Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 53

The Kilaly Massacre

by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002

General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and nine other Sri Lankan security service personnel being killed in Araly Point Kayts on August 8, 1992, prematurely halting an impending onslaught on Jaffna peninsula, burst opened the floodgates of violent activities, both by the Government and by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

And the year 1992 became a tragic year of military disasters for the Sri Lankan armed forces as they paid a heavy price for their miscalculations and for rivalry within the ranks. Furthermore, they were thinly spread to hold on to the conquered areas in the North and Eastern provinces, where innumerable incidents of raids and ambushes by the LTTE took place.

The several kilometers of military fences and defense sentry posts that had been built by the army to reinforce the blockade of Jaffna peninsula were constantly subjected to commando raids by the Tigers, with heavy causalities on both sides.

The Sri Lankan army built up a massive security cordon to protect its installations at Kaddaikadu near Vettilakerni on the eastern coast of Vadamaradchy. As the area and its surroundings were full of sand dunes, the army bulldozed the sand into a two-meter high wall for the entire 12 kilometers from the coast to Elephant Pass army camp.

In front of the bund, a short distance apart, were two large barbed wire fences, while a minefield in front of the fences completed the security set-up of the camp.

Dotted within the bund were dozens of small sentry points and watch towers with four to six men on constant look out for enemy intruders.

On October 1, 1992, the Tigers launched a surprise attack on Kaddaikadu camp. The operation got underway in the midnight with the LTTE fighters sliding and slipping across the white sand under the cover of the darkness, holding their lethal weapons steadily. They, especially the LTTE women fighters, managed to pass over the minefield without setting off a single explosion. The LTTE cadres penetrated deeper into the camp by cutting their way through the barbed wired barricades and passed sentry points without disturbing them. They then scaled the bund and descended into the camp compound and opened fire on the inmates.

The Sri Lankan army was shocked and utterly confused. The troops began to run all over and fled in panic with the Tigers in hot pursuit. The troops ran for their lives to the main camp at Vettilaikerni and the Kaddaikadu camp was completely overrun by the LTTE fighters.

The LTTE cleared the camp and appropriated a huge cache of arms and ammunition, before vanishing before daylight without exposing themselves to aerial bombardment.

According to LTTE reports, they took away with them US$50 million worth of arms and ammunition, including over 200 modern rifles, light machine guns, grenades and mortar shells. According to a government report, the LTTE killed one officer and 11 soldiers in the Vettilaikerni attack.

Palliyagodella, Ahamadpura and Agbopura are villages on the outskirts of Polonnaruwa. The Government had deployed troops to provide security for the Sinhala and Muslim inhabitants of these villages. But on October 5, 1992, the LTTE in large numbers attacked all three villages simultaneously. As many as 146 innocent civilians were shot and hacked to death, and 83 civilians were injured as well as 20 soldiers from the Sri Lankan army were also killed.

On November 23, 1992, to mark National Heroes Day Week, the LTTE launched a massive assault on the security perimeters of the Palaly military complex base, the largest military installation in the Jaffna peninsula, housing over 5,000 combined security personnel of the army, navy and air force.

The security structure of Palaly base was far more extensive than that of Kaddaikadu camp, with a complicated network of barbed wire fences, minefields, underground trenches, high walls of sand barricades, watch towers, and hundreds of sentry points occupying the entire peripheral security ring, and it was said that the Palaly security system was impenetrable.

But an LTTE commando unit launched a swift and daring raid on the eastern sector of the defense line – a four kilometer section extending from Ottakapulam near Atchuveli to the coast of Thondamanaru.

Due to the LTTE blitzkrieg, within an hour, more than 150 sentry points were overrun and destroyed, the entire defense perimeter of the eastern front collapsed due to the ferocity of the lightening LTTE attack. The frontline Sri Lankan troops suffered heavy causalities and withdrew in total confusion.

The LTTE, after capturing a large quantity of sophisticated weapons, made a swift withdrawal before dawn, before the Sri Lankan army could mobilize its forces. In this attack, according to government reports, 46 soldiers were killed and five reported missing. The LTTE suffered heavy causalities, losing nearly 60 cadres.

On the same day, the LTTE attempted to overrun the army defenses at Cheddikulam, but the Sri Lankan troops fought back effectively and killed nearly 15 LTTE cadres. Meanwhile, on November 15, 1992, the Sri Lankan Navy Chief Admiral Clancy Fernando was killed in Colombo, at Galle by a suicide bomber, Subaramanium Loja Mohan alias Mohan, riding an explosive-laden motorcycle. Also killed were flag lieutenant Sandun Gunasekera and the driver of Fernando’s vehicle.

Admiral Fernando was responsible for several naval initiatives to dent the LTTE’s domination of the Kilali lagoon, separating the peninsula from the mainland, and he was a prime target of the LTTE. His death not only demoralized the Navy but also impeded plans to develop a brown-water navy to fight the LTTE Sea Tigers.

Following the assassination of the Navy Chief, the police and the army, supported by the intelligence agencies, began to conduct operations to identify LTTE operatives in the city. Mohan was a member of a nine-member LTTE hit team operating in Colombo under the directive of Kanagaratnam Sivakumaran, alias Kannan. When a police team moved in on Kannan on November 24, 1992, he committed suicide by exploding a grenade. Kannan had taken precautions to evade suspicion by establishing residence in a plush area in the city. The security forces arrested another team member who provided information that revealed future LTTE targets in the city.

After the killing of Admiral Fernando, the violent ethnic war escalated. Speaking in parliament on November 19, 1992, Lakshman Jayakody a senior leader of the SLFP, gave the human cost of the war since July 1983 as follows: 30,000 civilians of all communities dead, inclusive of militants. 8,000 made limbless, 600,000 made refugees. A further 200,000 displaced persons living with friends and relatives, 170,000 in India and another 200,000 outside South Asia. According to Jayakody, the defense expenditure stood at an annual $500 million. Armed services causalities, according to the senior SLFP member of parliament: 5,500 service and police personnel killed since July 1983, desertions up to 1992 November were 7,700, but he pointed out that desertion from the armed services since August 1992 until November 1972 were 1,300.

On the night of January 2, 1993, more than 50 people were killed and 15 injured in the latest in a series of attacks by Sri Lankan naval gunboats on civilians. Passengers traveling in a flotilla of 16 boats across the Kilaly lagoon were fired on in the glare of a spotlight. The attack lasted over half an hour. A few weeks earlier the navy had killed 15 people who were crossing the lagoon on a ferry. The members of the Ferry Transport Association refused to work as a result of these killings, consequently stranding over 800 passengers without food or shelter.

Subsequently, out of sympathy, the ferrymen decided to take their boats out, and ended up being killed in the massacre on January 2, in which there was overwhelming evidence of navy personnel atrocities. Many of the bodies that floated back to shore, were badly mutilated.

The Virakesari – a Tamil daily, dated January 6 and The Island of January 7 reported that two Tamil MPs, Navaratnam and Premachandran, had protested about the incident to the President and had called on him to institute an independent inquiry. Unfortunately, there was no favorable response forthcoming from the President.

But the government responded in an indirect form by news reports appearing in the front pages of the Daily News of January 6 and January 7, although the government controlled paper had not earlier reported about the massacre. The first report was filed by Lankapuwath, the Government News Agency, headlined “Main highway to Jaffna open since July 1991”, quoted a spokesman, “The security forces had done their duty by the public of Jaffna by clearing and reopening the main A-9 highway and safe passage was ensured to the public by the security forces. However, the public were being prevented from using the highway by the LTTE who were more interested in extorting money by forcing the public to use their transport in no-go- zones and also by preventing the transport of ample stocks of food and other essential items …”

The second report was about the broadcast the previous day. According to the second report, that Jaffna lagoon had been declared a prohibited zone. It read, “The Jaffna lagoon has been declared a prohibited zone under section 5 (Chapter 40) of the Public Security Ordinance, under which no person will be permitted to ply or use any vessel other than a vessel belonging to the Sri Lanka Navy or any vessel authorized in that behalf by the competent authority. Any person who contravenes the provisions of this regulation will be guilty of an offence. These regulations will be cited as the Emergency Establishment of a Prohibited Zone – Regulations No. 1 of 1992. A certificate under the hand of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy [Competent authority appointed by the President], to the effect that any area specified in such certificate is within the prohibited zone shall be admissible in evidence and shall be prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein …”

The Island newspaper of January 8 also reported on a cabinet conference of the previous day, “The military is prepared to consider opening the Jaffna lagoon which has been declared a ‘prohibited zone’ for civilian traffic to and from the Jaffna peninsula during daylight under strict naval surveillance, military spokesman Brigadier Anil Angamana announced yesterday.”

In January 1993 all local-level government functions were decentralized to the district level under the leadership of the Divisional Secretary. Other rounds of provincial elections took place later on, increasing overall demand for more effective devolution.

Subsequently the seven Provincial Councils in the country were dissolved on March 16 for fresh election. Nominations were called for all these seven, but not for the Northeast provincial council Chandrika Kumaratunge, who was in self-exile in London, returned to Sri Lanka in 1992 to inject new life into her family’s moribund SLFP. Her rise was meteoric and she contested in the Western Provincial Council. In 1988, her husband Vijaya had been gunned down – four days before their 10th wedding anniversary.

Next: Chapter 54

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