THE GROWTH OF THE TAMIL MILITANCY
5.1 Post 1983
The aftermath of the 1983 race riots brought a flood of recruits into the militant groups. The militant movements had become fractured in 1980 with the split between Prabhakaran and Uma Maheswaran. The latter went on to found P.L.O.T.E. (Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) and the former the L.T.T.E. (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). India's role in Sri Lanka's internal affairs assumed a new phase in 1981 when it refused to deport to Sri Lanka Prabhakaran and Uma Maheswaran who had got themselves locked up in police custody over a gun fight at Pondi Bazaar. The Sri Lankan government claimed that they were wanted as criminal suspects. After the 1983 riots all militant groups based themselves in Tamil Nadu. The other significant militant groups are the T.E.L.O., the E.P.R.L.F. and the E.R.O.S.. All of them received succour from India and were monitored by the Indian intelligence organisation R.A.W. (Research and Analysis Wing). By unofficial estimates 3,000 Tamils had been killed and the stock of the Sri Lankan government in international opinion reached an all time low. India had also offered its offices to reach a political settlement. Instead of cutting its losses and reaching a settlement with the Tamils, the government first agreed to proposals put forward by the Indian Special Envoy Mr. G. Parthasarathy, and then dragged its feet. A Minister for National Security was appointed in January 1984 it became evident that Mr. Parthasarathy's proposals had been rejected in all but words. Many Sinhalese critics of the government felt that it was fatally idiotic to trifle with India in this manner. The government repeatedly claimed that India was going to invade Sri Lanka. But to more perceptive observers at that time, the possibility of invasion seemed very remote. While the international press claimed that Tamil militants were receiving training in India, India stated that there were only Tamil refugees on Indian soil. The true situation became one of the open secrets of the day. In consequence of all these, the result in Ceylon was a mounting military campaign by the government which increasingly became a campaign of indiscriminate terror. This was paralleled by an increasingly effective Tamil insurgency.
5.2 The Militants in Politics
By the time of the cease-fire of 18 June 1985, the militants had reached a dominant position in the Jaffna peninsula. Sri Lankan troops there were confined to barracks. Militarily the T.E.L.O. had come to rival the L.T.T.E.. The P.L.O.T.E. was well trained and armed, but claimed that it was building up for military action rather than for a guerrilla campaign. When the L.T.T.E., T.E.L.O., E.P.R.L.F. and E.R.O.S. formally united a short time before in April 1985 to form the E.N.L.F. (Eelam National Liberation Front), this gave a considerable morale boost to the Tamil population. Up to this time the Tamil population had hardly differentiated between rival groups. They were all referred to as boys and even Tigers. A short time after the cease fire the people began to realise that there were several disturbing trends. The formal unity of the E.N.L.F. was a facade and the boys were not going to listen to the people. About this time a novel, titled Puthiyathor Ulakam (A New World), was published by a dissident group of the P.L.O.T.E.. The book was about how young men with high ideals and a desire to sacrifice themselves for the good of their people, were drawn into a militant group which tried to pervert their original good intentions into a bizarre totalitarian conformism. Those who would not fall in line were tortured and brutally destroyed. Sources from this dissident group known as the "spark" group, claimed that about 90 members of P.L.O.T.E. had been so killed. There have also been a considerable number of authenticated internal killings within the L.T.T.E. and T.E.L.O. organisations. A large number of these killings took place on Indian soil. People began to wonder if India was indeed committed to democracy, justice and the well being of the Tamils. For what then had the police in Tamil Nadu been doing all these days?
Another reason why these groups were not accountable to the people was that their dependence on the people was minimal. The people were mainly demonstration fodder. During 1984 and in the first half of 1985 the Citizens' Committees had filled the gap left behind by the self-exiled M.P.s. The committees were made up mainly of people of standing and were independent of the militant groups. To them fell the task of collecting information on army atrocities and making representations to the army and the government. One of the tasks performed by them was to make representations on behalf of the numerous youths who were being detained. The Citizens' Committees earned for themselves considerable credibility in the eyes of foreign journalists and in those of several embassies. The first blow to the mood of optimism which followed the ceasefire resulted from the murder by the L.T.T.E. of Mr. C. Anandarajan, Principal of St. John's College, and a leading member of the Jaffna Citizens' Committee. Many people acted in the belief that they still had certain democratic rights. Senior students at St. John's College went around putting up condolence posters. One editor who editorially questioned the killing was taken away and warned. The members of the Jaffna Citizens' Committee which asked the schools to observe a day of mourning received visits where the threatening undertone was clear. The main charge against Mr. Anandarajan, was the trivial one of his having organised a cricket match of Jaffna Schools versus the Sri Lankan Army, in the belief that it was in the spirit of the cease fire. It may be noted that about 15 months later in the middle of war leaders of the L.T.T.E. would fraternise on T.V. screens with Sri Lankan army officers, of whom Captain Kotelawela became well known.
A little earlier Mr. Gnanachandran, A.G.A. (Assistant Government Agent), Mullaitivu, had been assassinated and sixteen charges against him were issued in a leaflet. A highly educated man who was close to the L.T.T.E. gave the following extraordinary tale in justification of the assassination: In 1985 the people of Mullaitivu went through a difficult period due to Sri Lankan army action. The story went that Rajiv Gandhi telephoned President J. R. Jayewardene to protest about problems in Mullaitivu. President Jayewardene denied that such problems existed and in support of his claim asked Rajiv Gandhi to talk directly to the man on the spot and connected him on to A.G.A. Gnanachandran in Mullaitivu. A.G.A. Gnanachandran is said to have backed the President's claim. When asked how the militants got to know of this, the narrator of this story was sure that the conversation must have been overheard by an office employee at the switchboard who in turn would have informed the L.T.T.E.. Jaffna had now descended to trial by leaflet, gun, speculation and theatrics. The feeling of being besieged made the man in Jaffna accept all rumours and innuendoes that furthered the "Tamil cause," without examination. A few felt that things had gone fatally wrong. But most felt that the boys understandably made some small mistakes and that they would come around.
In another incident the army wanted all men in an area of Navaly to report at their camp the following day. A militant group came later and ordered that no one should go. Gunaratnam was a strong Jehovah's witneess who felt that not to go after agreeing to do so was to have told a deliberate lie. He maintained that since he had done nothing wrong he should go and perhaps expound his religious convictions to the soldiers. He did go. He was later interrogated by the militant group who could not appreciate his point of view. He was then executed. His agonised sister believes to this day that her brother is somewhere alive.
An example of trial by theatrics was the murder of a man popularly known as Rajanikanth by the T.E.L.O.. A resident of Kalviyankadu, he was an ironsmith who sometimes did some favours for the T.E.L.O.. It is said that once he had seen some members of the T.E.L.O. indulging in some unseemly behaviour with some girls. Rajanikanth proceeded to scold them as boys would be scolded by an older man. Later he was abducted by a faction of the T.E.L.O. and displayed on a stage at Nelliady Junction. A T.E.L.O. member dressed up as a woman came on stage and accused Rajanikanth of having raped her. The woman was given a knife and was asked to mete out an appropriate punishment. Rajanikanth was stabbed to death in a gruesome manner in public view. This happened during the second quarter of 1986.
Another phenomenon which came to Jaffna after the June 1985 cease fire was the prevalence of extortion and often very brutal robberies. People's houses were broken into by armed men, and after beating and sometimes torturing, their jewellery and other valuables were taken away. Appeals were made editorially and by posters to the militant groups to fulfil their obligation of policing, now that the Sri Lankan army was confined to barracks. But no militant group came forward to condemn these robberies or to do anything about them. Privately many of them expressed the feeling that these things have to be done in a liberation struggle to acquire resources. By several accounts, all militant groups indulged in robberies. Different militant groups became notorious in different areas. The game seemed to be to rob and try to put the blame on another group. The T.E.L.O. was the most noted in Jaffna town where the people were most articulate. This turned out to be useful for the L.T.T.E.. It may be mentioned that the robbery at Perumaal Temple in the heart of Jaffna, took place while an L.T.T.E. sentry was at hand. People once more lived in terror.
Although there was formal unity in the E.N.L.F. in response to popular demand, they made no attempt to work together. It was well known that Prabhakaran, the L.T.T.E. leader, and Sri Sabaratnam, the T.E.L.O. leader hated each other. The assassination of T.U.L.F. M.P.s Mr. Dharmalingam and Mr. Alalasunderam of 2 August, 1985, is an example of the methods by which one militant group tried to score over the others. Mr. Dharmalingam and Mr. Aalalasunderam were amongst the T.U.L.F. M.P.s who continued to reside in Jaffna. On the basis of testimonies given by several persons who had talked to T.E.L.O. exiles in India, it is believed that this is how it happened: The L.T.T.E. leader Prabhakaran reportedly made a strong threatening speech against the T.U.L.F.. Sri Sabaratnam the T.E.L.O. leader then gave secret instructions to his men to assassinate the two M.P.s expecting that Prabhakaran would get the blame and the discredit.
As expected the L.T.T.E. was largely blamed. In an independent testimony, a P.L.O.T.E. sentry near Mr. Dharmalingam's residence identified a vehicle in which the assassins came as belonging to the T.E.L.O.. Another example of how the militant leaders functioned was given by T.E.L.O. exiles. Sri Sabaratnam was a leader whose presence gave a sense of awe to his men. Sometimes some members would complain to him about difficulties such as conditions in the camp. Sri Sabaratnam would listen with fatherly concern and go away promising redress. Later others would come and beat up the person who complained and nothing would change. Evidently the militant leaders had learnt a good deal from the methods of their predecessors in parliamentary politics. Only their adaptations were more frightening.
5.3 The Changing Character of the
The 1977 riots together with the lack of progress on the parliamentary front motivated many impressionable and able young men to look towards the militant movement by the late 1970's. It was inevitable that the University of Jaffna should become a focal point for leadership as well as ideological direction. Many students became involved and several members of the staff became active sympathisers. The risks involved were considerable. In 1980 the University students put out a paper called the Unarvu (Sensation) which was backed by the L.T.T.E.. The paper put forward several Marxist slogans. The involvement of certain university persons gave a mistaken impression that the L.T.T.E. was a Marxist organisation. About the same time the faction of the Tigers which the following year adopted the name of the P.L.O.T.E. started a paper with the name Puthiya Paathai (New Path). This paper took a political line critical of traditional parliamentary politics as well as of the hit and run tactics of the L.T.T.E.. After two issues of the latter, Mr. Sunderam, a prominent person in the P.L.O.T.E., was assassinated by the L.T.T.E. while at the printers to bring out an issue of the paper. The official reason given by the L.T.T.E. was that the members of the organisation were signatories to a pledge not to leave the organisation and join or start another - which Sunderam had breached. But other observers say that Sunderam was a very able organiser and military man; and Prabhakaran felt that allowing him to work outside his organisation may create another rival to his own. This was the first internal killing to surface publicly, although there had been several others before. Following this two L.T.T.E. sympathisers Irai Kumaran and Umai Kumaran were killed by the P.L.O.T.E.. Though people were alarmed, these incidents were not taken to be a sign of a deeper malaise. By 1986 these internal killings were to reach epidemic proportions.
The students of the University contributed considerably to the groups of the militant movement. The dedication of many of the students was such that they left their academic careers and went to rural areas and the Eastern Province to work for their organisations. Such persons were by nature intelligent, sensitive and bound to insist on democratic accountability from their leaders. With the rise of internal killings and autocratic leadership, these students became disillusioned. By 1985 many of them started quitting their organisations to lead quiet lives. According to the testimony of their friends, several of those students who died, ended their lives in a state of utter disillusionment. The last three student union leaders up to 1985 had deep seated problems with the L.T.T.E.. Two of them left the organisation and one died while doing refugee work. Of the University students who joined the organisation in the early 1980's, only one remains within. By the latter part of 1985 the role of the students in the militant movement underwent a radical change. The students on the whole felt that the militant groups had gone very much astray and were locked in a war of attrition with each other. This, they felt had brought the community to a dangerous brink. The main thrust of student action now was to reform the militant movement through criticism and persuasion, to provide relief for refugees, to mediate between the public and the militants and to foster unity among the militant groups. Usually the students did not go for confrontation with the militant groups. But they raised specific questions regarding their conduct. They questioned the killing of Mr. Anandarajan and called for an explanation. They publicly questioned the T.E.L.O. over the killing of Rajanikanth. In April 1986 a demonstration from Vadamaratchi protesting the killing by the T.E.L.O. of T.E.L.O. members Das and four of his colleagues was fired upon. The students negotiated with the E.P.R.L.F. and P.L.O.T.E. to protect and shelter the demonstrators. The bodies of three demonstrators killed were taken to the University. In doing refugee work the students involved took considerable risks in going to difficult areas. In 1984 eight students died while transporting relief supplies to Mullaitivu.
In this role the students were respected and also feared. Until the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash, the L.T.T.E. found the students movement useful. Though it no longer provided recruits, its criticisms were mainly directed against the T.E.L.O.. One reason for this was that the L.T.T.E.'s actions were more secretive, and could not be directly ascribed. Following the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash the L.T.T.E. moved to suppress the students. With the Vijitharan affair in November 1986, the break was complete. Henceforth, the students were scared and silent spectators. This virtually ended the University's role in the militancy. Students of the past who had helped the growth of the militancy with dedication felt that they had been meanly used. The intellectual polish of the students had been useful. The leadership of the L.T.T.E., which was dominant by the end of 1986, proved that it had a mind of its own -- a totalitarian mind.
The July 1983 riots saw many new recruits pour into the militant movements. The trouble fomented by the government in the Eastern Province in 1984 found a large number of eastern province youths joining the militancy. The motivation of these youths was very different from that of their more intellectual and reflective predecessors from the University. Revenge, anger and utter helplessness were now leading motives. But the ground work had already been laid by the articulate students who had roamed the villages holding meetings. This suited the militant leadership. The new recruits would do what they were told, and not ask awkward questions. The L.T.T.E. could now drop its pretences concerning internationalism and socialism and show itself as a tightly controlled military organisation. The T.E.L.O. never had any pretences about intellectual leanings. By September 1985 a large number of refugees from the Trincomalee district were flooding into Jaffna, and these refugees who were very desperate were widely used in demonstrations. Many boys in their early teens from the refugee population joined mainly the E.P.R.L.F. and the T.E.L.O.. The E.P.R.L.F. was the first to recruit girls. The L.T.T.E. was however more discriminating in its recruitment. By December 1986 the L.T.T.E. was the dominant militant group having alienated and disbanded the other militant groups. Its military task was now much heavier, and it faced a severe man power shortage. Under these circumstances the L.T.T.E. was encouraging recruits even in their early teens. Jaffna's Old Park had now become a show case for the L.T.T.E., where children watched the drilling going on after school and would sometimes run away from home to join. Others might first join their friends who were on sentry duty and later join fully for the thrill of it. By mid-1987 girls too were being trained for a military role. Distraught parents became a regular sight around L.T.T.E. camps crying and begging for their children who had run away and joined the movement. One would sometimes see comical scenes of mothers chasing their daughters from an L.T.T.E. camp and dragging them home, with both daughters and mothers in tears. One lady teacher who observed some of the teenage L.T.T.E. boys at Old Park coming after a bath, wondered sadly, how the community can allow such innocent ones, who hardly knew what they were doing to throw their lives away for an obscure cause. The wife of a specialist doctor said, that she actually saw the young boys in the L.T.T.E. camp next door play the children's game called "hide and seek". The militant movement had come a long way from its origins amongst the undergraduates of Peradeniya, who talked, theorised and then went abroad. Death, disillusionment and assassination had removed most of the able and mature leaders from amongst the militants. Their average age dropped perhaps from 22 to 14 or 16. The few leaders who remained enjoyed absolute authority over their unquestioning ranks.
The following two conversations give some insight into the minds of the younger militants.
1. A T.E.L.O. refugee in London: "I feel bad about seeing all these posh cars in London. That was one thing I did not lack in Jaffna. Whenever we saw a new kind of car, we would stop it and drive around for a bit."
2. From ex-members of the T.E.A. (Tamil Eelam Army) in Tamil Nadu: "Our camp was at Vetharaniam. Every afternoon we would drive in a van at a particular time. We used to have a bit of fun by cutting into the school girls who were returning home. One day, by accident we knocked three of them and two died. Anyway, we went to our camp, had lunch and slept. We were awakened by stones falling on our roof. We went out, saw an angry crowd and we fired into the air and dispersed the crowd... When we were in Karainagar and wanted a good meal, we would drive our truck with the L.M.G. (Light Machine Gun) at the ready at full speed towards the beach and would fire some volleys into the sea. On our way back, the villagers would ask what happened. We would reply the the Sri Lankan navy tried to attack the island and that we repulsed them. We would then be invited to a meal of mutton curry and pittu  1 ."
The T.E.A. was a marginal group under "Panagoda Maheswaran," who was an engineering student at the University of London. Though an able military man, his group had no political outlook. Maheswaran's greatest asset was his improvisation. After leaving Jaffna, he reportedly set up a workshop in Tamil Nadu to fashion shotguns. When an intrigued person asked him for an explanation, Maheswaran replied: "I choose the battlefield according to my equipment." The L.T.T.E. on the other hand would take the same kind of recruit and motivate him to take the L.T.T.E.'s cause as a religion for which he would give his life. But the immaturity, cynicism, and unconcern for civilian life shows through.
A point to be noted is the manner in which individuals were affected by the nature of the organisation they joined and the frustrations it engendered. A medical student, who was known as a pleasant young man to his friends, later became a notorious torturer within the T.E.L.O.. After July 1983, almost a whole class of senior boys at Hartley College, Pt. Pedro, joined the T.E.L.O.. Most of them were bright students from an elite school with good G.C.E. A. Level grades (from the government conducted common high school exam in the island). They made the sacrifice in the belief that within two years Eelam will be won, enabling them to get back to their careers. An observer who knew several of them, had this to say: "As time went by they realised that the struggle would be on for much longer that two years. They developed a grievance against those of their erstwhile colleagues who had gone for careers and studies abroad and had prospered. While having come to realise the shortcomings and limitations of their organisation, they were too proud to leave it and join another. They would rather work to bring the T.E.L.O. into prominence as against other groups, for their personal ambitions and prospects of power now hinged on the success of the organisation to which they were committed. Their grievance extended to a contempt for those who pursued ordinary civilian interests. They regarded themselves as superior to civilians who were obliged to accept their idea of what was good for them." It would surprise many who knew the Tamils as an intelligent and highly educated community, that a combination of moral and intellectual lethargy, together with a misguided pragmatism, enabled them to build such high fantasies about the boys. On to their slender and fragile shoulders were thrust, all the responsibility for the moral and physical well-being of the community, trusting that barring a few 'small mistakes', all would be well.
5.4 The rise of the L.T.T.E.
In early 1985, the P.L.O.T.E., L.T.T.E. and T.E.L.O. were considered fairly evenly balanced. At the time when 7 L.T.T.E. men were killed in a quarrel with the P.L.O.T.E. at Chullipuram, the L.T.T.E. preferred discretion to valour. When quarrels developed between the L.T.T.E. and the T.E.L.O., neither seldom did anything more than go out on motor bikes and take pot shots at "sentry boys" in the rival group. These sentry boys, who were youngsters with no military training and in their early teens, were usually deployed with hand grenades to throw and run if the alarm had to be raised.
In reprisal for the killing by the Sri Lankan forces of 70 civilians in Valvettithurai and the damage to the homes of Prabhakaran and several other L.T.T.E. leaders, the L.T.T.E. on 14 May 1985 conducted what came to be known as the Anuradhapura massacre. A few L.T.T.E. men drove into Anuradhapura and gunned down about 150 persons with ruthless efficiency and got away. In the ancient Sinhalese capital, the government forces were caught off guard. This gave the L.T.T.E. the reputation of being an efficient "killer machine," that was to be both feared and respected. The many who approved of the Anuradhapura massacre little realised that such readiness to play around with lives of Sinhalese would result in making Tamil lives more insecure.
However, around January 1986, it was a general belief among Tamils that no single group could proceed alone against the might of the Sri Lankan army. Attempts by the Sri Lankan Army in early 1986 on an L.T.T.E. camp at Suthumalai and a subsequent thrust into Tellipallai, were repulsed by all the groups acting together, including the T.E.A.. The T.E.L.O. provided critical help in saving the day when troops landed by helicopter and attacked the L.T.T.E.'s camp at Suthumalai. This was publicly acknowledged by the L.T.T.E.. It had been rumoured for some time that the "Das faction" of the T.E.L.O. in Vadamaratchi had some differences with the leader Sri Sabaratnam. Das was an able military man -- and this faction was said to form the military backbone of the T.E.L.O.. The L.T.T.E.'s opportunity came when in April 1986 the Bobby faction of the T.E.L.O. treacherously shot dead Das and 4 of his colleagues. They were shot dead while visiting a colleague in the Jaffna Hospital. This resulted in the Das faction leaving the T.E.L.O. and going into exile, considerably weakening the T.E.L.O.. Towards the end of the month the T.E.L.O. moved several of its men outside Jaffna, ostensibly for operations against the Sri Lankan army. At the same time the L.T.T.E. moved many of its men into Jaffna and the word was put out that it was going to attack one of the Sri Lankan encampments. A crucial advantage possessed by the L.T.T.E. was a modern communications system with wireless sets. The L.T.T.E. took on the T.E.L.O. at the end of that month. The pretext was a minor tiff arising from both groups calling a hartal for the men they had lost at sea, about the same time. After one week of fighting the L.T.T.E. was supreme in Jaffna. The T.E.L.O. leader Sri Sabaratnam was killed on 7 May. The methods used by the L.T.T.E. were reminiscent of the shock tactics used against Sinhalese -- during the Anuradhapura massacre. In a way the Anuradhapura massacre had come home and the ghosts of the dead were to haunt us for years to come.
The manner in which the T.E.L.O. members were killed, shocked Tamil people everywhere. Many died without knowing what hit them. Twelve were killed near Manipay while they were asleep. Several were caught unawares, shot and burnt at junctions at Thirunelvely, Mallakam, and Tellipallai. Eight persons were killed at the camp behind the St. John's principal's bungalow. One person was thrust into a car, which was then exploded, leaving severed limbs strewn around. On hearing this the St. John's College principal, Mr. Gunaseelan, who was in hospital, had a relapse which forced him into an early retirement. Many of the T.E.L.O. members who were from areas outside Jaffna had to flee in fear without knowing the streets or where they were going. The people were so terrified, that few found the courage to give shelter to the fugitives. While this unprecedented display was on, people stood mutely at junctions and watched, as persons hardly dead, were doused and burnt. Hardly anyone protested, which is understandable. Some went home saying things such as: "We have produced our own Hitlers." Others gave a display of that opportunism that had become a characteristic feature of Jaffna. Some shop keepers offered aerated waters to those who had exhausted themselves putting on the show. Some students at the University attempted to take out a procession to stop the fighting but had to abandon it. The fighting was over in less than a week and Sri Sabaratnam was killed in circumstances which are not clear. Most sources agree that he was wounded in the shoot out, while his two companions escaped. Sri Sabaratnam then stood up and requested an opportunity to talk to Kittu, the Jaffna L.T.T.E. leader. He was then gunned down. Whether he was killed personally by Kittu and whether the order to kill him came from Prabhakaran himself, or from Kittu, are matters on which the various reports disagree. All this time the Sri Lankan army had remained quiet except for a bit of helicopter firing here and there. Outsiders saw the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash as fatally weakening the militant cause. Kautiliya, a columnist for the Sunday Island asked satirically whether the L.T.T.E. had taken a sub-contract with the Ministry for National Security to take on the T.E.L.O..
Subsequently the L.T.T.E. launched a propaganda campaign where two reasons were given for its action: 1.The T.E.L.O. were a group of criminals who had harassed the people and had robbed them. and 2. The T.E.L.O. was acting as the agent of Indian imperialism.
To substantiate these accusations, the L.T.T.E. announced that all recovered stolen items, jewellery, electrical goods and cars were being returned. In fact several cars taken over and used by the T.E.L.O. and allegedly stolen television sets and video-recorders were put on display near Windsor Theatre and were claimed by members of the public. But little or no jewellery was returned. However the jewellery robbed from Thurkai Amman Kovil  1 at Tellipallai mysteriously reappeared and the wrath of the god was averted. Most people came to terms with what had happened and thought it was good. The first reason given by the L.T.T.E. had a strong influence in Jaffna town. The E.P.R.L.F. too returned several television sets and vehicles saying they were no longer needed. Several people who wanted the E.P.R.L.F. to keep these things found themselves left with no choice but to accept them. Amongst the E.N.L.F. partners only the E.P.R.L.F. found the courage to organise a protest rally for the killing of Sri Sabaratnam and the betrayal of the alliance. The E.R.O.S. remained quiet and began to be patted on the back by the L.T.T.E. as a good organisation, suitable for those who were not good enough for the L.T.T.E.. The press and the Church too came to terms with the new dispensation. The Roman Catholic Church under Bishop Deogupillai, who had been an outspoken critic of Sri Lankan army action did not use its strong base and its moral authority to protest against the fatal trend of cowardice and moral torpor within the Tamil community. The Morning Star, the journal of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (C.S.I.) commented editorially in a piece under the title, The Merry Month of May, that it had been held that the militant cause had been weakened by what had happened. It went on to allude that this was not necessarily the case as was proved by the militants' success in repulsing the subsequent Sri Lankan offensive. Moreover it said that the people had stood shoulder to shoulder with the militants during the subsequent bombing of Jaffna. The Jaffna man was a very wise man who made a virtue of following the path of least resistance. That the path had to change direction frequently was of no consequence.
Claims have been made by the apologists for the action against the T.E.L.O. that India had ordered the T.E.L.O. to destroy the L.T.T.E., thus giving the L.T.T.E. no choice. The reason given for such an order, it is said, is that the L.T.T.E. refused to toe India's line. Even assuming that India had expressed such a wish, whether the T.E.L.O. took it seriously is another matter. Granting a certain amount of cockiness on the T.E.L.O.'s part, it is hard for an observer then in Jaffna to believe that they had seriously entertained such an ambition for the near future. They were disorganised and divided as well as lacking in a communication network. Looking at the circumstances and Sri Sabaratnam's remarks at Kalviankadu, it does not appear that the T.E.L.O. was looking for a clash. It has also been mentioned that the T.E.L.O. had at that time moved a large number of trained men out of Jaffna while the L.T.T.E. did the opposite amidst rumours that they were to take on a Sri Lankan army encampment.
A significant circumstance was a serious division within the T.E.L.O. made worse a month earlier by killing by the Bobby faction of 5 leading members of the Das faction. A similar circumstance minus the assassinations was to precede the L.T.T.E.'s taking on the E.P.R.L.F., 7 months later - namely, the split arising from differences between Padmanabha, the E.P.R.L.F.'s political leader and Douglas Devananda, the leader of its military wing.
A short time after the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. incident, an E.P.R.L.F. leader told a leading citizen that his leadership had asked the L.T.T.E. leadership what they really wanted and to state the terms on which they could work together. He further added that no reply had been forthcoming.
On the question of India, most Tamils had unreal expectations of altruism on India's part, while they revelled in thinking how smart they were in using India to get Eelam. They knew the nature of Indian politics and thought they could manipulate it for their ends. The two aspects of altruism and baseness that governed the Tamil man's perception of India corresponded to the sentimental and the real. Equally, talk of any militant group being independent of India was meaningless after the initial surrender in exchange for arms, training, base facilities and recognition. This would be sharpened later after September 1987 by the L.T.T.E.'s successive contradictory positions involving considerable amnesia. The real sufferers would be the Tamil people. The thought that India could have interests, legitimate as big power politics goes, weighed little on people's minds.
Following the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash, the L.T.T.E. understood the feelings of ordinary people. Loudspeaker vehicles went about telling people not to talk about or analyse what had happened. This was the first publicly announced act of censorship. Previously the L.T.T.E. and the T.E.L.O. especially had visited newspapers to tell them not to write about certain incidents.
About 20 May, 1986, the Sri Lankan government launched a limited offensive to test the strength of the militant movement after the excision of the T.E.L.O.. The column that advanced from Elephant Pass turned back at Pallai. One group broke out of the Jaffna Fort and established a beach-head at Mandaitivu, providing a safe means of supplying troops at Jaffna Fort, for, helicopters landing inside the fort were subject to fire from nearby. The Sri Lankan army also succeeded in widening the perimeters of its camps at Thondamanaru and Valvettithurai. Until May the question amongst civilians was, when would the militants make an attempt on one of the army camps. The question now was when would the Sri Lankan army make an all out attempt to recapture Jaffna. It was well understood that the L.T.T.E. would make a formidable foe.
An aspect of L.T.T.E. dominance that made it acceptable to the general public was that robberies virtually ceased. The poor and the middle classes were left alone. The L.T.T.E. made mutually beneficial arrangements with wholesale merchants and big businessmen to the satisfaction of the latter. They could now enjoy their profits without the nuisance of being occasionally kidnapped for ransom. Before May 1986, if a man allegedly committed a fraud, the first militant group to discover it would descend on him, most likely in the night, to carry out an investigation. Occasionally, the victim would be lamp-posted (shot after being tied to an lamp post), or would be let off after negotiating an appropriate fee. After May 1986, several goods, aerated waters and cigarettes went up in price. In the best of times petrol sold at Rs. 19 per litre as against Rs. 13.50 per litre south of Vavuniya. Huge profits were made by dealers. Transport bottlenecks in a way proved a blessing to many peasants and labourers who were thrown out of work by the war. Many turned to transporting petrol to Jaffna on a small scale by bicycles and selling it by the bottle on the roadside. In this at least, the Sinhalese and Tamils on the border of the Northern province co-operated for their mutual prosperity. Another example of how the Jaffna economy worked was given by a head teacher from Chavakachcheri. Soon after the commencement of Operation Liberation on 26 May 1987, refugees from Vadamaratchi flooded into Thenmaratchi and the demand for rice was great. The normal price of a bag was Rs. 230/. A mill owner who had a very large quantity of rice paid Rs. 50,000 tax money and sold his stock at the rate of Rs. 400 per bag, making an astronomical profit.
It was now expected that the L.T.T.E. would soon make a bid for sole dominance. Only the E.P.R.L.F. (Eelam Peoples' Revolutionary Liberation Front) seemed to be in a mood to challenge the L.T.T.E.. The E.R.O.S. (Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students) and the T.E.A. accepted L.T.T.E.'s dominance. The E.R.O.S. was a much smaller group which one time acquired for itself in the popular mind a reputation for intelligence and discipline. But its allegiance to Marxism was more doubtful, together with its concern for Sinhalese civilians. The talk of some of its leadership and its ranks gave the impression that it appealed to gut feelings of narrow nationalism. Its killing of Mr. Kathiramalai, a Sarvodaya worker, left strong doubts about its commitment to fairplay.
The middle of 1986 saw a series of sensational bombings carried out in the South. The main incidents were the explosion which destroyed an Airlanka Tristar passenger airliner which was being loaded for take-off at the Katunayake airport; the explosion in the C.T.O. (Central Telecommunications Office) building in the heart of Colombo Fort; the explosion at the Elephant House aerated water factory; and the explosion at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (C.P.C.) depot at Anuradhapura. The civilian dead numbered several tens. Like the Anuradhapura massacre it was an adoption by the oppressed of the methods of the oppressor, and hence also the disease of the oppressor. The explosion at the C.P.C. depot at Anuradhapura also represented a move away from impersonal terror. An explosive charge was placed inside a petrol bowser from the Puloly Multipurpose Cooperative Stores (M.P.C.S.) that had gone to collect fuel from Anuradhapura. Several bowsers from Jaffna were in the petrol queue. It was reported that two persons who went in the bowser were amongst those killed. It was widely claimed in the international media that the parties responsible for these bombings were connected with the L.T.T.E., or the E.R.O.S. or both. The T.E.A. was also mentioned because of its association with the bomb meant for the Airlanka flight, which exploded instead at the Madras, Meenambakam airport in 1984.
No group claimed responsibility for these attacks. But according to Tamil sources living abroad, responsibility was claimed privately by senior persons in a militant group that ostensibly valued above all, intelligence, research and scholarship. There were also explosions in public transport buses carrying mainly Sinhalese passengers near Vavuniya. Two of the victims were an elderly Sinhalese gentleman and his son, who had been unswerving in their hospitality towards Tamil public transport workers.
Besides blurring in the minds abroad of the distinction between terror by the Sri Lankan state and that by Tamil militant groups, another consequence of this incident was to make petroleum fuels, aerated waters and gas more expensive and scarce in Jaffna.
It has been said by many that such acts against the Sinhalese population made the Sinhalese think seriously about the Tamil problem. It did make them think, but only in a perverse sort of way. One could see, for instance in editorials, the pressure mounting for peace talks when terror is seen as being too close for comfort. Equally, there was pressure for a final military thrust, during transient spells of seeming military successes, such as during Operation Liberation. This made the whole affair a destructive game involving extensive media manipulation in the absence of any change of heart and any democratic resurgence.
For the time being, life in Jaffna was relatively peaceful, barring occasional shelling by the Sri Lankan army. The L.T.T.E. concentrated on bringing all key institutions under its control. The Citizens' Committees caused no problems. Except at the University, this operation needed neither force nor intimidation. The L.T.T.E. was subtle and discerning in this matter. In the hospitals and in the administration, doctors and officials were left with enough discretion to protect their self respect. Dissent from individuals was tolerated provided this was not articulated through mass movements or other militant groups. An attempt at an L.T.T.E. sponsored Journalists' Union through some journalists who had come over to its side foundered, because the majority of the journalists found it too hard to swallow. The pretext given by the L.T.T.E. for summoning a meeting of journalists was that it was concerned that journalists in Jaffna were not being paid the salaries stipulated by the government in a gazette notification. The editor of the Uthayan, together with others, spoke to the effect: "The question of salaries is a matter for the journalists themselves, and not for a militant organisation. No one is going to control what we think or write." These brave words however, were not reflected in practice. Everyone knew that he would be a brave man to go beyond certain limits. The Eelanadu management dismissed a journalist, whose presence it apparently thought was embarrassing under the new dispensation. (This journalist, Mr. Shanmugalingam, has not been seen after being abducted by the L.T.T.E. on 6 November, 1989.) The L.T.T.E. went ahead with organising rural courts, vigilante committees and bodies such as cultural and development committees. The L.T.T.E. was privately cynical and disrespectful of persons who served on these bodies. A top L.T.T.E. leader once asked an old friend and senior journalist: "Those who were with us in the days when the going was dangerous and we were hounded by the Sri Lankan forces now refuse to touch us with a broomstick. But those who are joining us in large numbers now are persons whom we would have once classed as anti-social elements. Why is this?" The friend replied: "You should have no difficulty in finding out yourself."
The population of Jaffna fell in line. People who had once shown the spirit to resist the oppression of the Sri Lankan state now enjoyed the peace of the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm. People would now get about unconcerned if a neighbour mysteriously taken away then disappeared. Some who were not prepared to do this were students of the University of Jaffna. In the circumstances they acted bravely during the Vijitharan and Rajaharan affairs. It is a comforting thought that the idealism of youth cannot be quelled.
The two incidents took place in quick succession around early November 1986 and gave rise to what became the last mass protest in Jaffna against the violation of basic freedoms. It did not, like the mass protests against the Prevention of Terrorism Act in the early 1980's, exude a sense of buoyancy and forward movement. This was more a rearguard action. When it ended, many of its leaders had to go into hiding or seek exile. Many of the leaders and hundreds of ordinary women from the lower reaches of society had displayed rare courage in doing something that was both essential and at the same time was shirked by their so called betters. The two incidents concerned had independent origins.
Arunagirinathan Vijitharan was a third year commerce student from the University of Jaffna who was generally unknown until he was missing from his boarding house on 4 November 1986. The question was, why Vijitharan? He was by all accounts an ordinary fun loving student with no political affiliations. It was this aspect of it that left some doubts about the cause. Had he said something mildly offensive to a person of some importance as students are wont to do? One may never know.
An action committee was formed by the students. They did not accuse anyone. They simply maintained that the four functioning militant groups were responsible for the security of persons in Jaffna. Further, they had sentries everywhere, making it unlikely that persons could disappear without their knowledge. The militant groups were called upon to do their acknowledged duty and restore Vijitharan. Privately, the students admitted that they were afraid and were in no mood to confront any militant group. A senior University official who was talking to the militant groups on the matter, expressed the feeling that the students had acted too hastily in making the matter public. On the other hand, the students felt that if they kept quiet, the chances of students disappearing one by one was greater. Not having received a satisfying response, the students commenced a campaign of fasting on 19 November in which six persons, both boys and girls began a fast in a temporary cadjan shed in front of the administration block.
For the next ten days the University became the centre of attraction for all those who had been suppressing their feelings about what was going on. An important group of people who joined the students were residents, especially women, from Passaiyoor. That had to do with a separate incident, concerning the death of Edward.
Passaiyoor is a fishing village three miles East along the coast from Jaffna town. These people were Roman Catholics and were by nature spontaneous in their collective response to perceived aggression against them. Edward had returned from Saudi Arabia and the family was said to be sympathetic towards the L.T.T.E.. They had consulted the parish priest on the matter of a land dispute with a neighbour, and not being satisfied, had invited Malaravan, the Ariyalai leader of the L.T.T.E.. During the hearing, Edward's mother reportedly said something offensive to Malaravan, who in turn is said to have raised his hand against her. Edward then slapped Malaravan. Edward was later asked to call at the Ariyalai camp for an inquiry. Fearing what may happen, Edward contacted the parish priest. The latter went to the camp and got an assurance that Edward would be released after a short inquiry and that no harm would befall him. The parish priest accompanied Edward to the camp and waited. Edward was taken in. Twenty minutes later the priest was told that Edward was dead. The priest fainted and was admitted to hospital. Those who went to see the body said that hardly a bone was left unbroken. Then things took a turn that was unusual for Jaffna. A large group of women gathered at the local church and protested for several days, displaying hand written posters. The middle-class based women's organisations, including the Mothers' Front, had lost their voice in the face of internal oppression.
The university students went out and addressed students from the higher forms in schools, who in turn came out and joined by sitting on roads and joining processions. An element of irony was added to the proceedings when the L.T.T.E. leader V. Prabhakaran commenced a Gandhi style fast in Madras when the Indian police confiscated his arms and communications equipment. A non-violent protest was on for the return of instruments of violence. Rival processions for the student cause and Prabhakaran's cause sometimes crossed each other.
At this point many diverse opinions came to be expressed, most of them agreeing that the students should give up their fast. Some felt that the students were excellently performing a very necessary task; but the community did not deserve the deaths of those who were fasting. If they died, six prospective leaders would be lost while people would shrug their shoulders and go on as before. Then little would be achieved. Many were hostile. They thought that the Tamils were being divided in the face of the main enemy, the Sri Lankan state, when they should be uniting behind the L.T.T.E.. Students were made heart broken and angry by an opinion expressed by a member of the staff who said that the students were making an absurd issue over one missing person when several L.T.T.E. men were dying fighting the Sri Lankan army. They were dismayed that such persons could not see the issues at stake and that one could in time come to mean hundreds. Besides, passive acquiescence by the community in such developments during a fight for freedom, would lead to its opposite, thus negating all sacrifice, including the militants' sacrifice.
The Jaffna press played it diplomatically by giving equal prominence to statements by all parties. The E.P.R.L.F. backed the students. The E.R.O.S. characteristically sat on the fence. The students were painfully aware that their protest could become interpreted as anti-L.T.T.E. and backed by rival militant groups who did not wish to confront the L.T.T.E. directly. A speech delivered by an E.P.R.L.F. leader at the university, the contents of which did not receive prior approval from the students, gave further room for this impression.
Two of the student leaders were former members of the P.L.O.T.E. and the E.P.R.L.F.. However, available information strongly suggests that they were not principally anti-L.T.T.E., but had rather become disillusioned with the anti-democratic militarism of all the groups, now enjoying Indian patronage. There was strong pressure on the students to give up the protest, and the L.T.T.E. too was embarrassed by it. But the problem was how to end it. A mutually acceptable formula had to be found. Even admirers of the protest felt that it had gone on long enough and that no further purpose would be served by its prolongation. A number of persons and organisations came to patch up a settlement, including the University Teachers' Association (U.T.A.). Some wanted to do some good. Others had reasons which were more complex.
The L.T.T.E.'s conduct was puzzling. They could have in the first instance said that they sympathised with the students and would make every effort to trace Vijitharan. Then there would have been no protest. But they took an aggressive line. School children who joined the protests were threatened by leading L.T.T.E. men at both Mahajana College, Tellipallai, and near Jaffna Hindu College. In the latter instance a student's name was singled out. The U.T.A. invited Kittu for a meeting in the Senior Common Room, where he was introduced as "our General." The session was marked by the silence of the staff, making one wonder why the meeting was called. Kittu took the line that if a militant group had abducted Vijitharan, they are not going to admit it amidst all this protest. He may be released, he said, far away at some distant time. He also made the point that traitors like Selvabala cannot be given amnesty on the grounds that they were students or on any other pretext. He was referring to a student from the Jaffna College Technical Institute who was said by the L.T.T.E. to have been armed and paid by the Sri Lankan army to assassinate Kittu and other key L.T.T.E. leaders. Selvabala was killed after he made a Singapore style T.V. confession on the L.T.T.E.'s station Niedharshanam.
Eventually a formula for ending the fast was reached. The L.T.T.E. gave a pledge to look for Vijitharan. Like many of the tales of intrigue, the truth about Vijitharan may not surface for years to come. For the University students, it ended for the time being their role in public affairs. With all their weaknesses and drawbacks, their role had been a noble one. They had been forced into tasks where others more mature and experienced than they ought to have given the lead. For the Tamil people, another light had gone out. Vimaleswaran, the student leader who led the protest fast, paid a heavy price for his defiance of the new order. He was assassinated in July, 1988.
The natural defiance of the women from the lower classes remained a remarkable feature as opposed to the pliability of upper class women. Village women in the East went out with rice pounders to stop the internecine fighting during the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash. When the L.T.T.E. took on the E.P.R.L.F. on 14 December 1986, women from some low class villages in Jaffna near Keerimalai and Mallakam defied the L.T.T.E. by sitting on the roads armed with kitchen knives and chillie powder. The same women were to prove a nightmare to the Indians when they arrived. After October 1987 some of these women in the Pt. Pedro fish market decided that they would charge the Indians higher prices. This was noticed by a customer who took his turn after an Indian soldier. When asked, the fisher lady replied, "They came here to eat, did they?"
One newspaper editor who came out well during the affair was Mr. S. M. Gopalaratnam of the Eelamurasu. He had once served as editor of the Eelandu and was made editor of the Eelamurasu a short while before the protest. During the crisis he wrote several bold editorials and articles. The need for unity amongst Tamils was something he felt strongly about. When the L.T.T.E. took on the E.P.R.L.F. he wrote an editorial expressing his concern for the hundreds of youths who had died in disillusionment with a feeling of being abandoned. He said that the Tamils' failure to unite had left them exposed before their enemies. Barely two months after he took over, the paper passed under L.T.T.E. management. However the L.T.T.E. treated him with respect and quite often he had his way. An unsolicited tribute was paid to S.M.G., as he was fondly called, by the management of the University Senior Common Room: During the time S.M.G. wrote his independent editorials the Eelamurasu was the only paper to by kept out of the Common Room. With the new L.T.T.E. management of the paper from 1 January 1987, the paper reappeared in the Common Room after a month. As regards S.M.G., the L.T.T.E. may have shown higher standards than that citadel of intellectual freedom. The L.T.T.E. often respected those who dealt with them honestly.
5.5 Differences among the Militants
The public had up to now thought of the L.T.T.E. as a monolith. But in the second half of 1986 differences, rivalries and personal ambitions within the L.T.T.E. which had a politics of its own began to surface and were talked about. Sources with good connections talked of differences between the Jaffna leader, Kittu and the then Vavuniya leader Mahattaya. The latter is said to have felt that those in Jaffna were being spoilt by glamour and a relatively easy life. Following the events of May 1986 several senior L.T.T.E. men left the group. One of them was Kandeepan who was in charge of the Islands. After leaving the organisation he simply stayed in his home at Ariyalai without wanting to see any of his former colleagues. The L.T.T.E. apparently wished to talk to him in order to persuade him to rejoin. Kandeepan was a competent military man who had pioneered the use of sea-mines. The lower ranks had been reportedly disoriented by the departure of several senior men. After refusing to see Kittu on two occasions the third time he was surrounded in order to force a meeting. But Kandeepan ran into his house and swallowed cyanide. The L.T.T.E. delayed the confirmation of his death and forced the family to perform the last rites in the early hours of the morning. Before his death Kandeepan had complained to one of his old friends that during the clash with the T.E.L.O., his organisation had promptly sent reinforcements to the Islands. But when the Sri Lankan government made an attempt on Mandaitivu, Kandeepan had submitted a plan which only required a modest quantity of arms. The organisation had not, he had complained, responded to this request. Mandaitivu was lost and Kandeepan was heart broken.
The Mannar leader Victor was killed in Adampan during a skirmish with the Sri Lankan army during October 1986. Thirteen Sri Lankan army personnel were killed during this skirmish and two were captured. Victor's body was brought to Jaffna with the two prisoners and nine Sri Lankan corpses. In the first exhibition of this kind, the two prisoners and the corpses were exhibited at Nallur Kanthasamy Kovil, while thousands filed past. Victor's body was taken in state to several parts of Jaffna to be viewed by milling crowds. Kittu considerably boosted his image by speaking at these meetings. His statement that Victor like all the L.T.T.E. leaders was in the battle front with his men, was reported in the press and seen as a direct challenge to Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran had been in Madras for the previous few years. The feeling was also around that Prabhakaran would make an attempt to cut Kittu down to size. It is believed the Prabhakaran's coming in January 1987 to Jaffna had something to do with Kittu's ambitions.
On 14 December, 1986, the E.P.R.L.F., the P.L.O.T.E. and the T.E.A. were disbanded by the L.T.T.E.. In the Northern Province the E.P.R.L.F. fled its camps without a fight. Several E.P.R.L.F. leaders were arrested and many of them were tortured in order to make them disclose locations of hidden arms. At this point one may point to what seems a qualitative difference in outlook between the L.T.T.E. and other groups. The L.T.T.E. men were trained to carry out orders from the top blindly. There is no doubt that the other groups have displayed the same kind of courage in confronting the Sri Lankan army. But when it came to an open confrontation with a fellow militant group, the other groups seem to have been handicapped by a certain amount of reluctance and confusion. There was a certain amount of inhibition about killing fellow Tamils. An observer living close to the E.P.R.L.F. camp at Uduvil said that there was a split amongst the ranks as to whether they should go in for a bloody fratricidal confrontation with the L.T.T.E. or simply go into hiding. Before this could be resolved, the L.T.T.E. came and caught them unprepared. This left them with no option but to disperse. Like the split in the T.E.L.O. which the L.T.T.E. took advantage of, this time a split in the E.P.R.L.F. between Douglas Devananda, the leader of its military wing, and the leadership under Padmanabha was a chance the L.T.T.E. had been waiting for. In the middle of this confusion the E.P.R.L.F. had challenged the L.T.T.E. politically over the Vijitharan affair. While the E.P.R.L.F. had expected a military response from the L.T.T.E., it was undecided as to what it should do.
The P.L.O.T.E. in Jaffna had a strong base amongst the high caste, middle-class Tamils in Valigamam North and Central. They also had a political programme which emphasised work amongst the masses. These combined to give it an image in certain quarters as a disciplined organisation in dealings with the people. However P.L.O.T.E. members have been used by the high castes, on several occasions in disputes with the lower castes. P.L.O.T.E. had suffered discredit as a result of internal killings in Tamil Nadu and from at least two gruesome incidents in Jaffna. Five of its own women cadres were killed by members of the P.L.O.T.E. at Maniamthoddam, Jaffna, in 1985. Also in early 1985, seven L.T.T.E. sympathisers who were putting up posters in Chullipuram, were badly tortured and killed by P.L.O.T.E. men under Kandasamy (Chankili). By mid-1986 the organisation had suffered from neglect from the leadership in India and was poorly armed. With the dissolution of the T.E.L.O. there was a very real threat that the Sri Lankan army may overrun Jaffna at any time. Here the P.L.O.T.E. cadre in Jaffna earned the respect of the population for the sentry work it did around army encampments. It used its training to advance towards Jaffna Fort, along K.K.S. Road behind a barrier of advancing sand bags. Its men crawled through drains and other cover to install land mines fairly close to Jaffna Fort. When hints were given that the P.L.O.T.E. was to be disbanded the P.L.O.T.E. sentries withdrew from Jaffna town exploding their land mines. Thereupon, the Sri Lankan forces fired back thinking that they were being attacked and a senior prefect at Central College was killed. The disbandment of the P.L.O.T.E. and the E.P.R.L.F. created a crisis in the manning of sentry points, making it even more likely that the Sri Lankan army would attempt to break out if the current negotiations failed.
By this time the L.T.T.E. in Jaffna, under Kittu, had established friendly personal relations with Captain Kotelawela of the Sri Lankan army and leading personalities amongst the Sinhalese, such as Vijaya Kumaranatunga, Vincent Perera and the Rev. Fr. Yohan Devananda. Kittu and his deputy Raheem became celebrated personalities in the South. The L.T.T.E. and the government gave the impression that a move for a negotiated settlement was on. A set of proposals, called the December 19th proposals, which had been drafted with India's help were announced by the Sri Lankan government on the 26th of December for discussion. The L.T.T.E. announced that it was taking over the civil administration of Jaffna from 1 January 1987, although in practice this could have made little difference. The government in turn announced a fuel and firewood blockade on Jaffna. Prabhakaran moved to Jaffna in early January 1987 after several years in India. The crisis had entered a new phase.
5.6 The Eastern Question
By 1985 youths from districts in the Northern Province outside Jaffna and from the Eastern Province which had been ravaged by Sri Lankan military action which included massacres, were playing a numerically dominant role in the militant groups. Unlike the articulate youth of Jaffna who had joined in the early 1980's because of ideals of national liberation and a feeling of collective humiliation, these rural youths had been subject to some harrowing experiences at first hand. By the end of 1985, those of the Tamil residents of Trincomalee district outside the city who were alive, had become refugees. The L.T.T.E. leader Pulendran, who came to be feared by Sinhalese, is said to have seen most of his family killed by Sri Lankan forces before his eyes. In such a situation the killing and counter-killing of Tamil and Sinhalese civilians became the order of the day. Yet the leadership of the militant movement was mainly Jaffna-dominated. After mid-1985, Jaffna enjoyed relative peace whilst the other Tamil areas continued to be at the receiving end. The majority amongst the T.E.L.O. youths killed in May 1986 were from the rural areas. The E.P.R.L.F. continued to be active in the Batticaloa district after it was wound down in Jaffna in December 1986.
One factor which distinguished the militant movement in the East was that ideological and group differences were over-ridden by a feeling that they were all Eastern Province Tamils united through the experience of common suffering, who must stand together or perish. Group differences mattered far less than in Jaffna. Often they shared camps and meals. When the L.T.T.E. was given orders by radio to go for the T.E.L.O. in May 1986, the killings in the East were far fewer than in Jaffna. At Sambur, according to a T.E.L.O. source in Trincomalee, T.E.L.O. members who were having a meal were called out by members of the L.T.T.E. who had been erstwhile friends. The T.E.L.O. men were unaware of such orders having been given and went out as if to meet friends, when their leader and two others were killed. At Sambaltivu, according to a Trincomalee resident, women went out with rice pounders to ensure that there was no killing. This was in contrast to suburban Jaffna where people watched mutely during the killings. However, during December 1986 when the L.T.T.E. went after the E.P.R.L.F., some villagers in rural Jaffna protected the E.P.R.L.F. cadre by blocking the roads, armed with knives and chillie powder.
When the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash started in Jaffna, Kadavul, the Batticaloa leader of the L.T.T.E. and former agriculture student, promptly summoned a meeting of leaders of all militant groups in Batticaloa. They issued a joint statement that the problems of the East were different and should be handled differently. Kadavul, a native of the East, gave a personal assurance that all militants in Batticaloa would be protected. The L.T.T.E. command in Jaffna then radioed two of its commanders Kumarappa and Pottu, both of Jaffna origin, who were in Batticaloa, to carry out the assault on the T.E.L.O.. Several T.E.L.O. members were killed. Kadavul left the L.T.T.E. and went abroad.
An academic from the Batticaloa University and a close follower of events also told us that the L.T.T.E. taking on the E.P.R.L.F. in December 1986 worked very much to the detriment of the Tamils in the East. The E.P.R.L.F. had begun to prove itself effective against the dreaded S.T.F. (Special Task Force). It had just carried out a series of successful landmine attacks against the S.T.F., thus restricting its movement. The L.T.T.E.'s protracted battle with the E.P.R.L.F. opened the field to the S.T.F.. The S.T.F. started the new year in 1987 with the Kokkadichcholai massacre in which scores of Tamil civilians were murdered. The L.T.T.E. was forced to withdraw from one of its strongholds.
A consequence of these developments and the desperate plight of Tamils of the East, was that leaders of the Eastern Tamils were generally amenable to a settlement on the basis of the December 19th proposals which envisaged separate provincial councils for the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The powers devolved in policing and land settlement were generally deemed inadequate, but were the subject of negotiation. In Jaffna which was relatively secure, a more hawkish mood prevailed, backed by L.T.T.E. propaganda, an enfeebled press and a section of the articulate intelligentsia. Those in Jaffna who felt that the Tamils, now dangerously weakened, must in the common interest use India's good offices to negotiate the best possible settlement, sometimes found through experience that they should not express themselves too loudly. Inevitably there arose a widespread feeling amongst Eastern Tamils, that the Jaffna based Tamil leadership had failed them. The Eastern Province Tamils will in the years to come have to resolve the question of their dealings with Northern Tamils and their relations with Muslims and Sinhalese in the East, whom they have for neighbours. The question is proving a thorny one today. [Top]
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