Archive for August, 2006
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The battle for Sampoor is on!
After days of artillery shelling and aerial bombardment a major ground based three – pronged military offensive was launched in the early hours of Monday August 28th morning.
On the basis of available information it is believed that at 34 persons have been killed and 110 wounded in the first day of fighting.
Hostilities are expected to continue for in the days to come as the Government intends wresting control of Sampoor on the South of Kottiaar bay from the LTTE.
Sampoor is of strategic importance as it affords the LTTE a vantage point to fire long range artillery targetting Trincomalee and China Bay across the Kottiar bay.The tigers have fired artillery quite a few times in the past causing a paralysis of Trincomalee harbour.
Though the fight “formally” commenced on Monday Sampoor has for long remained a prize target of the security forces. Sampoor was consolidated and fortified as a marine base by the LTTE after the ceasefire of Feb 23rd 2002. The opening of new littoral bases and the acquisition of long range artillery by the LTTE added much strategic importance to Sampoor lying on the South of Kottiaar bay.
With Trincomalee harbour being only about 13 nautical miles away it was possible to target it effectively from the Sampoor coast. It was also possible to send invading flotillas across.
Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga criticised her rival Ranil Wickremasinghe vehemently for rendering Trincomalee vulnerable through the ceasefire. She did not however do anything in this direction after removing Wickremasinghe as premier and holding fresh elections.
The new hardline dispensation under Mahinda Rajapakse treated Sampoor as a matter of urgent priority. While Mahinda cooed “peace” like a dove the hawkish clique around him went ahead with plans to retake Sampoor militarily.
The first opportunity came when a bomb went off at the Military headquarters targetting Army chief Sarath Fonseka. Though Fonseka survived the Govt commenced a two – day onslaught on the Muthur East area in which Sampoor is located. Aerial bombardment, artillery and rocket fire from Army camps along with naval gunboat shelling was aimed at the region.
The fact that the Govt chose to target this area instead of Kilinochchi or Puthukkudiyiruppu revealed that the hidden agenda was to “soften” the LTTE in Muthur East and facilitate a military takeover of Sampoor.
Muthur East in general and Sampoor in particular came under repeated shelling and bombing on a number of occasions between April 25th and July 20th this year. The intensive attacks were justified as “retaliatory” measures against purported LTTE actions.
After a retired Army general Ranjith Silva was appointed as Trincomalee GA a virtual economic embargo of the LTTE controlled Muthur East and Eechilampattru areas was administered.
The Maavilaaru controversy triggered off by the LTTE provided another pretext for Colombo to escalate its military action. The LTTE act of launching an attack on Muthur from Sampoor, firing artillery shells on Trinco harbour and the fact that the tigers dominated Muthur for three days gave the Government a sense of urgency.
With many displaced Muslim groups refusing to return to Muthur unless the LTTE was neutralised in Sampoor the Government got a political reason in addition to military imperatives.
The gloves were off and the Govt began announcing its intention of retaking Sampoor militarily.Preparations for a military onslaught were underfoot with men and materials being relocated to camps in the Muthur region.
When the four co – chairs of the peace process urged a cessation of conflict President Rajapakse emphasised that Sampoor would have to come under Military control and that a personal guarantee from LTTE chief Velupillai Pirapakaran was necessary.
When the LTTE offered to “de – militarise” Sampoor and retain control Rajapakse rejected the proposal. “Do you want me to give Sampoor to the LTTE” he thundered.
When the LTTE launched the Muthur offensive the tigers had for nearly three days dominated the coastal stretch between Muthur and Sampoor on the Southern side of Kottiyaar bay. Now the Govt wanted control of the same coastal stretch for security reasons.
Army Commander Sarath Fonseka stated explicitly in an interview that the security forces intended establishing control over Muthur, Kattaiparichan, Thoppoor and Sampoor .
The past few days saw a renewed attack on the Muthur East and Eechilampatru region controlled by the LTTE.
Even as troops were being amassed at Muthur West from Aug 24th artillery fire began intensifying from Aug 26th. Multi barrel Rocket fire commenced from the Trinco Monkey Bridge and harbour camps while artillery fire was directed from the Kallaaru, Pattiaddy and Kattaiparichan camps.
Aerial bombardment too intensified from Aug 26th. In keeping with the now routine practice of targetting fleeing civilians Israeli K-firs bombed civilians trying to cross the Ilankaithurai Muhathuvaaram bridge at about 1.30 pm on Aug 26th. Two persons were killed and five injured in the attack.
On Sunday Aug 27th the LTTE exploded a claymore mine near the Selvanagar army camp. A military vehicle carrying Special Forces Personnel was hit. At least twelve were injured with the condition of two being serious.
With aerial and artillery attacks intensifying Tamil civilians in the region got terrified. Most people in this region have been affected and displaced. Many have been displaced several times as they fled from village to village in the face of intense artillery and bomb attacks.
Thousands of people went further South , crossed the Verugal river and sought the comparatively safer refuge in Koralaipattru North division in Batticaloa district. Others however continued to remain the Muthur East and Eechilampattru areas.
Realising that a major onslaught to capture Sampoor was to be launched frightened civilians began fleeing again. The shelling and bombing expedited this fearful flight.
People who relocated to or remained in places like Ilankaithuraimuhathuvaram, Uppooral, Cheenanveli, Nallur, Pattalipuram, Veeramanaaru, Senaiyoor, Ganeshapuram, Pallikkudiyiruppu and Inthikkulam began fleeing towards the Verugal river to cross over to Batticaloa district. Many of them were people displaced several times.
Many people made it over the river to Batticaloa district. These new arrivals are housed at schools in Kathiraveli and Paatsenai temporarily. While the women, children and old men stay in the school younger men rough it out under trees and culverts.
Some other fleeing civilians were not lucky. The aerial attack on people at Ilankaithuraimuhathuvaaram made many turn back. They returned and took up refuge at Pattalipuram. Aerial bombardment on Aug 28th saw a group of civilians being hit. Of the 20 civilians killed and 26 injured on Aug 28th the bulk of casualties was at Pattalipuram.
The tragic plight of Tamil civilians living in the LTTE controlled areas of the Eastern Province is something that is often obscured or ignored. These hapless people are constantly suffering due to no fault of their own. Regions like Muthur East, Eechilampattru, Koralaipattru etc were neglected, under developed areas before the conflict escalated. After fighting began they became more affected and deprived. Many of them were victims of the staggered scorched earth policy practised by the state.
The better educated and relatively well – off people began moving out. Only those who could not escape and those with a sense of commitment who did not want to escape remained.When they came under LTTE control a host of new problems emerged.
The region came under constant attack. Official and unofficial economic embargoes were in force. The economic backwardness of areas became more pronounced. Many youngsters joined the LTTE due to economic circumstances. Others were conscripted. In recent times even the older people were forcibly given self – defence training and coopted unwillingly into a civilian militia.
The only ray of hope for these people was the four year ceasefire. After Mahinda Rajapakse became President that hope began fading. The political bankruptcy of the LTTE and its jingoist approach towards issues made the people’s plight miserable. From April 25th aerial and artillery attacks became a regular feature. Death, Destruction and displacement became a way of life.
Their plight became worse after after a brash and cocksure Rajapakse regime began adopting policies tinged with elements of genocide. What adds to their woes is that no outside agency seems aware of their troubles and travails. The violent anti – Tamil spree in Trincomalee district after the Market bomb explosion and the shelling and bombing in April resulted in about 12 to 15000 people becoming destitute and displaced.
The Government refused to recognize “refugees” in LTTE controlled areas and disallowed distribution of dry rations or financial doles. Only the efforts of NGO’s and aid organizations helped sustain them. Their predicament worsened after the Maavilaaru conflict and its aftermath. The Muthur East and Eechilampattru divisions were virtually cut off from the rest of Trincomalee district. The conflict escalated and tiger dominated areas were the worst hit.
The Government does not allow anyone to go beyond Kattaiparichan the entry point to Muthur East. It does not allow anyone to go beyond Mahindapuram the entry point to Eechilampattru.These restrictions are on grounds of security. No NGO, Humanitarian organization or media is allowed or able to go to these places.
The Government does not send any food or medicine or emergency relief to these areas. No others including the ICRC are doing so either.Agencies and organizations requiring security guarantees from the Govt and LTTE are not getting them. Given the deliberate targetting of NGO’s in recent times the NGO’s are reluctant to exert pressure.
There is much confusion about relief and rehabilitation of Muthur. This is only Muthur town in Muthur West inhabited mainly by Muslims. Reports of Muthur returning to normal do not apply to Muthur East.The Tamils of LTTE controlled Muthur East are being totally neglected. No one knows “officially” how many people are living there or how many people are displaced or how many people were killed or injured. It is now a “dark” region.
Yvonne Dunton, ICRC sub-delegation head in Trincomalee told a Sunday newspaper that everyone was only speaking about the displaced persons suffering in government controlled areas, but were ignoring the plight that has befallen the many thousands of Tamil civilians living in LTTE controlled areas in Trincomalee district.
“We haven’t still gone into these areas, because we are awaiting security guarantee from both sides to begin our emergency relief efforts. But it is likely that this request would take a few days,” she noted. The ICRC is, however, not aware of the exact number of displaced in the LTTE areas.
Pro – LTTE media reports say that about 15,000 people from 3500 families were living there prior to the on going Sampoor offensive. Thousands had already moved earlier to Vaharai area in Batticaloa district.With people going in large numbers to Batticaloa district in the last few days the Trincomalee count would have decreased further.
Sadly the displaced Tamils of Trincomalee district continue to suffer in Batticaloa. Bureaucratic procedures prevent certain measures being implemented as they belong to another district. Some concessions allowed an emergency allocation of ten million rupees to be made. Dry rations and relief items are taken twice a week to the displaced in the LTTE controlled Koralaipattru division. This is enough only for 20, 000 people it is estimated.
The displaced figures prior to the Sampoor offensive in Batticaloa was something like this.31, 733 people from 8731 families had relocated from Trincomalee district to Batticaloa. Of these 24, 338 people from 6400 families were living in Vaharai an LTTE controlled area in the Koralaipattru division. Another 7399 people from 2331 families are now living in Govt controlled areas of the district like Batticaloa town, Valaichenai, Kaluvanchikudi etc. Some Muslims from Muthur too are living in Govt controlled Batticaloa now.
In addition to these displaced from Trincomalee there are internally displaced Tamils in Batticaloa too. Aerial bombardment and artillery shelling of LTTE controlled areas in Batticaloa too is a regular feature now. Though not to the extent of what is happening in Muthur East – eechilampattru displacement has occurred here too. Limited land based incursions have aggravated the situation.
In Vaharai there are 8040 displaced people from 2141 families. The figures from LTTE controlled “Paduvaankarai” Western hinterland are not clear. But some reports say about 8000 from 2000 families are temporarily displaced. The Govt has cut off all entry – exit points to the tiger controlled hinterland for two weeks now. So no one knows what the situation there really is.
But the available infra- structure in LTTE controlled areas is very poor and ill – equipped to cater to the rising number of displaced persons. The restrictions placed on Governmental aid and the virtual refusal to permit NGO aid has worsened the situation.The LTTE controlled areas are being deliberately deprived and the helpless civilian bears the brunt of this cruel policy.
As far as the Trincomalee tiger controlled areas are concerned the infra – structure available has been reduced drastically due to aerial and artillery attacks. Hospitals were systematically attacked and there is no qualified personnel there. Even in Vaharai hospital there is only an Italian national and a displaced doctor from eechilampattru available as doctors.
Most displaced have walked in stages to reach Batticaloa. Some have walked all the way from Sampoor to Batticaloa. They had sorrowful tales to relate.
They spoke of what happened to their homeland and how they were displaced. They spoke of how they moved from place to place to avoid atacks. They spoke of how the number of displaced persons aggregated as they moved from one village to another. They spoke saldy of seeing houses destroyed, people getting injured and killed. They spoke of starvation and the lack of safe havens, medical attention and food. They spoke of constantly being terrified about artillery and aerial attacks. They spoke of their childrens screams and their elders’ wails.They spoke of missing persons and fractured families.
Above all they spoke of the destruction of hope and peace. They lamented about the loss of homes and habitat and their way of life. After enjoying the tranquility of a no war situation for four years the renewal of fighting was a cruel blow of fate. They were frightened and frustrated as never before during the conflict. The brutal ferocity and intensity of the attacks and the callous disregard for human beings seemed to have shocked them.
These people from LTTE controlled areas in the East are tragic figures. They suffer due to no fault of their own. What is worse is that no one seems aware or concerned about their plight. The focus is on the Tamils displaced in Jaffna and Muslims from Muthur. Who speaks for the ill – fated Tamils of LTTE controlled East?. The on going conflict can only make their position worse. Let the world urgently take note of these people who are truly becoming the wretched of North – East Lanka earth.
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August 29th, 2006
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The long awaited military push towards the strategically important Sampoor along the Kottiaar bay in Muthur East commenced on Monday August 28th.
Initial reports said that at least 36 persons were killed and 110 injured after the first day’s fighting. The break down was twenty civilians, thirteen soldiers and three tigers killed while the injured persons figure was 79 soldiers, 26 civilians and 05 tigers.
After days of artillery shelling and aerial bombardment a major three – pronged military offensive was launched in the early hours of Monday August 28th morning.The ground based military thrust was accompanied by aerial bombardment, artillery fire and naval gunboat shelling.
Three advances were made within 30 minutes of each from Mahindapura, Pachanoor and Pallimunai The first which began at 3.30 am from the Mahindapura army camp was apparently a “dummy” manouevre intending to distract enemy attention. Troops returned to base after intermittent exchanges of fire for about 2 hours.
The first major advance began around 4.00 am from the Pachanoor camp. Troops made their way through Kilathimunai and proceeded in the general direction towards Sampoor.
The second major advance began at about 4. 30 am from the army camp at Pallimunai. Troops began moving towards Thoppoor enroute to Sampoor.
Naval gunboats along the coast of Ilakkanthai began shelling the Muthur East littoral region.
Multi barrel rocket launchers and artillery shells were fired regularly from the camps at Kattaiparichan, Selvanagar and Mahindapura towards the Muthur East hinterland region.
Aerial bombardment was also on with Kfirs and Migs flying regular bombing sorties .
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres engaged advancing troops in the general area of Thoppoor at the crack of dawn. Fierce fighting ensued for several hours and subsided only in the afternoon.
According to agency reports at least 13 soldiers were killed. Many were wounded with 79 being hospitalised. 49 were admitted to Trincomalee and 30 to Polonnaruwa hospitals respectively.
LTTE casualties on the first day were unclear but tiger defence spokesman Irasiah Ilanthiraiyan claimed that they had suffered three dead and five injured. Defence officials claimed that at least 90 tigers were killed.
Ilanthiraiyan also charged that twenty Tamil civilians were killed and twenty – six seriously injured in aerial bombardment and artillery shelling. With the LTTE controlled Muthur East and Eechilampattru areas being cut off from the rest of the Country the LTTE remains the only source of information about the extent of casualties.
On the basis of available information it is believed that at 36 persons have been killed and 110 wounded in the first day of fighting.
Hostilities are expected to continue for in the days to come as the Government intends wresting control of Sampoor to the South of Kottiaar bay from the LTTE.
Sampoor is of strategic importance as it affords the LTTE a vantage point to fire long range artillery targetting Trincomalee and China Bay across the Kottiar bay.The tigers have fired artillery quite a few times in the past causing a paralysis of Trincomalee harbour.
Army Commander Sarath Fonseka has stated that the security forces intend capturing Sampoor and retain control of the area along with Muthur, Kattaiparichan and Thoppoor to effectively safeguard Trincomalee.
President Mahinda Rajapakse has rejected an offer by the LTTE to de – militarise Sampoor and reportedly announced that he would not allow Sampoor to be in the hands of the LTTE.
Latest reports from Trincomalee stated that fighting had begun yesterday Aug 29th too but casualty figures and other details were mot available.
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August 29th, 2006
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
It was 6.40 – 45 am on Monday August 14th.
Four Israeli built K-fir bombers appeared suddenly on the skies above a place called “Vallipunam” in Mullaitheevu district in the North – Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. It is believed that the planes piloted by foreign nationals had started out from Trincomalee and flown north over the sea and turned westwards towards Mullaitheevu .
The air craft were spot on. Instead of hovering in the air for a while as most bombers do before releasing their deadly cargo these planes set about their murderous task quickly and precisely. Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse these agents of death and destruction dropped their bombs below.
With each K- fir dropping four bombs a total of sixteen was dropped in a matter of minutes. There was a cluster of small buildings and a large number of human beings on the ground. Some of the bombs hit the groups of humans with pin point precision while others hit buildings and clumps of trees. People apparently were the prize target while buildings and trees “collateral damage”.
Except for one which failed to explode the other fifteen wreaked havoc. The human targets most of them teen – aged girls ran in fear seeking refuge as aerial terror rained on them. Frenzied pandemonium reigned.The planes that dropped the bombs were also visually recording the desperate scene below with their sophisticated visual recording equipment.The four planes then turned back after accomplishing their mission of aerial terror.
It was hell on earth below. More than 200 women most of them teen – aged students were victims. Bodies lay in pools of blood with mangled flesh and limbs strewn around. At least 30 to 35 were killed on the spot. The death tally increased as victims were taken to hospital. By evening the death count was reportedly sixty – one. Around 260 – 275 were injured.
In addition to Govt hospitals some were treated at Private clinics too.Some with comparatively minor injuries got treatment and returned home.
[A girl, who lost her friend mourns at the hospital]
155 seriously injured victims were hospitalised. They were warded at the Mullaitheevu (52) Kilinochchi (64) Tharmapuram (26) and Puthukudiyiruppu (13) hospitals. Many of the victims according to UNICEF officials had lost their limbs.The condition of about 40 of these victims was extremely serious. Unconfirmed reports by Thursday 17th night said that the number of deaths was nearing ninety. Independent confirmation was not possible.
UNICEF Kilinochchi Head Penny Brune and SLMM Kilinochchi monitor Matti Vanionpaa inspected the massacre site and visited the hospitals where the injured girls were being treated.The UNICEF also provided fuel and medicine to expedite and aid the medical treatment given to the victims.
The SLMM later observed that the place was not a military installation. The SLMM also said that ten large craters had been made by the bombs. The UNICEF went on record that schoolgirls had been killed and injured in the incident and that there was no evidence of the victims being LTTE cadres.
In terms of human cost and suffering the incident was terrible. Yet the Colombo based media with a few honourable exceptions downplayed the incident. The focus was more on the “claymore terror” in Kollupitiya which killed seven and injured ten rather than the ” K- fir terror” that killed 61 and injured 155. Even the official statements of Countries like the USA and India were concerned with the alleged attack on the Pakistani envoy and ignored the Mullaitheevu bombing.
UN officials were more concerned than Colombo – based diplomats. UN Secretary – General Kofi Annan was ” increasingly alarmed at the ongoing violence in Sri Lanka” said a press release.” “He is profoundly concerned at the rising death toll, including the seven people killed in a bomb attack in Colombo today, and reports of dozens of students killed in a school as a result of air strikes in the north-east.” noted the communique.
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman called on both the Government and the LTTE to â€œrespect international humanitarian law and ensure children and the places where they live, study and play are protected from harm.â€ A UNICEF statement pointed out, “The bombing on Monday of a Vallepuram compound in Mullaitivu district that reportedly killed dozens of girls and wounded many more is a shocking result of the rising violence in Sri Lanka.” “These children are innocent victims of violence,” noted Veneman.
â€œThe latest shocking developments in Sri Lanka show once again that children continue to bear the brunt of this conflict,â€ said the Secretary-Generalâ€™s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, calling on the parties to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table.”Independent sources have verified that a compound in Kilinochchi was bombed reportedly killing around 50 adolescent schoolgirls and injuring 100 others. These schoolgirls were injured while taking part in a training course on first-aid. Fearing reprisal, the Government has closed all schools disrupting the education of children throughout the island,” she said.
The bombing incident had shocked and deeply troubled the Tamil people. The on going conflict has seen much aerial bombardment of the Tamil homeland. Notorious among these incidents were the Navaly church bombing in 1995, The Nagar Kovil school bombing of 1996 and the Puthukudiyiruppu market bombing of 1999. But the Vallipunam bombing due perhaps to the fact that most victims were innocent schoolgirls horrified most people. Adding insult to injury was the blatant denial by the state that the victims were schoolgirls and the puerile attempt to describe them as child soldiers.
Diaspora Tamils and those of Tamil Nadu were quick to react. The Tamil Nadu legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution condemning the incident and expressing condolences. Many political parties including the Indian Communist and Marxist parties issued statements. Moves are afoot to get Colombo censured in the Lok Sabha too. There were also many protest meetings, demonstrations and processions in Tamil Nadu. Posters were plastered on walls. Effigies of Mahinda Rajapakse were burnt. Tamil Nadu chief minister Muttuvel Karunanidhy described the Colombo Govts conduct as “Sandaalathanam” (atrocious villainy).
Tamil expatriates in the West too were active. Newspapers, radios and TV gave sustained coverage to the issue. Sympathy fasts and demonstrations were staged. Religious observances were held. Efforts were on to lobby Politicians and the mainstream media. It appears that the issue would be exploited by pro – tiger elements to whip up support for the Tamil cause among the Diaspora and possibly the mainstream communities too.
Reinforcing the cliche about truth being the first casualty in times of war is the “spin” being put on the incident by both the Govt and LTTE.The Govt particularly its hyper active cabinet spokesperson on defence affairs Keheliya Rambukwella says that the bombed site was a tiger transit training camp and those killed and injured were child soldiers. When evidence to the contrary is pointed out Rambukwella and other defence spokespersons go off at a tangent making bizarre arguments in support of their case. However much the Govt may try to justify the incident the plain , harsh truth is that aerial terror has been unleashed to perpetrate a massacre of innocents.
The LTTE went to town initially saying that its orphanage “Sencholai” had been bombed and orphaned children killed. As more information came to light the tigers began changing stance. Many contradictory statements were made by tiger agencies. As more details were revealed it became clear that the LTTE had not been stating the whole truth. While the victims were certainly not child soldiers as made out by the Govt it is also incorrect to assume that the LTTE had no connection whatsover to the teen – aged students attending a residential workshop at the targetted site.
While the Govt and LTTE put their respective spins to the incident very little is known of what the families of victims think and feel. Politico – military arguments and counter – arguments virtually ignore the tragic human dimension to this endless and unnecessary conflict. The respective arguments leave many people confused about the real situation.Furthermore many of the positions articulated are based on ignorance and half truths. What is required is to shed more light than generate heat on the tragic incident.
Let us take the “Sencholai” girls orphanage first. Setting up of “Sencholai” for children orphaned by the war was a brainchild of LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirapakaran it is said. It was set up in Sandilipay in Jaffna peninsula in 1991. It was relocated to Kilinochchi in 1995 and to Mullaitheevu district in 1998. As time went on other social service institutions were also set up.The orphanage for boys for instance was called “Kantharuban Arivucholai”.
Some of these institutions were housed at a place called Vallipunam. It is about five miles from Puthukudiyiruppu along the Mullaitheevu – Paranthan road. Vallipunam originally had chena cultivation and hence its name. Later several large farms owned by Jaffna Tamils came into being. A rain fed tank Naddalmottankulam helped irrigate fields. There were teak and Cashew groves in addition to livestock, paddy and cashcrops in the vicinity at one time. To its interior lies thick jungle infested by Elephants. The postal address of Vallipunam falls under Viswamadhu.
Five institutions were housed within a one mile radius in Vallipunam after the tsunami.. They were the Sencholai orphan girls home with 245 children. The Bharathy Illam girls home for girls physically affected by the war and the tsunami. There were 160 girls here; The Iniya Vaalvu illam was a home for deaf and blind children and had 78 children. The Vasanthan Childrens home with 60 girls was for children mentally challenged due to the war and tsunami. The “Senthalir” home for very young children with 120 children was the fifth.
.The area in which four institutions were housed was called peace village. The “Senthalir” home for very young orphaned children was also in the vicinity but not within the peace village premises. It was earlier in Mullaitheevu town area and was hit by the tsunami. Scores of young kids perished. Vallipunam was in the interior and away from tsunami wave reach.
“Senthalir” reportedly is run by agencies independent of the LTTE or its affiliates.The Bharathy and Iniya Valvu illam homes were run by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) while the other two including Sencholai were directly run by the LTTE
Apart from a token armed tiger presence for security reasons the zone was empty of armed personnel. Besides most of the tigers there were females. The “Sencholai” compound housing teen – aged girls had parapet walls all round. The Sencholai place was called “Valaham” or campus.The administrative director of Sencholai is Janani whose nom de guerre when being an active tiger was Sudarmahal.
Male tigers were declared out of bounds unless for an approved , specific purpose. The tiger leader being a man of puritanical discipline was not taking chances with the orphaned girls for whom he had deep attachment and concern. Prabha would often visit the peace village and meet with these innocent victims of war.
.The area also had a number of bunkers where people could hide if there was bombing. This was a precaution in case of possible aerial bombardment The location and description of the peace village and its inmates were well known to the Government and NGO’s and international aid organizations. Many NGO representatives often visited the place.
The “Sencholai” however was relocated to a place on Iranaimadhu road in Kilinochchi in January this year. LTTE chief Praba himself formally declared the new campus open.The new campus contains eleven residential blocks for different age groups. It also contains a special block for infants, dining, study halls and two kitchens.The campus also has an administration block, a skill development center, a cultural hall, a health center and a library. The program for building the campus started in June 2003 Plans of adding computer facilities, audio-visual facilities and other features to the new campus are being worked out.
Though the orphanage proper moved to Kilinochchi in January the older campus remained as “sencholai” still.Though not utilised fully it was used at times to house woman members of the peoples militia for physical training. According to an European NGO official he had seen people undergoing physical exercises on at least two occasions in April – May this year.In any case the LTTE never kept its “Makkal Padai” ( people force) a secret and flaunted pictures of such training publicly through its media organs.
On some occasions even Sencholai kids were brought here for week – ends as a form of a picnic or excursion. In recent times the LTTE was also contemplating a relocation of Sencholai to its former venue because it thought Kilinochchi would be targetted indiscrminately in an escalating conflict.
Among the various administrative structures the LTTE has is the Tamil Eelam Education Board which coordinates educational functions. The director or shadow education minister is “Baby” Subramaniam or Ilankumaran. Within the LTTE , Ilankumaran is second in seniority only to Prabakharan. The Education board has very little independent resources and relies mainly on the Government’s educational infra- structure and personnel to implement its projects. As is typical of many things in tiger controlled regions a curious parallel administrative network is in force.
One project envisaged by the TE educational board was a residential workshop for teen – aged schoolgirls. With the conflict escalating and bombing and shelling on the rise the need for first aid knowledge and disaster coping techniques was essential.It was decided to hold a residential workshop for ten days to focus on these matters.It was organized by the TE educational board in association with zonal education departments and the Principal associations. It was funded by an NGO called the Centre for Women’s Rehabilitation and Development (CWRD). The ten day workshop was held at the old “Sencholai” campus in Vallipunam on Aug 11th and scheduled to end on Aug 20th.
“The workshop aimed at developing student leaders by building self confidence through understanding self, building inter-personal relationship, knowing leadership qualities, effective time management, helping self and others by learning first aid, and learning principles of gender equality,” said V.Ilankumaran in an interview to the “Tamilnet” website.The idea was to train girls with leadership potential who in turn would train other girls in their respective schools.
Participants were selected from eighteen schools in Mullaitheevu, Kilinochi and Oddusuddan. The respective schools were Paranthan Hindu Maha Vidyalayam (MV), Kandawalai MV, Murasumottai MV, Tharmapuram MV, Piramathanaaru MV, Bharathy MV, Viswamadhu MV, Udaiyarkattu MV, Iranaippaalai MV, Mullaitheevu MV, Semmalai MV, Kumulamunai MV, Vattraappalai MV, Oddusuddan MV, Valathukarai Muthaiyan Kaddu MV, Katsilaimadhu Govt Tamil mixed school, Vithiyananda Kalloori, and Puthukudiyiruppu Central College.
Only the brightest and best girl students from the GCE )OL and AL classes were selected. In addition some seniors in “Sencholai” were also enrolled. Many parents were reluctant to send their young teen – aged daughters for a residential workshop. But since the LTTE was behind the whole project neither the parents nor te teachers or for that matter the students had no choice. The decision had been made by the tigers and the people had to simply obey. Nevertheless several parents had openly grumbled about the project to the LTTE themselves.
[A female cadre is trying to move a body of a girl, who was killed at Sencholai]
About 400 students ranging from the ages of 14 to 21 participated at the workshop. Most girls were in the 16 – 19 age group. The day began with assembly at 7 am and ended with lights out at 9. 30 pm. Apart from leadership training first aid measures etc there was also disaster management techniques pertaining to natural calamitieslike fire and floods, tsunami. aerial bombardment and shelling etc.There was also time for games, singing, debates, drama , poetry etc. Great emphasis was laid on practical training in first – aid.
Some of the instructors were from the LTTE’s medical corps. There were also other senior and senior ex – tiger woman cadres as workshop assistants. There were some school teachers – both male and female – as administrators, lecturers, instructors and resource persons.Officially the workshop was conducted by the principals Associations of Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu with the assistance of both zonal Educational divisions. Unofficially it was a Tamil Eelam Educational Board project. Many people sent their children only due to coercive LTTE pressure.
Parents were allowed to visit the participants in the evening and those from distances were allowed to sleep on the premises. It was a pleasant school boarding house like atmosphere that prevailed.One of the participants was a 14 year old girl from Vavuniya town who was visiting Kilinochchi. She had gone along for a “lark” and was killed.
Monday Aug 14th was the fourth day of the workshop. The itinerary on that was something like this. 7. am – Assembly; 7.15 to 8.00 physical exercises;8 – 8.30 breakfast; 8.30 to 9.30 Self – Confidence and Personality Development; 9. 30 to 10.30 Artificial respiration training;10.30 – 11.00 interval;11.00 – 1.00 First Aid practicals; 1-2.00pm lunch; 2-3.00 rest; 3-4.00 lecture on determining your future;4-4.30 tea;4.30 – 5.30 games;5. 30 – 6.00 break ; 6. 00 – 7.30 poetry reading; 7. 30 – 8.30 dinner 8. 30 recreation; 9.30 lights out. Alas this time – table turned terrible that bloody Monday.
The girls were moving to the middle compound for assembly to begin at 7. am. They were chatting to each other in scattered, small groups. One large group was huddled around a radio listening intently to the news. It was then that death and destruction came down from the skies. It was the group listening to the radio that suffered greatly.The identities of all victims are yet to be established. It appears however that some of the tiger instructors and senior cadres assisting the workshop were also affected.
Among those killed Fifty – One were students from 11 schools. Four were education officials and teachers. The others are presumed to be LTTE instructors and woman cadres.
According to reports filed by Kilinochchi Education director T. Kurukularajah and Mullaitheevu Educaton Director P. Ariyaratnam the breakdown of the killed 51 students and respective schools was as follows.Udaiyaarkattu Maha Vidyalayam – 11;Viswamadhu MV- 09; Mullaitheevu MV – 08; Kumulamunai MV – 05; Semmalai MV – 04; Vithiyananda College – 04; Puthukkudiyiruppu Maha Vidyalayam – 03; Tharmapuram MV – 03 Muruganantha MV – 02Oddusuddan MV – 01; Pirammathanaaru MV – 01.
With parents and family members coming to know of the calamity people were running to hospitals in search of their loved ones. There was also a groundswell of anger against the LTTE . They felt that the LTTE had unnecessarily contributed to the situation. They opined that such a residential workshop was ill – timed and ill – advised.With the conflict intensifying the tigers had carelessly exposed their dearest ones they felt.While blaming the LTTE for its irresponsibility most people however were extremely critical of the Govt for the massacre and its callous denial.
Speaking in Canada to the uncle of a dead girl was a sorrowful experience. He spoke of the academic brilliance of his niece and how the family was planning to send her to a foreign university. “Aniyatamaik Kondu poi Kaavu kodithittaangale” ( They have taken her unnecessarily and sacrificed her) he lamented.
Realising perhaps the depth of feelings among families the tigers did not try to derive propaganda mileage by staging mass funerals. Instead they allowed families to take the bodies and hold individual funerals. The Wanni in particular and Tamil areas in general are in a mournful atmosphere. The victims were not tigers but mainly , academically clever teen aged students with hopes of a bright future.
[A mother, who lost her daughter mourns at the hospital]
The Government continues to insist that the victims were child soldiers of the LTTE. This is a blatant falsehood. There is no denying that there are child soldiers in the LTTE. But these were schoolgirls not child soldiers. Even if they were child soldiers the state cannot kill them Rambukwella asks rhetorically “Are we to hug and kiss a child soldier” No! But they cannot be massacred by aerial bombardment indiscriminately either. They can be killed only in combat and what happened in Vallipunam was no combat but a cold – blooded masacre through aerial terror.
It is hyppocritically ironic that the Government and other Sinhala chauvinist organizations who shed copious tears for the plight of Tamil child soldiers are geefully justifying a massacre of Tamil children. As stated in these columns the Rajapakse regime has embarked on a war that has genocidal attributes. By the way what has Mullaitheevu got to do with the “water war” in Maavilaaru?
While Rambukwella and the various defence service spokespersons incriminate themselves as war criminals through their boastful utterances the supreme commander has gone one better. Mahinda Rajapakse reportedly told a gathering of Newspaper editors that his air force could have bombed the vehicles taking the injured to hospitals but did not do so out of magnanimity. This man who calls himself a true Buddhist and specialises in taking ” Malthattu” to “Pansalas” does not seem to have any awareness of war conventions or humanitarian law. After all Rajapakse is a lawyer.
The Sri Lankan Government is in the dock..The massacre of innocent schoolgirls through aerial bombardment is nothing less than a war crime or crime against humanity. Will Justice be done?
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August 19th, 2006
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The Country is going mad with venomous hatred! Highly educated professionals and intellectuals are at each others throats over the internet. The racist gobbledygook put out against each other by those on either side of the ethnic fence makes one want to puke. One is appalled and aghast at the depths of depravity to which members of two cultured races could descend to
Even as vocal warriors battle it out on their computers the real Mccoys are fighting it out on the battlefields of Muhamaalai, Mandaitheevu and Maavilaaru. Death, destruction and displacement is at its highest. The propaganda war is on at full scale with T. Ruth being killed again and again and again
Death has become a mere word. The number of deaths is a simple statistic.Life is “nasty, short and brutish”. Humanity is at its lowest ebb…”Oh to be far from the madding crowd and away from this ignoble strife”.
Even in such vile atmospheres where life and death are fast becoming meaningless a single man’s or woman’s death too cannot have any meaning. Yet there are people whose deaths diminish all of us. Their departure leaves us sad and shattered. The loss is not to the nearest and dearest alone but to all of humanity.
The death of Ketheeswaran Loganathan called generally as “Ketheesh” was one such instance. One more person capable of rising above hatred and insanity in present day Sri Lanka is no more. With his departure one more Tamil who wanted his people to live with equal rights in a united Lanka and champion that cause in the face of danger has been done away with. Only a few of us are left now.
Ketheeswaran or Ketheesh was of Jaffna origin (Thunnalai South) but born and bred in Colombo. He studied at St. Thomas’s College Mt. Lavinia and Loyola College, Madras before proceeding to the USA for higher studies. He was the scion of an elitist Tamil family.
His father was the legendary banker and economist Chelliah Loganathan. There was a time when Loganathan , General Manager of Bank of Ceylon was regarded as a powerful financier wielding much influence in Sri Lanka.The bank’s lending policies caused much controversy.Buddhika Kurukularatne in his eminently readable Sunday column refers to a description of Loganathan by the journalist par excellence Denzil Peiris. “Like a Sea Street chettiar, Mr. C. Loganathan sits in his York Street office with his greasy fingers on the national economy.”
Ketheesh born in 1952 was two years older than I. He was the youngest in the family. Chelliah and Thilakavathy Loganathan had six children. Ketheesh had three elder sisters Gowri Tharmaratnam, Vasuki Maheswaran and Lalitha Yogasundaram and two elder brothers Sathananthan and Sritharan..
His sister Gowri passed way recently. She was married to Tharmaratnam a top economist at the World Bank. Another sister Vasuki is married to Maheswaran a medical doctor in the US who I think is the brother of former Jaffna MP Yogeswaran. Ketheesh himself was married to Bhavani Kumarasamy who worked in the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) until recently and is presently attached to Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
Ketheesh had pronounced left leanings. One of his father’s brothers Tharmakulasingham was a well – known Samasajist leaders of an earlier vintage. Tharmakulasingham who contested the Point Pedro Constituency in 1947 on the LSSP ticket was a very popular leftist who died at a very early age amid tragic circumstances. Many people feel that had Tharmakulasingham lived he would certainly have become a prominent leader of the left movement. In a way Ketheesh inherited this leftist legacy.
Ketheesh Loganathan, received a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Georgetown University in Washington , USA and a Masters in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies at Hague, Netherlands. He also worked on a masters degree at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex, UK.
Ketheesh belonged to a segment of Jaffna Tamil society that lived and studied outside Jaffna but retained a positive love and interest in the land of their ancestors. Life for this category would have been entirely different if there was no ethnic oppression in Sri Lanka. Even then it was possible to have gone abroad and lived a life of luxury and seclusion from Sri Lankan politics.
But some of these people did not do so. Instead they chose to engage in political struggle and worked for the emancipation of the Tamil people in a united Sri Lanka. They were able to see both sides of the question and bring a sense of balance and moderation to the prevailing discourse that was often rabid. The ability to see both sides and understand the other mans point of view is often a great blessing. But in contemporary Sri Lanka it was a curse. It often made you an outsider in both camps. Ketheesh belonged to this rare breed of persons.
At the time of his death Ketheesh was Deputy Secretary – General of the Secretariat for coordinating the peace process (SCOPP) and Secretary of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). This makes him appear as a pro – government “establishment” man. The eulogies heaped on him by the “Govt guys” reinforce this impression. This is perhaps the unkindest cut of all.
The life and times of Ketheeswaran Loganathan would demonstrate that he was at no time a toady of anyone least of all a Govt in power. He was a fiercely independent man of thought and action. Let there be no mistake Ketheesh was a Tamil Nationalist. Not of the variety that has descended into violence and barbarity but of the kind which believes in a negotiated settlement ensuring Tamil rights through federalism in a united Sri Lanka. This is a vanishing species but some of us are around still.
The CPA’s executive director Dr. Packiyasothy Saravanamuthu summed up Ketheesh aptly and succintly in a statement.-
“Kethesh Loganathan was a valued colleague, a former Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the first head of its Peace and Conflict Analysis Unit. He was a passionate advocate of human rights, an unflinching champion of the rights of the Tamil people and of an end to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka with democracy, justice and dignity for all.”
” Whilst Kethesh was an ardent and proud nationalist, he brought the same fervour, passion and commitment to the cause of unity in diversity, multi culturalism and a settlement of the ethnic conflict based on meaningful power sharing. He uncompromisingly believed that the liberation of a people could not be founded on fear, the celebration of death, the negation or even suspension of basic democratic values. This made him a stringent and fearless critic of the LTTE for their insistence on being the sole representatives of the Tamil people and for their reliance on terror, repression and violence.”
It would be a great injustice to Ketheesh’s memory if one were to view his life only through the present prism. His was a life that dedicated itself to service and sacrifice for the betterment of humanity. After returning from abroad he worked as a researcher at the Marga Institute (77 – 79) and Social Scientists Association (79 – 81). He worked on issues of development and under development.
It was then that his father now retired launched an enterprise aiming to generate funds and economically develop the badly neglected and deprived North – East. Possessing a romantic streak and a wistful nostalgia for an “imagined” Jaffna Ketheesh went to Jaffna and took charge of his father’s project. At the same time he co – founded another institution for North – Eastern development called DEREC ( Centre for Development Research, Education and Communication) in Jaffna in 1981.
It was during this stay in Jaffna that Ketheesh’s life was taken over by revolutionary politics.. October 1981 was the time of the First Congress of the newly formed Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). A close and trusted friend joined the EPRLF and convinced Ketheesh that he too must do so. So Ketheesh joined what was then a revolutionary political organization.
The 1983 July anti – Tamil pogrom changed life drastically for Tamils. Different people responded differently. Ketheesh went to Chennai and became a full time activist of the EPRLF. Having independent means he did not lead a commune or camp life like many of his other comrades. He stayed in a flat within walking distance of the EPRLF’s Eelam Peoples Information Centre (EPIC) at Choolaimedu and attended office dutifully.
It was during this period that Ketheesh forged a firm friendship with the lovable Pathmanabha alias Ranjan who was EPRLF Secretary – General at the time.Ketheesh and Varatharajapperumal were the EPRLF representatives at the famous Thimphu talks in 1985. He also represented the EPRLF in many negotiations with and without publicity.
Then came the Indo – Lanka accord of 1987. Ketheesh returned home but took no part in the pro – Indian EPRLF North – Eastern Administration. He went to Hague and continued his higher studies.Kertheesh also got affiliated to the “Conflict Resolution Programme” of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway and was awarded a two year research fellowship at the Agriculture University of Norway to complete a study on the “Plantation system in Sri Lanka and the search for sustainable development”.
After Padmanabha was killed by the LTTE in 1990 June Ketheesh’s role in the EPRLF began decreasing. Though he remained in the movement it was a case of being ” in but not of”. His relationship with the new leader Suresh Premachandran also deteriorated. Ketheesh continued to represent the EPRLF in public fora including the Mangala Moonesinghe select committee. Finally in 1994 Ketheesh formally quit the EPRLF but remained on friendly terms with many activists.
Re-entering Academia Ketheesh served as a research consultant at the Centre for Policy research and Analysis (CEPRA). He authored the book “Sri Lanka: Lost Opportunities” in 1996.
Ketheesh also took to journalism. He functioned as Consultant to the short – lived “Week- end Express” where he wrote a popular column “Truthfully speaking” under the pseudonym Sathya. He later wrote articles as “Sathya” for the Daily Mirror too. In 1998 he was awarded the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship and was enrolled for a year at the College of Journalism in Maryland University.
Thereafter Ketheesh joined the Centre for Policy Alternatives and was in charge of the peace and conflict analysis unit. He played an important role in forging the “roadmap to peace” blueprint with the objective of taking the Oslo – facilitated peace process forward.
Soon Ketheesh became critical of the direction the peace process was taking. He felt that the strategy of dealing with the LTTE alone was not a positive one. Instead Ketheesh felt that there should be an emphasis on human rights, pluralism and democracy for the Tamil people. Child conscription and exterminating of those with alternate political views by the tigers was particularly upsetting. Ketheesh became openly critical of the process and the conduct of the LTTE. This was not a popular position to take and soon Ketheesh was becoming increasingly isolated.
This also placed him under LTTE threat. Increasingly pressured, Ketheesh once consulted Lakshman Kadirgamar and obtained some security measures for his protection. Ketheesh quit the CPA early this year with the objective of taking up duties as research director at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS). But he changed his plan when Mahinda Rajapakse offered him the Deputy Secretary – General position at SCOPP. He took up duties on March 29th this year. In July he became Secretary of the APRC.
This was a difficult decision for Ketheesh and he did consult some friends before taking it.Personally I think it was a grave misjudgement on his part as I feel that Mahinda Rajapakse has a not so well hidden agenda for war rather than peace. The Peace Secretariat under PTB Kohona has become a propaganda tool for Sinhala supremacist ideology.
Yet Ketheesh took the plunge with two objectives. One he was naively optimistic of gradually influencing the regime positively. Two he felt someone like him should be embedded in the power structure that was virtually without any Tamil of significance in order to contain the anti – Tamil impulses.
Despite his background and good intentions Ketheesh received flak from the Sinhala hawks. Sinhala expatriates objected to his appointment overtly and branded him an” Eelamist” and “Kotiya”. The JVP and JHU worked against him covertly. The JVP paper “Lanka” had a nasty article about him on Aug 6th.
Meanwhile Ketheesh himself was becoming uncomfortable and frustrated in his new assignment. For one thing an undeclared war was being waged with the SCOPP cheering from the sidelines. The All Party Conference was becoming a time – buying charade without any meaningful direction.
More importantly the impunity with which human rights violations were being committed by the armed forces troubled him greatly. He began trying to collect as much information about these as possible. According to informed sources Ketheesh was greatly agitated about the massacre of 17 aid workers by the security forces in Muthur
Those who know Ketheesh well were of the opinion that it was only a matter of time before he quit the SCOPP and APRC. Being a man of principle and conscience Ketheesh could not have compromised with “evil” for long. Also he was not the kind of person to subordinate his personality to the whims and fancies of the powers that be.
Sadly “Yaman “the God of death visited Ketheesh first. It was on August 12th the first anniversary of Lakshman Kadirgamar’s death. A Police team in plain clothes regularly checked up on Ketheesh due to security reasons. This was a security measure arranged for by SCOPP I believe. On that fateful day some “new” faces appeared at his residence 1B Windsor Avenue off Vanderwert place, Dehiwela.
Instead of asking for “Mr. Loganathan”, as was usual, they asked for “Mr. Ketheeswaran”. Somewhat suspicious Kethees hesitated between front door and gate insisting on some identification. Instead the assassin fired a 9 mm. Five rounds were fired with three hitting him. He was taken to hospital but died upon admittance.
Given the murky conditions prevailing in Sri Lanka his killing was not an open and shut case. Both Mahinda Rajapakse and Palitha Kohona were quick to accuse the LTTE .None can rule the tigers out. The LTTE website “Nitharsanam” described Ketheeswaran as a traitor and “junior Kadirgamar” and threatened to expose Ketheesh’s “nefarious” activities. Nothing followed. Another website referred to him as an “ex – EPRLF” member forgetting that the EPRLF Suresh faction is now within tiger folds
Though Ketheesh had for long remained an LTTE critic and often stated his views openly the tigers had not targetted him. If the LTTE was now responsible why did the tigers do so? was the question on the Tamil grapevine. Though the killers spoke fluent Sinhala they could have been an underworld gang given a killing contract by the LTTE. If the LTTE was indeed responsible the only plausible reason seemed to be Ketheesh joining the SCOPP and possibly his role in tha APRC.
The CPA statement observes thus –
” Whilst the identity of his killers has not been established and no single organisation or actor has the monopoly of political killing in the current climate of division and violence in our country, the LTTE’s record of assassinations of political opponents and Kethesh’s public profile as one of their most trenchant critics, invariably marks them out as prime suspects. We call on the LTTE to refute this by unequivocally condemning his murder. We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct a speedy and impartial investigation into Kethesh’s murder and to ensure that the perpetrators are apprehended and brought to justice.”
So far the LTTE has “officially” ignored Ketheesh’s killing. There has been no statement denying responsibility. The Government is said to be investigating the murder but given past history there is little chance of a breakthrough. Of course many innocent Tamils will be detained and interrogated. Some Sinhala officials will become richer and release some of them. As time goes on Ketheesh Loganathan will become one more statistic but will often be cited as proof of LTTE wickedness.
C. Loganathan was a devotee of the Thirukketheeswaram temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Mannar district. That is why he named his youngest son Ketheeswaran. May the soul of Ketheesh break the cycle of rebirth and attain heavenly bliss at the feet of Lord Shiva.
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August 18th, 2006
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Aug 11, 2006 – If the current war in the Eastern Province was all about water then the cause for that did not exist from Aug 8th when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) opened the blocked sluice gates at the Anecut unilaterally in deference to a request by Norway.. The waters of Maavilaaru began flowing freely along the right and left bank canal .. In spite of this the Rajapakse regime in Colombo did not called “Mission Watershed” off. Instead the conflict has brutally intensified.
The very same Rajapakse regime which requested the LTTE to open the sluice gate unconditionally and asked Norway to negotiate on this matter changed its stance within a few days. Colombo started a vicious military campaign for the purported objective of opening the sluice gates. SLMM chief Ulf Henricsson had a big scare when an aerian bomb fell 350 metres away from the place he was in talking to the Trincomalee tiger political commissar Elilan.
Thereafter Government Defence spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella regaled the nation and world with his jocular observations. One day he said the army was within 500 metres of the dam. On another day he said they were within a distance of a 10 minute walk. Then again he implored the LTTE to open the gates and promised to call off “Mission Watershed” in ten minutes.
After intensive bombardment, shelling and a series of abortive ground operations the armed forces were nowhere near the actual sluice gate that was closed. The LTTE then shifted position and agreed to call off the water blockade unilaterally. When Elilan and Henricsson proceeded to the dam to open the sluice the Government reacted furiously by shelling the area continuously for more than 60 minutes. A thoroughly rattled Henricsson whose life was in danger sent urgent “SOS” messages to Colombo. The SLMM chief who came in to Maavilaaru via Mahindapura changed plan and returned via Verugal and Valaichenai due to fear of the Trinco forces.
Keheliya Rambukwella then went off at a tangent announcing that “terrorists” could not open the sluice gate. Only the armed forces and Govt engineers could do so he thundered. This was the same man who wanted the LTTE to open the gate a few days ago. Apparently the intensive shelling was aimed at preventing the LTTE and SLMM from opening the sluice. The very same Govt which shelled Maavilaaru region to get the sluice open was now shelling the area to prevent it being opened.
The LTTE however went ahead and opened the gate at 3. pm on Aug 8th. The Govt began acting comically and childishly. First it claimed that the LTTE did not open the sluice and that it was the security forces who did so. Then they said the sluice was opened at 8 pm on the same day by the armed forces. They also said that the waters were not flowing and accused the LTTE of not opening the sluice. Actually the Government had blocked the sluices further up where the waters divided along the right and left bank canals. These gates were in Govt controlled territory.
On the following morning a massive public relations hoax was staged. The President’s sibling Basil and the JVP’s Wimal weerawansa along with deputy military chief Maj. Gen Nanda Mallawaratchy went to the Kallaru region and got the canal gates opened with great fanfare. Water then began flowing along the canals. The idea was to demonstrate that it was the Govt which opened the sluice and not the tigers. It was also projected that Maavilaaru was under Govt control.
This was not so and the Govt began a fierce offensive. The gullible South was told through a pliant and uncritical media that the LTTE had launched a counter offensive to retake the stream and dam.About 8000 troops were deployed and there was ceaseless shelling and bombing. Finally the LTTE made what their spokesperson Ilanthiraiyan described as a “strategic withdrawal”.
If anyone thought the fighting would cease after the Govt took control of Maavilaaru Anecut they were sadly mistaken. The conflict only intensified further.Tamil civilians in LTTE controlled areas are suffering immensely due to the aerial bombartdment, multi – barrel rockets and artillery shelling. More than 50000 are displaced. There is an acute shortage of food, medicine etc. There is no infra-structure to accommodate most people. The Govt prevents food and aid from going into the affected areas. Unless “Apey Mahinda” is made to see sense a humanitarian tragedy seems inevitable.
This glaring contradiction between professed intention and actual practice in the case of “Maavilaaru” baffles quite a few who are unfamiliar with the history of modern Sri Lanka and the perfidious role played by successive Sinhala dominated Governments. Past decades have taught Tamils the painful lesson that Colombo governments do not honour their pledges. The Maavilaaru incident where Colombo wanted Oslo to negotiate a settlement and then went back on its word is just the latest episode in long trail of sordid betrayals.
If there is anyone who is genuinely perplexed about the Govt’s inconsistency over Maavilaaru and puzzled about the continuing war then he or she must realise that this war was never about water. There was always a hidden agenda. What is happening now is a full – fledged effort by “Malthattu” Mahinda and his cohorts in khaki, crimson and saffron garb to implement that agenda. This agenda is nothing new. It has been the dream of Sinhala supremacists to destroy or drive the Tamils out of the East and make it a “Sinhala” province. Once the Tamils are diminished the Muslims will be targetted.
Developing Agriculture through massive irrigation schemes and providing land in the dry zone to the landless is a fair and acceptable policy. In Sri Lanka this project assumed sinister and insidious motives. “Colonisation” became the means through which Tamils and Muslims were made a “minority” in their historic habitat. Altering demography in favour of the Sinhala majority was the name of the game.
This policy was heavily augmented with the use of violence. Various pogroms were unleashed against Tamils in general and Easterners in particular. Use of water in irrigation schemes was curtailed to Tamil farmers. There was very little economic development in Tamil areas. This political project continued and became war. The escalation of the conflict enabled the state to practice a blatant “scorched earth” policy towards Eastern Tamils. This resulted in death,destruction and displacement. Many moved out of the East. This was particularly so in Trincomalee.
Trincomalee was important for more reason than one. Blessed with a natural deep water harbour Trinco was of strategic importance. It was also the district bordering the Northern Province. The earlier “Pathavikulam”(Padaviya) scheme has interdicted North – East territorial contiguity. Later came the ethnic cleansing of the “Manal Aaru” region. A new entity “weli – Oya” was created. All this was aimed at breaking North – Eastern contiguity.
With the ethnic conflict intensifying the importance of Trincomalee began increasing. There was a deliberate effort to de- populate the district of Tamils and re – populate it with Sinhala people. This was particularly so in the case of Tamil majority Trinco town and strategically important coastal areas. In spite of all these attempts the LTTE continue to maintain a significant presence in the district.
During the United National Party Government period from 1977 to 1994 the strategy was to establish greater authority and control over the Eastern Province. The deliberate scorched earth policy saw the Eastern Tamils becoming increasingly diminished. The tigers too were restricted to Jungles and adjacent rural areas. The idea was to deflate the “Tamil Eelam” and merged North – Eastern province concepts in actual practice.
The advent of Chandrika Kumaratunga altered this approach. The focus became the North. Jaffna was re- taken.Thereafter the aim was the Wanni. For this additional security personnel from the East were re- deployed in the North. This created a vacuum in some places in the East. The LTTE utilised the opportunity and brought many areas in the hinterland under their control. Even some littoral areas came under tiger domination.
In Trincomalee there were some places under LTTE control that were described as liberated zones. These were mainly in the Muthur East and Eechilampattru divisions of the Trincomalee district. Among these were coastal areas such as Sampoor and Kadatkaraichenai. They were separated from Trincomalee town and its environs by the Kottiar bay. The Trinco Harbour was about 13 nautical miles away. The possession of long range artillery gave the LTTE the ability to strike at the harbour. Securing Muthur would have enhanced that capacity further.
The vulnerability of Trincomalee became a big issue during the tenure of Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister. This was the prime excuse cited by Kumaratunga to dislodge him from power. Yet she did nothing in that direction after assuming power. After her inglorious departure “Apey Mahinda” has assumed presidential reins. Rajapakse is perhaps the first Sri Lankan head of state who subscribes fully to the Sinhala supremacist ideology. The khakied hawks, saffron clad chauvinists and crimsoninan national socialists were overjoyed..
The military project of subduing the LTTE in Trincomalee received top priority. It was first necessary to reduce the tiger threat facing Trinco harbour. For this the LTTE domination of the Muthur East division had to be eradicated.The first instance of this new policy became apparent when a suicide bomber exploded herself in Colombo. The LTTE was blamed. Reprisals were launched instantly. It was not Kilinochchi that was targetted but Muthur East division. Artillery fire from army camps, shelling from navaql gunboats and aerial bombardment continued for two days.
Sampoor, Kadatkaraichenai, Senaiyoor, Iraalkuli, Kattaiparichan, Ilakkanthai etc were bombed. Thereafter Muthur East was regularly shelled and bombed for the slightest reason. In recent times the area was shelled regularly for no ostensible reason at all. Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers and artillery fire was directed against Muthur East on July 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, 16 and 18.This was long before the eruption of the Maavilaaru crisis.
These attacks have resulted in over 15, 000 Tamil civilians being displaced. These people are not issued dry rations or relief allowances. The Government also appointed a retired Major – General Ranjith de Silva as Government Agent for Trincomalee district. This man authorised severe measures. An undeclared “economic embargo” came into force. Cement, steel, bricks and building materials were banned.
There were also restrictions on food and essential items. If not for INGO’s; charitable organizations and religious institutions the people living in the LTTE regions would have undergone starvation.The ADB project to provide water to Eechilampattru was also shelved.
It is against this backdrop that the Maavilaaru crisis erupted. This gave the Rajapakse regime a pretext to plan , prepare and launch a major war. The avowed purpose was for water. But the hidden agenda was different. Thanks to Norway’s persuasion the LTTE withdrew from Muthur and also opened the sluice gates. But Colombo has not ceased its war. It continues with a ferocity never seen before. There is absolutely no concern for Tamil civilians. There are even incidents where planes reportedly targetted civilians deliberately.
The short – term military objective was to capture the Maavilaaru anecut and the entirety of the stream and canals. The reason given was to prevent the LTTE from blocking water again. But the military logic cannot end with that. Another tributary Vellai Aaru and the Verugal Aaru rivers also need to be brought under Govt domination if the waters are to be fully controlled. This means that the greater part of the Eechilampattru division has to be “captured”.
The military logic cannot stop with that. If Verugal river is reached full control of it is possible only if the other bank is also taken. Since the river is the border between Trincomalee and Batticaloa the other side is in the latter district. So the next push would be to take the other side too. The next target would be the LTTE controlled areas of Kathiraveli, Vaaharai, Panichankerny etc in Batticaloa. If those areas are taken the LTTE in Batticaloa – Amparai would be confined to the Paduvaankarai hinterland and Kanchikudichaaru, Tharavai, Kudumbimalai, Vadamunai jungles alone.
[Fishermen in heavy rain, in Kattumurivu lagoon in Vaharai, Apr 2005]
The Rajapakse regime thereafter hopes to bring Batticaloa – Amparai under its full control through the services of the Karuna faction. Bringing the East under its full control is of great importance to Rajapakse. This would restrict tiger activity and curtail mobility to and from the North. More importantly it will facilitate Rajapakse’s long cherished dream of de- linking the North and East. The JVP litigation seeking such a de – merger fits into this scenario well.
If the Rajapakse regime does succeed in dominating the East and de- links it from the North that development could help Mahinda in going for a snap election. The JVP and JHU will be on board with him. Mahinda can attract a large slice of hawkish elements from the UNP. He can also overcome any threat from the Kumaratunga loyalists. For all this and more “Apey” Mahinda needs control of the East. First the waters of Maavilaarum Vellai and Verugal. Then the lands of Muthur East, Eechilampattru and Koralaipattru North. Finally the entire Eastern province.
This strategy could have phases in its implementation. There could be lulls in the fighting. This would be for logistical, diplomatic and political reasons. There would however be no let up in the project. This is why the war continues now. It is not for water but for something more. This is why Muthur East and eeccilampattru and Koralaipattru North divisions are getting shelled and bombed. This is why these areas have been systematically deprived in the past and are denied relief at present.
The civilian cost of this exercise could be tremendous but Mahinda and his cohorts are not bothered. After all is this not a “humanitarian” war and is not Mahendra Percy Rajapakse a pious and devout Buddhist?
The Government is on a militaristic roll. It hopes to subdue the will of a people through force. It hopes to lull the collective conscience of the International community. A war of genocidal proportions is on. The best laid plans of men and mice go awry at times.
There are reports now that the war is spreading and intensifying. Karadiyanaaru and Tharavaikulam bases of the LTTE in Batticaloa were bombed. Fighting has also broken out along Muhamaalai and Nagarkovil in the North. The Palaly base complex too has got embroiled.
In what may well be an event of historic importance the LTTE has reportedly activated its air wing for the first time. Unidentified tiger aircraft flew over Palaly and targetted an Mi 24 helicopter ginship and a Bell 212 helicopter. Thereafter shelling from Palaly ceased say reports. Other reports indicate LTTE is shelling Trincomalee harbour. These reports are yet to be confirmed officially by the LTTE.
The Government codenamed their military exercise as watershed. The hidden meaning was that the war will be a watershed in the sense that the LTTE will be vanquished as a result of it. It could still be a watershed but not in the sense that Mahinda wants. If the opposite of this regime’s desire happens “Mission Watershed” will prove to be a watershed indeed!
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August 11th, 2006
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
“Aug 11, 2006 – Mission Watershed” was launched by the Sri Lankan Government headed by Mahendra Percy Rajapakse with the ostensible objective of removing the blockade of Maavilaaru canal waters by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It was in the words of Cabinet spokesperson on Defence Matters a “humanitarian” war. “Water cannot be used as a negotiating tool” thundered Keheliya Rambukwella.
The exercise was a humanitarian mission and not a military operation.mission said the Government. Hence the emphasis on Mission instead of Operation in the codename. It was in a sense like the war for peace launched by Chandrika Kumaratunga and Anuruddha Ratwatte. That war never brought peace. It was only after Ranil Wickremasinghe became Prime Minister that a ceasefire came into effect.
If the purpose of “Watershed” was only to open the sluicegates of Maavilaaru that task was fulfilled on Aug 8th. At 3 pm the sluice was re- opened by the LTTE as a humanitarian gesture. This was in deference to a request made by Erik Solheim said Elilan the tiger political commissar of Trincomalee. By the following morning both the right and left canals were flowing with the waters of Maavilaaru again! There was no reason for “Mission Watershed” to continue.
There were some who believed that the ugly incident had closed with a fairy tale ending they were sadly mistaken. The Government continued with its military operations. Massive offensives were re- launched to take control of Maavilaaru Anecut.The LTTE began resisting. Aerial Bombardment, Multi – Barrel Rocket launches and Artillery shelling resumed on a massive and brutal scale.
The Government announces that LTTE positions in and around Maavilaaru were being targetted. The cruel reality was starkly different. Tamil civilians and not Tamil tigers were bearing the brunt of this so called humanitarian war. Tamil dwellings in the LTTE controlled areas of Mutur East and Eechilambattru divisions in Trincomalee and the Koralaipattru North sector in Batticaloa district are being bombed and shelled..
The human cost of this so called “humanitarian ” war is terrible.More than a hundred civilians have been reported killed. Around 300 are injured. Many dwellings and the limited infra- structure available have been destroyed. The Ilankaithurai – Muhathuvaaram bridge is damaged. The Verugal – Vaaharai ferry was hit. Defying humanitarian standards the Air Force has dropped incendiary devices. Large scale fires have broken out.
The number of existing displaced and refugee Tamils in the region was enlarged from April this year when the Govt began bombing and shelling of LTTE controlled areas. The number shot up by 15,000. Now that number is further increasing. The bombing and shelling which re- commenced with “Watershed” intensified after the LTTE conducted its three – day limited operation in Mutur town and adjacent areas.
The resumption of bombing and shelling after waters began flowing again in the Maavilaaru canal has been most severe. Civilkian crossing Verugal river were bombed and five killed.. Tamils cowering in fear behind a culvert were deliberately targetted and eight killed. These are but few of the reported incidents. Many bodies are reportedly lying in wayward spots.
The intensifying of anti – people bombing and shelling in the last few days has led to a phenomenal growth among Tamil displaced people. The earlier phase of “Watershed” saw another 25, 000 becoming displaced. The on going bombing and shelling is also causing an increase in these numbers. It may not be an exaggeration to say that very few Tamils are not displaced in Muthur East and Eechilampattru.
Many Tamils who lived in Muthur and other Government controlled areas have moved to Kanthalai and Trincomalee. Many others consisting mainly of those living in LTTE controlled areas are barely existing under extreme deprivation and hardship Large numbers however have begun moving South to the Koralaipattru North region in Batticaloa bordering Trincomalee to escape shelling. But they are still subject to aerial attacks.
About 45, 000 to 50, 000 Tamils are now displaced. More than half that number are located in the areas of Kadiraveli, Paalsenai, Vaharai etc in Batticaloa North. Aerial bombardment continues and many civilians have been victimised. In addition to these displaced people from Trinco district some Batticaloa Tamils too are displaced after the recent Army operation in Panichankerny – Mankerny.
[Map produced on 29 April 2006 by UN Humanitarian Information Centre, Sri Lanka.]
The plight of these displaced persons is made terrible by the lack of facilities and infa- structure in LTTE controlled areas to accommodate them. Many families are languishing under trees. The makeshift camps are hopelessly ill – equipped to serve them. Besides many of these coastal areas are yet to recover from the Tsunami impact. Even the P- TOMS set up to address Tsunami affected needs in the North – East never got off the ground thanks to the JVP and the Supreme Court.
[Soodaikuda, Kooniththevu and Kundrathoor were hit by the Tsunami. And the villagers say that nothing has changed in their lives since then - Pic taken Oct 2005]
There is also a woeful lack of hygiene and medicine in addition to a chronic food shortage.Aggravating these problems is the attitude and approach of the Government. The security forces acting under the direct orders of Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapakse have prevented NGO aid workers and charitable organizations from taking food or medine into these LTTE controlled areas.
Vehicles and persons are stopped in Trincomalee district on the basis that fighting is going on and that proceeding further is dangerous. In Batticaloa the security forces were more direct and said that the Defence Ministry under Mahinda Rajapakse had given orders to prevent aid from going in. A further dampener to aid workers going in is the gruesome execution of 15 Tamil and One Muslim aid workers in Muthur by the security forces.
The Tamil Rehabilitation Organization and some Churches are trying to provide some aid and assistance to these hapless people suffering for no fault of their own. But these are not enough to cope with this growing tragedy.Compounding the problem further is the inability of the LTTE to provide any help at this juncture because tigers are pre- occupied with resisting the security force advances.
The security forces in Batticaloa are restricting the people from LTTE controlled regions travelling out into Govt controlled areas too.On the 11th about eight lorries with aid and provisions were allowed to go in to Vaaharai mainly due to the efforts of Batticaloa GA Punniyamoorthy.
There is much discrimination in refugee assistance in Trincomalee and Kanthalai too. The Sinhala refugees though few in number are looked after well whereas the larger number of Muslims are not catered to well is the Muslim complaint. Besides the Sinhala people of Kanthalai are unhappy about the large influx of Muslims into their area. But Tamil refugees in Trinco and Kanthalai are worse off than both Sinhala and Muslim refugees. Yet their position is so much better than Tamils in LTTE controlled regions.
The pecking order in the case of refugee relief is very much reflective of the state of things in contemporary Sri Lanka. Even during earlier times Tamils got a fair deal only from International and Non – Governmental organizations. It is the perception that the NGOS are helping Tamils that contributes much to the INGO hostility in the Government. The bomb attacks on three NGO’s in Muthur were caused by this feeling. There has been a well – designed move to get NGO’s and INGO’s out of the Tamil regions so that anti – Tamil activity could go on unchecked. The execution of 17 aid workers was part of this design. The escalation of hostilities has helped the state to restrict NGO activities thereby preventing or restricting aid to Tamil refugees.
This destruction, displacement and deprivation weakens the Tamil people. This in turn affects the LTTE. Currently the massive increase in Tamil displaced persons in LTTE controlled areas hampers the war effort undertaken by the LTTE. Apart from this short – tern goal of hindering the LTTE military efforts there is also the long tern goal. Sinhala hegemonism has for long wanted to undermine and de – populate the East particularly Trincomalee of Tamils. The present conflict affords Colombo with a great opportunity to pursue this objective.
The Government continues with its war against Tamils and uses it as an excuse to prevent INGO’s, charitable agencies and the media from going into LTTE controlled and even adjacent areas like Muthur. The plight of displacement is being portrayed solely as a Sinhala and Muslim predicament. Moreover attempts are being made to depict the Muslim displacement as a tiger exercise of ethnic cleansing whereas an equal number or possibly more Tamils have been displaced. Besides dislocation and displacement was a never ending experience for Tamils in the pas and continues in the present.
Furthermore the Tamil refugees in LTTE controlled areas are fast becoming the wretched of the “Eelam” earth. They have no institutional assistance; there is inadequate infra-structure in those areas to accommodate them. The Government continues to bomb and shell thereby killing, maiming and terrifying the pathetic people. There is a shortfall in food, nedicine, supplies etc. The Government callously prevents such assistance reaching them.Thus a terrible human tragedy of monumental proportions is in the making.
This column has for a long time been warning of a terrible war to be unleashed on the Tamil people and the horrors facing civilians. What is happening now is but a glimpse of things yet to come. The use of incendiary bombs is but one example. This column has in the past urged the decent, peace loving people among the Sinhalese and the International Community to act and restrain “Apey” Mahinda and his crimson- saffron brigade. Once again this column appeals to both the Sinhala people and the International Community to act fast and positively.
[Sunset in Kattaiparichchaan - East of Sri Lanka, which is controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]
The word “Genocide” has been bandied about loosely in the Sri Lankan context. The word was more a propaganda tool . But now the Sri Lankan state has launched a war with genocidal attributes. Under the guise of attacking LTTE positions the Govt is actually targetting Tamil civilians. Enlightened sections among the Sinhala people and the International community cannot be blind. deaf or dumb to the fact that a major component of this war is in reality a massive crime against humanity. If and when there is a time of reckoning every single person who played a part in this crime against Tamil humanity from Mahinda Rajapakse down to the pilot dropping incendiary bombs will have to face the consequences.
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August 11th, 2006