20 June, 2024


Mahaveli System L: The Weli Oya Project And The Declaration Of War Against Tamil Civilians

By Rajan Hoole –

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Border Aggression and Civilian Massacres – Part 7

After Ravi Jayewardene’s return from Is- rael, the Saturday Review, then edited by Gamini Navaratne, carried on 8.9.84 a Special Correspondent’s piece titled, ‘The Is-raeli Connection’. It said, “The Government is steadily and feverishly working at a crash plan policy of land settlement under Mahaveli as well as Dry- Zone areas of the North and East. They have sought technical know how”. The report quoted the Veerakesari of 23 Aug.84, which stated that after a high-level conference in Colombo it has been decided to redemarcate parts of Vavuniya with Madawachchiya (see also Chapters 13-15).

In filling out the story of how this singular project was implemented, we have, apart from published sources and interviews, also relied on a detailed document covering this period prepared by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). This was done at the request of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India, and was kindly made available to us. References to it will be acknowledged by [TULF].

Apart from its moral depravity, the event is singular for its reckless folly. Sri Lanka was a small, highly dependent country whose relations with India, its giant neighbour, had been badly mismanaged. The country was being placed on a course where it was flagrantly in breach of international humanitarian law as defined by the Geneva Conventions. At this point, the conflict was no more than a local low-intensity conflict. Nevertheless, as we have pointed out (see Sect.14.5), by the very methods being used, the Government was upgrading the internal conflict to look like an International Armed Conflict. There are still many in Colombo who advocate even more of this kind.

From early October 1984 hundreds of Tamil refugees of Indian origin who had earlier been cared for by organisations like the Gandhiyam, were harassed and intimidated by army personnel and Sinhalese government officials chosen for this purpose and were forcibly evicted. The houses constructed for them were destroyed. Jayatissa Bandaragoda was one of the civilian officials attached to JOSSOP overseeing this operation. It was during this period that National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali announced the Government’s plan for solving the (Tamil) terrorist problem by settling 200,000 Sinhalese in the North, drawn from groups such as ex-convicts and fisherfolk (Hindu Weekly (Madras), early December 1984).

To facilitate this exercise, three Tamil villages in the Unchalkaddy village headman’s division were arbitrarily, by a government gazette notification on 19.10.84, attached to the Sinhalese division of Mamaduwa in Vavuniya South (Sin- halese) A.G.A. Division. It was also proposed to construct 1000 houses for Sinhalese fishermen in Kokkilai and Nayaru [TULF].

It was during this period that the Tamils in Kent and Dollar Farms in Mullaitivu District were chased off by the Vavuniya Police under SP Arthur Herath. The Government then had a problem in finding Sinhalese settlers to move into this area and the response was poor. Very few of those who were forcibly sent out of the mass encroachment in the Maduru River basin took up the dubious offer in Mullaitivu. The Government tried to find candidates for settlement among prisoners serving sentences.

On 1st January 1981, Mr. J.P. Delgoda, Commissioner of Prisons, had opened a scheme for prisoners who had about 2 years or less of their sentences to serve. This was on land in Senapura in the Anuradhapura District, which had earlier been used as a camp for JVP detainees from the 1971 insurgency. The families of 22 prisoners were given land on this scheme and they were given employment at the government farm at Mahaillupalame. The camp was closed on 12th December 1982 because the land was taken back by another government department. The Prisons Department was looking for land to revive the scheme.

This idea was taken up in finding candidates for Kent and Dollar farms. Taken this time were about 300 families of prisoners from Anuradhapura prison. It was something well beyond the experience and budget of the Prisons Department. It needed roads, infrastructure and a military presence – money which no doubt came from the Defence and Mahaveli Project votes. (Athulathmudali said (Island 2.12.84) that there were 150 families at Dollar Farm. Amirthalingam said on the BBC that Kent Farm accommodated prisoners while Dollar Farm accommodated displaced Sinhalese from the Maduru Oya encroachment in the Batticaloa District. The two farms were one and a half miles apart. The Defence Ministry however clarified that both farms were rehabilitation camps for prisoners. On 30.11.84, 33 were killed in Dollar Farm and 29 in Kent Farm.) We do not know what the prisoners were told or promised, but it was the kind of persuasion that went be- yond the capacity of normal prison officers. This is where, we have good reason to believe, Rogers Jayasekere – the jailor who played a key role in the prison massacres – came in.

Rogers Jayasekere had, as mentioned earlier, good rapport with the top and bottom rungs of the prison hierarchy, and was a trouble-shooter, who was relied upon by the top rungs. He was ruthless and had strong UNP connections, particularly with President Jayewardene and his old electorate in Kelaniya. Moreover, he was chief jailor at Anuradhapura Prison about 1982, before coming to Welikade, where he was in July 1983. He thus knew many of the prisoners. Some time after the July 1983 violence, we understand that he was sent to Mahara Prison and came to Magazine Prison in 1985. Even if he had not been officially posted to Anuradhapura Prison during 1984, there would have been little difficulty in using his services. The strongest testimony we have comes from journalists whom Gamini Dissanayake then closely associated with, while working with Ravi Jayewardene on this settlement project. Dissanayake had spoken of Jailor Rogers Jayasekere working with Ravi Jayewardene on this settlement. Jayasekere’s task was to locate and recruit prisoners for settlement. This testimony came from parties who had no particular interest in Rogers Jayasekere and could be accepted as true.

The TULF met with President Jayewardene and Mr. Athulathmudali on 13th November 1984 and made representations about the plight of Tamil civilians being driven out of Kent and Dollar Farms. They strongly urged the Government that these steps be abandoned. A letter confirming the discussion was sent to the President by the TULF on 20.11.84. The representations were disregarded [TULF].

According to Prison Department records, the Kent and Dollar Farms settlement was opened on 6th October 1984. The prisoners were used as labour for constructing roads and clearing jungle with a view to opening up the region, and making it attractive for further settlement. This differed from old colonisation schemes, which could be defended as fulfilling an economic purpose. The new one which came to be called Weli Oya (the Tamil Manal Aru, or Sand River, in Sinhalese), had a clear political and military purpose and was very dubious for economic and social upliftment. It also radically altered the dynamics of the conflict as regards the civilian population by fulfilling the worst nightmares of making the Tamils ‘insecure in their own home’. The prisoners were set up to harass the Tamils in the area. The Kent and Dollar Farms were attacked by the LTTE on 30th November 1984 killing 62 persons followed by the Sinhalese fishing settlement at Kokkilai the next day, killing 11 persons.

Migrant Sinhalese fisherfolk from Negambo had been fishing at Kokkilai for ages (see 1901 Census) and the course of the conflict was blurring the distinction between civilians and non- civilians in the eyes of both the adversaries. The following description of the massacre at Kokkilai is from the LTTE booklet Manalaru in Tamil:

“Specially trained guerrilla fighters Cap- tain Lawrence (Sivalingam), Lt. Ravi (Tharmarasa) and Lt. Sasi (Kanthasamy), suddenly drove into Kokkilai bay in a vehicle. The machine guns in their hands spewed fire. The Sinhalese ruffians scattered as the bullets flew everywhere. … Many Sinhalese ruf- fians died including Margaret, the woman who was their leader.”

It was an attempt to justify what was plainly a massacre of unarmed and unprepared civilians. The woman described as the leader was Mrs. Magilin Costa, the owner of a grocery store, who did not die. The dead included her daughters Mary Theresa and Mary Margaret.

The Press reported that Army reinforcements from Parakramapura and JOSSOP troops from Vavuniya rushed to Kent and Dollar Farms soon after the massacre. The Sunday Observer of 2nd December quoted defence spokesmen to the effect that 68 terrorists had been killed, 42 were injured and 35 were in custody! This suggests a flushing out operation of sorts.

A letter from S. Vyramutthu, the village headman of Thennamaravady, appeared in the Saturday Review of 24th August 1985. This was the northernmost Tamil village in the Trincomalee District. He said that ‘armed hoodlums’ entered the village on 3rd December 1984, killed 15 persons including women, and chased away 125 families. It was about this time that the people were chased out of the nearby Tamil village of Amarivayal. Both these were very old Tamil villages recorded in the British Administration’s Census of 1824 and have remained deserted ever since their forced evacuation in 1984.

As to how the Army was tracking down and killing scores of terrorists after the Kent and Dollar (K&D) Farms massacre, an indication comes from a letter in the Saturday Review of 1 Jun.85 by M. Linus of Kayts. His son Linus Aloysius Franklin (30) was a technical officer living in Irrigation Department quarters at Semmadu 10 miles from K&D Farms. According to the papers of 4.12.84, the Army went there and took away everyone except a lady and her children. The father M. Linus went to Vavuniya and met the Irrigation Engineer, who had been told by the Army that they never went to the Irrigation quarters at Semmadu. Later the Irrigation Department served vacation of post notices on all the employees who were missing!

More on the actions of the security forces in the area in early December is given in [TULF]. On 1st December the Air Force fired from helicopters into Tamil villages and dropped incendiary bombs in the Nedunkerni area and in Vavuniya causing considerable damage. On 2nd December in Chemmalai, the Army wantonly shot and killed two civilians. On the same day 30 or 40 members of the Army from the Padaviya camp who had camped at the Malaikkadu Hindu Temple the previous night, cordoned off the village of Othyiyamalai. They took away several males with their hands tied in the trailer of a tractor to the village community hall. They were lined up and shot dead. The following day GA, Mullaitivu, reportedly went there with the Medical Officer and Headman and saw 27 bodies. The bodies were identified (names given, ages 18-45) and were cremated the next day.

The army personnel who performed the outrage took away 5 other elderly men (45-58 years) in the same tractor-trailer. Two weeks later their partially burnt bodies with the burnt tractor- trailer were found near Kent Farm. Going by these incidents the Government had been fairly accurate in claiming that 68 ‘terrorists’ were killed!

On 1st December 1984, there was a riot in Anuradhapura Prison and the kitchen was set on fire. Athulathmudali who was national security minister since March ’84 told the Press that some incited other prisoners to ‘retaliate’ for the murder of their cellmates at Kent and Dollar Farms. The attempted breakout was reportedly controlled with help from the Army and Police. The media paid so much attention to the LTTE’s brutality that the at-least-as-important question about the prisoners sent to K&D Farms failed to be asked. Who duped the prisoners and what were they told when sending them into a death trap? Were not the Prison Department and the Commissioner answerable for this second major prison disaster in 16 months? To say that they never expected them to be attacked would be untrue. The Army was around and when Ravi Jayewardene visited ‘all the border towns of Israel’ in June, he knew what to expect from his project.

One of the bloodiest and calculatedly most brutal episodes in the saga took place on 15th February 1985. Just before Christmas, the armed forces had compelled all Tamils living in the old Tamil villages of Kokkilai, Kokkuthoduwai, Karnatukerni, Nayaru, Chemmalai, Kumulamunai and Alampil in the Mullaitivu District to abandon their villages. In all more than 2000 families moved into temples, churches and school buildings in Mullaitivu town. They were among the southernmost villages in the Northern Province. These people, most of whom were farmers, had planted their crops in September before the troubles. The crops were in February ready for harvesting.

Many of the families trekked southwards to harvest the fields they had sown for decades. It is customary for entire families to take part in harvesting, stacking and threshing. These people were fired at by the armed forces. Scores of them were mowed down by Air Force helicopters that were flying low. The National Security Minister later claimed that 52 Tamil separatists had been shot dead. His reasoning was that there were no Tamil civilians in the area since they had left two months earlier and had not returned.

A check on missing persons was later done at the refugee camps around Mullaitivu town, at St. Peter’s Church, Vattapalai Amman Temple, Mulliavalai Hindu Tamil Mixed School, Vithyananda College and Vattapalai Roman Catholic School. In the list containing the names of 131 persons missing, 36 are women. Of 27 persons whose ages are given, one, V. Muthulingam (12), was a child [TULF].

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

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Rajan [Edited out]…………. by re living the past would fuel more dissent.
    You thrive on others sufferings by taking a leaf fron Rajan.

    • 1

      hey mr thondammar Rajan is not publishing this now,its his book written long ago and now serialized by CT,please understand what your reading and then talk or else you look a fool like K A Sumanasekera

  • 4

    Invaluable and irrefutable history. I have visited the Dollar and Kent farms when they functioned as corporate farming ventures and were at their prime. They were beautiful to behold. These farms were the outcome of the efforts of the UNP government led by Dudly Senanayake to promote large scale corporate farming. Mini Mokes entered the country as a result of these projects being established in remote areas.

    Unfortunately, these two farms became the centre of political intrigue and Israel-inspired demographic policies. The poor estate labour of ‘Recent’ Indian origin ( a misnomer in the context of the others who named them thus were of ‘Older’ Indian origin) bore the double whammy- victims of the 1977 communal riots and the beginnigs of a civil war. I knew Dr. Rajasunderam. He was a passionate man, who carried his heart on his sleeves. He paid the ultimate price for being a very humane man, who failed to read the signs of the times. However, his memory will be eternally enshrined in Tamil history.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 1

      Dr RN,
      ” I knew Dr. Rajasunderam.” – I have never met him. But have met all of his brothers in UK. They are very nice people.

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