3 July, 2022


May 1986 – The Death Of The Tamil Struggle And A New Rationale For Massacres

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Border Aggression and Civilian Massacres – Part 12

In early May 1986, the LTTE used the tactics of surprise and ruthlessness to wipe out the fraternal militant group TELO. Young boys from the Eastern Province who did not know where to run in Jaffna were brutally attacked, and the dead and dying were burnt at street junctions by LTTE militants who looked on remorselessly as if under the influence of drugs. There was that opportunistic segment, particularly from the intellectual elite, looking for ways to court the LTTE as they had earlier the TELO leader who was thought to be India’s favourite. But ordinary decent people were dumbfounded and distressed. Thoughts like ‘we have produced out own Hitlers’ and ‘Anuradhapura has come home’ escaped their lips. There was also a sense of hopelessness about the Tamil struggle. The LTTE found itself having to make public announcements by loudspeaker that no one must discuss or examine what had taken place.

This was one step. In time, the LTTE would tell them that they had no rights over their chil- dren barely in their teens. Indeed, they may be spirited away from the streets to augment the ranks of the Tamil struggle depleted by fratricide. The people had no rights.

The suppression of the TELO was followed by an aborted Sri Lankan Army offensive in Jaffna. From the 19th of May to the 24th of July 1986, the LTTE carried out a series of 8 massacres and 4 bomb or mine blasts on passenger vehicles, leaving 143 mainly Sinhalese civilians killed. Most of these attacks were in the Trincomalee District, where a large number of the TELO militants killed by the LTTE came from. In June 1986 alone 468 Tamils were killed according to the Saturday Review.

prabhaak gun colombotelegraphHowever, a closer look at events presents a much subtler picture of where the LTTE had arrived in its history. 20 months earlier, it had inhibitions. These were not necessarily moral, but came at least from a sense of shame arising from minimum public standards expected from a liberation movement. Although it had taken a giant step into infamy with the Anuradhapura massacre of May 1985, it still tried to hang onto the respectability of being in the liberation club. In a condolence message issued by the LTTE leader to mark the death of Sarath Muttetuwegama, MP, who died in a motoring accident 4 days after the massacre on 18th May 1985, he described the loss as a serious blow to the Tamil people.

Describing Muttetuwegama as a ‘“true friend” of the Tamil people, the LTTE leader said that his demise has created a void among Sinhalese and Tamils that cannot be filled. He further said: “We are shocked and grieved to hear of his death. Sarath Muttetuwegama used the forum of Parliament to fight for the workers and echo the grievances of the Tamil speaking people.” The identity of the perpetrators of the outrage at Anuradhapura was then only guessed at and the LTTE was still vaguely thought of as a Marx- ist group. Hardly ever did the LTTE again waste its effort issuing such messages.

In May 1986, having brutally massacred TELO militants the LTTE had lost all inhibitions. The militant struggle had been weakened and Jayewardene was pressing for talks with the LTTE, thinking it an opportune time to negotiate. He had made proposals to Indian High Commissioner Dixit for a ceasefire in Jaffna. Having killed members of other groups for not insisting on a separate state as their goal, the LTTE could not negotiate for less. In other words, it could not negotiate. Going by events which speak for themselves, what the LTTE did was to launch on an unprecedented course of massacres of Sinhalese civilians in the hope that when reprisals came, the Tamils would be forced to look upon them as their sole defender, or, in practice, avenger. India in turn it was thought would be forced to give them the patronage previously extended to several groups, so as to keep her Sri Lanka policy on course. The methods practised by the Sri Lankan security forces since 1984 played into its hands, and indeed provided the pretext for the LTTE’s tactics.

Given below are the main course of events in Trincomalee District from August 1985, where the earlier tit-for-tat rationale undergoes in May 1986 a qualitative change to deliberate policy on the part of the LTTE. The events covered in the Minister’s document and the Colombo Press are given in normal letters. Those obtained from other sources, particularly the Saturday Review, are given in italics. Incidents reported officially are in bold.

17 Aug.85: Trincomalee: After a landmine attack 13 Tamil civilians, including children, were killed in reprisals by the security forces (Saturday Review and Daily News).

18 Aug.85: Namalwatte: 6 Sinhalese civilians were killed by the LTTE.

7 Nov.85: Namalwatte: 3 Sinhalese civilians were killed when a passenger vehicle from Anuradhapura was caught in a landmine in Morawewa (Mudalikkulam). Then Namalwatte was attacked by the LTTE, killing an elderly man, a woman and 10 children.

July 1983 and May 1985: Mudalikkulam: Namalwatte is at the western end of the Morawewa scheme, where Sinhalese colonists had been brought from the latter 60s when an Air Force camp was installed at the headworks. A leading Tamil resident of the area was Selvadurai, a retired clerk, a strong Federal Party supporter and an associate of Kodeswaran, who took an active part in the 1961 satyagraha. Selvadurai was popularly known as Oliver because his bald head resembled that of the Governor General, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke. Oliver was hacked to death in the early 80s by Sinhalese thugs. In the latter stages of the June 1983 disturbances, 4 Tamils of Indian origin, including two children, were hacked to death. Thus began the final exodus of Tamils from the entire area, including Pankulam. On 24th May 1985, 9 Tamils, including women, were shot dead by the Air Force.

On 13th November 1985, following the Namalwatte massacre, the Ceylon Daily News carried a report from Trincomalee by Amal Jayasinghe, which quoted Brigadier Harsha Gunaratne on the subject of keeping journalists out. Foreigners were being kept out of Trincomalee to prevent journalists coming as tourists. The Brigadier traced the troubles in the area to the massacre of 6 civilians in Namalwatte on 18.8.85, forgetting the massacre of Tamils on 17th August and stated that “mischievous reporting can cause unrest”. He was of course not referring to massacres of Sinhalese civilians as the Army had helped teams of journalists to get to Namalwatte in no time. The Island had reported on 11th November the killing of 33 “terrorists” in Sambur, Kattaipparichchan and Mutur, areas under the command of the same brigadier. It was reported in the Press three days later (14.11.85) that 9 “terrorists” were killed in Thampalakamam. Things have not changed much to this day.

Indeed, although the scope for looting and arson in Trincomalee was no longer attractive for reasons of exhaustion, the continuing government policy was terror against Tamil civilians as Brigadier Gunaratne well knew and the Press was largely silent about. [TULF] gives the following incidents.

On 8th, 9th and 10th November 1985, while naval gunboats shelled from the sea and helicopters fired from the air, the Army moved into the coastal villages around Kadatkaraichenai (Seabeach Grove) near Muttur. Again people were shot at and at least 17, mostly married men, were killed and burnt with their houses. Temples were desecrated and people who sought refuge there were assaulted. About 70 civilians were taken away.

On the night of 9th November 1985, security forces entered the home of Mr. Mylvaganam at Pillayar Kovilady, Kantalai, Trincomalee District, and took away six Tamil civilians, whose bodies were found at the 6th Mile Post, Allai Road. Medical examination showed that the two daughters of Mylvaganam, Miss. Rajeswary (24) and Miss. Shanthini (22) had been raped prior to being killed.

On 12th November 1985 nine civilians (“terrorists” in the official claim above) were shot dead in Thambalakamam in the Trincomalee District during a search operation. Again in the same area on 26th November, the Army shot and burnt 3 Tamils in- volved in agricultural pursuits. At Kovilady, Thambalakamam, 5 Tamils were tied alive inside a boutique which was set on fire. Kupendiran and Navaratnam were killed. Three others were rescued with burn injuries.

A few days later on 27.11.85, as reported in the Saturday Review, the Army took away 21 persons from the Mutur area and shot them dead at Sambur. At least 76 Tamil civilians were massacred in the East during the 1st week of December 1985.

Behind many of the attacks on Tamil civilians described above, one may find some incident involving the Tamil militants and the security forces. But, as the official document Massacres of Civilians indicates, about the end of 1985, attacks on Sinhalese civilians by Tamil militants were notably fewer. This suggests some restraint arising from the consideration that the world is watching and a liberation movement should not behave like an undisciplined army.

There was of course a good deal of ill-feeling among Tamils about the manner in which Sinhalese colonisation was carried out at Mudalikkulam (Morawewa) and Periyavilankulam (Mahadivulwewa), and the orchestrated violence against Tamils in 1983. The ensuing bitterness was among the motivations of a large number of Tamil youth joining the dif- ferent militant movements. The arming of Sinhalese villages in early 1985, as pointed out, made the situation explosive. However from May 1986 there was violence of a new intensity, where the LTTE broke several months of calm, creating insecurity for the Tamils and playing on their feelings by offering revenge.

7th May 1986: The LTTE had crushed the TELO, killing several hundred Tamil mili- tants.

19th May 1985, Morawewa: 9 Sinhalese ci-vilians, including 4 women, killed by the LTTE.

23rd May 1986, reported by Jean-Francois Levan (AFP): 9 Sinhalese civilians killed – 5 members of a family in Seruvila, 2 in Kallar and 2 in Gomarankadawela. These attacks fol- lowed a truce offer by President Jayewardene to halt military operations in Jaffna.

24th May 1986, Batticaloa District: 3 Sinhalese fishermen killed in a grenade attack in Kalkudah.

25th May 1986, Mahadivulweva (Periyavilankulam): The LTTE first lined up and shot home guards and then opened fire on civilians, killing 21 Sinhalese civilians in all.

25th May 1986, Soorakkal, Thambalakamam: 3 Tamil civilians killed by security forces. A mother and two youths who went from the refugee camp to look at their houses were killed and 3 houses were set on fire.

30th May 1986, Thambalakamam: Pakistan- trained black-shirts entered a home and opened fire at a family listening in the night to BBC Tamil Service. Husband, wife and 2 children were killed. A youngwoman and a 13-year-old girl escaped with injuries.

30th May 1986, Colombo: A bomb in a lorry exploded at Ceylon Cold Stores (Elephant House) killing 9 civilians.

31st May 1986, Veyangoda: 12 civilians were killed and 52 were injured when a bomb ex- ploded in the Colombo-bound train from Batticaloa.

2nd June 1986, Uppuveli, just north of Trinco town: A search made following a complaint to the Army, revealed the bodies of 10 Tamil civilians with gun shot wounds in the cess pits of some houses aban- doned following the arson and violence the previous year. They included those of a young couple and their 6-year-old daughter, a young man and a 50 year old Ayurvedic physician.

3rd June 1986, Palugaswewa: A mob of armed Sinhalese boarded the Colombo-bound train from Batticaloa and killed 6 Tamil passengers and 1 Mus- lim woman. The attack was stopped by railway se- curity guards when the train reached Kekirawa.

4th June 1986: The LTTE attacked Mihindupura, a recent Sinhalese settlement adjoining Aandankulam, north of Trincomalee, killing 17 civilians, including a monk, women and children.

4th-5th June 1986, 4th Mile Post and Kantalai: Immediately after the massacre above, Sinhalese home guards went to Aandankulam and killed T. Thambiraja (65) and a woman T. Manonmany.

Then Air Force personnel and home guards stopped passing vehicles at the 4th Mile Post junc- tion and pulled out Tamil passengers. Some were assaulted or kidnapped, while others were killed and burnt. The Sinhalese wife of a victim testified to hav- ing seen about 20 charred bodies.

A passenger van proceeding from Vavuniya to Trincomalee with 25 passengers was found burnt at Kantalai with 8 charred bodies including those of an infant and a young girl.

The Trincomalee Citizens Committee said that the fate of 37 kidnapped persons is not known. About 50 Tamils were believed to have been killed.

11th June 1986, Trincomalee: Time bombs exploded about 10AM in two passenger buses, killing 25 mainly Sinhalese civilians.

12th June 1986, Seruvila (Trinco District): 20 Tamil refugees accompanied by 3 government ser- vants and 2 village headmen collected food items for refugees at Ichchilampattai from Serunuwera. On the way back, they were waylaid and attacked by Sinha- lese home guards from Mahindapura. 21, including 2 Muslims were killed, 2 were injured and 2 escaped. The Army denied the incident and claimed that 3 home guards had been kidnapped by terrorists.

17th June 1986: Pudukkudiyiruppu, Thampalakamam: 8 Tamil farmers working in the fields went missing. The next of kin complained to the AGA.

22nd June 1986: At Kantalai: A bomb exploded at the fair killing 2 Sinhalese. At the 4th Mile Post, 12 Tamils taken off a bus. At the Minneriya, an armed gang of Sinhalese attacked the train from Batticaloa to Colombo. 10 Tamils including an engineer were kidnapped. At the next railway station, the security forces arrested 25 Tamils.

25th June 1986, Kantalai: A bomb explosion in a vehicle killed 16 Sinhalese civilians.

26th June 1986, at Thambalakamam: Sinhalese home guards entered Lakshmi Rice Mill. Leaving behind the owner who suffered from polio, they took his wife and several workers. Later 34 dead bodies were recovered from the jungle. On the same day at Sambaltivu, 5 Tamil civilians including a woman were shot dead by the security forces. Thangarasa was burnt with his taxi.

One going through this sequence could hardly miss the pernicious calculation involved in the LTTE’s strategy. At one level it looks the reverse of the Government’s Mossad-inspired strategy put into action exactly a year earlier in attacking isolated Tamil villages in the East. But the LTTE’s strategy although using the anger against the Sinhalese State harboured by the local cadre, had less to do with killing Sinhalese civilians. Knowing the nature of the State, it had more to do with making the Tamils feel insecure.

To explain, during the pervious month the LTTE had massacred a large number of the TELO cadre, most of them in Jaffna, and a vast majority of the victims were from the East, particularly Trincomalee. This led to widespread local resentment against the LTTE. A vulnerable population was being further destroyed from within. The Government was under a good deal of pressure and even as the attacks on Sinhalese targets began, Athulathmudali was talking about acting with restraint and President Jayewardene was trying to open negotiations with the LTTE. The home guards were already in place as an instrument of reprisals against Tamil civilians. Once reprisals against Tamil civilians by the security forces and home guards gathered momentum through large massacres at the 4th Mile Post and Thambalakamam, it diverted the issue from the LTTE’s massacre of TELO personnel. Having successfully provoked a new spate of reprisals against the Tamils in Trincomalee, the LTTE had left the Tamils feeling fearful, angry and resentful against the Sinhalese, and were forced to look up to the LTTE as their avenger rather than protector.

Apart from the LTTE, the State too gained as regards its ideologically motivated aims. Both gained by bringing greater misery to the people. Worldwide pressure had forced the State to curtail systematic attacks against Tamil civilians which it commenced in the East in April 1985. In response to LTTE provocation from 19th May 1986, reprisals by the security forces and home guards intensified with a vengeance. Apart from against travellers, these reprisals concentrated strategically on Tamils living along a vulnerable stretch of the Trinco-Colombo Road from Aandankulam through Thambalakamam to Kantalai. Mostly all but the poorest Tamils have by now left these areas.

Following the LTTE’s renewal of war in June 1990, Brigadier Lucky Wijeratne planted another two Sinhalese colonies and a Buddhist temple and made Thambalakamam a Sinhalese AGA division. The materials for the new houses and the temple were provided by a Christian NGO. The names of the two new colonies planted in forest reserve in Thambalakamam are Sinhapura (City of the Lion) and Jayapura (City of Victory). The ideological purpose is clearly revealed in the choice of grandiose names. These contrast sharply with topographical names of older colonies such as Lime Garden.

The argument that is popular among the Tamil elite that it is only the LTTE’s attacks on Sinhalese civilians that has prevented the East from being made a Sinhalese area is, by the foregoing, seen to be extremely misleading. The Sri Lankan State has not been de- terred by attacks on Sinhalese civilians. What has played a significant role in protecting Tamils from the State’s outright barbarousness is human rights pressure. Only a negotiated settlement could bring Tamils in the East the ultimate security they desire. By massacring TELO militants on the pretext that they had betrayed the cause of a separate Tamil state, the LTTE had rendered itself a group that could never negotiate. Whenever a negotiated peace was in prospect, it attacked Sinhalese civilians to sour the prospect – again in October 1987, June 1990 and April 1995. In order that it could thrive, the LTTE needs to make the Tamils lose everything, their homes, their security and their ability to think and to live at near-brutish level.

Where the State is concerned, it too requires Sinhalese in the East living at a vulnerable, near brutish level. Its actions and policies were never about their well being. When it comes to border areas, the attitudes of both the Sinhalese and the Tamil elite are governed by a territorial ego concerned with flying the flag, than with people. As to the incidents above, the Tamil elite are familiar with the part of the story shown in italics, and the Sinhalese elite with the rest of the story. With these partial lists in hand, they would shed crocodile tears for the victims they regard as their people. But together, from a safe distance, they sustain a tragedy where the victims have no means of rising above it. Their victimhood is integral to a game in which the LTTE ideologues and their Sinha- lese counterparts, need and sustain one an- other.

In propaganda documents put out by the Sri Lankan defence and foreign ministries, such as Massacres of Civilians and Tiger Atrocities, the part above in italics is conspicuously left out. Their partisan zeal is also a measure of their incompetence. By hiding the truth, they place themselves on the defensive and if one misses the part in italics, one would also fail to understand what makes the Tigers tick. The Tigers learnt some of their important lessons from Ravi Jayewardene, Mossad and Athulathmudali.

Further underlining the LTTE’s attitude to Tamil civilians is the fact that they massacred Sinhalese civilians or placed a bomb in areas where Tamils also lived and then ran away. It is hard to find one instance where the LTTE stayed behind to offer protection to Tamils against expected reprisals by the security forces and Sinhalese home guards. Once Sinhalese were massacred in Mihindupura, the Tamils had to run away from Aandankulam and some of those who remained got killed. Those in Thambalakamam were left at the mercy of the security forces and home guards. This is a salient feature in all such incidents through the following years.

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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  • 1

    The actions of the LTTE and its rivals during the 1985-1986 period took the character of a barbarism and an atrocity completely unheard of in the Hindu-Tamil society emerging from the 1970s. Its main barbarism was directed towards the lower castes and this was a long-standing traditional practice that passed for without comment.

    However, the new barbarism (nurtured by RAW mentoring the LTTE, PLOTE and other groups) was very similar to the ISIS (Islamic Caliphate) now spreading throughout the Middle East. The first such ISIS-like barbarism was probably the assassination of Rajanikanth on a stage, in pubic view, by the LTTE in 1986. The killings of TELO at Thirunaveli, etc., and leaving dead bodies for public display on Lamp posts should not be forgotten.

    Meanwhile JRJ and his ministers like Athulathmudali were deeply influenced by Mossad, and used the hard-fisted and barbaric methods perfected by the Israelis in brutalizing the Palestinian resistance.

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