Ethnic Cleansing By Decree: The Evicted Tamils of Trincomalee

By Dharman Dharmaratnam

The Mahinda Rajapakse administration issued an Extraodinary Gazette notification today that Mutur East and Sampur are now declared a High Security Zone. It announced a Special Economic Zone in the area under the Board of Investment Law. This would have a land area of 675 square kilometers (260.5 square miles). The 51,450 Tamils who fled Mutur East and Sampur late last year would not be allowed to return. The Government has taken steps to appropriate all private land in the area in an attempt to change the ethnic character of the Trincomalee district. No international wire service nor the BBC covered this news at the time that I draft this opinion piece. The contrast with the earlier coverage of the eviction of Tamils from the Colombo district could not be more stark. The latest gazette notification has grave consequences for the future of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

I refer to the UNHCR document on Sri Lanka i.e. IDPs by Place of Displacement and Place of Origin as of April 16, 2007 . The acronym IDP refers to Internally Displaced Persons. The UNHCR document reveals that 51,450 persons were displaced from Mutur as at April 2007. Of this amount, 35,422 had fled to Batticaloa late last year. 9,653 had fled to Amparai. 6,375 moved to the urban precincts of Trincomalee. These IDPs were all Tamil who fled the incessant aerial bombardment and multi-barrel rocket launches of the advancing Sri Lankan armed forces in late 2006. The majority of the 20,000 refugees who escaped to India last year were also from the Trincomalee district. The Muslims who were displaced by the LTTE’s temporary occupation of Mutur town in the western part of that division were forcibly returned by the Sri Lankan military authorities and are hence not included in the above mentioned UNHCR list of IDPs.

[Trincomalee, Murur & Sampur- Map: TamilNet]

Mutur East has been a Tamil area of habitation since early times. During the Chola interlude in the 10th century, Mutur, Kinniya and Ichchilampattru were known as Rajaraja Valanadu and Vikrama Chola Valanadu. With the invasions of Magha of Kalinga in 1215 AD, matrilineal Mukkuvar principalities emerged in this area. An old Tamil Hindu civilizational presence in the region is now being swept away by Government decree. One suspects the hand of Gothabhaya Rajapakse, the brother to the President and Secretary, Ministry of Defence, in the scheme. An American citizen, it was he who planned the eviction of between 15,000 to 20,000 Tamils in Colombo, a step which would have been carried through if not for the timely intervention of the Supreme Court, not to mention the international outrage. But the international community is now silent.

The Government’s Gazette notification is a measure in a long series of steps to change the ethnic character of the East and the Trincomalee district in particular. The Don Stephen Senanayake administration initiated the Gal Oya colonization scheme in what was then known as South Batticaloa in the early 1950s. This area is now referred to as either Amparai or Digamadulla. He sponsored the settlement of thousands of Sinhalese in the area through a process of demographic re-engineering. He also paved the way for the large scale settlement of Sinhalese in the interior divisions of the Trincomalee district. This included Kantalai, Moraweva (Mudalikulam), Gomarankadavela (Kumaran Kadavai) and Padavi Siripura (Padavikulam).

The Junius Richard Jayewardene administration carried this further with the eviction of Tamils from Weli Oya (Manal Aru) in 1987 by similar Gazette notification. The then Government issued an Extraordinary Gazette on April 16, 1988 ordering 13,288 Tamil families to vacate their lands in 42 villages in this strategic piece of real estate that divided the North and the East. The land belonging to 14 Tamil entrepreneurs on a 99 year lease was abruptly revoked as well. The Weli Oya scheme was brought under the Mahaweli Authority and 9,289 Sinhalese families were brought in. However, many Sinhalese have since left given the fluid military situation.

For those keen to read more about the settlement of Sinhalese in what is today Weli Oya could read the Special Report of the University Teachers for Human Rights – Jaffna (UTHR-J) dated September 1993 titled From Manal Aru to Weli Oya and the Spirit of July, 1983 and the UTHR-J report Land, Human Rights and the Eastern Predicament dated April, 1993.

One needs to place things in perspective. By an Extraordinary Gazette notification today, the Government now attempts to alter the demographic character of the Trincomalee district. It has expelled the Tamil residents of the area. While Weli Oya served to interrupt the territorial contiguity of the North and the East, this attempt to de-Tamilize Mutur is intended to disrupt the territorial contiguity between Trincomalee and Batticaloa through a proposed Sinhalese enclave.

The latest Gazette notification in Trincomalee is brazen and outrageous. It is an effort to expel the centuries old Tamil Hindu civilizational presence there. But international precedents for ethnic cleansing do exist and we need to be mindful of these as we fight this latest injustice of the Rajapakse administration.

In the aftermath of World War 2, between 13.5 and 16.5 million Germans were evicted from Poland, the Czech republic, Kaliningrad in Russia, Slovakia and Hungary. They were evicted from what were old German villages and provinces with a history that went back to the Middle Ages. This was the old Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, Danzig and Konigsberg. I refer here to Hubatsch, Walther, ed.: The German Question, New York: Herder Book Center, 1967. The ethnic cleansing was underwritten by the victorious allied powers where no less than Winston Churchill stated in the House of Commons in 1944, “Expulsion is the method which, in so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble. .. A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by these transferences, which are more possible in modern conditions…” . It seems that the Rajapakse administration has had good antecedents.

In more recent times, Serbs constituted 24% of Kosovo in 1961. They had been in that land for centuries. Faced with an upsurge of attacks on minority Serbs and a fiercly instransigent ethnic Albanian majority, the Serbs began to leave. I refer to page 260 of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. The Serb population in Kosovo declined to 10% in 1991 and is currently 5%. Once again, a ‘nuisance minority’ had been evicted with the United States and West Europe now calling for Kosovan independence given the changed demographic reality. It is fait accompli.

We need to be mindful of international precedents as we respond to the move of Mahinda Rajapakse and fight to protect the old Tamil presence in Trincomalee. This gazette notification can not go unchallenged. The fact remains that the brain behind this i.e. Gothabhaya Rajapakse is an American citizen. Conscientious Tamil citizens of the United States should file action in the American court system to register the human rights violations perpertrated by this American national.

Meanwhile, the Chinese plan to invest in Mutur. Their investments include a coal fired power plant given delays in the Indian credit pipeline. India under Sonia Gandhi drifts aimlessly as its southern flank stands increasingly exposed with other powers lurking in its neighborhood. The Sri Lankan Tamils need to be mindful of the international geopolitical ramifications as we protect what remains of our land.

A first step would be for the Tamil Members of Parliament to raise a point of order in the Sri Lankan legislature questioning the move. The second step would be for Tamil activists in Sri Lanka, preferably from Mutur itself, to file a fundamental rights case at the Supreme Court. A third would be for Tamil expatriates in Canada, Germany and Switzerland to raise international awareness of the just gazetted ethnic cleansing. Tamil residents in the United Kingdom should approach MPs to highlight the latest effort at ethnic cleansing by decree. A fifth step would be for Tamils resident in the US to avail of that country’s legal system to highlight the role of Gothabhaya Rajapakse in a multitude of human rights abuses in recent months. A case should also be filed at the UN Commission for Human Rights. Tamil legislators should in addition lobby the international media be it Agence France Press, Reuters or BBC to cover the issue.

All is not lost. The Sri Lankan military now faces a stalemate on the Northern theater of operations. It is short of ammunition and firepower after initial successes in the East. The Treasury is short of funds. With concerted action on our part, we would help the beleaguered Tamils in Trincomalee who have been evicted by the stroke of a pen!

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  1. Very good news coverage by dharman Dharmaratnam with facts and helpless feeling. The hypocrisy of International media like BBC is very well exposed.

    Last week Akashi has visited Eastern province and it appears that he must have given green light to this programme. Japanese and India may be using this special economic zone for their lucarative business.

    It appears On the whole IC and India are fully support in the war directly or indirectly and letting down the helpless minority in dispair by loosing their homeland.

  2. This is excellent investigative journalism complete with history and international comparisons. More Sri Lankans need to read this. Thank you very much for the timely article.

  3. chola invasion, madras seapoy mass murder is the real gazette notification, re-settlement and ethnic clensing. The ancient agro-engineering buddist civilization was almost wiped out by these moroding expansionists. In reality it is correcting an error. The people have for obvious reasons not gone to mono-ethnic wanni.

  4. V:

    I am not sure whether the ‘ancient agro-engineering buddist civilization’ that you talk about was 100% Buddhist. The Tamil presence in the island goes back to the Early Iron Age and the Megalith urn burials while the Tamil contribution to the hydraulic irrigation technology is unmistakable. I recommend that you read K. Indrapala’s seminal publication ‘The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity: The Tamils in Sri Lanka 300 BCE – 1200 CE’ published in Sydney in 2005.

    We Sinhalese need a grip on reality. The Weli Oya scheme was a failure. There was no perennial water in the colonization scheme and we have used our poor peasants as a literal human shield in fighting a nonsensical war. Likewise with other precarious colonization schemes on the Batticaloa border. I can bet you that there would be no enduring Sinhalese settlement in Mutur. It would simply not be sustainable.

  5. What a bout security for China Bay, this will turn the area into a major economic Zone giving jobs to Tamils, and other countries will invest in industries and develop this area. If these poeple are not evicted LTTE could infiltrate and attack the chinabay and not alow any development in the area. Don’t these people want jobs and want there area develop. I’m not saying that they should be evicted, but if goverment can compensate for there losses can’t they be settled volentarily. What do residents who are moved have to say about this. I would like to know that, are they been copmensated and are they happy about it? i would like to know their openion before we discus anything.

  6. Thanks for the article.
    My childhood home in sourthern Jaffna is a part of an high security zone created by the GOSL. We fled during the night and I still remember the countless attacks by the Sri Lankan air force. My family was lucky enough to be able to go overseas.
    But I often ponder on what would it been like if I had born into a poor family…
    The people in the East has suffered way too much over the last 2 decades. Their children are traumatised and the Sri Lankan army would arrest, detain and torture the men as they please..
    Our people have to fight back….let’s be proactive and start with the little things – like helping out a poor relative in the war torn norh-east, boycotting SL goods, writing to local MPS etc.

  7. Hi Rasika

    The Government’s latest blunder has very little to do with economics and everything to do with the war. Trincomalee would never be an economic powerhouse given the deep ethnic fractures and its proximity to the Vanni.

    Another reason Trincomalee is unlikely to take off is that it lacks rail or road connectivity to a booming industrial hinterland. Polonnaruwa does not qualify as an industrial hinterland. You can not build a power house in a void. Trincomalee is also far off from the mainline shipping routes. The contrast with Colombo or Galle is there for all to see. Or for that matter with Rotterdam, New York, Sydney, Hong Kong, Mumbai or Singapore. A port only derives importance if it is linked to an industrial zone.

    Further, most of the Trincomalee harbor is not deep water unlike Colombo or Galle. Except for the naval base and the Prima Flour Mills area, the rest is quite silty especially Mutur. Do not forget that Mutur is the delta for the Mahaweli Ganga river.

    The Government has declared a special economic zone. It has evicted the Tamils there. This is blatantly racist. I doubt anyone would invest in what is clearly a zone of contention. The China factor that Dharman Dharmaratnam highlights is unlikely to pass because India would surreptiously disrupt that.

    All in all, this is not a pretty picture with the Tamils likely to galvanize on this one issue. I foresee more reactive terrorism and I moan for the Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim alliance.


  8. I think even Karuna Amman should be worrying this new HSZ in Muttur, and Sampur. If he desires to be the leader of the East, he should follow-up with current Master Rajepakse brothers. At any cost, you can’t loose this are a to colonization. We had enough of these.

    Unlike some of your reader’s comment, I am not convince that India would try to prevent this. Contrary to the many Tamil’s opinion, for the geo-political, and strategic reasons, India would go along with Rajepakses’, and build 300MW coal power station in Sampur.

  9. Dharman,

    This is a very good feature article.

    I am surprised at the silence of the Tamil parliamentarians in light of this dramatic development. What do they propose to do with this blatant policy of eviction and ethnic displacement. The Tamil percentage in Trincomalee, once 60%, would now decline further. Does the TNA have any policy response? Do they plan to file action in the Supreme Court? Are they capable of doing anything constructive except to mouth pro-LTTE platitudes.

    The LTTE is strangely quiet as well. It was they who initiated the current round of hostilities by provoking the hardline Mahinda Rajapakse with Mavil Aru ostensibly to secure water for the Tamils of Mutur East. Well, there are no Tamils in Mutur East anymore thanks to their foolhardiness. They have repeated strategic blunder after blunder. The first was the attack on the Indian Peace Keeping Forces in 1987. Then came the forced evacuation of the Jaffna peninsula in December, 1995. And finally, the LTTE-enforced polls boycott in the North East that allowed Mahinda to become President. They need to be held accountable. Tamil meida is strangely silent at all this.

    The international community is also quiet after the initial uproar on the evictions of Tamils from Colombo. I guess they too can shout so much. The onus is left on us. We civilians should do our part as your last two paragraphs so eloquently suggest.

  10. Thank you for high lighting the ethenic cleansing and state colonization by the sinhalese army on the tamil areas of the north east. When will the UN get involved ?

  11. Dharman

    A very informative article. This is an eye opener. The IDPs need to file action at the Supreme Court immediately to prevent the loss of their lands and to stay the Government ruling.

  12. Mahendra,

    I have absolutely no intention of defending the LTTE (they have not been very nice to their own people), but the assertion that the LTTE started Mavil Aru is flawed. the LTTE did trigger of a long series of confrontations by attacking Sarath Fonseka, but the Mavil Aru/Sampoor offensive seems to have been pre-planned.

    when analysing what happened in the Muthur area, one needs to take the period that preceded the Mavil Aru offensive into consideration.

    two weeks before the attack on Sarath Fonseka, the army already upgraded the Kallar army camp to Brigade-level. this seems to me like something was already planned beforehand, because in the situation before the attack on Fonseka there was absolutely no urgent reason to suddenly create a new brigade and put it at Kallar.

    then, after the attack on Fonseka, there were massive retaliation bombings, partly on villages that were interior and had absolutely no LTTE bases around. this was pure revenge. part of it consisted of attacking the LTTE (which is legitimate), but part of it was indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas (which is a war crime). It seems to me that the preparations were not ready yet, so the ground offensive could not start yet. instead, paramilitaries were brought in who did cause significant damage to the LTTE. parallel to this, the army blocked all entry and exit roads to the area, and prohibited the civilians living in the area from taking in or out any goods. this led to serious food shortages in the sampoor area, and it seems to me that the blockage of the sluice gates at Mavil Aru was in response to this.

    interestingly, the Daily Mirror reported that two local Buddhist monks (who both have a reputation for being hardliners, but who also both have lived in the area for a very long time and know when to be pragmatic) had managed to negotiate a solution with the LTTE, and the LTTE agreed to open the channels. the very same day, the army attacked.

    two small comments on the article:

    1) the figure mentioned in the article for the number of people who are affected by the atrocious decision to declare a HSZ is incorrect; there were some 15,000 and not 51,000 people living in the area. whatever the numbers of people affected, it is and remains an atrocity.

    2) the historically dominant lineages in the area north of Verukal are not Mukkuvar but Thimilar, as proved by available VOC documents. the Mukkuvar who are present in the area moved in some 80 years ago from Batticaloa and have never had a dominant position in the area.

    Rasika, a good look at the statistics of jobs in the industries that developed around the Trinco harbour will show you that so far, there has been a very dominant trend of employing Sinhalese and not Tamils in these companies. i therefore think that your assertion that the development of industries in China Bay will benefit Tamils is incorrect.

  13. The only way for Rajapakse Inc., to remain in power, after their lacklustre
    performance nearing two years, is to appease the larger electorate – the chauvinistic, Sinhala Buddhist Electorate. For this you also need a well-equipped Army. As we learn from the Press, the army is calling for a further 50,000 more men. Why do we need additional forces now that the Govt propaganda units are daily claiming victories in all Fronts? Batticaloa they claim is taken. And so Trinco. So we will eventually have over 250,000 men going after a mere 8,000 LTTE cadres. Does not make too much military sense. We are already a Garrison-State and Colombo is shamefully a military city with ubiquitous soldiers clutching modern, sophisticated and costly rifles and flying in motor-bikes, Jeeps etc., Whatever happens to the Cost of Living and other so long as the Govt can tell Buddhist Sinhala ears they are “winning” the war everything will be forgotten and forgiven. But the raw truth must come out someday – and it will in all its fury and probably sooner than the ruling clique figures.

    As to the Tamils, we have been losing since the days of old DS.

    Gal Oya scheme put paid to Tamils living for generations in South Batticaloa. The Mahaweli there made it worst. Trincomalee’s ethnic balance continues to slide against Tamil interests. The Colombo eviction, I venture to suggest, is a “Dry run” for things to come in the future for the “Final Solution” of Lankan Tamils.

    India and the Int’l Community can and must bring in the necessary sense and justice to our rapid slid into anarchy. Today, as I write this note, even many Sinhalese, include hard-core Rajapakse supporters, are embarrassed at what their Govt is doing to the Tamils – and, they know justice will soon prevail. Mahinda Rajapakse’s threat last week to “dissolve” Parliament is the painful cry of a man on a hopeless trek – beseiged from all sides. Unfortunately, the country’s economy and the well being of 20 million people are being taken along this perilous path. I know I sound like a Prophet of Doom – but what do we have before us now?

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