By Rajan Hoole –
The Rise and Fall of the Tamil Militancy and the International Legal Implications of the Government’s Counter-Insurgency – Part 3
On to Weli Oya
After this, the profile of the Mahaveli Authority was on the wane. In the East security worsened and in 1984 its work was slowed down by a delay in the Saudi government signing a loan agreement. Covert land settlement activity came under the JOSSOP. About June 1984 Arthur Herath, SP Vavuniya, chased away the Tamils from Kent and Dollar Farms. The first move towards demographic transformation of the Mullaitivu District, was made by turning the farms into an open prison camp. Several hundred prisoners were brought there. On 30th November 1984, the LTTE came into that area, and in their first massacre of civilians, killed about 62 persons including 3 prison guards. As to what the settlement was about, we will refer to our Bulletin No.4, Padaviya – Weli Oya: Bearing the Burden of Ideology of February 1995 and to Special Report No.5 From Manal Aru to Weli Oya… of September 1993. The quotations below are from Bulletin No. 4.
Once the prisoners had been brought to the area in late 1984, they were used to apply pressure on Tamils living in the surrounding area:
“An activist in a leftwing political group said that he with others from the group had gone to Kent and Dollar Farms just after the November 1984 massacre. The survivors had told them that the settlement of prisoners was being used to further harass Tamils into leaving the area. They were told that young Tamil women were abducted, brought there and gang-raped, first by the forces, next by prison gaurds and finally by prisoners.”
To this was added other forms of harassment such as theft of cattle. After some weeks the Army reined in the convicts, spoke to the neighbouring Tamil villagers pleasantly and inquired after their welfare. But an insidious message had been given. It was the same year that an Israeli Interests Section was opened in the US Embassy in Colombo and Israeli advisors started making their appearance.
Following the massacre of prisoners by the LTTE on 30.11.84, the Government removed the velvet glove and adopted an openly iron-fisted approach to the Tamil civilians in the area. About Christmas Eve 1984, the Army by loud speaker ordered several villages in the area to vacate. These included Kokkilai, Kokkuthoduvai, Karnaddu Kerni, Kayadikkulam and Koddai Kerni. Eventually a total of about 2,700 Tamil families in that area came to be displaced, including those from Thennamaravady, the northern-most village in the Trincomalee District. The latter stands empty now. Their former MP, Mr. R. Sampanthan reflected, ‘A beautiful village and such wonderful people’. All of them were rendered refugees.
Sinhalese Settlers: Heroes Or Victims?
The drive to bludgeon the Tamils into submission by settling the underclass among the Sinhalese in their midst, although practised subtly in the 1950s had become a vocal demand by the time of the July 1983 violence. It was voiced by Gamini Dissanayake’s protege Alle Gunewanse, in his crucial meeting with Jayewardene on 28th July 1983. Athulathmudali thought it was logical and reasonable. Dissanayake went to an excess in Maduru Oya and had to be stopped. It was then pursued more discreetly by the JOSSOP, which was founded in October 1983, for which a variety of talents had been brought together, including D.J. Bandaragoda of Trincomalee fame.
The first move was a discreet transfer of prisoners from Anuradhapura prison to Kent and Dollar farms, which had been cleared of Tamils. For the people who were being sent in as settlers, their private tragedies and deprivation were being exploited by the State, its ideological cohorts and sections of the Buddhist clergy, to ensnare them in to further tragedy. We give below the testimony of an orphan girl who first went to Padaviya when she was about ten years old. Instead of the promised pot of gold, their life came to be tied up in poverty, tragedy, warfare and violation of their private life and womanhood:
“Jessie Nona, an orphan from Veyangoda, came to Padaviya in 1957 with her brother who was given land. She later married and had children in Padaviya. In 1984, her brother’s son who was serving a term in Anuradhapura prison for an illicit liquor offence was brought to the newly opened Open Prison Camp at Kent and Dollar Farms in Weli Oya. Since Jessie Nona’s daughter had no land in Padaviya, the mother accompanied the daughter to start a shop in the Weli Oya settlement. She and her daughter survived the massacre of 30th November 1984 and fled back to Parakramapura in Padaviya. Her nephew had been killed in the massacre.
“Jessie Nona’s eldest son had died of snake bite. Her younger son who joined the army had come home in December in 1994, upon hearing that his mother was very ill, after being bitten by a snake. At home, he heard of a tragedy involving his marital relationship. The heart broken soldier went away by himself in a state of insanity. The mother, who has his little son, has not heard of him since.”
It is just after the Kent and Dollar Farms massacre in December 1984 that Ravi Jayewardene enters Herman Gunaratne’s narrative. According to Gunaratne he “happened to be present” at the Security Council meeting where a report apparently on the security of settlements was discussed. The report had been prepared by the lawyer S.L. Gunasekera and Davinda Senanayake and submitted to Brigadier Dennis Hapugalle, Chief of Civil Defence. Gunaratne blames the authorities for settling Sinhalese there without weapons training which his group had planned to do at Maduru Oya. There was of course an Army presence.
He exonerates Ravi Jayewardene from blame for the fiasco at Kent and Dollar Farms by suggesting that he ‘happened to be present’. On the contrary, there is good reason to believe that he was regularly attending Security Council sessions as the President’s security advisor. He had already set up the Presidential Security Division (PSD) and the Special Task Force (STF) – the latter with the help of ex-British SAS mercenaries provided by the Channel Islands- based Keeny Meeny Services. The deployment of the STF commenced in late 1984. It was clear that President Jayewardene had given his son a big role in security matters.
Gunaratne mentions the presence of the Dimbulagala Priest in Padaviya in early January 1985 when he went there with Ravi Jayewardene. However, the familiarity evidenced in the manner in which Dimbulagala Thero conducted himself in the territory of Ven. Halmillewa Ratnasara suggests that he was already involved in settlement activity in the Mullaitivu area. What follows is a testimony from another settler in Weli Oya (the Sinhalese translation of the Tamil ‘Manal Aru’ (‘Sand River’) area which includes the Kent and Dollar Farms):
“H.A. Dhanapala (55), originally from Balapitiya, was married and settled in Ibbagamuwa near Kurunegala, where he worked as a road construction worker for 10 years. He became unemployed when the Road Development Authority was formed. He then used to go to the Polonnaruwa District as a seasonal labourer for paddy harvesting. There in 1984 he heard that Dimbulagala Thero, who had led the march to occupy Maduru Oya basin the previous year, was offering people land north of Padaviya. Dhanapala went to the Pimburattawa school, was selected by the Thero and taken to the new settlement at Sinhapura, Weli Oya.
“Life there was dangerous. Army positions were interspersed with civilian dwellings. Nights were interrupted by firing noises. As time went by many of his neighbours left, leaving their dwellings empty. Dhanapala’s only son is in the army. Of his three daughters one is in Weli Oya married to a soldier, one married in Parakramapura and the other has left the area.”
The story of Weli Oya is a wretched catalogue of cynical uses of impoverished Sinhalese peasantry as chattels, to prosecute an unconscionable state policy.
Gunaratne’s book itself gives evidence of the manner in which the Sinhalese settlers are used as human fodder for ideological military projects. After the massacre Gunaratne quotes the Padaviya monk Halmilleve Ratnasara as saying, “Sir, I am against giving food and clothes to refugees who are running in fear …we must discourage them from running.” Gunaratne says later, “We saw hundreds of people clutching little babies accompanied by their wives carrying meagre belongings, leaving their homes on the way to refugee camps.” Then Gunaratne quotes Major Bohran who was in charge of the camp at the Ma Oya (River) crossing into the Mullaitivu District, who told the party, “We have cut a road many miles into Mullaitivu; we must go on making settlements. They must stop distributing relief supplies at refugee camps and make aid available only at the settlements.” Poor Bohran did not understand the volatility of his masters. Five years later under President Premadasa, General Ranatunge who was then in charge of Operational HQ, through Army Commander General Wanasinghe, detailed Colonel Bohran to pass on government arms to the LTTE in the same area – arms that were later turned on them. If all this was in aid of protecting the Sinhalese nation, the authors of this settlement project did not regard the hapless civilians trapped in the Weli Oya area to be Sinhalese in the sense they ascribed to themselves.
This group of protagonists including Ravi Jayewardene, Gunaratne, S.L. Gunasekera and Senanayake, all of them from leading schools in Colombo, was imbued with a high sense of mission to protect a sovereign nation from the ‘invader’. Their solution was Sinhalese
ettlement in the North-East. Yet, a good part of Gunaratne’s book, with its secret conferences among the great and the good of Colombo high society and adventurous expeditions by helicopter, reads like a schoolboy escapade of the kind popularised in English schoolboy adventure stories of the 1950s and 1960s. While on the one hand contributing to a process which through massacres of Tamil civilians and aggressive and irresponsible posturing on land matters, was legitimising attacks on Sinhalese civilians; they were on the other arming and training Sinhalese in border villages. Most of these were very old villages whose inhabitants had no quarrel with the Tamils, unlike those planted in Weli Oya.
Had a political settlement been sought, any tension would have simply vanished. But by arming Sinhalese villagers in border areas, a situation was being created where they were bound to get sucked into the conflict. There had been isolated killings of hapless Sinhalese traders and civilians in the North by Tamil militants on the lookout for ‘CIA’ and ‘CID’ agents. But there had not been a single massacre of Sinhalese villagers until 30th November 1984, which was in Weli Oya. For several of these young men from high Colombo society it was usually a matter of day trips by helicopter into an army camp in a border area, dropping off weapons and trainers to train villagers and getting back to Colombo to a good dinner and adulation. What sacrifice they made seldom exceeded tolerating a scrappy lunch, but for the villagers themselves there was no escape from the consequences that flowed from the lethal gift. Life for those in Weli Oya is described in the extract below, also from Bulletin No.4 of the UTHR(J):
“Their life is completely militarised. An old man put it, “even to piss, we have to get permission from the Army.” Children who go to school, it is said, do not look at the black board, but look at the jungle for signs of danger – as children in Jaffna used to look at the sky for bombers. This much is just the surface.
“There are many deeper complaints. The army positions are among the civilians. Several of the men said, “We do not know if the army is protecting us or we are protecting the army.” In the nights, they said, the men among the civilians are sent into bunkers with shotguns, while in their home the women are abused by soldiers. We also reliably learnt that the women are sometimes forced to pose for pornographic pictures, which are marketed within the army by enterprising soldiers. Under such a regime discipline plummets and the army itself tends to disintegrate. An ironical remark is not infrequently heard: “For what these fellows do to us, only the Tigers can teach them a lesson.” Through their sons, relatives or neighbours, most of these people have close connections within the Army. Yet, like with many rural Tamils whose sons are in the LTTE and other groups, their feelings are mixed with deep reservations.
“The people are keenly aware that Tamils had lived there before them, who were then driven away. They also feel that LTTE recruits who are in the area are from among the Tamils who were driven away: “They know the foot paths better than us or the Army.” In justification of the settlement exercise, the people had been told that the leasing out of large tracts of crown land in the area by mostly absentee Tamils (in the 1960s) marked a sinister development. The people were however aware that the Tamil families driven out by the security forces are poor farmers.”
To be continued..