The Continuing agony of Eastern Tamil Civilians

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

[] Appapillai Amirthalingam while protesting against the unjust treatment meted out to Tamils by those in power would often repeat “The Tamil people cannot be treated continuously in this manner!”. What would the ex – opposition leader – murdered by the tigers – say at what is happening now? The ruthless Rajapakse regime is deliberately and continuously treating the Tamil people with calculated cruelty in a manner that has never been done before.

This callous disregard and flagrant violation of the Tamil peoples’ basic rights shows no sign of easing or ceasing. Each military “victory” notched up by the security forces sees the ferocious military juggernaut, continuing with renewed vigour ,leaving behind a bloody trail of death, destruction, displacement and despair. Tamils in general undergo suffering and agony but Eastern province Tamils bear the brunt in particular.

Both the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are heaping burden after burden on the Tamil people in their unequal struggle for military superiority. The GOSL says the Tamil people are an integral component of this Country but treat them in practice as hostile aliens of an enemy land. The LTTE says it is fighting to liberate the Tamil people but shows little concern for the “humanity” of the Tamil people.Military objectives and strategies are given importance and not humanitarian concerns. The Tamil people are like areca nuts caught in a nutcracker.

Eastern province Tamils are extremely vulnerable. Many of them are in a position similar to what Tamils living in what is known today as the Manal aaru or Weli – Oya region were in more than two decades ago. In a bid to break “Tamil” territorial contiguity between the Northern and Eastern Provinces a certain zone was marked out to be made separate and “Sinhalaised”. Parts of Vavuniya, Mullaitheevu and Trincomalee districts along with the Padaviya (formerly Padavikkulam) portion of Anuradhapura district were merged into one entity for politico – military purposes .It was linked to Anuradhapura Secretariat for administrative purposes.

The Tamil people living in 28 traditional Tamil villages and hamlets and 40 agricultural settlements were driven out through sheer military brutality. Flourishing villages like Thennamaravaady were razed to the ground.Coastal places like Kokkilai and Kokkuthoduvaai were annexed. Villages like Kurunthumalai and Mankindimalai were made part of a military complex and re – named Janakapura and Kalyanipura. Sinhala people were brought in from the South and settled. Many were trained and armed and made auxiliary forces. The creation of Weli – Oya region is the perfect example of state – sponsored ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka.

Today the target is the Eastern Province. Though North – Eastern contiguity was ruptured the rising tide of ethno – fascist supremacy is not satisfied. “kilakku” must be made “Naginahira”. What is happening now in the East is saddening and troubling to this writer. I have been regularly predicting and warning of the sinister designs behind the “Sinhalaisation” moves several times. I have written of the endless agony of Eastern civilians and appealed to the International community (IC) to do something. Nothing has been done apart from token sounds. Meanwhile the situation deteriorates daily.

I am not an Eastern Tamil but the province and its friendly, hospitable people and the innocence of the villagers have a special place in my heart. My maternal uncle was a Methodist clergyman who served for more than sixteen years in Kallaru, Batticaloa and Trincomalee.As children we would visit at least once or twice a year during school holidays. As a child I would often accompany my uncle as he visited various parishes under his stewardship.

The late “Vidwan” FXC Nadarajah was the man who wrote about the oral history of Batticaloa in his “Mattakalappu Maanmiyam”. The late “Pulavarmani” Periyathambipillai was perhaps the greatest poet of Batticaloa. “Pandithar” VC Kandiah wrote vividly about B’caloa in his “Mattakalappu Thamilagam”. They were all friends of my grandfather JS Arlvarpillai who was himself a poet and writer. I would sit enthralled and listen to these men talk and ask them questions about B’caloa. They would very kindly oblige. My romance with B’ caloa began then.

Later as a journalist with “Virakesari” it was my good fortune to be stationed in B’ caloa as correspondent in 1977. I was only 23 years then and all the “Virakesari” area correspondents would invite me to their homes. Also the “Virakesari” Manager Muthulingam and chief Agent Nagarajah would take me in the van to many different places. I travelled the length and breadth of B’ caloa then and met many different people and learnt of many legends and customs. One that I vividly remember is the tradition of eating rice in four servings with fried items, vegetables, curry and curd respectively.

I also conversed with knowledgeable people in B’ caloa and gathered knowledge. The B’ caloa library though small had many books on the region and its history thanks to the efforts of its dynamic librarian Mr. Ratne. The late Mr. Sam Thambimuthu and wife Kala were very fond of me. Sam took me in his vehicle to all border areas. It was then that realised how fragile the Tamil position in the East was. I visited B’ caloa on assignment after the cyclone of 1978 and again one year later to report on rehabilitation progress.

Trincomalee though part of the province is somewhat different to B’ caloa – Amparai. Apart from the visits to my uncle I have also gone to Trinco in later life with friends. Some of these were a Tamil small – time jeweler from Koonitheevu and a Muslim schoolmaster from Muthur. The times were not as troubled as they are now but the tensions were visible. There was rising resentment at the Sinhala dominated state’s efforts to alter the demographic balance in the district and by extension the province.

This article was supposed to be about the current Eastern situation. But whenever I write about the present I cannot help thinking of the happy past and worrying about the gloomy future in store for the Eastern Tamils in particular and Tamils of Sri Lanka in general. I wander down memory lane often and yearn nostalgically for those Easterners and the East. With the region being under increasing military pressure I write not because I want to but because I think I must.

I have on many occasions written about the “conspiracy” by the “Panchamahabalavegaya” (Five great forces) aiming to de- populate Trinco of Tamils and “Sinhalaise”it. Earlier it was an “unofficial” effort by some politicians, administrative officials, security personnel, Buddhist clergy and businessmen. But now it is “official ” policy. The aim is not only Trincomalee but also large parts of the province. Ideas expressed by the lunatic fringe in Sinhala politics have attained centre stage respectability and acceptance. The short – sighted militarism of the LTTE has given the state an “opportunity” to unleash brute force according to design.

Tamils in Trincomalee are being systematically terrorised. Fisherfolk are restricted greatly. Businessmen are targetted. Tamil youths are being bumped off almost everyday. The April 2006 anti – Tamil violence has frightened Tamils considerably. About 15, 000 have fled to India. Many others consisting mainly of the elite and middle – classes are moving out of Trincomalee. The Tamils concentrated in the town are fearful of a state sponsored “ethnic cleansing”.

The Trinco port nationalisation along with navy expansion has seen Tamil lands appropriated. Various colonization schemes have seen the creeping “Sinhalaisation” increase momentum. “KappalthuraI’ has virtually ceased to exist. Mudalikkulam became Morawewa and Mahavilaankulam became Mahadivulwewa and so on. While Tamils are mainly in the town all access roads are becoming Sinhala. Even within the town there is the “market” problem. It is only a matter of time before large parts of the town will be declared a “security” zone and Tamils evicted. Trincomalee has not had a Tamil GA for more than 50 years. The present GA is a retired Army General handpicked for “Project Sinhala” in Trincomalee.

The Muthur East region including Sampoor was targeted on the basis that it was strategically important and that a potential danger to the harbour had to be removed. Today Sampoor is in GOSL hands but the displaced Tamils have not been brought back. This is in striking contrast to the displaced Muslims of Muthur and displaced Sinhalese of Serunuwara. Their return has been expedited but the Sampoor Tamils were chased to Vaakarai and now from there too.

The military drive on the pretext of silencing LTTE artillery has now reached EEchilampatru and Ilangaithurai Muhathuvaaram. It has now been “Re- discovered” that Ilangaithurai is the site of Lankapatuna Samudragiri vihara. It is where the Kalinga prince Dantha and princess Hemamaali are supposed to have landed in 310 AD with the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha. It appears that the place will never be allowed to return to “Tamil” normalcy.

The Vaakarai region is now being gradually taken over by the military. The Verugal river too is now under military control. Thus the territory that was under LTTE control from Sampoor down to Panichankerny is now under army domination. This area had a coastal strip that was “Tamil” and therefore of great help to the LTTE. Dominating this coastal strip would enable the GOSL to deprive in theory all coastal access to the LTTE in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts. The best way to do that in the eyes of the Rajapakse regime is to keep the area permanently de – populated of Tamils.

The Tamils of Muthur East , Sampoor and Eechilampatru were driven to Vaakarai through repeated air strikes and artillery shelling. All distribution of food and medicine and essential items were prevented going into the region. Then the same methods were employed against the Koralaipattru North or Vaakarai region. All supplies were stopped. Constant shelling and bombing occurred. Unable to suffer continuously the poor civilians fled the region amidst great danger and hardship.

One would have expected the remaining 10,000 plus civilians to be allowed to remain in Vaakarai after the LTTE vacated the region and security forces moved in. But they have all been brought to other GOSL areas of B’ caloa. The Internally displaced Persons in the district are more than 80, 000.This includes Tamils from Trincomalee. The administrative apparatus is unable to cope with the crisis. If not for INGO and NGO assistance a major tragedy would have occurred.

The BBC Tamil service “Thamilosai” interviewed some IDP’s recently. Their tales were heart – wrenching. They had only one request. Re- settle us back in our homes as soon as possible. As in the case of Sampoor promises are being made that they would be re – settled as soon as the security situation is under control and landmines removed. The landmine issue is a false claim. That is no reason to prevent civilians returning to their original homes. The truth is that the security considerations of the state are given paramount importance over the well – being of the people.

Worse still is the continuing bombing and shelling in other places. Two Tamil pockets in Trincomalee north – Kadawaanaikulam and Kumburupitty – were bombed and shelled from the Jayapura and Morawewa camps.Tamil areas such as Kiliveddi in Trinco South are likely to be targetted in due course. It must not be forgotten that of the original 15, 000 farmers doing agriculture with water from Maavilaaru 7,000 Tamils and 2000 Muslims had either gone or been chased away. Only 6000 Sinhala farmers were tilling fields when the LTTE shut the sluice gates.

Sarath Fonseka has pledged that the entire East would be brought under GOSL control by April New year. Already there is talk of going into the Tharavai – Kudumbimalai region and the Paduvaankarai region. The LTTE complexes in Karadiyanaaru and Kokkatticholai need to be destroyed according to military circles. A probing mission in Vavunatheevu on the western shores of the lagoon were repulsed by the LTTE. Another manouevre into Vellavely was also foiled.

It is however a matter of time before the military onslaught begins. What happened in Sampoor and Vaakarai is likely to be replicated. All entry – exit points will be blocked and food supplies prevented. Constant aerial bombardment and artillery shelling would happen. The LTTE will be hampered by the fact that return artillery firing across the lagoon would hit Tamil and Muslim civilians this side. About 70, 000 civilians living in the LTTE controlled areas would be forced to disperse. The IDP figure would swell.

There is also another danger. Some of us remember the “West Bank Annexation” type scheme enacted by the likes of Herman Gooneratne, Ravi Jayewardena, NGP Panditharatne and Dimbulagala Thero to colonise the lands under Maduru Oya scheme. Others remember the Gal Oya scheme and how most Tamil colonies were appropriated by Sinhala settlers after Tamils were chased away through violence. Now it would be possible to drive Tamils away from the remaining colonies under Gal Oya and also take over Vadamunai lands. All in the name of security!

All norms of International humanitarian law have been grossly violated by the Rajapakse regime in its relentless push to “conquer” the East and de – populate regions of Tamils. With the IC “Blind, deaf and dumb” to what is happening the juggernaut which crushed the civilian Tamils of Sampoor and Vaakarai will now turn westwards. Ironically the LTTE has made a strategic withdrawal with most military assets and cadres intact after exposing innocent civilians to terrible hardship.

One is thankful that some INGO’s are providing buckets and mats and gruel and panadol to the IDP’s. They are also giving tents and cooking utensils. Thanks to the almighty for these small mercies! But this is not what the people need desperately. What they require is speedy return to their original habitat and expedited re – settlement. Will the IC which failed to prevent displacement at least pressure the Rajapakse regime in this? Also will it get Colombo to halt its avowed intention of causing more and more displacement through systematic targeting of civilians?

The endless agony and suffering of Eastern Tamils must cease. Those simple , friendly, naive farmers and fisherfolk must be allowed to go home. The Tamils are being turned into a nation of homeless people. The people who wanted a homeland of their own are being deprived of their own homes. In a twist of fate the Karuna faction which claimed to fight Northern hegemony is collaborating with racist fanatics to undermine Eastern Tamils. What is now happening in the East will soon be followed in the North too.

What is now happening in the East is a monumental crime against humanity with genocidal attributes. Innocent civilians are being decimated for politico – military objectives. Meanwhile Mahinda Rajapakse will continue taking “Malthattus” to viharas, observe “Sil” and listen to “sethpirith” being chanted .May the blessings of the Triple Gem be upon him. “Pin Siddha Vechaava”.

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