By Rajan Hoole –
1989: The Eclipse of the JVP and the Perplexity of the Left – Part 2
The JVP did not respond to Premadasa’s call, but instead launched on a course of terror, disruption and paralysing the economy. It sought to neutralise the security forces with an editorial proclamation in its bulletin Ranabima of 21st April 1989, threatening the families security forces personnel active in counter-insurgency operations. Named in particular were the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) and the Special Task Force (STF). Chandraprema (see Bibliography) adds that such a threat had also been made in 1988.
During the same period (April – July 1989) the JVP put out another leaflet alleging that the Government was weeding out and killing off members of the armed forces considered anti- government. There is speculation that the Government took advantage of the JVP’s threat to loyal personnel and actually used it to eliminate suspect personnel and to spread the impression that the JVP was targetting soldiers and their families. An army major in the Southern Province confided to a journalist that his troops encountered men coming from a village. They found on checking them out that they were soldiers. These soldiers were returning to their unit after killing a soldier on leave with his family. The blame was put on the JVP. How organised or widespread such practices were, we do not know.
The JVP made a final putsch in late July, on the second anniversary of the Indo-Lanka Accord, by calling for a total stoppage of all activity by forcing people out on the street to demonstrate on pain of death. Scores of these demonstrators were shot dead by Government troops. This was followed in early August by rumours of the JVP threatening the families of service personnel who do not desert. Chandraprema has quoted JVP’s deputy leader Gamanayake as having said that this threat was not intended to be carried out, but again to neutralise active sections of the security forces.
Gunaratne (see Bibliography) tells us that the threat was repeated several times on the JVP radio. Having examined the evidence, the Disappearance Commission for the Central Zone opines that this threat was a Government ploy to make the security forces go on the offensive.
At the height of the JVP’s attempted destabilisation, police officers in and around Colombo given the task of fighting the JVP had to live at the end of their wits. They found that they could not hold conferences in police stations as the JVP had informants inside. They found themselves having conferences at odd hours in places like Galle Face Green and the Parliament Esplanade.
Unlike during 1988 when a large section of the elite was willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the JVP, in 1989 its excesses had left them feeling insecure. The Government was therefore able to obtain help from a wide spectrum of society including the opposition parties and particularly the Left in crushing the JVP. The Government was thus able to deploy methods from the crudest to the highly sophisticated. The links were maintained through individuals having the sophistication to handle different groups of people accordingly.
At the crudest level it was a matter of killing off suspects, mainly the rank and file, detained in round-ups and through lists submitted. As the Disappearance Commission Reports show, many of the killings were on account of personal vendetta, jealousy and political and caste rivalry. Several UNP MPs, cabinet ministers and chief ministers had been implicated in such killings before the commissions. Testimony before the Kobbekaduwe Commission had also spoken of collusion between a chief minister, his wife and a co-ordinating officer resulting in the detention and torture of several youths for purposes of extortion. Such practices against defenceless people were widespread. Whatever the truth in particular allegations, after so many years of delay it is very unlikely that the families of the victims will get much support in proving these charges in a court of law. The ruling class had after all made its opposition to any probe of these violations loud and clear.
The practice of reprisals against civilians, which had been perfected in the Tamil areas in earlier years, were also used in the South. One massacre mentioned by Gunaratne took place in Mahawatte, a village 4 miles from Kandy, in retaliation for the JVP’s killing of an army-family and a police-family. One afternoon, it is said, the security forces surrounded the village, killed 200 men, women and children and set fire to their houses. 80% of the village were from the service castes.
This was far from being an isolated event. During the latter half of 1989 an army volunteer who was an assistant registrar at Peradeniya University was killed. Shortly afterwards 15 heads of victims killed by the security forces were placed around the fountain on the main road between Jayatilleke and Arunachalem Halls. Also during 1989 Colonel (now Major General) Janaka Perera who was then Co- ordinating Officer, North Western Province, addressed the villagers of Nikerawetiya and told them that ten of them would be sacrificed for each soldier killed. Subsequently about 20 Sinhalese youths were taken to the Nikerawetiya army camp, assaulted with iron bars and killed (Magistrate’s Court hearing, CDN 20.01.96). There is then the Eppawela massacre in the North Central Province, which Mrs. Bandaranaike raised in Parliament (Sun 24.03.89). On 20.3.89, 17 civilians, including a woman, were killed after 3 policeman were killed in a JVP landmine blast. A week earlier, 7 civilians were killed in Mahavilachiya after a JVP attack on a police patrol.
A colonel (now a general) recalled to a journalist a meeting of Deputy Minister Ranjan Wijeratne with security officials. “How many hard-core JVPers are there?”, he asked, and the answer was given as 7 to 10 thousand. He then asked, “How many such JVPers are there on the average among 10 persons arrested?” After receiving an answer, he reflected that they might have to kill off 70,000 youths to finish off the JVP. It was a killing spree with all the evils of impunity, treachery, greed and the basest in people thrown into it. Even well-placed individuals in Colombo are reported to have been inquiring about village boys who had ceased to be active and were in hiding, in order to collect the Rs 10,000 reward for information on a JVPer.
Among leading politicians identified as standing out in respect of disappearances in commission reports are G.D. Mahindasoma, Chief Minister North Central Province; A.M.W. Adhikari, cabinet minister; H.G.P. Nelson, MP for Polonnaruwa and Percy Samaraweera, Chief Minister, Uva Province. Testimony before the Batalanda Commission has implicated Ranil Wickremasinghe who was then minister of industries in a ‘Black Cat’ operation at a bungalow originally meant for Fertiliser Corporation officials. Mr. Wickremasinghe used a house about 100-150 yards away from the torture camp with the lettering ‘Black Cats’ painted in green. Witnesses testified to seeing torture victims, a severed head and even a human scalp at the torture bungalow.
However once it was all over, all the rest wanted to distance themselves from it, leaving the Government and the security forces holding the blame. General Wanasinghe has recently (Daily Mirror 9.10.99) added to the voices of those who said that had not the armed forces done what they did to restore order and democracy, future generations would have cursed them. But can we talk away the total perversion of every norm of morality, justice and law enforcement so easily? In the security services themselves many were horrified.
Shortly after the change of government in 1994, a remarkable article by a Senior Gazetted Officer in the Police appeared in the Island of 5th September 1994. The facts themselves are not surprising, but what was remarkable is that they appeared in print. It read: “…On the contrary the police hierarchy held the murderers and miscreants in high esteem and granted rewards to many top ranking DIGs and SPs from the Police Reward Fund from which they were not entitled to receive any rewards. It was a normal occurrence in those ignoble days [latter 80s] for certain DIGs and SPs who cowered before rank and riches to do a pilgrimage to Police Headquarters daily in the morning and verbally report to the IGP regarding the number of people killed, burnt, decapitated or made to float down rivers… The hierarchy was so anxious to reward the Gestapo leaders that one DIG, who made an application for a reward of Rs. 200,000 at 9.00 A.M. on a given day, was awarded an enhanced reward of Rs. 300,000 by the Defence Ministry the same evening…
“It is now generally conceded that it was a former President [i.e. Jayewardene] who started the rot in the Police Service by rewarding those who flouted the law openly. As a matter of fact at an open conference of high security personnel, he said in response to a plea made by an army officer that they must make a concerted effort to win the hearts and minds of the youth, that the security personnel must first start doing that by ‘crushing their balls’. Mr. R. Premadasa continued this repugnant policy on an extended scale….”
Was it even remotely conceivable that such noxious perversion of public responsibility could be swept under the carpet and life could go on as before? Every section of the elite and every political tendency was tainted by it. Sadly, instead of facing up to the whole history of events which are part and parcel of what happened in July 1983 and the repression of 1982, people started playing games, thus perpetuating the same legacy.
A word must be said about Left intellectuals who co-operated with the State in its crackdown on the JVP. They faced a dilemma. They had been amongst the most forceful critics of the State. Their lives were threatened by the JVP. But there was also an altruistic argument for what several of them did. The UNP Government was equipped to do mainly one thing. That was to go on killing in the hope that a fraction of the victims would be JVPers. There was the justification adopted by some members of the Left that if they had stood aside, the Government would have killed several times more innocent youth, but because they worked with the Government to tackle the matter intelligently, lives were saved and the damage limited. Their argument was that instead of going for the rank and file, the JVP should be contained by strategies to subvert and trap the leadership.
As said earlier, there were several operations against the JVP going on in parallel since the spring of 1989. We will describe two in which the Left was involved. Others have been largely covered in the literature.
To be continued..