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 Post subject: Anatomy of violence that shocked Trincomalee
 Post Posted: Sat Apr 22, 2006 7:52 pm 
Anatomy of violence that shocked Trincomalee

April 21, 2006
@ TransCurrents / by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The following paragraph is excerpted from my earlier piece in transCurrents on the anti - Tamil violence in Trincomalee. ” With district state machinery in total disarray and members of the public in a state of panic gathering exact information about the happenings in Trincomalee posed much difficulty for journalists seeking truth . It was however possible to piece together a cohesive picture of what had happened there from details provided by officials and residents who requested anonymity for obvious reasons. This report compiled within a short time under difficult conditions is based on preliminary information and is subject to change if and when further details are available”.Though ordinary people are reluctant to talk through fear and officials refuse to talk through other reasons it was possible to get more nformation about Trincomalee during the past week. Some of the information obtained contradict some of the points made in the earlier article.The substantive position however remains the same. This article is a revised and updated version of the earlier article. A little bit of background context is also given.- D.B.S.J.

Trincomalee known as “Thirukonamalai ” in Tamil and “Thrikanaamale” in Sinhala is a multi - ethnic and multi - religious town and region.This simple truth was vividly illustrated on Thursday April 20th when the newly elected Trinco urban council assumed office formally.

Pride of place was given at the ceremony to clergy of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Islamic religions.Sivasiri Pon Sivakumarakurukkal, Venerable Mihindapura Mahindawanse Nayake Thera, Reverend Fr.George Dissanayake and Moulavi Ibrahim Rahza blessed the new UC administration .

Prior to the ceremony, councillors accompanied by Mr.K.Thurairatnasingham, Trincomalee district parliamentarian paid their respects at places of worship of all faiths- Temple, Mosque, Church and Vihare in the town.

Despite the Tamil National Alliance which contested under the aegis of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) displaying this spirit of religious tolerance and ethnic amity the tell - tale signs of the bitter, brutal violence that tore the town apart remained visible. The town had not recovered yet.. Life was limping back slowly. Physical and emotional scars remained. It remains an uphill task to restore normalcy and amity.

Trincomalee or Trinco as it is generally known is famous for its geo- strategically important deep water natural harbour. In recent times it has become a communal powder - keg. The coastal town at the beginning of the 20th century had a Tamil majority (79%). This decreased over the years. Nowadays Tamils are about 50% while Sinhalas (30%) and Muslims (20%) comprise the rest

The district also called Trincomalee shows different demographics. All three ethnicities are in near equal proportions with the Tamil speaking Muslims in the lead. The Tamils slightly outnumber the Sinhalese.

Trinco has been caught up in cycles of brutal violence in the past.With its heterogenous ethnic mix the town as well as the district could very well have been a showpiece of racial harmony under different circumstances. Ethnic relations being downhill Trincomalee too reflects the general political climate. Given its communal balance it often becomes a flashpoint of tension.

The clandestine substitution of a large Buddha statue in place of the earlier smaller one had brought about unfortunate consequences. Violence and counter violence had ensued. Ethnic relations had soured very badly. The town and its environs had been militarised greatly with deployment of additional security personnel. The stridency of LTTE oriented Tamil politics on the one hand and the aggressiveness of hawkish Sinhala outfits on the other had torn the societal fabric apart. Contributing to this no small measure were the hardliners in the armed forces.

It was against this backdrop that local authority elections were held on March 30th. The TNA campaign focussed mainly on the Buddha statue issue and the murder of five Tamil youths at the Dutch bay beach. While Sinhala votes got divided three way Tamil votes were mobilised in one direction. With some Muslim support the TNA contesting as ITAK won resoundingly in both the Urban and Pradeshiya Council polls.The results left many Sinhala hawks bitter over the Tamil success.

The architecht of this victory was Vanniyasingham Vigneswaran.This 51 year old bank employee was the president of the Trinco Tamil peoples forum. The forum was regarded as a mouthpiece of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Vigneswaran spearheaded the local poll campaign.He was to be rewarded for his services by getting the TNA national list nomination. The vacancy was caused by Joseph Pararajasingham’s assassination.

Vigneswaran was assassinated on April 7th.He was gunned down at the premises of the bank he was an employee of . This was in the midst of a high security zone with the Police and Navy headquarters in close proximity.It was widely suspected that the killing was done by Tamil paramilitaries affiliated to the state.

The LTTE made much propaganda out of the killing.A series of meetings condemning the killing were organized. On a different track a tiger front called “Tamil upsurge force” began targeting the security forces through the exploding of claymore mines. The violence came to Trinco on April 11th. Vigneswaran’s funeral was held in the morning. The final procession had more than 6000 people participating.

Some youths among the mourners engaged in provocative conduct. A few sentry posts and check points were smashed up. Security personnel had vacated them temporarily to maintain a low profile during the procession. Some hooting and jeering was also done by rowdy elements in Sinhala neighbourhoods.

Simmering tensions received a boost when a navy truck hit a claymore mine at Thambalagamam. Eleven sailors were killed and eight injured.The mood turned bad. Jaffna district TNA parliamentarian Nadaraja Raviraj who was in Trincomalee for the funeral was attacked by a mob while returning. This was done near a checkpost manned by navy personnel. No help was forthcoming alleges the MP.

On the following day morning (April 12th) a Police vehicle was hit by a landmine at Kumburupiddy about 30 km away from Trinco town.Two cops were killed and two injured.With this some elements began hatching a plot. Apparently the plan was to launch a reprisal attack on Tamils if and when the LTTE exploded a claymore again. Though the tigers officially disclaim responsibility for the claymore attacks and attribute blame in cowardly fashion to the Tamil civilians few believe that the LTTE was not responsible.

But the next tiger attack was even more provocative. Civilians in a pre- dominantly Sinhala market were targeted. With Sinhala and Tamil new year being around the corner Trinco was bustling despite the tensions with business activity. It was around 3. 20 pm on the 12th when a bomb went off near the entrance to the vegetable market. It was an anti - personnel claymore mine concealed in a parcel attached to a bicycle parked opposite a coconut vendor stall.

Most of the victims at that point were Sinhalese. But there were Tamils and Muslims too caught up in the explosion..One of those killed was a soldier. One story related by a Trinco Sinhala resident was that a Sinhala woman and three year old child were also killed. Another sailor was injured. The bomb however was not targeting security personnel.It was apparent that civilians were the target.

In the ensuing melee after the bomb attack some naval personnel from a nearby post came running to the spot firing away. It is reported that some people were hit in this burst of firing. At this point of time the Sinhala anti - social elements began stirring. It is well - known that many of the rowdy and criminal elements are from the fisherfolk dwellings known as “Koreeyawa”. These elements are the chief component of the dreaded “market” gang too.

These elements then began to attack Tamils. The security personnel mainly from the navy and Police simply stood by watching.Even as pandemonium reigned Tamil youths are believed to have exploded four grenades at 3. 45 pm, 3. 50 pm, 3.55 pm and 4.00 pm in the town.These explosions did not cause any casualties. According to some these explosions were to frighten the hoodlums away.

It was around 4. 15 pm that organised reprisals on a large scale began..The official line is that people infuriated by the killings erupted into spontaneous violence. The reality was somewhat different. This was no instance of angry mobs going berserk alone but also a case of cold - blooded calculation. It appears that the plan formulated beforehand to attack Tamils was now underway. The explosion was like a green light signal.

Gangs of young Sinhala speaking men in civilian garb arrived in four lorries and one bus. The men were mainly from Kanthalai and Serunuwara. Many of them were auxiliary homeguards. Some were navy men in civils. The TNA has accused the navy of transporting these thugs into Trinco town. But many Tamil residents feel a high ranking Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna politician from the district was behind the manouevre.

Most of the mobile marauders were close cropped and wore shorts and tee- shirts. Some of them had clubs, rods, knives and swords. Tamils were singled out for assault and battering. Many Tamil owned vehicles were smashed up or burnt. If these were crimes of passion there were profit oriented crimes too. The anti - social elements began joining these people in these acts.

Tamil businesses were systematically ransacked and looted. The spoils were carefully loaded into vehicles and taken away. Several of the looted shop buildings were set on fire. A few Tamil owned houses were attacked too. Several Tamil women were hacked with swords and knives. Some were cruelly cut on their faces, hands and breasts. Tamil residents also said a Tamil woman and her two year old child were slashed.It is also reported that there was at least one instance where Tamils were thrown into the raaging fire in their business premises.

Ironically Trinco town was teeming with security personnel from the Army, Navy and Police. Additional men had been deployed earlier on account of the New year festivity. Yet none of the cops or security men tried to prevent or restrain the mobs from attacking Tamils and their property. Most stood by offering tacit encouragement. In some cases men in Naval uniform were seen aiding and abetting.

The numerical strength of the marauing mobs was between 100 to 150. The security personnel with their numbers and weapons could have stopped them easly. They did not.Instead they encouraged the mobs.

The violence was initially confined to areas near the Clock tower , Central road, Main street, North Coast road etc. It appeared that several large shops were specifically targeted - among them were Hari Electricals, the Dollar Agency, the Dialog Company and the Sunlight (Lever Brothers) Agency. The mob also attacked the Hatton National Bank.

Later the violence began spreading to Lingapuram and Anbuvalipuram. An IOC franchised fuel outlet was attacked. An employee was hacked severely. Six Tamils on motor cycles were attacked at different times on the Kandy road. Four Tamils in a three - wheeler and motor cycle were attacked along the Nilaweli road.

Mobs began attacking banks in town too. Bank employees were trapped. Their parked vehicles were damaged. Stones were thrown. Despite alarms connected to the Police station being set off no Policemen came to the Hatton national bank. Currently most bank employees are on strike demanding security guarantees.

The security personnel who remained inactive were very active in ensuring that Tamils were sent away from their businesses and homes in a few instances. They promised them that they would be protected. These guarantees were honoured only in the breach.

The situation was in a sense a miniscular repeat performance of the 1983 July violence where pre - meditated attacks were launched against the Tamils after a landmine killed 13 soldiers. The security personnel then stood simply by or assisted the mobs. A palpable sense of fear and terror now hung over the Tamils. This feeling of insecurity was enhanced by the rumour that the mobs were going to attack all Tamils in the town at night.

The TNA win in both the Trincomalee urban and regional (Pradeshiya Sabha) Councils was mainly due to the bloc voting by Tamils concentrated in the town. This victory was greatly resented by Sinhala hawks.

Now the Sinhala “warriors” were going to remedy this state of affairs was the gist of a rumour spreading like wildfire.. An “ethnic cleansing” (suddha koramu) campaign was going to be conducted in Trinco town. Tamil homes were to be destroyed and burnt. Tamils were to be attacked and driven away as refugees. Trinco was to be purged of Tamils overnight. With the gangs celebrating after consuming liquour the talk of ethnic cleansing began gathering momentum.

Adding to Tamil anxiety was an enforced power failure plunging the town into darkness.It was obvious that neither the Police nor the security forces were going to protect the Tamils or prevent violence in case of such an eventuality. Agitated Tamil politicians from the district contacted Indian High Commission officials in Colombo. New Delhi was alerted. Soon an interesting yet worthwhile development occurred.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh initiated efforts to contact Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse. This resulted in Rajapakse telephoning Singh. The Indian PM expressed sorrow over the killings of security personnel and conveyed his condolences. At the same time he urged that whatever the provocation civilian lives needed to be protected at all times. Singh requested Rajapakse to take all steps to protect the vulnerable Tamil civilians. He also wanted the strategic Trincomalee to be kept stable.

Rajapakse began to act fast. He sent the Police chief Chandra Fernando and Joint Operations command chief Daya Sandagiri to Trinco. He also sent Investment promotion minister Rohitha Bogollagama and North - Central Province chief minister Bertie Premalal Dissanayake to Trinco. This high level intervention brought about a qualitative change.

Slowly the situation was brought under control. A curfew was declared. Attempts were made to enforce that curfew. Security forces fired in the air to disperse mobs. No one however was arrested. Thanks to Manmohan Singh’s initiative and Mahinda Rajapakse’s response a major calamity was averted that night.

Tamils in Trinco breathed sighs of relief the following morning at the disaster that was averted, But the damage done was massive. But violence continued. The body of a Sinhala youth named Nissanka from Mahindapura was found in Thoorankaadu on April 14th morning. Missing from the 13th he had been hacked to death. Sinhala villagers from Mahindapura then sought revenge and went on the rampage against the neighbouring Tamil village Nadesapuram.

About 60 houses in Nadesapuram were attacked. Over 40 were burnt.The Nadeswarar Sivan temple was burnt down The office of the Trincomalee District Youth Development Organization (AHAM) was attacked and several vehicles belonging to the organization were set on fire;

Similar incidents have taken place in Thuwarangkadu, resulting in the displacement of almost 1000 persons, and in Andankulam, where several houses were burnt down. The houses in Andankulam were new, built under a post-tsunami reconstruction scheme.

.Another 15 Tamil houses in Mahindapuram were also attacked. A further 50 thatched dwellings in Kanniya were burnt down. These belonged to people who had been refugees in India for many years. They had returned home after the ceasefire. Mobs also began assaulting Tamils. The victims fled in terror to places of worship and schools in Palaiootru and Peeliaddy.

Three persons however were killed in this round of anti - Tamil violence. One was a 60 year old woman Somasuntharam Maheswary. She was dragged out of the Nadeswarar temple and chopped to death. The other killed was an Indian national.Venkadasamy Venkatraman (30) of Ramamoorthy Nagar, Bangalore in South India. He was an astrologer by profession. The third to be killed was Thannimalai Namasivayalingam aged 28 a minor employee of the Trinco district secretariat.

There were two more landmine attacks on security personnel by LTTE elements.An army vehicle was hit but only a few were injured slightly. No deaths. Three airforce men however were killed in another incident in Kappalthurai. Fearing reprisals over 2400 Tamils fled their homes and took refuge in schools. But mercifully there were no reprisals.

The Government imposed curfews in three divisions including Trinco town and gradually relaxed them. People however have been displaced due to the violence. 319 from 98 families are housed in Bharathy Vidyalayam in Varothaya nagar; 243 from 67 families are in Kalaimagal vidyalayam in Bharathypuram. 275 from 75 families are in the Bharathipuram school. Some are stayng with relatives while some others have fled to Tiger controlled areas.

As of the 20th April, the District Secretariat, Trincomalee, had the displaced figure at 2673 persons (723 families). This does not take into account the large numbers who are residing with family and friends, and those who are simply leaving their homes at night-time for more secure locations. The response to the displacement, even from NGOs, has been slow, hampered by the prevailing tensions and lack of personnel. In some areas government assistance was received only on the 18th April, despite the fact that people were displaced on the 14th April.

Though an accurate and authentic estimate of the deaths and destruction is yet to be made preliminary figures indicated that at least 36 people had been killed from 11th to 14th. Of these 16 were Sinhala speaking security personnel and Policemen. They had all been killed by LTTE inspired claymore mine and bomb attacks.

Of the 20 recorded civilian deaths eleven were Tamils, seven Sinhala and two muslims. At least six Sinhala civilians had been killed in the vegetable market explosion. Of these two were women.Of the seven Tamils killed in Trinco town on the 12th six were women.

The preliminary medical report states that all fifteen persons killed in Trinco town on April 12th died in the market bomb explosions. But many Trinco residents dispute that. They say that a few were killed in security force firing and that some others had been hacked to death by mobs and even burnt alive.. Four charred bodies presumed to be Tamil have not been identified yet. Also some Tamil residents are reported missing and feared dead.People believe many Tamil bodies have been disposed of by their killers.

About 70 people were injured. Of these nearly 50 obtained treatment at the Trinco hospital. At least 32 are warded still. The condition of some are said to be critical. Most of the injured persons are Tamils.

Attempts by this column to obtain more detailed particulars from Trincomalee hospital and Police circles were not successful.

34 businesses were looted and gutted. 14 were smashed up and looted.70 street hawkers were attacked and deprived of their merchandise. Only two of the affected businesses were owned by Muslims. Among hawkers 5 were Muslims.A Sinhala owned bakery caught fire when a pajeiro cooler was set on fire opposite the premises. About 15 vehicles were burnt and about 60 smashed up.

The LTTE seems to have provoked violence and left innocent Tamils to face the reprisals and retaliation. People are yet to recover from the shock. Adding to Tamil insecurity is the continuing presence of gangs moving about freely in the town. No one has been arrested let alone charged in connection with the violence. An inquiry from the Police elicited the stock reply “we are investigating”.This perhaps is the worst indictment of the Rajapakse regime.

It has been the unfortunate tendency of Sinhala mobs aided by security personnel to attack Tamil civilians in revenge when the LTTE attacked the army, navy or Police. This practice had decreased considerably in the recent past. A new aggressive spirit became visible after the ascension of Mahinda Rajapakse to the presidency. The triumvirate of Defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse, Army chief Sarath Fonseka and Defence adviser HMGB Kotakadeniya seem to have fashioned a new policy.

Retaliation against Tamil civilans is now unofficially sanctioned state policy. Instead of the security forces getting openly involved Tamil paramilitary forces and Sinhala thugs are used for this purpose. A large number of Tamil civilians regarded as being close to the LTTE were killed and are being killed even now. While the International community praises Rajapakse and the security forces for their “commendable restraint” the anti - Tamil violence goes on.

In Trincomalee there was an element of spontaneity and pre - planning in the anti - Tamil violence. The greater part of the violence however was pre - meditated and systematic. Sections of the security forces particularly the navy aided, abetted and even participated directly in the violence.

It appears that there was a pre-planned conspiracy to attack Tamils in Trincomalee if and when security personnel were targeted again. When Sinhala civilians were affected the Trinco town thugs began attacking Tamils on their own. Then came the organized gangs. Some security personnel also joined the mobs or tacitly supported them.

Once again Trincomalee has been in the eye of a violent storm. There is a repetitive pattern.. Anti - Tamil violence has occurred several times in the past. The racial violence of both 1977 and 1983 saw Trincomalee Tamils being affected badly. The long war too saw Trincomalee getting badly hit. This is due to its strategic importance and ethnic mix.

Tamils have long suspected a design in the violence. There is fear that conspiracies are underfoot to de- populate the town of Tamils. The recent violence has strengthened suspicion of an ethnic cleansing campaign being on the cards.While the violence had ceased at present tensions remain like smouldering embers ever ready to erupt into flames at the slightest provocative blowing.

There is a powerful Sinhala organization in Trincomalee that is blatantly racist. Its members cut across political affiliations. The motivating ideology is Sinhala Buddhist supremacy. This organization is suspected of having played a major role in the violence.Many security personnel in Trincomalee are sympathetic to this Sinhala association.

The fear among Tamils in Trincomalee is that communal violence could flare up again. They know that the security forces and Police will not ensure their protection. Many Tamils also feel that the Government is not sympathetic towards their plight. Many have noted the complete public silence maintained by Mahinda Rajapakse on Trincomalee. Not even one word of sympathy has been extended to the victimised Tamils.

Troubles in Trincomalee have once again brought about an uncomfortable sense of Deja Vu. The town was on the edge of a major conflagration. The pattern of events has demonstrated that another July 1983 is quite possible. The similiarity was striking. Provocative tiger attacks against security forces, premeditated reprisals against Tamil civilians , security force complicity or inaction, inability or unwillingness of Government and state machinery to respond effectively, limited Indian intervention, blacking out or distortion of events in mainstream media etc. All the ingredients of 1983 were available in a micro level.

Political commentators have been talking of a paradigm shift in Sri Lankan politics for quite a while. One facet of that shift was the moving away of the polity from the unitary state model. It was stated that there was acceptance that the Country had to move towards devolution amounting to federalism. The debate was about the degree of devolution. Unitarism was passe they said.

The recent Presidential elections reversed that belief. Mahinda Rajapakse dismissed devolution and espoused the unitary state concept. Aligning with Sinhala hardliners like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Jathika Hela Urumaya Rajapakse contested on a platform arguing for retention and preservation of the unitary state. He won handsomely with massive support in the Sinhala electorate.Unitary state was back.

The second facet of the so called paradigm shift was that the Country had learnt its lessons of 1983. There would no more be a repetition of that dark scenario it was argued. The Trincomalee violence has shown that a July 1983 could be very much on the cards again. All the ingredients are there. If political will and authority is lacking at the top another major flare up would be inevitable.Given the fact that massive racial violence would help in the tiger scheme of things one can expect the LTTE to add fuel to the fire.

So the sad lesson from the Presidential election and the recent Trincomalee violence is that the so called paradigm shift has not taken place after all. The Unitary state as well as anti - Tamil racial violence are very much there.The more things seem to change the more they remain the same.Sri Lanka may be going forward towards the past.

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