By UTHR(J) –
The account below, taken from UTHR (Jaffna Report No.6) of February 1991 was one of the early reports to appear in print.
1. Early Signs:
If this particular episode has any historical parallels, one may be the treatment of Jews in Germany during the interval separating Hitler’s accession to power and the outbreak of war in 1939. During this period of rising harassment and intimidation, large numbers of Jews, Albert Einstein among them, left everything they had and left Germany for good. Why did the politics of Tamil liberation have to take such a course? We have seen that once the politics was on the course of defying ground realities, it deepened divisions, created hatreds and fears. Then these in turn came in handy for mobilisation of support. The use of caste, subtle though it is, is there, but has not been made a part of political discourse. Although the LTTE has a large number of recruits from the lower castes, as it once had many Muslims, many high caste Tamils would condone measures against EPRLF supporters on the presumption that they are low caste. In recent months about a dozen and a half Tamil households from Chavakacheri have been reportedly taken into custody after expropriation. Such moves of collective action without reference to norms of justice, had moved the struggle into a new league of depravity, and perversion.
Where the East was concerned, there was a conflict of interests between Muslims and Tamils, but at a manageable level. The chain of events involving the LTTE’s antipathy to Muslim political groupings, the massacre of Muslim policemen and the government’s use of Muslim home guards, the LTTE’s massacre of Muslim passengers at Kurukkal Madam, counter massacres by home guards on government instigation and so on, led to a total breakdown of communal relations in the East. Like the government in the South, the LTTE in the North, gave its one sided presentation of developments. It became an unspoken cliché that Muslims were traitors. A number of intellectuals and the printed word began to break a 35 year old tradition which categorised Muslims as part of the Tamil speaking nation. Now they began to say that Muslims were different.
But in every way Muslims and Tamils in the North had been traditionally totally integrated into local life as interdependent communities. There were Muslim traders, tailors, iron mongers, labourers and scholars. More recently, several of them took to farming in the Killinochchi area. As part of the arena of culture and scholarship, Muslims formed an important component of the University of Jaffna. There was no conflict at all. Jaffna, once bereft of its Sinhalese, and now of its Muslims, would indeed be a poor sort of place. It may be added, that, businessmen being as sharp as they are, several Muslim businessmen, like several of their Tamil counterparts, had read the signs years ago, and were in the process of shifting capital to the South. This does not apply to small traders and poorer Muslims.
The fact that the first incidents began at Chavakacheri is also connected with the LTTE boosting its presence and facilities in a big way in Thenmaratchi. Military dispositions had also been prepared ostensibly to abandon Valikamam if the government forces made a serious thrust. The social environment was also relatively more conducive to the mobilisation of vigilantes. The explusion of entire families connected with EPRLF persons is also significant.
On 4th September, vigilantes beat up Muslims worshippers inside the Chavakacheri Mosque. The vigilantes were handed over by Muslims to the local LTTE camp. Some elders called for an inquiry. The elders were reportedly told, “You are a minority. Those who beat you up are from the majority community. It is therefore not appropriate for us to take action against them.” Such thinking suggests that many of the present cadre do not know the history of anti-Tamil violence since 1958. The incident was not reported in the media.
By the end of September, the Muslims in Chavakacheri were warned that they should be prepared for an expulsion order. Following the end of the first week in October, a very senior LTTE leader visited Vakarai in the Batticaloa district in the East where anti-Muslim feeling was rife following recent incidents. This strongly suggests that the LTTE regarded some major action against Muslims as a means of regaining its tattered credibility in the East. On 15th October, Muslims in Chavakacheri were asked to leave the peninsula. They were forced out without being able to carry hard earned valuable items such as fridges and fans. The following report was given by sources from that area:
“The Muslims’ houses were looted and ransacked and they were treated in the most brutal manner. In effect, the liberators behaved like an invading army on the binge. The LTTE cadre pocketed whatever article, such as scent bottles, that they could pocket. In one house, the bridal attire (koorai) of a young lady, married on 30th June, was removed. The owners had been asked to vacate their houses, leaving the woman of the house in charge when the LTTE came to take the inventory. One man had taken his wife leaving a 60 year old lady behind. When asked, he replied, `Since they are behaving like an invading army, like the IPKF and the Sri Lankan army, there is no guarantee that my wife would be safe’.”
3. Mannar, 21st – 28th October:
The accounts given in this section and the next have been pieced together from Tamil sources in Jaffna and Mannar, and Muslim refugees now in the South.
In order to carry out this `operation’ which the LTTE has understandably been silent about, it drew on some imperial traditions. LTTE cadre from the East with anti-Muslim feelings, who had been involved in massacres of Muslims, were inducted into the North. Local leaders without reason or feeling to make a distinction between Muslims and Tamils were puzzled and sometimes disturbed, but were ordered to co-operate. In Mannar Muslim iron- mongers and craftsmen had even manufactured weapons for the LTTE.
Shortly after cadre from Karikalan’s Eastern group had been inducted into Mannar, they pounced upon the Muslim village at Erukkalampiddy at 11.00 p.m. on 21st October. It is reported that about 300 cadre took part in the operation. 70% of the 1200 households were robbed of mainly cash and jewellery, and were also threatened.
Fathima Umaloo was a widow of 29 with a baby, who earned a living pounding rice flour and fetching firewood. Much of her capital consisted of a 1 1/2 sovereign gold chain. This was plucked off her.
Proctor Saburdeen was a leading local citizen, whose brother was present when the LTTE arrived. The house had some cases of electrical items, left there for safety by Tamils in preparation for the Sri Lankan army’s long expected arrival. The brother not knowing this, denied having electrical items. After searching, an LTTE man placed a pistol over his head and fired. In a state of shock, the brother helped them to all they wanted.
C.S. Suleyman and sons, a trader in electrical items, had cleared his shop in preparation for the Sri Lankan army’s arrival and had stored his goods at his son-in-law’s at Erukkalampiddy. After the LTTE’s operation, he started distributing his goods free to locals. On receiving intelligence of this, the LTTE warned him to get the things back by 5.00 p.m. on the 24th.
On the 24th at 4.00 p.m, the LTTE made a public announcement by loud-speaker: “All Muslims living in Mannar island should leave by 28th October. Before leaving, they must seek permission and clearance at the LTTE Office. The LTTE will decide their exit route.”
Most Tamils were utterly disturbed by this. A meeting of local citizens was arranged for the 25th morning. The Bishop who was at Madhu could not come. Those who met included Roman Catholic clergy, officials from Save the Children Fund, Christian laymen and other leading citizens. Following the meeting at MARR centre, a delegation went to see the local LTTE leader Suresh (former student, Univ. of Jaffna) and asked for the order to be rescinded. Suresh explained that it is an order from the hierarchy and it was beyond his control. A Jaffna citizen who was there started faltering, saying that if the leadership had decided, then they must leave it. But some of the Roman Catholic clergy in particular pressed the matter, demanding that if he was not in control, then to reveal who was in control. Suresh replied that the Mannar group was not involved, but the Batticaloa group was in charge. The clergy demanded that he should arrange a meeting for them with whoever can make a decision and argued why the expulsion was unacceptable. Suresh finally said, “The decision is unalterable, because it is a prophetic decision by the leader himself.” This, he said, they would understand in the fullness of time. However, he promised a reprieve of the order for two days for further consultations. The delegation immediately went to the Mosque at Erukkalampiddy, and asked the Muslims to stay put.
The LTTE was placed in an awkward position with Tamils confronting its order to the Muslims. But the LTTE was not short of tricks up its sleeve. The LTTE pounced on Erukkalampiddy for the second time on the 26th night, and robbed it of goods which were this time conveniently packed up. After day break, the Muslims told Fr.Croos that after this second time they could not possibly stay, adding that these chaps who had killed in the East were merely asking them to go. They may as well thankfully go with their lives intact. Fr.Croos approached the LTTE again and obtained an extension until 2nd November. Ironically, a good proportion of the goods looted by the LTTE were goods left by Tamils with Muslim friends for safety, in anticipation of looting by the Sri Lankan army. Each Muslim family was allowed to take one sovereign of gold, Rs.2,000/- cash and five travel bags per family. Printed forms were given for clearance.
On 28th October, the Tigers sealed Erukkalampiddy village and Tamils were forbidden to go into the Muslim area. All dealings with Muslims were banned. Tamils were allowed to remove their own goods only with permission. A boy, who had removed his family’s goods given for safe-keeping, was badly assaulted the previous day. He had first been stopped and asked to go to the LTTE camp. Instead he thought of taking the cart home and going to the camp later.
The Muslims from Puthukudiruppu, Tharapuram, Uppukulam and Erukkalampiddy were taken to the beach at a place near Erukkalampiddy known as `Five Coconut Trees’, and were left there until they could find boats. They had to spend nights in the open in rainy weather with no conveniences and no boutique to obtain food and water. On the 28th the MARR (Mannar Association for Refugee Rehabilitation) purchased all the bread baked in Mannar and obtained the LTTE’s permission to take bread and water to the Muslims. Over three days, the Muslims made their exit to Kalpitiya, 60 miles South, by sea. Boats owned by Muslim fishermen in Mannar and Kalpitiya were used. The journey was often hazardous in crowded boats. There was at least one case of a parent numbed by cold, dropping a child into the sea and not knowing it for some time. To the old and the sickly, who had not known any place in the world, but Mannar Island, the emotional and physical strain of the removal may prove fatal.
On the mainland of Mannar, which included centres with large Muslim populations such as Vidathalthivu, Adampan, Mullikulam, Vaddakandal, Periyamadu, Parappankandal and Murunkan, an announcement was made on the 25th that Muslims should surrender all their vehicles, fuel, electrical items and bicycles at the local Mosque or school. The following day, 26th, they were asked to register at the local LTTE Office and leave, using travel arrangements provided by the LTTE. They were first taken to Madhu, where they were checked. They were next checked thoroughly at Pandivirichchan. Cash and jewellery above what was permitted was removed and receipts were issued. the next check at Vavuniya amounted to further robbery. LTTE cadre arbitrarily removed what they wished – cash, jewellery and even thermos flasks. Many Muslims were stranded in Vavuniya with nowhere to go. Many who had places to go to, did not have the cash to pay their train fare.
4. Jaffna, 30th October:
On 30th morning at 7.30 a.m. a loud speaker announcement called upon all Muslims to assemble at Osmania stadium. This they did in a state of puzzlement. The meeting was addressed by LTTE leaders Karikalan and Anjaneyar. Karikalan had been in charge of Batticaloa operations. Karikalan told them that all Muslims would have to leave Jaffna. They can go to their so-called leader Ashraff, he said, who would provide them with food and shelter in the Amparai or Batticaloa districts. They were told that no harm would be done to them as Muslims in the East had done to Tamils through looting, killing and rape. Their lives were being given to them as a beggarly portion, he added. Finally, they were given two hours to leave. They were informed that all their possessions were earned in Tamil Eelam, and were given the concession of taking along Rs.500/- and perhaps a sovereign of gold. They were released at 10.00 a.m.
The reasoning closely paralleled the justifications given for the July 1983 violence against Tamils in general. The LTTE leaders spoke in the same threatening vein that several government ministers did at that time. These LTTE leaders may not know Tamil history. But they had an unerring instinct for what was required on such occasions.
The Muslims were dumbfounded and were too shaken to decide in two hours what to take and what not to. Tamil friends and neighbours who too were very upset and attempted to go to the Muslims were prevented. At 12.00 p.m. Muslims were to report to check points at Manohara Theatre, Oddumadam and Five Junction, with a few others. Many were checked at their homes before they left. At Manohara the men were asked to park their bicycles on the other side of the road and were checked on the road itself. The woman were taken inside to be examined by female cadre. The treatment was humiliating and the looters behaved as though people retaining their meagre hard earned possessions were criminals. One woman was made to remove her brassiers and part with jewellery hidden inside. One Tigress started removing the ear studs of a Muslim girl. Losing patience after removing one, she pulled the other, leaving the girl with a torn, bleeding ear. Documents removed from people included their property deeds as well as Janasakthi (Janasaivya) documents. Some female cadre crowed triumphantly that the Muslims were being taught a lesson for not contributing the two sovereigns of gold asked for earlier. This was why, they said, they had cleverly given them only two hours notice.
A tailor from Five Junction who had shops in Urumpirai, Chunnakam and Pt.Pedro, has lost all his capital and has six children to mind. When the exodus was about to begin, his family was already in a van and he arranged some things on the hood before getting in. He was pushed out by an LTTE cadre despite his pleas and was asked to wait for another vehicle. He got into a lorry at 9.00 p.m. He landed in a refugee camp in Colombo. By the end of two weeks, he had obtained no information about his family.
Thameema (37), wife of Namlan (49), is mentally depressed and is being given medical attention. During the final check Rs.25,000/- worth of cash and jewels which they had hidden was robbed. Thameema’s friend and neighbour Asia (37) died of grief during the journey. Asia’s body was interred in Colombo. Members of the Muslim community also complained that some of their young were beaten on suspicion and were detained.
According to Muslim sources 15 Muslims from Jaffna, 3 from Chavakacheri and 10 from Mannar were detained for ransom payments totalling several tens of million rupees. Amongst Muslims detained were Mubeen, big businessman and former UNP organiser from Jaffna, Sultan from Chavakacheri, Subraan (Jamalthees Nabi), an Islamic leader, (Sinna) Thaheer, tailor and Teliz.
Mubeen’s wife once pleaded with the LTTE to show her husband once. She was asked to sell their capital in Colombo and produce Rs.10 million.
5. General Reactions & Future Prospects:
Throughout this entire operation Muslims underwent a great deal of anxiety. Communications were so bad that Muslims in one area did not know what was happening to those in others. Muslims in Jaffna did not know what was happening to those in Mannar and those on Mannar island had no communication with those on the mainland. 46% of the population in Mannar District (Total: About 150,000) was Muslim. Their anxieties began when anti-Muslim press articles started appearing. Then a Muslim businessman in Chavakacheri was victimised and a story was spread that he was giving information through a walkie-talkie. Except for the vigilantes and their admirers, people were sceptical. The Muslims had also paid little attention to happenings in the East. They had next to no connections with the Muslims in the East. Some said, “We have never seen them nor had married among them”. To think of Northern Muslims as supporters of Ashraff’s SLMC was sheer paranoia on the LTTE’s part. The SLMC’s politics offered no attractions to the Northern Muslims, just as the politics of Tamil Eelam offered nothing to the Hill country Tamils and even the Eastern Tamils had grave practical doubts. The Northern Muslims had never evinced a desire to be politically active, or to challenge Tamil nationalism. It is said that when a Muslim was MP for Mannar, he was very cordial with the Tamils and understandably did a lot to enhance Muslim trade – his main concern. The LTTE’s paranoia parallels that of the government which encouraged massive violence against Hill Country Tamils in 1983 for something that happened in Jaffna. Amongst the Muslim communities expelled was one in Vattakachchi, that was involved in agriculture, rather than trade.
During this operation the Northern Muslims were left in no doubt about who was responsible for the massacres of Muslims in the East. This was used to threaten them both implicitly as well as explicitly. the importance of Karikalan’s boys in the first move itself had a macabre message. The mood among expelled Muslims ranges from resignation to extreme bitterness. Some say, “We must be thankful that our lives were spared.” The bulk of them feel very upset at the thought they were fully integrated into the life of the North and had lived beside Tamils and then, this had happened to them. Some feel a sense of satisfaction that their Tamil neighbours had largely stood by them. Others nurse bitterness against Tamil civilians whom they feel were only too glad of an opportunity to rob their property – similar to some Muslim sections backing the actions of Muslim home guards in the East.
It is now inevitable that Muslims of the North will become politicised even if interests are too divergent for them to find common cause with Eastern Muslims. Nearly all of them want the Sri Lankan army to overrun the North. If the army is in occupation, sheer economic need may impel them to go back to their homes. Though provenly a disaster, the idea of Muslim home guards is already being sold to the Mannar Muslims. The television showed the Minister of Islamic Affairs telling the home guard recruits, “The security forces have problems, such as language, when they operate there. So you must help them.” The risk for the Eastern cycle repeating itself in the North must now be taken seriously. If that happens there will be much bloodshed in areas such as Mannar.
Even if it is indifferent to human suffering, why did the LTTE choose such a course? The short answer is that in its experience it has nothing to lose by such a move, although the Tamils would have lost by turning Muslims from friends into sworn enemies. How the government has and would use such a cleavage is predictable. This, the LTTE too would welcome. More civilian frustration would mean more support and more recruits. That is the nature of the politics which must compensate for its unsoundness by fracturing society and making some sections more dependent on it. The motive of robbery too would have weighed critically in these proceedings. Kidnapping, ransom, taxation and activities of such ilk have been a major part of the LTTE’s thrust from the time that the IPKF’s departure was imminent. Earlier, it had the, often active, support of the government. The manner in which the Sri Lankan government is handling the current situation, may drive all the communities in the North-East to look back on the days of the IPKF presence, as by comparison, halcyon days, with all its attendant consequences.
To Tamils with their religious sensibilities, shuttered dwellings emptied of living souls and silent Mosques that no longer make their calls to prayer, remain a haunting presence, boding some future ill.
Late Addition: According t Muslim refugee sources, their elders are extremely worried about large numbers of their sons going for training in the use of arms. They describe this trend as unstoppable as it was with Tamil youth in the wake of July 1983. They have no illusions about where it will lead to. Many of them reportedly have expressed a willingness to talk to the LTTE if there is some prospect of a compromise that will halt this trend.
These sources are not clear about who is responsible for the training. The government which is far from happy about independent Muslim political groupings would certainly not encourage any armed activity by Muslims outside home guard units and the armed forces.