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 Post subject: Terror grips Tissamaharama!
 Post Posted: Sat Nov 10, 2007 1:08 pm 
Terror grips Tissamaharama!

[b][color=cyan]By Dilrukshi Fernando and Poornima Weerasekara
@ DM /Saturday, November 10, 2007


Villages bordering the Yala Sanctuary had been living on the edge, since early October, with a series of attacks on both civilians and army personnel which began with the attack on the Thalgasmankada army unit on October 15. This spate of violence came to a climax this week, with 5 people being hacked to death, while 3 have been abducted. Despite the deteriorating ground situation, and several search operations in the Yala sanctuary and adjoining villages, the perpetrators are still at large. Several key issues are still unanswered, with the villagers unanimously blaming the Police for their lackluster response to their complaints.

Responding to allegations by the villagers about the lackluster response of the Police SI Kulawardena said “it is difficult to please everyone. Sometimes the police work overnight and then they are also edgy.” The Tissamaharama Police conducted a series of awareness programmes for the civilians residing in the villages bordering the Yala Wildlife Sanctuary. The Daily Mirror witnessed one such session at the Ranminithenne Primary School on November 7. A fact which came to light was the impracticality of the ‘practical’ measures proposed by the Police in times of danger.

Here’s how it went-: “If you see anyone suspicious start shouting! If you hear your neighbours shouting continue join in the screams. Catch any suspicious elements and hand them over to the police,” SI Kulawardena said. Then he immediately added that army personnel were roaming the area dressed as civilians and that the villagers had to be careful not to mistake them for suspicious elements. How the villages can distinguish between the two remains unraveled.The impracticality of some of these techniques was highlighted on that very same night when people acting on instructions of the Police to alert neighbours by shouting, roused there friends and relatives living in villages far from where the initial crime took place.


The white ‘Landmaster’ flew towards the Tissamaharama Base Hospital carrying the bodies of the latest victims of the terror that had stricken the area since early October. But despite all measures to calm the edgy crowd, pandemonium struck with villagers obstructing the work of the Mortuary officials while trying to rip off the white bags in which the bodies were wrapped.

The latest victims of the spate of violence that had gripped the border villages of the Yala Sanctuary were R.M. Abeywardena (47) and J.H. Padmasiri (48) from the 7th Colony in the Beralipola village. Emotions were running riot, when the villagers threatened journalists who tried to cover the incident. Threatened and attacked journalists’ claim that the mobs were mobilized against them under the directives of the police.

The remnants of hacked bodies were found in a Chena in Galara at about 8.45 am on November 8, by an army search team that had combed the area after panic struck Ranminithenne, Osuwinne and Yodakandiya Diyawawara village the night before.

A shotgun fired by a civilian after seeing two suspicious individuals roaming around in Yodakandiya Diyawawara village had sparked an outcry with villages pouring out of their houses and thronging to schools and temples. Pandemonium spread to peripheral areas, with people calling relatives and spreading rumours of a Tiger attack on the village.

“My mother got a phone call from a relative in Yodakandiya and she was told Tigers had come to the village. We started running and saw that people had already come out onto the roads carrying knives and clubs,” 10 year old Fazmia from the Kirinda fishing village said. The spate of violence that had hit Tissamaharamaya since the attack on the Thalgasmangkada army unit on October 15, climaxed this week with five civilians being hacked to death, while three dairy farmers had disappeared a week earlier. Maybe it was a twist of fate, which made the funerals of the three victims who were hacked to death in the Thambarawewa to coincide with the latest murders.

The Thambarawewa massacre, where 3 farmers were hacked to death, occurred on the day the Yala sanctuary was to reopen after being closed for over a month, due to clashes with the LTTE.

Nanda Nilani, wife of W.K. Hemandanda, one of the victims slain on Monday, November 5, said “we moved out of Ranminithenne after our house was destroyed by elephants four times. Although they warned us not to go back to our Chena’s close to the forest, we had no alternative. Both the army and the police kept saying that they would give us protection, but nothing was done.” Staring at the still body of her husband, while clutching her two children, she said “we have received 50,000 rupees as compensation. But how am I to bring up these two kids? The police had scolded the villagers in filth when they went to complain. It’s only the army who came to our assistance. How can we put our security in their hands?” she asked.

Prema Ratnayake was with her husband R.K. Piyasena on the night he was brutally killed. They had just returned to their shack in the thicket after a Samurdhi meeting. Loud voices were heard outside and someone had banged on the door. “They were dressed in dark green outfits which looked like Army suits”, Prema said describing the four unknown men who met her terrified gaze.

“They pushed me aside and threatened both of us to stay quiet if we wished to stay alive. Although the man who threatened us spoke in Sinhala, they conversed only in Tamil amongst themselves,” she added. “They tied my husband’s hands behind and beat him repeatedly when he tried to struggle. I pleaded with them to not hurt him but then they turned their wrath on me. One man came up to me and pushed me against the bed hitting my head against the bed head three times. Then they tied my hands”, Prema said. “My husband pleaded with them asking them not to hurt me because I was a heart patient,” Prema said tears rolling out of her eyes. The man had pushed her against the wall before dragging Piyasena away into the night.

“They even took my medicines,” she added. In a frenzy of fear Prema had struggled with the bonds that tied her down and then crawled into a newly-dug lavatory hole. “I spent the whole night in there pressed against the wall hoping that I would not be found. Late in the night I heard footsteps outside and saw torch lights being flashed,” she said. But Prema was not discovered and the following morning she escaped into a nearby thicket where she was discovered by a couple outside at about 10.30 am, and was admitted to hospital diagnosed with high pressure.

K.K. Priyantha Chandrasiri, the victim’s son says; “My brother died from an elephant attack. I have four sisters. There is nothing for us to do other than chena cultivation. Everyone is afraid to go to their fields after these incidents. If we miss the Maha season, we would be left paupers for another 6 months.” He was echoing a problem that has rendered most villagers helpless, since over 70% of them rely on chena cultivation or dairy farming to earn their livelihood. “The cows have been allowed to run astray because we are too afraid to go to their grazing grounds in Yodakandiya. If we don’t start planning before the rains, then the crop will be ruined. But we are too afraid to go into the jungle,” another villager said.

P.P.G Ariyalatha, the wife of the third victim N.H. Piyadasa, had also narrowly escaped death. “They banged on our door and asked in broken Sinhalese what our names were and whether we could give them some tea. Then they closed the door and flashed torches at our faces. One person came forward and pinned my hands down while another person tied my legs and gagged me with the cloth that was wrapped around my shoulders. Two others were beating my husband who was pleading with them to let me go. Then they covered my face with my husband’s shirt. Then everything went dark and they dragged him away,” she said, shuddering upon recalling the incident and the final screams of her husband that had resonated in her ears. Ariyalatha had untied herself after hours of struggling and crawled to the shack next door. “My neighbours tried calling my son and then he had tried to contact the police. The Tissamaharama Police number had not responded for a long time and then when it was finally connected they had scolded him in filth and said that he was trying to mislead the police. Then we called an army mobile unit that had patrolled the area a few days ago and they are the only ones who came,” she sighed.

Responding to allegations by the villagers about the lackluster response of the Police SI Kulawardena said “it is difficult to please everyone. Sometimes the police work overnight and then they are also edgy.” The Tissamaharama Police conducted a series of awareness programmes for the civilians residing in the villages bordering the Yala Wildlife Sanctuary. The Daily Mirror witnessed one such session at the Ranminithenne Primary School on November 7. A fact which came to light was the impracticality of the ‘practical’ measures proposed by the Police in times of danger.

Here’s how it went-: “If you see anyone suspicious start shouting! If you hear your neighbours shouting continue join in the screams. Catch any suspicious elements and hand them over to the police,” SI Kulawardena said. Then he immediately added that army personnel were roaming the area dressed as civilians and that the villagers had to be careful not to mistake them for suspicious elements. How the villagers can distinguish between the two remains unraveled.

The impracticality of some of these techniques was highlighted on that very same night when people acting on instructions of the Police to alert neighbours by shouting, roused their friends and relatives living in villages far from where the initial crime took place.

Face to face with the perpetrators-:

W.H. Bennet alias ‘Sudu Aiya’ rode his motorbike on October 30, at 6.00 am to the Badunuwewa thicket to visit his son-in-law Ajith Kumara and his brother Sisira Kumara. As he reached the herd of cows he had seen Ajith and his colleague Sarath Abeydheera being led away by an individual dressed in Army fatigues with their hands bound behind their backs. “They did not see me there and since that person was in an Army suit I didn’t interfere. Instead I started up my bike loudly, making some noise intentionally so I could catch their attention,” Bennet said recalling how his attempt failed. “I sped away to the Godekalapuwa Army camp situated about 12 Km away from the shack and reported the incident immediately,” Bennet said adding that although they noted down his complaint, the Police had come to record his statement two days later.The other eye witness, I.M. Kitchim, went to Badunuwewa to purchase cattle from those who were abducted. “We reached the place at about 9.30am and four men dressed in Army uniforms jumped out at us from the shrubbery. They told us to put our hands up, before we had a chance to escape”.

The men had then taken Kitchim and his two assistants into the shack and had them seated. Fortunately however no harm was done to them. Kitchim recalled that the four had books, pens, and laminated maps strapped to their jackets. Two had carried daggers while the other two were armed with guns. “My driver told me that the dialect they spoke was akin to that spoken by estate Tamils”, said Kitchim adding that thus he had understood only a part of the conversation. “Once in a while they talked to us in Sinhala and they asked us a lot of questions for nearly one and half hours.”

The questions were mostly related to information regarding the armed forces according to Kitchim who said, “They asked us how many boats the Navy had, whether the roads in the area were in good condition and finally asked if we are satisfied with the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya(!).” Later on when we asked them if we are free to go, they said to leave someone behind. But I told them that either we all go or we won’t leave”, Kitchim said.

Although the three had been body searched the men had not taken any of their possessions. “I had 30,000 worth of cash, my wallet and a packet of cigarettes with me but nothing was taken”. As soon as they were released Kitchim reported the incident to the Kirinda Police.


The first hand account of an eyewitness who escaped the claws of death

The Thambarawewa massacre had no witnesses except Galawalagamage Gunatunga, who had a confrontation with the unknown group of six men who are presumed to have been the murderers. Riding his bicycle along the road bordering the Ranminithenne village at 9.05 in the night after visiting a friend; Gunatunga saw a dark lump moving in the middle. Thinking it was a herd of cattle he dismounted from his bike and cautiously walked towards the object. He realized his mistake when someone flashed a pen torch in his face and boomed “stay where you are”.

“In the torch light I saw that the person holding it was wearing boots and had the whole of his face except eyes and mouth covered in black,” Gunatunga said adding that the other five had closed in on him and grabbed the bike from his clutches. “Then they inquired my name and whereabouts and from their accent it was obvious that they were not fluent in Sinhala.”

Then one man had removed the bicycle chain and tried to tie his hands. But a noise heard from the nearby thicket distracted them and Gunatunga grabbed this opportunity and fled for safety. “I didn’t run home. Instead I hid deep within the thicket. I was too scared to shout for help since they had 3, T-56 rifles and 2 knives with them.” From his hideout Gunatunga had heard what he terms “slashing noises like something cutting into flesh and people moaning at about 9.45”. After waiting for another fifteen minutes, he escaped, alerting an Army unit patrolling the area who promptly arrived at the location where the six men had attempted to abduct him.



Hope running thin for the families missing dairy farmers

It was only on days on which his father fell ill that Sarath Abeydheera assumed the double role of dairy farmer and chena farmer. The family which owns a plot of land adjoining Banduwewa uses it alternatively for paddy cultivation and livestock during the ‘Maha’ and ‘Yala’ seasons. Sarath left home on the evening of October 29 to collect milk for a relative’s almsgiving the next day.

As usual he had left for Banduwewa with two neighbours Ajith Kumara and Sisira Kumara. His family started to worry when Sarath didn’t return the next day, as usual. “We received the disturbing news in the afternoon when Ajith’s father-in-law said that he had seen Sarath and Ajith being taken away by a man dressed in Army fatigues. Padmakumara had immediately lodged a complaint at the Tissamaharama Police and also informed the Army officials stationed in the area. According to him the Police never approached them to record any statement. “When we inquired about the progress of the investigations and the possible return of the three we are merely told that the matters are being looked into. So we are forced to expect the worst,” Padmakumara added.

Despite increasing doubts his young wife Ishanka Lakmali, awaits the return of the father to her six month old son as does Shanika Madushani, wife of Ajith Kumara. “No matter how busy they are Ajith and his brother always came to see the baby and spend a little time with the child,” Shanika said, unable to believe that he may never return home. According to her the three usually milk the cows by 5.00pm and return home by 1.30 the next day after spending the night in the forest shack.

“Everything in the shack had either been looted or damaged. All their tools and even the battery in the motorbike were stolen.” Ajith and Sisira’s sister, Dinusha Priyadarshini said.


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