By Rajan Hoole –
The Indo-Lanka Accord and Sri Lanka’s Fault Lines: July 1987 – Part – 7
With the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord, Citizens’ Committees in the North-East were quick to seek the assistance of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) regarding the resettlement of Tamils in areas from which they were displaced by the combined action of the Sri Lankan Forces and politically supported mobs. Trincomalee District was one area where this problem was extremely grave as testified by numerous ruined dwellings. The IPKF delegated senior officers to study this problem and suggest remedial measures. Being new to this situation, it was bound to take them time.
In the meantime, the situation in Trincomalee was explosive. The extent to which a combination of external aggression and internal degeneration had brutalised the Tamils is revealed in an incident taken from our Special Report No.8, Trincomalee: State Ideology and the Politics of Fear, which recalled in its quality the atrocities suffered by the Tamils in July 1983:
“A combination of events led to the first attack by Tamil hoodlum elements against Sinhalese civilians in early October 1987. The Indian Peace Keeping Force had arrived in early August. Tamil militant groups opposed to the LTTE had returned to town and there was a new assertiveness on the part of the Tamils. There was also growing friction between the Indian Army and the Sri Lankan Army which took being confined to barracks very badly. On one occasion a Sri Lankan Army vehicle speeding past the Town Hall opened fire at a group of Indian Army men and local civilians which included Brigadier Joshi. About this time around 2000 Tamil youths who had been confined at Boosa without charges were shipped to Trincomalee and released under terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord.
“On 1st October Tamil hoodlums started attacking Sinhalese with the backing of certain militant leaders. Several of the local civilians helplessly observed some horrendous scenes of cruelty. An old Sinhalese man who went to a Tamil house to purchase milk for his grand- daughter when confronted by Tamil hoodlums pleaded for his life from the lady of the house. She was unable to stop them chasing the man and beating him to death. A Sinhalese lorry driver was assaulted and his lorry was set on fire. As he emerged crawling from under the burning lorry, he was lifted and thrown into the flames screaming. Witnesses also spoke of Sinhalese women being raped and killed. Several bodies were thrown into a well that was covered up. According to these witnesses dozens of Sinhalese were murdered in the area around the main Sinhalese school, east of Inner Harbour Road on the isthmus. These Sinhalese were long settled there and had been close to the Tamils.
“The mob moved northwards towards Anuradhapura junction raiding liquor shop after liquor shop on its way before tottering to exhaustion. By that time the Indian Army had also intervened. According to a widely believed story, elements of Tamil militant groups had been given a few hours by a section of the Indian Army to clear the Sinhalese before they intervened. The cycle of cynicism and mischief was to go on bringing further distrust among the civilians and complicating matters at every turn.”