29 February, 2024


The Other Side Of Ethnic Cleansing

By Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

The Colombo Telegraph published a statement issued by the National Peace Council titled “Deal with the Muslim Expulsion also through Geneva process” and the comments that followed.

Amarasiri in his comment rightly claims that “Ethnic Cleansing is a WAR CRIME. Period. Refer to war Crimes.”

The expulsion of Muslims from the North was ethnic cleansing even if that was retaliation for violence against Thamils in the east by Muslim Home Guards aided and abetted by the armed forces. Thamils living along Muslim border villages were forcibly driven away and their homes and paddy fields appropriated by marauding Muslim goons.

Twelve years after the summary expulsion of the Muslims from the Northern Province, the LTTE held a meeting at Kilinochchi on April 13, 2002 presided by Prabhakaran. The meeting was meant to mend fences between the two communities and was attended by SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, Athaullah, Uthumalebbe. Mohideen Abdul Cader, Basheer Segu Dawood, Masoor Noordeen and Masoor Moulana. Also present were Anton Balasingham, Political Advisor, S.P.Thamilchelvan, Head of Political Department and District Commanders of the LTTE.

Following the talks between the two sides, Anton Balasingham on behalf of the LTTE expressed profound regret and also apologised to the Muslims. “I made an apology to the Muslim people that what has happened in the past has to be forgotten, that we are willing to talk to them and resolve their problems,” Mr Balasingham said, assuring Muslims that they could return to their homes in the North. He stressed that the Tamil homeland and the Tamil territory in the North-East “belonged to the Muslim people also.”

Mr Hakeem said that they are willing to forgive the LTTE. “We have told them unequivocally that we are prepared to forgive and not forget (the past)… We have bitter memories of the past. But it is time we contended with the ground realities. That would mean that the LTTE also has to look at Muslims and their separate political identity as something that has become quite pronounced over a period of time,” he said in an interview.

At a function held last week to mark the 25th  anniversary of the expulsion of  Muslims from the North, Sumanthiran, TNA MP told Express “Just as  the NPC  passed a resolution condemning the genocide conducted against the Thamils, the NPC should pass a resolution condemning the en masse expulsion of Muslims by the LTTE which amounts to ethnic cleansing. If the NPC does not do it, the world will not take the Thamils’ contention that they had been subjected to genocide, seriously.” “The Thamils cannot condemn the misdeeds of the Sinhalese majority while ignoring the misdeeds of the Tamil majority,” the Jaffna district MP further said.

This is not the first time Sumanthiran, TNA MP has articulated his principled stand on this subject, and he has done so previously also. Delivering his commemorative address to mark the 36th death anniversary of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam held in Vantharumoolai he said; Recognising the expulsion of the Northern Muslims from the five districts of the North – Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi as an act of ethnic cleansing is overdue. The Thamil community needs to acknowledge its own mistakes and take steps to correct them, including in not neglecting the Muslim community. He emphasized that unless the Thamil community does this, it would have no moral right to expect others, including the international community to take up their grievances.
The Secretariat for Muslims (SFM) issued a statement welcoming Sumanthiran’s speech and described same as important steps in rebuilding and reconciling relations between the Thamil and Muslim communities in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Mr. Sumanthiran’s gesture provides an example to other political and civil society leaders of the measures that need to be taken to strengthen peace in Sri Lanka.

For some time now, the unorthodox and frank views by Sumanthiran have earned the ire of the counter-part of Wimal Weerawansas among a section of die-hard Thamil nationalists living in Diaspora. Unfazed, Sumanthiran continues to look at the problems faced by the Thamils from the other side of the great divide as well.

As rightly pointed out by Dr.Gnana Sankaralingam, the LTTE gave strict orders to leave Muslim owned properties intact. Not a single Thamil was allowed to occupy or appropriate those properties. This is in stark contrast to confiscation of privately owned Thamil properties by the Muslims in the eastern province where the Thamils were at the receiving end of both Muslims and Sinhalese.

If ethnic cleansing is a war crime, then the successive governments since independence are guilty of ethnically cleansing the Thamils from the North and East, especially the East. Large scale state-aided colonization schemes were implemented by the government creating Sinhalese colonies in Gal Oya, Allai, Kantalai, Padaviya etc. Due to this colonization, two electorates were created for the Sinhalese, Seruwila (1976) in the Trincomalee district and  Digamadulla (1978)  in the Amparai  district in the eastern province. Amparai district was carved out of the southern part of Batticaloa district in April 1961.  By the late 1960s the government has settled 67,000 Sinhalese in major colonization schemes covering an area of 300,000 acres (1214 Sq.Kms). The following demographic changes in the East since 1946 say it all.

Census Sri LankaWhile the Sinhalese population has increased from 61,996 (29.28%) to 251,018 (38.73%) between 1963 and 2012 the Thamil population increased from 49,185 (23.23) to 112, 750 (17.40%) a drop of 5.83%! The demographic situation for the Thamils in the Trincomalee district was a total disaster as the following Table 2 shows.

Table 2
Population of Trincomalee District by ethnic group 1827 to 2012

Census Sri LankaSince 1946 the population of Thamils have steadily decreased from 44.51% in 1946 (1881 – 64.44%) to 32.29% in 2012 a dramatic drop of 12.22 % largely due to state aided Sinhala colonization.  Thus, Thamils are now in a minority in two out of 3 districts in the Eastern province.

In the Eastern province, the Thamils are just 39.79% in 2012 in comparison to 48.75% a drop of 8.96% while the Sinhalese count 23.15% compared to just 8.40% in 1946 before Gal Oya /Allai-Kantalai Sinhalese colonization. The following Table 3 shows the demographic changes in the population of Eastern Province:

Census Sri LankaAfter completing major colonization in the East, the government set its eyes on the North. While it took several years to colonize the East, the colonization in the North was in record time.

Ethnic Cleansing of Thamils in Manal Aru re-named Weli Oya is only one of several state-aided Sinhalese colonization schemes launched in the traditional homelands of the Thamils since independence. Weli Oya is hemmed between Anuradhapura, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee and Vavuniya Districts. It is called the “border village” (s) since the territory north of Weli Oya is peopled by Thamils.

A total of 13,288 Tamil families living in 42 villages for generations including Kokkulai Grama Sevakar Division (1516 Tamil families), Kokku –Thoduvai Grama Sevakar Division (3306 Tamil families), Vavuniya North Grama Sevakar Division (1342 Tamil families) and other Divisions of Mullaitivu District including Naiyaru and Kumulamunai (2011 Tamil families) were asked to vacate their homes and farmlands within 48 hours, on pain of eviction by force in case of default. This threat was issued by the army over the public address system.

Simultaneously, land given to 14 Thamil entrepreneurs, including Kent Farm and Dollar Farm, on 99 years lease was also cancelled and taken over by the government. Settlements in the Weli Oya began in 1984 as a dry zone farmer colony under the land Commission, but it was later acquired by the Mahaveli Economic Agency in 1988 and declared as the Mahaveli ‘L’ zone.

The Mahaveli ‘L’ zone was established specially for coconut cultivation and each Sinhalese family was given 5 acres of land consisting of ½ acre for residence, one-acre of irrigated land and 3 ½ acres for coconut.

The Mahaveli Economic Agency (MEA) financed all development projects while Mahaveli Engineering and Construction Agency (MECA) handled all the construction works such as roads, electricity, houses etc. In 1998 alone Rs. 72 million was allocated for construction of roads.

The Sinhalese army did translate its threat and used force as promised. Thousands of Tamil villagers, some of them Hill country Thamil refugees’ victims of earlier Sinhalese violence in 1983, were driven out or they on their own fled in terror. Some were murdered by the army. One night alone 29 Tamil villagers were killed at Othiyamalai, a hamlet situated north of the Weli Oya colony.

By the same gazette notification Weli Oya was proclaimed the 26th District of Sri Lanka and for administrative purpose brought under the jurisdiction of the Government Agent, Anuradhapura. However, for election purpose it was included in the Vavuniya Electoral District!

The evil-minds and the driving force behind the Weli Oya Sinhalese colonization were Messrs. Gamini Dissanayake, Minister for Mahaweli Development, Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister of National Security, Cyril Mathew, Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs and N.G.P. Panditaratne, Chairman Mahaweli Development Board.

The ‘gang of four’ openly advocated the colonization of the North and East in general and Weli Oya in particular by Sinhalese settlers after driving the Thamils out by using the Sinhalese army.
Industries Minister Cyril Mathew diverted millions of rupees allocated to various Corporations under his Ministry to finance Weli Oya colonization scheme. In addition, institutions like All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Bhikku Peramuna etc. helped in providing financial and other material aid to the Sinhalese settlers.

From 1988-89 Sinhala colonization of Weli Oya was put on a war-footing. A total of 3364 families, most of them ex-convicts brought straight from prisons, were settled in Weli Oya. A further 35,000 persons comprising 5,925 families were also settled under the same scheme. It is in recognition of the ‘yeoman services’ rendered by the top elite of the Sinhala army, especially that of Major General Janaka Perera, the Tamil village of Thannimurippu was re-named Janakapura in his honour!

During the war years, SLA troops as a matter of policy provided arms and military training to Sinhalese colonists in the border villages including Weli Oya. Three-thousand Colonists in Gonagala in the Amparai district were provided with arms and given weapons training despite the fact most of them have criminal records. The irony of it is these Sinhalese are farming in land once owned by the Thamils after driving them out with the help of the armed forces!

On 22 April 2013 before election to the Northern Provincial Council the then president Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over 3000 land deeds to Weli Oya settlers at a ceremony held at Sampath Nuwara Mahaweli grounds in the former conflict-affected Weli Oya. 

The Weli Oya administrative division consisting of 8 Grama Niladari divisions is carved out from the Padaviya AGA Division (Divisional Secretariat Division) of the Anuradhapura district. Earlier in 1987, this administrative division was part of Padaviya and was brought under the Anuradhapura administrative district.

With the  creation of Weli Oya AGA Division, the Mullaitivu district consist of six AGA Divisions (Maritimepattu, Puthukkudiyiruppu, Oddusuddan, Thunukkai, Maanthai East and Weli Oya ) with a total of 136 Grama Sevakar Divisions, constituting 2616.6 Sq.Kms of total area (3.8% of the Island) and a population of 126,582 in 2014. The district had 127 GSDs and a population of 220,311 people as at December 31, 2007.

Mullaitheevu district was the worse affected district by three decades of war and tsunami. It suffered damage and loss of life, property and livelihoods and bore the brunt of the war during last phase of the war.

The expulsion of Muslims from the North was an aberration necessitated by war. They were not dispossessed of their properties permanently. But, Thamils have been subjected to ethnic cleansing through state aided colonization and land grab by the army even after the war ended.

The total area of Jaffna district is 1,025 Sq.Kms. Six years after the end of the war, the armed forces are still in occupation of 7,933.63 acres (32.35 Sq.Kms) of land. The breakdown is as follows:

Census Sri LankaThis data is only in respect of one district in the North. There are 4 administrative districts viz Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar where large swaths of land are under the control of the armed forces.

In Valikamam North alone the army is still in occupation of about 5,200 acres of land. In 2014 the Northern Provincial Council handed over a report to the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa claiming the armed forces are in occupation of 65,000 acres of land in the North. It also claimed that 30,000 houses, thirty schools, thirty factories and 40,000 acres of arable land is held within the military HSZ. Only a fraction of this land has been released to the IDPs since 2015.

The resettlement of IDPs promised before, during and after the elections by president Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is painfully slow. Minister for Resettlement and Rehabilitation D.M. Swaminathan says the armed forces are resisting re-settlement since they have developed vested interests since they are running businesses like luxury hotels, restaurants, health resorts, swimming pools etc. This only reveals that this government is simply inept.

Right now, the mood of the Thamil IDPs is one of scepticism and resignation to their fate. Government commitment to Good Governance (yahapalayanaya) is simply not succeeding. The euphoria is giving way to severe depression. The government’s foot dragging over the release of political prisoners is another glaring example of insensitiveness. These prisoners are languishing in jails for decades some without charges or inquiry. This is in stark contrast to the lightening speed at which Sarath Fonseka was rehabilitated and promoted as Field Marshal. Hence, discontent among the Thamil people grows as each day passes.

What we need today is a President and Prime Minister who will take bold decisions to ease the suffering of Thamil IDPs both in the North and East. Their government is refusing to give back several thousand acres of private land grabbed by the armed forces during the tenure of previous government(s) under the cloak of national security.

Thamil IDPs forced to live in shelters have been denied the right to return to their lands in violation of their rights and humanitarian laws. This is the untold story of ethnic cleansing of Thamils from their traditional lands by successive Sinhalese governments. Mr. Sumanthiran who boldly admits that the expulsion of Muslims by the LTTE in 1990 is ethnic cleansing, he has also referred to the forced expulsion of Thamil IDPs from Valikamam North and other areas as ethnic cleansing in parliament. The admission by the Minister of Resettlement and Rehabilitation that the IDPs cannot be resettled because the government of the day cannot exercise control over the armed forces is blithely pathetic.

The time is ripe to admit our past mistakes, confess to our sins, and negate all injustices done to the Thamils since independence and move forward to build a prosperous country where everyone could live in peace, dignity, enjoying equality before the law regardless of one’s nationality and religious affiliation. Good Governance means building real freedom and real development.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Native Veda
    I am sorry for the delayed reply. The following is the most recent article I could refer to. Mr Thangavelu also asserts in the above article about the meeting held and the leaders present. JVP news.com also published an article but I couldn’t access it now due to the time involved. But the following article will answer your question I believe. My response to Thangavelu’s article was due to the wrong claim of ‘ethnic cleansing’ when the intention was clearly not so & the demand that the NPC should consider acknowledging a resolution as muslim genocide & the inclusion of the issue in the UN resolution when the Sri lanka Government could have addressed the issue since 1995, or even after 2009 as the State is not in a state of denial & cover-up on this matter. I strongly feel that this intended move is to triviliaise & distracct the UN process and to deny justice & closure for the Tamil Community.
    http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=16377 Sat,7 November 2015 – 25th anniversary of expulsion of muslims from Jaffna is remembered.

    • 1

      You are correct Thaya Devi this is a move and a plot to trivialise and distract the UN process and to deny the real genocide and justice and closure to the Tamil people who from the time of independence, are the real victims of this conflict at the hands of all the parties and this includes the Muslims, who also willingly connived with the Sinhalese to commit atrocities and large scale ethnic cleansing against the Tamils and were definitely conniving with the Sinhalese government forces to harm the Tamils in the north too and were caught out by the LTTE. Now they are falsely crying victims.
      Their claim about ethnic cleansing was wrong as you state as the intention was really not so. unlike in the east where the Muslims ethnically cleansed thousands of Tamils from their villages and stole their lands with the Sri Lankan government help and have never allowed the Tamils to return, their lands and properties were never taken over by the Tamils in the north but were safeguarded by them. It was the Sinhalese military that took over their properties. They were only asked to leave the north by the LTTE ,as they were colluding with Sinhalese spying for them to harm the Tamils. The intention was for them to return when the LTTE had really captured the entire north( which never happened) They were not ethnically cleansed but treated as enemy aliens during the war. Now they are trying to distort the facts and play the innocent victim, when at many times they committed so much of violence and ethnic cleansing activities with the aid of the Sri Lankan armed forces against the Tamils in the south and in the east and as usual collude with the Sinhalese to trivialise the Tamil suffering and are trying to deny the UN process and justice to the Tamil victims,
      If you really notice these fake Arab immigrant Tamil Dravidian largely low caste converts from South India have always been a bane to the island’s Tamil population from the word go, especially after independence. In order to gain maximum advantage for their immigrant community at the expense of the island’s Tamils they elite had colluded with the Sinhalese denied their real Tamil Hindu origin and heritage and concocted a Aran origin myth and then brainwashed the Muslim Tamil masses to believe in this lie and to hate the island’s Tamils. They had thrived during this conflict, have become economically dominant in the south and east also politically very powerful in the east as they and the Sinhalese have stolen so much of ethnically cleansed Tamil lands and never want this to be resolved between the Sinhalese and Tamils, as they feel their immigrant community will loose out. This is why as usual they connive with the Sinhalese racists and try to get the support of the racist Islamic fundamentalist Salafist Gulf Arab states, who at other times despise them, to always put a spoke when ever there is even a small chance of reconciliation that the island’s Tamils will receive justice through the international community as they feel they will loose out, once the Sinhalese and Tamils resolve their differences. The ancient history of the island is only relating to the Sinhalese and Tamils not them. All the ancient kings and chiefs in the island were either Hindu or Buddhist Sinhalese or Tamils. Everything in the island is place names archaeology ruins all relate only the Sinhalese and Tamils not them. They are recent immigrant community from South India with a few of them with a dash of Arab. Now want to become prominent and take over as much as possible at the expense of the Tamils as they feel that they are weak and vulnerable and they cannot do anything to the Sinhalese. They never fought for their rights sacrificed or lost anything large scale like the Tamils did. Why because they are immigrants but the Tamils indigenous and had the love for their land will fight for it with their lives. Only backstabbed and connived to gain rights at the expense of the Tamils. Will always come and try to put a spoke and destroy anything for the Tamils. Despite being ethnically Tamil they have no love of good feelings for their fellow Tamil Hindu and Christians. Just everything for them.

      • 2

        Mr Paul
        Before you waste your time and others here look up the real meaning of “ethnic cleansing”,”genocide” etc. Only terror supporting separatist like you use these words to cover up suicide murderers who slaughtered close to 100,000 innocent Tamil and Sinhalese civilians which were rescued by the GOSL. That is real genocide.
        Also, you can write about history an Tamil homeland until the cows come home. That ain’t going to do a darn thing about tamil “problems”. Negotiate in good faith that is the only way you can succeed.
        By the way give me your long list of Tamil “problems” you are concerned about.

        • 2

          Yes Nuisance we all know that you are a Sinhalese extremist who will never want to acknowledge the ancient presence of the Tamils in the island and their homeland in the north and east. You like most of these fake Arab Muslims denying their Tamil origin and pathetically cling to the Arab origin myth, will also stubbornly cling on the Mahavamsa myth and the Aryan origin of the Sinhalese, when more and more compelling evidence is mounting that the Sinhalese are largely of Tamil descent. You will cling to this myth till the cows come home and deny the genocide perpetrated on the island’s Tamils by all Sinhalese governments armed forces and Sinhalese racists like you with the aid of the island’s immigrant Muslims and hilariously state that the Sinhalese and their Muslim allies (other than in a few instances, both whom benefitted from this conflict) are the victims and the Tamils on whom the large scale genocide and ethnic cleansing was committed and the aggressors, who were saved by the brave Sri Lankan armed forces from committing any further harm to the innocent Sinhalese and Muslims. This is like the Nazis now trying to claim victimhood and the Jews and all the other oppressed people as the aggressors who dared to resist Nazi kindness to them. I can see the cunning move by Sinhalese racists like you and Muslim opportunists who always supported Sinhalese racists like you to dilute and trivialise the Tamil suffering by trying to equalise with the little amount suffered by the Sinhalese and Muslims. This is cunning move to see that UN resolution to help the Tamils is watered down further and not carried out at all. You must be one of these Lankaweb readers and supporters. The irony is many of the readers bloggers and columnists contributing and supporting this racist Sinhalese rag, largely come from recently Sinhalised immigrant South Indian communities, largely from their hated Tamil Nadu, then once Tamil Kerala and southern Andhra.

    • 2


      I am sorry. Neither Balasingam nor the pschopath unreservedly apologised to Muslim.

      Even when he had an opportunity to do the right thing psychopath took the opportunity to dodge the question by blaming the MUslims, when he was interviewed by Anandhi Sooriyapragasam for BBC Tamil service on 2 March 1993. Please refer to Tamil Times page (5) 15 March 1993, Tigers Ready to Consider a Federal Scheme (http://noolaham.net/project/34/3367/3367.pdf)

      Tamilguardian, oh please.

      When and where did VP apologise to what he did or didn’t do, he never made any mistakes, harmed no one, he did everything in the name of humanity, ……….

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