Information Bulletin No. 21
Date of Release : 21st July 1999
A DISTURBING DRIFT IN THE VANNI:
THE LOST CIVILIAN DIMENSION
Since the issue of our last bulletin on the Vanni in May, more
territory, almost the whole of Mannar District, has come under
Government control. This latest phase of the war clearly exposes that
the Government has lost sight of the civilian dimension, the symptoms of
which are greater indiscipline among the security forces as is shown by
killings and some alarming disappearances. The optimism in the early
days of the present government that the security forces would be more
disciplined and accountable to the people, has receded. In the newly
cleared areas in the Vanni and in Mannar Island itself, attacks on
civilians after an incident has become a regular occurrence. The LTTE
knows well how to exploit this situation as it is being given ample
motivation to step up hit and run attacks, invite reprisals on the
civilians and unnerve the security forces. It has also acquired long
experience in manipulating the civilians, the media and even the
Government and the defence authorities.
About 53 persons are said to have been killed around Mannar Island last
year, out of whom at least 27 were identified as innocent civilians.
When confronted with this fact Brigadier T.T.R. de Silva plainly has
justified the killings saying the people killed were smugglers. In a
recent incident a Tamil youth Gnanasekaran Bernardshaw and his sister
Jeyamalar were abducted, their Muslim landlady, Bahia Umma (45) killed
and landlord, A.Mohammed Hussain (50) injured. The latter reportedly
identified Captain Ranjith, who is in charge of Sunny Village camp, as
one of those involved. In another incident Carmelita (21) was raped and
killed by people identified as members of the security forces. After the
shooting of a soldier in the outskirts of Mannar Town on 19th July,
troops ran amok firing at civilians, assaulting people with boots and
gun butts, and ill-treating even suckling mothers. An injured lady
succumbed in hospital.
These events expose an alarming tendency. The killings of civilians
smuggle out of desperation as well as the recent incidents suggest that
there has been in operation a policy of killing off those suspected of
ties with the LTTE. These incidents testify to a deteriorating climate
We now know definitely that it was the LTTE which shelled the refugees
in Vidathal Thivu church on 29th June. It has become the subject of a
propaganda war in which the role of the LTTE has become obscured.
Moreover, it exposes that the government cannot say with self-assurance
that its own conduct is defensible. Such a situation leaves the people
without any space to voice their anger and deception.
The fact that the Government has lost sight of the civilian dimension
clearly shown by the disregard with which the Ministries of Defense and
Health have treated the medical needs of civilians. Mannar Hospital,
which caters to large populations, many of them refugees, remains about
the most neglected base hospital in the country. Help offered by Memisa,
a Dutch organisation providing medical services in difficult areas, has
been spurned through 8 months of delay and evasion.
Within these developments one positive tendency has to be mentioned.
Some of the crimes, whose causes would have remained in the domain of
conjecture, are coming to light only because of new ground broken by the
office of the magistrate in Mannar.
In his discussions with the Government and the LTTE leadership, Mr.
Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for
Children and Armed Conflict, who visited in May 1998 raised several
issues pertaining to the rights, protection and welfare of children. He
had announced that significant humanitarian commitments had been made by
the Government of Sri Lanka and by the leadership of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). They were related to, provision and
distribution of humanitarian supplies, free movement of displaced
populations, recruitment and participation of children in hostilities.
These discussions further addressed observing the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, targeting of civilian populations and sites and the
continuing use of landmines by both sides. But so far no structures to
implement the agreement have been materialised.
We strongly advocate that the Government be urged to take the necessary
steps to secure the good offices of the Special Representative of the UN
Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, to assist in
implementing the undertakings given to Mr.Ottunnu by both the Government
and the LTTE.
A DISTURBING DRIFT IN THE VANNI:
THE LOST CIVILIAN DIMENSION
Since the issue of our last bulletin on the Vanni in May, more
territory, almost the whole of Mannar District, has come under
Government control. This includes the agricultural heartland of the
district, watered by Giant’s Tank. In material terms, this has meant an
improvement in standards for the farming community. That is better
transport, cheaper inputs and much better prices. But for those
displaced yet again, it has meant more uncertainty and too often,
greater deprivation. For the population which the LTTE has by coercion
or other forms of pressure taken along with them, it has meant total
disruption – particularly their system of rations, the children’s
schooling and employment for the able bodied. They have been pushed into
a disease–prone area with inadequate water, which can forward little
food or employment. Many of the adults had earlier worked in the paddy
fields around Madhu and Adampan. This helped them to find the extras
needed for the schooling and health of children. Following the closure
of Madhu refugee camp recently, as a means of resolving disagreements
between the Church and the Army, many of the refugees moved to the camp
at Pesalai on Mannar Island or have found accommodation around Mannar
Town. Those in the latter category with skills such as in carpentry or
masonry sell their labour at significantly depressed rates. Many suffer
from a lack of cash, accommodation and employment and are unable to find
the extras to send their children to school. Both the government
rehabilitation effort and the NGOs function within a fairly rigid
framework and a large number of those in need have not been identified
On the whole the Government has lost sight of the civilian dimension,
the symptoms of which are growing civilian disenchantment, greater
indiscipline among the security forces and some alarming disappearances.
The Army, perhaps more confident of an outright military victory, have,
for the most part, lost interest in looking into the feelings and
welfare of civilians. A matter of great concern is the cavalier
disregard with which the Government – the Ministries of Defence and
Health – have treated the medical needs of civilians. Mannar Hospital
which caters to large populations, many of them refugees, who have gone
through fifteen years of immense hardship, remains about the most
neglected base hospital in the country. Help offered by a foreign
organisation of repute has been spurned for reasons not fully explained.
The present civilian mood may be described in this manner: In the months
following the last elections in 1994, the people had very optimistic
expectations from President Chandrika Kumaratunge, whom they hoped would
bring about an honourable peace. But they had no benign expectations
from the LTTE. Today they have no confidence in either.
True, the resentment against the Government is of the passive sort and
there is much anger against the LTTE, especially amongst the displaced
who knew them very intimately. But this is bound to be short-lived as
long as the Government carries on indifferently, allowing the resentment
to fester. The LTTE understands this well and has long experience,
perfected into an art, in manipulating the civilians, world opinion, the
media and even the Government and the defence authorities whose unruly
responses are too often remarkably predictable. The State has learnt
little in twenty years of conflict. In fact many civilians see the
present state of affairs in the cleared areas as being similar to that
in the early 80s before things got very brutal. We begin by discussing a
few incidents which give a flavour of things.
The evacuation of Vidatthal Thivu: 29/30 June 1999
On 26th June the Army launched a two pronged advance towards Vidatthal
Thivu, a coastal town of considerable significance. It served as a point
for the easy infiltration of Mannar Island through mostly shallow water,
and for smuggling in banned items. The two columns advanced, one
north-eastwards from Pappamoddai and the other westwards from
Palampiddy, having to move 8 miles and 12 miles respectively. Since
shelling along the routes of advance was heavy, the people of Vidatthal
Thivu took refuge in the churches of St.Mary and St. James. Beginning
from 30th morning, about a thousand civilians arrived in Pallimunai,
Mannar Island, by boat, the early arrivals from Vidatthal Thivu itself,
but most of them, later, from Thevanpiddy about 10 miles north-east of
Vidatthal Thivu on the Jaffna Road. The circumstances in which they
came, has been the subject of a propaganda war in which the truth, a
very remarkable story, has become obscured.
Between 4.00 and 4.30 p.m. on 1st July, correspondents in Colombo
received two press releases by fax in quick succession on the subject of
Vidatthal Thivu. The one from the LTTE stated that 9 civilians in the
area had been killed in aerial bombing, and 4 civilians were killed and
15 injured, when a shell fell into a church in Vidatthal Thivu. The
other from the Ministry of Defence was evidently in anticipation of the
LTTE missive. It stated that the Government forces returned fire, after
being fired at from the Vidatthal Thivu area. In other words, the LTTE
was responsible for any civilian deaths. Owing to heavy resistance, the
Army advance had been halted within a mile or two of the meeting point,
but after securing their hold over the agricultural area of Adampan.
Shamindra Ferdinando’s report in the Island of the following day (2nd
July) confirmed the reason for the MoD’s pre-emptive media-strike. It
said: “The Mannar [Island] based [government] official further said
three people had been killed and at least 20 wounded when mortars and
artillery hit the village on Tuesday (29th June)”
The official was of course quoting from the testimony of ‘over 600’
civilians who had arrived in ‘at least 50 fishing craft’. The testimony
above had been preceded by the essence of the MoD press release:
“Military officials said that terrorists fired mortars from the village
towards troops expecting them to fire back at the civilians”. The MoD’s
press release was an admission that they always fulfil the LTTE’s
expectations like a prayer.
The LTTE’s release -was carried by the Virakesari of the same
(2-7-99) and was endorsed by ‘Vithuran’ in the Thinakkural of 4th July,
which said that 13 civilians were killed by government shelling.
Karunakaran wrote in the Weekend Express of 3rd July : “Independent
reports from the Wanni reveal that three people, including a 10 year old
boy, were killed and 5 more injured due to heavy shelling by the
security forces from the newly captured areas towards Vidatthal Thivu”.
The Army appears to have got a little wiser over the coming days.
P.Manickavasagam wrote in the Sunday Virakesari of 11th July: “Earlier
reports had said that people in the area surrounding Vidatthal Thivu
took refuge in the two churches there, whence the LTTE came there and
told the people that no one should stay there but should vacate [and
move northwards] immediately, and that upon the people refusing, they
[LTTE] brought their mortars and made preparations to shell the Army
positions. The Army has besides this, further claimed that it was the
Tigers who shelled Vidatthal Thivu, and 3 civilians were killed and 15
were injured as the result of a shell exploding in the church compound”.
Manikavasagam then gives the response from posing this charge before
displaced persons from Vidatthal Thivu: “Although it has been said that
the Tigers made preparations to fire mortar shells, we were woken up
from our sleep by the shell which exploded in our compound and claimed
lives. We are therefore in no position to say where the shell came from
or who fired the shell”.
These persons further added that three died on the spot, one of whom
a woman whose body was ‘in pieces’. Another succumbed the following day.
Manikavasagam then moved on to comment on the intensity of shelling.
Of course Manickavasagam knew the truth. He has extremely good contacts
in the area. The displaced persons would not have told officials or
outsiders the whole truth. But they spoke freely to their friends. The
Roman Catholic Church in particular knew exactly what happened. Within
the limits of Tamil journalism in Sri Lanka, Manickavasagam comes
closest to the truth, although in form, it is a refutation of allegedly
the Army’s new version.
But the rare discerning reader would have found the claims jarring.
Anyone who understands the nuances of speech in Tamil society resulting
from long years of war and LTTE control, knows what is meant when people
say that they do not know who shelled or where the shell came from
because they were asleep. It was not an individual experience. Even if
one was asleep, many others would then have told him their assessment.
If there was good reason to believe that the Army had fired the shell,
they would have said so unhesitatingly rather than give the alibi of
Here is what we have gathered from a number of responsible persons among
whom there is no dispute about the key facts:
It is correct that the people - 2500 to 3000 of them - took refuge in
the churches. Fr.Jeyapalan, the parish priest, had assured them that in
the event of the Army moving in, he would do the utmost to protect their
interests as lay within his ability. The people did what was usual in
such instances. The routine was well practised over 15 years of war. As
the Army got nearer they locked their homes and stayed in the church,
going home only for short periods.
The Rt. Rev. Joseph Rayappu, Bishop of Mannar, had also taken some
necessary steps. He had informed General Balagalle, who was commanding
the advancing troops, that there were civilians in Vidatthal Thivu, and
had received an assurance that the area would not be shelled. So far,
the Church’s and the Army’s intentions were commendable and no doubt it
was because of the Church that the civilians had the confidence to
remain in Vidatthal Thivu. In the meantime they were resisting pressure
from the LTTE which had been demanding that they should move northwards
into territory under their control – a move that would have turned them
into beggars and vagrants in an inhospitable region with no
On 29th June, the LTTE got tough and identified Fr.Jeyapalan as the
cause of resistance. An argument ensued. The people, especially the
young men, gathered around Fr. Jeyapalan. With a view to arm twisting
them , the LTTE referred to the intense shelling. They said, “The Sri
Lankan Army has fired 30 000 shells into this area, but not one has
fallen on Vidatthal Thivu village. This means that you must be having
secret links with the Army!” Faced with a firm refusal from the people,
the LTTE moved away in anger. As they did, a burst was fired at them
from a sub-machine gun. At least two were injured.
They then brought their mortar, fired one shell into the church compound
and also fired towards the army lines. On the Army’s admission, they
mechanically returned the fire, but no damage to life resulted from
this. The people were left with no alternative but to move. They wanted
to go to their homes and remove their valuables, but as a punishment for
not moving earlier this was disallowed. The people started their march
northwards to Thevanpiddy by night. Those owning boats were told that
they could move them along the coast northwards, but not to Mannar
Island. But some gave the slip and reached Pallimunai in Mannar Island
the following morning. Later more people came from Thevanpiddy in boats.
As to the LTTE firing a shell into the Church premises, there were no
eyewitnesses, but it was not a surmise either. There was a group of the
LTTE about the refugee camp. Some of the youth happened to chance upon
them when they overheard instructions being given over the radio to
those outside, to shell the refugees. There have been several occasions
in the past in Jaffna (i.e 1987, 1990 and 1995) where there was strong
suspicion, to say the least, that the LTTE had shelled civilians, or had
deliberately caused civilians to be shelled.
Presumably the following morning, according to Church sources, a
military official phoned Bishop Rayappu and told him that they had been
fired at from Vidatthal Thivu. The Bishop is said to have been deeply
These facts are largely undisputed and there is little confusion among
people of the region. Some condemn it outright, while some try to soften
its very disturbing impact by suggesting that there was a
misunderstanding between the LTTE and the people. The reason it is
supposed, is to do with Vidatthal Thivu having been in the earlier 80s a
stronghold of the LTTE’s arch rival, the TELO ,which it brutally
suppressed in 1986. Also TELO’s present leader, Addaikalanathan
(Selvam), hails from the area. If there is any substance in this, it
only illustrates the LTTE’ s paranoia – the historical burden of its
brutality. It cannot be said today that TELO has a following anywhere.
Two church officials who later visited Vidatthal Thivu reported that
valuables, good clothing and even parts of houses, had been looted and
removed by the LTTE. Yet, remarkably, there is so much confusion and
misrepresentation over an incident to which there are not one or two,
but hundreds of witnesses, as with the Jaffna Exodus of 1995. The LTTE
and a section of the Tamil media are able to play the propaganda game
with such extraordinary confidence through knowing that they would not
be effectively contradicted. Against this confidence, the Government is
reacting, reeling and floundering. The main reason for this is that the
Government cannot say with self-assurance that its own conduct is
defensible. We now move on to a case of confusion where the LTTE did not
play any part.
The mystery of the 37 corpses
The Army advance which begun on 26th June lasted about 3 days. The Army
claimed that for the loss of 16 dead on their side, they killed more
than 150 LTTE cadre, and that they collected 97 LTTE bodies. The Army
took 36 bodies to Mannar Island to be handed over to the LTTE through
the ICRC. Another body was brought later. Of these 28 bodies were of
women. The LTTE on the other hand claimed that they had lost 84 of
theirs in return for more than 100 soldiers killed.
In wanting to hand over the bodies the Army appears to have thought
it had scored a propaganda coup, as the following extract from Shamindra
Ferdinado’s report in the Island of 1st July suggests:“ “We believe at
least 5 girls were less than 15 years old”,…. Major General Lional
Balagalle said, pointing out that the majority of the dead appeared to
be young. The LTTE, he said, continues to deploy children despite an
assurance given to the United Nations that those under 18 would not be
sent for combat”.
But where the people are concerned it did not take much to turn the
whole thing upside down. First, N.Sri Kantha of the TELO was quoted in
the press as saying that the bodies were mostly those of civilians. He
claimed to base his assertion on information of civilians coming from
the conflict zone. Why no journalist went to these same sources to check
this out is not clear. TELO is given credibility only when it serves the
In the Thinakkural of Sunday 4th July came Vithuran’s column, quoting
N.Sri Kantha and building the case further: “The Army claimed to have
recovered 97 LTTE corpses. However when they tried to hand over 37
corpses through the ICRC, allegedly of LTTE cadre killed in battle, the
Tigers refused to accept these saying that the corpses were not theirs …
The Army has so far said nothing of the balance 60 corpses.”
The Mannar Acting Magistrate, Mr. Kayas Feldano, of course did the
correct thing. Since the bodies were unidentified, he had them videoed
from several angles, had the clothing removed for future identification,
and had the bodies buried in numbered graves. It came to be almost
universally believed that the dead were civilians, travelling between
the LTTE and Army controlled areas for trade. They were waiting just
north of the army check point at Pappamoddai, it was supposed, when the
advancing troops killed them and palmed them off as LTTE cadre, after
dressing some in LTTE uniforms.
The case is not without problems, and an explanation is owed from the
Army. There were subsequently conflicting reports from the Acting
Magistrate and the JMO (the Judicial Medical Officer whose functions
were performed by the DMO). The former, based on an examination of 29th
June stated that about half the bodies were naked, 6 were wearing
uniform, and the types of dress on others were unidentifiable. He also
concluded, based apparently on the lack of correspondence between the
injuries and punctures on the uniforms, that the uniforms were put on
after death. The JMO had reportedly recorded that all were in uniform.
The conflict came out in court.
We may recall that according to soldiers who served in the Elephant
battle of July 1991, others stripped the bodies of female LTTE cadre
killed and photographed them naked. Some such ritual may explain the
state of the bodies. If this repulsive practice is still continuing,
then it needs to be exposed.
The incident also reveals the pressures under which magistrates and
are working. This is an unprecedented development where actions in the
battlefield have come under judicial review. It arose through a freak of
the ICRC’s logistical problem. The Judiciary nor the Army were prepared
for it, for in most cases the bodies would have been passed onto the
LTTE or burned in the fighting zone under the cover of emergency
regulations, rather than being left with the hospital authorities, which
resulted in a judicial review. This experience again points to how the
Emergency Regulations are being used to to avoid accountability.
If there were indeed a significant number of civilian corpses among
37, one would have expected the following to take place within a matter
? The Church which maintains good contact with the Vanni would have
now obtained and publicised the identities of some civilians. (Even
though the land borders are closed, there is unofficial seaborne
? The LTTE would have publicised some names of civilians killed through
its London press releases.
? Families would have contacted the ICRC.
The first two have not happened. We reliably understand that the claim
in the Thinakkural above is incorrect. The LTTE, we learn, did not
refuse to accept the bodies. The ICRC rather faced a logistical problem
in transferring the bodies. The Army evidently suggested a transfer by
sea, which the ICRC declined. On the question of queries, we understand
that the ICRC is constantly faced with queries about missing persons,
but cannot at present speak of particular queries with regard to the
incident above. According to one source, “There may have been
exceptions, but they had no particular reason to treat the bodies as
other than those of the LTTE”.
In general concerns been expressed that this is a war in which, despite
the high intensity of fighting, few prisoners have been taken by either
side. In the past there have been reports that both sides have killed
prisoners – eg. after the Army’s capture of Jaffna in 1995 (our Special
Report No 9), after the LTTE’s overrunning of Mullaitivu Camp in 1996
and earlier of 600 policemen in 1990. In the case above the Army should
be called upon to explain what really happened.
The following from P.Manickavasagam’s piece in the Sunday Virakesari
11th July sheds, perhaps, some light on the matter:
“25th June was the last day on which civilians from the army controlled
areas of Mannar and Vavuniya districts crossed through the new transit
point at Pappamoddai, near Mannar, into the [LTTE controlled] Vanni.
About 500 so crossed over. Owing to the long delay resulting from
checking [of goods and persons] by the Army, 60 of them having gone
beyond the army check-point, spent the night on the roadside with their
goods. The following morning the advancing troops, upon seeing them,
refused to let them proceed, but brought them back to Pappamoddai, and
asked them to leave the goods in the Church. According to government
officials from Mannar, they were then brought to Mannar Town, where they
are now accommodated.”
It is also notable that Manickavasagam, a careful writer and a
correspondent also to the BBC Tamil Service, had avoided a foray into
the 37 bodies controversy. He was probably told the foregoing when
making inquiries about the bodies. There is therefore nothing so far to
support the allegation of the scandalous fraud the Army is said to be
guilty of. Nor is there any notable testimony of misdemeanour by the
troops during the recent military advances.
Yet the people of the area, nearly all of them, continue to believe
firmly that the Army had killed civilians and tried to pass them off as
LTTE. This suggests a serious breakdown of relations between the
Government and the people, where the latter are given to believe the
worst of the security forces – almost a reversal of the good rapport
built up in 1995 when Brigadier Tennekon was in charge.
Another incident illustrates the phenomenon. Mrs Ananthi Suriapragasam
of the BBC Tamil Service recently visited the displaced persons from
Madhu in the Pesalai refugee camp. This was even before the exodus from
Vidatthal Thivu. Those present heard much airing of anger against the
LTTE. The broadcast recording conveyed sentiments for peace, but this
anger was omitted. Those who speak on behalf of the Tamil people, the
Church, the media, and peace groups, can ignore this anger with
impunity. They know for sure that between the LTTE and the Government,
its direction would be altered before long. We will examine this in what
The Armed Forces: A defeatist course
The problems of the security forces start from attitudes at the very
top, running through a broad section of Southern society. Much publicity
was given recently in the Southern media to Miss. Sujatha Veerasingam
(16), the girl among three injured LTTE cadre captured by the Army in
the recent operation. Originally from Karaveddy, Jaffna, and recently in
the Vanni and studying in the pre-O.Level class, she had served in the
LTTE from December 1998. Recently a group of 100 women cadre were
surrounded by the Army. The leader of her group exploded a grenade to
kill themselves. Sujatha was admitted to army hospital. It is the
following remarks from her that the media have eagerly publicised:
“I want to live, not to die for something called liberation that
nowhere near….. We and a host of other children were forcefully
recruited by the LTTE in December 1998…. We were not treated well and
the food was insufficient…. We were suffering a lot. We were not allowed
to see our families and those who wanted to leave the LTTE were not
allowed, and some who fled were killed….” Clearly, many of them are
disillusioned and would desert if there is a way out.
Much of this is well-known, and it serves little purpose except to
reinforce patronising attitudes among Southerners, and drive them into
an unwarranted complacency that they are fighting a decent war to
liberate poor Tamil children. But the first time when an interview with
her was broadcast in the 6.30 p.m. Tamil news on state television, she
had spoken of how their leaders motivated them to fight, arguing that
there was no other alternative when dealing with the Sinhalese. The
Sinhalese, they were told, would cut and chop. To underline the message,
reference was made to the Chemmani mass grave in Jaffna where scores of
persons detained by the Army in Jaffna during 1996 are believed to be
It is these words of Sujatha that need to be emblazoned in the minds
people in the South, and especially of officers and men. That would lead
to a humbler and a more thoughtful approach to the problem. They also
highlight a particular and important reason why thousands of Tamil
children are trapped into fighting a brutal war in which no quarter is
given. These words of hers would also seriously question the morality
and judgement of the highest persons in charge of the war, whose wisdom,
responsible for hundreds of disappearances, is now encapsulated by the
Clearly, the leaders and opinion makers of Southern society are not
prepared to face these questions and draw their implications.
Consequently, the war is now being waged without political direction or
vision. The optimism in the early days of the present Government that
the security forces would be more disciplined and accountable to the
people, have receded. We see instead a security establishment not
looking towards peace, but bent on expanding numbers with more and
larger permanent bases in what they presume would be permanently hostile
surroundings. We see a less cerebral approach with growing indiscipline.
Twenty years of suffering and experience are being washed down the
In the newly cleared areas in the Vanni and in Mannar Island itself,
assault of civilians after an incident has become a regular occurrence.
This is something that is new in an area where the people have been
generally accommodative. The LTTE is being given ample motivation to
step up hit and run attacks, invite reprisals on the civilians and
unnerve the security forces. Recently the STF had been deployed along
the Vavuniya-Mannar Road, up to Mannar Town.
In an incident in Murunkan early this month, the LTTE came in a tractor
dressed as farmers. An STF man lifted the barrier for the tractor to
enter. The LTTE opened fire and killed him. After a further exchange of
fire, the LTTE withdrew on foot. At that time a lorry came along the
main road. Its driver and four other occupants were all Sinhalese. The
STF shot the driver in the thigh. The others who did not know the area
ran and finally took shelter in a church. Other civilians were
assaulted. An STF man was seen raising the barrel of a mortar to point
almost vertically and firing a shell. The shell exploded in the kitchen
of a nearby house causing damage, but fortunately, no one was hurt.
Before this incident the LTTE went into a boutique owned by a Muslim
near Mannar stadium and shot two STF men having tea and ran away. Then
reinforcements came and started assaulting civilians. A few days later
the shop was also smashed. The local Citizens’ Committee sent a strongly
worded letter of protest to the Brigade Commander T.T.Ranjit de Silva.
Later the Police Superintendent asked the Committee to withdraw the
letter, which they declined. No action was taken.
There are no big massacres today, but the experience of regular
humiliation, harassment and beating shapes the people’s attitude towards
the Government and its security forces. These stories are bandied about
among school children, and parents often come to hear of things through
children in primary school. These children in turn grow up with a rash
boldness, nurturing an antagonism towards the State. We may be sitting
on the slippery slope of the early 80s, but in a total political vacuum
where no alternatives are offered. It is also a mindless state in which
the LTTE is adept at harnessing people’s the resentment to destructive
The loss of accountability
Two years ago one could have picked out a couple of army officers whom
the people commended with enthusiasm. There was Larry Wijeratne in
Pt.Pedro for one, and less known was Sunil Tennekoon in Mannar. It is a
political wave that brings out the abilities of particular officers.
There was from 1995-1997 such a wave for a political solution and for
national unity. It is also notable the trouble these officers took over
former LTTE cadre and deserters. Knowing the nature of the LTTE and how
it would try to use them, it is a very demanding task, calling for
patience and restraint. Now that political wave has all but receded, and
these former LTTE members live dangerously, fearing the security forces
as well as the LTTE. This has been one cause for the upsurge of killings
in the Mannar area. Institutionally the security establishment has
learnt little, even after Chemmani. The receding of the wave and a new
chill has been evident for some months.
During December 1998 the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar issued a
statement that 27 innocent civilians had been killed recently around
Mannar Island. Towards the end of the month Brigadier T.T.Ranjit Silva
met the NGOs at a conference. The Vicar General who represented the
Bishop was said to have been strongly told off by the Brigadier, who
denied that those killed were innocent, and maintained that they were
smugglers who had wondered close to camp. Every proposal by the VG is
said to have been rudely turned down.
In all about 53 persons are said to have been killed around Mannar
island last year, about 8 of them identified as LTTE or security
personnel. More than 20 bodies were classified as unidentified -
suggesting that they were persons who came to the Island in connection
This whole uncalled-for episode is chiefly a result of ill-thought-out
government policy. Earlier there had been a decision to cut the rations
sent to the Vanni from 1st July 1998. Shortly afterwards in early August
1998, some of the poorest civilians who were carrying the allowed 4
liters of kerosene and other items into the LTTE controlled area for
sale, faced increased restrictions.
The effect of all these restrictions was to increase hardship all round,
and there was a notable increase in smuggling. This was accompanied by
an increased harshness on the part of the Army when in one incident in
August, 5 smugglers were killed. In due course an order went out from
Mannar’s bold magistrate, Ilancheliyan, a man respected for his social
concern. He had used his authority to get the Police and lax village
headmen to crack down on illicit liquor. Ilancheliyan told the Army,
“Smuggling is not an offence for which capital punishment is prescribed.
You catch the culprits and bring them to court, and they would be tried
accordingly.” This was followed by rumours that the Army sought the
magistrate’s transfer. However the killings stopped for a time, and
later resumed. The Bishop’s statement too halted killings until about
late January. During that period a number of smugglers were caught,
beaten or ducked in a pool, and chased home.
On the morning of 3rd December 1998, an army patrol was passing the
Mannar suburb of Nalavanpadu. They spotted a youth quickly disappearing
into the compound of a house. A search was done and the youth hiding
amidst brushwood was brought onto the road. A man who was apparently the
officer-in-charge of the group was seen holding the youth by neck and
smashing him against a lamp post several times, until he collapsed on to
the road, lifeless. He was then suspended on a pole by his hands and
legs, and carried away.
There were two versions of the incident. One was that the boy was
innocent and that the soldiers did this because his residence pass had
expired by a few days. The second was that the youth was a member of the
LTTE and was found carrying in a bag a suicide kit, explosive material
and fuses. Such were produced at the inquest, and according to some
senior citizens, the productions seemed to them genuine. It is the first
version that had wider currency. What the soldiers did was totally
unwarranted and because of it, the truth cannot be established with any
certainty. Contrary to what the people saw on the road, the Army told
the press that the youth had swallowed cyanide [Island 5.12.98].
The Tharapuram Murder & disappearances : 4th & 5th July 1999
There had thereafter been murders where the culprits have not been
identified. Six months ago in Eluthoor, near Tharapuram on Mannar
Island, the bodies of two males were found with their necks cut. Then on
5th July there occurred an incident which appeared to throw light on the
killings. Miss Jeyamalar Bernardshaw (18) from Jaffna was believed to
have been once a member of the LTTE and was living with an elderly
Muslim couple in Tharapuram, along with her brother Gnanasekaran
Bernardshaw. Jeyamalar became the subject of purely a private dispute in
the village and was pregnant at the time of the incident.
On the night of 3rd July Gnanasekaran was abducted by unknown persons.
In the early hours of the 5th morning, unknown persons entered the house
where Jeyamalar was staying. A.Mohamed Hussain (50), the landlord, and
his wife Bahia Umma (45), had screamed. One of the intruders knifed
them, killing Bahia Umma and injuring Hussain. Hussain, who frequented
Sunny Village, reportedly said that he had recognised Captain Ranjith,
who was in charge of the camp there as being among the intruders. The
Mannar Magistrate Illancheliyan who visited the scene with
Liyannarachchi, OIC Mannar Police, is said to have found boot marks
pointing to the Army. Duly word was sent to Captain Ranjith to appear at
the inquest. This he did not do. The magistrate sent him summons to
appear in Court on 7th July. He also instructed the Police to seek the
co-operation of the Mannar Town Commandant to look for the missing
persons in army camps in the district.
In the meantime a fairly full report of the inquest proceedings appeared
in the Thinakkural of the 6th July. On hearing about it Ranjith went
with some of his men to the Thalvupadu community library and asked
people there to read the item. He then uttered words to the effect that
he knows how to deal with those who file such reports. Later, he is
reported to have summoned the correspondent, a Mannar-born Muslim
educated at St.Xavier’s, and had a pleasant little chat.
Another circumstance, with the onset of Black Tiger week, early July,
Ranjith had become very security conscious. He had blocked off the road,
along the camp, except to heavy vehicles, installed a barbed wire fence
on the other side, and made pedestrians, cyclists and motor-cyclists,
walk or wheel their vehicles through loose sandy soil. He told people
that a motor-cyclist was due to come with a woman suicide bomber on the
pillion, who would pounce on him.
On 7th July Captain Ranjith came to the Magistrate’s Court with a two
dozen strong security contingent. When the Magistrate disallowed them
coming in armed, Ranjith told him that there was a threat to his life.
The Magistrate asked him to come in without his arms, assuring him that
nothing would happen to him. He then told him that they were both
government servants, and that he could have come when asked to come
without having to await summons. Ranjith then claimed to have an alibi
to prove that he was not involved in the incident. The Magistrate then
took up the question of intimidation of the press. This was denied by
Captain Ranjith. The Magistrate then reportedly told him, “Don’t deny
everything, then we will have to start looking for proof.”
The Captain was evidently boiling over when he left the court. He
grabbed Jeyamalar’s elder sister Mary Jenita’s identity card and pass
and took them away. Mary complained to the Magistrate who ordered the
Police to get those back from the Captain or to bring the Captain
himself. These were later obtained by the Police.
>From the Court, the Captain went with his escort to the Mannar Fort
camp, when a funeral procession slowed him down. He was seen raising his
hand as if to assault one of those conducting the procession, and was
seen putting it down when the Additional GA’s vehicle appeared. Mohamed
Hussain is now said to be with his children in Colombo, and is the key
witness in the case.
The Captain’s conduct is suggestive of a man going to pieces, becoming
danger to himself as well as to others. Under normal circumstances he
should have been remanded. The blame very much lies with a combination
of bad leadership at the top and an absence of political vision.
Compared with the detailed report of the inquest of 5th July which
appeared in Thinakklural the next day, only a small item on the
magistrate’s court hearing of the 7th appeared 3 days later. There was
no reference to the main actor on the loose - Captain Ranjith. Clearly,
the message to the press had gone down.
The danger was clearly illustrated by how Captain Ranjith’s men behaved
in the afternoon of the 19th July, when one of the men going 100 yards
into the beach road in front of the camp was shot. The men went on the
rampage in vintage Sri Lankan Army style, firing at random, assaulting
all and sundry, stripping an old man and burning his hut. Women with
suckling babes too were treated roughly. All civilians around were
brought to the junction, children cowering behind their mothers, and the
men were assaulted with gun-butts and boots while the others looked on.
Those assaulted were left breathless and in great pain. Several of those
with bullet wounds were admitted to Mannar Hospital. A lady who was
serious was transferred to Anuradhapura Hospital and succumbed there.
Ranjith was apparently in town then. However with poor leadership at the
top, it takes very little for the LTTE to get the Sri Lankan Army it
The case of Carmelita (21)
Carmelita’s brother Napoleon, from Pallimunai, had been a prominent
member of the LTTE. A year ago, he deserted and was at home for awhile.
The Army later picked him up and kept him for some time. He has since
not been seen, although it is widely spoken that he left the area and is
involved in trade. Napoleon’s brother who was staying at home is said to
have been killed by the TELO two years ago. Carmelita had gone to the
Mainland and was said to have been involved with the LTTE for a time.
She left and wanted to come back home.
Recently she was told that it was safe for her to come back. There is
little doubt that Camelita’s mother had approached the security forces,
at least at local level, and got an assurance. The Police are in
Pallimunai having close dealings with the population and a number of
policemen are married in the village. It was two weeks before her murder
that Carmelita, had returned home.
The following facts transpired at the inquest proceedings under Mannar’s
Acting Magistrate Kayas Feldano on 14th July as reported by
Thinakkural’s Mannar Correspondent : The key witness was the fruit
seller who lived in the premises opposite. At 1.30 AM on 12th July he
was woken up by two men who asked for Napoleon. He took them across and
knocked on the door. The mother came. Her hands were tied and she was
asked to call the others. Witness and two children were locked up in one
room, some others in another room and Carmelita and her mother who were
left were taken to the front room. They were first questioned, and the
mother was then sent out. The mother was then heard crying, “Shoot me if
you like, but do not harm my daughter.” Camelita’s crying was then
heard, “Save me, please do not harm me!” Noises of agony were heard for
some time, then a gun shot, and silence reigned.
While this torment was going on, the mother had freed herself and run
the security post nearby and asked for help. She was ignored. When
Witness finally came out of the room, he saw Carmelita on the floor in a
pool of blood, with her dress torn.
Witness said that he knew the killers. They were from the nearby
security post and came to his shop four or five times a day. Although
the face of one was masked with a black cloth, he knew well who he was.
When witness went to the Mannar Police to make a statement, he was
treated dismissively. He subsequently received a death threat. The DMO
Dr.Emmanuel Peiris, who delivered the post-mortem report said that there
were 18 injuries on Carmelita. There were several bite marks, including
on the lips, a stab wound in the abdomen, and she had been shot after
being raped. The Acting Magistrate has instructed the Superintendent
of Police and the Town Commandant to provide a list of names of
personnel manning the security post in question. The officers in charge
of the Military and Police at Pallimunai, along with the police officer
who failed to record the statement of the key witness have been ordered
to appear in court on July 20th.
There are some points to be noted about the developments in general
the two cases in particular.
? These incidents testify to a deteriorating climate of impunity, of
unchecked licence given to those with organised force behind them,
resulting in the law enforcers degenerating into criminals. Normally the
magistrate should have remanded those whom he has good reason to believe
had committed the crime, would very likely intimidate witnesses and
hinder the investigation. Whether those above would back a Tamil
magistrate ordering the arrest of security personnel remains to be
The general practice followed in the conflict zone, as in Jaffna, has
been for the army commandant to take the initiative and order the
arrest. Much of the blame should thus rest with Brigadier T.T.R de
Silva who had made his attitude towards the civilians clear over the
months and others still higher who allowed him to function in this
manner. Had firm action been taken with Captain Ranjith, Carmelita’s
life may have been saved.
? These events spread over time, the impunity with which those who
smuggle out of desperation have been shot, and the recent developments,
suggest that there has been in operation a policy of killing off those
suspected of ties with the LTTE. This is given further substance by the
refusal of the Police to record the complaint. This flies in the face of
pledges by the army top brass that they encourage LTTE cadre to
surrender and have schemes to rehabilitate them.
? Some of these crimes, whose causes would have remained in the domain
of conjecture, are coming to light only because of new ground broken by
the office of the magistrate in Mannar. This is unique, considering that
from 1977, when the victors at the election forced the police and the
magistrates to look on while violence was unleashed on the vanquished
for several weeks, the magistracy has been regarded a tame affair.
Today in the Mannar District, the people have no confidence in the Army,
the Police or the Government. But they have come to place confidence in
the magistrates. It is for this reason that they have come forward to
testify at a considerable risk. The magistracy has been a steadying
factor in a situation otherwise tending towards anarchy.
It is also notable, and perhaps not at all surprising, that the Mannar
magistrate was the last to be asked by the judicial authorities to
preside over the excavation of graves in Chemmani, and he promptly
accepted. The others, refused, wavered or fled the country, mainly out
of fear of the LTTE, although the gravesites were those of victims of
Thus the question of the safety of the Mannar Magistrate,
Mr.Illancheliyan, and also of Acting Magistrate Mr.Feldano, should not
be taken lightly. Should anything happen to them, the Tamil magistrates
would go further into a shell.
We have in the foregoing dealt with one aspect of the people’s distrust
of the State. But much of it comes from day-to-day experiences. We have
dealt with the pass system in previous bulletins. This becomes
increasingly mindless and harassing every time the authorities find
indications of the LTTE forging their passes. We now take the question
Health in the Vanni
Leaving behind Anuradhapura, a bustling city where government money
being poured in, one enters the North. In place of the bygone lush paddy
fields and signs of agricultural activity, one sees grinding poverty,
little activity, broken or dilapidated buildings, with security and
barbed wire everywhere. A new hierarchy is evident from who gives orders
and who must obey without protest, and who is allowed to sit in buses at
check points, while others must get down and walk with their baggage.
Much of this could be explained as a necessary consequence of war. But
there are also some distributing reflections. After 15 years, is the
order with all its assumptions and incurable irrationality showing signs
of becoming permanent? Is it the war alone or are there attitudes which
go far beyond the war?
The boy with a hole in the heart
Mr.Ganesh is a minor government official in Adampan which the LTTE
controlled until recently. His four-year-old son, Nirojan has a hole in
the heart which required surgery from Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital in
Colombo. To travel thither, he had to previously enter the army
controlled area at Uyilankulam, go 10 miles west to Mannar Town, get a
friend there to stand surety and get a pass to go back east towards
Colombo. Earlier in the year he took his son to Colombo, but the surgery
could not be performed because Nirojan had caught a cold. Last May he
was given a date for early July. By this time the Army had moved in, and
he and his family were issued with a residence pass by the army command
in Vavuniya, whose troops had moved in.
To go to Colombo Mr.&Mrs. Ganesh and Nirojan left Adampan for Mannar
Town on 2nd July for their pass as usual. Mannar was now only a single
short bus ride from Adampan. They applied for their pass in the morning.
After a delay of several hours the Mannar Pass office told Ganesh in the
afternoon that because his residence pass was from the Vavuniya rather
than the Mannar brigade, he must go to Vavuniya and apply for his
Colombo travel pass. It was too late for them to go to Vavuniya that
day, so they spent the night with friends and came the next morning,
only to be told that they could not board the Vavuniya bus from Mannar,
but must go to Uyilankulam nearest to their home down the same road,
register themselves there and board the Vavuniya bus. The bus however
originates from Mannar.
So they went from Mannar to Uyilankulam, where the registration had
closed and the Vavuniya bus was about to arrive. A policeman seeing the
sick child and understanding their plight took pity on them and promised
to put them into the bus. The bus came and the policeman pleaded. But
the security man on escort duty refused to allow in anyone whose name
was not on the list. They waited till 3.00 p.m. and caught a bus to
Madhu Road, and finally reached Vavuniya. But unlike in Mannar, they had
no one in Vavuniya to stand security for them. Whoever stands security
will have to surrender his pass and forfeit any travel himself. However
through the intervention of friends they reached Colombo in the nick of
time and it is a wonder that the child survived the ordeal.
It may also be mentioned here that during his visits to Colombo,
a former Muslim neighbour of Ganesh who was the most forthcoming in
helping him to treat his son. This neighbour, with other Muslims, was
chased out of Adampan by the LTTE in 1990.
Given that the people of the Vanni live in an area where they are prone
to sickness and several hurdles are placed in their way preventing
access to medical care from outside, it becomes imperative on the part
of the Government to maintain the Mannar Hospital in good working order.
But for a number of reasons it has not been possible to get experienced
doctors to serve there. The Ministry of Health has been sending newly
passed out doctors, often foreign qualified, who do a compulsory stint
in a difficult area as a condition for permanency. This has been a
disaster. Normally these new doctors would have learnt by working under
proper supervision of those more experienced. But in Mannar they are
left there as it were on the loose. In the very hierarchy and status
conscious medical profession in Sri Lanka where titles mean everything,
these young doctors tend to feel small consulting highly experienced
local doctors, who though having no specialist titles, enjoy the
confidence and respect of the populace. Even when experienced MSF
doctors had been present, the young doctors had been reluctant to
consult them. Often patients have been dispatched to Vavuniya or
Anuradhapura without getting the best opinion available. This system has
been grossly unfair to the young doctors and particularly to the
patients. Things somewhat improved after Dr.Emmanuel Peiris, an
experienced local practitioner, was given the authority of a DMO.
Stories of miscarriages of treatment, dangerous experimentation and
breadth escapes are many. Often the situation could have been rectified
by getting or acting on another opinion. Those with narrow escapes are
frequently people with the influence to rush a serious patient to
Colombo. Recently for example, the story is told of a young doctor who
used forceps to deliver a baby without asking for help. A critical nerve
of the baby was damaged. The ailment in the baby is later said to have
been recorded as having resulted from the mother having malaria (which
is very common) during pregnancy.
We give here the experience of Mr.Jaleel, a firewood seller from
Puthukkudiyiruppu : “I admitted my 7 year old daughter Saida who was
having fever to Mannar Hospital. I don’t know what happened, but she
was suddenly dispatched to Anuradhapura Hospital where she died on 21st
June. Were she treated here, we would have had the comfort of her dying
among her own people. If I could speak Sinhalese, I would have taken her
out of Anuradhapura and looked after her in Puttalam Hospital. Our
people are totally lost in Anuradhapura.
”I will tell you sir, in Anuradhapura they use patients sent by Mannar
Hospital for learning. In 1987 my younger sister was sent to
Anuradhapura Hospital. They had given up on her and were going to give
her a pain killer. My mother hugged my sister, protested and did not
allow them. She wanted to remove her. A nurse trampled her foot. Then a
policeman intervened and my sister was discharged. Can you believe that
she is now a mother of six?
>From such impressions it does not follow that Anuradhapura Hospital
at fault. But the people do strongly feel that in the present system
they are not getting what is at least passable. The important social
aspect of health-care is totally absent.
It may yet be argued that the Government is doing its best under the
existing constraints of war. This we must seriously question.
The Memisa Affair
Mannar Hospital had been long served by the MSF. Memisa is a Dutch
organisation providing medical services in difficult areas. In October
last year or earlier, Memisa had got unofficial clearance from the MoD
to take over Mannar Hospital from MSF (Holland) in January this year.
The earlier brigadier in Mannar too had been encouraging. But formal
approval from MoD was getting delayed. The coming of Memisa would have
been the prelude to a variety of urgently needed health services and
training, apart from surgery. For example there are no ophthalomological
services in the Vanni. Recently the Lions or the Rotary Club took people
from the area to Kandy for cataract operations and brought them back.
Now several of them are encountering problems without aftercare that is
crucial after such an operation. Thus the prospect of having Memisa was
more than welcome.
Based on assurances previously given, Memisa commenced work in Mannar
Hospital on 1st January. The people enthusiastically welcomed their
services. However the new Mannar Brigadier T.T.R de Silva told them that
they should not continue to work there without written approval. Memisa
had to pull out of Mannar on 16th January, there being no written
approval. While the Memisa team returned to Holland, a representative
stayed behind in the hope of getting the approval. All this time
patients in Mannar were suffering. The Roman Catholic Church worked
hard to get the approval for Memisa. The Sisters of the Holy Cross too
were eager to provide services in Arippu and North Vanni with help form
Memisa. There was also a proposal from the Methodist Church to work with
Memisa in Jaffna.
In the meantime the Ministry of Health tried to provide surgeons for
Mannar on a rotational basis. Surgeons came, but there was no
anaesthetist. So very little work was done.
Mr.R.Sampanthan, MP, heard about the problem and telephoned
M.S.Wickremarchachi, Additional Secretary/Defence, on 8th April and
inquired from him. He was happy to hear that the matter had been
resolved that very day and a formal letter was being sent to the
Ministry of Social Affairs. According to Church sources, Memisa too was
told of this – i.e six months after they made an application and when
unofficial clearance was given.
But even then nothing happened. Mannar remained without much needed
medical services. In the meantime in private conversation and in his
homilies, Brigadier T.T.R.de Silva has with barely suppressed pride
taken credit for keeping Memisa out. His reasons – the Dutch and the
British having been our colonial rulers cannot be up to any good! His
words were to the effect that these services should be handled by ‘us’.
The way the Brigadier had been running Mannar, it is not colonialism
that he has any problem with, but only with somebody else’s colonialism.
Moreover, can this Government which talks about devolution and
accountability allow the prejudices of a brigadier, a paid servant, to
overrule the people obtaining urgent medical services, after its being
approved at the highest level over six long months of deliberation?
Further, the Ministry of Health had been regularly saying that they
badly needed Memisa in Mannar. Surely, the MoH should have a greater say
in this than the MoD and it should have taken a stand. One can hardly
avoid the conclusion that there has been a shameful game of deception at
the highest levels of government. It is not peace with honour that moves
them, but simply that anything deemed too good for the people of the
North-East must be blocked. The Brigadier’s prejudices and any
differences between Memisa and any other organisation, have merely come
in useful. In the meantime many have died whose lives could have been
In the foregoing we have dealt with why the Government’s credibility
reached a low ebb, and how in the context of this the LTTE wins the
propaganda war hands down, despite its devastating brutality and
oppressiveness. On the intricate question of why Tamil society has been
unable to check its march towards the precipice, we take a brief look at
the Church which wields much influence in the region.
Why the Church Failed?
Those who take an extreme view of the Roman Catholic Church to the point
of painting it a pro-terrorist organisation, would do well to examine
the role of the Buddhist prelates – the Maha Sangha – during the JVP
insurgency of 1987 – 1990. Did they make any strong condemnation of the
JVP’s terrorist actions? Did they not keep a line of communication open
to the JVP? There is always an institutional interest towards not
becoming isolated in possible new constellations of power. Behind these
institutional interactions also lie shifting boundaries of power,
marking a power struggle.
Some of the Church’s actions have been clearly beneficial to the people.
During the early 90s the LTTE ran riot in Madhu with its loud speakers
and recruitment campaigns. Under Bishop Rayappu, the Church reasserted
its control over Madhu, at least formally, and there was some order. But
the Church’s more recent claims to the effect that Madhu was liberated
territory until the Army moved into the area cannot be upheld.
When the LTTE was around it had many ways of controlling the refugees
the church premises and looking after its interests within, without
having armed cadre moving around. There was never any question of
unarmed LTTE cadre being fired at. This was far from being the case when
government soldiers moved into the area. This tragically proved to be
the case when on 13th July at 6.00 PM, the LTTE shot and killed an
unarmed soldier in the shopping complex within the premises of the
Shrine of Madhu. Bishop Rayappu condemned it a few days later as
‘inhuman’ and ‘diabolically intentional’ without mentioning the LTTE and
conveyed his deepest sympathies to the soldier’s family. It flew in the
face of the respect the LTTE supposedly had for the Shrine, and once
again demonstrated the Church’s illusions regarding its ability to
influence the LTTE. The incident was notably not reported in the BBC
(TS), IBC radio and the Church’s own Radio Veritas.
The Church’s position here was a political one, as ever so often the
Universal Catholic Church feels a compulsion to preserve its credentials
vis-à-vis a local nationalist cause. Here the Church’s unrealistic
position was not in the interest of the refugees. The gap between the
Army and the Church was resolved through the eviction of refugees.
Behind all these developments also lies a power struggle – on the one
hand between the Church and the LTTE, and on the other, between the
Church and the Government. We make a distinction here between a struggle
for power and representing the interests of the people while fighting
for their rights, although both may often lead to a similar actions, as
in the first instance above.
In representing the rights of the people in a situation of crisis where
the Church is both a moral and a temporal authority, one would expect a
clearly articulated moral position on issues and problems confronted by
the people. But this is seldom the case. As against the Government, the
Church very rightly condemned the shoot–on–sight policy against
smugglers last December and encountered an ill-tempered reaction from
the local brigadier. Since then the Church has been largely silent. The
Bishop’s style has been quiet personal diplomacy which must of
necessity often turn a blind eye to the harsh reality of the people.
When the LTTE shot down the Lionair passenger flight last November, the
Bishop knew the facts. He visited the area and confirmed that there were
no survivors. When questioned by others, he avoided the issue by saying
that the Government must investigate it. But he also said something in
never denying that the LTTE had shot it down.
During the recent army advance towards Vidatthal Thivu, the Church took
an unusual and praiseworthy step of a kind it had failed to take during
the Jaffna Exodus of 1995, where some senior clergy actually connived
with the LTTE in evacuating the people. The Church, to a considerable
extent, offered protection to those remaining behind. This was partly
facilitated by the good personal rapport between the Bishop and General
Balagalle. But the LTTE would have none of it and went to the extent of
shelling the people. The LTTE was telling the Church where they get off.
The Bishop, like many others, may think that a section of the LTTE had
done this without the knowledge of the leader, V.Prabhakaran. Some
senior churchmen hope that Prabaharan would allow the displaced
Vidatthal Thivu people to resettle there. But in reality the inhuman
plight of civilians cannot and will not change. The transfer of civilian
populations, at whatever human cost, is integral to the LTTE’s resource,
manpower, military and political strategies. Prabhakaran has simply gone
In the meantime the Church has been failing in its most important task
its pastoral mission to care for the rejected and succour the broken
hearted. Is this not after all the main challenge of Tamil society
today? Has any young boy or girl in trouble with, or fleeing, the LTTE
had the trust and confidence to approach the Church for help? Several
girls who have fled or left the LTTE are in cleared areas, living in
fear, depending on a small, vulnerable circle of family or friends. They
have to live as untouchables, not daring to identify themselves.
Sometimes the LTTE catches up with them and puts them under pressure to
do clandestine work. In the last few days two of them have been missing
or killed off by the security forces. If the Church has to go on
pretending that this and many related problems do not exist, then it has
failed. Surely then, its mission requires taking public positions,
defying the powers that be, and exercising its right and duty to help
and to take responsibility for those in need.
In the newly cleared (army controlled) areas of the Vanni therefore,
people live in a political vacuum with no institution they could depend
on, that lends stability to their lives, ever wary of the arbitrary
actions of the security forces and the LTTE.
In the newly cleared areas the LTTE is very angry with the people,
because until the Vidatthal Thivu incident hardly anyone followed the
withdrawing LTTE into their area as required. In these areas several
LTTE cadre who have obtained passes from the Army taunt the people by
saying “We have got passes from YOUR Army!”. This is in sharp contrast
to the days when these cadre were called “OUR boys”. They move around
and take every opportunity to make life miserable for the people. So far
there has been no big massacre, and quite often the Army has behaved
itself. But the souring of relations goes on.
Take one instance. In Adampan recently soldiers in a tractor were fired
at, killing two, and about four ran away. The villagers of course, as
usual, fled the area, and nothing happened to them. Later an army
officer summoned the village headman and told him that the chains, cash
and other items from the dead soldiers had been stolen. He accused the
villagers of doing it on the grounds that the LTTE would not do such
things, and wanted the headman to retrieve them. It was something the
civilians could not have done.
The LTTE cadre function effectively as a machine, but their individual
quality and dedication has declined over the years. Some of those
disillusioned have been known to sequester money for their future use.
In the cleared areas, the LTTE has hardly any mature people doing
clandestine work for them and many are school girls. The organisation is
clearly weak. It is sustained mainly by the Government’s failure to give
confidence to the people, and following from it, its security approach
based on paranoia. But, there is at present little hope that the
Government would devote adequate attention to the problem and muster
enough political enthusiasm to change the drift of events. It seems to
be mainly pressure from outside that could offer any hope. But is that
The dangers ahead
Some very remarkable things have been happening in what was styled a
of liberation. It was said in our last bulletin as well as in other
press reports last May that the LTTE was moving towards mass
conscription of a population devoid of means of escape, as well as of
young teenage students, and that government food rations would be
withheld from those who refuse to undergo training. That this outrage is
taking place has since been confirmed by scores of civilians fleeing the
Vanni by boat to Jaffna and Mannar Island. [See Iqbal Athas in the
Sunday Times of 4.7.99.] The forced exodus of the civilian population
from Jaffna in 1995 was a clear pointer to the extent to which the LTTE
would abuse the civilian population to prosecute a war that had lost all
moral legitimacy. The recent evacuation of Vidatthal Thivu was an
exception where the Church actively played a role to protect the
civilians. The LTTE has given notice that such a role by the Church will
not be tolerated. What then of the civilians being forced by the LTTE
into the shrinking zone under its control?
Why such indifference by international organisations to a tragedy
developing over the years and coming to a crescendo before our eyes in
recent months? Why the silence over pointers like the shooting down of a
passenger aircraft, the same mode of transport used by international
agencies travelling to Jaffna?
Clearly, the Governemt’s lack of openness is much to blame for the
relative indifference with which the LTTE’s crimes are regarded by the
world. It is after all the Government which outsiders who come here
The foreign observers who came for the Chemmani excavations in Jaffna
last June were not allowed to arrange their own accommodation. They were
taken to the RRAN Guest House in Jaffna and were much of the time kept
virtual prisoners. A contingent of policemen was placed to guard them,
evidently to provide them with security which they did not want.
Visitors who could have been allowed in after a body search, if security
was a real concern, were turned away. When a lady with good reason to
meet them came there, a policeman got in touch with a military official
by radio-telephone, and then refused her permission. It was like sending
them into a time-warp behind the Iron Curtain of the 50s. Apparently the
ministries of defence and foreign affairs were very proud of putting the
foreigners in their place.
But what purpose does it serve? Does it not give the impression that
Government has a lot to hide and is running some kind of a colonial
project in the North-East? When foreign delegates to Jaffna are treated
in this manner, what are MoD communiques about civilians fleeing the
LTTE arriving in Jaffna worth? In the meantime the Government’s stock
among the Tamils is getting so dangerously low that the LTTE is getting
away with murder and intimidation of political opponents with hardly a
whimper of protest, whether locally or abroad.
In our last bulletin (No 20) we advocated that international agencies
should be allowed to function in the Vanni with a view to safeguarding
civilian interests. Mr. Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the
UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict visited Sri Lanka
during 3rd to 9th May. He met the Government and the LTTE
representatives and issued a statement on May 21st (see Appendix). That
statement pointed to a potential role for the UN body to oversee
civilian welfare by constraining the LTTE’s child recruitment drive,
streamlining food supply to the displaced as well as easing civilian
travel across the borders of the conflict zones. Unfortunately no one
has pursued the matter further which provides a means to make the
Government and the LTTE accountable.
We strongly advocate that the Government be urged to take the necessary
steps to secure the good offices of the Special Representative of the
UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, to assist in
implementing the undertakings given to Mr.Ottunnu by both the
Government and the LTTE.
This will give a glimmer of hope that neither party could disregard
civilian interests in the manner it is being done at present.
Office of the Special Representative of the
Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
IMPORTANT COMMITMENTS ON THE PROTECTION OF
CHILDREN MADE BY GOVERNMENT AND LTTE IN SRI LANKA
New York, 12 May
At the conclusion of a weeklong mission to Sri Lanka (3-9 May1998), Mr.
Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for
Children and Armed Conflict, announced that significant humanitarian
commitments had been made by the Government of Sri Lanka and by the
leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He said, “I
welcome these commitments, which represent a significant development
towards ensuring the protection, rights and welfare of children
affected by the ongoing armed conflict in SriLanka. I now call upon the
parties to take concrete steps to fulfil the irrespective commitments?.
Mr. Otunnu visited Sri Lanka to promote
the protection, rights and
welfare of children and to witness and assess for himself the
multiple ways in which children are affected by the ongoing armed
conflict in that country. Through out his visit, he stressed the
humanitarian character of his mission and emphasisedthat he was
concerned with all children and all the dimensions of the impact ofwar
on their lives. He met with the President, H.E. Ms. Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lakshman
Kadirgamar, Minister of Justice, Constitutional Affairs, National
Integration and Ethnic Affairs, Professor G.L. Peiris,
parliamentarians and other Government officials. He traveled to affected
areas in the Jaffna peninsula and the Vanni region, where he visited
schools, resettlement villages and centres for internally displaced
persons. While in these areas, he also met with local government
officials, military commanders, religious and civic leaders,
as well as with representatives of local and international
humanitarian agencies. He had the opportunity to meet with two senior
representatives appointed by the leader of the LTTE, V. Prabhakaran.
Mr. Thamilselvan, Head of the Political Section, and Mr. Balasingham,
In his discussions with the Government
and the LTTE leadership,
Mr. Otunnu raised several issues pertaining to the rights,
protection and welfare of children. Among the issues on which the
parties made specific commitments were the following:
- Provision and Distribution of Humanitarian
efforts are being made to respond to the humanitarian situation in
affected areas; but more needs to be done to meet the critical and
growing needs of the affected populations. The Government agreed to
review the list of restricted items and also to examine procedures to
expedite the approval and distribution of necessary supplies. The LTTE
leadership made a commitment not to interfere with the flow of
humanitarian supplies destined for affected population and accepted the
need for a framework to monitor this commitment.
- Free Movement of Displaced Populations: The
Government agreed to
expedite procedures for the issue of permits for movement in affected
areas. The LTTE leadership made the commitment that the movement of
displaced populations who want to return to areas now under Government
control would not be impeded. They also pledged not to impede the return
to their homes of Muslim populations displaced by previous outbreaks of
hostilities and they accepted that a framework to monitor these
processes should be put in place.
- Recruitment and Participation of Children
in Hostilities: The
LTTE leadership undertook not to use children below 18 years of age in
combat and not to recruit children less than 17 years old. The LTTE
leadership accepted that a framework to monitor these commitments should
be put in place. The Government of Sri Lanka reiterated its commitment
to the policy of not recruiting children under the age of 18 years. Mr.
Otunnu welcomed Government assurances that there were no plans to embark
on recruitment drive in schools.
- Observing the Convention on the Rights
of the Child: The
Government of Sri Lanka has signed and ratified the Convention.
It has also prepared a National Children’s Charter. Mr. Otunnu stressed
the importance for all parties, including non-state actors, to respect
the principles and provisions of the Convention. In this connection, he
urged the LTTE leadership to make a public commitment to respect the
Convention. He was encouraged by the LTTE’s readiness to have its cadres
receive information and instruction on the Convention.
- Targeting of Civilian Populations
and Sites: Mr. Otunnu
expressed the gravest concern about the targeting of civilian
populations and sites throughout the country. The LTTE leadership
acknowledged this to be an important and legitimate concern and
undertook to review its strategies and tactics in this regard.
Another important issue that Mr. Otunnu raised
with the Government
and with the LTTE leadership was the continuing use of landmines by both
sides. He very much regretted that it had not been possible on this
occasion to obtain a commitment from either party to refrain from
using landmines; he indicated his intention to pursue this issue.
During his travel to the conflict-affected areas, Mr. Otunnu
the trauma and distress on the part of affected populations there. He
saw how the protracted conflict has undermined the social and ethical
fabric of society. He was struck by the deep and widespread yearning for
peace on the part of all communities. At a final address in Colombo,
Mr. Otunnu strongly endorsed the launching of a local initiative,
proclaiming ‘children’s zones of peace’, as a systematic effort to apply
global recommendations on the protection, rights and welfare of children
to the specific context of Sri Lanka.
Mr.Otunnu concluded his visit by
launching a strong appeal to
the international community to provide more assistance to
conflict-affected populations in Sri Lanka, especially for
resettlement and the meeting of their urgent health and education needs.