By Rajan Hoole –
The LTTE’s brutal attack on fraternal Tamil groups during 1986 was a watershed. During the last stages of the Indian Army’s presence, the Premadasa government connived with the LTTE to hunt down the stranded remnants of these groups, who were mainly rural youth. For example, it provided the LTTE with crucial logistical help to dislodge the PLOTE from the Vanni in early 1990. Shortly afterwards, when the LTTE played up, the Government pressed these other groups to fight the LTTE under its patronage. The TELO and PLOTE came to be closely identified with the Army. Another group that relocated to Colombo from India and became close to President Premadasa was the EPDP led by Douglas Devananda.
The EPDP took part also in security operations in Colombo. Kugamoorthy, a human rights activist who was mistaken by many for an LTTE supporter, disappeared when returning from work at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation during September 1990. The involvement of EPDP men in his abduction came from the testimony of inside sources.
In the East elements from Tamil groups opposed to the LTTE worked closely with intelligence operatives of the State. Of the latter, Captain Munas (correct name possibly Dias Richard or Martinersz) in Batticaloa and Suresh Cassim in Trincomalee earned considerable notoriety during the early 1990s. The publicity they received also served to draw attention away from their superiors. A Tamil operator with state intelligence who earned considerable notoriety around Batticaloa was ex-PLOTE member Mohan (see our Reports 8, 10, 11 and 13).
Munas’s name re-surfaced at the end of 1993 when Ranil Wickremesinghe was prime minister. The PLOTE breakaway Uma Prakash group was brought from India and based briefly in Vanavasala, in Wickremasinghe’s electorate, for a security operation in Colombo. A few dead bodies surfaced around Negombo (see our Report No.13). The story about Munas’ death was fed to the Press soon after concern was raised. However, Munas was seen by a detainee from Batticaloa at the STF camp near Lipton Circus in Colombo in November 1994. Uma Prakash met his real end at the hands of the PLOTE in early 1994 with the Government’s complicity.
The PA government kept this noxious security machinery intact as evidenced by, for example, the failure to proceed with the floating corpses case (Sect. 21.3.1). A further instance is the hundreds of disappearances in Jaffna during 1996. Further, the relations between the Tamil groups and the various state security agencies, that include favours and pecuniary deals, remain largely independent of their links with the government.
In 1994, the EPDP switched its allegiance to the newly elected PA government. Police investigations into the EPDP’s internal killing of its member Udaya Sooriyakumar in Colombo on 15th November 1994 were dropped. This resumption of executive meddling in police investigations was an early disturbing development under the PA.
We had always maintained that if the Government were seeking a fresh and benignant approach to the Tamil problem, it must stop using these ex-militants as a paramilitary force and offer them professional counselling and rehabilitation. Their present role has no legitimacy among the people and is harmful both to themselves as well as to the Tamil community. At the level of state agencies, they are part of the two-track approach to the Tamil problem.
One track is supposedly to talk the LTTE into an agreement after weakening it. The other is to promote an amenable Tamil group to a position of leadership, partly by passing on patronage to the Tamil people through the favoured party. The approach may serve as a transition to democracy if there is simultaneously a political solution to satisfy Tamil aspirations. However, given the State’s in- built hostility to reasonable Tamil aspirations, this second track becomes problematic, requiring a high degree of lawlessness and repression. Its effect has been to give undue credit to the LTTE. The UNP’s admiration for the LTTE after they gave the Tamils a severe mauling bears testimony to this.
Finally, both these approaches disregard the dignity of the people. While the PA government had been earnest about finding a political solution, the second track lay dormant. That it remained a latent prospect was exemplified in the lawless Wild-West atmosphere in Vavuniya. Notable for killings were the Counter Subversive Unit of the Police, the PLOTE and TELO. The two years ending in October 1996 recorded at least 20 murders uninvestigated by the Police.
During January 1996, Mr. Sritharan, a government officer who did voluntary work at a refugee camp in Vavuniya, was found dead with about 100 stab injuries. The PLOTE was the main suspect. His work weakened the PLOTE’s ascendancy over the refugees. The crime remains ‘unsolved’. The PLOTE’s hostility to independent persons doing voluntary work was well known.
Selliah Subramaniam, father of eight, was a Pettah businessman held by the Counter Subversive Unit in Vavuniya and remanded at Anuradhapura. He was released by the Supreme Court on 8th July 1996 on a Fundamental Rights appeal. He was last seen going to the CSU office in Vavuniya to collect his personal effects. His partially burnt dead body appeared in Galgamuwa along with another and was identified by the CID from the partially burnt stub of his cheque-book. The investigation of the crime, which is virtually a case of contempt for the Supreme Court, is at a standstill.
Arjuna was the PLOTE leader in Trincomalee. At the central committee, he opposed the Vavuniya-based Military Wing Leader Manikkadasan’s role in his area. He protested that the group was mired in disrepute through association with abduction and murder. Manikkadasan invited Arjuna for talks. When Arjuna arrived in Vavuniya, he was abducted and his story became another ‘unsolved’ murder (see our Bulletin No. 12).
This incident brings us to an important aspect the impunity enjoyed by Manikkadasan (now deceased). One section of his group wanted to break away from the routine of torture and murder and charter a new course of making themselves acceptable to the people. With the connivance, if not instigation, of the Security Forces, Arjuna’s new direction was nipped in Vavuniya. The State was cynically determined to exploit the victims of Tamil fascism. In retrospect, we had been too complacent about the danger of norms in Vavuniya becoming the norms for the whole country.
The slide became glaring with the violence of PA elements in the NWPC elections in January 1999, signalling a sharp rise in political violence in the South (see Sect. 21.1.3 and 21.1.4). The resulting impunity, however, provided opportunity for the Security Forces to also deal with marked individuals. We pointed out that this tendency has remained dormant. The murder of the EPDP’s deputy leader Ramesh on 2.11.99 points to a state agency intervening in the internal problems of a group with the agreement of the group’s leadership. After a show public confession by an underworld figure in Police custody to having murdered Kumar Ponnambalam, there has been no progress for many months (see Sect. 21.1.6). We note that this slide coincided with the Government losing both the military and political initiative in the North-East.
We finally deal with two cases, which illustrate the dilemmas faced by public figures in a climate of terror. Although one is driven to make judgements, these often tend to be unfair. In our context, fascist terror is omnipresent. Where the State acts with impunity in such situations, it deprives the people of the means to break free of this impasse. On 19th October 2000, Nimalrajan, a journalist in Jaffna, was killed. Under the LTTE in the early 1990s, Nimalrajan worked in a minor capacity for the LTTE journal Eelanatham. After the Army took control in 1996, he came into prominence as BBC’s Tamil Service correspondent. The people were clear that the LTTE would not let him live in Jaffna a normal citizen.
His coverage was viewed by many in Jaffna as pro-LTTE. While being silent on the LTTE’s transgressions, he, on the positive side, exposed the Army and the Tamil groups. While such coverage legitimises the LTTE’s fascist order, individuals in these roles cite their vulnerability to justify their bias. However, in reality, while compromising with the LTTE in public, they are for similar reasons forced to bend to its adversaries in private. It opens them to the suspicion of being double agents by all who deal with them.
Jaffna’s mayor Mrs. Sarojini Yogeswaran was gunned down on 17.5.98. Nimalrajan told the BBC that it could not have been the LTTE, which subsequently made it clear that it was they. The local TULF vice president, S. Namasivayam, called for a hartal – a work stoppage. A BBC interviewer asked Nimalrajan the strange question, whether the hartal expressed mourning or condemnation. Nimalrajan answered with a chuckle that it must be mourning and not condemnation. Namasivayam too was, 19 days later, killed by the LTTE.
A number of Jaffna listeners were put off by the performance on BBC. Nimalrajan had earlier lived in the South and was fluent in Sinhalese. He had been contact man in Jaffna to several NGO and media activists in Colombo and correspondent to several overseas Tamil networks. Those critical of the LTTE were wary of him. In, for example, dealing with Southern election monitoring NGOs, such locals felt vulnerable in Nimalrajan’s presence. In several instances, Nimalrajan had spoken threateningly to local activists or journalists who inadvertently displeased the LTTE. Nimalrajan thus left this world a sign of the times. In life, many around him silently and warily saw him a threat to any kind of free expression. In death, several bishops, religious and non-governmental figures, hitherto silent on political murder, commemorated Nimalrajan a flame of free expression snuffed out. The event was reminiscent of Liyannarachchi’s murder in 1988 and of the dismal selectivity by most sections in dealing with murder.
However, Nimalrajan may have wanted to get away from the LTTE’s clutches. Lately, he told some that his relations with the LTTE were not what people thought. His reporting on abuses by the State, and election abuses by the EPDP in his latter days, was necessary. Not long before his death, Nimalrajan told the BBC that the shelling of Kodikamam killing a father and his daughter about to be married was probably by the LTTE. This would have annoyed the latter.
Just before the 10th October 2000 parliamentary elections, an LTTE agent stopped at a check-point ran away leaving behind a bag. It contained photographs of local contestants taken by Nimalrajan. N told a civilian lady that the pictures sent to press contacts in Colombo were stolen in the post. Evidently, Military Intelligence earlier suspected that LTTE notices under the name Sangiliyan Force were printed at Mullai Press owned by N’s father.
There were initially good reasons for many in Jaffna who were familiar with the nature of the LTTE to suspect the LTTE of the murder. It seemed inauspicious for the EPDP leader to sanction it just when he was being installed as cabinet minister. Since then, however, we have received three different strands of testimony, which together, place the EPDP leadership on the dock. One, a member of the EPDP visited Nimalrajan at his home on the two nights preceding the murder. Two, a bicycle was left behind by the attackers who fled. Though reported in the Press, the bicycle was not produced at the inquest. We understand that the Police are aware that a Jegan of the EPDP was using the bicycle. Three, the four killers led by a Murali came on two bicycles with two pistols and two hand grenades after 9.00 PM. Having shot Nimalrajan and injured some members of the family, our sources said, the killers quickly fled to a pre-arranged safe house in the area. They returned to the EPDP camp in Jaffna town after mid-night and were later sent back to their camps in the Islands.
The area of the incident is a high security zone near the Jaffna Kacheri. The logistics involved in this testimony (e.g. night travel through a well-guarded area), inevitably points to the complicity of the security forces. The tendency revealed is a dangerous one. If the Government tolerates this in a Tamil partner, it would inevitably be tempted to use it more widely. Once such an apparatus is allowed to taste blood, it cannot stop. It is an old lesson that when would-be democrats use such methods, it is the avowed enemies of democracy such as the LTTE who gain credit, while all others become isolated. This is evident in the next incident.
On 8th November 2000, Nirmalan Soundaranayagam, the newly elected Batticaloa District TULF MP and former school principal, was shot dead. Though having to deal with the LTTE, he was not regarded an LTTE man. Summoned to meet the LTTE, he went reluctantly on that fatal day. He was killed while returning home on his motor cycle. His companion survived. The state media alleged that he was killed for refusing to take a suicide bomber to Parliament. This clumsy and indifferent way of handling the matter tended to throw suspicion on the State. D.B.S. Jeyaraj writing in the Sunday Leader, for example, almost drew this inference from the large crowd attending Soundaranayagam’s funeral. The assumption was that for reasons of fear or otherwise, people tended to ignore the LTTE’s victims.
As long as the State and its allies are open to suspicion for murder, it obscures, as seen below, the real longings of the people. This obscurity has been used to make out that Tamil people long for a fascist order! Close relatives have subsequently confirmed that Soundaranayagam was murdered by the LTTE. Further, people in the locality have confronted the LTTE with this murder. The LTTE has locally ascribed ‘political reasons’ for it, while denying it internationally.
The LTTE was displeased with the voting in the Batticaloa District. The TULF was down from 3 out of 5 seats in 1994, to 2 in October 2000. TULF’s Joseph Pararajasingham who, in the public mind, was closest to the LTTE, was first reported losing (e.g. Uthayan) and then scraped through miraculously! Even the PA obtained a seat to everyone’s surprise. The TULF candidate reportedly nominated on the LTTE’s demand lost badly. By contrast, Soundaranayagam won a handsome preference vote. The result was therefore in effect a protest against the LTTE. It had before the elections murdered Cheliyan Perinpanayagam, PA candidate, Tamil literary figure and former mayor of Batticaloa.
The Government’s tolerance of conditions which permit the shifting of Soundaranayagam’s murder on to it, also obscured the fact of the protest against the LTTE. It was a protest that found expression in the huge turnout at Soundaranayagam’s funeral, though there was not a whimper from his Party. Selvarajah, the third on the TULF list, who had earlier felt cheated by Pararajasingham, quietly occupied the seat in Parliament vacated by the dead man.
There is not much that anyone could do to stop killings by the LTTE. We would all, however, be on firmer ground if we can be confident about the morality of the State, confident that it would not stoop to murder. The declining credibility of the State and its institutions would ultimately lead to catastrophe, as during the previous UNP regime. The Government cannot be exonerated from complicity in murder when police investigations regularly run aground, leaving even senior police officers guessing. The two track approach ultimately leaves law enforcement in tatters.
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here