri. After promising the families around 11.00 AM that all those detained would be released the next day, the Police took the detainees to Batticaloa Police Station. Some were released the same day. Families and well-wishers saw those from Valampuri at the Station at 8.00 PM when they went to give them dinner. Most of those detained were released over the coming days, and some were held for a further period on detention orders. The Chief Justice came and went, but nothing more was heard of Kuharaj and Gunaseelan until their bodies with gunshot injuries were washed ashore from the sea on the 8th morning, in Palamunai four miles south of Batticaloa.

Those who saw the bloated bodies found signs of severe mutilation, heads had been battered, jaws broken and even eyes had been gouged out. Even the policemen who saw the bodies were not hardened enough to bear the sight. If the intention of the torturers was to dispose the bodies so as not to be found again, they had not realised that bodies float better when they become bloated. The STF was famous in 1990 for floating decapitated bodies in the sea. These were meant to reach the shore and be found, as a means of terrorising the populace. In 1995 dozens of bodies of Tamils the STF killed in the South under torture were thrown into rivers and waterways. They were found and became a scandal. The case was extinguished by a combination of delay and inaction when the present Chief Justice was Attorney General. The LTTE during the ‘Green Boat’ days in the mid-1980s were reputed to slit the victims in the middle so that they went down in the Palk Strait without bloating. The STF is at large in the East after many army units were moved to the North. The STF is part of the Police. There have been at least five cases of floating bodies from around Batticaloa in 2008 over about five months. 

The bodies were recognised with great difficulty. The mother of Kuharaj identified her son by the shirt she had given him to wear that morning and his hands. Figures in Batticaloa, including Provincial Councillor R. Thurairatnam to whom the relatives complained demanded that action be taken against the security officers involved. One source told us that the Police claim the two deceased were released at 7.00 PM on the day they were detained and have a document with the signatures of the deceased to this effect. But the families had seen them at the police station at a later time. 

83-year-old Fr. Harry Miller of the Batticaloa Peace Committee and another activist briefed the Magistrate Mr. V. Ramakamalan the day the bodies were found. The Magistrate, who was very considerate, called one of the fathers and the two mothers to the witness box at the end of the court sessions the next day. Then the HQI, Batticaloa Police, faced some tough questioning by the Magistrate. Fr. Miller said that the Police had wrongly obtained signatures to release documents earlier in the day the victims were detained and are using these to claim that they were released. There was a time when the Peace Committee acted as intermediary, receiving those released. This lapsed later when the numbers detained became far fewer.

Fr. Miller is privy to testimony that the two deceased were handed over late in the night the day they were detained to two men in mufti wearing masks, who were waiting to take them. But he sees grave difficulties in having this testimony recorded under present conditions in a case that directly points to the Police. He said they are aware that the Magistrate would need a lot of support to carry this case forward. After the harm that befell prominent persons like the lawyer Welimuna and Gen. Janaka Perera, Fr. Miller added, lawyers in Batticaloa are afraid to appear for victims in cases against the security forces.

Magistrate Ramakamalan, while in Trincomalee, was the magistrate in charge of the Five Students Case where the STF were the perpetrators. It was also a public incident with scores of witnesses. Yet it remains stalled. What came as unusual was that a full day hartal (stoppage) was organised in Batticaloa District on Monday 21st October to protest against this and other incidents of killing and disappearance. According to our information, the main initiative came from the Traders Union and most political parties, including the TMVP, supported it. The army brigadier for Batticaloa took office only the day before and did not try to stop it. One of the organisers told us, “That was the feeling among the people and it was waiting for expression.” Father Miller finds it extraordinary that none of this has received any coverage in the Colombo English Press.

The episode marks the huge gap between opening a new court complex and what the people benefit from the rule of law. The Judiciary would do well to find out whether these killings were a calculated insult to the Chief Justice or if they were done by people oblivious through habit to any legal order in Lanka. The developments since early 2006 pose the urgent question, “How long hence would judges and magistrates be safe?” 

Valaichenai, Robbed and left for Dead, 7th October 2008: Suthakaran (55) of Valaichenai went to a bank in Batticaloa and withdrew Rs. 12 lakhs for an establishment. On the way back he was abducted by persons who came in a van. He was robbed and after an attempt at forcing him to swallow poison, he was left for dead in a cemetery. He recovered, practically crawled to a house on the 8th morning to seek help and was later admitted to Batticaloa Hospital. Our informant said that he was still not able to speak properly. 

Such incidents are typical of a situation where at least four officially sanctioned killer groups have their vans and abduct and kill with total impunity. Moreover they are in competition with each other to notch up scores. They are Police Intelligence, Army Intelligence, STF Intelligence and TMVP (Karuna and Pillayan) Intelligence. They all go about, often masked, stop people and are usually very nasty. They are also free to make money by unconventional means. The following is an illustration of the competitive spirit in which the killings are done.

Araiampathy, Yoganathan Suresh (16) and Ganesh Mudali Dushanthan (23), 20th September 2008: The two were stopped by armed men on the road near Katthankudy and were taken away. On 27th September, the body of Dushanthan with gun shot injuries was found in Nintavur. Nothing more is known about Suresh. Our sources asserted that the security forces are responsible, as also indicated by the logistics involved.

Mandoor, Visvalingham Thambirajah (48), 25th September 2008:  The victim, a merchant, whose elder brother had been in the PLOTE, was shot dead in the night. Locals deem the TMVP the main suspect. 

LTTE Killings in Batticaloa District: The intensification of the war in the North has also seen significant LTTE infiltration into all areas of the North-East, resulting in a notable rise in killings by the LTTE. On 16th October 2008, Police Constable M. Jayaweera (33) who was on guard duty at a checkpoint in Chenkalady was shot dead by a member of the LTTE pistol group about 7.00 PM. The TMVP leader Veera ran a bar in Kaluvanchikudy and put two TMVP men to work there. On 11th October 2008, LTTE men came into the bar, shot dead the two TMVP men and ran away with their weapons. On 8th October 2008, Palipody Mehanathan (35), a member of the TMVP, was shot dead by the LTTE about 8.00 PM in 1st Cross Street, Kokkuvil, Batticaloa. On 2nd October, a bodyguard of Seelan of the TMVP was shot dead about 8.30 PM in Railway Station Cross Road, Batticaloa. On 28th September, the LTTE apparently infiltrated a TMVP camp in Theevuchchenai pretending to be TMVP members, shot the leader and escaped with arms. LTTE infiltrators frequently identify themselves as members of the TMVP.

3.7. Batticaloa-Amparai: Civilians in what is not their war

The Interior, 8th to 10th September 2008: About 8th September, some Sinhalese farmers from around Siyambalanduwa went south into the jungle around Kotiyagala. Gunmen, believed to be the LTTE, abducted seven of them. One who escaped abduction informed the Police in Pottuvil, 15 miles east the following day. The bodies of Chaminda Udayakumara (18), Ranga Ruwankumara (20), M. Chandrasena (30), H.M. Seneviratne (38), K.M. Nandasena (40), R.M. Piyadasa (70) and K.M. Mudalihami (70) were found with cut and gunshot injuries. Both sides have acted abominably against civilians to secure their strategic/ideological objectives. Not far from this area, the STF massacred 10 Muslim farmers two years earlier.

TamilNet reported that on 10th September the LTTE set off a landmine near Pulipanjakal in the jungles of Batticaloa North about 5.30 PM killing four STF troopers on patrol and injuring three. This was not reported in the official media. However the Army web site army.lk reported that on the same day, in the same area, troops shot dead an LTTE militant and recovered from him ‘two pen torch batteries, one detonator, one cyanide capsule and a 30-m long wire roll’. We heard independently that the STF had shot dead an innocent cowherd and brought his body to the mortuary in Valaichenai hospital claiming that they recovered a cyanide capsule from his neck.

This is an old ruse. In Special Report No. 26 we reported the killing of three innocent youths on 20th July 2007, taken from their home in the same area described officially in these terms: “Three LTTE cadres were killed when Army troops continuing mopping up operations in the Thoppigala jungle confronted a group of LTTE terrorists in the Peraveli general area, South of Thoppigala this morning. The incident occurred when troops attacked the LTTE terrorists who had been trying to escape the Thoppigala jungle… Troops also captured one 81 mm mortar gun from the fleeing LTTE cadres.” In both cases, that is as far as the police investigation goes.

On 8th August 2008 again both TamilNet and official sources reported a claymore mine attack on the security forces in the same area, but differed widely on casualties. TamilNet reported that wide ranging harassment and beating of civilians followed, with five cowherds missing. No reports followed this up. A well informed source in Batticaloa told us that they had not received complaints of missing persons.

21st August 2008, H.M.S.P. Samarasinghe (Pasan): Pasan was a senior management student at Eastern University, a sportsman and was one among 17 Sinhalese students in the batch. He had gone with other seniors to see Sinhalese freshers and returned to his hostel about 8.45 PM apparently to answer a phone call, when he was shot dead. That night he was identifiable in his yellow tracksuit. Most Tamil citizens of Batticaloa associated the incident with TMVP leader Pillayan’s threat contained in a widely circulated LTTE-style notice threatening action against young persons indulging in ‘anti-cultural activities’ and a rumour a few days earlier that a Tamil female university student was ragged indecently, but no Sinhalese student, and certainly not Pasan, was named in this connection. The TMVP of course blamed the LTTE for the killing. Policing culture was not then the LTTE’s priority in Batticaloa, although it was an obsession during the ceasefire. The JHU immediately alleged harassment of Sinhalese students in universities in the North-East and wanted them transferred out. Lakbima News (24 Aug.08), which carried a feature on the incident, debunked stories of hostility between Tamil and Sinhalese students or a want of friendship between them. It also quoted fellow students testifying that far from being guilty of any misconduct, Pasan moved very freely with the Tamil students. Was it something based on gossip and a need to do something to earn a name, or was it done to create unrest? If it were the TMVP, it is strange that the Sinhalese extremists who patronise them should be the ones to campaign on this incident. So far the case remains very open with no identifiable motive.

If the TMVP wants to distance itself from this murder, simply pointing a finger at the LTTE solves nothing. It is in a position to find out more. It needs to show that it no longer shares the LTTE’s style of politics. A section of the populace and postings on the web were praising the TMVP for giving a ‘Sinhalese sex maniac’ what was deserved. It needs to condemn such attributions to itself and demonstrate that this is not the kind of sordid glory it seeks.

It is however a bit farfetched to connect the TMVP’s culture notice with Pasan’s murder. From the testimony of other students, the Sinhalese seniors followed a nightly routine of meeting the freshers. One needs to consider the possibility of Pasan being targeted as a leader among the senior Sinhalese students. Why now in his third year? Even when the LTTE ruled the roost in 2005, the Sinhalese being there was not an issue. What has changed since – too many actors, too many bosses and too many agendas? We will return to this in the sequel. 

The Police have not made any breakthrough on the case, which makes matters worse. It has since detained a very poor student from Chettipalayam who was due to go abroad on a scholarship in a few days. The arrest was according to one version based on an allegation that the gunman had talked to him before carrying out the deed. Our source assured us that the boy is utterly innocent. And what would be his future in this terror regime if he were released?

Amparai District, Killing of an Elderly Lady and a Man about-the-place, Early September 2008: 49-year-old Vyramuthu Paramanathan, popularly known as Vavi, was a man about the place in Thirukkovil. LTTE-gunmen shot him about 9.00 PM on 1st September 2008, and he died later in Thirukkovil Hospital. Vavi, who was a fish merchant, was earlier reputed to have been an LTTE helper. Once the LTTE split in 2004, people like him had little choice but to associate with the TMVP.

Twenty-five hours later, about 10.00 PM in the night of 2nd September, gunmen believed to be from the TMVP shot dead the 60-year-old lady Mrs. Varathalatchumy Thevarajah of Pandiruppu, Kalmunai. The lady was the mother of Stanley, a key LTTE leader from the area. In mid-October 2008, a man in Vinayagapuram south of Thirukkovil was killed by being attacked with a crowbar – by the LTTE according to locals. 

Lethal Videos and Rape, March – May 2008; Akkaraipattu, Kalmunai: Kolavil is a poor village adjoining Akkaraipattu. The first intimation we received of new trouble the women were facing in the area was from a trusted activist in Mid-March 2008 and also in the Thinakkural:

The STF has launched a search and registration operation, which involves videoing families and collecting most private details from people including their phone numbers and the whereabouts of family members. It was conveyed that after this data collection STF has broken into houses where there are no males in the families and raped women (so far 2 cases have been reported). STF has broken into many houses in last couple of weeks. It was reported many women would have undergone sexual harassment and assault but they fear talking about it. This STF threat is so strong we were told in Kolavil village, that the entire neighborhood gets together in the nights and sleep in one house.” 

The next report was that local civil society groups had discussions with the security authorities and the situation was getting back to normal. The issue then became public in a feature article by Jamila Najmuddin in the Daily Mirror of 13th May 2008. It was the story of Seetha living in a tiny mud house in Kalmunai in the same district, north of Akkaraipattu, which began on 10th May 2008, the day democracy was, according to the Government, returning to the East. It was the day of the Local Council election. Three drunken men with knives and pistols forced their way into the house, her husband being away, and two of them raped her daughters of 16 and 18, while the third man who had bound her watched. The men left leaving the girls in a pool of blood, and the second unconscious.

Admitted to hospital with a neighbour’s help, the doctors at Kalmunai Hospital sent the girls home, evidently afraid to keep them there and get legally entangled, despite their bad condition. The father upon returning home collapsed on hearing what happened. The same night five armed men with pointed weapons stormed into the house and forced the elder daughter suffering from high fever into their van and drove away. Seetha went to the Police who effectively refused to take down a complaint demanding that she must first produce documents to prove that she is a resident of Kalmunai.

The matter came up at the UN Human Rights Council the following month. The State’s position as transpires in a letter of complaint by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe to Priyath Liyanage, Head of the BBC Sinhalese Service of 16th June 2008, gives an indication of the plight of the people as regards the State: There was no police record of the incident, no hospital record and the Daily Mirror with sound reason refused to divulge details. Whence, averred Prof. Wijesinghe, ‘it could not be a fault of the State if it could not follow up on a report on which there were no details’.

Our contact who had personally spoken to some of the victims said that there were 12 documented cases of women in Akkaraipattu who had been raped by the STF in March 2008, but thought the actual number to be significantly higher. We checked with a person of the area who confirmed the incidents, but suggested that the number of women involved is about five. He added that things settled down after some STF officers were transferred. From what we describe of the situation in Vavuniya above, it is evident that public awareness of the incidence of rape is much below the actual scale on which it happens. Important reasons are, state terror, fear of the consequences of talking about it, the reluctance of medical authorities to pursue the matter legally, and the Police having been trained into a culture of impunity to cover up for the State. There is a total lack of will to investigate and punish. 

3.8. South-Eastern University and Eastern University: Khaki Fronts Intellectual Freedom

The Ordinary and Extraordinary

The present Government has a penchant for doing everything to earn the wrath of the minorities rather than discuss issues with them and try to carry them along. It is in the nature of things for it to commit another blunder by placing scores of security personnel within Eastern and South-Eastern Universities. The communal direction of both Sinhalese and Tamil politics naturally created a demand from the Amparai Muslims for a university in their Muslim-dominated area where they felt safe. They did not ask for a Muslim University. Neither did they object to students from other communities studying there. The Government has from late August planted new unprecedented security regimes in both universities.

Among reasons being talked about for the new security regimes is to provide security for the new upsurge in Sinhalese students admitted to these universities, in the light of the killing of a Sinhalese student at Eastern University in August 2008. Students of all three communities have and still do study together at universities. Except for the attack on Tamil students by a section of the Sinhalese students at Peradeniya in 1983, without any police protection for the victims, over a full three days, there has never been communal violence among students. In 1983 the instigation to attack Tamil students came from outside – from the then ruling UNP. The killing of the Sinhalese student at Eastern University was again done by a party from outside that remains unidentified. It is certainly disingenuous to provide medicine ostensibly for the protection of Sinhalese students without finding out where the problem lies.

The ordinary part is bureaucratic. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has to find places for an increasing number of students according to what are called Z-scores. The universities in the North-East are among the least preferred. Conditions of war have affected education in the North-East and one must expect its universities to have places that cannot be filled by local intake – this would especially be true of Jaffna and Eastern. 

Whenever the situation in the North-East returned to some kind of calm after an interlude of severe violence, the students of the universities were asked to go back. And they all went back at their own risk except for, usually a minority, who had secured transfer to another university or had gone abroad. Students native to the area shared the risks of their families and their security did not go before the UGC as an issue. A student killed, most often today by the intelligence services or paramilitaries, or disappeared, did not cause loss of sleep at the UGC.

This time the UGC sharply increased the number of Sinhalese students sent to Eastern and South-Eastern Universities – from about a score to nearly 200 in Eastern and from nil to about 150 in South Eastern. These areas were not home to the Sinhalese students and thus their security became an issue for the UGC, unless it took the politically difficult position that if they wanted a degree they must go at their own risk.

In sending the Sinhalese students, the UGC very likely was deceived by the rhetoric of the Government that the East has been cleared and democracy and law and order were in full bloom. What made matters more unenviable for the Sinhalese students is the Sinhalisation agenda of the JHU and sections of the Government. It touches the survival of the Muslims and Tamils as a people intimately.

It goes back to the killing of the ten Muslim labourers in Pottuvil in September 2006 and claims by JHU stalwarts such as MP Puraviya Chakrawarthi Ellawala Medhananda Thero that Saudi Arabia and not the Eastern Province is the motherland of the Muslims. He added further that Eastern Province Muslims have taken over land after demolishing over one thousand Buddhist shrines (Lanka-e-News 12 Dec.07). Now we have a JHU blueprint for Eastern Revival, under the Ministry for Nation Building. There is going to be a lot of digging by JHU inspired archaeologists in the proposed Eastern Cultural Triangle connecting Lahugala, Pottuvil and Dighavapi. Neither South Eastern University nor Eastern University, both now under close surveillance, would have any role in this.

Under the Eastern Revival plan there would also be digging in Fort Frederick, Trincomalee. Despite the flawed scholarly association of early first millennium AD Gokanna in the Mahavamsa (as distinct from the medieval Gokanna of the Culavamsa) with Trincomalee and constructing the allegedly lost Gokanna Vihara in Fort Frederick, almost a century of digging has not yielded an iota of evidence of Buddhist presence in Fort Frederick or Trincomalee town. Once a culture of fraud in these matters has passed into accepted academic practice, diggers for the Eastern Revival programme guided by the JHU could literally perform magical feats in finding Buddhist relics and interpreting them to suit their agenda.

The unprecedented move of sending troops for the protection of students from one community – the majority community, sends the wrong signal to the minorities in this volatile situation. Having Sinhalese students in North-Eastern universities is not a contentious issue and they would have been welcome if there were working constitutional safeguards against aggression inflicted on the culture and habitat of minorities. The rhetoric of this Government and its actions are about Sinhalisation and denying the minorities their habitat. It is about sending Sinhalese everywhere under the protection of guns of the State. Under this dispensation, Sinhalese students are being used as pawns. The Tamils and Muslims are not blind to this and that contributes to the Government’s nervousness.

The UGC talked the Sinhalese students into going to universities in the East without taking full cognizance of the problems and there was probably political pressure on them to do so. The UGC Chairman, Prof. Samaranayake, went to the Eastern University in Vantharumoolai, nine miles north of Batticaloa, on 11th August 2008 to inaugurate the academic programme for the first years. Such occasions hardly ever see the presence of the UGC Chairman. The others there saw his presence as expressly to reassure the 180 odd new Sinhalese students. He made speeches in English and Sinhalese, leaving out Tamil, and went among the Sinhalese students as he came down from the stage, and according to those present, gave them his telephone number to contact him if there was any problem. The others felt slighted and left out.

Autonomy to Political Subservience?

Constitutionally, the universities are autonomous and the symbolism of the UGC Chairman’s role seemed to take away from that autonomy. The Sinhalese students like all others should have been the charges of the Vice Chancellor. But the University had been through a number of crises. For many years an LTTE ‘poruppalar’ (controller) used to summon academics of Eastern University for meetings and pry into its accounts. In December 2006, the Defence Ministry’s agents abducted its Vice Chancellor Prof. Raveendranath in a high security zone in Colombo. Persons with security contacts told us that the TMVP (Karuna group) took him to Welikanda where he succumbed to a heart condition three days later. This was completely over the UGC and it could do nothing. Instead of helping the University to find its feet, the Government has done it much harm. The elements responsible for the disappearance of its vice chancellor, throw their weight around even more after the return of ‘democracy’.

Ten days after the UGC Chairman’s visit, the Sinhalese EU student Pasan Samarasinghe was killed by an unknown party. Next, the UGC was sidelined, and at a meeting chaired reportedly by Basil Rajapakse, the security of Eastern University campuses in Vantharumoolai and Trincomalee and the Oluvil Campus of South Eastern University, were handed over to the Defence Ministry. Vantharumoolai and Oluvil Campuses were placed under units of 60 policemen in each under an ASP.

This is extraordinary. Traditionally, it is when the Vice Chancellor judges that the university security cannot cope with an emergency that he summons the security forces. In the case of an intruder killing the Sinhalese student, it was mostly a matter of the general failure of policing outside Eastern University and a loss of will to enforce the law as has happened in several cases found in this report. There has been no such incident in South Eastern. There is no justification for turning the two universities into militarised camps, placing academics and everyone else under constant surveillance with checks and harassment. The vice chancellors and academic staff become objects of pity, while the universities are degraded to tutories.

To get some idea how this affects university life, Eastern University has two permanent checkpoints inside manned by three or four policemen. The Police have taken over a house assigned to staff and another building. In the nights it is scarier, especially for women, with drunken policemen about. Some staff members said that they come in the morning, mark time and rush off. The place is almost dead. The students are scared and passive.

In South Eastern University the change appears even more drastic, because the Muslim students have been much more articulate and informed in raising issues. All those entering the University are checked. Even a professor was seen having to open his bag, then his lunch box and show the contents to the Police to satisfy them that he was carrying no lethal matter. The Police have taken over the male students’ common room, the Students Union room and the bathrooms at the university mosque. Apart from the 60 policemen inside, there is also heavy militarisation outside. STF men on motorcycles go around the campus in the night. Two watch towers have also come up in the University, ostensibly to watch for activity on the banks of Pattipalai Aru, which passes near the campus. Under these conditions, parents would be very reluctant to send girls to the university hostel. The Indian Army was much more sensitive to the nature of a university when they were here in the late 1980s.

There is quite a bit of activity outside South Eastern University by other branches of the security services, which makes it difficult to quantify the security presence. It would thus appear that the shooting of a Sinhalese student at Eastern University was quickly used as a pretext to militarise both universities, with the South Eastern University being the prime target. This action could be seen as pre-emptive, in view of the prospect of the universities becoming centres of protest as the Sinhalisation inherent in the JHU-driven Eastern Revival unfolds.

Tamils and Muslims Fear a Fatal Stage in Colonisation

To the Muslims and Tamils in Amparai District there is not far to look. The so-called Eastern Cultural Triangle linking Digavapi, Lahugala and Pottuvil stares them in the face. In this respect the militarisation of the two universities is a logical step in the programme of Sinhalese colonisation in the East launched in the 1950s.

All this negates any educational purpose in sending Sinhalese students to these parts. Until 1977, students were quite open to going to another part of the country. That year the Police ignited the communal riots in Jaffna, after which the Sinhalese students were not comfortable in Jaffna. They too understandably played up security fears to get transfers to universities in the South. It is a pity, because had they remained in Jaffna, dialogue between students would have made Tamil nationalism more sensitive to others’ problems.

In 1983, Tamil students at Peradeniya were beaten up by a section of Sinhalese students affiliated to the ruling UNP, which was followed by the July 1983 communal violence. The displaced Tamil students demanded more space and new faculties at the University of Jaffna to continue their education. This was refused and most Tamil students, except those who went abroad or joined militant groups, got back to Peradeniya, at their own risk – their assailants though identified were not punished.

In 1990 when the LTTE drove the entire Muslim population out of the North, Muslim students attending or admitted to Jaffna University were without a place. The system worked extremely slowly for these students. For those who were medical students, A.C.S. Hameed who was then Minister for Higher Education and Foreign Minister, found scholarships for some of them in Pakistan and the Soviet Union. Others who were medical students had to wait years to be admitted to the college at Ragama. Sevaral others went through much hardship to complete their degrees, some even dropped out. While they had been treated atrociously in their Northern home, to this day they are only tolerated in the South, being reminded even by the President that “They cannot reside [in Puttalam] permanently. They have given up their lands to the Tigers and come here. They must go back (Sunday Leader 9 Dec.07)”. Rules about where they belong apply only to Muslims and Tamils.

The manner in which the country progressed was divisive and one cannot blame students for feeling secure only where they had a community to fall back on. That is the reality today. Mixing students is desirable, but firstly the politics must change and there must be a political settlement for the minorities. Getting the UGC to artificially place Sinhalese students in the East amidst so much volatility is dangerous. The small number of Sinhalese students got on well at Eastern University. Their situation too became difficult when the number was sharply increased amidst the disturbing symbolism of Eastern Revival. It made it appear another move of conquest. (See below for the attacks on Sinhalese labourers.)

The UGC must protest against the move to force Sinhalese students into militarised campuses. We understand that the requests of Sinhalese students in South Eastern University for places in Southern campuses have been turned down. The one force, whose leverage is writ large in the South East region and is in a position to mobilise these Sinhalese students and use them as political stool pigeons, is the JHU, which is stridently anti-Muslim.

Already the influence of the JHU is evident in some of the disruptive demands a section of the Sinhalese students are making. One is for a Buddhist temple inside South Eastern University. Another is for separate cooking facilities for the Sinhalese. South Eastern University has in general been accommodative. Its canteen has a separate vegetarian section for the Hindus and it also offered to serve the Sinhalese students rice in the morning.

The old University of Ceylon campus is one that was built in the early 1950s on secular, liberal principles. Religious edifices emerged in the periphery much later. Since then the secular principle has been compromised in several newer universities and that is not the fault of the Muslims. Moreover, Muslims would not demand a mosque in Kelaniya University. South Eastern University did agree to a prayer room for Buddhist students as has been done for its 120 Hindu students. This has a precedent from Jaffna University for non-Hindu students – it inherited a Hindu temple with the Parameswara College premises.

Generally most universities in the North-East would welcome students from diverse communities. However, the politics of the present government works against it and the UGC must observe caution for the time being. One cannot blame the Sinhalese students wanting transfers to universities in the South, for which they and their parents have been demonstrating in front of the UGC. More unpleasantness that would further damage the two universities in the East is best avoided.

Everyone needs security besides the Sinhalese students. What is the security that has been offered to the local Muslims? To Tamil women raped by the STF? Where is justice for the ten Muslim labourers killed in Pottuvil by the STF to bar them from their natural habitat? That was when the Karuna group was placed in Pottuvil to stifle Muslim unrest. Two Muslim and two Tamil farmers were killed near Akkaraipattu, by the Government’s partner in crime (see below). It is not at all clear whom this convoluted security regime is meant to protect, and Muslims have not attacked any Sinhalese. That is why the message is all wrong and would further destabilise the East.

3.9. Further Tokens of Growing Anarchy in the East

The Killing of Four Farmers: Using Tamil Communalism to Buttress Sinhalese Hegemony, Akkaraipattu, 16th October 2008: Four farm labourers from Akkaraipattu, two Muslims and two Tamils, went through the Sagamam STF checkpoint to work in the paddy fields beyond in Vattamadu. This is an area open to LTTE infiltration. Later they were shot dead by persons who escaped on their motorcycle. The deceased are: I.L.M. Aboobucker known as Thamby Podi (64), Ismail Hyathu Bawa (56), Sinnathamby Suntheralingam (50) and S. Sinnavan (36). Under the circumstances, the STF became the leading suspect. There is a long history of labourers going to their fields falling victim to STF gunmen through misadventure or otherwise. They kept going because of their desperation to earn a living. Later, Tamils who were about and had seen the retreating killers informed the Muslims that they were rather members of the TMVP. The killing is associated with the Amparai TMVP head Bharathy’s ruling that no one should employ Muslim labour to work fields in the area. This is an instance of the Sinhalese chauvinist forces, to which the TMVP is allied, giving licence to Tamil communalism in a restricted sphere to bring the East under Sinhalese hegemony. The incident should be compared with the orders to Sinhalese businessmen in Trincomalee to dispense with Tamil employees.

‘Mystery’ Attacks on Sinhalese Workers in Batticaloa

On the night of 20th October, three Sinhalese drivers working for the Ministry of Nation Building’s Neganahira Navodaya or Eastern Revival, were shot dead in Arasaditivu, near Kokkadichcholai in the interior of Batticaloa. They were Hewage Don Sanjeewa Pushpakumara (26) of Matugama, and Buddhikkalage Priyadarshana (23) and Roshan Kumara (24) of Pannala. Police spokesman SSP Ranjith Gunasekera termed this a ‘mystery killing’ and declined to speculate who was behind it. Persons who know the area told us that the victims were staying in premises in a built up area with a police station within 300 yards. They felt that LTTE involvement could practically be ruled out.

A second incident the following day, 21st, evening was one where a grenade was thrown at a house where some Sinhalese workers were staying in Kallady near the musical academy. Five of the injured workers, one seriously, were admitted to Batticaloa Hospital. In this incident there are circumstances that may be a pointer. It was the day of a hartal (stoppage) against killings and disappearances supported by all the parties including the TMVP. On this day the Sinhalese workers had continued working as their employer had hired machinery that he could not afford to idle. We also learn that the TMVP area leader, Karuna, who is involved in sand business once had a quarrel with the Sinhalese workers, apparently over some obstruction to the latter’s work. On the day of the incident, which was a rainy day, a short dark person had come to the house, thrown the grenade and ran to a person waiting with a get away motorcycle. People of the area rule out LTTE involvement.

A Lost Opportunity and the Government’s Imploding Partner in Crime

Many of the TMVP cadres were coached and brainwashed by their former mentor – the LTTE. They were taught to expect the worst from ‘Sinhalese majoritarianism’. They would have also understood the difference between the Government’s rhetoric of a liberated East and the reality of Sinhalisation. Their leaders who have been competing with each other to curry favour with the ‘Sinhalese government’ would have lost any credibility.

The split in the LTTE created a painful dilemma for its eastern leaders. The cadres were most of them innocent young conscripts. Karuna’s reasons for splitting found resonance among most Easterners. An enlightened state should have used this opportunity to give the people in the East greater power over their lives to weaken the appeal of the LTTE’s ideology. Instead, as we have documented in Special Report No.29, Karuna was allowed to become a creature of the intelligence services and Sinhalese extremists of the JHU and PNM whose goal is to crush the minorities. The cadres received no rehabilitation. They became mere mercenaries.

The present Government used Karuna to conscript young persons, including children, to take some of the burden off Sinhalese troops during the 2006 ‘liberation of the East’. In mid-2007, the Government decided to exacerbate differences between Karuna and his deputy Pillayan. Speculation then had it that Karuna was too much a Tamil nationalist. In November 2007, Pillayan was given a decisive boost while Karuna was in a British jail. The STF chased off Karuna’s men from the TMVP Batticaloa office and installed Pillayan’s men. In August 2008, the Government installed Pillayan as the Chief Minister of the East. Then the game of snakes and ladders acquired a strange twist.

Karuna returned to Lanka in early July 2008 after the British Government released him in an unexplained move, despite leading human rights organisations being confident of presenting a strong case against him for grave crimes. Two months later, in October 2008, Karuna was appointed MP of the ruling party. While Chief Minister Pillayan and his deputy Mr. Hisbullah were complaining aloud that the Eastern Provincial Council has not been given the full devolved powers including police powers, and the Governor, a retired rear admiral, was holding on to powers due to the Council, Karuna went public on a different tune. Karuna said that police powers for the Council were unnecessary. That is a pointer to how Karuna came back into favour.

After one year of pushing Pillayan up, he is now being pulled down, and Karuna was helped by the Government to take over much of the TMVP during October 2008. Another blow for the Government was when Pillayan on a defiant, populist note backed the successful hartal in Batticaloa on 21st October to protest against killings and abductions by the State. Now Karuna has been taking swipes at Indian and Tamil Nadu concern with the humanitarian crisis in the Vanni and held an LTTE-style demonstration in Batticaloa against Indian concern, where an impressive number were frog marched. He sees a reward for rubbing Tamil Nadu sentiment on the wrong side, which the more experienced politician Douglas Devananda knows is a non-starter. Karuna’s party had sent letters to teachers to attend a meeting on Sunday, 26th October. TMVP cadres then forced people from various localities into buses provided by the Government. Pillayan too was ‘persuaded’ to support this after his show of independence five days earlier.

This also shows the methods of this government. This is a President who pulls rabbits of varied colours out of his hat to flag messages of passing convenience that he does not want to be directly associated with. Deceit has a price. His ritual boast of having restored democracy to the East by implementing the 13th Amendment, rings patently hollow against the reality. That says much of his intermittent promises of a political settlement. The small print negates any substance.

Having seen the fickleness of some of their leaders playing unashamedly to the tune of Sinhalese hegemonists, what would the ordinary TMVP cadres feel? A great deal of what is happening is calculated to make ordinary Tamils and Muslims nervous. Behind a façade of ‘nation building’ what is evident is marginalisation of the Tamils and Muslims. The rulers insist that the unitary state is here to stay and deny any need for real devolution. People see more movement into the East of Sinhalese, innocent civilians, as students, workers and contractors. This movement in the absence of a political settlement and endemic violence drives fears of Sinhalese colonisation. Many would feel that the LTTE is right.

TMVP cadres themselves have no choice but to keep their TMVP label to stay alive. But their nominal leaders cannot control their loyalties. By its foolish and ideologically avaricious handling of the East, the Government has created conditions of extreme uncertainty. The killing of the Sinhalese student of Eastern University and the attacks on Sinhalese workers, in all of which the perpetrators remain unidentified, are disturbing signs of a new tier to the existing anarchy.


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