19 September, 2019

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Eastern University Massacre: Missing, Missing, Missing For 25 Years

By Thangamuthu Jayasingam – 

Dr. Thangamuthu Jayasingam

Dr. Thangamuthu Jayasingam

Officer in charge of the Vantharumoolai refugee camp, 1990

Many may not know that, when 5th September 2015 dawns, it will be 25 years of waiting for 158 families, who ‘lost’ a member or two on that day of 5th September 1990 from the VANTHARUMOOLAI REFUGEE CAMP at EASTERN UNIVERSITY. They did not go missing as usual, where no one knew where they went. In this case these 158 were ‘handed over’/ ‘taken over’ by the Sri Lankan Military in front of a population of nearly 40,000 people. They were forced into buses and were driven away in the direction of Valaichenai. This was the last time anyone saw any of them, to date.

Unfortunately, I was the lead officer of the camp at that time and stay witness to this, to date. I have made my comments to various national and international persons regarding these facts. I presented myself to the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons in 2004. I gave them the names of all the army officers who came for the operation that day and also gave the name of the Army Major General who came three days after on 8thSeptember to the camp. I am not aware whether there had been any inquiries to this day. Two colleagues who were managing the camp with me, Prof. Mano Sabaratnam and D.Sivalingam, are no more. I went again to the Presidential Commission in 2014, at the request of relatives of the people who went missing. I gave them a letter stating that I had given all what I had, the documents, and all what I knew, which is already in the report of the previous Commission, published in 2007. I told the commissioners that I want to know what happened to all those? There was no answer. I told them the next time when another commission comes looking for these facts, I won’t be there and you won’t be there and we will be talking of stories of 1990. Perhaps all relevant parties may have died when the next commission comes around.

sri_lanka_tamil_womanI have people asking me whether they are alive or not, to which I have no answer. I have people telling me that they are in place X, place XX etc. and I have no confirmation. I am traumatized as any person who went through the ordeals of the war. I wake up at night at times when the missing persons’ memory and the camp comes back to haunt me in dreams….

I am not sure whether this will end, but I wish this will never be repeated.

I am not sure what happened to them? But surely, there must be many soldiers who would be knowing what happened to them. I am sure the Major General who visited our camp on 8th September 1990, and who went on to become the Army Commander would be aware of the case and its follow ups. Will any one have the face to say to the world that this is what happened? It is not about a war crime, it is about humanity. It is about the truth. Does anyone have the courage to face the truth and say ‘this is the ‘truth’. Many do not understand what the families of missing people want? They want an answer. Not compensation, not punishment, but an answer. Could those who took them away from a refugee camp give that?

Does anyone realize that there are kids who do not know their fathers and are waiting for them all these years? I attended a wedding recently where the fathers of both the groom and the bride were those who went missing on 5th September 1990. As parents can we imagine what would have gone through in their minds on one of the happiest days of their lives?

My hope is that the President who pledged that there would be justice and good governance would end this saga of missing people, especially when the full list of the missing persons is known. My hope is also that after 25 years some who have knowledge of this would summon enough courage to speak up and get it out of their chest for their own peace of mind. I am sure this unfortunate event would haunt them too.

It is not only the people who went missing, it is a combination of humanity, good governance, rule of law and truth that went missing. It is time to recover these missing elements or we will risk losing the trust of people forever. Reconciliation cannot take place when truth is suppressed.

It is my wish that before my lifespan is over I would have the satisfaction of having received an answer on behalf of the 158 families who were with me that fateful day in the refugee camp in Vantharumoolai.

It was the largest refugee camp in Sri Lanka at that time and housed around 10,000 families with around 40,000 people within the four walls of the premises. There were 28 births in the camp and 15 deaths and all buried mostly within. There were shops and markets in the camp, post and water supply. ICRC and MSF were caretakers. The Grama Sevakas worked for the management of the refugee camp administration. It was a mini government within, people feeling secure though worried and desperate seeing smoke at distances, the burning of ……, hearing bullets that travel the sky day and night, yet willing to stay under trees and in open hoping for the day to return home. Following this event on 5th September 1990 and another incident shortly thereafter where 18 more were taken away, the population dissipated slowly from the camp which was closed on 30th September 1990. I was the last person to leave the premises on that day, haunted with heavy heart and memories of the missing 158+ which remains to date.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    Some excellent questions for the ‘disappearances commission’. Colombo will need to show it has ‘credibility’. The world is watching.

  • 6
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    Thank you Dr. Jeyasingam. A timely reminder of the work that needs to be done and which is not being done.

    There are many witnesses still. A colleague was at the Eastern University hostel. He and his friends were roused in the night by the STF. My colleagues said “Sir, Sir,” and something in the smattering of Sinhalese knew and was let off. The others were taken away, never to be heard of again.

    It is time to name and shame. Jerry de Silva was in charge of the East then. He after retirement was Secretary of the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance! So much for his Good Governance.

    One of the commanders on an exchange progrmme in the US made passes to his female army driver there and was sent back by the US Army.

    These are the people under whom we have had to live and suffer. Will it be any different now?

  • 5
    0

    In first place you should feel pain of all human beings alike irrespective of their caste, creed, religion. We should understand them listen their grievances and support their lives without condemning them. We should accept they are faced with a tragedy though we cannot bring their missed people back. Missing people are worth for them more than millions of rupees. we cannot revert the past which may be unavoidable in the war b accept they too are part of our community. We should accept Tamils in the North too are our citizens as Sinhala Buddhists. No group are superior or inferior as some people consider today.

    Lord Buddha never taught us to discriminate people considering the nature of one’s birth. Lord Buddha stated one becomes superior or inferior according to his/her action or behavior but not according to religion, Nationality,caste etc.

  • 3
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    This happened when the UNP was in power in which Ranil Wickramasinghe, the present Prime Minister was a powerful Minister. Why not probe about those as well?

  • 4
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    Thanks for bearing witness and seeking answers, Dr. Jayasingam. I believe that it was the UNP that was in power then, and RW was a cabinet minister then. So he owes it to the people to have this properly investigated and come clean. There have been many other atrocities in the East, such as the ACF-17, Trinco-5, etc. and this should be added to that– as well as the massacres by the LTTE– in a genuine investigation. By the way, as an Eastern Univ. academic, do you have any info on who abducted and killed the VC, Prof. Raveendranath?

  • 2
    0

    Mr Jayasingam

    Thank You for reminding us of this event, and keeping the memory alive.

    This event remains, like many similar, as an entry in our national register of shame.

    I am afraid to say that we are unlikely to get an answer from this government, just as with many other instances. Some of the people involved have possibly passed away, taking with them their shameful share of the event.

    Our only hope is that by keeping alive the memory, we will avert a repetition, mindful that what happened there can happen anywhere.

  • 2
    0

    As to the nature of Commissions in Ceylon/SriLanka it goes like this.

    First,there is a Sitting.
    Then there is a loud report.
    Finally,the matter is dropped.

  • 4
    0

    Sir, please reveal the name of Army Major General and other Army officers involved in this crime for the readers to know.

    Humanity was buried with 1956 killings. What we find now are the descendants of heartless racists who have killed not only Tamils but also their Buddhist dharma. Expecting justice from them is a hopeless dream.

  • 3
    1

    “Your Sampanthan wants to be Leader of Opposition. Here you get it ” Tamil remand prisoners in magazine prison were beaten up by prison guards yesterday.

    This is the beginning of ” good governance “. Wait for many more.

    • 1
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      By your chosen name, derision for the “yahapalana” tag and the unsubstantiated claims that you doubtless heard from “uda gedara akkage putha bandala inna ekkenage massinage yaluwekgen” (neighbor’s son’s wife’s in-laws’ friend, for you non-sinhala speakers), I can safely dismiss you as another one of the Mahindite lunatics who would actually help the LTTE to restart a war just to spite Maithripala and the UNP.

      • 5
        1

        kp

        You can argue who did what, when, where and why until the cows come home.

        The Jaffna library was set on fire which reduced most of the books and ola manuscripts to ashes.

        I was told some of the books and manuscript had been taken to the South and stored somewhere near Colombo.

        Would you now use your space that now exists in this island to campaign for the recovery of these old books and manuscripts and delivered to where they actually belong.

        If you are not interested please drop the matter altogether.

  • 0
    0

    kp

    Instead of defending Maithripala of SLFP and the UNP please see that they bring justice to the victims if you can. From their past behaviour I doubt very much. These killings in EP by Army took place when UNP was in power. Hundreds or thousands of bombs were dropped by AirForce in North during SLFP’s period.

    Magazine prison incident took place yesterday. Check it but as usual prison officers will deny it. Whether UNP or SLFP or FP all politicians are rouges and the country is doomed. This includes your “friend” Mahinda” as well.
    ,

  • 0
    0

    kp

    Attorney General Dept has found no evidence against international arms dealer KP to prosecute him. Am I to take this news as true kp ?

    If you say yes what sort of yahapalanaya is this mate?

  • 0
    0

    This is only one of about 115 massacres and disappearences recorded by the North East Secretariat Of Human Rights – NESOHR – Rev. Fr. X.J.Karunairatnam recorded them.
    He was later killed by the army.
    All are described in some detail.
    All are available on the web for those who are interested.

    I hope and pray that these evil days are over with the new regime.
    I doubt that the perpetraters who are now top brass, will ever face justice.

  • 1
    0

    Agnos.

    Perhaps,the author of this article may not answer your question who killed former Eastern University V.C.Raveendranath.
    I reliably understand it was the Karuna/Pillaiyan duo while those who should maintain Law and Order turned the other way.

    • 1
      0

      Pygmalion,

      Thanks. What you say is the general belief
      But it isn’t clear what Karuna/Pillaiyan’s motivation was,
      other than purging all Northern Tamils from the East. Also, the family of the VC is still looking for answers.

  • 0
    0

    Jeyasingham, I happen to see this, this morning. I hope the government will provide the answers you are seeking. For my part I have shared your artcle with Renuka on Facebook, and posted it on Twitter as well. Jeyarany

  • 1
    0

    Dear Thangamuththu Jeyasigham

    I have shared this article in my FB, please provide us the details of STF/Army personals the way you have submitted to the Commissions of Missing Persons – this has to be dealt with Special Attention, since the target was Refugee Camp, very serious issue, or Please reproduce the Article with elaborate details, the way you have submitted to said commissions.

  • 0
    0

    Dear All.

    many had requested for details and reference.

    “Arrest and subsequent disappearance from Vantharumoolai Eastern University Refugee camp” in Sri Lanka Sessional Paper No VII-1997. Final Report of the commission of inquiry into the involantary removal or disappearance of persons in the northern & Eastern provinces. September 2007. Government Publication Bureau, Colombo.pp 31-32.

    All what I knew and we had as evidence was submitted to the above commission, whose report is the reference above.

  • 0
    0

    Jeyasingam, I viewed this article in Ranuka’s f.b and felt really sad. All I could do is post it on my f.b. I hope that you find some answers from the government of SriLanka.

  • 2
    0

    Jayasingham having been a witness to the arrest of the 158 people from the Vantharoomulai Camp poses the question “I am not sure what happened to them?”.

    He knows the obvious answer but wants those who were responsible for the disappearances of these people to touch their consciences and say what really happened to these 158 people. That may not happen.

    Commissions will only record statements of witnesses and may release their reports with their comments and these as usual in Sri Lanka will gather dust somewhere. What we see in Sri Lanka is absolute impunity in relation to the killings and disappearances of Tamils.

    Vantharoomulai arrest and disappearances was not the only incident and shortly after that there was another similar incident North of Batticaloa Town at Kokuvil (or thereabout)and all those arrested disappeared

    One of the readers asked Jeyasingham for the details of the army officers responsible for the arrest but Jayasingham has only given reference to the page numbers of the Commission report and stopped short of giving these names.

    The names of these officers were mentioned in the Commission Report and some journalists later published these names. The officers who reportedly arrested these 158 Tamils on 5 September 1990 as per evidence given by those in charge of the camp were:

    Capt. Kaluwarachi( Kommathurai Army camp) Capt. Dias Richard (alias Capt. Mohamed Munas – many believed he was a Muslim but he was a Sinhalese) and Maj. Majeed (not from the regular Sri Lankan Army but from Jihad Group) Maj. Mohan ( again not from the regular Sri Lankan Army – this was the infamous PLOTE Mohan responsible for many murders in Batticaloa who himself was killed later by LTTE), Captain Palitha, Capt.Gunaratna.

    The Major General who visited the camp on 8 September 1990 was Gerry de Silva (former SLA commander).

    These incidents happened during Premadasa’s time shortly after LTTE broke the truce with attacks on Police Stations and army camps and when Sri Lankan Army marched into Batticaloa from Polonnaruwa to clear the area.

    This was also a time when Batticaloa did not have any civilian leadership and people like myself came forward as members of citizen committees to talk to the Military personnel. American Jesuit priests like Father Miller,Father Heberyer and Father Weber took very active part.

    I recollect that most of the disappearances happened in areas controlled by the Brigadier in charge North of Batticaloa Town upto Valaichenai. There were some very good senior Army officers in the Batticaloa Town and Kallady Army Camp. We were able to establish good relationship with Brigadier Seneviratne who later became a Major General, Colonel Halangoda ( officer in charge of the Kallady Camp) and Colonel C S Fernando (I think Colonel Fernando was later killed in Jaffna in an LTTE encounter). If not for the presence of Brigadier Seneviratne and Colonels Halangoda and Fernando, Muslim mobs from Kattankudy aided by some sections of the security forces would have overrun Tamil villages Manchanthoduwai, Navatkudah and Kallady. It was with the help and assurances of these three Army officers I was able to get the people who lived around the Kallady Army Camp to return to their houses and resume normal life.

  • 0
    0

    Thanks Naga for your valuable info.

    Incidentally,Gerry De Silva e4nded up as the Army Commander,and upon retirement was posted as High[?] Commissioner to Pakistan.Old Josephian,a catholic,was married to a Tamil!
    What happened to their Sandhurst training?
    Munas,from Matale is a born Hoodlum,like Plote Mohan.

  • 0
    0

    Naga

    Thank you very much for the information and your involvement in saving the lives of Kallady Tamils.

  • 0
    0

    I copy below a narrative compiled by some journalists and sent to me by one of my former journalists briefly explaining what had happened at the Vantharoomulai University Refugee Camp on that fateful day of 5th September 1990 when 158 Tamils arrested at the camp later disappeared. I am told that this narrative was compiled by these journalists based on the evidence given before the commission that heard evidence into these disappearances. These evidences were heard by the commission which included former Court of Appeal judge Palakidnar and published in the ‘Final Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearance in the Northern and Eastern Provinces’ in September 1997 by the government printer.

    “The arrest from the Vanthaarumoolai eastern university refugees camp was the biggest group arrest of this district. The arrests took place on 5 September and 23 September 1990. Hundred and fifty eight persons were arrested on the first day, while sixteen were taken into custody on the second day.

    A list containing the names of hundred and fifty eight persons who were reported to have disappeared was produced before this commission and eighty-three witnesses testified to the disappearances of 92 persons out of the 158 reported above.

    Also evidence was given regarding ten of the sixteen persons who disappeared on (sic) subsequent arrest. According to the evidence, nearly 40 thousand people had taken refuge since July 1990 following the outbreak of violence in the vicinity of the university.”

    “On 5 September 1990 by about six O’clock in the morning army men from the Kommathurai army camp along with personnel from some other army camps came in a SLTB (Sri Lanka Transport Board) bus and entered the premises of the eastern university.

    This was followed by an announcement by an amplifier fitted to a white coloured van asking the refugees to form into three different queues- persons of the age group of 12-25 in the first row, persons of the age group of 26-40 in the second row and persons over forty years in the third row.

    People in the three queues were asked to pass through a point where five persons in masks (and) clad in army uniform were seated in chairs along with seven Muslims standing behind those in masks.

    Whenever the persons in the masks gave a signal, the people who were in the queues were taken away from the queue to a side. When this operation was completed, 158 persons who were pulled out from the queues were taken away by the army despite the protests by their kith and kin.

    There was evidence to show that the arrests were done by the Kommathurai army camp with the assistance of personnel from other army camps as well, and that the following army officers were directing the operations. Captain Munaz, Captain Palitha, Capt.Gunaratna, Major Majeed and Major Mohan.”

    There was also evidence to show that Gerry de Silva (former SLA commander) had visited the refugees camp on the 8 September 1990 and had told the officers responsible for the administration of the refugees camp that all the 158 persons who were taken into custody on 5 September 1990 were found guilty. However, he had declined to say what had happened to them after they were found guilty.”

    “There was further evidence to say that one of the officers who were in charge of the refugee camp made a request to the Army personnel in charge of the operation to give a list of persons arrested for which there was no response.

    It also transpired in evidence that Thalayasingham Arunagirinathan, the chairman of the (Batticaloa) peace committee, had received a letter in October 1990 from A.W Fernando, Air Chief Marshal, who was then the secretary to the Hon.minister of State for Defence, wherein it was stated that on 5 September 1990 only 32 persons were taken into custody from the Eastern University refugees camp and that all had been released within 24 hours of arrest.

    The letter contained a list of 32 names who were alleged to have been released.

    However the commission was informed that none of those who were arrested had returned either to the said refugee camp or to their homes but still remain missing. (p. 31 – 32 of the Commission’s final report)

    One of the commissioners, retired judge Krishnapillai Palakidnar, heard evidence in Batticaloa.

    More than 2400 Tamils went missing during this period due to the activities of the SLA and paramilitaries operating with it, mostly from the northern coastal parts of the Batticaloa district, according to the findings of the human rights commission.

  • 0
    0

    Naga

    Sir, I have now found the following in respect of these killings:

    Amnesty International has published a report in September 1991- AI Index ASA 37/14 /91

    A.I published a summarised report in October 1993 – AI Index ASA 37/19/93

    Human Rights Task Force established by srilankan govt has published an account of these disappearances in its Annual Report of 29. 9 1993

    Similar incidents took place in Kokkaddicholai Kumarapuram and Karaithivu .there may be other places in EP where similar atrocities took place. Since you appear to be knowing all the details please reveal the same for readers to know.

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