Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Expulsion of Jaffna Muslims; part 2 – The Context

by Sachi Sri Kantha

On 4th June 1937, at the gathering of American Writers’ Congress, a veteran (at the age of 37) war reporter delivered a lecture in New York. Here I reproduce some of his thoughts because, decades ahead he had anticipated the musings of analysts like D.B.S.Jeyaraj.

“When men fight for the freedom of their country against a foreign invasion, and when these men are your friends – some new friends and some long standing – and you know how they were attacked and how they fought, at first almost unarmed, you learn, watching them live and fight and die, that there are worse things than war. Cowardice is worse, treachery is worse, and simple selfishness is worse.”

This war reporter was none other than Ernest Hemingway. He had seen real battlefields and he had been seriously wounded. And unlike some analysts, he knew by first hand experience there are quite a few things worse than war – and he listed cowardice, treachery and simple selfishness among these. Hemingway earned his fame for both non-fiction writing and fiction writing. He could clearly distinguish between non-fiction and fiction. But, the tragedy with many reporters is that they indulge in fiction writing and pass it off as non-fiction analysis.

In this part, I provide the contrast between the descriptions provided by Jeyaraj for the expulsion of Jaffna Muslims [Sunday Leader, October 30, 2005], and another international source, which also has been critical of the LTTE, as per the context of that event, even if I do not agree completely with that description, particularly with regard to numbers, as explained in Part 1. The complete exclusion of specific numbers by Jeyaraj in his descriptions when it comes to Tamil victims of Sri Lankan state violence and Muslim homeguard violence, while at the same time his inclusion of bloated numbers when it comes to Muslim victims in Jaffna in 1990, clearly reveals the partiality of Jeyaraj for indulging in an LTTE smear campaign.

How Jeyaraj (1) soft pedals the decisions made by one of the then ruling top dogs of the Government of Sri Lanka (Ranjan Wijeratne), and (2) attempts to create mischief and confusion between the Northern Tamils and Eastern Tamils, by provincial name calling, should be exposed. Also, his penchant for provoking distrust between Northerners and Easterners among Eelam Tamils needs to be scrutinized.

Yes, creating mischief and confusion is a strategy in which slick operators and selfish agents excel. The ‘Savadaal Vaithi’ character played by C.K.Nagesh in the movie Thillana Mohanambal, also portrayed this mischief-confusion strategy of slick operators splendidly. For what? Not for any altruistic purposes to serve the community at large.

Jeyaraj’s version of events during the second half of 1990 and 1991

This is how Jeyaraj has provided the context for the Muslim expulsion from Jaffna at the end of October 1990.

“…Tamil - Muslim hostilities were increasing in the east. The desertion of some Muslim cadres in the LTTE and a few of them going over to the enemy incensed the eastern LTTE under Karuna (military) and Karikalan (political). Many other Muslim cadres in the LTTE were executed by the leadership. An anti - Muslim spirit pervaded the LTTE. On the other hand the state also exploited and aggravated these feelings. Many Muslim anti - social elements were inducted as homeguards. These sections collaborated with the security forces in promoting anti - Tamil violence. In some cases Muslim homeguards were responsible for Tamil civilian massacres. Some Tamil hamlets and villages were destroyed by Muslim homeguard led mobs. They were given cover support by sections of the security forces.

The LTTE in turn responded with equally gruesome massacres of Muslim civilians. The Sammanthurai and Kattankudi attacks on mosques and massacre of civilians at the Saddam Hussein model village of Eravur being notorious examples. Though Tamil - Muslim relations were at a low point in the east the situation was quite different in the north. Both communities continued to co - exist there peacefully. One reason being that Muslims were a small minority posing no threat to the Tamil majority.

This situation of Muslims living peacefully in the north while tensions prevailed in the east was unacceptable to the eastern Tigers. A delegation led by Karikalan came to the north to persuade Pirapaharan that "stern" action should be taken against Muslims. Karikalan apparently wanted a lesson to be taught to the Muslims….”

Then, Jeyaraj offered another cockeyed reason for the expulsion, which exposes his complete ignorance of military affairs and intelligence gathering in times of war. According to him, after the LTTE found about 75 swords concealed in a Muslim shop in Chavakachcheri,

“The LTTE intelligence known for its excessive paranoia suspected a greater conspiracy. It was suspected that the security-intelligence apparatus could be using Muslim businessmen travelling frequently to Colombo as agents to engage in sabotage or act as spies. Preemptive action was required it was felt.”

One popular Tamil proverb Kaluthaiku Theriyuma Karpoora Vaasanai? [Does the donkey know anything about camphor scent?] sums up Jeyaraj’s ignorance of military science. His ignorance was nakedly exposed last year, when he bloated Karuna’s military strength in Eastern Eelam during March 2005, only to see his hero making a ‘run for his life’ retreat to Colombo on Easter Sunday. The volatile situation which prevailed in the North and East Eelam during the second half of 1990 was not so simple and not so clear as black and white. Jeyaraj has bloated the number of Muslims expelled from the Northern province as follows:

“Around 55,000 to 60, 000 Muslims were expelled from the northern mainland by the LTTE. Together with those of the peninsula the Muslims driven out from the Northern Province numbered 80,000 to 85, 000 in 1990.”

In Part 1 of this commentary, I presented evidence from more than one source to show that Jeyaraj’s “28,000 Muslims living in Jaffna electorate” then was nothing but baloney. The real number of Muslims living then in Jaffna electorate was around 12,000. Similarly, according the Amnesty International survey, the number of Muslims who had to flee from the Northern province then was “an estimated 40,000”. Just a half of Jeyaraj's bloated number.

To rebut this type of grand deception in Jeyaraj’s selected and overtly biased reminiscences of an event which happened 15 years ago, I provide below the relevant excerpts from the report of Amnesty International, covering the critical period from June 1990 to June 1991. To reiterate, Amnesty International has been critical of the LTTE’s deeds, but at least during that period, its report could be relied upon for details of anti-Tamil violence perpetrated by Sinhalese and Muslim service personnel and para-military groups embedded with these personnel, which vividly describes the very real threats and ongoing violence against the inhabitants of the northeast.

Amnesty International’s version of events during the second half of 1990 and 1991

[source: Tamil Times, London, October 1991, pp.14-18]

“…As the Indian troops withdrew [at the end of March 1990 that is], heavy fighting was reported between the LTTE and a newly formed force, the Tamil National Army (TNA), which had been established using forced conscription by the EPRLF, aided by the Indian forces. There was also fighting between the LTTE and the armed cadres of Tamil groups which had allied with the Indian forces. Hundreds of lives were lost, thousands of members and supporters of the EPRLF and its allies fled to India, and the LTTE took effective control of the northeast. Negotiations continued between the government and the LTTE on the future administration of the area. Government administrative officers remained in place in the northeast, as did government police officers, but in practice most of their activities were subject to control by the LTTE.

The situation changed on 10 June 1990 when the LTTE suddently surrounded and occupied Batticaloa police station, ostensibly because of a quarrel about police having assaulted a civilian. The next day, the LTTE ordered police officers in the east to vacate all police stations. That day, the LTTE also attacked an army convoy at Kalmunai, killing ten soldiers. Reports indicate that most police officers surrendered their police stations without a fight. At Kalmunai and Kaluwanchikudi, however, police and LTTE fought before police surrendered. The LTTE took captive hundreds of police officers. It appears that most Tamil police officers, as well as some Sinhalese and Muslim officers held prisoner were summarily executed. The bodies of some of those killed have been found. For example, a police officer from Kalmunai who escaped with injuries was reported in the press as saying that he and 113 of his colleagues had been taken off by the LTTE, lined up and shot. Amnesty International has collected information about 91 police officers considered ‘disappeared’ since June 1990. Some of these officers may be still alive in LTTE custody, others may have been killed…. [Note by Sachi: The then LTTE military leader of Batticaloa-Amparai region was none other than Karuna, the current darling of D.B.S.Jeyaraj and the anti-LTTE lobby in Colombo.]

The government moved military reinforcements into the area, and as hostilities escalated the late Minister of State for Defense, Ranjan Wijeratne, announced to parliament on 18 June 1990 that ‘from now on it is all-out war.’

Although the government repeatedly stated that the security forces action was intended to destroy the LTTE alone, and was not an assault against the Tamil population of the northeast as a whole, it also said it would deal with the LTTE in the same manner as it had recently dealt with the JVP in the south. Indeed, the broad powers granted to the security forces under the Emergency Regulations, which included the power to dispose of bodies without post-mortem or inquest, facilitated extrajudicial executions and ‘disappearances’ and also appeared to contribute to a sense of impunity within the security forces.

Similarly, after the war resumed in the northeast, the government appeared to condone the summary execution of suspected members of the LTTE instead of insisting on their lawful arrest where possible, and on their trial and punishment according to law. Thus the former Minister of State for Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne, told parliament on 7 August 1990 that ‘the government will show no mercy to these Tamil terrorists, criminals who do not deserve to live’ (as quoted by Associated Press, 7 August 1990). Amnesty International fears that such public statements made by senior members of the government, together with lack of action by the government to halt serious abuses over the years, have encouraged the security forces to commit extrajudicial executions and ‘disappear’ prisoners with a sense of impunity. This fear is reinforced by reports that military officers in the northeast have intimidated Tamil civilians in refugee camps with stories of how they finished off the JVP in the south, and would repeat this performance in the northeast against the LTTE.

After the outbreak of the fighting in June 1990, government forces quickly took control of Vavuniya and the main towns in the east, which the LTTE vacated as government forces advanced. They also took control of the eastern coastal road linking the towns. In August [1990], government forces took control of Kayts and Mandaitivu islands off Jaffna, and in November they took control of Mannar island.

By May 1991 the LTTE remained in firm control of almost all of the Jaffna peninsula. Over 200 members of the Sri Lanka army and police force remained besieged in the Jaffna fort until mid-September 1990, when they were rescued and the fort was abandoned. The LTTE also remained in control of the area north of Vavuniya, despite the presence of army camps in several locations in the area, and was also active in other areas of the northeast.

The conflict has taken a different form in different parts of the northeast. Government forces have waged a bombing campaign from the air on those areas of the north controlled by the LTTE. Damage to property through bombing has been extensive; thousands of civilians have been displaced; many others have been injured or killed. The government has repeatedly announced that its forces drop leaflets from the air to warn civilians in advance of air-raids, so that they can vacate the area for places of safety. In some reported instances, however, leaflets were not dropped at all; in others, the bombing started very much sooner than the deadline indicated in the leaflets. For example, on 20 January 1991 leaflets were dropped from helicopters onto Valvettiturai, Jaffna district, warning the residents to leave within 48 hours. The bombing of Valvettiturai began only three hours later. People were reported to have been killed in the bombing, but details of the casualties are not known.

Residents of the Jaffna peninsula have also complained that civilians have been chased by military helicopters, fired at and sometimes killed. Markets, where civilians gather to buy supplies, are also reported to have come under attack from the air. For example about 12 people were reportedly killed at Chavakachcheri market, Jaffna, when it came under helicopter on 9 October 1990…”

Jeyaraj’s distortion

In his recent reminiscences on the expulsion of Jaffna Muslims, Jeyaraj makes specific mention about the LTTE finding 75 swords concealed in a Muslim shop. But, he has not mentioned about what happened in Chavakachcheri market on 9 October 1990, as presented in the Amnesty International report. He also has the temerity to ridicule the LTTE’s then actions as “some form of retaliatory warning to the eastern Muslims. This decision was further influenced by the exaggerated threat perception.”

Exaggerated threat perception? Is not this an amnesic distortion of real events, as presented in the above cited paragraphs from the Amnesty International report? Ranjan Wijeratne, the then Minister of State for Defence, was gloating on his success of breaking the neck of the JVP in late 1989, by killing tens of thousands, following the executions of the then JVP leadership, events which are still remembered with trauma in the south. The armed forces of the state were attempting to do the same to the LTTE. The threat perception was in no way 'exaggerated!'

Pirabhakaran and the LTTE taught military lessons repeatedly to the Sri Lankan majority and also to that loud-mouth Minister that LTTEers, even in 1990, – unlike the JVP – are for real when it comes to a challenge on the military front. How? by what I have tagged the ‘Jimmy Malone offense,’ in honor of Sean Connery’s character in the movie, ‘The Untouchables’ in my ‘Pirabhakaran Phenomenon’ series.

Furthermore, Jeyaraj has claimed that the “LTTE looted almost all possessions left in the Muslim houses. Many houses were stripped of tiles, wooden frames, doors, windows etc…” What evidence he has to prove this baloney? Was he there to witness such “looting”? Were the affected Muslim victims there to see and report such “looting” to Jeyaraj? Or did he receive such information from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)? If one believes the Amnesty International report cited above, how much damage would have occurred to the properties owned by the Jaffna Muslims by the bombs thrown from the air by the minions who minded the orders of Minister Ranjan Wijeratne in 1990? How could Jeyaraj separate the damage caused by aerial bombing and that from the hands of LTTEers?

To conclude this part, I cite again from the Amnesty International report on the number of Muslims and Tamils who were displaced by the war in 1990. “An estimated 40,000 Muslims who had to flee the north following threats by the LTTE to leave the area or be killed are presently residing in Puttalam area in refugee camps or with relatives. It is also estimated that around 100,000 Tamils have taken refuge in Colombo, either in refugee camps or with relatives.”

Check the numbers again provided by the Amnesty International. It is nothing but perfidy for Jeyaraj to distortingly reminisce solely on the plight of 40,000 Muslims expelled from Jaffna, barking from the roof top about ‘ethnic cleansing,’ no matter how we may sympathize with their plight, while at the same time ignoring 100,000 Tamils who also suffered an equal plight due to the actions of a belligerent Minister and his minions in the government armed forces and homeguard services.