Between Three Devils and the Deep Blue Sea

This is an article recently put out by the The Multi Ethnic Collective for Child Security, Sri Lanka:

The escalating violence in the Eastern Province is ongoing amidst fresh attacks by the SL forces in LTTE controlled areas in the East that have displaced hundreds of civilians. While the violence and ethnic tensions between communities in Trincomalee have been centre stage in the last few weeks, this violence is integrally connected to the ongoing, overall violence in the Eastern Province as a whole.

Any visitors to the districts in Batticaloa and Ampara will find that there is an increase in violence that is frightening and now out of control. This report will focus on some of the happenings in areas in Batticaloa and Akkaraipattu in the last two months (March –April 2006). The ongoing killings have not diminished and worsening tensions hint at more violence to come. In particular this report will focus on the ongoing activities of the state forces, the LTTE and the Karuna faction, who because of their actions are surely devil like actors who pay little respect for the safety of the Tamil and Muslim people in the East..

TMVP increased activity: state support for their actions

One of the marked changes in the political climate in Batticaloa is the flexing of muscle by the Karuna faction in the town and neighbouring areas of Batticaloa. Known as the TMVP, or Tamileelam Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, this group has over the last few months flexed its muscle power to the maximum. As many locals in the area comment, none of this is possible without the support of the state.

Some of the actions of the TMVP have been as follows.
1. Setting up of TMVP office in Batticaloa town. At present there is a TMVP office that has come into operation in the heart of the town. This office is close to Batti hospital and opened officially on the 10th of March in commemoration of the 2 year anniversary of the battle at Verugal between the LTTE Vanni and the Karuna faction. On this day, a grenade was thrown into the TMVP office in Batti town at about 1 pm, although it did not explode. In Kalavanchikudi, four grenades were thrown into the TMVP office all of which exploded. As many eye witnesses in the area stated, the army openly visits and provides security for the TMVP without which it could not operate any of its offices. Civilians unfortunately are forced to suffer as a consequence of these operations. For example on that day, there was partial hartal. The TMVP had demanded that all buses, tri-shaws and vans fly a black flag to mourn the defeat of the Karuna faction at Verugal. Those travelling in govt. controlled areas were forced to fly the flag, but if they crossed over to the ‘non-cleared’ or LTTE controlled areas, they had to remove the flag as the LTTE did not permit it to be flown there. This is but one example of the many confusions and problems civilians face as a result of the power struggles between the two factions. While providing safety for different Tamil groups may be a legitimate activity of the SL forces, the backhand coercion they allow and participation in these activities are truly unacceptable as will be noted below.

2. Harassment of Civilians into supporting them exclusively. In the last month, the TMVP has further flexed its muscles by insisting that all Tamils support only them. Any show of support for the Vanni group, they said, would result in their being immediately eliminated. For example, on the 29th of March approximately 40 to 50 Karuna cadres rounded up civilians in Valachchennai to the Pechiyamman temple. These cadres were heavily armed, and rounded up people at day time. The security forces did nothing to prevent such harassment. The night prior to the 29th of March, Karuna cadres had been visiting houses informing civilians they had to attend the next days meeting.

3. This kind of intimidation is ongoing. For example on the 18th of Feb, the Karuna faction barged into a wedding informing all the guests that they had to support only them and not the LTTE Vanni. At the wedding, they had then brought forward a young man who is said to be a supporter of the LTTE and beaten him up badly as a warning to others. On the 25th of March, very close to the Valachennai police station a man who was supposed to be a traitor to the Karuna faction was stabbed by twenty men and then decapitated. Again, the state forces did nothing to control the situation. It is no surprise then that the SL forces did nothing to stop the violence in Trincomalee.

4. It has also been noted that masked men, purporting to be LTTE have visited houses, asking questions to test which faction the people support. Who these masked men really are, is an enigma. In Valachchenai, it was suggested that these men were really Karuna groups in disguise. In Akkaraipattu people suggested that this was really the LTTE attempting to instil fear in the people. While who is carrying out these nightly checks is not clear, what is clear is the amount of intimidation and violence present in the day to day lives of people living in Batticaloa and the coastal belt of Ampara.

5. In addition to these activities, there are many eye witnesses who have marked that unidentified gunmen who have shot LTTE cadres have run into the army camps in the vicinity after the shooting. As one INGO worker commented to me, he remarked how the killers of Joseph Pararajasingham escaped despite high security provided to that area.

6. One of the biggest problems for many of the traders and business people in the area is that the LTTE, Karuna and the army all three seem to be taxing people en mass. It is said that while the LTTE has not recommenced its taxations as before, it still continues to tax civilians. Recently added to this, both the Karuna faction (TMVP) and the army have commenced taxing traders. For example, the army and police are said to be charging lorry drivers Rs. 50 at each stop if they wish to transport their goods beyond the check point.

7. Finally, the TMVP or Karuna faction too seems to be involved in the recruitment and training of Tamils in preparation of some forms of combat with the LTTE. One young woman I met from Sevanapitiya, near Manampitiya, Velikanda had this to say regarding what was happening in her village.
She herself was hiding in another town to avoid being recruited by the Karuna faction. Many of the villages are being recruited by them, some Sinhalese also seem to be joining with the TMVP. If villagers leave their homes to avoid such recruitment, then the Karuna cadres take over the house and these villagers cannot return home. As there are very high levels of unemployment in the area, many young men have few options but to join as they are paid a monthly salary. Furthermore, those who refuse to join are beaten up as a warning to others who may also think to refuse. Many of the men are being trained in the Manampitiya jungle.

Increased Militarization in the East

As a consequence of ongoing tensions between the TMVP and the LTTE, there is increased violence in the Eastern Province. The killings, abductions and disappearances continue unabated. One of the most serious of these consequences is the complete militarization and training of civilians in the LTTE controlled areas. Literally all able bodied men and increasingly women are being systematically trained in LTTE camps. Some of the important details are as follows.

• The LTTE has commended fortifying its camps in the Eastern Province. Some of these camps have been described by eye witnesses as being as big as stadiums. Large amounts of heavy machinery, trucks, vans are being moved into these camps.

• All able bodied men are being recruited into these camps for training. The forms of training differ and the time period of training differs. For example, some receive training two days of the week, others for an entire month and yet others for upto 3 months. Some are trained in intelligence work, others in arms training.

• While there has been some talk of payment for these recruited men, figures and statistics are not so clear. For example, Vahanerey has seen most able bodied men being recruited into its camp, with no pay being given to them. Vahanerey is an extremely poor and under-developed town and the recruitment of men for LTTE training has meant that many of the families have little income during this period.

• This has resulted in increased anxiety among the villagers regarding income generation. Many families have become destitute and further impoverished.

• Once the training is carried out, many of the men are released back to the villages. Many are not armed but told they will be called on by the LTTE when they are needed. Others are given pistols and told to carry out home-guard type activities in the villages. Few who have been proven suitable as military cadre have not been released and have been transferred to other camps. This has resulted in increased anxiety because the families of these men remain vulnerable.

• In some instances women too have been recruited for training.

• Often these trained civilians are used to rally against the army for example. The main of the LTTE in these instances seems to be to try to minimize the differences that exist between it and civilian populations. For example, these civilians would be asked to protest the army when needed so that the LTTE can then claim that Tamil people oppose the army.

Child Recruitment

One of the most disturbing and sad consequences of much of this heightened activity and militarization, has been the increased recruitment of children. Despite numerous efforts to control LTTEs recruitment of children, this has not stopped. Instead, there is heightened recruitment in the light of preparation for increased hostilities. Below is a story of a 16 year old boy who ran away from the LTTE camp in Illuppadichennai.

He and his family were victims of the tsunami and had been living in a refugee camp when he was taken in July 2005 from Batticaloa town. He had first been taken to Kokadicholai and then had been transported to Illuppadichennai. While he was there, he was given small arms training and subsequently joined the commando team. At the very beginning of his training he had asked to leave stating clearly that he did not wish to join the movement. His request was rudely denied. Subsequently, when his mother had come to the camp looking for him, she was told by the LTTE that as she had complained to the police, ICRC and Unicef, she should go to them for her child and not come to the LTTE. This is a regular threat by the LTTE, increasing intimidation and refusing even visiting rights if a parent has reported recruitment to the police or Unicef. As a consequence of this, many families fear reporting to Unicef.

During his stay there, he remarked on how there were about 80 new under-aged recruits who were brought to the camp to be trained. He trained there for 8 months and on his first day of sentry duty in the camp he and another boy ran away from the camp and escaped. They arrived at the Vantharamulla road by 8 in the morning and caught a bus to their homes that very day. He is presently in hiding so that he is not taken by the LTTE again.

The Vanni LTTE recruitment over the last few months seem to be very focussed in the LTTE controlled areas. For example, one INGO worker who has an ongoing project in the Vadamunai area recounted how many of the members of his youth group had now been recruited by the LTTE. They had no choice but to join. With temple festival season starting very soon, one can assume that the LTTE will use this time to strategically recruit more and more children from town areas.

This is not all, the recruitment has now become the business of the Karuna faction as well. There have been increased reports of Karuna cadres recruiting children in Batticaloa town itself. For example on the 23rd of March a white van had arrived at the Vipulananda Vidyalayam and attempted to take children from the school. That day there had been a class party in school and the children had come to school in casual clothing, hence making it an ideal day to forcibly recruit children. The children had immediately scattered and run out and to their homes. During the presidential elections held in November white vans were seen picking up adult supporters of the LTTE, now these same van are said to be picking up children. At the time, these vans would be housed in army camps; the Kallady camp being one of the main camps used for disappearances.

As one child narrated, while she was walking just past the Kallady bridge after school hours, a white van had stopped and two men had tried to grab her into the van. She had run away but not before she saw other young children crouched on the floor of the van. She is 16 years old and has now stopped going to school.

Another instance of Karuna abductions is the case of a 17 year old boy being taken on the 17th of March. This was during a hartal that was occurring in Batti town against the Karuna activities. The LTTE had called a hartal which the Karuna faction wanted disobeyed. All schools had been told to shut while the TMVP wanted schools to stay open. One youth aged 17 years old had been asking children who came to St. Methodists’ Central College to return home. The TMVP had seen this is a betrayal of their orders and had abducted the child.

In Akkaraipattu too there seems to be increased attempts at recruitment in the overall attempt to militarize and recruit new cadres for both the LTTE and the Karuna faction. For example, in the beginning of March one 12 year old child was taken from Kanchikudiaru while he was on his way to school. Such incidents in Akkaraipattu has meant that more and more children have restricted their movements. Many go to school and back and maybe accompanied by parents to and fro. Some children have stopped going to school altogether while others have stopped going for any tuition or extra classes out of fear of recruitment. While the STF in Akkaraipattu is meant to be very vigilant and does round when school commences and finishes in Akkaraipattu, this has only lessened some of the parents and children’s fears. In general, there is heightened recruitment again.

In general, there seems to be a race to recruit as many as possible by both sides perhaps in fear that if one side does not, then the other will win over more cadres.

The Threatening of women NGO workers

The last few months seems to be a time of disturbance for NGOs. From the alleged TRO abductions near Welikanda to present day threats against women NGO workers. At present in both the Batticaloa and Ampara districts there has been increased pressure for women to stop working in NGOs. Some of the details of these incidents are as follows

• As reported by the Virakesari, on the 2nd April a TNA MP Ariyanendran had commented upon the increase in abortions in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts at a meeting held in Thirukkovil on “Women and Culture.” He claimed that Batticaloa had 183 illegal abortions carried out, while Ampara had 163 carried out in private clinics.

• This meeting was an LTTE organised meeting to which was attended by the area commander Ram.

• At this meeting he had insinuated that Tamil culture was being spoilt because of these illegal activities and that women working in NGOs were strongly implicated as having abortions.

• Subsequent to his speech, there seems to have been the circulation of leaflets in both Tamil and Musmil areas asking women not to work in NGOs. While the mosque leaders have not directly issued a statement asking women to stop working, there have been leaflets stuck outside the mosque walls threatening women.

• One of these leaflets have been written by the Tamil Eela Pengal Elluchchi Padayani, of the Tamil women’s eelam liberation force. This documents has been widely circulated in the Batticaloa and Ampara regions.

• This specific leaflet states clearly that all women working in NGOs must stop working there by the 15th of April or “your future life may be endangered.”

• Some of the complaints of this and other leaflets of the same kind are that women working in NGOs are sexually harassed and have become increasingly promiscuous. They have commenced having sexual activities with both local and foreign men, have started travelling freely.

• One of main consequences of these activities is that there has been a rapid increase in the number of abortions in the region as these unmarried ngo women have become pregnant. The leaflets also claim that those who have not succeeded in accessing abortions are nearing delivery of children now.

• Another claim is that some women working in NGOs have agreed to star in pornography films with foreign men. In Akkaraipattu, these films are circulating freely and are available on sale.
• While no specific persons have been recognised in these films, it is claimed that the women are from the region.

• These activities have resulted in a massive increase in harassment for women. While the TNA has released a statement stating they do not wish to ban Tamil women working in NGOs as long as they behave according to Tamil culture, many people feel that the circular is an LTTE effort to control all spaces in the region.

• This has resulted in an increase in fear for women to report to work. For example, families are said to be asking women not to report to work in NGos. Secondly, as reported by many women in the region, this has resulted in men increasingly harassing women on the streets.
Furthermore, the armed forces like the STF are also using this opportunity to harass Tamil women.

• Finally, while the LTTE has disclaimed any ownership over the leaflets circulated, it is interesting that the TNA have had many comments on the employment of women in NGOs. Recent statements by the TNA suggests the reactionary and patriarchal politics of the LTTE. They claim that women ‘may’ work in NGOs as long as they behave appropriately. Of course, one figures that appropriate behaviour will be defined by the LTTE who claim constantly to liberate Tamil women in Sri Lanka.

This public distribution of leaflets is but part of the package of intimidation against feminists in the East. Women’s organizations that have remained independent demanding peace have recently come under attack. These have come in the form of public threats through leaflets, threatening phone calls and abductions. This signals the quickly shrinking spaces for activists in the East, as they are caught between the 3 devils, the SL forces, the LTTE and the Karuna Faction (TMVP) and the deep blue sea. [TamilWeek, Apr 30 2006]

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  1. Sorry, What happened was, a few NGOS were engaged in making Ponographic movies by exploiting poor destitute women workers.

    NGOs were never given any license to exploit people in exchange for their service. As a volunteer worker myself, I would say “NO THANK YOU” to these NGOs.

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