Posts filed under 'transCurrents'
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
Terror is not the sole monopoly of a single entity. Violence does not continue according to a predictable pattern at all times. In the memorable words uttered by Malcolm X when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 “the chickens have come home to roost.” Yet Malcolm X too was killed a short while after. What goes around truly comes around.
It is now the turn of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to learn the bitter lesson about the cycle of violence and terror. For a very long time the Tigers instilled fear into the hearts and minds of their opponents and the Tamil people at large through selective violence and systematic terror.
They were thus able to impose themselves upon the Tamil people as the self-appointed sole representatives of the Tamil people.
Now the LTTE is at the receiving end of violence and terror, directly in the east and somewhat indirectly in the north. In the east the process began after the Karuna revolt. Initially the LTTE was cruelly arrogant. Despite well meaning advice to the contrary the mainstream Tigers unleashed violence on Karuna cadres and their supporters. Initialy they thought they had won. But things changed.
Members of the Karuna faction began fighting back. The ‘clandestine’ agencies of the state were ever ready to embrace the Karuna cadres. In spite of many denials by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga it was an open secret that the Karuna cadres were receiving patronage, protection, sustenance and support from the state. The violence of the LTTE was challenged by the counter-violence of the renegades.
Today the LTTE movement in the east has been severely curtailed. The Tigers are restricted to certain areas in the western region only. Moreover the hunted have become the hunters. The Karuna faction goes in search of the LTTE and its supporters and kills them. Statements are made proudly about ambushes inflicting losses on the LTTE.
The shadow war of the east has moved to the north too. It was this column which first highlighted this fact when Kopay Christian College Principal Nadaraja Sivakadatcham was shot dead by alleged EPDP cadres. The stealth war had actually started a little earlier in the north when some Tiger supporters like a video shop owner in Uduvil were killed.
This violence targeting Tiger supporters and sympathisers continued with those involved in the “great heroes day” celebrations being targeted. When two such persons were killed in Neervely the LTTE retailiated with what it termed the Makkal yutham or people’s war. In a combination of Palestine style Intifada and Iraqi resistance, hostile violence against the security forces was stepped up.
Security vehicles were landmined; RPG’s were fired. Bombs and grenades were thrown. Soldiers were shot at. Parallel to these developments hartals, demonstrations, stone throwing etc. were also conducted. All these were done in the name of the people. An umbrella front called “Pongiyelum Makkal Padai” or “Resurgent People’s Force” claimed credit in the name of the people.
The LTTE disclaimed responsibility and insisted tongue-in-cheek that the people were rising up in protest. It was an open secret that the LTTE was responsible for instigating and promoting the violence through overt and covert logistical support. It was even known that some acts were perpetrated by Tiger cadres themselves. The claymore mine attacks being good examples. Yet the Tigers persisted with the flimsy explanation that it was the people and not themselves engaging in violence.
The Tigers had extensively publicised the arms training given by them to Tamil civilians. The actual extent of the training is not known. But now the Tigers projected the viewpoint that the people so trained were revolting against the army presence in Jaffna. It was the people who were demanding that the security forces should quit or would be made to quit Jaffna. (Velieru allathu velietruvom.)
What the Tigers were doing was unbelievable in the annals of guerilla warfare. According to Mao, the guerillas are among the people like fish in the ocean. But here the fish was nipping the ‘enemy’ and blaming the ocean for it. The so called liberation fighters were blaming the people for whose sake they were claiming to fight as being responsible.
It has been the practice in the past for the security forces to kill civilians and then say they were Tigers. This in turn was hotly disputed. It has also been the practice to inflict collective punishment upon the people in retaliation for Tiger violence. The people were asked very unjustly to bear vicarious responsibility. Draconian legislation like the PTA reversed the presumption of innocence until proven guilty dictum and held that all arrested Tamils were guilty unless proven innocent.
All these unjust acts of omission and commission by the state were resisted strongly by Tamils and sympathetic human rights activists. But now the LTTE was handing over the Tamil people of Jaffna to the security forces on a platter. The claim that the people were responsible for the violence and the declaration that the “people were the Tigers and the Tigers were the people” made every civilian vulnerable. The distinction between combatant and civilian was being blurred not by the ‘enemy’ but by the so called protectors of the Tamil nation. It was now open season on Tamil civilians.
Pressurising the state
The LTTE may have thought that raising the level of violence against the security forces in Jaffna and elsewhere would have pressurised the state to bend but the Tigers were mistaken. The head of state was not Chandrika Kumaratunga or Ranil Wickremasinghe but Mahinda Rajapakse. The people around him were hawkish hardliners like Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Sarath Fonseka, Gothabaya Rajapakse, H.N.G. Kotakadeniya etc. The attitude was in the Mosaic tradition. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
With the ‘guerilla fish’ stating the ‘ocean’ was responsible for the violence the logical option was to drain the ocean out. Besides there was another angle. The LTTE by pre-maturely escalating violence in the name of the people had revealed what could have been their trump card – the presence of a fifth column. The “people’s force” behind enemy lines in Jaffna could have easily commenced a coordinated campaign against security forces if and when open war began. They could have conducted many ambushes wreaking havoc in the rear.
But now the security forces were alerted to the potential danger. The fifth column threat had to be eliminated or minimised. It was going to be a case of fighting fire with fire. Terror was to be met with terror. If the Tigers had the civilian militia the state too had an ace up its sleeve – the non-Tiger groups derisively called paramilitary by the LTTE. An insidious yet effective politico-military counter-strategy was devised.
The Rajapakse regime was not going to play into the hands of the LTTE by declaring open war. Overtly the government was going to publicise the Tiger inspired violence and solicit international sympathy. Rajapakse would repeatedly request the LTTE to come for talks in statesmanlike fashion. But covertly the stealth war against the LTTE was to be intensified and accelerated. Since ‘known’ Tiger cadres had retreated from government controlled areas those suspected of being Tiger intelligence or pistol groups along with supporters and suspected supporters were to be targeted.
The actual ‘dirty work’ was to be done by members of Tamil groups but with support rendered by security forces. Members of five groups have been enlisted for the purpose. Cadres of the EPDP, ENDLF, remnants of the PLOTE Mohan Group, members of the EPRLF “Razeek” group and also members of the eastern Karuna faction have been deployed on this campaign of violence. It is alleged that cabinet minister Douglas Devananda bears “unofficial” responsibility for those involved in the operation. All financial dealings are through the EPDP it is alleged.
Apart from regular payment an incentive scheme based on the quality and quantity of operations carried out has also been introduced. The assassins work according to instructions given by military intelligence handlers. The goon squads are housed in military camps on a rotational basis. Lists of suspected Tigers or Tiger supporters are being targeted. It is a case of “crying havoc” and “let slip the dogs of war.”
December 2005 and January 2006 has seen a massive rise in the violence against those perceived to be Tiger or pro-Tiger in the peninsula. At the same time Tiger violence also continues in Jaffna. But while LTTE inspired violence has been progressively decreasing levels of anti-Tiger violence has been rapidly increasing. Unfortunately for the Tigers all violence committed in their name gets ample publicity but the terror unleashed against Tiger supporters does not get adequate publicity. Ironically sections of the media portray such violence as being committed by the Tigers themselves. The EPDP media play a big role in distorting reality in this respect.
Members of the security forces are also involved as accomplices in many of the abductions, disappearances and killings. A striking feature in the attire of some soldiers in the north is the wearing of black cloth or “balaclavas” covering their faces. The reason given is that they are wearing these to get “protection from dust.” It is funny that after being in Jaffna for decades the soldiers have only now discovered the need to seek protection from the dust. Whatever the excuses the reality is that balaclavas help disguise identities of soldiers. This balaclava phenomenon adds to Tamil fears in Jaffna.
There is clear evidence in many cases of security force complicity in the killings and abductions. Tamil goondas are able to move about freely through areas saturated with security force personnel and carry out their operations. Soldiers are very often present at scenes of violence to see that no one interferes with the perpetrators. In some instances a collaborative effort where Tamil goons do the actual shooting while Sinhala soldiers look on approvingly also takes place.
Unaware perhaps that state terror is being unleashed on perceived ‘Tiger’ targets in Jaffna the international community showers praise on President Rajapakse and the armed forces. Mahinda is being commended for his restraint and patience. While Rajapakse basks in this undeserved glory the killings and disappearances continue in the north. As is usual in situations of this sort many of those victimised are totally innocent without any Tiger links. Some are related to Tigers or Tiger martyrs. Others have some connection flimsy at the most with the LTTE.
The notorious “vellai van” or white van spectre rides the streets of Jaffna. These vehicles are with tinted windows and unmarked number plates. People are abducted and pushed into these vehicles. The vehicles have no problems with the police or army when going on roads. People who are taken in this way are not heard of thereafter. When relatives go to the police or army they are told that there is no record of their arrests. At least 23 complaints of disappearances have been registered with authorities so far in Jaffna. There are more cases not reported yet.
One example of people being taken away in this manner was the incident at Point Pedro. Thirty year old Narayanamoorthy Kandeepan and 28 year old Thambiah Tharmasiri are employees of the Danish de-mining agency. Tharmasiri is married to Kandeepan’s sister and both stayed together at Power House Road in Odaikkarai, Point Pedro. They left on January 11 for work on Kandeepan’s motorcycle at 5.30 am as usual.
After some time people of the area came to the family home and said the two were seen being bundled into a white van manned by youths speaking Tamil. The motorcycle was put into an army truck. The incident happened near the Odakkarai-VB Road junction. The residents also discovered ID cards at the scene. The police and army deny any record of arrest and are unable to give out any details. Apparently the abduction was a security force- Tamil group joint operation.
In another instance 21 year old Balakrishnan Rajeevmohan of Ilavalai was abducted on January 9. The youth had been working for 20 months at Doha and returned home four weeks ago after losing his job. He was worried about that and the future. Some Tamil youths jumped over the padlocked gate at night and banged on the door asking it be opened. When the mother hesitantly opened they barged in and soon dragged Rajeevmohan out.
They ordered the padlocked gate be opened and assaulted the father for fumbling with the key. The abducted youth was pushed into a white van which sped off. Family members saw about 25 soldiers wearing balaclavas crouched against the outer compound wall. They cheered loudly in Sinhala and got into two parked vehicles and took off. There is an army camp only 100 metres away from the house. When family members complained the security forces feigned ignorance of the incident and suggested that the youth may have joined the LTTE.
A gruesome incident was the shooting of five family members at an incident in Manipay on January 14, Thai Pongal day in which three women died. Fifty six year old Nagendran Bhojan with his family had been living at 17, Kanagasabai Mudali Street at Manipay. The family was originally from Kollankaladdy but had moved to Manipay after they were evicted from the ancestral home because of the High Security Zone extension. One of the Bhojan children was a Tiger martyr.
Bhojan was a scout commissioner in the district and had worked many years for St. Johns Ambulance prior to retirement. His wife Arthanareeswary 51, as well as daughters Renuka (30) and Shannuka (23) were all old students of Mahajana College at Thellipalai. Renuka, a B Com graduate was teaching at Thivyabharathi Vidyalayam school in Manipay. She had registered her marriage three weeks ago before the shooting.
Shannuka was an undergraduate. She had also acted in films and plays produced by the LTTE films and drama division. Her brother Ullasan (26) was a maths teacher at Jaffna Central College. The Bhojan family was English educated and regarded as being sympathisers of the LTTE.
The family from the upper floor of their two-storeyed house had seen many soldiers standing in front of their gate for nearly two hours in the night. Naturally they were worried. The soldiers left at about 10 pm. The relieved family knocked lights off and were just settling in for slumber when around nine or ten armed Tamil youths jumped over the gate and banged on the door. When the father and son opened the door they were asked at gun point to sit down . The younger daughter Shanukka then came to the door and was shot dead. The assassins then entered the house and sprayed bullets at Renuka and her mother Arthanareeswary. The new son in law crouched under the bed in darkness and was saved.
While leaving the assassins fired at the father and son. Bhojan received bullets in his thigh and knee and slumped. Ullasan shot in the waist tried to get up and run. He was fired upon and brought down. After the assassins left few neighbours were brave enough to venture out. Besides there were army checkposts at both ends of the road. No one was prepared to take the injured people to hospital. All three women were dead while the bleeding males were alive still. Finally Bhojan used his St. Johns Ambulance contacts to get an ambulance down after two hours.
Word began spreading in Jaffna that the Bhojans were killed by the EPDP. LTTE political chief for Jaffna Ilamparithy issued a statement to that effect. The EPDP denied responsibility and accused the LTTE of killing them. The EPDP charged first that the Bhojans due to their English proficiency had aroused Tiger suspicion. They then changed the story and said that the Bhojans being a “great hero” family was asked to relocate to the Wanni by the LTTE but had refused and so were killed. The EPDP also discovered that the Bhojans were related to former EPDP Parliamentarian and Palmyra Board chairman Sivathasan and highlighted the fact. Few believed the EPDP denial.
In another incident at Katkovalam in Point Pedro on January 6, 27 year old Aiyathurai Bhaskaran was shot dead at his house. The 27 year old fisherman cum mason had been arrested twice in 1997 and 1999 as a Tiger suspect . He had been released after interogation with torture. He had married in 1999 and had two children. He was from Kudathanai but had moved here after the tsunami.
His home was searched from 5 to 9. 30 pm and Bhaskaran too was intensely grilled. The security forces left and the family went to sleep with the idea of moving to the Wanni for safety. At 11 pm someone called out to Baskaran. He went out to see gun toting Tamil goondas at the door. Realising what lay in store Baskaran began pleading. His wife too begged the killer squad. The interlopers asked Baskaran to state his last wish. He said he wanted to see his children. The killers asked the weeping wife to go and bring the children. Even as she went in there were shots and her husband lay in a pool of blood.
When people of the area tried to go to the house they found their way blocked by security forces. Vehicle drivers were prohibited to take Baskaran to the hospital. He died in a few hours. The family and neighbours were threatened with death if the truth was told about the killing. So the frightened wife told the magistrate at the inquest that she only heard the shots and saw her husband lying dead.
The list of Tamil victims having or suspected of having LTTE connections is long. There are the two barbers Ganesharatnam and Krishnan of Kaithady. Both were related to S. P. Tamilselvan and had often boasted of their LTTE connections. They were killed by assassins in a three – wheeler as they were cycling home from work. There is the case of a 15 year old student in Kodikamam who resisted the killers aiming to assassinate his ex-Tiger brother in law. There is the case of another 17 year old student at Chuttipuram who stayed behind to continue his studies though his family had left for Kilinochchi in fear because another son was a Tiger martyr. The boy was shot dead on the road as he cycled home from class.
Tamil businessmen targeted
Another set of targets are Tamil businessmen with LTTE sympathies or connections. Many such persons have been killed in Kayts, Chavakachcheri, Kopay etc. Targeted Tamil businessmen are first asked for money by EPDP members. Those who pay up are spared but those who refuse to pay up are killed. In one incident a businessman was killed at the Chavakachcheri market. Though there are checkpoints all around the area and a base camp is only about 200 metres way there was a “mysterious” absence of security personnel in the vicinity when the goondas opened fire.
So terror spreads in Jaffna as the EPDP led assassins go about killing Tiger supporters with vengeful glee. The wheel has turned full cycle. The very same EPDP that spoke about human rights when the LTTE was killing them is now violating the rights of perceived LTTE supporters mercilessly. The very same LTTE which arrogantly dismissed remonstration from human rights activists when they were dishing out death are now extremely concerned about human rights after being at the receiving end.
The cumulative effect of all these has been the mass relocation – through fear – of Tiger or Tiger martyr families to the Wanni. At least 3500 families have fled in the last two weeks. Another 1200 families in Trincomalee and 200 families from Mannar have also sought refuge in Kilinochchi. The violence though deplorable has taught the LTTE a bitter lesson that the state can inflict terror too.
LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham has announced in Kilinochchi that the leader “climbed down” and provided Mahinda Rajapakse with another chance for peace only to end the violence against the Tamil people. Bala said the violence against the Tamil people must stop if the talks are to start in Geneva.
This assertion shows that the state must restrain its ‘running dogs’ and curtail the state terror if a dialogue is to be resumed. Unless this is done the talks won’t get off the ground. Even if talks do start they are doomed to fail unless the violence ends.
January 29th, 2006
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
Trincomalee and its environs continued to be caught up in a vicious cycle of violence as various agencies engaged in sporadic attacks and counter – attacks.
While the armed forces were at the receiving end of Tiger – sponsored violence civilians, particularly Tamils suffered at the hands of security forces and other sinister state aligned elements. Adding to the tension was the announcement by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission that it was suspending duties in the district until further notice.
The SLMM decision has begun causing panic in Trincomalee.The much maligned monitors provided a reassuring oasis of stability in a bleak desert of violence. With the SLMM decision fears began mounting on either side of the ethnic divide. The security forces are apprehensive of escalating levels of Tiger motivated attacks against them. The helpless Tamil civilians are fearful of increasing harm at the hands of the security forces and their ‘lumpen’ sidekicks.
If ever the ordinary people of Trincomalee needed a comforting third party this is the time. But the SLMM has chosen to desert the people at a crucial time. The monitors seem to have a history of abdicating their duties at times when people sorely need them. In 2004 Batticaloa was under severe strain due to the rebellion of eastern Tiger commander Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias ‘Col’ Karuna. Yet the SLMM suspended its functions and withdrew. Now the same thing is happening in Trincomalee.
One does understand that the SLMM is in a predicament. The Nordic representatives from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark came to the north-east to monitor what they thought was a genuine ceasefire. Instead they have seen violations in their thousands. Now the situation is changing for the worse.The atmosphere is that of an undeclared war. The SLMM is being required to monitor ‘ceaseless firing’ instead of a ceasefire. Monitoring a war – overt or covert – is not their mandate. Besides there is the question of the safety of the monitors themselves.
It was the incident at Uppuvely on January 17 that led to the SLMM’s decision. The monitors staying at a hotel in Nilaveli travel along the Nilaveli – Trincomalee road to their headquarters in Trincomalee and back on a daily basis. They had done so that morning too but later on a claymore mine had exploded at Uppuvely on the same road.The monitors had passed through on the same route about 90 minutes before.
Furthermore a monitor team was proceeding towards Thiriyai along the same road when the explosion had occurred. The police at Uppuvely had refused to let the monitors proceed further in the interest of their own safety. While held up at the police the reports of gunfire were also heard. It was after this incident that the SLMM announced its suspension of duties.
The Uppuvely incident was one more instance of the tragic pattern of violence enveloping Trincomalee. About 24 naval personnel were travelling in a bus via the Nilaveli road. They were going from their camp at Gopalapuram in the Nilaveli region to the Dockyard Road base in Trincomalee town. The sailors had reached a point near the Uppuvely junction or the third mile post junction from Trinco town on the Nilaveli road. Uppuvely is predominantly Tamil.
The naval vehicle had veered off the road and taken a short cut . This apparently was a regular practice. The vehicle was yards away from the Love Lane – Palms Road intersection when a claymore mine attached to a parked cycle on the wayside was triggered off by a remote controlled device. The obvious suspects were the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fortunately for the navy the explosion occurred a fraction of a second late after the bus had almost passed the claymore – cycle. This minimised the damage.The time was 10.05 am.
Naval personnel injured
Nevertheless 12 naval personnel sustained injuries. None were killed though the condition of three sailors is said to be serious. Dazed security personnel hit the ground and began firing away. Some ran here and there firing away at a non – existent enemy. There was no enemy to fight against. This was not a conventional ambush where guerillas trigger a landmine and then shoot it out with surviving security personnel. It was only a one-sided shooting spree. This was simply because the Tigers had exploded the claymore by remote and fled the scene letting innocent civilians face repercussions.
Though sections of the media say there was a shootout and that civilians were killed in the crossfire the reality is that all the firing was done by the naval personnel alone. There is an army camp at Uppuvely within a stone’s throw of where the explosion took place. But none of the soldiers participated in the shooting spree. It was during this melee that at least six civilians sustained serious and another 10 minor injuries.
Two civilians were killed. According to eyewitness reports these two were killed at close quarters. Reportedly an injured sailor bleeding from his injuries was seen killing one and then daubing his victim’s body with that of his own blood. The cruelly melodramatic gesture seemed to indicate a ‘blood for blood’ thirst for vengeance.
The shooting melee lasted for about 20 to 25 minutes. It may have gone on further if not for the intervention of a high ranking naval officer who arrived at the scene. It was this officer who brought the situation under control and ensured that the sailors leave the scene with injured sailors and civilians being given priority. This officer apparently arrived with reinforcements from Trincomalee upon hearing of the incident. Affected civilians are grateful to this man but are unaware of his identity.
The civilians injured and killed at Uppuvely were not Tigers. They were people who were either passing through the place or had come to buy things or for other matters. Tragically they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Among the places in the vicinity was the Asian Hardware Stores; opposite to that was Kandeepan Enterprises, a telecommunications agency. On top of this was an NGO office. Adjoining Kandeepan Enterprises was the Jeya Studio.
Most of the affected civilians were either in these buildings or on the road when the shooting started. These buildings too were damaged. Later on another development occurred. Naval personnel presumably from the Gopalapuram camp arrived later and conducted an intensive search of the area for the “elusive” Tigers as if the LTTE was waiting to be captured. Soldiers from Uppuvely also joined them. Of course no Tigers were snared but the operation was not without its rewards.One result of this search operation was the large- scale looting of houses, businesses and shops.
The people had all fled from the scene. Seven civilians, three women and four men were trapped but managed to hide themselves. Again it was the intervention of superior officers who arrived at the scene which ended the ’search cum looting spree.’ After the security personnel left the scene policemen from the Uppuvely station arrived. They took the seven civilians to the station, recorded statements and arranged for safe return to their homes.
The two men killed in the Uppuvely shooting were identified as Sellathurai Selvarajah (25) of Chelvanayagapuram and Wilson Christopher George, a resident of Nithyapuri in Allesgarden, Uppuvely. Selvarajah was a mason by profession and George a construction labourer. Both were at the Asian Hardware Stores to buy materials when they were killed. Trincomalee Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Gamini Kulatunga who conducted the post – mortem stated that deaths were caused by gunshot injuries. Trincomalee Magistrate V. Ramakamalan recorded a verdict of death due to gunshot injuries. A joint funeral for both victims was held at the Alles Garden Cemetery in Uppuvely on January 19 afternoon.
Seven civilians were admitted to hospital for surgery after the Uppuvely incident. Six of these were victims of the Uppuvely shooting spree. They were T. M. Chandrasena (38), A. K. E. Premadasa (36), Kadiramalai Duwaraga (45), Ganesh Saraswathy (46), Sebastian David (35) and Sivagnanam Kavitha (25). Three of the six were women. Two were Sinhala and four Tamils. Apparently sailors on the shooting spree had not discriminated gender or ethnicity – while targeting victims.
The seventh civilian to receive surgery was 20 year old S. Devadharshan. He worked in a boutique at Madathady junction in Trincomalee town. Within minutes after the Uppuvely attack there was much excitement in Trincomalee town with naval personnel rushing to the scene. It was at this time that some ‘persons’ in a vehicle had lobbed a grenade at this boutique seriously injuring the Tamil shop employee. The police station is in close proximity to this shop.
Another ‘mystery’ grenade targeting Tamil civilians had been thrown at a Tamil residence on January 14, Thai Pongal day too. The family comprising Rajkumar (35), his wife Rajeswari (35), daughter Saivithya (10) and son Vithyakaran (04) were at their residence in the Urban Council residence quarters at Anbuvalipuram on the Trinco – Kandy road. The family was watching TV in the evening when a grenade was lobbed inside injuring all four. Again the police came out with a version that a grenade concealed inside the house had exploded. SLMM monitors however discovered the grenade clip outside the house. Senior DIG Mahinda Balasuriya has ordered a full investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile the magisterial inquest into the killing of five Tamil youths at the Dutch Bay beach was concluded on January 18 with Trincomalee Magistrate V. Ramakamalan ruling that all five had died due to gunshot injuries. Earlier Trincomalee JMO Dr. Gamini Kulatunga submitted post-mortem reports . The JMO stated that all five had been shot with bullets piercing through heads, lungs, liver, intestines and other vital organs causing instantaneous death.The shots had been fired from above. Though there were other injuries it was gunshots that had caused death said Dr. Gamini Kulatunga.
Parents and close relatives of the five youths also gave evidence. Deputy Solicitor – General De Livera and three other state counsels from Colombo were in Trincomalee to lead evidence. Attorney at Law A. Jegasothy watched the interests of the families of the dead students.
At the conclusion Magistrate Ramakamalan delivering his order ruled “The court determines that the five Tamil youths killed on January 2 night near the sea beach of the east port town had died due to gunshot injuries instantaneously. The court has come to a conclusion that an offence has been committed in this instance. Therefore the court orders the police to conduct further inquiry into these deaths and to produce the suspects before the court.”
With this official verdict being recorded and President Rajapakse himself giving his word that the guilty ones would be punished let us hope justice would be done. The false propaganda about the five youths being killed through a grenade explosion has now been disproved legally and officially. It is time for all human rights organisations to increase pressure on the regime and urge full inquiry and retributive justice.
President Rajapakse has to be given full support to overcome reactionary elements and pursue justice. Let it not be forgotten that the image of Mahinda the man of human rights and the self – respect of the nation lies in how this issue is handled.
In what seemed to be the only silver lining in a dark Trincomalee scenario a satisfactory decision was arrived at on the question of the continuous hartals called in Trincomalee by Tamil and Sinhala organisations.The Sinhala organisations called off their hartal with effect from January 15 following a meeting with Senior Police DIG in charge of north-east Mahinda Balasuriya on Saturday 14 evening.
Thereafter on Sunday 15 DIG Balasuriya met with Tamil organisation representatives, religious leaders and senior security officials. With Balasuriya assuring Tamil reps that he would take steps to implement decisions taken, the Tamil organisations also announced that they were calling off their hartal. Tamil and Sinhala organisations for different reasons had paralysed Trincomalee with their respective hartals causing immense hardship to the ordinary people.
DIG to be commended
DIG Balasuriya is to be commended for persuading both parties to call off the hartals. It remains to be seen as to how quickly and effectively the assurances given by Balasuriya are implemented. According to President Tamil Resurgence Forum in Trincomalee V.Vigneswaran the assurances provided were:
1. All government troops located near schools, temples, sea beach and Government Technical College should be removed.
2. Police personnel should be deployed in addition to members of armed forces at sentry points in the town and its suburbs. Police should be allowed to check civilians passing through sentry points.
3. Home guards should not be allowed alone on duty. Home guards should accompany police. Home guards should not be allowed alone to enter Tamil areas.
4. Police and government troops should provide in writing on the spot to relatives of a person arrested by them the reason and where the arrested is being taken for inquiry.
5. Soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Navy should not cover their faces with black clothes when they conduct search operations and when they are on patrol.
Vigneswaran further said the DIG had asked them not to launch hartals without informing him if there is a delay in implementing these decisions. He also said the forum had asked the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in Trincomalee to monitor the implementation of the decisions.
Though normalcy began returning to Trincomalee from Monday January 16 incidents like the Uppuvely attack on 17 were soon plunging the region into turmoil and despair. With the SLMM announcing its temporary “withdrawal” the people particularly Tamils were feeling more and more insecure. Even the implementation of the decision arrived at with police DIG Balasuriya was to be monitored by the SLMM.
Adding to Tamil fears was the announcement that more security personnel were to be deployed in Trincomalee to fill the vacuum created by the SLMM’s suspension of duties. This itself was an ironic contradiction because the SLMM was here to monitor the ceasefire between the LTTE and Sri Lankan government troops. For one party to announce that it was filling the gap will be unacceptable because the security forces cannot be regarded as neutral or independent. They are a party to the conflict and cannot be seen as impartially carrying out their duties.
Another development increasing Tamil insecurity is the move to train and arm 600 homeguards from the district. In a blatant racist move all 600 were to be from the Sinhala and Muslim commuities. This is seen as something clearly detrimental to ordinary Tamil civilians. Already some lumpen Sinhala elements aided and abetted by sections of the armed forces have run amok in Trincomalee.
BBC crew threatned
Even a BBC crew filiming the “Sinhala” hartal was not spared with club wielding mobs threatening and demanding films taken of the patriotic hartal. Most of the young men were in shorts and tee-shirts and quite drunk before noon. The terrorising of the BBC crew was done in the presence of police and army personnel who did not interfere at all. If this is the plight of the BBC crew with two British, one Indian and two Sri Lankan nationals then one can imagine the problems to be faced by Tamil civilians in a kingdom of armed homeguards.
It is imperative therefore that the SLMM resumes operational activities as soon as possible. While understanding and sympathising with their predicament it is also of importance to emphasise that the SLMM should be at work as long as the ceasefire is ‘officially’ in force. The SLMM must revise its stance in the larger interests of the ordinary Trincomalee civilians. The SLMM has admonished both the LTTE and the security forces for prevailing tensions and violence in Trincomalee and urged both to regulate themselves. Let us hope then that the monitors resume duties after the full import of their action sinks into all concerned parties.
Even as this article is about to end there comes bad news again from Trincomalee. According to preliminary reports three naval personnel and a policeman were injured when a bomb was thrown at a navy jeep on Thursday January 19 at about 4 pm in the Gandhinagar area of Anbuvallipuram. The incident occurred near the Anuradhapura junction along the Trincomalee-Kandy road about two miles away from Trinco town. In a replay of what went on in Uppuvely on January 17 enraged security personnel had gone on the rampage spraying the surrounding area with gunfire.
Ten civilians were injured. One was Sinhala , two Muslims and seven Tamils. Their names and ages are – Chandrasekara (38), Nawas (42), Mashoor (73), Benedict (38), Vinotharajah (28), Kamalathas (48), Pakiarajah (24), Arulraj (30), Ravichandran (37) and Jeyachandran (34). A shop in the area was also damaged. Many Tamils have been detained for questioning.
SLMM should resume work
With the LTTE stepping up violence through direct and indirect means the north-east is continuously on the boil. Trincomalee with its strategic importance and ethnic mixture will feel this impact acutely. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the SLMM resumes duties and helps to alleviate at least some of the tensions and insecurity felt by the people.
More importantly the LTTE must be made to realise that its deplorable conduct of launching attacks and running away leaving the innocent people at the mercy of infuriated security personnel cannot continue in this fashion.
At the same time the atrocious behaviour of security personnel in the north-east including Trincomalee cannot be condoned and deserves condemnation. Ultimately however it is the democratically elected President of Sri Lanka and his government that have to bear overall responsibility for the cruel victimisation of innocent civilians irrespective of ethnicity and habitat. Sadly Mahinda is yet to realise his responsibilities and take meaningful action.
January 22nd, 2006
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
Joseph Pararajasingham is the latest in a long line of parliamentarians done to death by political violence in Sri Lanka. The 71 year old politician was shot dead within the hallowed precincts of the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Batticaloa at 1.10 am on Christmas Day.
Pararajasingham was attending the Christmas midnight mass conducted by Bishop Kingsley Swampillai, the Catholic prelate for the Trincomalee -Batticaloa Diocese. He was returning to his pew after partaking of Holy Communion at the hands of the Bishop when the assassin seated a few pews behind him walked forward and opened fire. While Joseph was killed his wife Sugunam and seven others were injured in the firing.
The mortal remains of Joseph Pararajasingham were laid to restat the family plot in Batticaloa’s Aalaiyadicholai burial grounds on Thursday, December 29. The body lay in state at the Subharaj theatre owned by the family, for the Batticaloa public to pay their respects. The funeral was held at the family residence on Lady Manning Drive. The body was then taken in procession to the cemetery for the final farewell.
It was indeed heart-wrenching according to those presentto see Sugunam Pararajasingham sobbing unconsolably. The Pararajasing- hamswereto celebrate theirgolden wedding anniversary in 2006. Sugunam still receiving treatment for her injuries had only been told on the day of the funeral that her husband of 49 years was no more. Their daughter and two sons now living abroad along with other relatives were trying to console the grieving widow.
Joseph Pararajasingham was of Jaffna origin, having been born in Manipay on November 26, 1934. Incidentally November 26 is the birthday of Velupillai Pirapaharan and the late Lalith Athulathmudali. The family moved to Batticaloa when Joseph was three years old. Joseph therefore grew up in Batticaloa and lived there as a “Mannin Mainthan of Mattakkalappu” (son of the Batticaloa soil).
He had his education at St. Michael’s College under the benevolent guidance of many American and European missionaries. He was a lanky youth who played soccer and basketball and also was an athlete. A particular favourite of the sports crazy Fr. Weber after whom the Batticaloa stadium is named, Joseph excelled in the high jump event and represented St. Michael’s at the public schools.
Joseph’s wife Sugunam nee David, studying at St. Cecilia’s Convent was also good in sports during her schooldays. According to old friends they were attracted to each other because of this. Sugunam whose family was also of Jaffna origin with roots in Thondamanaru had two first cousins who were also parliamentarians from Batticaloa.
One was Rajan Selvanayagam who was second MP for Batticaloa from 1970 to 1977. He was elected as an independent but crossed over to the SLFP later. The other cousin was Nimalan Soundaranayagam who was elected on the TULF ticketas Batticaloa District MP on October 10, 2000. He was shot dead by the LTTE then commanded in the east by “Col.” Karuna within a few weeks of the poll.
Joseph worked as a technical draughtsman at the Batticaloa Kachcheri from the mid ’50s. He retired under Official Languages Act provisions in the late ’60s and became a freelance journalist. Joseph cut his teeth in journalism on the Suthanthiran owned by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and edited by S.T. Sivanayagam of Batticaloa. Later Sivanayagam fell out with Chelvanayagam andwent on to edit the Dinapathy and Chinthamani published by the Dawasa group of newspapers.
Joseph became the Batticaloa correspondent for both papers. Since he was a government servant then the stories and articles from Batticaloa in Tamil appeared under his wife’s name. The byline was Sugunam Joseph. Since Joseph was proficient in English he also became the Sun and Weekend correspondent. After he retired from government service he wrote under his own name as P. Joseph.
It was as P. Joseph that he was known for most of his life. It was only after he entered full-time politics that he gave emphasis to the Tamil name Pararajasingham in preference to the Biblical Joseph. He is still known to old friends as “Joe.”
Though Joseph was offered a staff reporter post at the editorial department in Colombo he declined it as he wanted to live in Batticaloa, his homeland. It was indeed tragic that he had to leave the comparative safety of Colombo and return to his native soil for Christmas and meet death in the Batticaloa Cathedral.
Joseph also worked as manager for many years of the Rajeswara theatre in Batticaloa owned by the businessman Eeswaran. In later years Joseph went on to buy the Imperial and rename it Subaraj after his son who died in the ’80s. He also became a successful entrepreneur and owned a tourist inn and shopping complex in Batticaloa.
These too were named Subaraj after the departed son. Their only daughter Subodini and one son Subakanth live in Canada now. The other son Subajith is in Britain. All three are now in Sri Lanka for the funeral.
Joseph was an ardent Tamil nationalist from his student days. He joined the Federal Party led by the “Gandhi of Eelam” S.J.V. Chelvanayagam in 1954. Joseph and Sugunam who got married in 1956 participated in a massive political demonstration on the day of their wedding. It was a protest over Sinhala being made the sole official language.
Disciple of S. J. V.
Due to his government job and journalism Joseph kept a low profile as far as active politics was concerned. He played a prominent behind the scenes role in Federal Party politics in Batticaloa. He was a devout disciple of Chelvanayagam and fervently believed in non – violence as a political creed.
Tamil unity was the need of the hour in the ’70s. The FP became an integral component of the Tamil United Front (TUF) in 1972. This became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976. With Chelvanayagam dying on April 26, 1977 the leadership mantle fell on the shoulders of Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam. One post-Chelvanayagamproblem that arose was the sidelining of Chelliah Rajadurai.
Rajadurai, a blue-eyed boy of Chelvanayagam had been the first MP for Batticaloa since 1956. In 1977 the TULF nominated him as the official party candidate and also nominated the fiery Tamil poet Kasi Anandhan as the FP candidate for Batticaloa. Rajadurai had the sun and Kasi Anandhan the house as their respective symbols. With Kasi Anandhan riding a wave of popular support on account of his long period of incarceration under the Sirima Bandaranaike regime, he was expected to de-throne Rajadurai.
It was obvious that the TULF hierarchy was using Kasi Anandhan to oust Rajadurai from centre stage in Batticaloa. The FP old guard in Batticaloa including Joseph rallied firmly around Rajadurai. They took up the position that they had to support the “official” TULF candidate. Rajadurai won but went over to the UNP in 1979. Staunch Tamil nationalists like Joseph did not follow suit but remained TULF loyalists.
It was in the late ’80s that Joseph came into his own. The TULF, TELO and EPRLF came under the TULF umbrella and contested the 1989 elections. Joseph encouraged Amirthalingam to contest in Batticaloa. Amirthalingam was put up by Joseph and Sugunam at their own house during the polls campaign. Joseph now an independent entrepreneur also contested.
Since Amirthalingam was a “Jaffna man” who had parachuted into Batticaloa, a malicious campaign on regional lines was undertaken against him as an outsider. Joseph however remained steadfastly loyal and backed him firmly. By doing so Joseph proved that his position on Rajadurai in 1977 was a principle-based stand and not due to personal bias for Rajadurai or against Amirthalingam.
Initially both Amirthalingam and Pararajasingham lost in 1989 due to the IPKF inspired manipulation of votes. Amir however entered parliament on the national list. After his assassination Mavai Senathirajah was nominated to the post. Meanwhile Batticaloa MP Sam Thambimuthu and his wife Kala were gunned down by the LTTE opposite the Canadian High Commission in Colombo in 1990.
With Amirthalingam being dead it was now the turn of Joseph – next on the list -to become MP. He did so. But before taking up office he checked with the LTTE. Nagarajah a lawyer cum journalist in Batticaloa clarified matters with the eastern Tiger hierarchy and obtained the green light. It was only after that Joseph took his oaths.
Joseph then was president and Nagarajah secretary, Eastern Province Journalists Association. Nagaraja is now in Australia writing under the pseudonym ‘Eluvankaraiyan.’
The Indian army had left Sri Lankan shores in March 1990. War had broken out between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in June 1990. The situation was tense and fraught with violence and danger. As ordinary Tamils the Pararajasinghams too were not immune in this situation.
The well-known Indian journalist Anita Pratap in her Island Of Blood relates an anecdote pertaining to the Pararajasinghams. She writes of how their son Subajith, an undergraduate abroad had come for a vacation and got trapped in the war situation. Joseph had requested and Sugunam pleaded that the son be escorted safely to Colombo by Anita so that he could return to the USA.
Anita had obliged because as the mother of a son herself she had been immensely moved by the plight of Sugunam. It was with great difficulty and considerable danger to herself that Anita succeeded in providing safe passage to the Pararajasingham scion. It was a few months after this that Joseph became an MP.
It was against such a dangerous backdrop that Joseph Pararajasingham became Batticaloa MP. The east was under severe strain. Violence had been directed against innocent civilians in a number of places. Movement of people was severely restricted. The safety of Pararajasingham and his wife who accompanied him almost everywhere was under threat.
Despite these difficulties and the dangers involved Joseph and Sugunam were bold and dedicated enough to stay in Batticaloa and do what they could for their people. I include Sugunam along with or on par with Joe because they were indeed inseparable in their personal and political life. Joe and Sugunam were like the Tamil political couples like Amir – Mangai or Sam – Kala.
It was due to the dedicated service of the Pararajasinghams in Batticaloa that the TULF once again established itself in the district. They were indeed a beacon of hope to the beleaguered Tamils of Batticaloa then. A distinctresult of their commitment and conduct was the immense gratitude of the people. This was reflected clearly in the elections of 1994 where three TULF members were returned to parliament as MPs from the district. Joseph himself won an unprecedented majority and was hailed as the “Mudisooda Manan” (uncrowned king) of Batticaloa. He also became the TULF parliamentary groupleader.
Continued from last week
I had written last week that Joseph quit government service in the late ’60s. That was incorrect. Joseph gave up government service in the early ’70s. This again was due to an interesting reason. As stated earlier, former Batticaloa MP Rajan Selvanayagam was a first cousin of Sugunam. Her mother was the sister of Rajan’s father S. A. Selvanayagam, a very rich Batticaloa businessman. Rajan contested Batticaloa as an independent in 1970.
Joseph however was a staunch follower of S. J. V. Chelvanayagam and therefore a federalist. The FP candidate was Chelliah Rajadurai. Despite the close relationship with Rajan Joseph backed Rajadurai. In spite of strong familial pressures Sugunam too supported her husband against her cousin. Rajan a very controversial and colourful personality in his own right was very angry at this “filial betrayal.” 1970 saw both Rajadurai and Rajan being elected as first and second MPs of Batticaloa.
Soon Rajan aligned with the government of Mrs. Bandaranaike and became politically powerful. One of his earliest acts of political revenge was to transfer Joseph out from Batticaloa Kachcheri to Nuwara Eliya. Instead of going to Nuwara – Eliya Joseph opted to retire from government service. He then tried his hand at many businesses ranging from mineral water manufacture to wholesale paper sales.
Joseph became the manager of Rajeswara theatre. Thereafter he bought the old Imperial movie theatre and re- christened it after his departed son Subaraj. Incidently Joseph was an avid filmgoer and was interested in talking about films. He also started the Subaraj tourist Lodge and the Subaraj shopping complex.
The early ’90s was a very difficult period for Tamils in Batticaloa and Amparai Districts. The LTTE was restricted mainly to the jungles and some areas of the western hinterland known as Paduvankarai or shore of the setting sun. The Tigers did not have a permanent presence in the littoral to the east of the Batticaloa lagoon known as Eluvankarai or shore of the rising sun. Tigers used to infiltrate this area for certain purposes at times.The littoral was better developed and had the bulk of the population. It was also heterogenous with interspersed Tamil and Muslim villages adjacent to each other.
The state unleashed a scorched earth policy on eastern Tamils in order to subdue them. Apart from the army and police the Special Task Force was deployed almost exclusively in Batticaloa – Amparai. Sections of the air force were also used here. Sinhala and Muslim homeguards were used as auxiliary troops. Some Muslim groups were armed by the state and used against Tamils. Tamil – Muslim enmity was encouraged. Disappearances and civilian massacres were very much on the increase. As a result of these measures helpless eastern Tamils were cushed underfoot beneath the military jackboot.
It was during such a bleak and dark period of the eastern Tamils that Joseph Pararajasingham became an MP from the district. The other two Tamil MPs were former Batticaloa Central College Principal, Prince Casinader and ex-TELO military commander Karunakaran alias Jana. The Muslim MPs were Hizbulla of the SLMC and Basheer Segu Dawood.
Basheer is now the chairperson of the Muslim Congress. At that time he was in the EROS backed independent list. Alagu Gunaseelan was elected first on the list but forfeited the seat due to a LTTE inspired boycott of parliament. Basheer next on the list became MP just as Joseph became MP due to Sam Thambimuthu’s death.
Joseph Pararajasingham despite his physical stature was not an aggressive personality. He was a very powerful orator in Tamil on political platforms but soft spoken and mild-mannered in everyday life. While his wife Sugunam is of a fiery temperament at times, Joseph was generally quiet and gentle. He avoided arguments of any type.
Joseph was very much like a gentleman of the old school type who does not like to offend or cause controversy. Becoming Batticaloa MP in the ’90s however thrust him into an entirely new role. Joseph was compelled to take on the powers that be in his role as representative of the Tamil people.
Though the role of a Batticaloa parliamentarian was thrust on Joseph due to the deaths of Amirthalingam and Thambimu- thu the benign Pararajasingham was of the view that it was in his destiny to be so. The stars had already ordained such a role for him he felt. He had always been interested in politics but never had any lofty ambitions of entering parliament. His attitude however changed in the late ’60s while working under former GA Kathirgamanathan.
A “Kandam” reading astrologer from India read the Ola leaves and predicted that Pararajasingham will one day enter parliament. Old friends recall him being excited by it and even telling his boss the GA about it. He was subject to some teasing as “our future MP” by friends for a while due to this. Fate however decreed that he be an MP representing Batticaloa.
The affected Tamil people turned to Joseph, the new MP with their problems and grievances. In the old days the problems were about jobs, transfers, etc. Now it was literally and metaphorically existential issues. Disappearances, arrests, torture. assaults, killings, shelling, bombing, firing, detentions etc. were the problems. Joseph telephoned military STF and police officials; he wrote letters and faxed them to the president, defence secretary, defence service chiefs and ministers; he visited places where state terror had been unleashed and spoke reassuringly to victims and next of kin; he ensured that medical treatment was afforded to injured people.
Being generally an amiable person with good inter – personal skills Joseph maintained cordial relations with the serving police and defence service officials of the district. Sugunam who functioned as his secretary would get the people on the telephone and Joseph would speak. At times he would go personally to meet them. The late General Lucky Algama was very hostile to Joseph initially. After some interaction they became quite friendly to each other.
This does not mean that Joseph was able to remedy the grievances of the people at all times. That could not be so given the fact that a war was going on. But where Joseph succeeded was in providing solace and limited succour to affected people. He provided a ray of hope for the beleaguered ordinary people of Batticaloa. They felt that there was one man at least to whom they could turn to in their troubles. He and Sugunam listened intently. Sugunam would provide refreshments and at times meals to the poor people who had travelled from far. She had a good rapport with the womenfolk.
C. P. Chandraprema in his interesting series of articles in The Island on the state of the UNP writes of the “Manushakama” provided by Vijaya and Chandrika Kumaratunga to aggrieved people during the dark days of the J.R. Jayewardene regime. They lent a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on for the people. It was this empathy and humanity that endeared them to the people at that time. Joseph and Sugunam too provided this same “Manushathanmai” or “manithabimanam” to the afflicted people of Batticaloa who sought their help. I must emphasise here that these attributes of the Pararajasinghams were not necessitated by politics alone. It was inherent in their nature to be so.
Let me digress slightly and refer to my personal links with the couple. I first met Joseph and Sugunam in 1977 in Batticaloa. Though only a cub reporter at the Virakesari I had been transferred to Batticaloa as staff correspondent. As mentioned earlier in these columns the 1977 elections had seen a bitter division within TULF ranks. Rajadurai and Kasi Anandan were contesting each other. The Kasi Anandan lobby accused the Batticaloa correspondent, veteran journalist V. S. Kathirgamathamby of being partial to Rajadurai. They demanded an impartial reporter and so Kathirgamathamby was called to Colombo and I was sent to Batticaloa.
Joseph and Sugunam like Sam and Kala Thambimuthu were supportive of Rajadurai. The Rajadurai camp viewed me suspiciously as being pro – Kasi Anandan. Joseph, Sugunam, Sam and Kala however were exceedingly nice towards me. Joseph in particular was a ‘competitor’ since he worked for Dinapathy then.Yet he was always helpful and hospitable. He would often provide transport to attend election meetings.
It was Joseph who briefed me vividly of the prevailing political situation in the east. Their house then was on Central Road only a few yards away from the Virakesari office. I would often drop in or be asked to drop in for a chat. I called them “Annan” and “Akka” then and continued to do so.
Kept in touch
Later on I returned to Colombo but Joseph remained in touch just like Sam. Both of them were very useful and important news sources from Batticaloa for me while working on The Island and later as Colombo correspondent of The Hindu. I myself put him in touch with a few foreign journalists who were also impressed by his contacts and information. Soon Joseph was very much in demand as a news contact from Batticaloa to many foreign journalists. After coming to Canada I was editing two Tamil weeklies the Senthamarai and Muncharie. Once again Joseph provided a lot of information from Batticaloa.
With two of their children and other close relatives being in Toronto the Parajasinghams often visited Canada. I used to meet them very often here. Initially the TULF was treated as enemies by the LTTE in Canada.The local LTTE media blacked out the TULF and even Kumar Ponnambalam then. The only Canadian Tamil journals giving Joseph and Kumar positive publicity were the ones edited by me. I used to do a radio programme then and interviewed both much against the wishes of those running it.
The situation changed later on. The LTTE was angry for my reporting the facts about Operation Riviresa and conducted a campaign against me. The shop owners selling the paper and advertisers were intimidated. I had to shut my paper. The Tigers however got close to people like Joseph and Kumar. Both were lionised by them in Canada. Despite the close links I had had with Kumar he began avoiding me in order to curry favour with the local Tigers. But Joseph was different.
Pressure by LTTE
In spite of pressure applied by the LTTE in Canada Joseph never cut off links. He would always meet me in Canada as in the past. I continued to visit them at their daughter’s place and Sugunam would always be extra hospitable just as in her own house.
Joseph was also troubled by my estrangement with the LTTE. He would often advise me that an antagonistic relationship was not helpful to either. Joseph even tried to mend fences and gave up his efforts only because I asked him to.
Our relationship became slightly strained after the Anandasangaree episode. I was critical of the TNA for surrendering their independence to the LTTE and attempting to oust Sangaree according to their diktat. Joseph was initially soft on the issue and tried to make Sangaree withdraw on his own. The LTTE however increased pressure on him . Joseph then was compelled to take a very strident role in ousting Sangaree.
I was extremely critical. Joseph explained that he had no choice in the matter as Tamilselvan demanded it. Though we lost contact thereafter Joseph would always inquire after me from mutual friends or acquaintances. I have no doubt that he would have spoken to me amiably if I had called but then I did not. Who knew then that his life was going to be snuffed out so soon?
Not a follower of LTTE
One thing I learnt from his own lips was that Joseph was no blind follower of the LTTE. He was unhappy about many of the acts of omission and commission by the LTTE. I am sure that he would have made his views known gently and unobtrusively to the Tigers. But he was a genuine Tamil nationalist at heart. Joseph was of the firm view that despite the flaws the Tamil people had to back the LTTE unitedly.
“Nammadai aatkaluku ithu vilanguthillai” ( Our people don’t understand this) he would often say. I realised that this was what drove him in his politics and made him take up certain stances. I of course do not subscribe to the view that one has to submit one’s independence and reason to the LTTE in the name of Tamil nationalism. Whether one accepts or rejects this view it was a genuine conviction for Joseph. He was not an opportunist. One must respect those views. He had every right to his political opinion and course of action.
What is tragic however is that none of the principal Tamil militant groups had ever respected this right. The tendency of killing those with different political views is very much prevalent in the LTTE. But other groups were not very different either.
The current tragedy undergone by eastern Tamils is the targeting of civilians by both the mainstream LTTE and its renegade faction led by “Col” Karuna. Both sides kill people on the basis that those who are not with us are against us. Sadly all those being killed are eastern Tamils regardless of their political opinion. Joseph is one more victim in this vicious cycle. In spite of the red herring of “Sennan Padai” or Sennan force the finger of suspicion clearly points to those of the Karuna faction as being responsible.
To be continued next week
The 1990-94 period was a very challenging phase in the life of Joseph Pararajasingham. The difficult period was like baptism of fire for the new parliamentarian. Yet he coped with the challenge creditably. He was aided greatly in his duties by his wife Sugunam.
Apart from attending to the individual problems faced by the ordinary Batticaloa people at the hands of the police, STF and security forces, Pararajasingham through Neelan Tiruchelvam played a quiet role in keeping various human rights organisations and diplomatic missions informed of the security and human rights situation in Batticaloa. This helped increase pressure on the Ranasinghe Premadasa regime.
This led to the Soza Commission of Inquiry being appointed to go into various eastern massacres like the ones at Sathurikondan and Vantharumoolai. Joseph played a key role in arranging people to testify. It was the Soza Commission which revealed for the first time the real identity of the notorious master butcher of those atrocities “Capt. Munas.” This military intelligence official who posed off as a Muslim was greatly responsible for aggravating enmity between Tamils and Muslims in Batticaloa. Though Tamils hated this man who they thought was a Muslim, it became known that he was really a Sinhala man named Richard Dias.
There were also the massacres at Maiyalanthanai and Kokkadicholai in 1992. Again Premadasa appointed commissions. Later legal action was initiated. Joseph again played an important role in helping prepare testimonies and witnesses. It was Joseph who persuaded a reluctant Kumar Ponnambalam to come to the east and look after the interests of affected families in these proceedings.
Later during the Kumaratunga regime there were some incidents too where Joseph was once again a voice of the people. One prominent instance was the case of Koneswari Murugupillai. This woman living at the Central Camp colony was gang raped by some cops who later killed her in a horrible manner, by exploding a grenade in her vagina. With Joseph highlighting this incident enraged policemen took the unprecedented step of issuing summons to the Parliamentarian.
It was the cumulative result of the selfless work done by Joseph and Sugunam in the early ’90s that led to Pararajasingham’s remarkable victory in 1994. The TULF given up as ‘defunct’ raised itself up again with five MPs. Batticaloa District had three, namely Pararajasingham, Selvarajah and Thurairajasingham. Joseph himself won handsomely with a tremendous tally of preferential votes.
Realising that he was now the mainspring of the TULF in terms of popular support, Pararajasingham demanded and obtained the TULF parliamentary group leader position. It should have been rightfully Trincomalee district MP Arunasalam Thangathurai’s as he was more senior. Later Joseph rose in TULF ranks to be senior vice -president, making him next in line for leadership.
After 1994 Joseph began getting closer and closer to the LTTE. The very same man who got a journalist colleague to check with the LTTE before taking up an MP position in 1990 was now personally close to the eastern Tiger hierarchy. Apparently his relationship with Karuna was always lukewarm but Joseph and Karikalan, the political commissar got on very well. The LTTE began cultivating him.
Soon Joseph was travelling widely abroad meeting with foreign politicians and officials and human rights activists. He briefed them vividly of the Tamil plight in Sri Lanka with special emphasis on the eastern situation. He participated in many conferences too including the controversial meet organised by former Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes in New Delhi.
With relations improving between Joseph and the LTTE the overseas branches of the Tigers also began warming up to him. Like Kumar Ponnambalam the benign Batticaloa MP too was a regular speaker at LTTE and pro-LTTE meetings abroad. Also the various LTTE media organs were in regular contact with him to get his views on a number of matters regarding the north-east.
It is interesting to note that while Joseph was edging closer to the LTTE many of his TULF colleagues like Thangathurai, Sarojini Yogeswaran, Pon. Sivapalan, Pon. Mathimugarajah, Neelan Tiruchelvam etc. were being bumped off mercilessly by the Tigers. Though he kept up a cheerful exterior there was no doubt that he was worried. I remember once Sugunam Akka lamenting to me in his absence Endraikku irundhaalum ivarukku ivangalaal thaan saavu. Naan vayittril neruppai kattikonduthan irukkiren (one day or the other his death will be through them. I go about with fear in my guts). She calmed up when Joseph appeared.
I also recall an incident when the LTTE whisked Joseph and Sugunam away at Vantharumoolai for an impromptu meeting with Karikalan at Thihilaveddai. This led to a lot of wild rumours in Batticaloa. Thereafter they went to Kallar and returned late. Hearing that Joseph had been taken by the LTTE I phoned Batticaloa to find he was safe and sound. He had a request. “please inform my children that nothing happened to me. They may hear of this rumour and get worried.” I obliged him of course. This incident helps illustrate the insecurity of his position vis a vis the LTTE then.
This increased identification with the LTTE may have helped reduce his fears and insecurity in relation with the Tigers. It may also have increased his popularity with pro-Tiger expatriates and media. But it had its flip side too. His persistent refusal to say anything negative about the LTTE publicly and his glossing over the human rights violations of the Tigers reduced his credibility as an independent politician and human rights champion.
In the mid ’90s for example the Canadian Refugee Lawyers Association invited him for a public lecture on the Sri Lankan human rights situation. He made a good presentation with a serious flaw. The violations of the LTTE were not mentioned by him. The question time demonstrated that many Canadian lawyers were unhappy about this glaring omission. Though he visited Canada often after that meeting Joseph was never asked to lecture by that association again.
Close to LTTE
Yet there is another incident I am aware of which throws light on another of the man’s facets. A youth from Batticaloa had made a refugee claim here. One of the main reasons for his fleeing Sri Lanka was persecution at the hands of the LTTE. His lawyer in Canada upon hearing that the Batticaloa MP was in Toronto thought of seeking a letter supporting the claim from Joseph. The client knowing about Joseph’s ‘closeness’ to the LTTE was doubtful whether Pararajasingham would oblige. When Joseph was approached he promptly gave an endorsement letter with a remark ‘keep it confidential please.’ The lawyer and client were pleasantly surprised.
This increasing identification with the LTTE reached its zenith when the TULF as part of the TNA became the virtual political front of the Tigers. This helped them win seats in parliament but eroded their credibility in the eyes of the international community. They were seen as terrorist accomplices by some foreign governments.
One such example was Canada. There was a time when Pararajasingham met with the foreign ministers of Canada in Ottawa on a one-to-one basis. Yet the same man was denied a visa to Canada like many other TNA parliamentarians last year due to their perceived LTTE connections.
Whatever Joseph’s support level among Tamil expatriates his support base in Batticaloa began diminishing too. If the 1994 result was the high watermark in Joseph’s political life subsequent elections saw his popularity declining. In 2000 October, the TULF got only two seats in Batticaloa. It was not Joseph but Nimalan Soundaranayagam, his wife’s cousin who got more preferential votes. Joseph came second with a narrow lead over Selvarajah.
In 2001 December, the TULF contested as part of the TNA. Three Tamils were elected. The first was Thangavadivel the TELO candidate. The second was Krishnapillai of Tamil Congress. Joseph came a poor third. Interestingly, Joseph had ‘lost’ to Selvarajah at first count. A disappointed Joseph left the Kachcheri with his supporters. It was the recount which saw him elected with a razor thin majority.
In 2004 the elections were held a month after the Karuna rebellion. The TNA swept the polls in Batticaloa in what was a rigged election. This was so in the north too. Joseph however had an unpleasant surprise. He had lost. In fact he had only a few hundred more votes than the murdered Rajan Sathiyamoorthy. Comparative novices like Kanagasabai, Thangeswari and Jeyanandamoorthy had been elected.
Among the prominent politicians of Batticaloa it was Joseph alone who spoke out against Karuna after the split. He condemned the regionalism preached by Karuna and supported Praba in the name of undivided Tamil nationalism. It was a very bold stance but Joseph was only being true to himself as he had always stood for those policies as a disciple of S.J.V. Chelvanayagam. Joseph was close to Karikalan and not Karuna. The former had gone over to Kilinochchi after the split. This too may have influenced Joseph’s position but his genuine Tamil nationalism cannot be disputed.
What is sad however is the silence he maintained over the atrocities committed by the mainstream LTTE to his TNA colleagues after the Karuna split. Rajan Sathiyamoorthy was killed and even his buried body was dug out and half-burnt by the Tigers. Kingsley Rajanayagam who won the election was terrorised into forfeiting his parliamentary seat. Kingsley was later killed by the LTTE. Joseph’s silence in these matters could be understood but not condoned.
Though Joseph lost the parliamentary hustings after 14 years of being Batticaloa MP, he re-entered parliament as a national list MP. Why did the man described once as the ‘uncrowned king of Batticaloa’ lose miserably? Karuna’s men rigging the poll is one answer but there is no denying that his voter base had been steadily decreasing over the past years. Two reasons could be adduced.
One was his total subservience to the LTTE. The TULF was preferred by the people as ‘moderate independents’ and not to become slaves to the LTTE. Joseph in the east and Senathirajah in the north were seen as the two who began selling out the party to the Tigers. The second was due to his image being tarnished through charges of corruption and nepotism. Some of these charges were levelled against him even after his death by his detractors.
All these however do not take way the fact that the man did not deserve to be murdered in this fashion. It does seem obvious that Joseph could not have been murdered without the connivance of sections of the security forces and their minions. Joseph was a marked man by Karuna after the split. Like Sivaram he opposed the regional tide and stood by Pirapaharan. Realising he was a target Joseph avoided coming to Batticaloa unnecessarily.
Yet he did come to Batticaloa weeks before Christmas and stayed there. He had not reached there on Christmas eve. Family members also say that there was no telephone call as alleged in some quarters and that the family always attended midnight mass for Christmas. They had gone to church at about 10. 30 p.m. though the service was to begin at 11. 30 p.m.. Finding the church virtually deserted they had turned back but returned in a few minutes after the arrival of Sugunam’s brother, Robin’s family.
The assassins had first arrived at the St. Anthony’s Church in close proximity to the St. Mary’s Cathedral. They had discarded their military fatigues inside the vestry and moved out quietly in civilian dress. They were tall and darkish. According to church-goers they were not seen before. Moving into the cathedral compound through a side gate they had entered through one of the side entrances to the cathedral at the front. This was when the Pararajasinghams with some others were kneeling at the altar for bread and wine. The choir had full view of the assassins but did not suspect anything.
Even as Joseph got up the assassins moved closer to the altar and the Bishop. Sugunam got up a few seconds later. Joseph who had started returning to his pew paused and turned halfway to allow Sugunam to precede him. It was at this point that the assassins started firing. The congregation, choir and clergy including Bishop Swampillai dived to the floor in panic. Joseph fell down. It is believed he was killed instantly.
Sugunam and seven others were injured in the firing. The assassins then walked down the aisle firing away in the air. According to some reports they got into a waiting three- wheeler which headed out to the security camp located at an old toothpowder factory premises. The Patpodi camp as it is known is the operational safe house of the Karuna faction in Batticaloa town.
Pararajasingham had five police bodyguards with him at the time of the incident. They were standing outside the church with one of them popping in every five minutes to check whether the MP was safe. None of the bodyguards fired back at the assassins. Their explanation was that it may have hit the people. But then they did not fire even after the assassins went outside the church. Furthermore there were no attempts by the guards after the firing to take Pararajasingham to the hospital. Finally Joseph was taken by a nephew in his car and Sugunam by a niece in her car to the hospital. Fellow parishioners helped carry them to the vehicles.
Apart from the official bodyguards the surrounding area usually teems with security personnel. Additional men were deployed for Christmas. When people came to church the area was bristling with men. But when they returned none was seen. In fact security people reappeared only after an hour or two. The intriguing conduct of the bodyguards as well as the mysterious disappearance of the security personnel along with the safe and easy passage by the assassins indicate clearly that the killing was an officially sanctioned unofficial execution.
End of an era
Subsequent events confirmed this further. Leaflets claiming credit in the name of a hitherto unknown ‘Sennan Force’ were widely distributed in Batticaloa. A stack of leaflets were thrown at the front door of the Pararajasingham’s residence too. It became well known that the security forces were distributing the leaflets. A second wave of leaflets were distributed a few days later. An ominous warning in the leaflet was the threatening demand that all eastern TNA parliamentarians should resign or face the consequences. In another significant pointer many of the anti-Tiger media abroad commenced a vilification campaign against Joseph. This was in typical Tiger style but only the roles were reversed.
Thus ended the life of Joseph Pararajasingham. Given the circumstances of his assassination it is the state which stands in the dock. The Karuna faction was only an instrument of death. The brutal manner of Joseph being killed in the church after partaking of communion within full view of the congregation in the presence of the Bishop suggests the depths of depravity.
Whatever his politics, Joseph Pararajasingham did not deserve to die or be killed in this manner. His death will be a great loss to the people of Batticaloa. It fills me personally with great sadness. My condolences to Sugunam Akka and the children and other relatives of Joseph Annan.
May his soul rest in peace!
January 1st, 2006
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Speculation is rife in Colombo political and diplomatic circles about a possible secret deal, prior to the Presidential poll of Nov 18th , between Mahinda Rajapakse and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to have the new President elected through an enforced boycott in the Tamil majority regions of the North-East!
According to preliminary reports there is much speculation that an arrangement was ensured after a series of meetings held between LTTE political commissar Suppia Paramu Thamilselvan and a special representative of Mahinda Rajapakse.
The special envoy is believed to be none other than Tiran Alles the chief of the Katunayake International Airport in his capacity as chairman of the Airport and Aviation services Ltd.
Tiran Alles who was operations manager earlier became chairman after the resignation of Eastern Province Muslim Congress politician Hizbullah.
According to informed sources Tiran Alles is a blue-eyed boy of Aviation and Ports Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was campaign manager of Mahinda Rajapakse for the Presidential election.
He was reportedly commissioned by Samaraweera with the approval of Rajapakse to undertake a series of visits to Kilinochchi in the North and meet with the LTTE hierarchy particularly the political commissar Thamilselvan
It is said that Alles had established and cultivated contacts with LTTE leaders like Thamilselvan, Pulidevan, Nadesan, Para, Balakumaran and others during their several trips to and from Asian and European destinations through Katunayake for peace talks.
According to sources Tiran Alles was mandated with the task of ensuring a boycott by the Tamil people of the Presidential polls.
It was realised that given the pacts signed by Rajapakse with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Jathika Hela Urumaya and policies outlined in his election manifesto an open and straight forward deal with the LTTE was out of the question.
With the LTTE articulating a strong anti-Mahinda viewpoint for Tamil consumption any possible deal with him would have been detrimental to tiger interests.
Likewise the Rajapakse campaign too had a stridently anti-tiger line and charged Ranil Wickremasinghe of having entered into an “Ali – Koti “(Elephant-Tiger) deal to get the UNP candidate elected. INformation leaking out of a Mahinda-Tiger deal before elections would have been counterproductive.
The hush-hush talks therefore focussed on an indirect support being extended instead of open or direct support.
Since it was a foregone conclusion that the bulk of Tamil voters would be voting for Wickremasinghe in a free and fair poll the idea was to ensure a Tamil boycott of the election. This would have prevented Tamil votes being cast for Wickremasinghe. This in turn would help Rajapakse who was expected to get the majority of Sinhala votes.
It is believed that the LTTE formally launched an attack on Wickremasinghe to herald a boycott after an arrangement was made with Alles. The political offensive against Wickremasinghe was flagged off by senior leader KV Balakumaran in an interview to “Voice of Tigers” (Puligalin Kural) Radio on Nov 4th. Thereafter the boycott campaign gathered steam.
This in turn led to a national and international backlash against the LTTE. It was pointed out that a Tamil boycott would onlt help defeat the pro – peace, pro – devolution Wickremasinghe and ensure the victory of Rajapakse the hardliner on the ethnic question.
Much international pressure was exerted on the LTTE. Periyasamy Chandrasekeran of the Up Country Peoples Front went as a special emissary of Wickremasinghe to plead Ranil’s case with Thamilselvan. Wickremasinghe wanted the LTTE to refrain from enforcing a boycott and allowing the Tamil people freedom of choice to vote.
Thamilselvan then informed the UNP and international circles that the LTTE will not thrust a boycott down Tamil throats and the people would be free to vote for any candidate.
This was carried in the media of Nov 16th and the stock market picked up from the doldrums. Yet the LTTE went back on its assurance and stabbed Wickremasinghe in the back by enforcing a harsh boycott through violence and intimidation.
This resulted in a drop of Tamil votes particularly in Jaffna where only 1.5 % of Tamils voted. The shortfall of expected Tamil votes due to the tiger enforced boycott led to Wickremasinghe’s defeat by 186,000 votes. The UNP condemns the tiger act as a betrayal.
While analysts and political observers were trying to fathom the reasons behind the LTTE’s seemingly inexplicable conduct of defeating the pro-Federalism Ranil and getting the anti – Federalism Mahinda winning the Colombo grapevine began humming with the tale of a Mahinda-Puli deal
It is believed that Tiran Alles undertook an urgent mission to Kilinochchi after reports of a boycott relaxation and met with Thamilselvan. Alles had been able to “persuade” Thamilselvan into revising tiger stance again and enforcing the boycott.
Alles returned triumphantly to Colombo after ensuring an enforced Tamil boycott that shattered Ranil’s chances of victory.
Darisha Bastians writing in the “Daily Mirror” of Nov 22nd said that Rajapakse had hugged Alles openly and thanked him for making the victory possible. This is what Darisha wrote:
“Small wonder then that when Friday dawned and a Rajapakse victory was confirmed, the new president-elect violently hugged Aviation Authority Chairman Tiran Alles as he walked into Temple Trees and thanked him for making it all possible. Alles, whose support had been solicited by Minister Mangala Samaraweera had been the chief negotiator with the LTTE on the UPFA’s behalf. Alles, following a series of dialogues with the Kilinochchi leadership, finally ensured that the rebels called a boycott of last Thursday’s poll, effectively snatching certain victory from Wickremesinghe and handing it over to Rajapakse on a silver platter. ”
A website run by the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization also referred to a representative of Mahinda Rajapakse being present in Kilinochchi to pressurise the LTTE into enforcing a boycott. The website stated that Rajapakses special representative was Tiran Alles.
It is also noteworthy that a Sinhala newspaper in Colombo had carried a story some weeks ago about a possible deal in the making between the LTTE and a special emissary of Rajapakse.
Chandrasekeram a well – known LTTE sympathiser has been pissed off by the tiger betrayal and in a statement called upon the LTTE into reviewing its strategies.
Tiran Alles is the son of former DS Senanayake College principal Ralph I.T. Alles. The well – known educationist was not re-instated as Principal after he returned from a foreign trip. This was apparently done on a directive of Ranil Wickremasinghe who was Education minister then. Despite pressure on behalf of Alles by Ranasinghe Premadasa and Sirisena Cooray Wickremasinghe remained form and refused to relent. This action by Wickremasinghe many years ago has not endeared him to the Alles family.
Political and diplomatic circles in Colombo were alerted to the Alles connection in the LTTE boycott after reports of the warm embrace of Tiran by Mahinda and the profuse thanks extended to him began to circulate.
Strenuous attempts are being made by Diplomatic and media circles to find out more details about the suspected LTTE-Mahinda deal. What the terms are is not known yet .
A western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said that he suspected a financial arrangement was more likely as a political arrangement was virtually impossible under pevailing circumstances where both sides maintain mutual hostility openly. He also said that it was unknown at present as to whether LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirapakaran was aware of the deal or whether the high flying Thamilselvan had gone behind his leaders back.
A colombo newspaper editor said that efforts were being made to contact all parties concerned and find out the truth. “If our investigative sleuths uncover concrete evidence about a Mahinda-Tiger deal and its terms then the shit will hit the fan” he said.
“Both the Sinhala and Tamil people must know the truth behind this. Did the new President whose election campaign accused Ranil of having a deal with the LTTE enter into a secret deal himself with the tigers? Did the LTTE which provided various reasons for the boycott enter into a deal with Mahinda to ensure his victory through an enforced boycott? The people must know the truth” the editor
November 20th, 2005