by K. Arvind
President Rajapaksa is generally believed to be free of racial bias, he alienated the Tamils, the larger number of whom died and suffered in the recent Trinco incidents, by unwisely choosing to visit only the home of the driver of the vehicle that was subject to the claymore mine attack.
“It will never happen again. At least, the government will not allow that to happen in that scale again.”
Familiar words of the Sinhalese of good intent assuring their Tamil friends that ugly watershed that blackened the face of decent Sinhalese in the eyes of the world – July ‘83 – assuredly will not visit them again. Unfortunately, for them Bindunuwewa, a mini-version of ‘83, muddied the waters and we thought Bindunuwewa was the last.
The events in Trincomalee April 11-12 proved everyone wrong. Well-known columnist D.B.S. Jeyaraj reporting as the event unfolded writes about April 12, “An explosion shattered the calm at about 3.45 p.m. in the vegetable market. A group of army and navy personnel seemed to be the target initially. Some army and naval personnel began opening fire at random. About 5 Tamils were killed and over 20 hit by gunfire. People began scattering from the area and the town began shutting down. Within minutes of the attack a group of unidentified men believed to be naval personnel in civvies threw 3 grenades at Tamil shops in the town According to residents the grenades exploded within a ten minute period between 4 to 4.10 p.m. One of the grenades exploded in a provision shop and injured about five to eight people there. Around 4.15 p.m. saw trucks trundling to the heart of Trinco town. Gangs of Sinhala speaking youth got out brandishing weapons swords, clubs, knives, rods etc They were in civvies.
“These hoodlums then went on the rampage The armed assailants were Sinhala-speaking while the unarmed victims were Tamil-speaking. There were no riots – as alleged by some. It was essentially one-sided with the Sinhala gangs going on the rampage while the predominantly Sinhala army, navy and police simply watched or in some instances assisted the marauders. The gangs began assaulting victims mercilessly.
“They wrecked any Tamil-owned vehicle in sight. If some sections were engaged in crimes of passion others were involved in crimes of profit. Gangs began systematically looting and stripping shops of their merchandise. The “spoils of war” were then loaded into trucks and taken away. While at least one vehicle was seen going into the dockyard naval camp, other vehicles were taken to Sinhala residential areas. The gangs consisted of desparate elements, some were security personnel in civvies – others Sinhala homeguards. Some were activists and supporters of the JVP and JHU. Some were criminal elements from the market area and coastal settlements.”
With the events of the previous days including the killing of Vigneshwaran and the naval personnel, rumour was afloat that something major will take place in the town before the New Year. Even a child in that atmosphere would have anticipated trouble. There was open talk of efforts to cleanse (Suddha karanda) Trincomalee of Tamils permanently. The Police and other authorities were aware of this and why they did not take appropriate preventive measures is puzzling. The speed to which organized gangs in appropriate vehicles arrived at the vegetable market site only a few minutes after the explosion explains the fear conspirators were already at work to unleash terror and mayhem. It was whispered the troubles will be inspired and assisted by uniformed sources. Frantic efforts of the Trincomalee UC Chairman Gowrimuhunthan and TNA MP Thurairatnasingham to reach Police high-ups or the Defence hierarchy in Colombo was a non starter as the telephone lines were reported “out.”
Thurairatnasingham unable to reach the President, left an urgent message with his staff but no return call or remedial action followed, SLMM, often accused of taking the Tamil side, when approached said that part of the function did not come under their purview and, strangely added, the lives of European monitors cannot be endangered. So much for the independence of the monitors. In desperation. the TNA MP’s reached the Indian High Commission authorities and pleaded with them to use their influences to prevent further harm to Tamils.
It was only when the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh telephoned President Mahinda Rajapaksa to take necessary and immediate steps to stop further carnage, that things began moving.
Premier Singh impressed upon Rajapaksa that whatever the provocation by the LTTE. the civilian Tamil community should not be harmed in retaliation, He urged the police and security forces should protect all civilians regardless of race or religion. He told Rajapaksa the reports he was getting suggested Tamil civilians were being targeted. He reminded Rajapaksa of his concern for Indian personnel – some of them Tamils themselves; at the IOC facility in Trincomalee.
The Indian PM is believed to have advised Rajapaksa to take special care not to let the situation deteriorate more than it already has. This saw President Rajapaksa dispatching Minister Bogollagama, the IGP, NP, CM Berty Premalal and former Naval Chief Sandagiri to Trinco.
The Police then declared a curfew – something that should have taken place in the normal course of things as troubles erupted. To do this after several Tamils were killed, dozens maimed and rendered homeless is, at best, dereliction of duties and, at worst, collusion. This raises another question raised in several quarters. Are their sinister sources within the forces out to ensure the communal cauldron is always on “heat’? Do they operate on assured protection from high as the January 02 cold blooded killing of the 5 youth suggests?
This brutal conspiracy apparently aimed at derailing the peace-talks saw within it yet another’ demonstration of Sinhalese decency and culture when DMO Dr. Gamini Gunatunga steadfastly held on to his ground against enormous pressure, not excluding threats to his life, arid certified the deaths of the five youth were caused by gunshot injuries fired from close quarters.
It does not enhance the reputation of our justice system that none of the criminals in this high-profile incident were brought to justice — although many of them can easily be identified. And the tragedy of it all in the present case is even those Trinco Tamils, usually indifferent to the LTTE, had to bear indignity where it was only the intervention of the Indian PM that saved them while their President did not come to their aid.
Though President Rajapaksa is generally believed to be free of racial bias, he alienated the Tamils, the larger number of whom died and suffered in the recent Trinco incidents, by unwisely choosing to visit only the home of the driver of the vehicle that was subject to the claymore mine attack.
So then, it is true there is such a thing as the President is for the Sinhalese” indifferent to Tamil suffering. As to why the LTTE did not go to the aid of Trincomalee Tamils, speculation is they want to use the recent Trinco carnage as a recruiting opportunity. [Courtesy: DM]