By Rajan Hoole –
The State played a key role in aiding LTTE recruitment soon after the commencement of war in June 1990. We have mentioned the massacres of thousands of civilians in the East. This forced large numbers of youth to take to the jungles and become dependent on the LTTE for their survival. From Trincomalee, many refugees marched northwards and went by sea into the Mullaitivu District to live under LTTE protection. In Jaffna, the LTTE that was in control of the population was in a position to harvest recruits directly from the alienation felt by the civilians. Inevitably, a high proportion of the recruits was barely in their teens. At this time, the LTTE lacked senior personnel. The young recruits (many of them aged about twelve) were sent into action, often to the front, after rudimentary training lasting about two weeks. According to social workers, the casualty figures from this group were not reflected in official LTTE lists of martyrs. Witnesses have seen the older combatants leaving the scene of conflict, getting the younger ones to remain on sentry duty. The other side of the coin was intense repression, pre-emptively to stall protest. As to how the role of the State helped the repressive measures of the LTTE, we give below experiences from our Report No.5 of September 1990.
In a letter from Trincomalee, dated 8th July 1990, a young boy related his experience: “We scrambled in fear because of the atrocities unleashed by the armed forces at mid-day on 22nd June. Siva and his family were killed. Four in our family were also at the same place. Father, mother and sister were killed. I alone am left living. What can we do? Do not be sad. But they are taking away the young boys. I am at the Nilaveli church refugee camp.”
A letter from a grand-mother in Jaffna dated 12th August 1990: “….the bombing during these last few days is severe. The noise is unbearable and causalities have been many. A bomb which fell at Schwartz Lane, by God’s grace, did not explode. Many people have just left by van for Kayts. My daughter-in-law too went with her infant daughter. The people are thoroughly worn down. May God protect us…..”.
Letter from Jaffna, 7th August 1990: “….vast numbers of youth are joining the movement, some as an outlet to their own family circumstances. Others go for training believing it to be for self-defence purposes only. A large percentage of the youth are being treated for psychiatric ailments. Constant bombing and shelling throughout this new wave of violence triggers vivid memories for those who had seen their loved ones killed previously. What will become of this generation? On 25th June 1990 with the aid of an FM 1000 antenna I was able to listen to some callous comments from the pilots coming through in English at 3.00 P.M. The same day the LTTE held a meeting at the nearby school. This was the first of many meetings for gold collection and training. Refugee camps have an LTTE office in the premises.”
The last three experiences came against the background of the LTTE’s siege of Jaffna Fort. The surrounding area was a crowded residential area and the causalities were significantly reduced because the Government had asked the civilians to vacate an area within a given a distance of the Fort and most of the bombing and shelling was within this area. But other areas too often suffered when airmen aimed supposedly at ‘LTTE camps’ in residential areas, or when the LTTE fired from below and zoomed off. This along with the constant noise of explosions left the civilians at the end of their nerves and the LTTE used it expertly. But in the Eastern Province (see our Special Report No. 3 and Report No. 7), deliberate massacres by the state forces drove a large number of youth into the hands of the LTTE.
What follows is an extract from the letter dated 13th August 1990 written by the late Mr. K. Nesiah of Jaffna to Bradman Weerakoon, his former student at St. Thomas’ College and advisor to the president. It reflects the impact of government policy on someone for whom separation was anathema and was active in the Jaffna Youth Congress which pioneered, in 1931, the call for an “Independent Lanka”:
We have also heard conversations between the leader and the pilot over the F.M. of radio:
(i) “Which is the house? There are two pink- washed houses”
“No, No, in which house are the kottiyas [i.e. tigers]?”
(ii) “I saw some fellows running in. Are they kottiyas?”
“Does not matter. Blast the whole area (palathe)”
Five houses are flattened.
To us laymen, the bombing done now is militarily, futile. And night-bombing of civilian areas is man’s inhumanity to man.
I wonder if you are aware that tin cans containing faecal matter and other stuff were dropped from the air on the 20th and 21st of July. Faecal matter is a good medium for the growth of bacteria and germs. On the 20th, eighteen cans were counted in the Jaffna town area alone. The local newspapers reported that in two places crows were found dead in numbers. Obviously, this is biological warfare. Was this done without the knowledge of the Government? Was this contemplated when the Armed Services were given freedom of action? Officers of the Armed Services are often ignorant of the laws of the war and of the norms of civilized life.
Similarly, the four-engined plane (from China?) dropped bombs in tar-barrel containers. We fear that these bombs had harmful chemicals, as the smoke arising from these was brown in colour, with an acrid smell. This appears to be chemical warfare. Is a Government justified in using these methods against its own civilians, non-combatant, people?…
I am the unhappiest of men, as I find that the ideals for which I worked and which I imparted to my pupils are being crushed under foot. Cannot we return to the ideals of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality? Is Sri Lanka so lacking in these ideals that they should be denied to one section of its people?
You remember the slogan first used by me at Peradeniya [i.e. as lecturer at the University of Ceylon], and popularised by Dr. Colvin. R.. de Silva – ‘Two languages, one nation; one language, two nations.” We erred then. Should we continue to err? It seems to me that the best way to preserve Sri Lanka’s integrity is to give real provincial autonomy, i.e. Federalism. Many Sinhalese fear, (wrongly, I feel) that if Federalism were granted, India may annex the Tamil federal unit. But it is obviously against India’s own interests to encourage fissiparous tendencies in Sri Lanka, or anywhere. Our motto now is “Federate, and march we forward, together”. Let us recall the wise words of Edmund Burke, “Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom…”
*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