By Rajan Hoole –
Border Aggression and Civilian Massacres – Part 11
The Paul Nallanayagam affair suggests to us that massacres were then part of Government policy and the state was prepared to resort to extremes to cover it up. We now look at what lies behind the item in the government booklet Massacres of civilians which lists 5 Sinhalese civilians shot dead by armed terrorists at Mahindapura and Dehiwatte in the Allai colonisation scheme in Trincomalee District on 30.5.85.
The Colombo media reported on 2 Jun.85 that terrorists attacked 2 Sinhalese villages in the East killing 5 people. The following day (Island, 3.6.85) the Government denied news reports from foreign news agencies in Colombo that 50 Tamil civilians had been killed in attacks on two villages on Friday 31 May 85. On 8.6.85, the National Security Minister’s press release was published. He (Athulathmudali) denied the UNI report that Sinhalese mobs assisted by security forces killed 80 Tamils in the Trincomalee area and also a similar report by D.B.S. Jeyaraj in the Island. The Government, he said, made inquiries and found news reports ‘highly exaggerated’. The only incident, he added, where the Security Forces killed Tamils was when a group of Tamil terrorists fired at a helicopter carrying commandos at Irakkamam on 4th June and five terrorists were killed. It must be recalled, he said, that on 31.5.85 terrorists attacked Mahindapura and Dehiwatte killing 5 civilians. This is one day later than that given in Massacres of Civilians.
Athulathmudali claimed that following the resulting tension, a large number of Tamils and Sinhalese left the area and are being looked after. He denied the Daily Telegraph (London) report that 90 Tamils had been killed apparently in revenge raids, as irresponsible and mischievous. Yet Athulathmudali gave substance to the foreign media reports by saying in the statement: “Due to these incidents 30 civilians belong- ing to both communities have died since the 27th”. The 30, he said, included 5 Sinhalese killed and 13 Tamils killed in a bus in the Trincomalee area on 3rd June. The few incidents carried out by Sinhalese and Tamils, he said, followed provocative acts by terrorists do destabilise Trincomalee. We try to reconstruct the truth on the basis of testimony given to us by the late MP, A. Thangathurai whose home was in Killiveddy, from the document [TULF] introduced in sect. 20.6 and further testimony. The latter was obtained recently from the late MP’s brother Dr. Pakiathurai and a 70 year old survivor from Killiveddy contacted by the latter.
What Mr. Athulathmudali knew and missed out is of interest because of what happened before and after the attack on Dehiwatte. The main drama was to do with the concerted attack on Tamils and the Government’s use of the ill-feel- ing between neighbouring villages brought about by the deployment of Sinhalese home guards. On 31st May, it built up into an all-out attack on Tamil villages east of the Trincomalee – Batticaloa Road.
The attack on Tamil villages in the Trincomalee District followed what had been started in Batticaloa District the previous month by fomenting hatred between Tamils and Muslims. But in Trincomalee, Muslim leaders like A.L.A. Majeed had been alert and had sounded the alarm. The Government resorted to more direct methods and these attacks went on for much of the year.
On 23rd May 1985, without any reason, the Army went on a rampage in Nilaveli, north of Trincomalee, killing 8 persons by firing at people within their own compounds. The dead included S. Gangatharan (30), son of K. Sivapalan, chairman of the Trincomalee Citizens’ Committee.
During the 3rd week of May 1985, 8 to 10 Tamils from Anbuvalipuram, Trincomalee, had gone to Velveri, a few miles away, to collect firewood for sale in town as was the normal practice. The carts and bulls were found at Velveri, but the men were never found. They were presumed killed by the armed forces and Sinhalese home guards who patrol the area (see Sect. 15.6 for a similar incident in the same area in September 1987 where Sinhalese were among the victims).
On 24th May 1985 at Pankulam, west of Trincomalee, Air Force personnel shot and killed 9 Tamils, several of them from the family of Mr. Thamotherampillai, including his wife Parameswary, Mrs. Pandi Iya Abiramy (65), a two year old infant Jeyabalan and another lady Marimuthu Valli. It was also on this day that the violence shifted to Cottiar (Muthur) Division in the Trincomalee District, where home guards from the Allai colonisation scheme of the late 1950s were deployed in a series of incidents building up to the climax of 31st May – 3rd June 1985.
On 24th May two Tamil civilians from Kanguveli who went to Dehiwatte junction to do their marketing were done to death by Sin- halese home guards. The bodies were not recovered. On 25th May a father and his 12 year old son who set off from Allai LB3 (Lingapuram) to Kanguveli to invite their relatives for a function failed to reach their destination. Reports indi- cate that they were cut to death and buried near Kanguvelikulam by Sinhalese home guards.
On 26th May 40 houses belonging to Tamils at Poonagar, Ichchilampattai, were set on fire and completely destroyed by home guards from Mahindapura, a Sinhalese colony nearby. As though in a bid to orchestrate further violence, the Government announced fictitiously over the state media that about 40 houses of Sinhalese had been set on fire and destroyed at Mahindapura. On the same day, 4 Tamils from Lingapuram who went hunting never returned. They are presumed to have been done to death by Sinhalese home guards near the Allai- Kantalai Road. Also on the same day three Tamil youths fishing in the Koonithivu lagoon at Muthur were shot and killed by the Army for no reason.
On 27th May a public CTB bus was stopped at the 52nd Mile Post of the Batticaloa – Muthur (Trincomalee) Road, near Mahindapura by Sinhalese home guards and seven Tamil passengers were fired at. Six died, including Pushparaja, the driver of the bus, and the bodies were heaped and burnt. Krishnapillai, an employee of the Ichchilampattai V.C. escaped with gunshot and burn injuries.
Whence, at least 42 Tamils had been killed in the Trincomalee District by the armed forces and home guards over the eight days leading to the dramatic events of 31st May 1985. 14 of them by Sinhalese home guards in the Allai Scheme, around Killiveddy. Athulathmudali forgot to mention that nearly 80 Tamils had been killed by the security forces in the Trincomalee District before the attack on the Sinhalese colony of Dehiwatte.
On the night of 31st May 1985, a police party with home guards from Serunuwara entered Killiveddy Akkarai (South Bank) or Thanganagar around 8.30 PM and took away 37 persons including women. They were first taken to the police station and then driven towards Kantalai. They were massacred and burnt at Sambalpiddy past the Mahaveli Bridge on the Allai-Kantalai Road. On the same night the people of the area fled to places such as Pachchanoor and Thoppur five miles away, and also to Trincomalee town and beyond (see our Bulletin No.10 of March 1996).
Among those killed and burnt were the two young women, Miss. Uthayasuriya Selvarajah and Miss. Yogamalar Sivarajah. 50 houses were burnt. The details of the massacre were given by Rasiah alias Sinnavan who escaped with gunshot injuries through scrub and jungle. There had been no provocation and no attacks on Sinhalese in Trincomalee District prior to this incident.
On the same night of 31st May following the incident above, Tamil militants, believed to be of the TELO, opened fire at the Sinhalese villages of Mahindapura and Dehiwatte killing 5 civilians. The following morning there was much uncertainty, and those in the main Killiveddy village (north bank of the river) received a message that an attack on them was being planned. Most villagers fled to neighbouring Muslim villages for refuge. Those who remained believed that they would not be attacked.
About 2.00 PM, 1st June, the Army, Police, home guards and a Sinhalese mob from Dehiwatte approached Killiveddy. Mr. Mylvahanam Kanagasabai, Inquirer Into Sudden Deaths and MP Thangathurai’s ‘younger father’ (younger brother of his father) was seated talking to someone under a tree. Knowing the people in Dehiwatte well, since his work also took him there regularly, he did not want to run immediately. He slipped away and crept into a haystack. This was spotted by someone in the mob, which went and shot him dead. In all 10 persons, including 4 women, were shot dead. The women were Mrs. Kamala Rasiah and her daughter, and Raja Rajeswary Ammal, the wife of the local Hindu priest Subramania Sarma, and her daughter Prasanthi. About 125 houses were set on fire.
13 persons including 5 women, 3 with their husbands and another, Mrs. Sinniah, along with her daughter, Miss. Parameswari Sinniah, were taken to Dehiwatte. The 8 men were killed and the young women were raped. Later people from Killiveddy obtained help from some local Sinhalese to rescue the women. They went with cloth and sarongs to cover their naked bodies. One of them was found tied naked to a tree.
The murder of the Inquirer into Sudden Deaths symbolised the country’s coming of age. Sudden death had become so much the norm that this tribe of professionals could now be dis- pensed with.
Mr. Thangathurai who was then in Trincomalee spoke about the incident to the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and it received world-wide publicity. Just afterwards, he fled to Madras upon being tipped off that Mr. Athulathmudali had ordered his arrest for ‘spreading false rumours’. The approach was very similar to that towards Paul Nallanayagam.
The matter did not end there. According to Reuters, on Sunday 2nd June 1985 servicemen in civils opened fire at a passenger bus at 3rd Mile Post, a Sinhalese suburb north of Trinco town killing 13 civilians and injuring 9. The bus was in fact going from Trincomalee to Pt. Pedro. According to [TULF], on 3rd June, the bus was stopped by Sinhalese home guards at the 10th Mile Post on the Anuradhapura Road, taken into the jungle and the passengers were shot at. Among the 13 dead were several women.
On Monday and Tuesday (3rd and 4th June 1985), the Army with Sinhalese home guards attacked several villages between Mutur and Killiveddy killing about 35 persons with 200 said to be missing. Apart from Killiveddy, several other villages became deserted. Among them were Menkamam. Kanguveli, Pattitidal, Palathadichenai, Arippu, Poonagar, Mallikaitivu, Peruveli, Munampodivattai, Manatchenai and Parathipuram (see D.B.S. Jeyaraj, Island 7.6.85). [TULF] further records the destruction of Lingapuram (Allai LB3), Ichchilampattai, Karukkalmunai, Mawadichchenai, Mutthuchenai and Valaithottam, and that more than 1000 houses were burnt. Those who fled these villages were initially looked after by the neighbouring Muslim villages. There were 2500 refugees in Mutur town. Mr. Anthonymuttu, GA Batticaloa, said that about 1000 Tamil refugees had fled south across Verugal River towards Vaharai in the Batticaloa District. During the 13 days ending 4th June, more than 150 civilians had been killed in the Trincomalee District, about 5 of them Sinhalese.
We looked at this example closely because it gives us a graphic picture of the consequences of arming Sinhalese villages in close proximity to Tamil villages with whom they ordinarily got on well. Of course, the motives of the Govern- ment in arming Sinhalese civilians were far from innocent. As a boy, Thangathurai recalled visiting an uncle who lived in Pulaichchenai. Under the Allai Scheme, the name became the Sin- halese equivalent of Lime Garden – Dehiwatte. His father Arunachalem had been the local registrar residing in Killiveddy and the Sinhalese residents who had settled in Dehiwatte had been in and out of his place and his village. Relations had been generally good. As a politician Sinha- lese had been among his constituents and continued to seek his help into the 90s. Any friction in the course of time had its origins outside.
Over many years Thangathurai had repre- sented people from one of the most difficult areas from both inside and outside Parliament and had suffered with them. Some of his very close relatives were killed in the holocaust above. He was not a Tamil chauvinist. While remaining unswerving in his commitment to his people, he maintained friendships with Sinhalese and Muslims and tried to carry them along with him towards the fraternal coexistence that was a ne- cessity for the people in that area. Again elected MP in 1994, Thangathurai worked for the rehabilitation of the destroyed Tamil villages of Trincomalee District. His ability to maintain a good personal rapport with Sinhalese and Muslim MPs and ministers helped this endeavour. He was also committed to a lasting political settlement. As if to place their own stamp as well on the suffering of his people, the LTTE mur- dered him on 5th July 1997.
With the inception of the Tamil militant struggle on the one side and state oppression on the other, there were bound to be tensions. There were militant sympathies in Killiveddy towards mainly the PLOTE and also the TELO. Thangathurai’s brother Kumarathurai had been a long time activist and helped Plantation Tamil refugees to settle in Kumarapuram nearby where a massacre by the Army took place on 11th February 1996. Kumarathurai had been de- tained under the PTA in 1984. There is no evidence that militant sympathies in Killiveddy ever turned against the neighbouring Sinhalese. But arming the Sinhalese in the locality in early 1985 to function as a paramilitary extension of the State Forces did finally result in tragedy for both communities by increasing tension and pushing more Tamils into militant ranks, and giving the State a local arm to pursue its objectives.
The assault on civilians in the villages by the Police and the Army was part of deliberate strat- egy against the Tamil militancy. Dehiwatte was attacked on the night of 31st May and then on 11th June 1985. The second time 13 Sinhalese ci- vilians were killed. After this retaliation, the Sinhalese too became refugees.
This was the general pattern during that period which led to the whole-scale evacuation of Tamil villages in the Trincomalee District to Trinco town, Mullaitivu, Jaffna and India. The Sinhalese too often left for safer areas or lived on government rations next to army camps. Kumarathurai came out of prison in 1986 to find his village desolate, and left for Denmark. This was a crucial stage where the future of civilians in the conflict was being decided. We will come to a discussion of who was responsible later.
Two other reports during this period are of interest. The Sun of 6 Jun.85 reported that in a programme conducted by yet another security ministry – the ministry for internal security – Neil Weerasinghe, DIG (Metropolitan), was to conduct courses for 4000 home guards in the use of firearms in batches of 100. It was envisaged that there would eventully be 13, 000 armed home guards.
P.R.M. Jayesekere reported (Island 5.6.85) on a petition to President Jayewardene by 300 Sinhalese encroacher families from 5th Mile Post, Trincomalee-Colombo Road. They had no doubt been brought by agents and settled on crown land that had been vested with the Ports Au- thority while D.J. Bandaragoda was Government Agent. It was difficult for Jayewardene to legalise these encroachments while India had the ear of Tamil spokesmen and was taking an active interest. The petitioners demanded regularisation rather than eviction pointing out that they had already built a Buddhist temple.
Expressing shock that they, the petitioners, were being asked to quit, they interestingly pointed out that this was contrary to the policy announced in late 1984 by National Security Minister Athulathmudali. This was that he planned to settle 200,000 Sinhalese in the North as a means to eliminating terrorism. Significantly, the Ports Authority also came under Athulathmudali.
Such regularisation was made possible only when President Premadasa and the LTTE together got India disengaged from the Tamil issue. In January 1993, Premadasa released 700 acres of acquired Ports Authority lands for regularisation of Sinhalese encroachments.
To be continued..