Addressing a public seminar in Colombo in December, Dr.Nithyanandan of the Department of Economics, University of Jaffna, gave the following figures giving an indication of what is happening to the people:
Population of the North - East down to 900 000 from 1.7 million in 1987, out of whom 50 000 have been killed or missing. (since 1983 ?) of those who had left the region 30 000 Tamils had gone to the West and 20 000 to India. 350 000 are in refugee camps through out the island or were staying with relatives.The number who lost employment in Jaffna District alone are well over 100 000 [Sunday Times 13th December 1992].
These estimates may differ from those given
by others. But all figures are of the same order. NGOs in the region give long
term indicators of health which are more frightening. It is the growth of public
health care that made a considerable expansion in the population of the North
- East possible. With poor food and poor preventive health care , the best that
could be done is to administer drugs, which too are not always accessible. Malaria
and para-typhoid have almost become endemic in Jaffna itself. It is much worse
for those in the jungle areas of the North. At the UNCHR camps around Madhu
sustaining about 30000 refugees, there is an 80% incidence of malaria. Many
have to live with it as drugs have ceased to have an effect.
In normal times Mannar hospital had 3 MLTs (Medical Laboratory Technicians). Anyone taken ill in the mainland region was quickly rushed to the hospital by public transport.Tests for malaria were immediately performed and a cure administered. Now there is only 1 MLT who is often away to be with his family. Also transport except by bicycle and boat is almost non-existence. With so many unemployed and even middle class mothers undernourished and infant food priced high, one could imagine the plight of infants.The young generation in its formative years is growing up with severe handicaps.[Top]
At one level the situation of the island itself has an appearance of normality. The Muslim residents sent out by the LTTE are coming back. People do not feel tense about the presence of security forces. The police have been busy organising a series of sporting tournaments ( cricket, football etc) where local teams played those from the different forces and came on top. Christmas and New Year were celebrated with fireworks and public dramas. All this is much in the spirit of enjoy today while it lasts. Beneath, there is a deep seated anxiety. People still fear travelling on lonely roads. The security forces still have power over life and death. The society is very hierarchical. The local army brigadier is addressed as 'Sir' even by top government officials.
On Mannar Island itself there have been no
arrests since about August 1992. In the army controlled areas including parts
of the mainland, according to leading persons in Mannar, the lists of persons
detained in recent months with local organisations generally tally with those
admitted by the army. The procedure for questioning and release too is said
to be much faster - 3 weeks at the most unless sent to Magazine prison in Colombo.
The discrepancies could sometimes arise because when the army advances, some
remain within the army controlled area, while others flee into the interior.
One person to whom credit is given for the general improvement is Brigadier Sarath Perera, who was in charge of Mannar for about the second half of 1992. Given the previous record of the army in Mannar, the improvement is creditable (See Chapter 4). Knowing the instincts of Sri Lankan forces an improvement cannot result from the brigadier acting merely as a post box between citizens' organisations, the ICRC and other NGO's, and his own subordinates.
Recent military advances in the area have
paid heed to the welfare of civilians. This may also be the result of other
calculations.There may be military and political reasons for the government
wanting civilians to remain in areas brought under government control rather
than drive them into the interior and to the UNCHR camp at Madhu. Further,the
LTTE is thinly spread out and the usual practice of bombing and shelling before
an advance results in the civilians fleeing the area and the LTTE having advance
warning to resist. Many recent advances have taken place by stealth, the civilians
coming to know about it only once the army is there.
Following a recent army advance into Suriya Kaddaikaku near Nanaddan, the local civilians gave much credit to Major Wickrematilleke who was in charge. There were no casualties or arrests.For three days the civilians were asked to lock up their houses, spend the night in a local school and return during the day. There was no looting at all.
In Puthukaman on the other had there was considerable looting and much damage to agriculture by the movement of heavy vehicles,but no casualties. Over 40 men and youths were taken to Thallady camp, given a lecture, brought back and released. From January 1993 Brigadier Karunatilleke of the Armoured Brigade took charge of Mannar. He had earned himself notoriety during the early days of the current war (after June 1990) when he was posted to Valaichenai. Troops under him were noted for much cruelty and killing besides recruiting for the LTTE. Those then at the Eastern University found him almost totally unsympathetic and difficult to communicate with.It is left to be seen what will happen in Mannar. On the other hand Brigadier Siri Peiris, who was poorly thought of in Mannar seems to have improved his reputation after being posted to Trincomalee in early 1991. The indications seem to be that an attempt will be made to reopen the Mannar - Madawachchi Road. But observers are sceptical. [Top]
In a district where more than 8O% became refugees, people are anxious to re- establish themselves and resume normal living.Many who were sent back from India see little prospect of returning to the mainland in the near future and live in refugee camps in Pesalai and Sunny Village. Many of the expelled Muslims with government employment have returned to Mannar Island. Others too are coming back amidst many uncertainties. Towards the end of December two Muslim fishermen who set out from Erukkalampiddy lost themselves in bad - weather, ran out of fuel and went shore on the mainland near Vidathal Thivu. The local folk were afraid to offer them fuel. The two fishermen it is reported, surrendered to the local Roman Catholic parson. the latter contacted the LTTE and pleaded for their safe conduct. The two fishermen were taken away by the LTTE and their fate is not known. It is believed that the likely outcome would be a ransom demand. It is notable that no concerted attempt has so far been made by the LTTE to disrupt Muslim life on Mannar Island.
Tamil refugees are being encouraged to go back to areas brought under army control. Several Vankali refugees returned at the end of December. Many of them got back to Sunny village after finding their houses either destroyed or beyond repair.
Given the total absence of building materials , resettlement becomes merely a paper exercise. All received Rs 2000/-from the government as a resettlement allowance after which they are considered resettled. A further payment of Rs 4000/- is given to applicants for loss of trade upon certification by the GS. This is meant to purchase implements of trade. Many collected this in ignorance not knowing that after collecting this, they would cease to receive food rations. For a mason with a family of 5 food rations are worth Rs1000/- or so a month. With the Rs4000/-grant he could buy tools. But without building materials there is no work. The Rs 15000/- allocated for those whose dwellings were seriously damaged is unrealiseable since there are bo building materials. The system does not work very well in providing relief. There are war widows with children who did not receive any thing more than the first Rs2000/-. But those with no losses could receive advice from a well - disposed GS on how to benefit from all schemes.
The UNHCR's `open relief centres' at Pesali and Madhu have functioned with the flag of the UNHCR, but as far as people could make out , not much more from the UNHCR besides bringing in supplies. The neutrality of these zones was largely ignored by both sides. During 1990 and 91 the army took away people from Pesali, some still not accounted for. The LTTE carried out an execution in Pesali in January 1992. Madhu has been virtually under LTTE control. The current UNHCR representative in the area, a lady with an MSF background, it is reported, is taking a strong line on the neutrality of UNHCR centres. According to press reports, talks with the LTTE are deadlocked. Will the LTTE promote a more pliable alternative to the UNHCR?
A key problem confronting those in areas of the mainland recently taken over by the army is the near absence of government services and medical facilities. A number of families have been separated by recent army advances. Both sides want families to reunite in their area.
The army fears that those going to Mannar
Island may take another boat to Vidathal Theevu into the Tiger controlled area.
Thus those needing to go to Mannar Island for medical attention need to apply
to army officers for permits, the latter being mostly ignorant of medical matters.
The following item appeared in the Daily News of 06th January:
Six human skulls, skeletons found in abandoned well
Mannar police found six human skulls and some skeletons and bones in abandoned well in the area, on a tip off by a person who had felt a foul odour emanating from the well while he was trying to clean it.
Police believe that these bodies are those of victims of some mysterious killing and that the victims may have been blindfolded and shot in the head and dumped into the well by the culprits.
Three national identity cards belonging to Anthonipillai Sebamalai, a school principal , Justin Lambert of Wankalai, Sebamalai Anthony of Murunkan and Kandiah alias Kuruvi Kandiah of Virichchanmandi were also found in the well. Police are trying to ascertain whether the identity cards too belonged to any of the victims.
Further investigations are continuing.
The police need not go to Scotland Yard to solve this mystery. Vankalai is perhaps the most influential village in Mannar. A large number of senior government servants and policemen received their education at St.Anne's, Vankalai. Just ask any one of them!. A report of the incident appeared in Chapter 4 of UTHR(J) Report No.9. The victims were certainly killed by the army. It was then thought that there were only 4 bodies in the well. Some of those killed were carrying their jewellery. It was not clear whether the motive was robbery or because Principal Sebamalai's school was in a Tiger controlled area. The well was covered up after the matter was reported to the church and UNHCR authorities in Madhu (early l991) by a passerby who saw an injured victim crying for help. Brigadier Srilal Weerasooriya then in charge at Thallady when contacted by local civilians, stated that he could proceed no further as the field officer, Major Dias, was unaware of the incident!
The well was excavated by relatives following mediation by the ICRC when civilians returned to Vankali on 28th December l992. The story also illustrates that many little known persons disappeared during the course of travel whose stories have gone unrecorded. Their relatives were left to live out their grief in some unknown corner. Will the police or the presidential task force investigate the incident? [Top]
The fate of coconut production is a reflection of what is happening to the people and the economy of the North-East. In Batticaloa, local citizens talked to the brigadier about a large number of coconut trees being chopped down by the army. The Brigadier replied that he sympathised with the people. He added that the defence ministry had promised them concrete posts to build defences for their camps. But these never came (IMF restrictions?). Hence the unfortunate chopping of coconut trees.
The Tigers have been using some of the coconut plantations in the sparsely populated areas of Thenmaratchi (Jaffna Peninsula) for their prison camps and ordnance depots. Some months ago a community of toddy tappers who held an estate on contract was told by the Tigers that they had to cease work as the land was being taken over for the Eelam struggle. The tappers pleaded that this was their sole livelihood. The Tigers gave them a month's extension and promised to re-examine the matter. When the tappers returned the following morning to collect the toddy, they discovered that the clay pots in which toddy was collected had been systematically smashed. The tappers joined the army of their unemployed fellows to live on government rations.
In the Mannar District the widespread destruction of coconut trees is evidence near army camps along the coast. On the island itself the story is different. Mannar Island used to export coconuts. When the war broke out and exports ceased, the price of a coconut dropped from Rs4/- to about Rs 2/-. After the army entered Mannar Island in November l99O, they were initially cautious, As time went and they felt safe, they went about plucking coconuts. By doing this they were able to pocket their coconut allowance. These nuts were used extensively in cooking. Later the soldiers became even more reckless and not even the young coconuts were spared. These were used for drinking (a natural soft drink). Now Mannar Island imports coconuts, a coconut now costing Rs 15/- or more. [Top]
The people in the Wanni region bordering on Mullaithvu, Killinochchi, Vavuniya and Mannar were most assiduously cultivated by the Tigers in early 199O. From the early days of the struggle these people, hard working peasants most ill-treated by the Sri Lankan army, formed the backbone of the militancy in the North. The Jaffna man could think of going West.But these people were with their backs to the wall. Mahattaya understood this. With the uprooting of the PLOTE it was thought that these people were solidly behind the LTTE. The pattern is by no means uniform. In areas where army discipline has shown a marked improvement, the people have often displayed a capacity for independence.In such areas the Tigers have also become more circumspect about imposing themselves on the people. In one such area the Tigers forced everyone in a village to join a procession for a fallen hero. According to witnesses the young boys in the latter teens were openly cracking sarcastic jokes about the LTTE. The LTTE's grip was mainly on those very young and the older folk with interests of personal gain.The Tigers are often viewed as a group looking for every opportunity to grab money and gold, caring little about any- thing else.
In such areas, where fear has declined, the
Tigers have stopped conscripting people for forced labour in their civil works,
such as road building. These are now often given out on contract.
These patterns also illustrate that the appeal of the Tigers in rural areas is not based on positive qualities. It is rather a negative appeal based on the oppressiveness of the Sri Lankan forces.
5.4.1 Executions in the Wanni: Monday, 6th July 1992. An eye- witness account.
"About 6.OO A.M travellers going south
to Vavunia queued up at Peikulam. Until 7.3O A.M no one was allowed to move.
Someone remarked, 'We may not be allowed to go today. At 8.15 two Tigers in
mufti arrived and ordered the entire crowd of several thousand to go back northwards.
A little further north the crowd was made to sit in a clearing on the right
of the road, with no idea of what was going on. At 9.3O A.M an LTTE man appeared,
silenced the crowd and began speaking: " Today when our liberation struggle
has reached soaring heights, some traitors and anti-social elements are labouring
to weaken our struggle. We have apprehended many traitors who live on our soil
and clandestinely work against the people. During the last two weeks, on examining
letters carried by travellers, we have discovered several secret messages together
with information being passed on to traitors living outside Tamil Eelam. In
the past our struggle had endured great losses because of sabotage by traitors
and anti - social groups. Therefore, you the peoplle must help us to identify
" While the speech was being made, a covered Elf van made its appearance. First, two women, blindfolded and hands tied behind, were unloaded. This was followed by the unloading of 8 men in a similar state. The women were aged bout 35 and with the exception of 3, all the men were young. We then understood that these persons were traitors and were going to be shown to us. We were eager to see their faces. They were made to stand in a row 1O -15 yards to the south of us.At this point a Pajero jeep arrived. A slightly obese man in mufti and a further 5 persons descended from the jeep. The crowd whispered, `Mahattaya, Mahattaya'.Six persons had come with the traitors in the Elf van who had a frightening visage. Although two were huge, the smaller ones were no less daunting. They wore black arm bands on the left hand , and not a hint of a smile escaped their faces.They positioned themselves 15 yards in front of the traitors, weapons ready.
"The first speaker resumed his harangue: " These ten for the crime of having worked against the struggle have been sentenced to death. These, shame on them, for a sum of Rs 1000/-(US $ 25) and a bottle of arrack (distilled fermented coconut toddy) have passed on information to our enemies. They will now confess their sins". All the traitors began saying that they had given information to the government and that they accept the just and fair punishment. Two broke ranks and screamed aloud," We are innocent, We admitted the charges only because we could not bear the torture. Please forgive us!"Immediately, the order "Fire" rang out ,followed by gun shots. The women in audience screamed. "Aiyo! Kadavule!'(Oh God!). Many bowed their heads. A cold sensation crept over my body.The victims fell to the earth screaming and gave up the ghost. Two of the executioners walked towards the dead and examined their bodies. One of them pulled out a huge baynet, severed the head of one of the dead.He lifted the head by the hair and displayed it to the people. He then said," The army sent him here to spy on us. We will now return his head to the army". The women and the elderly travellers started shivering. My hands and feet became numb.
" The first speaker then said, " You can not go to Vaunniya today. Come tomorrow. You can all go!" Many stood up and went to view the corpses. I could not walk. I later returned to Killinochchi. Unable to eat nor sleep, I guzzled a bottle of arrack which helped me to drown my senses in a drunken doze. Resuming my journey on the 9th , I heard many in the queue speaking about the incident.
" I gathered that the Tigers had parcelled
the head and had forced a traveller to leave it near the Thandikulam army sentry
point. The army had later forced a lady going north to leave her bags, take
the parcel to Tiger sentry point and return for her bags.
"On the 6th three lady medical students from the University of Jaffna had been in the crowd. On sensing what was going to happen, the students began to leave. At the back of the crowd a Tiger stopped them, asked where they were going and asked for their identity cards. On discovering who they were, he said," You want to be doctors and need to cut up people. So you are afraid of blood? You are the ones who must watch". The three ladies almost in tears pleaded," We are scared. We want to go". They were allowed to leave. Hardly had they walked 3OO yards when they heard the gunfire.
"I later heard that the man whose head was severed was the driver of the former Vauniya UNP organizer Pulendran, who was shot dead about 198O. He had then worked as a lorry driver and was detained by the Tigers at Viswa Madshu".
Other observers in the Wanni point out that this show was put on by Mahattaya at a time when his authority within the Movement was increasingly the subject of speculation. They think that the event involves a strong element of internal LTTE politics. Mahattaya, according to reliable reports, has now been delegated to do rehabilitation and refugee work.One reason for the demotion, it is said, is a complaint that he was interfering too much with the work of the intelligence unit! [Top]
5.5.1 Jaffna Lagoon :
Missing fishermen: We have observed in Ch.0 that since the forces established themselves in Puneryn there has been a steady toll on civilian lives in the lagoon area, many of them slipping away unrecorded.
The forces established themselves at Punneryn (Kalmunai) on 22nd October l991. At 2.00 P.M on the 25th of October l991, 4 fishermen left Passayoor,near Jaffna town, in the blue coloured boat 'Pathmaraki' to fish in the waters near Puneryn as was their wont. The boat was equipped with a 10HP outboard motor, a can of fuel, a sail and fishing nets.Nothing more has been heard of them. The missing are : 1). Ambrose Amirthanthar Anton (38),2). Esthaki Sebastian Rasakone(42), 3) Saverimuttu Stanilaus Pattukili(34), 4). S.Emmanuel Savirian (65). The first two were from Passayoor and the others from Gurunagar.
Fatima, the wife of Ambrose had reported the matter to the GA (Jaffna) and to the ICRC with no further avail.
5.5.2 New year bombings in Jaffna
Air force jets dropped bombs at Sittankeni, near Vaddukoddai, on 5th Janauary 1993. Military spokesmen in Colombo in the meantime claimed a resumption of operations against identified targets. According to local sources, there were no identifiable targets in the area. The bombs appear to have been aimed at a mill. Nine civilians were killed including a lady living next to the mill. Although the present bombings are not very frequent, these jets, unlike the sia Machetti trainers, appear suddenly giving people no time to get into bunkers. Nor is accuracy improved. Civilians believe that these bombings are mainly target practice in newly acquired aircraft.
Regular shelling continues into areas like Mallakam and places close to Karainagar. [Top]
Pathinathar Santiapillai was a resident of St. Mary's Street, Navanthurai, Jaffna. He was arrested by the LTTE in early 199O and is known to have been tortured. On Saturday 19th December l992 the LTTE informed Pathinathar's wife that her husband had been executed. The reason given was that he was supposedly the supporter of another militant group. The deceased leaves behind 3 children.
About l986, the Tigers had difficulties in the fishing village of Navanthurai. During the disturbances the Tigers shot dead Pathinathar Visian. It is noteworthy that Pathinathar Santialpillai was his brother. In many cases the Tigers have been known to wait several years for an opportunity to move against a marked person. [Top]
Ganeshasunderam, Chelliah and Ganeshan worked for the People's Bank in Jaffna. The first was a senior manager, the second, manager of the New Market Branch and the last a security officer. All three were detained by the LTTE in early 199O. Ganeshasunderam was among the foremost citizens of Jaffna, a member of several elite gatherings and former president of the St.John's OBA, St.John's being Jaffna's elite school. He was little different from his friends, friendly and given to conviviality with old buddies. No one got the impression from his conversations that he was in any way opposed to the Tigers.
His arrest naturally led to a great deal to consternation among his many friends and private representations were made.The LTTE never directly made a single allegation against him. Rather , rumours were circulated to the effect that he had entertained Indian officers and had passed on information to them.It was not unusual during the IPKF presence for Indian officers to visit leading citizens. The LTTE had lightly let off several members of the elite who had been thrust into positions of intimacy with the IPKF and who even served on vigilance committees appointed by the IPKF. Many of these persons had no qualms about performing the same services for the LTTE or anyone else in power. That Ganeshasuderam dealt with the IPKF in the course of his duties or that IPKF officers sometimes called on him, as they did on many others, was not in any way a serious charge even where the LTTE was concerned. But the rumours circulated about him mainly served to silence those who may press for his release.
The story becomes even more curious when one goes into the circumstances of Ganeshasundarsm's arrest. It becomes clear that Ganeshsundaram had no idea that the LTTE had anything against him. He had been transferred to Colombo as a manager in late 1989 and he visited Jaffna regularly to see his family and attend to residual matters in his previous posting.
On a visit to Jaffna in March 199O after the LTTE had taken control, there was a message at his home asking him to call briefly at the LTTE office in Nallur. He went in good faith, thinking that it was to iron out a small problem and that he could finish this and return to Colombo.On the first day he was told at the camp that the man who had summoned him was not there. The same thing happened on the second day. Each day he went back home and returned the following day.
On the third day it was said that he would be questioned and released in a few hours. He was never released. According to several sources, Ganeshasundaram is now dead - presumably killed as a 'Traitor. His associates in Jaffna, according to these sources were prevented from publishing an obituary for him , even with whatever charge made by the LTTE. But there were no charges.
It is very uncommon for the LTTE to be so harsh with a member of the elite. To this class the LTTE tries hard to put on a 'reasonable' and amicable face. To solve the mystery, one seems to have to look for something that is inoffensive to ordinary people, but deeply offensive to the LTTE. The solution seems to lie in the fact that two other colleagues of Ganeshasunderam were taken in. Rumours merely suggested that they had 'given information'. The security officer used to operate a radio communication set to communicate with the head office in Colombo. many members of the public sought the People's Bank's help to pass on urgent private messages to Colombo- marriages, funerals etc. Although it may naively look plausible, it is silly to suggest that the radio was used to `pass information'. Radio messages are easily and routinely tapped. The IPKF was on the other had only a few yards away and called in regularly. It then appears that the LTTE's concern is not with Ganeshasundaram personally, but with some action of the People's Bank.
Bank sources suspect that the answer is `Gold'.
People's Bank was the only bank that accepted pawned jewellery and gold as security
for loans to farmers and other tradesmen. As the security situation in Jaffna
deteriorated from 1985, the gold in People's Bank, Jaffna was transferred to
the head office vaults in Colombo. This greatly inconvenienced local people
who had then to go to Colombo to retrieve their jewellery. Once the IPKF established
control in Jaffna and agreed to provide security for institutions, the gold
was brought back to Jaffna in 1988. When Ganeshsundaram was transferred to Colombo
in 1989, there was no one in Jaffna to accept responsibility for holding the
gold in Jaffna. Further, the IPKF's days seemed to be numbered. The gold was
returned to Colombo with the IPKF providing security from Jaffna to Palaly
airport. Ganeshasundram only acted as a dutiful banker looking after his customers.
Knowing the LTTE's predilection for gold, the knowledge when it assumed control
that gold had been transferred to Colombo would have been a source of irritation.
The LTTE's subsequent gold collection campaigns are well known.
It also appears that anger against Ganeshasundaram increased as he was questioned. Initially there was no general alert out for him as a traitor or otherwise. Even the deputy in the LTTE camp where he was asked to report was unaware that he was wanted for questioning. If his conscience was not clean when he was asked to come to the camp, he would have simply boarded a train and gone to Colombo.[Top]
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