REFUGEES AND RELATED MATTERS
184.108.40.206 Dangers Arising from the Uncertain Political and Military Situation.
The matter has attained an urgent importance with India shipping in during August up to perhaps 10 000 refugees into Trincomalee. Switzerland is expected to start flying in Tamil refugees with other European countries following. It has recently been revealed that a group of EEC officials from the Interior and justice ministries has formed a committee called K4 which is holding sessions to draft regulations to halt the refugee influx into EEC countries. Even the elected members of the European parliament were not aware of the functioning of this committe. The rise of right wing elements in the European political scene seems to be one of the prime considerations motivating this step. The secretive nature of this committee raises a number of questions.
To make forced deportation look decent, the countries concerned used their weight to get the UNHCR involved. Under pressure it would not resist, the UNHCR in Geneva was trying to hook other NGOs into getting involved. Feelers were made to Lawrence Thilagar, the LTTE spokesman in Paris during the Autumn of 1992, in an attempt to pacify his organisation. It was the kind of pragmatic approach to international diplomacy where everyone who seemed to count was consulted except the refugees themselves. The return of refugees from India, though technically not under coercion, was strongly influenced by administrative harassment. The rationale for UNHCR involvement seems to be that since India is sending them back, why not become party to it and make life easier for the refugees? At one point India had reportedly said that chartering ships for the purpose was costly and persuaded the UNHCR to foot the bill.
Under pressure from European governments the UNHCR
reportedly holds that it is feasible to deport refugees to the South of Sri
Lanka even though they cannot return to their homes in the North-East. In other
words they would continue as refugees albeit in a tropical clime. The UNHCR
also reportedly thought that it was feasible to carry out the deportation on
the scale of a few hundred to Colombo this year, a thousand in 1994 and in increasing
numbers thereafter. The Sri Lankan government would no doubt, given its position
of dependence, accept nominal responsibility for these refugees. The forcible
return of refugees raises many questions, some of which are dealt with briefly. [Top]
The return of Tamil refugees to Sri Lanka is of vital interest not only to the majority of refugees themselves but also to many European countries, Canada as well as to India. Many organisations including Human Rights organisations are also interested in this issue. The South of Sri Lanka has been mentioned as feasible on the assumption that the civil war is restricted to the North East and hence the rest of the country is more or less normal.It might appear so to the outside world and may be true with regard to the Sinhalese and Muslim populations perhaps. But as far as the Tamil population, especially the Tamil youth, the reality is very different from the superficial appearances.
Arrests and harassment of Tamil youth in Colombo has recently been commented upon by Amnesty International. In October these arrests took a sinister turn. Personnel who had earned notoriety in the East, one of them named by the HRTF in connection with the Eastern University disappearances of September 1990, were reportedly brought to function in Colombo in association with Military Intelligence and the NIB [See 3.3.6]. Colombo is the only conceivable place to which these refugees can return. Moreover the high cost of living and the near impossibility of Tamils finding satisfactory jobs in Colombo makes such a return infeasible. Many Tamils live here only because relatives send money from abroad - the very lifeline deportations would cut off and compound. It is precisely the dire economic straits of the South which the government is using to draw Sinhalese youth into the armed forces. Where would the Tamils fit in?
To understand the plight of the refugees we need to clearly identify the issues pertaining to their situation. Basically there are three categories of refugees.
1. Internal refugees
2. Refugees in India
3. Refugees in the West.
The internal refugees are those who were displaced during the months after the war had broken out. They left for areas where they felt safe. They are now stranded with no end to the war in sight. There are also people who were forced to leave areas in which they were living for generations (Eg: Muslims from Jaffna and Mannar). A large number of people who fled their homes, were forced to sell all they had in order to buy their passage to India.
We need to understand the traumatic experience of these people during the last ten years or more. They had been witnessing continual death, destruction of property and all the other evils related to the present war, such as disappearance and rape of women. Those who heaved a sigh of relief during the short lived honeymoon between the government and LTTE were thrown back into despair by the fresh outbreak of the war in June 1990. The state and the LTTE unleashed terror with renewed vigour and vengeance. A large number of people once more left for India. They paid exorbitant sums to unscrupulous boatmen to cross the Palk Straits in fear of the army's anticipated assault on the Jaffna peninsula. There were many tragic incidents in which whole families drowned during such crossings. [See 4.3]
A section of such refugees who had some means of support from family members living in the West managed to rent out houses in India and settle down. But the majority who had no means lived in camps with the assistance from the Indian government.There too life became more miserable after the killing of the former prime minister Rajiv Ghandi.
The third category consists of those who entered Western countries through a variety of legal and illegal means and stayed on by claiming political asylum. A majority of them have been given temporary refugee status. It is an open secret that there are agencies in Colombo and India which make arrangements and send people to Western countries as refugees. These agencies are part of a network which encompases key persons and institutions including airport authorities, government ministers and officials from a number of Western embassies in Colombo together with those of neighbouring countries. There are then a large number of youngsters who are leaving the war zone and coming into Colombo paying large sums of money to these agencies in order to go abroad.
What are the underlying causes to this large continuing exodus from the North - East into the South? There are many reasons such as:
1. They are in a war zone and there is continuous random shelling and bombing taking place. They have an uncertain future. To have a `meaningful' existence they have to either join the LTTE, if not for which life becomes unbearable.
2. The authoritarian political atmosphere and the immense hardships caused by the war. A collapse of economic activity.
3. Pure survival instinct & fear of falling prey to the advancing army.
4. Cynicism and despair about the present reality with the hopeless future it portends, and the desire to start a new life.
5. The breadwinners are in the South and families decide to unite to spare themselves the anguish of separation amidst uncertainty and the hazards of travel for the occasional reunion.
6. Those who had left the movement or people who were overtly identified with other political forces at one time or the other, whose life is therefore in danger.
It is only relative safety and the survival instinct which motivates them to move to the South. When they reach the South they again confront an uncertain situation and humiliation at the hands of the police and various arms of the state. While the government has the admittedly difficult responsibility of maintaining security in the face of LTTE infiltration, the line between legitimate investigation by the police, and humiliation and extortion, has ceased to be recognisable. Instances of abuse are too numerous to keep track of.
We shall give you one case which is typical of what is happening in the South.
A young boy who had passed his G.C.E. O Levels in Trincomalee came to live with his elder brother in a town north of Colombo and was following A Level classes in a local institute. One day he was picked up by the police with 2 other Tamil boys in the neighbourhood. The OIC sent a message to his sister-in-law saying that she could pay a sum close to Rs. 40 000/- at the police station and take the boy away. The brother who was away on returning contacted another brother in Trincomalee. He got a police official there to inform the local OIC that the detainee was a bona fide student who had been at a particular school in Trincomalee. This was done as an insurance against the local OIC denying custody. The OIC insisted on release only after payment, but allowed meals to be brought to the detainee.
The brother in Trincomalee next came with an army officer known to him. The OIC told the officer that he had better keep out of this because the detainee had links with a security incident in Colombo. Next the family approached a TULF MP who wrote to the DIG, Police, in charge of the area. The DIG called for a report and was sent one by the OIC alleging the boy's terrorist links. The report was duly channelled to the Jayalath Committee. When the family took meals for the boy in mid- August, about 40 days after detention, they were told by the sergeant that the boy was not there. The Jayalath committee had sentenced him to a 3 month stint in the reformatory in Bandarawela. The sergeant told them, "You did not pay money here. You can now go with the money to Bandarawela and bring him out"
The authorities will obviously argue that in the interests of security such cannot be helped. The problem however lies with total lack of accountability and gross arbitrariness, permitted by law and the practice of it, leading to persistent abuse.
There are among the arrivals, mainly youths, who had never been to Colombo and are now forced to live in a hostile environment, facing continuous anguish. They feel that they are in an alien land and live in fear of being arrested as a suspected "terrorist". They are also alienated from fellow Tamils who had lived in the South for a long time. They often do not have the right connection or contact to feel secure. Even with excellent connections, Tamils who had been here for a long time had faced arrest, humiliation and worse. The Tamils living in Colombo do not respond as a community and assert themselves overtly in the political arena. This signifies their deep seated alienation.
The choice between living under the LTTE and under the Sri Lankan state machinery has little to do with support for either.
The LTTE imposes great restrictions on freedom and subjects people to extortion. The LTTE does the latter openly. In the South it is being done by the state machinery. Though it is public knowledge there is little effort to stop it. In this situation we need to look towards democratic forces in the South which could give confidence to the Tamils living there. But what is the reality?.[Top]
The call for peace and political accomodation is feeble, muted and haphazard. Moreover it is based more on a commonplace dislike of violence, than on a concrete understanding of the real situation in its totality.
Yet these efforts are nowhere near being capable of even posing a realistic challenge to chauvinistic forces with a view to making the key players in this situation, i.e. the government and its various forces, take meaningful steps to make the life of a Tamil, leave alone a newly returned refugee's life, minimally safe and free from arbitrary arrest, gratuitous insult, and likely extortion in one way or another.
This is not to say that there have been no gains. Indeed there have been. There are also dedicated individuals in the NGO sector and in political groups who as individuals do what they can. The MIRJE's `Yukthiya', and the `Ravaya', both of which enjoy a modest circulation, have tried to inform Sinhalese readers of the intricacies of the conflict and the plight of the Tamils. Other groups do try to communicate greater awareness of the crisis in their educational and cultural programmes.
It is far from enough for organisations concerned with peace and human rights to have the capacity to help only the kind of Tamil having personal contact with them. This is much in the line of senior state and security officials intervening on behalf of known Tamils.
The random checking of Tamils in Colombo to identify suspected LTTE operatives leads to widespread abuse of the Tamil civilians' dignity and rights. But only a lukewarm response came from the activist community in Colombo. There was no concerted effort either by the NGO sector or other political groups to address the issue. Most of them could only think of releasing statements and meeting the President or some other state functionary. There were no attempts to collect information in an organised manner and use it to expose the true character of the security operation in Greater Colombo.
It is often the case that a young person or even a family taken into the police station in the middle of the night, are treated as criminals. They are put into a cell and are verbally and sometimes physically abused by police officers. As a result the attitude of those detained changes. They feel that they are in an alien land and there is no one to fight for them. They feel in consequence of their experience that there are no democratic structures which will ensure justice. They become cynical about democratic activity and feel that they have no one to turn to. In such an atmosphere they feel only the LTTE could teach the offenders a lesson. When the democratic forces fail to take risks and initiatives which can create confidence, it invariably legitimises destructive politics.
Instead of reaching out the people and making them
part of their activities, the NGO sector which deals with human rights and democratic
issues, appears to be tormented by sectarianism. Much energy is dissipated in
debating and arguing who should initiate what strategy. All the legitimate reasons
such as problems of manpower, financial constraints and the climate of terror
are adduced for procrastination or inactivity. But the fact remains that the
NGO sector has not risen to the occasion so as to address the issues and effectively
counter unhealthy tendencies. The hard reality is that there is no effective
force refugees could turn to in a crisis. This rules out any large scale return
of refugees from abroad. [Top]
Any one who has followed the crisis in this country will testify to the impossibility of predicting the future. As far as the President is concerned there is no ethnic problem and what exists is only a terrorist problem. The major parties are not keen to come out with any clear political solution. The beleaguered military which is in crisis is not sure of its future role. The vested interests of the persons in the hierarchy of the military establishment are given to making rhetorical promises. This could trap them into more bellicose positions. The police which was nurtured for 15 years in the Emergency and PTA culture is incapable of handling issues in a civilized manner. Emergency rule and the PTA are still effective and continue to be widely used to keep innocent people in custody without bringing them to court. The last fifteen years of UNP rule resulted in a large number of its leading politicians having skeletons in their cupboard. Hence they cannot afford to take any far-reaching action against violators of human rights. The violaters were used by the government to preserve itself in power. Under these circumstances the LTTE is able to ruthlessly exploit the bankruptcy of the Southern polity and create a climate in which a large number of youths are trapped into a suicidal culture. The long term effects are unpredictable.
The foreseeable future will be governed by the impotency of the political and military establishments and the ruthless LTTE to which people are expendable as pawns. In the event of a significant reversal, it will hardly be surprising if the ordinary people who feel desperate are manipulated to act again in a manner similar to that of 1983. Unless a clear political will is shown by the Southern political establishment as a whole, to come to an agreement for a just political solution to the ethnic question along with the withdrawal of all undemocratic laws, the security of the Tamils, and for that matter even of Muslims and Sinhalese, cannot materialise for the near future.
Routine harassment of Tamils in Colombo and the recent incidence of more than 5 corpses in the Colombo and Negombo areas represents a fundamental problem that remains only partially addressed. Our reports show that disappearances continue to occur, with the forces shielding themselves behind blunt denials.
Having accepted that returning refugees to the North-East is not possible at this stage, the South (Colombo) is being advanced as a possibility. But what is the plight of the internal refugees who are accommodated in Colombo in various camps and receiving rations?
There were such refugees in Colombo. On 3Oth June 1993, 65 families from Vivekananda camp in Colombo were taken to the Batticaloa District. Those who resisted were forced into buses. At late night on the same day they were landed on a bare beach at Navalady near Batticaloa without even arrangements for food. Those who were from cleared areas were sent to their villages a month later after being paid Rs 6000 as SIA & PEG. This also means that they are no longer entitled to rations and no one is going to investigate whether they starve or survive. Others from areas like Punani, presently devastated and uninhabited, were sent to local refugee camps - e.g. Valaichenai. The minister for rehabilitation has maintained in parliament that these families went back voluntarily. More such deportations from Colombo into the East are taking place. There are many questions here. The government which created the conditions of insecurity for these refugees is now deciding on the safety of their return. It is also telling refugees from Punani that they should be refugees in Valaichenai in the East rather than refugees in Colombo where they feel safer. Now European governments seem to be telling another group of refugees that they could be refugees in Colombo, but not in Bonn or Berne. One must therefore admit the strong likelihood that for a variety of reasons any refugee returned from abroad will be under pressure to go to so called cleared areas in the North-East.
We, Like many others, do ardently wish for conditions
where refugees would come back voluntarily. Sadly, we have a long way to go
before reaching that point. To try to force refugees to return now will not
lead to healthy developments whether here or in the host countries. [Top]
We reliably understand that the rehabilitation ministry has asked divisional secretaries to go slow on rehabilitation for the lack of funds - a matter of misdirected priorities. Additional refugees are being brought from India in when large sections of local refugees have received next to nothing. This leads to a hierarchy among refugees based on the government's political and public relations priorities.
In rural parts of the East the situation continues to be uncertain. Although cleared areas in the Vavuniya and Mannar sectors were a political success story for the army, the government lacked the vision to sustain and exploit these. During August the army pulled back precipitately from areas in the Mannar District into which it had advanced. Prior to the pull-back refugees had gone back into these areas and resumed cultivation believing that the army would remain. What is left is a deep sense of distrust of the army's intentions and an accompanying sense of despair.
The only place now left for returning refugees in the Mannar District is Mannar Island. Here the land is parched during the dry season with thirsty cattle and asses on the lookout for water. The small civilian population there was literally scavenging for water. To land more people there is to invite epidemics.
Note:The three reports in this sub-section do not appear in our normal style of reporting. They were compiled for this report in the course of journalistic investigations by a team in which the UTHR(J) was represented.[Top]
Vavuniya is the biggest town in the North under the army 's control and enjoys a smooth run of its civil administration under GA/Vauniya.
It is noteworthy that there are no army or police check posts or any armed soldiers on duty inside Vavuniya town. While police constables are on duty inside town it has not affected the movement of civilians in any way and civilian life has a strong semblance of normality.
A senior army officer explained thus " My superior and I have become unpopular among the Sinhalese people who are living here. But I feel that it is good in a way because it helped the Tamil people trust us . I also feel that the real problem is for the Tamils. The problems which the Sinhalese people have are common to all and arise from drawbacks in the administration. We are trying to convince the soldiers to differentiate between the civilians and the LTTE during operations. You may have noticed that during our recent operations in extending our forward defence line, the civilian casualties were far fewer and the conduct of the soldiers with the people, much improved.
" We are trying to conduct seminars and workshops and get together with the villagers to bring about better understanding. But it is rather difficult to do this because just few miles beyond, we are fighting a war. We cannot concentrate on both. We would gladly welcome more NGOs to come and do work in the border villages where there is still fear and misunderstanding among both communities".
But the opinion of the Sinhalese, mostly living in Vavuniya South, is different. A spokesman voicing a common feeling said, "We don't have any help from the army or any one. We do not even have an M.P. All are supporting the Tamils. Even the former president visited just the town and went off. Only the " Hamuduruwo" (Buddhist monk) in the pansala (temple) is helpful to us"
But they did not say that they presently have or have had any particular problem or threat from the Tamil militant groups or from the Tamil people. Not even during the I.P.K.F period. Although there has been little direct friction, the alienation and mutual suspicion between the two communities is largely a reflection of politics at national, rather than local level. One could think of several cases where a community which is a minority at local level feels similarly threatened, and interprets everything as reinforcing its beleagueredness.
Even though Vavuniya seems to be normal there is a particular problem which had been raised by various people during the last four months.
The first one is to do with a row of shops which had been built last year under supervision by the incumbent Buddhist monk of Vavuniya town. On the Vavuniya-Horowapothana Road there was earlier a temporary Pilgrim's Rest for those bound to Nagadipa (Nainathivu) or Madhu via Vavunia.
But, about this Rest Hall there are different stories from different people. According to the GA, " This is crown land and was loaned to the Y.M.B.A in the 1970's. But last year without permission from the Urban Council some private parties have built this row of shops. This is an illegal act. Secondly, such newly built shops to be rented out to the public should go through a tender system. Here this was not the case. This has created tension here".
Regarding this matter the Kachcheri has received complaints from MPs, the local citizens' committee and also from members of the public, pointing out that these shops have been given only to Sinhalese.
But the Kachcheri has also received complaints from the Sinhalese public in Vavuniya to the effect that these shops are being given to mainly Sinhalese form Anuradapura.
The Kachcheri authorities say that they have ordered the occupants through the Urban Development Authority to stop utilising the shops until a decision is taken.
In the opinion of the local member of parliament, this is a partial act of the Buddhist monk concerned, who is in charge of the Vavuniya Pansala. He added that it has created much anxiety among the Tamils here, because of what followed such actions in the past. He said , " In Vavuniya not one Tamil person, a Christian clergyman or a Hindu Temple Board can put up a building in this manner without permission. But yet a Buddhist monk is able to do it because he knows that no one would challenge him. Even after the order went from the UDA, there has been no response from him."
The Buddhist monk answering the allegations said, " This land was given to the Y.M.B.A during our"Loku Hamuduruwo's " (Elder Monk's) period in the 1970s. We were using it as a pilgrims rest. Now there are no pilgrims coming this way. So we decided to convert the Rest into shops and distribute them."
To the question " Why only for the Sinhalese?", he said ," It is reasonable because, normally a Hindu temple would build houses and shops around the temple and distribute them among Hindus, The Muslims put up buildings around their Mosque and give them only to Muslims. Why not we Buddhists do likewise ?"
A senior Christian clergyman who is a long standing resident of Vavuniya, touching some forgotten aspects, said, "The land where the shops were built was originally given to the Anglican Church which is situated at the Vavuniya hospital junction. A strip of land had been taken from the church to build a new road to the village of Poonthottam. As compensation, the church was given this portion of crown land situated nearby.But it was not put to use by the church. Later the church decided to give the land to the nearby school for its use. But unfortunately it wasn't used by them either.So when there was a need for a pilgrim's rest the Kachcheri allowed the Buddhists to put up a building on the land for a rest. The Y.M.B.A was in charge of the building. But last year they put up these shops and distributed them among Sinhalese.
"The Tamils panicked because of a particular incident. Before these shops were rented out Muslims who were chased from the North were selling on the verandah of these shops. These Muslims hawkers were chased away by the police using force. The impression given to the general public was that the monk could use the police whenever he chose to . A week after this incident these shops were distributed among Sinhalese."
According to this clergyman the situation in Vavuniya is somewhat better in comparison with areas like Trincomalee and Batticaloa. But it is not a stable one as others think. Nor will it stabilise until a political solution materialises. He added " The two high ranking army officers who are in charge of Vavuniya are trying their level best to handle the problem diplomatically, despite the political constraints. As I am a long - standing Christian minister here, they used to visit me and discuss general issues. They feel that in order to find solutions they need to understand the historical underpinnings of the different issues."
He added " Issues like resettlement, land alienation and rehabilitation should be seen to be handled in an impartial manner. Otherwise they become very thorny and sensitive issues". "For example", he said " Areas like the Cheddikulam A.G.A 's division are totally Tamil and Muslim populated. After clearing operations if the army is very much bent on putting up Buddha statues in those areas rather than give priority to rehabilitation work, the public will no doubt panic. Why is the army behaving so ?"
Further he said, " I know that in 1982, establishing
a Buddha statue at the Vavuniya Hospital junction became a very sensitive issue.
It was established overnight. Some of our catechists came and told me there
are several Buddha statues being erected in the Cheddikulam area. No harm,
Buddhism is a good philosophy. But here it has become a threat in the light
of past history". [Top]
This is the story of refugees, who are newcomers to the part of Vavuniya under army control from that controlled by the LTTE.
It is among the most singular incidents to have taken place during the past three years of war in the North. This went against what was assumed to be the normal trend.That is, upon receiving intelligence of an impending army advance, people would vacate their villages and move further into what was regarded the relative safety of the rebel controlled area. The fact that recently a large number of Tamil villagers chose to do the opposite, and testify to many others wanting to do the same, is a sign of the people's desperation.
Altogether 192 people of all ages around Cheddikulam made this dangerous border crossing over three days from 12th to 14th June.
When we spoke to a man of 43 we came to know the main reason for the crossing undertaken with his family. This was an unexpected order from the LTTE area leader Charles for all men to join the LTTE's volunteer army (Thunai Padai). On 5th June Charles, the Vavuniya area leader and native of Irani Illupailulam, and two other LTTE cadre came to his village of Kandasamy Nagar, where his family had moved two years ago. This was when the army had moved close to their native village of Christhvakulam on the Mannar-Madavachchi Road. Charles asked all of them to gather in the village school and told them, "All these days we did not force you all to join us. But today, no excuses. I want one person from each family to join our Volunteer Force ".
He asked the villagers to sign their acceptance of his `request'. Our interviewee said that he is the father of 3 children,and even though he did not want to, he had to sign. All the others who signed were also in the same position. He further said, Charles told us, " You all should be ready to get training on the 15th of June at the Thivvia Nagar burial grounds in the nearby village ". From that day we were all of a mind to escape. During the last 2 months it was announced over the army run " Vanni Radio Service", "If any one wants to come into Vavuniya, the Army is prepared to help them in resettling and also to guarantee their security". In view of the new developments, as a last resort, we decided to accept the army's offer.
"On 12th June at 1 a.m, a group comprising 63 of us started our journey. We took whatever we could carry of our belongings. For about 3 hours we did a non stop walk. We didn't talk to each other until we passed the danger line. Around 4 a.m we managed to reach the Mannar - Madawachiya main road. We hid ourselves along the side of the road away from the beams of search lights fixed at the army sentry post.
" The following day around 6 a.m we decided to come out and walk towards the army sentry post. We improvised white flags from our clothes and first sent the children aged between 6&12 to walk ahead with white flags and the rest followed with raised hands as instructed by the army's radio announcement. We had to walk 600 yards to reach the army sentry point.
"The army had not expected such a large crowed of civilians and knew not what to make of it. We saw soldiers rushing about and taking up positions. We therefore stopped moving about 200 yards away from the sentry post. We waited about 10 minutes just standing on the road undecided about the next step. Suddenly a soldier shouted in broken Tamil " Children only". We asked our children to move forward calmly, but they were reluctant to do so. Then we decided to send two women carrying their infants and along with them. Other children too then joined. Until they reached the sentry post we were not sure what would happen. But after 15 minutes the two women waved their hands to us, asking us to move. We moved towards the sentry.The soldiers then separated the young boys from the girls and checked them. All adults were likewise checked.
"We were then led along the road towards Madawachchiya. At the first mini army camp we were given bread and tea for breakfast. Then we were brought here, to this old rice mill.
"The following day some of our relatives followed us across the frontier and joined us.
" My brother in law who came the second day said that on the morning after we left our village, two LTTE members apprehended him and inquired about those who had vanished from the village. My brother-in-law pretended that he knew nothing. He was slapped by the LTTE members. They said " We know the fellows and will catch them". That night my BIL and another 7O villagers decided to do the same dangerous crossing.
"They had no choice", explained our interviewee, "My uncle of 56 who was born deaf and understood only hand signals was also forced to sign up as a volunteer soldier. We tried to convince the LTTE that my uncle was born deaf. The area leader Charles said laughingly " He can then prepare tea, for us in the camp". Finally my uncle was forced to sign".
Another 67 year old sickly man with a stoop said in a pained voice, " I again and again refused to sign, but they did not let me talk. Can I take up guns at this age?" His eyes were filled with tears when he ended his words.
Shanthy (18) expecting another baby said that she had married at an early age because her parents and her husband's parents thought it better for them to marry rather than be single and risk both of them being conscripted by the LTTE, or being caught by the army or even killed, when they entered their area. She pointed out other girls in the refugee camp who had married early for the same reasons.
Subashini (18) who got married when she was 16 said that her father had forced her to marry, because there was a talk that the LTTE was to take the unmarried boys and girls for training.
Yoharani (18), mother of two, who got married three years ago said, "I had to marry my nephew who was 25 at that time. His parents wanted to save him from being obliged to join the LTTE".
Though these folk are now staying in
the refugee camp, most of them did not wish to be refugees for long. They like
to settle some where near Vavuniya in a village and take to farming or some
other employment. /o:p>
They said "our village (Christawakulam) is near the army's border. This army still does not have the strength to move there. If that area came under army control we will go back to our village". They said that until the end of April 1993 they were living in Christhavakulam. They didn't want to move. But the LTTE instructed them to vacate and they moved into the interior village of Kanthasamy Nagar, towards the north.They further said "Even when we were in Kanthasamy Nagar we were cultivating paddy in small plots of land with much difficulty. Suddenly the LTTE ordered us not to go near the irrigation channel because they expected an army operation. So we had to leave the fields unharvested. That is also among the reasons why we left the area. We have not had a proper income for years. We are all mostly farmers. We supplement our income through hunting and collecting bees honey from the nearby jungles. These are not possible now". When we were about to leave the camp, one person said with decision "We don't want any thing else, if the government can give us a piece of land and a little capital. We will then build our lives again".
We see here a section of the people who having undergone
tremendous hardship due to the war were forced to take refugue among the army.
Yet, about the army, they entertain considerable doubts. Unfortunately these
people, as we have highlighted in our earlier reports, are mere cannon fodder
for the LTTE and may now be propaganda material for the state. Whether
they will be given all the facilities to restart their life is very doubtful
when we consider what is happening to the refugees in various parts of the country.
For a section of the expatriate Tamils who never bothered to visit their "home
land" but are readily prepared to brand as traitors those not conforming
to the imagined stereotypes of nationalist fervour. These powerless people are
indeed another bunch of such traitors! [Top]
Mr. Sulaiman Lebbe ( 58 years) retired vice principal of a Muslim mixed school at Erukkalampiddy commented that two of his sons are studying in universities and another daughter of his is expecting her campus entrance. But the youngest daughter has scored poor marks whereas she too is an intelligent child. But under the present conditions here, she was unable to score better. And in Kalpitiya for the Mannar Muslim refugees, the schools operate the evening session. It starts at 2 P.M and finishes at 5 P.M. He felt that it is not a suitable time for studies and especially in such a dry area, if the children go to school in the heat of the afternoon they will not be able to concentrate on studies. They can only sleep in the class rooms.
The other problem they face is that most of the teachers from Mannar Island have already settled themselves in the South, in places like Colombo, Gampola, Kandy, and Weligama, and have taken temporary transfers to good Muslim schools. Therefore, there is a big shortage of teachers and the teachers who are left here are mostly primary teachers and just a few for the upper classes. The real problem is for the G.C.E O/L and A/L students. As far as he is concerned education is the main aspect which is really affecting his community due to their recent displacement.
Now Mr.Sulaiman is working as a temporary clerk in the organization called R.R & R.A(Refugees Relief and Rehabilitation Association) which is helped by OXFAM.
When Ibrahim, a young man of 25 who is a student of one of the universities in the South expressed his reactions, he said, " As a Muslim I see that this challenge for our community should be faced by our generation boldly. Not in the way my father or these dirty Muslim politicians would advocate. A new kind of work must begin on the basis of EEMAAN, in the name of Allah. This is an injustice done to our community for no reason. In future, no doubt, there will be a force to face upto this.
"When I see my younger sister who scored poor marks in studies, it is unbearable. I know she could have dome much better if she was not disturbed. I feel education is a thing which brings immense strength to a community. The Muslims who were wealthy enough have already settled themselves in the South. They have no intention of going back. But our case is different. We can't settle ourselves here and also we are not rich enough to go to some other place. Apart from that,wherever we go,we are going to be labelled as refugees, unless we go to our own land-Mannar. So the rest of the people who are left here, are determined to go back to our own land.
" Because even here, in Kalpitiya, we are facing problems with the local Muslims. For example, in a village called Thihali, 7 miles from Kalpitiya, around 130 families from Mannar Island and from the mainland off Mannar were settled as refugees. Just a month ago a problem arose.A Muslim boy from Chilavathurai fell in love with a Muslim girl from the local community of Thihali. Suddenly one night, the entire people of Thihaly attacked the refugee camp, damaging the houses and some men were assaulted. Thereafter, the refugees were warned to clear off from the area within 24 hours. The following day 90% of the refugees fled to nearby camps.
" See, this is the situation. Even the local Muslim community itself is unable to accept us. Even though they were sympathetic and accepted us at that time we were expelled by the LTTE, when their expectations in life are disturbed, they react.
" And I must say for the Muslim community,
and for women in particular, there are certain ways of living. Here our women,
especially young girls, couldn't maintain their social life pattern. Among the
youth co-operation , unity and their social activity have been destroyed. The
youths don't have any thing to do, except wasting their time living on free
rations. So I see this as total destruction to our society". <
We also met a 54 year old man who was a teacher involved in Left politics. He is now employed in a semi- government corporation on a casual basis. He spoke to us very frankly about general problems.
He said " I think we as a community made a very big blunder by leaving Mannar as soon as the LTTE ordered us. That is where we lost our basic strength to fight back for our rights. I think no one from my community will disagree in this. The Palestinians lost their strength to fight because they got out from their land. The LTTE is so powerful because they are on their land."
" When the LTTE ordered our expulsion we were prepared to beg them to reconsider their decision, rather than question and challenge them .
" This I think is a curse from God. Because when the war commenced in June 1990, the most affected area was the Eastern Province. Thousands of refugees from the East came walking through the jungles , endured many hardships and came to Mannar Island to embark for India. At this time even the Tamils from Mannar Island were in fear of an army incursion into the island. They were talking of sheltering in refugee camps and had deposited their valueables with Muslim neighbours. When the refugees came from the East they were in need of cash to continue their journey to India. they had little choice but to sell their jewellery and other valuables. All these were bought by the Muslims of Mannar Island who were from the middle,upper middle and upper classes. But the prices paid for these valuables were utterly unreasonable. For example, 1 gold sovereign was sold to the Muslims for between Rs1000/= and 1200/=. At that time those refugees told us with broken hearts "Today we are selling these things. But one day our boys will retrieve them for us". I don't know whether the boys will give those back to them. But the boys (LTTE) have certainly taken them from us. We were allowed to take only two sovereigns and Rs 1000/ with us when we left our land. This is a fact. This was the punishment we got...
"And I would like to state my present position. No doubt we want to go back to our land. We do not want to be refugees for ever. But we cannot go back on the basis of guarantees given by the Sri Lankan Army. We have serious doubts about this army.
"When the LTTE ordered us to leave the area on 24th October 1990, the government media was high-lighting this issue to the world. But from the 24th to 29th neither the government nor the army took any action to stop this tragedy. Even if the government had declared a curfew, then we could have told the LTTE that we are unable to cross the sea. During that delay, the army could have entered the island and captured it. But the government was waiting for the last Muslim to leave the area before going into the island on lst November 1990. It was as though the government wanted to worsen Tamil - Muslim relations."
"To this time this army is unable to give full protection to Mannar island. And I do not think this government and the army have the strength to clear the Mannar- Madawachiya road for the public.
"We are prepared to go back to our lands. But we put forward these demands:
(1). We do not want the present pass system to go to our own land.
(2). Inside the island, except for the government troops there should not be any other armed group.
(3). If we want to negotiate with the LTTE in any appropriate manner the army should not pose an obstruction.
(4). The government must begin and do all the rehabilitation work expeditiously.
Mr.Nihmath, a 36 year old teacher who is a poet said, "I feel very uncomfortable about staying here any more. I have put down my pain and feelings in poems'. He gave us a small collection of poems which he wrote after coming to Kalpitiya. The title of the book is " VAA OORUKKU POVOM" (" Come, let us go home").
The general feeling among the refugees at Kalpitiya is one of wanting to go back to their own land. From last January there was a constant trickle of Muslims going into the island to see whether they could resettle. some 2163 members from 520 families including 224 government servants had gone back to the island by March 1993.
The discussions above bring out many aspects which are common to all communities who were displaced because of the ethnic conflict.There is also, in common with other refugees, a tendency towards self-reappraisal,which is commendable and strengthening. Their insecurity, humilation in the hands of various forces and sheer frustration about the present political leadership they share in common. The anger stemming from this experiences becomes the breeding ground for more narrow political perceptions. On the other hand the potential which could have been tapped from their common experience to assert themselves as people with dignity and to counter the politics which thrives on their disempowerment remains untapped.
Note: For a comprehensive study of the refugee question
in Sri Lanka and it's implications, see "JOURNEY WITHOUT A DESINATION
-Is There A Solution To The Problem Of Sri Lankan Refugees" , By Rohini
Hensman Banaji. Published by the British Refugee Council,U.K. and shortly by
a local publisher. /o:p>
The R.R & R.A is an organisation which was formed in September 1992 with the help of OXFAM, with the purpose of helping Muslim refugees in the Kalpitiya area. The Secretary of the R.R & R.A said that they did not receive any special support from the Rehabilitation Ministry for their work since October 1990, the time they arrived.
According to their statistics there were 18,244 refugees from 4001 families living in 73 camps spread over 21 grama sevaka divisions in the Kalpitiya area.
The secretary said that they help not only the Muslim refugees, but also help the Sinhalese refugees who are also the victims of this war. They also came from the Mannar District and are in a camp at Sinhapura, 24th mile post Kalpitiya-Puttalam Road. They too received no regular relief from the government and there are at Sinhapura camp 27 families totalling 132 persons.
The staff of seven who work for the R.R &R.A,are also refugees. Their activities include providing amenities for basic needs as well as for income generation. According to the Secretary they also arrange and pay stipends to volunteer teachers at the rate of Rs 1500/ per month.
The relief the government gives is the standard package which contains 1 bottle of coconut oil, 1,800g dhal, 450g sugar and 12 kg of rice per person per month.If there are more than 5 members in the family get Rs 1300/ worth of dry rations.[Top]
On the Kalpitya-Puttalam Road at the 24th mile is the Sinhapura camp, marked by small cadjan huts.
We met Mr. Lawrence Arnold, aged 56, father of 10 children. He said, "We had been living in Silavathurai from 1960. My native place is Kandy. But I cannot go there. Even if I go I have to be a refugee there. So it is better to be here. We were 27 sinhalese families living in Silavathurai, mainly doing business. Soon after the Muslims were asked to evacuate the area we also decided to leave. We too joined with them in boats to Kalpitiya.I think this government will never solve this problem, because they do not have the strength to solve it. So I think I will never be able to go back to Silavathurai. I have decided to settle myself some where in the South. We expect the government to give us once and for all an amount of money with which we could start our own business and settle here, rather that giving Rs 1100/= worth of rations every month. If they give us a lump-sum, we could get out of this refugee bondage".
When we spoke to Mr. Joseph Michael, a 39 year old Roman Catholic from Talaimannar, he said, " I am from Negombo - Kauvapitiya. My parents came to Talaiimannar 30 years ago when I was two years old. I got married at Talaimannar. We were doing business in dried fish between Colombo and Talaimannar. We cannot go back to our village because our own community will see us as refugees. I don't know for how long we are going to be like this".
The general living condition of the Muslim refugees, compared with camps elsewhere, is somewhat better, because they live in separate huts and not put together in one big hut. For those settled in coconut estates, the health condition is not affected badly.
Also the family members do odd jobs in nearby farms where the local mudalilis cultivate onions. But these refugees are paid poorly -Rs 20/= to 25/= a day. Yet they do work so as to meet their extra expenses. Some 20% of the people are earning a living as itinerant tradesmen on bicycles, serving nearby villages.
The army command in Vavuniya held that the area between Vavuniya town up to Cheddikulam railway station had been cleared for displaced persons to return. Of the latter there were 8000 in the UNHCR ORC in Madhu, presently under LTTE control. The civil authorities announced about August that these 8000 persons should hereafter collect their rations in their home areas and not in Madhu. Among the main functions of the UNHCR was to transport government rations into the LTTE controlled area and distribute them at Madhu.
The LTTE responded by encouraging, if not organising, the Vavuniya District refugees to demonstrate in front of the UNCHR office in Madhu on 30th October. It is understood that during the demonstration a part of the fence and the aerial were damaged. After about 5 hours UNHCR officials came out and spoke to some of the refugees. Some told the officials frankly that they were in an impossible situation and were demonstrating in front of the UNHCR because they were neither in a position to demonstrate against the LTTE nor the government. Others made the valid point that the UN meant much more than a local Multi - Purpose Co-operative Society (MPCS), the normal agency for distributing rations.Thus if the UNHCR merely distributed whatever rations the government gave without ensuring that all were adequately cared for, the UNHCR would do no better than an MPCS. This, they said, would question the rationale for a UNHCR presence. They argued that the UNHCR must negotiate with the government and provide the rations for the 8,000 who under the circumstances had to remain in Madhu. The Roman Catholic Church we understand , neither intervened nor mediated in this matter. Describing the incident, an AFP report said that 4 officials, including a French national, were `temporarily siezed'.
A number of sources who had been in touch with the refugees concerned have said that their clear wish was to return to their homes in army controlled territory. This did not mean that they had come to trust the army, although it showed a local improvement in the latter's image. It only meant that they were prepared to accept the risks and live on their land. This wish to return was not lost on the LTTE. Previously the LTTE had regularly issued passes for Vavuniya District refugees to go to Vavuniya, look up their property and return with sundry goods that were sold in Madhu. This has been almost completely stopped. Passes to go to Vavuniya and bring back items for sale are issued mostly to only Mannar District refugees.
After deliberating the matter the UNHCR reportedly took up the position that those who wished to return to their homes should be given the freedom to travel.Then if there is a section wanting to remain at Madhu of its own will, the UNHCR would raise the matter of their rations with the government. The UNHCR felt that if freedom of movement was denied, there was no issue to be raised with the government. It is understood that the UNHCR threatened to pull out of Madhu if the LTTE did not help to resolve the matter.
The LTTE in due course announced that it would provide rations for the 8,000 Vavuniya refugees. This was a simple matter because rations brought in by the UNHCR were distributed by the local adminstration which was controlled by the LTTE. On the 11th November the UNHCR announced a suspension of activity in LTTE controlled areas until guarantees for the `security' of its personnel are given. A resumption is expected before long.
The LTTE too must be aware that it does not
call all the shots. A responsible person from Madhu said, that, should the UNHCR
pull out, conditions in Madhu which were now bad , would deteriorate sharply.
It is then very likely that the LTTE would have unrest on its hands,he
" The majority of the inhabitants are employed in rice cultivation. The palmyrah palm flourishes along the coast, and furnishes part of the food supply of the people. Cocoanut cultivation progresses slowly. Some tobacco is also cultivated in the villages. The fishing industry is important and is carried on chiefly by Sinhalese from the Negombo and Chilaw Districts "- Sir P. Arunachalam in the Ceylon Census of 1901 on the Mullaitivu District.
" A further element to be considered is the presence of a large number of Negombo fishermen who came to Kaddukulam pattu east for the fishing season" - Census Commissioner H.M.M.Moore in the Ceylon Census of 1921 on the Trincomalee District.
" The distinction between Sinhalese and Tamils of the present day is so marked that it is not easy to realize that there has been considerable fusion between the races in the past. The results of this fusion are most obvious in the western coast between Negombo and Puttalam, where a large proportion of the villagers though they call themselves Sinhalese, speak Tamil, and are, undoubtedly of Tamil descent, their legendary ancestors being captives from India, or imported weavers and other artisans. As in 1911, a large number of the Kandyan Sinhalese in Diddeniya palata in the Hiriyala Hatpattu of the Kurunegala District are Hindus and speak Tamil, though most of them read and write Sinhalese ..." -L.J.B. Turner in the Ceylon Census of 1921.
"On 8th January 1985, Mr. Athulathmudali, Minister of National Security, announced to a conference of District Ministers and Government Agents a scheme `to remove the concept of traditional homelands'. The scheme provided for settling 30 000 Sinhalese in the Northern Province during that year; 250 families would be selected from Sinhalese constituencies in the South of the island for settlement at Killinochchi, Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu districts during that year; and the new settlers would be given military training and weapons for their own security" - From press reports at that time and quoted editorially in the `Tamil Times' of August 1993.
" There is no point in our staying here if all the settlers are leaving. The people must remain where they are, we will afford whatever protection is necessary. I have already issued guns to those who have not moved out. Weapons training will be given ... We have cut a road many miles into Mullaitivu, We must go on making settlements. "They must stop distributing relief supplies at refugee camps and make aid available only at the settlements. If you give them stuff at the refugee camps they would prefer to remain there " -Major Bohran of the Sri Lankan army on 8th December 1984; quoted by M.H..Gunaratne in `For a Sovereign state'. This was when Sinhalese settled by the army in the Mullaitivu District, together with those domiciled for generations along the Kokkilai -Nayaru coast, were fleeing after two successive massacres during the previous fortnight.
The quotations above are largely self-explanatory and describe the origins, vocation and the tragedy of Sinhalese who made the Mullaitivu coast their home. The fourth quotation pertains to declared government policy then, of solving the Tamil question by saturating areas where Tamils predominantly live with marginalised Sinhalese. Although the conference took place in January 1985, the policy had been set in motion for some months. The minister himself had been quoted in earlier press reports. The policy which resulted in massacres and counter- massacres was reiterated by President Jayewardene in an address to parliament on 20th February 1985.
Caught between a government policy which would eventually leave the ordinary Sinhalese in the North - East with no option but to become armed agents on one hand, and a degenerate Tamil nationalist tendency which would regard a person an enemy merely because of being Sinhalese on the other; the position of Sinhalese domiciled in the North - East became impossible. Tamil nationalists who have written about the massacre of Sinhalese in Kokkilai and Nayaru on 1st December 1984 have admitted that these Sinhalese were on very good terms with the local Tamils and were integrated into the life of the community. But some of them have suggested that with the installation of army camps in the area to facilitate the government's colonisation programme, the Sinhalese had become spies. Such a generalisation would be grossly unfair. Just as there were probably a few Tamils who would have abetted the LTTE in the murder of their Sinhalese fellows, there may have been Sinhalese agents of the army. On the other hand these Sinhalese had a deep sense of fellowship with their Tamil neighbours, and their experience of the Sri Lankan army was one in which they shared many of the misgivings of their neighbours. After all they had been through at Tamil hands, even today several of these Sinhalese are prepared to affirm forthrightly that Tamil youth took up arms because they had a just cause.
It was a cardinal malaise of the main tendency in the Tamil struggle, that it too became communally bigoted and repeatedly threw away opportunities for alliances of principle with other communities. As we have repeatedly pointed out, the LTTE's main problem today is the chronic division it furthered among Tamils. Sinhalese and Muslim 'spies' are largely superfluous.
A further historical point is worth putting down. As noted above Sinhalese from Negombo and Chilaw were no strangers to the east coast. To hundreds it was their home for generations, going back at least into the 19th century. Their Christianity and often the Tamil language, they shared with other fisher folk of the area. The Ceylon Census of 1827 taken early during the consolidation of British rule lists Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Mannar and Delft as the `Malabar' (Tamil) divisions as had the preceding Dutch adminstration. In the charged atmosphere of today this classification had led to inconclusive debates, with even reputed academics throwing in their weight in an attempt to clinch the argument. So far there has been more heat than light.
We could say this much with certainty. The Tamils and
Sinhalese were not isolated from each other by dense jungle as it is often supposed.
It is often assumed by the Tamils that the Sinhalese in Vavuniya South are a
recent imposition. They are in fact a very old community and were contiguous
with the Sinhalese of Nuwarakalaviya. The 1921 Ceylon Census lists 16.2% of
the 11 300 population of the present Vavuniya District( Vavuniya North and Vavuniya
South divisions of the earlier Mullaitivu District) as Kandyan Sinhalese. About
5% of the population of 7000 in the Mullaitivu District (Maritime Pattu of the
earlier Mullaitivu District) were fisherfolk listed as Low Country Sinhalese.
The new Jaffna railroad facilitated increased migration to these areas. Sinhalese
in Jaffna too were showing a rapid increase during this period. Far from being
sinister, these were healthy developments. We have always argued that ideologically
motivated colonisation policies of post independence governments have brought
universal ruin. In reversing healthy developments and confusing issues, they
have also decimated the legitimate rights of the Sinhalese in the North- East. [Top]
Among a group of refugees, most of them women, a lady of 43 said that she went to Kokkilai in 1958 with her family and joined another 100 families who wee there earlier. Though in the Sinhalese class she had gone to school with Tamils. Her English teacher, a Tamil, had taken a keen interest in their safety during the 1958 communal violence. A man said that whenever he had to walk along the coast towards Mullaitivu, he could expect refreshment from almost any Tamil home. Everyone agreed that they were on excellent terms with the Tamils. When there was friction it was more personal rather than communal. There were also some Tamil fishermen, although Tamils were mostly farmers. With these farmers they used to barter fish for vegetables and coconuts. There had also been some mixed marriages.
The Tamils at Thennamaravady were a farming community,
too far to barter with the Sinhalese at Kokkilai. So they caught some fish in
the lagoon for their own use. When the price of prawns shot up, the Tnennmaravady
folk took to prawn fishing in a big way. But this did not result in any conflict
with the Sinhalese. The fish merchants who bought the catch off the fisherfolk
were an admixture of Tamils and Sinhalese. Among the Tamils were Sinnappu, Singarasa
and Kunam. Before 1984 the Sinhalese had suffered damage to property on two
occasions. During the communal disturbances of 1958 and 1977 their wadis, goods
and accessories had been burnt. They were living on land acquired by their early
ancestors in which plots had been divided and subdivided. [Top]
Several of the people at Kokkilai were standing on the Mullaitivu Road at 6.30 P.M. when the passenger van that came twice daily from Mullaitivu was coming at a distance. The Kent and Dollar farms incident did not affect them in any way. Since they were part of the community they thought they were safe. The driver of the van was doing something strange in flashing his lights. But this did not cause alarm. When the van came near, some young men jumped out, threw a grenade and opened fire. It was on later reflection that they realised that the Tamil driver, who probably had little choice over transporting the attackers had tried to warn them by signalling.
The survivors ran towards the sea to get into their boats. Manuel Anthony who was in a wadi was killed by gun fire.His wife who was injured carried her 9 year old son who was also injured and ran to a boat. The son later died in the boat. In all 13 were killed and 4 inured during the massacre. The survivors came ashore later in the night, carried their dead and injured, and walked 4 miles south to Pulmoddai in the Trincomalee District. The massacre at Nayaru took place at 8.30 P.M the same night, the attackers having come in an Elf van. Four were killed and two injured. Two killed at point blank range were the Costa sisters Mary Theresa and Mary Margaret who were bound by their long hair and shot. The survivors fled into the jungle from where the army fetched them and took them to Mullaitivu. The injured form both incidents were later transported to Anuradhapura and Kurunegala hospitals.
The survivors, now refugees, went to a church in Negombo. Even those with land in Negombo stayed in the church, believing that the problem would soon be resolved and they could go back.
Asked whether the declared policy of the government
(see introduction) had anything to do with their fate, they replied that since
they were cut off and hardly read the papers, they knew or cared little about
government policy. They also asserted that at the time of the incident, no fishermen
had been settled there by the government. [Top]
Since their eviction these folk had been going to Kokkilai off and on as the security situation permitted and as poverty impelled them. 90% of those who returned to Negombo do not go fishing. Unlike in Mullaitivu fishing in Negombo is deep sea fishing and different nets are used. It is also competitive. Those with bigger boats are at an advantage and such the refugees do not have. They are treated as outsiders. Sometimes others come in fast boats, cut their nets and scoot. They had eaten well in Mullaitivu and prices in Negombo were prohibitive. Their constant desire is to go back.
Those going back had little choice, but to accept army 'protection' and several of them received home guard training. They were not affected by the unsuccessful LTTE attack on the Kokkilai army camp on 15th February 1985 because they were on the other side of the camp. Their route to Kokkilai from Negombo now lay through either Trincomalee and Pulmoddai or through Padaviya and the Manal Aru (Weli Oya)region. Their dealings with the government had been given tow choices, either poverty or complete dependence on the army. Those from Nayaru never got back.
The brief interval of peace during early 1990 was an eerie affair. The LTTE used to regularly visit the Sri Lankan army camp in Kokkilai where they were feted and treated to bonhomie by Sri Lankan army officers. At the end of each session the fishermen would be asked to take the LTTE by boat to the inland(west) side of the lagoon where they had their bases check by jowl with the Weli Oya settlements. The fisherfolk also went regularly to Mullaitivu. Some weeks before the outbreak of war in June 1990), some of the Sinhalese who went to Mullaitivu were invited to the LTTE camp and served tea and biscuits. They were then told not to come to Mullaitivu again.Although they did not realise it at that time, it was an indirect warning that war was imminent.
On 13th August 1990, shortly after the outbreak of war, a lorry load of Sinhalese on their way to Kokkilai were fired at by the LTTE. 11 were killed and several injured. Four were killed from the family of Patricia Peiris' sister.
Those who continued at Kokilai developed a keen ear for the sounds of different guns, and tried to keep away from trouble, When out fishing on several occasions they had seen the LTTE gun running between a ship out at sea and the Mullaitivu coast. Although the LTTE saw them, both sides chose to ignore the other. During August 1992 three fishermen came to the shore with the intention of putting out to sea. An LTTE boat that was involved in a gun running operation came near, opened fire and sped off. Samantha (16) was killed.
The fisherfolk were not affected by the attack on Janakapura on 25th July 1993. But on the night of 16th August 1993 the army shouted a warning to them from a distance and left the matter to their home guards. The people got into their boats and took to the sea. There were no casualties except for a woman carrying a child to a boat who dislocating her leg. While out in the sea firing was heard 3 time during the night. If it was only a warning for the people to leave, the LTTE did not need to come near. They would also have been cautious about coming near because the approaches were booby-trapped.
The following morning most families decided to leave
for Negombo and not to return until hostilities were ended, 161 families are
now in Negombo while 74 are left in Kokkilai. The latter are said to be people
with neither land nor a possibility of a livelihood in Negombo. [Top]
3.3.3.Tamil Friends from Mullaitivu
From time to time the Sinhalese refugees meet Tamil friends and acquaintances from Mullaitivu. Like the Sinhalese a large number of Tamils too lost their homes and livelihoods when as part of the settlement programme above, the south the Mullaitivu District was declared a Prohibited Zone for Tamils. [For this and related developments, see Special Report No.5].
A refugee searching for a boat that went missing in Negombo came across Anthonipillai, a Tamil fisherman expelled from Kokkilai. He now works for the owner of a fishing vessel in Udappu in the Chilaw District. Other Tamils they had encountered in places as diverse as Maho and Kurunegala have expressed sentiments such as, " How sad you cannot live in Mullaitivu while we can live here".
A number of Tamils have also come to live in Munakkarai, the first island south of Negombo town,the second being where the refugees live. During several police round ups the Sinhalese have shielded Tamil youth. This made the police behave harshly with the Sinhalese as well, causing even Sinhalese youth to go into hiding at the approach of the police. Some Sinhalese had begun to express misgivings about the presence of Tamils because of the harrassment.
The refugees often wonder, in puzzlement rather than
in anger, why Tamils can live in Negombo and they cannot live in Mullaitivu.
The answer defies black and white definition. But by Tamil militants adopting
a strategy where the moral high ground has been lost and whereby others find
it difficult to understand the Tamil cause, a great disservice has been done. [Top]
Being without a proper income, the refugees badly need rations to which displaced persons are entitled. But obtaining these has been a constant battle. This contrasts sharply with the Rehabilitation Minister rushing to Janakapura after the debacle of 25th July to `rehabilitate' displaced Sinhalese settlers. The AGA of their division in Negombo was said to be sympathetic. The GA, they said , told them that he had not been instructed by the Rehabilitation Ministry to provide for them. They next approached their local MP. They were told that the Rehabilitation and Fisheries ministries had contacted the army command at Manal Aru. The latter reportedly said in effect that there was no problem since several Sinhalese families were in Kokkilai. After much toing and froing their rations were sanctioned for 3 months. The next time round the obstacle race may turn out to be un-winnable. They see the state as working according to Major Bohran's reasoning quoted in the introduction. The security of civilians is purely verbal.
What some of the leaders among the refugees think about going back was related at an informal gathering by a spokesman. He said that the area has become completely militarised with the LTTE arming many of the Tamil civilians displaced by the army and constituting them into a volunteer force. He said that conditions conducive to their return would arise when the army removes its camps, allows the Tamil civilians to return and restores the conditions which prevailed before 1984.
Among those actively helping the refugees over the
years is Fr. Bertram Thirimanne, their parish priest , who had visited
them a number of times in Kokkilai. The SEDEC had helped them through Fr.Bertam. [Top]
When questioned about their relations with the army , some of the men became silent and later slipped away. Those remaining were evidently evasive. What they said amounted to " If the army is not there we cannot stay there." the reality behind their evasiveness was conveyed to us by others who were close to them. Those who slipped away had not wanted to be in the position of defending the army. At least one newspaper had attributed discreditable remarks about the army to some of them. Those going back to Kokilai to look over their property had been questioned by the army and they were afraid.
The reality was that given their isolation and dependence, the army had treated them as chattels or camp followers. Forms of immorality short of murder had been practised on them. Men had been beaten. A newly married man being posted on home guard duty had to entertain serious concern over his wife being possibly abducted for the night and taken to the camp.[See `Troubles of Thiriyayi' in 4.1 and 5.3]
When there was danger the army was not in the habit of coming to their aid. They might just expect a warning or they may warn the army. The Sinhalese civilians had to fall back on their home guards. The army camp, the booby traps and their home guards, at best gave them some precious minutes to plan their escape - which was by getting into boats and spending the night upon the Indian Ocean. In place of the army defending them, they had become part of the army's defence or early warning system.
That young Sinhalese boys in Munakkarai take to hiding upon the approach of the police marks the thin end of the wedge. There is a new mood of fear gripping Negombo. There was comparatively very little JVP activity there during the late 80s. Activists there said that the attentions of the police were rather directed at the democratic opposition to the government, particularly those working on grass - roots alternatives and often close to the social action wing of the Roman Catholic Church. Several of them went into hiding, left the area or even went abroad for a while.
The current mood of fear they said, originated in the aftermath of the UNP losing the Western Provincial Council elections. The activists had been told by well placed sources that certain angry UNP candidates attributed their defeat to the police " not doing their job". More recently Edison Gunatilleke, alias Gadaffi, had been posted as ASP, Negombo. Gadaffi had earned a reputation for himself during his posting in Mahawa in the Kurunegala District, where many killings had taken place during the JVP troubles.
Concern about recent police postings may have passed off as idle speculation if not for the fact that during the first fortnight of October four corpses with bullet injuries had turned up in different parts of Negombo's environs. Neither have the bodies been identified nor any official comment made. The dispersion also points to the work of an organisation. Two bodies were found at Taladuwa which is along the Colombo Road, one at Kathrana and one at Morawala. In the last instance the body was found floating on the sea. The men shrank away in terror. It was the women who went out and dragged the body ashore.
Are we now in the territory of the unprobed allegations of former DIG Udugampola which the Attorney General tucked away with such indecent haste? A front page item in the `Sunday Observer' of 24th October said that one corpse had been identified as that of an EPRLF sympathiser from Akkairaipattu, alleged to have helped the forces. The same report quoted security officials as being skeptical about a possible LTTE involvement. Reliable sources believe that these bodies are connected with the ongoing security operation in Greater Colombo, which is separate from the routine checking and arrests of Tamils, where a top ranking police official is involved. It is interesting that the bodies should turn up in Negombo where they are treated as a message for those opposing the government.[Top]
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