War on terror revisited : Part 95January 17, 2013, 12:00 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Bishop of Batticaloa, Dr. Kingsley Swampillai makes representations before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) headed by former Attorney General C. R. de Silva.
Indian Opposition Leader Swaraj Sushma visits Batticaloa at the conclusion of the eelam war
On the morning of Oct. 24, 1987, people found a bullet riddled body in the Kalawanchikudy police area in the Batticaloa administrative district. The killing sent shock waves through the Tamil community when the victim was identified as Chakravarthy, the son of one-time Federal Party Vice President and MP for Paddirippu, S. M. Rasamannikkam. At the time of his death, 29-year-old Chakravarthy was in the custody of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The victim was a father of two.
The IPKF captured him soon after a landmine explosion had ripped through a soft-bellied military vehicle killing several jawans, including one officer holding the rank of Captain on Oct 23, 1987. Although the Sri Lankan police initially placed the number of deal at four, the Batticaloa Citizens Committee (BCC), subsequently claimed the blast had claimed the lives of 20. The IPKF went on the rampage in the Kalawanchikudy area torching as it did a kovil, the regional educational office and many other buildings (Former MP’s son found dead following landmine explosion––The Island Oct 25, 1987).
The IPKF butchered 12 persons, including Chakravarthy and a female teacher. Jawans did not give a tinker’s damn about Rasamannikkam’s background; they were piqued and blinded by fury.
The Kalawanchikudy massacre was raised in Parliament by MP Anil Moonesinghe, though the government failed to take tangible action. It was the first major massacre in the Batticaloa District since the deployment of the IPKF in accordance with the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) in early Aug. 1987. During the next three years, the IPKF executed many civilians, though they were not in any way involved in terrorism.
Violence erupted in Kalawanchikudy two days after the IPKF had declared an amnesty to those giving up arms. The amnesty was announced by the Indian High Commission following consultations with President JRJ less than two weeks after the LTTE thwarted a heli-borne operation spearheaded by Indian commandos on the Jaffna campus.
In the wake of the IPKF atrocities, the BCC urged the Indian High Commission, the Sri Lankan government as well as Colombo based diplomatic missions to inquire into what was going on. It accused Indian troops of destroying houses and raping women. The BBC also brought to the notice of the JRJ government the crisis at the Batticaloa General Hospital due to medical staff fleeing in view of the escalation of fighting. In the neighbouring Trincomalee District, the IPKF attacked Sinhala villages causing further damage (Batticaloa citizens call for inquiry –The Island Oct. 25, 1987).
The IPKF was not subject to any sort of investigation by the Sri Lankan government. In accordance of the ILA, the IPKF was responsible for security in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Sri Lankan government was debarred from intervening in IPKF operations. The hastily arranged ILA also deprived Sri Lanka of at least having a monitoring mechanism in place. The police declined to accept complaints against the IPKF in any part of the country, whereas Citizens’ Committees in the Northern and Eastern Provinces maintained records of IPKF atrocities.
The JRJ administration was busy countering a bloody insurgency in the South. An influential section of the UNP felt that the government should not interfere with IPKF operations. The group was of the opinion that all available resources should be utilised to counter the JVP, leaving the IPKF to deal with the LTTE. The government lacked the capacity to deploy military and police personnel in the North-East and the South, simultaneously.
IPKF hoist with its own petard
The IPKF never realised that the LTTE was simply carrying out what Indian instructors had told those undergoing training in India several years ago. The LTTE was told to mount attacks on Sri Lankan military and police patrols in populated areas knowing very well that troops would attack civilians. It was a key element in the overall LTTE strategy aimed at destabilising the country. Reprisals drove Tamil youth to its ranks and it would be important to keep in mind that the LTTE was not the only group which practised the despicable strategy. The IPKF played in to the hands of the LTTE, which carried out hit and run attacks causing considerable damage to the Indian troops. The LTTE effectively used a range of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines against the IPKF. In fact, IEDs and landmines remained the major threat to the IPKF during its deployment in Sri Lanka (July 30, 1987 to March 2, 1990). IEDs and landmines caused heavy losses among Sri Lankan security forces and the police during eelam war I (July 1983 to June 1987). According to statistics available with Army Headquarters, approximately 90 per cent of casualties during eelam war I were caused by IEDs and landmines. During the five-year period, the army lost 52 officers and 881 men, the SLAF 52 officers and men and the SLN 41. The number of wounded in all three services was placed at 180.
On Oct. 29, 1987, a landmine blast wounded five persons, including an officer believed to be the IPKF commanding officer in Batticaloa. The blast took place close on the heels of an explosion at Tirukkovil also in the Batticaloa District killing five IPKF personnel. The IPKF targeted every one suspected of having links with the LTTE. It arrested the President of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation (CTUF), Batticaloa branch at the People’s Bank office in Batticaloa. Interestingly, the IPKF took him in while the Batticaloa police looked on (IPKF, police arrest CTUF (B’caloa) President-The Island Oct. 30, 1987). His arrest was preceded by the detention of the CTUF’s Secretary who was nabbed in Urani while addressing an LTTE gathering.
The LTTE exploited the situation to alienate the Tamil community from the IPKF deployed particularly in the Batticaloa District. It also brought heavy pressure on the BCC to toe its line. Selected members were ordered to make representations on its behalf or face the consequences. Much to the discomfort and surprise of community leaders, the LTTE worked closely with some sections of the IPKF, though it mounted attacks on jawans in some areas. The LTTE killed Muslims to cause ethnic tension in the Batticaloa District.
Batticaloa remained the main theatre of operations outside the Jaffna peninsula throughout the IPKF deployment. The IPKF encouraged Tamil youth to mount attacks on Sri Lankan troops in Batticaloa, hence creating an explosive situation. The IPKF top brass used all groups trained in India to promote their agenda. The LTTE was not an exception, though it declared war on the IPKF subsequently. In spite of the ongoing battle between the IPKF and the LTTE, Indian intelligence maintained contact with the LTTE.
Many families fled Batticaloa fearing for their lives as the IPKF hit back hard at the LTTE causing loss of civilian lives. In spite of regular meetings between the IPKF top brass in Batticaloa and BCC, the situation continued to deteriorate with the people of the district subject to severe hardship.
Respected Batticaloa citizen, Prince Casinader remained in contact with the writer throughout the IPKF deployment. The Island could not have reported on the situation in Batticaloa without Casinader’s input due to reluctance on the part of the local police and the government to discuss the situation. One-time principal of Methodist Central, Batticaloa, Casinader was one of the few good contacts on the ground. He remained a reliable source during his tenure as a parliamentarian. Another was Sam Tambimuttu, an LTTE target. Tambimuttu and his courageous wife, Kala remained intrepid and outspoken to the last. Their son, Arun, sometimes answered the phone in his ancestral house in Batticaloa. Today, Thambimuttu junior is the SLFP organiser in Batticaloa having returned to the country after many years in exile after the eradication of the LTTE. Arun left the country after the LTTE assassinated his parents in Colombo (the issue will be discussed separately).
Assassination of prominent
The Muslim community reacted angrily to the assassination of former SLFP MP and Deputy Minister of Information Abdul Majeed at his residence on the night of Nov. 13, 1987. Muslims launched a protest campaign demanding action against the killers. The IPKF’s presence in Kinniya did not deter the assassin acting on the orders of those pushing for an all-out confrontation between the Tamil and Muslim communities in the Eastern Province. The Kinniya assassination accelerated the crisis in the East, with the Batticaloa Mothers’ Front launching a hartal to pressure the IPKF to be sensitive to public feelings. Mothers’ Front members alleged that Batticaloa women had been harassed by jawans on the pretext of security operations. They demanded the release of Tamil men in the custody of the IPKF.
An SLAF officer’s anguish
The situation in the Northern Province, too, was extremely bad. A former SLAF officer, Raja Mahendran, recalled the IPKF gunning down his 75-year-old mother, Lily Rajah and his sister Wasanthi’s three children, Suresh (17), Priyanthi (15) and Mahendrarajah (13) at Uduvil on the morning of Nov. 3, 1987. In an interview with this writer at The Island editorial two weeks after the incident, Mahendran said that IPKF troops atop armoured personnel carriers had surrounded Uduvil in the Jaffna peninsula causing panic among the hapless civilians. With tears in his eyes, Mahendran said that the IPKF had ordered his mother, sister and her sister as well as many civilians who rushed from their houses to walk towards the residence of Anandaraj, former Principal of St. John’s College, Jaffna, where they were ordered to kneel down. Wasanthi was married to Superintendent of Works, Local Government, Batticaloa. Mahendran visited The Island editorial with his brother-in-law, R. Indran in a bid to highlight what was going on in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Without the slightest provocation, the IPKF opened fire, at point blank range, killing Lily Rajah and Suresh on the spot. Suresh was known at Uduvil as the local Lylie Godridge. Mahendrarajah succumbed to his injuries before he could be moved to the nearby government hospital. Priyanthi managed to crawl to the residence of a bank employee and was rushed to the local hospital, where she died without receiving medical attention. The IPKF had turned the Northern and Eastern Province into a hellhole, though India promised to restore law and order, Mahendran alleged. An irate Mahendran said that his family could not bury the dead without the LTTE’s assistance (Ex-Air force officer recounts killing of mother and children––The Island Nov 22, 1987).
The then Kalutara District MP Anil Moonesinghe raised The Island report in Parliament, seeking an explanation from the then Deputy Minister of Defence T. B. Werapitiya as regards the deteriorating situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, due to atrocities committed by the IPKF.
The JRJ administration was helpless. The IPKF simply ignored Sri Lanka’s concerns. In fact, the IPKF on many occasions threatened to use force if Sri Lankan forces or police intervened in their operations.
The massacre of 15 civilians-nine Tamils and six Muslims - at Kumburumalai on the Batticaloa-Polonnaruwa road on Dec. 3, 1987 highlighted the plight of civilians living in areas under IPKF control. They were on their way from Colombo to Batticaloa. A highly agitated Batticaloa Citizen’s Committee (BCC) raised the massacre with Brig. D.P. Dhar, the senior officer in charge of the Mandressa camp. Strongly denying responsibility, Brig. Dhar accused the LTTE of killings, while pointing out the presence of the Special Task Force (STF) at Kumburumalai. The BCC pointed that nearly 45 Tamil speaking people and two Sinhalese had been slaughtered in two incidents at Ottamavadi and Kumburumalai on Dec. 2, 1987 and Dec. 3, 1987, respectively. Thirty two civilians (20 Muslims, ten Tamils and two Sinhalese) died at Ottamavadi allegedly at the hands of the IPKF, after the LTTE ambushed an IPKF convoy killing nine personnel, including an officer holding the rank of Major. The IPKF went on the rampage in Ottamavadi, Mancholai, Kiran and Kayankerni. The damage caused to houses and business establishments was estimated at Rs. 5 mn. The IPKF retaliation forced about 6,000 Muslims and 5,000 Tamils to leave the area temporarily.