By Rajan Hoole –
Border Aggression and Civilian Massacres – Part 13
Massacres on Sinhalese civilians by the LTTE eased off from the end of July and resumed in February when the LTTE came under increasing military pressure and the noose tightened around the Jaffna peninsula. But the violence against Tamil civilians and their displacement from vulnerable areas went on.
On 17.7.86 the LTTE staged an attack in Kantalai and killed 10 labourers working for the Sugar Corporation, 7 of whom were Sinhalese, 2 Muslims and 1 Tamil.
At 3.00 AM the following day, the Sri Lankan Army rounded up the villages of Peruveli and Manalchenai in Mutur. 44 civilians – mainly refugees from Menkamam, Kanguvelly and Mallikaitivu – were taken away and shot dead. Mr. Kathiravelpillai, the Mutur magistrate who was well-known for his boldness, declared a verdict of homicide (Saturday Review 9.8.86).
The Final Evacuation of Pullumalai: 8th November 1986
The following testimony of the final evacuation of Pullumalai is from Mrs. Thambirajah, a grandmother with an accurate memory. A native of Araipattai near Batticaloa, she had married in Padiyatalawa in 1957. Padiyatalawa which is near the western border of the Eastern Province, then, like Pattipolai (now Lunugala), had then a Tamil majority. The local school had only recently acquired a Sinhalese section and later became Sinhalese. This process was normal. With the onset of the 1958 communal violence, most of the Tamils fled into the jungle, where a child was also born to a fugitive woman. But no one was killed. They settled in Periya Pullumalai on the Chenkalady-Maha Oya Road. Those who remained in Padiyatalawa were mainly those with Sinhalese spouses. A leading Tamil had been protected by Sinhalese who hid him on a hill and brought him food.
Following the outbreak of war in the East in 1985, Periya Pullumalai experienced constant trouble. Youths were detained and taken away on a number of occasions. In a reprisal for a militant attack, the Hindu Priest at Periya Pullumalai was killed. There were also a number of internecine killings where bodies were found in the morning in the bazaar area.
*The remembering Kattankudy mosque massacre | Photo courtesy Kannan Arunasalam
On 20th May 1986 Tamil militants, believed to be of the EPRLF, attacked the local army camp killing 3 soldiers. The security forces and home guards went on a looting spree and burnt more than 100 houses and business establishments. On one occasion 25 persons were taken to Batticaloa by a Colonel Weeratunge and have been missing since. They are believed to have been killed at Koduwamadu.
On 8th November 1986, a landmine killed 5 members of the security forces. Reinforcements numbering about 300 were brought from Maha Oya and the Army went on a rampage. Several families were killed. Nagalingam Rajaratnam, his wife and 4 children were killed – the youngest, barely 8 months, was trampled under a boot. Peter, Luxmy, and all but one of their children were killed. Kandasamy, his Sinhalese wife and some of their children were killed. 18 persons were lined up and shot. 51 persons, including Muttiah, were taken away and are missing. Two more were taken, but had been asked to run away as they knew the soldiers. The survivors fled towards Chenkalady.
The same incident was reported in the Saturday Review of 10 Nov.86. It reported 23 men, women and children being killed, the youngest being 3 months. Of the six women killed, it said, two were first raped. 24 persons were said to be missing after arrest. 2000 persons, it added, fled to Eravur and in response to a demand by the Batticaloa Citizens’ Committee a joint Army and Police inquiry was agreed upon. However, Mrs. Thambirajah said that an identification parade, which was agreed upon, was cancelled. The people of Pullumalai are refugees around Batticaloa to this day.
The disillusionment with the militancy and the weakening of the Tamil struggle resulted in the STF capturing Kokkadichcholai near Batticaloa in January 1987, killing nearly 120 civilians. This happened just after the LTTE banned the EPRLF, killing more fellow militants. Subsequently in the same area, in Arantalawa, on 7.2.87, the LTTE killed 28 Sinhalese villagers and on 2nd June 1987, shot dead 30 young Buddhist monks. The last has been widely publicised in isolation of the context, with photographs, by writers in the South.
From early 1987, offensive operations by the Sri Lankan Army gathered momentum as the LTTE lost ground. The intensification of violence also resulted in massacres of civilians by both sides. Notable instances of massacres of Tamil civilians early in the year, apart from the one in Kokkadichcholai, were, 27 in Vavuniya, 50 in Adampan where the hospital was also bombed
from the air, and 37 in a massacre in Trincomalee. The Government declared a uni- lateral cease-fire over a week during the April traditional New Year apparently at Minister Thondaman’s bidding, in the hope of starting negotiations. As though in response, the LTTE massacred 127 pilgrims returning to Trincomalee after New Year observances in Anuradhapura and another 15 civilians near Trincomalee. A car bomb blast in the Colombo bus stand on 21st April killed 111 civilians. 252 Sinhalese civilians in all were killed in April.
The Government in turn stepped up aerial bombing and shelling of civilian areas in Jaffna, resulting in well more than a hundred civilian deaths. Then came the Indo-Lanka Accord which the LTTE agreed to. During September around Batticaloa, where the non-LTTE groups were traditionally strong, the LTTE went about with arms killing unarmed members of other groups who returned home under the terms of the Accord. The PLOTE leader Vasudeva who had gone unarmed with 12 other members by van for a sea bath in Pasikkudah north of Batticaloa, was waylaid on the way back and all were killed. In all above 70 militants from other groups were killed by the LTTE in the Batticaloa area, forcing the others eventually to seek security by taking up arms against the LTTE under the Indian and later the Sri Lankan forces. The public reaction then in Batticaloa was hostile to the LTTE with many mothers demon- strating spontaneously.
A notable instance of protest was that by the mother of Vasudeva from Mahiladitivu. As with many other mothers, her own sons had joined dif- ferent groups. Her other son Paramadeva was a well-known LTTE leader who had died in an un- successful attack on Kaluwanchikkudy police station in 1982. She stormed into an LTTE office, pulled down the LTTE flag and proceeded to rend it. She angrily rejected the LTTE’s claim that Vasudeva had been killed by a breakaway group of the PLOTE. It was similar to how rural women in the East had reacted when the LTTE struck at the TELO. Mothers in Sambaltivu near Trincomalee had gone out with pounding poles to shelter TELO fugitives on the run from the LTTE. During this period, several mature LTTE leaders like Kadavul from Batticaloa left the LTTE.
To distract from this shame, the LTTE began the “Gandhian” fast of Thileepan in Jaffna. When differences arose about the implementa- tion of the Accord, it further distracted from its shame by staging a series of massacres of Sinhalese in early October all the way from Trincomalee southwards to Pottuvil. There was absolutely no pretext for these killings. As a further distraction in early 1989, the LTTE staged another fast in Batticaloa by a mother, Annai Poopathy, to blot out the suffering of thousands of other mothers.
It is also notable that with the exception of Karikalan none of the Eastern leaders of the LTTE who played a major role in the Eastern Province in the phase which ended with the Indo-Lanka Accord, stayed in the movement much longer. Kadavul in Batticaloa saw that the attack on the TELO was the ruin of vulnerably placed Eastern Tamils and declined to carry out orders. He was replaced by Kumarappa who hailed from the Leader’s home town, and Kadavul quit. Francis, another leader from Batticaloa, was deeply disillusioned. There was already talk of his quitting, over differences with the leadership in September 1987. He was killed by the Indian Army in early 1988, a very un- happy man. Those who were sensitive to the plight of the people could hardly help being dis- turbed.
The Trincomalee leader of the LTTE during that period was Pulendran, a native of Palaiootru, a suburb of Trincomalee where Tamils had been at the receiving end of violence from Sinhalese hoodlums backed by the State. His gut feelings were used in carrying out massacres of Sinhalese civilians and in that process he too was destroyed. He with Kumarappa and several others meekly obeyed the Leader and committed suicide in Sri Lankan Army custody on 5th October 1987, serving no more than a pre- text for the Leader to go back to war. It was a movement that destroyed the souls of its recruits rather than liberated them.
Karikalan’s qualities are such that he is never known to have been troubled by questions which made sensitive and intelligent Eastern leaders feel disturbed. In 1990 before the resumption of war, young educated Muslims and Muslim elders had numerous sessions, explaining to Karikalan the urgency of accommodating Muslim demands and placing communal relations on a sound footing. Karikalan appeared to listen. Two months after the resumption of war, he was instrumental in conducting huge massacres of Muslim civilians in Kattankudy and Eravur, which were disastrous for his own people and the people of the East as a whole. Karikalan has played the role of being a useful Eastern player in the LTTE hierarchy, who is incapable of being other than loyal and obedient to the Leader.
The Tamils were in the meantime loosing everything, their morals, their sanity, their ability to think, their educational attainments and their material well being. It was as though on top of their own death and suffering they had to mea- sure the success of the struggle by the number of corpses of innocent Sinhalese their liberators had slain. It was nothing but a distraction from the continuing death of their own community.
During the IPKF presence, the LTTE’s only purpose behind massacring Sinhalese in border areas was to help publicists in the South who wanted the Indian Army withdrawn. The massacre of Muslims from the beginning of the war in June 1990 was another example of distraction. The cause of the war had only to do with the LTTE’s inner compulsions. President Premadasa was among the LTTE’s chief admirers and was willing to give them a very wide berth. There was the power struggle between the LTTE leader and his deputy, Mahattaya, who was not keen on war just then. Also importantly, steam was building up inside the group, owing to the impatience of idling brainwashed recruits who had been constantly hectored about the certainty of war and their heroic obligation to die for Eelam and Prabhakaran.
At the outset of the war, tension with the local Muslims was stirred up by killing Muslim and Sinhalese policemen who had surrendered to the LTTE on government orders. There was then absolutely no quarrel between the LTTE and the Muslims of Kattankudy and Eravur near Batticaloa (see our Reports 7,8 and Someone Else’s War). The LTTE had an office in Eravur and a number of Muslim boys were in the LTTE. Not long before, Muslim elders from the village had talks with senior members of the LTTE including Mahattaya, Anton Balasingham and Yogi about the future of Muslims under LTTE rule. The talks had been cordial and they all ate together.
But then after the war had begun the LTTE attacked two mosques in Kattankudy during prayers on 3rd August 1990, killing 120 persons and then Eravur village was attacked in the night of 12th August killing more than 90. Prior to this, the child cadre in the LTTE had been charged with anti-Muslim feelings through propaganda sessions. A boy, who was barely 12, held a Muslim infant by its legs and smashed its head against a wall. When its mother screamed in horror, the boy plunged a knife into her. In the sequel, the boy broke down. The Government promptly intervened after the massacres and created Muslim home guard units who took revenge against unarmed Tamils in the neighbourhood. Muslim members in the LTTE were then either killed by the group or escaped and surrendered to the security forces, so facing an uncertain fate.
One might wonder why and to what purpose all this happened. Through experience, the LTTE had perfected the art of distraction. The Muslims were sad, angry and perplexed. The Tamils were left with death, insecurity and their minds addled. Their young joined the LTTE in large numbers. Importantly, the question why the LTTE started the war and where it was taking the Tamils ceased to be asked.
As to where the instrumentality of the LTTE was carrying the people of the East, we reproduce a moving story from our Report No.7, titled Saved by his Dog. Madhavan, was a foreman who had worked for the Swedish firm Skanska on the Mahaveli Project. His three children were staying with his mother and attending school in Nawalapitiya. He lived with his wife Manonmani in the latter’s native place of Eravur. The day after the LTTE massacred Muslims in the same village, Muslim hoodlums went for the Tamils once the Army arrived and provided them with cover. The LTTE had vanished:
On 12th August, the day following the massacre of Muslims in Eravur, the army sur- rounded his house and dragged out Madhavan with his wife. Both were assaulted. As the army dragged Madhavan to a place 1/4 mile away, he shouted to his wife to run away to safety. The soldiers proceeded to kick him with their boots and assault him with rifle butts. He received injuries on his head and chest and lost some of his teeth. The soldiers inquired about Kuttithamby and Suresh. Madhavan said that he was new here and knew few people. He was losing his senses during the assault as breathing became difficult. Then an officer arrived and Madhavan explained to him in English. The officer asked him to be off or that Muslim thugs would kill him. Madhavan said that he had to go home and look for his wife. The officer followed him as he crawled home on his knees. Instead of helping him to walk, the soldiers tried to hold up his tummy. Finding Manonmani missing, he shouted for her. His voice was mostly a gasp. He went over the neighbourhood on all fours calling his wife. The officer warned him again that Muslim thugs would get him. With injuries on the head, teeth broken, a stab on the chest with a small knife, and boot nail injuries all over, including the abdomen, Madhavan went north at crawling pace, followed by his dog Jimmy.
By sheer force of will, he reached Rameshwaram, which was empty and devastated, at about 2.30 P.M. He was now 3 miles from the Eastern University and physical as well as mental exhaustion caused him to faint. As he regained consciousness, he noticed that he was surrounded by crows and dogs, eager for his exposed flesh. Jimmy was close to him, frantically barking and keeping the predators at bay. Madhavan observed, “Even other crea- tures became corrupted by mankind, and had developed a taste for human flesh. If not for my faithful Jimmy, I would have been finished.”
He continued, “I then heard the thundering noise of army trucks from the direction of my home in TC quarters, Eravur. I felt better and slowly walked another mile. I met two persons having a drink of coconut. They had come to look over their houses. On seeing me they offered me a drink of coconut and took me to Eastern University on a bicycle. That was the last time I saw my faithful Jimmy. I reached the university about quarter past six. Two days later, my neighbours who were in the camp told me that Manonmani had been seen cut and thrown into a well. They had found her slippers and her rolled up sari. Silly girl. I suspected when I asked her to go away that she would not. She must have waited to see what became of me and Muslim thugs would have got her.”
Thus, we see that the LTTE has used massacres of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians for broadly three purposes. One is to give a message of incorrigibility coming from a perverted pride that it would deal only on its own terms and sink to any deplorable abyss to get what it wanted. Another is to keep the Tamils in a state of insecurity, subjecting them to contrived reprisals – a state in which the LTTE appears as their champion. Perhaps, the most important one is to distract Tamils from their hopeless reality and appeal to their lowest instincts, so that they fail to see what is happening within the society and instead draw vindictive satisfaction from the killing of Sinhalese and Muslims.
In tracing the development of massacres, there can be little doubt that the LTTE’s thinking and practices in the use of ruthlessness, deviousness and cunning grew almost to full maturity in an engagement with the State over the period September 1983 – May 1985. From May 1986 it carried to extremes what the State was doing, and found that in the short term it worked. It must also be remembered that the LTTE’s massacres of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians is a public outrage that conceals some- thing even more insidious – its cruel and sadis- tic campaign against Tamil dissent. This silencing of dissent is the thin end of the wedge that makes everything abnormal and destructive seem normal and enables the portrayal of auto- genocide as liberation. To measure the damage done by this phenomenon to the Tamil people by the few thousand Tamils it killed in torture chambers would be a gross understatement. We will take this up in Chapter 22.
However, the main plot in the saga of Massacres of Civilians should never be lost sight of. Not only were the crimes of the State quantitatively far greater, it was a saga in which the State treated the Tamil people as the enemy to whom no quarter was owed. In closing this chapter, we will take up two more matters.
To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here