Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Expulsion of Jaffna Muslims – Part 3: The Attributable Motive

by Sachi Sri Kantha

We welcome further submissions on the subject of the expulsion of the Jaffna Muslims, particularly first-hand accounts. -- Editor

Role of Muslims in the Sri Lankan armed forces

I digress a little from the main theme of this series, to focus attention on the recent news coverage of Tuan Nizam Muthaliff and Tuan Rizli Meedin. But, the activities of Muslims represented by Muthaliff and Meedin (on behalf of the Sri Lankan army) provide a counter-point to the premise of D.B.S.Jeyaraj that the LTTE was unusually harsh on Jaffna Muslims in 1990. It is also not irrelevant to the issue of how the LTTE was forced by the then circumstances to treat the Muslims with a suspicious eye.

One of the unmentionables in the commentaries and analyses of anti-LTTE pundits, including Jeyaraj, is the anti-Tamil role of Muslims in the Sri Lankan armed forces - not that a general population should suffer for the acts of individuals. Just check this. The names of Muthaliff and Meedin remained hidden to the public until their recent assassinations. Did Jeyaraj know that they had worked in the army intelligence for long? Has he ever written anything about what they were doing?

Here I provide excerpts from the posthumous eulogy to Col.T.R. Meedin, as it has appeared in the Sri Lankan army’s website. Check the dates about his activities in 1986, 1989 and the euphemistic clauses such as “served in the Operational areas for a longer period. "The “Operational areas” were undoubtedly the regions within Eelam territory.

“Colonel T.R. Meedin was born on 27 July 1966 to a pious Islamic family at Hambanthota in Southern Sri Lanka. He was educated at St.Aloysius College, Galle…To safeguard the territorial integrity of his motherland, he joined the Sri Lanka Army as an officer cadet on 17 March 1986. On completion of his basic military training at Sri Lanka Military Academy, Diyatalawa, T.R. Meedin was commissioned to the 3rd Battalion, Sri Lanka Light Infantry as a Second Lieutenant. To his credit, he was promoted to the next Senior rank of Lieutenant on 17 March 1989. Military authorities identifying inner talents of young Lt. Meedin, offered him the opportunity to work with the Intelligence Section of the Joint Operation Command under Ministry of Defence….He served in the Operational areas for a longer period and rendered a yeoman service on Intelligence matters that led the Army to many a success…In recognition of his bravery and service to the Nation, the Army conferred him gallantry awards and decorations such as…North and East Operational Model,…Vadamarachchi Operational Medal…”[source:, news posted 31 October 2005]

So, Col.Meedin has been an Intelligence operative in North Eelam since 1987, for him to receive the Vadamarachchi Operational Medal! The army intelligence duo Muthaliff and Meedin were neither selling shirts, suits or gems, nor cultivating rice and vegetables, like majority of the Muslims living in Sri Lanka. They sure were pious Muslims with families, but they earned their monthly paychecks by doing seamy work to disturb the peace in Tamil homelands and wreck the lives of numerous Hindu and Christian families. Thus, for Jeyaraj to prattle that there was no military threat to Tamils in their homelands (including Jaffna peninsula) in late 1990, following the commencement of Eelam War II, is nothing but deception.

What Iqbal Athas, the noted defence analyst for the Sunday Times (Colombo) newspaper, has described about the recently deceased intelligence agent Meedin’s role in penetrating LTTE defences should be a revelation to blockheads only. Here I provide some excerpts:

“He [Meedin, that is] confessed to a close friend and colleague who was among those who gave him the warning "Don't worry, I know what I am doing. I am careful. I am trying to get at Sornam. I am running him. This guy has promised he would kill him." The reference was to Chaminda. Instead, it now transpires that Chaminda had plotted to kill the handler. Was Chaminda throughout a double agent? Lt. Col. Meedin is said to have known him since 1995. Was it a case of the predator ending up as the prey? These questions assume greater importance in the light of another fact. Officially, state intelligence agencies have called a halt to all covert operations since the ceasefire of February 2002. Hence, only the completion of Police investigations can throw more light into the matter.” [Sunday Times, Colombo, Nov.5, 2005]

Even though the specific details of LTTE leader Col.Sornam’s links to Chaminda alias Ice Manju, the alleged assassin of Meedin, are somewhat tenuous and have to be taken with a pinch of salt, the bragging of Meedin to one of his confidants that he is targeting the neck of Col.Sornam cannot be cast off as casual chit-chat. Eelam Tamils should be thankful to the LTTE that they have established a solid surveillance section under the supervision of Pottu Amman and the Tiger cadres who work under him keep constant vigil on the nefarious plots cooked up by the intelligence agents of more than one arm of the government. For Jeyaraj to ridicule the thankless job performed by Tiger cadres headed by Pottu Amman as “paranoia” shows how much he lives far from the reality of statecraft. Can Jeyaraj mention one country or state (however democratic it may be) without an intelligence arm and intelligence budget? This being the pragmatic reality, it is to the credit of LTTE that its intelligence wing is even envied by its adversaries.

1990 Expulsion of Jaffna Muslims; a military strategy and not ethnic cleansing

Though I may be tagged as anti-Muslim for presenting the action of LTTE in October 1990 as a military strategy, I would state that security consciousness was (and is) no joke for the LTTE and it has survived until now because of its high priority for security concerns. Whether its decision to expel Jaffna Muslims was right or wrong can be debated endlessly. But there was precedence from what happened during the Second World War. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19th 1942 to place 120,000 American citizens of Japanese descent living in the mainland USA in internment camps, following the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7th 1941. Even now the popular verdict is equally split among Americans on whether what President Roosevelt did was right or wrong. While one half condemns it as a racist decision, the other half defends it as a harsh decision made for war-time needs to protect American territory from enemy designs. As the then Commander in Chief, did President Roosevelt apologize to the American citizens of Japanese descent? No.

I have no military experience. But I knew an American well who served in the American armed forces during the Second World War. During my graduate studies at the University of Illinois, I discussed this issue of internment of Americans of Japanese descent with my American host family, Prof. Stan Stolpe and his wife Virginia in early 1980s. Prof. Stolpe served in the Pacific theater of war as a young private lieutenant and was one of the thousands of Americans who were assigned duty in Japan, in the post-1945 period. His views were that, though looking back after 40 years [this was around 1983-84] the Roosevelt decision of 1942 sounds racist for the inexperienced who were not faced with such a delicate situation, the President was the Commander in Chief as well as a politician. Thus, at times, he had to exercise his leadership with a firm mind, and he could not be faulted for that decision to protect his country and he had to be given the benefit of doubt. [The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 recognized the "fundamental injustice of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of United States citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry during World War II," apologized for those acts, provided for a public education fund to educate the American public about those acts and provided funds for restitution to those interned. Passing of this Act, of course, has a lot to do with the economic power of Japan in the 1970s and 1980s and the growing economic and political power of Japanese Americans. Justice is often an issue of power. -- Editor]

In October 1990, the LTTE also held territory. Let us be frank about this issue. Before the LTTE’s arrival to defend Tamil rights, the previous generations of Tamil politicians since 1948 could only talk about “Tamil territory being lost,” but they could not do anything about “holding such territory,” other than parliamentary protests and public appeals to the international media. Can V.Anandasangaree, the current holder of an empty TULF crown, show to the Tamils that he could protect even a miniscule area by his press releases and parleys with anti-Tamil elements in the government?

Because of its military muscle, the LTTE has come to hold territory. As such, security consciousness is part and parcel of its statecraft. Thus, one should give the benefit of doubt to the LTTE on why it took such an unpopular and embarassing decision in October 1990. Expulsion of Jaffna Muslims was simply a battlefield strategy to cause inconvenience to the political leaders (both Sinhalese and Muslims) of Colombo. To label this action as “ethnic cleansing” as Jeyaraj has claimed in his Sunday Leader (October 30, 2005) double feature is outrightly erroneous and mischievous. The action was not anti-Muslim per se, but an effort to be rid of a population that seemed prone to pass information and act on behalf of the security forces which were attacking the rest of the population.

Let me recapitulate some dates for relevance. Eelam War II began on June 11, 1990. The Jaffna Muslims were evicted on October 30, 1990. The Mankulam army camp fell to LTTE on November 23, 1990. Five days, after this major setback to the government’s military build up, in North Eelam, the State Minister of Defence Ranjan Wijeratne requested the paramilitary cadres of PLOTE to beef up its ‘forces’ in the Vanni region. The Sri Lankan government’s army commander for the Trincomalee region, Brigadier Lakshman (Lucky) Wijeratne was killed on December 19, 1990, in a landmine blast. The LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire beginning midnight of December 31, 1990. And after that, a Tamil journalist residing in Canada did a telephone interview with Kittu (one of the then LTTE leaders), who was domiciled in London at that time. This interview has appeared in the Tamil Times of January 15, 1991.

The then Sri Lankan president was R.Premadasa. His loud-mouth deputy was Ranjan Wijeratne, for whom the Grim Reaper had fixed a definitive appointment on March 2, 1991. Would you believe that the Tamil journalist who interviewed Kittu was a Jeyaraj? It is the same D.B.S. Jeyaraj now writing. I provide below the complete text of this interview, as it appeared in print, (1) for its historical value, (2) to rebut Jeyaraj’s reminiscences in October 2005 and expose his current amnesia that there was no imminent military threat to the LTTE in late 1990, (3) to show that, at least in the version which appeared in print, not a single word transpired between the interviewer and interviewee on the expulsion of Jaffna Muslims, which had happened about eight weeks earlier. Jeyaraj did not ask a single question on the plight of expelled Jaffna Muslims, among the 19 questions answered by Kittu then.

If the plight of expelled Jaffna Muslims was such a big heartache to Jeyaraj, as he is pretending now, why did he not challenge Kittu then? Now that Kittu is no more among the living, Jeyaraj may attempt to wiggle out of this expose by meekly suggesting some questions relating to Muslims were on an “off the record” basis (a popular deceptive trick of integrity-challenged journalists). But, here is the truth, as it appeared in January 1991.

Kittu’s Interview in January 1991

[Tamil Times, Jan.15, 1991, pp.11, 17 & 21]

D.B.S.J.: On what basis will your organization hold talks with the government?

Kittu: Tamil people have the basic right of self-determination to decide their future. They have a sovereignty. We are observing the changes that are taking place in the international arena. The European countries are coming together. But in the Soviet Union it is different. The tendency to demand self-rule can be seen there. Federalism has improved into a system of confederation. In Canada the Meech Lake Accord has failed and Quebec prefers a system of sovereignty association.

One thing becomes clear from all this. That those countries, although they like to find greater accord among themselves, do not want to lose their identity and the right of self-determination. Constitutions are changing to suit the aspirations of the people. This can be seen taking place in the world today. The people of Eelam also need a form of rule based on the right of self-determination which would recognize our distinct political identity and ensure self-rule (Thanaadchi).

Although the safety and the distinct political identity of our people cannot be compromised we can discuss the kind of political powers which are required without impinging upon our right of self-determination. The substance of the discussions has to be about the form and the principles of this political power. Nothing should be thrust upon us during these talks.

D.B.S.J.: What about Defence Minister R. Wijeratne’s statement that there can be talks only if arms are laid down?

Kittu: We will never accept that. We are not ones who love weapons nor are we mentally ill. Those who ask us to lay down our arms should find out why we took up arms in the first place. They won’t express such views if they consider this. We have the responsibility to ensure the safety of our people at all times. And then it would also be an argument to demean us by showing us as separatists. This is a problem between two separate nations. A problem between two different countries.

D.B.S.J.: What are the reasons for the unilateral declaration of ceasefire?

Kittu: It was the plight of the people of the Eastern Province particularly, the plight of the Tamils there that compelled us to take this decision. Their predicament is most pitiable. They have been chased away from their villages, and are suffering as refugees. The floods have wreaked havoc, there is no food, relief supplies do not reach them. Many are even living in the jungles. There is no medicine or medical help. No foreign aid giving or social service organizations are allowed to do relief work. Two hundred and one people have died there due to lack of medical attention and starvation. One hundred and five of these are women and children. It is different when people die as a direct result of a war. But here they are dying because of this situation. It is a duty by us to help these people. We want to show their predicament to the world and will provide them aid.

D.B.S.J.: If all this is to be done isn’t it necessary for the ceasefire to succeed?

Kittu: Upto now ([Jan] 2nd) Sri Lanka government has not announced that it has accepted the ceasefire. We do not know whether they will accept it, and even if they accept it, we do not know how long they will let it last. For 40 years there has been cheating by various governments in power. It is not clear whether they will come for talks. Even if they come we do not know whether they will allow any good to come out of it. But it is the duty of the movement to use any opportunity that it may get to remove the suffering of the people. That is why we have begun this effort. We have given an opportunity to the government to settle the problem through peaceful means. We don’t know whether they will accept our offer but it is our duty to create an opportunity for peace.

D.B.S.J.: If that is so what have you got to say about the opinion that you did not make use of the opportunity before the June 11 war?

Kittu: We will not allow at any stage, anyone to deprive us of our rights in the guise of peace. What will those who express this opinion have to say about the fact that 35 army camps were put up in Trincomalee following the withdrawal of the IPKF?

D.B.S.J.: What do you have to say to those who ask why you should not give up arms for good if you are concerned with the suffering of the people?

Kittu: I would ask such people whether anything called the Tamil nation would remain in the country if we give up our armed struggle?

D.B.S.J.: The LTTE said earlier that there will be a four day ceasefire for the New Year. Why have you now declared an indefinite ceasefire?

Kittu: Earlier we had decided to have a brief ceasefire for the New Year. But later it was felt that it was necessary to have a long ceasefire in view of the sufferings of the people in the East. Now even when we have asked for an indefinite one the government has requested three days to make its response. Under these circumstances it was thought that a ceasefire for three or four days would not be practicable. We also thought that the government could agree to an indefinite one if a brief ceasefire was acceptable to them.

D.B.S.J.: Once you said that some countries and independent organizations stressed the need for talks but Prabhakaran at that time had said that the time was ‘not ripe’. Do you now feel that the time is ripe for talks?

Kittu: Prabhakaran did not use those words. But he expressed his opinion to the effect that the conditions had not arisen to make the Sri Lanka government feel the need for negotiations. Even now we do not believe that the government will come for real negotiations. But we are trying. If the governmnent ignores negotiations then the truth that they are war-mongers will be known to the world.

D.B.S.J.: Did international pressures, the arrests in Tamilnadu and the drawbacks in the East compel you to declare the ceasefire?

Kittu: There were efforts at the international level to bring about negotiations. You cannot call that pressure. But those efforts were considered with due respect. All those who are being arrested in Tamilnadu are not our fighters. Our wounded fighters for whom Karunanidhi had made medical facilities available are the ones who are being arrested without any mercy. It is not appropriate to say of us who opposed even the Indian army that the arrests in Tamilnadu have affected out capability.

Our struggle is not based on Tamilnadu. In the north we have the upper hand, militarily. The situation there is such that another camp may fall into our hands. In the East we have carried out many successful attacks recently. Even the Brigadier-in-Charge of the Trincomalee district was killed. Our strength in the East is increasing. Therefore none of what you cited are reasons for this ceasefire. As I mentioned earlier the reason was to give relief to the people in the east and an opportunity to the government to settle the problem peacefully.

D.B.S.J.: Why haven’t you asked for a committee to monitor the ceasefire?

Kittu: Sri Lanka government has not as yet agreed to a proper ceasefire. When there is a proper ceasefire which will be observed by both parties an arrangement can be made for monitoring the ceasefire.

D.B.S.J.: Earlier Dr.Balasingham said that the Tigers would go for talks only if India acted as a mediator. What is your position now?

Kittu: Even though we had said that India has not indicated any willingness on its part to mediate. There hasn’t even been a signal from them. Now they are hunting down and arresting our wounded fighters. Under these circumstances the possibility of Indian mediation is becoming less practicable.

D.B.S.J.: There had been reports earlier that you were holding talks with the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London, Sepala Attygalle. Did you and the government have any talks about a ceasefire at that time?

Kittu: After the fighting began in June the first contact I made with them was to send our statement on the ceasefire. But many organisations have been engaged in trying to bring about negotiations. There have been exchanges of views with the government through these organizations.

D.B.S.J.: About Arular’s efforts in Colombo?

Kittu: Arular met Mahathaya, Yogi and Balasingham and told them that he was going to make peace efforts. We told him that we were not opposed. He is doing it on his own. He is not our representative.

D.B.S.J.: How should it be with the security forces during the ceasefire? The army has said that the regular patrolling will continue.

Kittu: This regular patrolling can cause trouble. There is no patrolling in the north. But if the army tries to make use of the ceasefire and move out of their camps we certainly will attack. We expect the army to be in their present positions.

D.B.S.J.: What are the countries and organizations behind this peace effort?

Kittu: We cannot name any country in particular. Many like Canada, Britain, Australia and Norway made efforts. Many organizations like the Red Cross also tried. We can’t name any one country or organization.

D.B.S.J.: Can your indefinite ceasefire continue without the government’s cooperation?

Kittu: Certainly not. We will give time for them to think about negotiations. We cannot continue it for years just because we said it was indefinite.

D.B.S.J.: Was this ceasefire approved by Prabhakaran?

Kittu: The headquarters would not have made the announcement without his approval.

D.B.S.: In your last round of talks with the government one of your demands was the removal of the 6th Amendment. What is your position now?

Kittu: That was at that time. Now we have only asked for holding talks. But during the talks a situation may arise where we may be able to seek the change or removal of this constitution itself.

D.B.S.: Finally, how do you think the government will react to your ceasefire?

Kittu: I cannot say. The ball is in their court. We hope that they will act with reasonable goodwill.

When one reads the questions of Jeyaraj and the answers by Col. Kittu, it becomes evident that many questions centered around ‘ceasefire.’ For a ‘ceasefire’ to be discussed in the interview held in early January 1991, there should have been intense fighting on multiple fronts during November and December 1990, right? How does this gel with Jeyaraj’s recent observation that the LTTE acted on expelling Jaffna Muslims due to their paranoia about an exaggerated ‘threat perception,’ with the implication they were suffering from war psychosis? Note that the suffering of the people in the East was of intense concern to Kittu.

Ethnic cleansing of Tamils in 1960s and 1970s

There was indeed ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka. There was a generalized effort to remove Tamils from the life of the country. It began not in the 1980s (at a specific location of the Eelam homeland called Manal Aaru/Weli Oya as a military strategy of Jayewardene-Premadasa-Athulathmudali-Dissanayake cabal, as asserted by Jeyaraj) but in public institutions which were totally supported by the tax payers. The major victims were Tamils, and not Muslims. In the aftermath of the failed 1962 army coup d’etat, ethnic cleansing became a norm for recruitment in the armed services. [i.e. Tamils were not recruited] Who were the victims? Tamils. In the aftermath of the failed JVP insurgency in April 1971, ethnic cleansing became a norm in the admission to the universities in Sri Lanka. Who were the victims? Tamils. And who was the poster guy for this ethnic cleansing act, euphemistically called ‘standardisation’? A servile Muslim politician, Badiuddin Mahmud, who was the then Minister of Education. And who were the beneficiaries of this 1970s ethnic cleansing? Muslims and Sinhalese.

Ethnic cleansing occurred even within the Sri Lankan universities in 1970s. Once the Jaffna University was established as the Jaffna Campus of the then solitary University of Sri Lanka in 1974, the Tamil medium in more than one faculty at the Colombo Campus was closed. Again, this was also an exercise in ethnic cleansing. Jeyaraj may be oblivious to these ethnic cleansing acts by the then Sinhala-Muslim political leadership. But, I should know. I was a Tamil undergraduate who got scalded by these nasty anti-Tamil edicts.

I conclude by noting that those pundits who live by tagging unsavory labels of convenience should restrain themselves from re-writing history.