UNIVERSITY TEACHERS FOR HUMAN
Special Report No: 34
Date of release:
Let Them Speak
Addendum: The End of the LTTE’s Vanni Gulag
The end of the LTTE’s Gulag is a matter for celebration, but after years of seeing what the State is capable any inclination to celebrate must be muted. The Government’s continuing impunity for operating killer squads, its routine use of torture, quasi-legal prisons and mass detention centres make it difficult to be hopeful.
We do not know what is to come. The first time the LTTE started mass detention
centres was after decimating its rival groups from mid-1986. A prison massacre
of EPRLF prisoners in
The LTTE’s prisons started expanding on a massive scale, once it made a deal with President Premadasa on an agreement to get the IPKF out, and in turn for it to wield untrammelled power informally in the North-East. Its project for cleansing society of ‘traitors’ intensified as it eliminated members of other militant groups, dissident intellectuals who opposed its politics, supporters of the TULF and India, and those who had any kind of dealing with the Indian Army or rival groups.
Under President Premadasa, Deputy Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, JOC Chief General Cyril Ranatunga and Army Commander Hamilton Wanasinghe, the LTTE received not only money and weapons, but the security forces also helped the LTTE to round up its ‘traitors’ from all parts of the country and transport them openly to its prisons, torture and extermination camps.
Once the LTTE went back to war in June 1990, the same Government hammered the Tamils mercilessly with massacres and disappearances, but the LTTE carried on regardless using the war as cover, filling up its prisons and building new ones.
Our reports covered this phenomenon from the beginning, especially in Reports
4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10. The last, published on
“The number of prisoners now in captivity under the Tigers ranges from 2000 to 6000, according to various sources. But reliable estimates put the number in between 3000 to 4000. The brutal manner in which the LTTE torture the prisoners, using young boys who are even below the age of 16 to torture them, in the underground bunkers, and the sadistic nature of the boys who are involved in this dastardly act brings out the true colour of the struggle.”
The reliable estimate came from a former detainee who helped
the LTTE devise a system of counting for the Thunukkai complex, which had
about 3000. The estimate of 4000 was arrived at by taking account of several
other centres, including houses in the interior of
Several of those who ended their lives in these prisons were close to us. Our attempts to get some action on the detainees did not get far. By 1992 making peace between the LTTE and the Government was the priority of most INGOs and Western governments – a phase that lasted until 2005. It was very painful and frustrating for us because many of those killed in prison were politically astute, courageous and dedicated people committed to the community’s well being.
Among our close affiliates who were killed by the LTTE were
students Manoharan and Chelvi. The information that went into Special Report
No. 2 on the Army’s operation in the
In the South our exposure of the LTTE served as good propaganda when published selectively, leaving out our records of the security forces’ atrocities. The South did little to correct itself, and instead gave credit to the LTTE’s cause.
The advent of the Norway-brokered peace process in 2002 saw an enhancement of the same trend. We highlighted the fact that the peace process was doing little to stop the LTTE’s conscription of children in preparation for war. A very sad development was a painful meeting in mid-2003 with a delegation, most of whom were from a leading human rights organisation that had until at least early 2002 been forthright in its criticism of the LTTE, particularly in regard to child abduction. The delegation had apparently been persuaded to soft-peddle human rights based criticism and lobbying, and instead to engage with the LTTE in hope of encouraging it to abide by human rights principles. Naturally, the strategy failed.
The LTTE had shown them one of its police prisons and appeared to be receptive to consider changes to its law enforcement and detention procedures. One delegate, who was not a member of the human rights group and was brought along solely for his knowledge of humanitarian law, was impressed by the LTTE’s response. He began criticising us, sounding as though he had on this one visit found out all there is to know about the LTTE and the Vanni. Some of the others, with far more experience were plainly embarrassed. That was the sad direction of things generally under the peace process. Many of our natural allies and old friends were lured (at least for a time) into hopeless “peacemaking.”
We had reported little on LTTE prisons since 1993 because most of those held at the peak of the drive against ‘traitors’ had been killed or released and our contacts with detainees mostly dried up. We give here a sketch of the prisons in their last days, and how little change there had been, peace process or no peace process. Even more remarkable was to come across the same names of those responsible for torture and execution after 16 years and how some whose job was to rid the soil of Eelam of traitors found new careers as arch traitors. It says much about an organisation that was thoroughly rotten inside.
We made contact through old friends with several former detainees, who escaped
or were released from the LTTE’s many prisons. By early January the LTTE was
anticipating the fall of areas east of Kilinochchi. It decided to execute
many key detainees. Among them were Jeya, Farook and Lingan from the PLOTE,
and Inspector Jeyaratnam from the Sri Lanka Police. Another person killed
was Saman Abeysekere from
Bearing Witness: Iyah
Iyah, was a farmer from
In 2008, Iyah did what almost every parent tried to do when the LTTE began conscription. He helped his children evade recruitment. He kept his youngest boy (OL student) in hiding, and he managed to send his remaining children out; they surrendered to the Army and were kept in Kallimoddai IDP camp started in 2008. The LTTE which regarded him as having defrauded them, by protecting his children, arrested him at night in April 2008.
Iyah was taken to a camp for punitive labour. He was put to hammering out plates of lead and cutting numbers on them. These were planted on sticks. When artillery support is called, cadres gave the number on the stick near them, whose GPS coordinates are computerised.
Iyah was later transferred to Alpha Two. Many of the detainees there were
persons like Iyah. Athipar Raveendran, another detainee there, was
a principal from Vattakkachchi, who had protected his son from conscription
by the LTTE. There was a doctor in the same position. Martin, a 58-year-old
engineer who had come from
There were 230 prisoners in Alpha Two. Iyah who is a native of
Iyah himself upon escape joined the displaced who were moving further east in Vanni and also found his younger son among the IDPs. He does not know the fate of many of the others.
Iyah was among those IDPs who unreservedly commended President Rajapakse. He said no one took notice of them, not their MPs, not the international community and if not for Mahinda’s military operation, he may not have got out alive. The next case gives more details about the entire system.
Upon being detained,
We have already encountered Kanthi as the big man in the torture chamber
at Thunukkai Complex, which included Charles Camp, in the early 1990s (Ch.4
of Report No.10). The Complex, which was built with materials obtained with
the assistance of the Government during the previous peace talks, was closed
after the commencement of war in 1990 and the key men, like Kanthi, were moved
to the complex of smaller camps in
After the five months he was allowed out, but forbidden to talk. After a year he was in a
cell with others and that was when he got to know his fellows.
Another detainee he met was Ruthiran, a businessman from Vavuniya who used to come to the Vanni on business. The LTTE arrested him on suspicion of aiding the Sri Lankan forces to plant landmines in the Vanni. He was kept in a lone cage.
Remarkably, businessmen and Brahmin priests have been suspected and targeted
by both sides. Brahmin priests were among those killed by state killer squads
During the Madhu Festival of 2006,
In due course he was sent to Alpha Five, later renamed TELO –
Alpha Two and Alpha Five had boards at the entrance, which said, “You may enter here and leave. But if you enter again you will never leave.” What read like a homely old riddle, meant that these were the camps to which people were first brought, and if they were brought again after doing the rounds to various other camps, it meant that they were going to be executed. The Tigers cannot be accused of a lack of transparency.
Jeyaratnam and Nilabdeen had been leading men in counter-insurgency work
during the 1990s. Following the commencement of the 2002 peace talks, Jeyaratnam
was taken out of counterinsurgency and posted at Mt. Lavinia Police Station.
It was a loss of caution on his part that a Tamil man from
The LTTE’s intention was to use Jeyaratnam’s intimate knowledge of security
After being cured Ravi was sent to Alpha Two in
Vallipunam, which is very close to Alpha Five, and then to Alpha Five. He
saw no further signs of Jeyaratnam. This was the usual pattern of switching
prisoners between camps.
It was through such sources that
The Singular Fate of Kanthi: Kanthi who had long been a torture king
in the camp system had also tormented
Satheeshkumar, a mason, was from
On 8th February, the Army was very close at Iruddumadu. The prisoners pleaded with intelligence chiefs Pottu Amman and Kapil Amman who came there to release them.
After conferring with other LTTE officials, Pottu Amman ordered the release of ten persons. He ordered 140 others to be executed. They were mainly members of other Tamil groups, Sinhalese or Muslims suspected of security forces connections. Satheeshkumar understood that they were killed in the nearby jungle and their bodies were burnt.
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