By Rajan Hoole –
The Indo-Lanka Accord and Sri Lanka’s Fault Lines: July 1987 – Part – 9
The Mullaitivu Citizens’ Committee visited Weli Oya (Sect.14.3) with Major Tata of the IPKF in September 1987. The officer–in-charge of the Sri Lankan Army there said that what was going on there was a high-land cultivation scheme under the Mahaveli Project. This was the first time such a claim was officially made. It was earlier said by Minister Athulathmudali to be an open prison camp (see Sect.20.6). It is not clear how the Mahaveli Authority that was in charge of Mahaveli River diversion, was running an ‘open prison camp’ where there was not a drop of Mahaveli water! It was thus with the coming of the IPKF that the Government felt the pinch and proceeded to give legal justification for this piece of brigandage. This was done through a gazette notification made in April 1988 by Gamini Dissanayake, thus bringing the land technically under the Mahaveli Authority. By this time, the LTTE was at war with the IPKF and the problem of Weli Oya remained unresolved.
Yet the impact of Weli Oya on rural Tamils should not be underestimated. From experience, many of them can readily share the feelings of those affected. The book Manal Aru was written by N. Vijayaratnam, who graduated from the University of Jaffna, and was then a teacher at Chemmalai High School. In the book, he describes Amarivayal, a very old Tamil village in the north of Trincomalee District that is now deserted and part of the Weli Oya project area.
As with many old villages close to new colony areas, Amarivayal too was badly neglected while Padaviya colony expanded and received new infrastructure. Situated a few miles west of Thennamaravady, it was also at the border of the former Northern and Eastern Provinces. It had to be reached travelling 7 miles north on a cart road after branching off from the main road linking Pulmoddai and Kebitigollewa. Its only government buildings were a post office and a primary school. There was no electricity.
The writer observes:
“The sorrows of the people of Manal Aru (now officially Weli Oya) reveal how misleading it is to assume that the problems of the Tamil people are to do with language and discrimination alone. From time to time Amarivayal had suffered from communal violence. The story of its people is one of supreme courage, which deserves to be known wherever the Tamils live. It is a village of people who yearn for its liberation from the robbery that is Weli Oya.”
In the 1950s, he says, the villagers were able to hold their own against attacks by Sinhalese colonists from Padaviya. But from the 1977 communal violence onwards the Tamils were terrorised and their cattle were robbed with impunity. While the Sinhalese colonists were allowed licensed shotguns for protection against wild animals, those possessed by Tamils were removed.
“By 1983”, he says, “large tracts of land belonging to Amarivayal had been forcibly taken. It became difficult for the people to travel out of the village. The postman C. Rasadurai was one day given a chase two miles from the village by Sinhalese hoodlums in a tractor. Unable to help Rasadurai themselves, the villagers rushed about 5 miles to Inspector Tennekoon at the Pulmoddai Police Station. Tennekoon came to Amarivayal and took in his vehicle Rasadurai, who had been badly mauled and left to die, and admitted him to Trincomalee Base Hospital. Tennekoon then placed a 24 hour police sentry to ensure that Amarivayal was not attacked.”
The author’s next remarks both lend authenticity to the account while also revealing a mindset that refuses to see good in Sinhalese: “The people praised the action of that Sinhalese inspector of police. But they failed to realise that he was a ‘Sinhalese’ inspector of police. However, Tennekoon’s action had then saved Amarivayal from becoming a field of blood. Yet many became demoralised and left Amarivayal leaving behind their homes and belongings.”
The passage below deals with the final eviction of the people of Amarivayal in 1984, about the same time that all Tamil inhabitants were being evicted from Manal Aru (Weli Oya). It calls to mind the mood of persons throughout history who were violently wrenched from their homes and turned into vagrants:
“[In 1984] oppressive measures against the people of Amarivayal were on the increase. [Against a background of increasing hostilities] there was a rising incidence of the young being detained and tortured, women subjected to rape, and the looting of possessions. These were planned actions calculated to bring about the total eviction of the people. On Monday 1st of November , the people received a message that the village would be destroyed by an army of Sinhalese hoodlums. (The correct date appears to be 3rd December 1984, see Sect. 20.6.) The next moment the people gathered a few possessions in small bundles and ran into the wild. Not long afterwards, night set in and gunshots were heard from the village. From the cover of the jungle, beneath the dim suffusion of the moon, they witnessed the flames rising from Amarivayal and their homes consigned to ashes. These flames touched their heart, and the people who journeyed from their soil with their hearts burning have to this day not trodden it again. Their young men and young women have since fought with the Tigers in large numbers to liberate the earth that is theirs. Many have displayed immense courage and have been martyred in this cause.”
The book discredits India’s role by saying that despite the coming of the Indian Peace Keeping Force, no arrangements were made for the people of Amarivayal to go back to their homes. The book also refers to representations made to the IPKF by the Mullaitivu Citizens’ Committee. What is clear from the book is that the IPKF tried to bring relief by acting under the terms of the Accord. Before the LTTE went to war with the IPKF on 10th October 1987, the Sri Lankan Government had been flexible. When the people protested opposite the Mullaitivu Kacheri, the Sri Lankan Government came down from the position that Weli Oya was a security zone, said that it was rather a Mahaveli high land (i.e. unirrigated!) agricultural project and promised that those forcibly evicted would be resettled. But legally the area was then not under the Mahaveli Scheme.
Once the Indian Army was caught up in the war, nothing moved for 7 months. It was during this period (on 15th April 1988) that the gazette notification bringing the land under the Mahaveli Scheme was issued. Thereafter the IPKF was in a weaker position and the Sri Lankan Government had the upper hand in Manal Aru. While fighting the LTTE on the one hand, the Indian Government had to face a hostile press in the South over attacks by the LTTE on Sinhalese villages. It also had to push the Sri Lankan Government to fulfil its commitments under the Accord – i.e. the temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces and devolving powers to the Provincial Councils. From May 1988 to about August, further representations were made to the Indian Government. There were fact-finding missions of Indian officials, but there was no redress. The real problem was not so much with India, but that the LTTE had immeasurably weakened the Tamils by going to war with India, purely over its inability to share power with other Tamil groups and to tolerate a little democracy.
Yet, it was important for the LTTE to maintain that all others except itself had betrayed the Tamils. It was so obviously untrue that in order to make people believe it and to tap their anger and deprivation, it had to keep them in repressive conditions where no open discussion was permitted. Experiences such as in Amarivayal were very common during that period. Pullumalai is an interior village in the Batticaloa District. In a round-up there in October 1986 by the SLA, more that 50 were taken prisoner, another 18 were lined up and shot, and some girls were raped. The entire village fled and remain refugees to this day.
Following the eviction of the Pullumalai folk, the LTTE in February 1987 massacred 28 Sinhalese civilians in Arantalawa in the same area, capitalising on the situation to make itself the avenger of the dispossessed.
By founding its politics on anger and revenge, can the LTTE offer any form of redress to the poorest and most desperate among the Tamil victims? The answer is that it wants them to remain poor, desperate and suffer greater tragedy. A force that devalues life when it comes to another community, cannot offer life to its own community. Take for example, what the LTTE did after accepting the Indo-Lanka Accord.
To say that the LTTE accepted it under duress is an exaggeration (see Sect.15.3). Subsequently all other Tamil parties which engaged with India under the terms of the Accord were targetted as traitors. The whole episode brought untold misery to the Tamil people. The benefits the Accord held out to the Tamils worst affected were undermined. Under those conditions of internecine terror, the displaced Tamils could not go back and reclaim their homes in Pullumalai, Amarivayal, Thennemaravady and Manal Aru. On 17th August 1988, unarmed Indian soldiers who were helping displaced Tamils to resettle in Pankulam in the Trincomalee District were fired upon by the LTTE, killing six soldiers. That effort came to a standstill (our Report No.12). At the same time the LTTE began to engage with the Sri Lankan Government as born-again Sri Lankan patriots in order to get the Indian Army out. Did it then extract some pledges at least from the Sri Lankan Government about the resettlement of these Tamils?
Again, nothing was said. The only agreement about Manal Aru that has come to light is that the LTTE agreed to the transfer of arms from the Sri Lankan Government to itself at Manal Aru (Weli Oya) during mid-1989. Nothing was said about the welfare of the people evicted from Manal Aru. The IPKF left and the LTTE had a free run of the North-East for much of the first six months of 1990. Did it at least then talk to the Government about Manal Aru?
There was of course a good deal of co- operation between the LTTE and the Premadasa government. This is a most shamefully dark chapter in the Tamil struggle. The ‘sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil people’ solicited and obtained the UNP government’s help to catch Tamil dissidents in any part of the island and transfer them to the LTTE’s torture and extermination camps in the North. Even packages containing torture aids were cleared in Colombo by the Defence Ministry and passed on to the LTTE.
Then why did the LTTE go to war with the Premadasa Government in June 1990? Did it have anything to do with Pullumalai, Thennamaravady or Amarivayal? No, it had to do with a silly private dispute between a tailor and some policemen in Batticaloa town! 300 LTTE men surrounded and took over Batticaloa police station on 10th June 1990 after some policemen allegedly assaulted a tailor over a quarrel involving an illicit love affair.
Then in early 1995 there was again a cease-fire with the new PA Government. There was an upsurge of peace activity in the South. Even Sinhalese settlers from Weli Oya defied the army brigadier under whom they lived, came to Padaviya for a peace rally and were very open about the atrocious conditions governing their life under the Army. A number of Sinhalese service personnel were willing to open up and talk about atrocities they had been privy to. The hawks were forced into silence. When the Government too called for substantive talks on issues, surely the LTTE could have raised questions about Manal Aru and the return of refugees to places from which they were forcibly displaced and even about demilitarisation in the context of an overall political settlement. What did it do?
It talked about the day-to-day needs of the people mainly focussing on the Tamils in Jaffna and demanded lifting the ban on items deemed to be of military value, especially petrol. Meanwhile unreasonable demands with military implications such as allowing fishing near Karainagar naval base were put forward. When asked on BBC Tamil Service why it was so important to fish in that small area when the Government was prepared to allow fishing everywhere else, the LTTE political spokesman Thamilchelvan responded, “Because that is where all the fish are going!” While the Tamils badly wanted peace, they were not allowed to reciprocate peace initiatives from the South in any way.
The LTTE then broke the cease-fire on 19th April 1995 and within a few hours had sunk two anchored naval boats in Trincomalee using suicide bombers and in a few days downed two transport aircraft with newly acquired missiles. Clearly the LTTE’s only purpose in agreeing to a cease-fire had been to stock up and use surprise to inflict maximum damage. In spite of this record, there were a number of Sinhalese who blamed the Government. They believed that the war had resumed because the Government had been too slow in sending adequate quantities of petrol etc. to Jaffna! How trivial had issues of war and peace become to the self-proclaimed leaders of the Tamil people – the people who had no say and everything to lose.
Of course remedying the plight of internal refugees and the people of Manal Aru, which featured so prominently in the propaganda of LTTE recruitment drives, had no place at all in its calculations. It wanted them as permanent refugees, and the more destitute they became the better. Indeed, during the course of the conflict, by the end of the year 1995, the LTTE had turned a good proportion of Jaffna folk into helpless refugees in the Vanni.
This was 1995, but for those who cared to see, it was very clear in 1987 that the LTTE “could not contemplate peace in any form” (quote from Absjorn Eide, the Norwegian representative on the UN Commission for Human Rights, after the murder of Neelan Tiruchelvam in 1999). What it needed were permanent refugees suffering the mindless bombardment and deprivation inflicted by the Government, who could thus be moulded into devotees of a religion glorifying manslaughter and suicide. By the same token, anyone voicing protest or even talking about a political settlement that would enable the refugees to go home to start life anew, and the children to discard their military fatigues for school uniforms, became a traitor deserving death.
Governments have thus contributed to the intensity and bitterness of conflict while justifying the LTTE by clinging onto so blatant a piece of aggression as Weli Oya. By seeing the refugees and Tamil victims through ideological spectacles and not reassuring them, governments have by default allowed them to remain subject to LTTE manipulation. Going back to where we started from, in the context of 1987, Weli Oya and its ramifications formed a political minefield for the Indian peace keepers.
The Indo-Lanka Accord was thus a paradoxical event. The political solution it contained provided hope. But it had resulted from the bankruptcy of both the Southern polity as well as the Tamil polity. The Accord owed to the failed intemperate ambitions of both. The rapid militarisation of the Tamil struggle brought about by Indian aid, at the cost of all healthier political constraints, had denied the Tamil people the means to making the gunmen accountable. Moreover, five years of repression in the South with elections in the offing had created an atmosphere where only extremism, which appealed to the baser instincts, could thrive. The Accord thus became hostage to tempestuous weather caused by contrary winds.
To be continued..