Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Sri Lankan State Unleashes Further Terrorism

Ethnic Cleansing of Tamils

by Satheesan Kumarasamy, Canada, Manitham, October 3, 2006

During the early 1980s, when successive Sinhala governments from Colombo began the policy of ethnic cleansing of minority Tamils, Tamil youths initiated a military campaign. The Sri Lankan armed forces then responded with violence against the unarmed and innocent Tamils who had nothing to do with the militants.

In August 2006, teenage schoolgirls belonging to the minority Tamils on the island of Sri Lanka fell victim to the latest aerial bombardment of the Sri Lankan Air Force. This incident has awakened the united voice of Tamils throughout the world, a voice that unequivocally denounces the state terrorism of their predators.

Historical Background of the Ethnic Tamils

The indigenous Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka have always had historical, cultural, and kinship ties with their counterparts in southern India. These descendants of the sea-faring Dravidian people of Northeastern Sri Lanka speak the same language as their counterparts in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu and the union territory of Pondicherry.

The Tamils in the Northeastern part of Sri Lanka have, for the past fifty years, been struggling, first through peaceful means and then through military means, against the hegemonistic Sinhala governments for an independent state called ‘Tamil Eelam’. The indigenous Tamils have been forced to struggle politically and militarily, especially after the Sinhala governments enacted unfair laws against the Tamils, laws that discriminated against Tamils in the spheres of education, employment, and politics. The Tamils of Indian origin live on the tea and rubber plantation areas that comprise the Central parts of the island. The Colonial British brought them into Sri Lanka to work on their estates during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

All Sinhala governments that attained power engineered and sponsored state terrorism against the minority Tamils. Tamils had to survive horrible violence, murder, rape, and looting in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1979, 1981, and 1983. They endured damages worth millions of dollars to their properties and goods. These catastrophic events took the lives of several thousands and created an atmosphere so gruesome that one million refugees fled the island and several millions became refugees in their own homeland. During the early 1980s, when successive Sinhala governments from Colombo began the policy of ethnic cleansing of minority Tamils, Tamil youths initiated a military campaign. The Sri Lankan armed forces then responded with violence against the unarmed and innocent Tamils who had nothing to do with the militants.

The Sinhala governments in power never investigated the atrocities inflicted by the armed forces. The armed forces, numbering over 50,000 and lodged in the Tamil homeland, the Northeastern part of the island, have been free to unleash all manner of violent acts, such as arbitrary arrests, rape, and the murderof men, women, and even children. These incidents are described in a number of sources:

"Human rights activists claim more than 150 women, mostly minority Tamils, were raped by police and armed forces personnel in 1995. In the past few months the nation has been outraged by a series of sex offences, followed in some instances by the death or disappearance of victims. Security forces are allegedly behind the incidents, which are widespread in the war-ravaged north and east.” (South China Morning Post, 1996)

"Allegations of ill-treatment of women and extra-judicial executions are also being made against the security forces. Reports say that three women were raped by soldiers at their home in Manthuvil on 1 August.” (British Refugee Council Publication, 1996)

“Over 150 cases reported rape and sexual assault by Sri Lanka army in 1996 alone. Human rights organizations have pointed out that because many women are reluctant to give testimony about their treatment by the security forces; these reported incidents represent only a fraction of a widespread pattern of rape and murder. The conclusion seems inescapable that these rapes are not simply misdemeanors of undisciplined soldiers but are a part of the systematic attempt made by Sri Lanka to terrorize the Tamil people... These rapes and sexual assaults on Tamil women constitute gross violations of the humanitarian law of armed conflict.” (Liberation, 1997)

“Three human skeletons, including one suspected to be that of a woman allegedly raped and beaten to death by a Sri Lankan soldier, were found today in a grave pointed out by ex-corporal Somaratna Rajapaksha, the key witness in the investigation into the mass graves at Chemmani and Ariyalai near Jaffna.” (Eelam Nation, September 09, 1999)

"Baby at four months, 4-year-old child, among 9 killed by SL Navy in Jaffna islet Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) troopers from Mandaithivu Sri Lanka Navy camp surrounded a civilian house in Allaipiddy in Mandaithivu islet, west of Jaffna, around 8:30 p.m. Saturday and opened fire killing 8 civilians, including a four months baby and a four year old son, and their parents on the spot. Three persons with serious wounds were rushed to Jaffna hospital after Jaffna district magistrate ordered the Police to provide security to an ambulance from Jaffna hospital, medical sources said. One of the wounded succumbed to his wounds at Jaffna hospital. 13 civilians were killed in Jaffna islets on Saturday alone.” (Tamilnet, May 13, 2006)

One other notable incident is that at Chemmani graveyard, where over 700 bodies were buried. Sinhala army soldiers revealed that many women were sexually harassed in front of their husbands and children and later all of them were killed and put in the graveyard in Chemmani in the northern Jaffna peninsula. Thousands of other Tamils are still reported missing. These were some of the human rights violations unleashed by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

The above-mentioned incidents are just a few. Thousands of other cases have been recorded by human rights organizations working in Sri Lanka. Some of the victims avoided complaining to the official authorities because they feared reprisals by the security forces for revealing the truth.

Aftermath of the Ceasefire Agreement between GoSL and LTTE

After years of fighting, in 2002, a ceasefire agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), facilitated by the Norwegian government, came into effect. By this time, however, the LTTE had carved out a de-facto state for the Tamils from a substantial part of the NorthEast of Sri Lanka. A team of Scandinavian monitors - the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) - was deployed throughout the Northeastern parts of the island. Tamils the world over expressed their happiness, and the Tamil Diaspora started to visit their homeland after many years. Young girls and boys went back to Sri Lanka to get married. Thousands of Diaspora Tamils went back to their native locales to relive their cultural past.

After 2003, however, paramilitary forces, a proxies of the Sri Lankan government, began killing LTTE cadres, journalists, politicians, and civilians. Even after 2004, hostilities continued clandestinely between the Sri Lankan soldiers and the LTTE cadres. The Sri Lankan government violated the ceasefire agreement by infiltrating into LTTE-controlled areas and by continually restricting essential commodities being taken into LTTE-held areas. The LTTE, in turn, violated the ceasefire agreement by arresting and detaining several Sri Lankan police officials in their custody for intruding into their territory. The Sri Lankan government charged that the LTTE smuggled arms into Sri Lanka during the ceasefire time.

Both parties failed to bring a just solution to the ethnic conflict through peace talks, as they had promised when signing the ceasefire agreement. Both parties met on several occasions in Asia and Europe to bring the ethnic conflict to an end. The LTTE demanded that the Sri Lankan government normalize relations with the Tamils. It requested the Sri Lankan government delegation to allow the Tamils in the Northeastern part of the island to live in their native lands, and it demanded that the Sri Lankan armed forces vacate the residential areas currently being occupied, so that the displaced people could resettle on their properties. The Sri Lankan government did not fulfill the LTTE’s demands. In addition, the killing of journalists, politicians, and LTTE cadres continued. As a result, in 2005, the LTTE the peace talks with the Sri Lankan government on hold.

As the fragile ceasefire agreement neared its end, due to lack of mutual understanding between the parties, politics in Colombo also changed. The United National Party (UNP) government, led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, had been in power when the ceasefire agreement was signed. The People’s Alliance (PA) party, led by Sinhala Mahinda Rajapakse and backed by a brand of Sinhala extremists, the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Sinhala Buddhist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), formed the government. Its slogan was to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Buddhist Sri Lanka. After Rajapakse came into power, he started visiting foreign countries in order to strike deals with them to acquire the arms and ammunition he needed to strengthen the Sri Lankan armed forces. In addition, he, like most of his predecessors, kept away from coming to the negotiating table with the LTTE.

Resumption of Hostilities

A new catastrophe occurred in July 2006, over a sluice gate in Mavilaru, a rivulet carrying water to rice cultivators in the eastern part of the island (Muttur in the Trincomalee district). The inhabitants blocked the sluice gate, resulting in thousands of Sinhala people, who cultivated lands wrested from the Tamils who had originally owned them, being affected. The LTTE stated it would open the sluice gate if the Sri Lankan government lifted the economic embargo on LTTE-held areas in the region. The Sri Lankan government, while refusing the demands of the LTTE, attacked LTTE positions, through the air force and ground troops began an operation to open the gate. The head of the Scandinavian monitors noted: “It is definitely the wrong method. It is definitely overkill if you want the water. We sat talking and got clearance from the government and tried to convince the LTTE to have confidence in the government...They (GoSL) dropped a bomb in the vicinity. That's not the right signal.” (Reuters, 29 July 2006)

After the Sri Lankan forces started firing shells and aerial bombardments on civilian areas in the LTTE-held areas in July 2006, the LTTE announced that it would destroy those Sri Lankan bases from which the shells were being fired. The LTTE fighters took control of the entire Muttur area, comprising predominantly Tamil-speaking Muslim towns, in early August 2006. As a result, over 45 Muslims were killed and over 40,000 Muslims fled their homes to safer areas in LTTE- and government held areas. The LTTE eventually withdrew from Muttur. In fact, it seemed an end to the stalemate, when Norwegian mediators persuaded the Tamil rebels to reopen the sluice gates. “However, as SLMM truce monitors and rebels approached the reservoir area, the Sri Lankan military recommenced artillery attacks, thus forestalling the expected reopening of the gates.” (BBC, August 06, 2006).

Soon after, it emerged that 17 Tamil NGO humanitarian workers, working in Muttur for the French charity Action Against Hunger (ACF), were found executed. “The dead bodies were found lying face down on the floor of their office, with bullet wounds and still wearing their clearly-marked T-shirts, which identified them as international humanitarian workers. The murders prompted widespread international condemnation. Relatives blamed the Sri Lankan armed forces for the murders.” (MSNBC, 11 August 2006) The sluice gates were eventually reopened the next day by the LTTE because, otherwise, there would have been many more civilian casualties.

LTTE Leader’s “Children” Killed by Four Kfir Jets

A few days later, on August 14, 2006, the Sri Lankan Air Force carried out a deadly air attack on schoolgirls who were at Senchcholai, in Vallipuram in the LTTE controlled area in the north, [recently the site of] an orphanage. The schoolgirls were undergoing first aid training. The target of the Vallipunam school camp was not designed to be the schoolgirls in general. Indeed, the strike was designed to target the 'children' of the LTTE leader, Mr V Pirapaharan, who was waging a war to make Tamil Eelam independent of the Sinhala regime. The two-decades-long war killed over 65,000 civilians, created over 20,000 widows, and left thousands of children orphans. The LTTE leader himself wanted to personally look after the orphans. The realization of this noble objective was Senchcholai, founded originally in 1991 in Sandilipay, in the northern Jaffna peninsula. The children of Senchcholai were displaced four times prior to and since the exodus of Tamils from Jaffna peninsula in 1995 and relocated in Vallipuram.

It was Monday morning, on August 14, 2006, when 500 girls were getting ready to attend the first aid seminar. Four Israeli-built Kfir jets dropped 16 bombs on the Vallipunam school camp premises. It was shocking news for the Tamils around the world. After hearing the aerial bombardment, the LTTE leader did not even open his eyes for many minutes. He burst into tears after he heard the news, and he remained in deep thought for hours. “Sixty-one girls were confirmed killed. 155 girls are receiving treatments at hospitals and of them 25 girls are in critical condition. Many of the injured girls lost limbs and some of the injured girls lost both legs or arms.” (LTTE Peace Secretariat, August 16, 2006)

The Sri Lankan government declared it had killed LTTE child soldiers and destroyed LTTE training camps. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and UNICEF went to the scene and rejected the Sri Lankan government’s claims. The SLMM, UNICEF, and other NGOs confirmed that the Vallipunam school camp is in an area that is 100 percent residential. This area is home to many orphanages and welfare organizations. These homes were also registered with the Sri Lankan government, and Sri Lankan government officials had even visited this site in the past.

There is much speculation about the objective of the seminar and why the organizers picked the Vallipuram Senchcholai complex as the site for the seminar. The declared objective of the 10-day seminar was to teach community leadership skills, first aid, gender equality, confidence building, time management, and teamwork. Activities included fire safety, water safety, electrical safety, chemical safety, and safety during air raids, creative self-expression through drama, music and comedy, relationships between social institutions and the younger generation, gender issues in society during teenage years and in adulthood, and extensive first aid. The Vallipuram Senchcholai complex was chosen as the site for the pilot residential school camp. The site was chosen because it was designated as the Senchcholai children’s home, an orphanage for girls, and had been registered with the GOSL through the UN organization concerned. (LTTE Peace Secretariat, August 16, 2006)

Tamils Throughout the World Demand Justice

After hearing about the killing of 61 Tamil girls, Tamils the world over started protests in their home countries, protests that demanded their respective governments take action against Sri Lanka. They demanded that the international community brand Sri Lanka as a country that dispenses state terrorism. They also urged the international community to recognize the Tamils' right to self-determination and to an independent Tamil homeland called ‘Tamil Eelam’.

The Tamils of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is home to over 65 million Tamils, staged protests throughout the state against the killing of the Tamil girls in Sri Lanka. The Tamil Nadu assembly condemned the Sri Lankan government for the cruel and wanton act. Tens of thousands of students throughout Tamil Nadu took part in protests against the killing.

Setting aside party politics, all political parties in Tamil Nadu condemned the Sri Lankan government for unleashing violence against Tamils on the island. The leaders of all political parties in Tamil Nadu demanded that the Indian government not supply weapons to Sri Lanka and that the Indian government exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government not to target innocent civilians in the fight against the LTTE.

The recent crisis on the island of Sri Lanka has created tensions among the people within and without. Millions of Tamils around the world are now grieving over the killing of Tamils in the Northeastern part of the island. The awakening of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is a positive outcome after the killing of 61 girls in Mullaitheevu.

If the 65 million Tamils remain silent, the Sri Lankan government will unleash violence in the form of arbitrary arrest, rape, torture, and the killing of Sri Lankan Tamils, who share cultural, linguistic, historical, and religious ties with their counterparts in India. It is also the Diaspora Tamils the world over who should compel the heads of their governments, repeatedly, to demand the Sri Lankan government stop unleashing state terrorism and fulfill the demands of the Tamils.