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Home  >  Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Human Rights & the Tamil Nation > University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna Branch) > Civilians and Armed Forces - Batticaloa District, 30 Decmber 1995

Civilians and Armed Forces - Batticaloa District

UTHR Bulletin No.9
30 December 1995

Whatever may be said, who ever may say it - to
determine the truth of it, is wisdom
- Thirukural

0. Introduction: 

Since we had last reported on the area 6 months ago, the presence  of the armed forces in the interior areas had been further thinned  down to facilitate a concentration of troops in Jaffna for the  ongoing operation. This meant that Paduvankarai (west of the  lagoon) with key positions like Kokkadichcholai (last controled by  the STF) had been almost entirely abandoned, together with  Vaharai, north of Valaichenai.

Thus the principal task for these  forces was to control the main trunk road that leads from  Polonnaruwa through Valaichenai, and then southwards along the  eastern seaboard through Batticaloa, Kalmunai, Akkaraipattu and  Thirukkovil to Pottuvil, and the towns on the road.

This road  itself and the railroad to Batticaloa were under constant pressure  from increased LTTE infiltration. Route clearing patrols were  regularly ambushed, resulting in significant casualties. Transport  was thus regularly disrupted.

In terms of reaching the  destination, the trains (now 3 days a week to Colombo), when they  run, are considered more reliable than buses, which turn back at  the slightest sign of trouble.

Trains too are subject to sudden  cancellations and long delays. Dons in the Eastern University who  travel 8 miles north from Batticaloa daily said that they are  either delayed or have to turn back about twice a week on the  average.  

Batticaloa town itself had several new road-blocks and barriers.  Though usually calm, as one observer put it, "the LTTE is always  there in some form". As would be seen in the sequel, this form  could be of the strangest and unhealthiest sort.  

The question addressed here is how has the relatively improved  position of accountability to the civilians by the Forces over the  two years up to last June, stood up to the new situation. This  will be taken up after some reports.

The main context of this  bulletin is the LTTE attack on the STF post at Puthukkudiyiruppu  resulting in about 90 casualties among combatants. The incident  also provides pointers to where the civilians would stand in an  extreme military crisis. If the political approach to the ethnic  problem is to predominate over the exigencies of war, then answers  need to be found which the civilians find satisfactory. It must  be remembered that although the armed forces are under  considerable pressure, the civilians are always the helpless  victims in these incidents.  

1. 5th December: The attack on the STF camp at Puthukkudiyiruppu 

We first give the story as it best fits together on the basis of  testimony available to us.   At 11.00 a.m. some women were close to the mangroves on the  eastern shore of the lagoon near Puthukkudiyiruppu, collecting  sticks. They were approached by LTTE men in STF uniform who told  them to sit down without fear and to go when told to do so.   

Puthukkudiyiruppu is about 5 miles out of Batticaloa on the  Kalmunai road. It lies 1 mile north of Kurukkalmadam  (Ambalanthurai Junction). It has an STF camp which is in-between  Araipattai camp, to the north and Cheddipalayam to the south, and  is smaller than either.   

For some minutes before 3.00 p.m. men in STF uniforms on both  sides of Puthukkudiyiruppu stopped vehicles and asked the drivers  to park the vehicles on the road and for everyone in the vehicles  to scoot. A part of the intention was to block  reinforcements.

Fearing some calamity, the passengers left the road  and mostly went towards the sea coast (east).   At about 3.00 p.m., a van loaded with vegetables with men in STF  uniform came to the entrance of the Puthukkudiyiruppu STF camp.  

The sentries reportedly first thought that these were the routine  supplies. The van was half way into the entrance when either  something about the van or some casual exchange of conversation  alerted a sentry who immediately threw a grenade into the van.  

Hearing the explosion the LTTE assault party positioned on the  western(lagoon) side of the camp charged in to attack. The  explosion was the signal for them to attack, but the situation in  the STF camp was not what they were given to anticipate.  

The van that went into the camp was a suicide group who were to  drive the explosive-packed van to the command centre and explode  it. In the resulting confusion, the camp would have been an easy  target for the assault party armed with RPGs and rockets.

But the  command centre was intact and the STF quickly manned defensive  positions. The attackers were met with heavy fire, and according  to local sources, perhaps 25 LTTE cadre in the first wave were  mown down and several more were injured. Thereafter, it was a  gruelling exchange of fire for both sides with a steady toll of  casualties.  

Both the STF camps at Araipattai and Cheddipalayam then tried to  send in reinforcements. At this point the STF at both these camps  began stopping public transport buses that were passing through.  Several buses were used in transporting reinforcements. There is  definite testimony that in two instances at least the passengers  were forced to remain in the bus and provide a shield for the  reinforcements.   

What follows is the experience of passengers in one bus that was  stopped at Araipattai (Arayampathy): The Co-op bus from Batticaloa  to Kalmunai which was travelling full was stopped by the STF at  Araipattai. (The southbound buses are normally checked at  Kattankudy and are not meant to stop at Araipattai.)

All the  passengers were ordered to alight while the driver was asked to  remain inside. This was about 3.00 p.m. A little later a man in  mufti ordered the passengers to get back inside. About 30 to 40  STF men boarded the bus in a rough and aggressive mood. The OIC of  Araipattai was among them.

The civilians were asked to sit down  and the STF men crouched in the corridor, pressing their guns  against the stomachs of civilians with the ends of the barrels  protruding through windows. The driver was ordered to proceed  south and the STF men occasionally fired out of the window.  Passengers who had reached their destination and wanted to alight  were ordered to remain.  

Just south of Thalankuda, the driver was ordered to stop. The  passengers were ordered to remain and the STF men got out leaving  two men, one each at the front and back of the bus. A short while  later there was firing from the surroundings of the bus as the STF  and LTTE fought it out. The two men in the bus also went out to  join their colleagues. The passengers lay on the floor as bullets  started coming into the bus.  Sometime later the passengers heard a voice crying out to them in  good Tamil, "Get down. Hold your life in your hand and run for  it!" They took this to be the LTTE.

The passengers got down and  ran amid firing noises. As they ran Uvais(28), a native of  Kattankudy travelling to Maruthamunai, was hit in the leg. He fell  down and asked for help. His neighbour responded, "I am not a  Muslim, but I am a man. I will help you", and then lifted him,  helping him to walk. The two proceeded slowly without further  incident.(The reference to religion was a reflection of relations  between the Tamil and Muslim communities which hit an extreme low  point during the tragic events of 1990-92.)

Having gone some  distance from the main road, an old woman said that another old  woman, her companion, was missing. Her corpse, possibly together  with those of two others, was found in the bus the following day.  

The remaining passengers got back to Batticaloa the next day.   Veerakutty Canagaraja(36) of Kallar was the driver of the Kalmunai  bound CTB bus choking with over 90 passengers that had left  Batticaloa at 2.30 p.m., quarter of an hour ahead of the Co-op  bus. It had gone past Araipattai STF camp without being stopped.  Just past Thalankuda church, a single shot rang out from the west  (lagoon or jungle side), bursting the front-right tyre.

The  passengers screamed 'stop'! Then a second shot rang out. The  driver tried to take the bus further away from the gun man. When  he pressed the accelerator, he found that his foot was without  strength and was bleeding profusely. The second shot had struck  his foot. The bus went a few hundred yards further, and went off  the road as the deflated tyre made control difficult. Two other  passenger vans came and halted behind the bus about 3.20 p.m..

 LTTE men wearing camouflage hats with leaves and branches stuck in  them emerged onto the road and deflated the tyres of all the  vehicles by firing at them. The people were asked to run.

The bus  driver was carried by others and all went to Puthukkudiyiruppu  Central School where G.C.E. O. Level examinations were going on.  The principal directed them to some vacant classrooms. As the  sound of gunfire got louder the candidates continued writing their  answers while crouching on the floor.

This was probably when the  LTTE confronted STF men from Araipattai who had come in the Co-op  bus using a human shield.

When fighting all round became intense,  the O.Level candidates left their scripts and went behind the  class rooms. Thavarajah(36) from Puthukkudiyiruppu who was  returning home after repairing his motor-cycle at Kattankudy was  killed during this time.

We have no firm testimony as to whether  the death was caused, presumably by accident when the LTTE fired  to stop vehicles, or by crossfire during the later confrontation.  

The injured driver was dispatched to Batticaloa hospital at noon  the next day, in a vehicle from Batticaloa that had to turn back  because the road was closed.  On the southern side of Puthukkudiyiruppu STF camp, Abdul Cader  Najimudeen, a goldsmith with a shop in Batticaloa, had been to  Kaluthavalai in his car with his young son, and was returning.

At  Ambalanthurai junction a lorry was stopped on the road and they  had the first intimation of trouble. Najimudeen asked the driver  to turn back. A passenger van had also turned back at this point  and returned south.

At the Kurukkalmadam temple, both vehicles  were stopped by STF men. The van was boarded by 4 STF men who  ordered the passengers to remain inside. The car was boarded by 3  STF men, one on the front passenger seat and two on the sides of  the back with the goldsmith and his son in the middle. The van had  proceeded in advance of the car.  

We piece together what happened to the van from testimonies made  available to us. About half the civilian casualties for the day  were persons in the van. The van door was closed and no one was  allowed to get down, not even old ladies.

Nearing  Puthukkudiyiruppu, the van was stopped by a man in STF uniform who  asked in Sinhalese 'Ape kattiya innavathe?' ('Are [any of] our  boys inside?'). An STF man in the van said 'innava'('there are')  and proceeded to get down. He was felled by a shot. The three  remaining STF men fired from inside and ordered the driver to  move.

The van was then subjected to a hail of fire in which the 3  remaining STF men and more than half the civilians in the van were  killed.   Anandarajah was a post master, a literary figure and teacher of  English, who was seated next to Miss. Kanapathipillai Mohana, a  computer student returning from classes in Kalmunai. Both were  hit, Mohana on the shoulder and legs. Anandarajah fell on Mohana.  His last words were, "I am injured. You lie down, you will be  alright". Those who knew him said, `That it was how he lived and  also died'.

Puvanendran, a postal worker in Batticaloa, was also  travelling in that van with his wife, a teacher, and their little  child, who were seated in front of Puvanendran. Puvanendran was  hit and was bleeding. His wife holding their little child sat with  him after the survivors and those injured who could be helped  along, had left. No help came, and as it got dark, she ran with  her child and took shelter for the night in a deserted house where  the inhabitants had fled.  

Najimudeen who was in the car said that as the car passed through  Kiran Kulam, there was an eerie silence that made him  instinctively sense trouble. Suddenly he heard gunfire. The driver  stopped the car. The STF men sprang out and escaped. Najimudeen  and the driver lay on the road, with the former holding his son  down by placing him between his legs. Najimudeen was hit in the  hand. They lay down until there was a lull in the firing. The  three then joined the survivors from the van, all of whom,  numbering about 14, took shelter in a single room in a house where  the owners had fled.  

At about 6.00 p.m. a voice called out in Tamil asking those inside  to come out with their hands up. Najimudeen told the others, `if  we do not respond, they may toss a grenade inside', and went out  with his son. When outside, he discovered that it was the STF, and  told them that there were in all about 14 of them who were mostly  injured.

The STF found a school bus in which all of them were  dispatched southwards to Kalawanchikudy hospital.  

The foregoing indicates that the LTTE broke off and withdrew when  it realised that the objective of over-running the camp was  unattainable and subsequently the STF men came out.

In Kirankulam,  the STF men fanning out in the neighbourhood were reportedly fired  at from a particular house. The STF asked the inmates to come out.  When no one came out, they opened fire. An old lady and a child  inside were injured and later admitted to Batticaloa hospital. The  house itself was set on fire by the STF. This was the only report  from the area of a house being burnt.   

Several travellers wanting to reach Batticaloa and unable to pass  Puthukkudiyiruppu, went west from the main road from Ambalanthurai  junction towards the ferry point, to make a crossing over the  lagoon to Ambalanthurai. (From there they hoped to reach  Batticaloa through LTTE controlled territory and then via the  Valaiyiravu bridge and Veechukkalmunai.) The travellers were  turned back by the STF at the ferry camp. Having walked some  distance away, they received a hail of bullets in which one or two  were wounded.  

The following morning Mrs. Puvanendran who had left her injured  husband in the van, went alone to the van which was surrounded by  STF personnel. She was allowed to look and did not find her  husband on the seat where she had left him. In her excitement,  thinking that he had been removed to Batticaloa hospital, she went  home to Kaluwanchikudy. It was only the next day(7th) that, having  failed to trace him in Batticaloa, her brother and brother-in-law  from Kaluwanchikudy were able to go to the van. They found his  body near the foot board - perhaps he died while trying to crawl  out.

About 1.00 p.m. on the day after the incident(6th), the STF  allowed the vehicles that had been held up during the attack to  move. This was the time that many civilians and several of those  injured moved out. On the same day the bodies of about 20 LTTE  cadre left abandoned and found by the STF were handed over to the  LTTE at Kokkadichcholai by the ICRC. But the civilian dead lay  unattended.

 The following morning early(7th) a parish from Batticaloa came to  Puthukkudiyiruppu to check on the welfare of the children at the  boy's home run by the Roman Catholic church. After he had  satisfied himself on this matter, the people of the area told him  of the state of the civilian bodies which were giving out the  odour of decomposition.

Taking a quick look with STF permission he  observed about 12 bodies (there were in fact 16) mostly in a  crouching position. There were also two bodies opposite the STF  camp. One was of a young man from the village whose parents were  crying and the other of a married man from Kaluwanchikudy whose  wife was crying - both probably caught in the crossfire.

The STF  OIC promised a tractor to first take the bodies to Kattankudy  police station. But they were then taken to Batticaloa in a  vehicle from Noah's undertakers that had come from Batticaloa in  connection with a separate funeral. The parish priest returned to  Batticaloa and gave word about the state of affairs.

It was  through the Government Agent that a lorry was arranged, and the  remaining bodies were brought to Batticaloa hospital around 4.30  p.m.. Among the corpses, Duke, a doctor at the hospital,  recognised that of his mother's, whom he had hitherto been unable  to trace.

A total of about 26 bodies were brought to Batticaloa  hospital. One of two or so civilians who were taken to Amparai  hospital by the STF succumbed there, giving a civilian toll of  about 30.  

How the combatants behaved 

On the basis of testimony recorded, the majority of the civilians  killed, died because they were used as human shields by the STF,  although the fatal firing came mostly from the LTTE. The LTTE did  take some measures to minimise civilian presence on the road  during the confrontation. But beyond this its concern for  civilians was largely token.

The targeted camp itself was in an  area with a concentration of civilians.  The STF camp at Puthukkudiyiruppu is said to have a fairly good  reputation among the civilians of the area. Reports from the area  suggest that this had not been impaired by the attack. There are  no reports of the STF having gone on the rampage or wantonly  killing civilians.

There was an instance of a Buffel armoured car  under pressure from the LTTE, which escaped by moving towards the  coast. On seeing this the civilians lay flat on the ground. But no  attempt was made to harm civilians.  Most of the 30 or so STF casualties were from the reinforcements.  

A possible instance of the STF wantonly killing someone during the  incident is the case of Ravi from Puthur, a driver attached to the  Kalmunai CTB depot. He and his conductor Parthiban from  Araipattai, are said to have been killed. Their bus had been  stopped at Cheddipalayam and was used to transport reinforcements.  

The two were waiting near the parked bus while the fighting was  going on. One report that has wide circulation said that one or  both were killed by an STF party, after this party had suffered  casualties. But we have so far been unable to pin down any  testimony.  

Press reports said that the STF had received intelligence of an  LTTE attack and were prepared. This begs the question, what were  their contingency plans to reinforce camps under attack? The  seemingly casual manner in which a senior STF spokesman had  admitted reinforcements travelling in buses with civilians  suggests that there were no credible plans. Reinforcements  sometimes travelling in threes and fours using civilian shields  sounds so crazy as to suggest that the STF men were uninstructed  on how to respond.  

Within two days after the event, the STF at Puthukkudiyiruppu had  used what amounted to forced labour from the village to clear the  debris and erect temporary sheds. We have pointed out in the past  that such practices readily lead in a crisis to the use of human  shields.  

Responsibility towards civilian injured 

When several corpses of civilians killed where brought to  Batticaloa hospital 50 hours later, word got around that two of  them at least belonged to persons who had died considerably later  than others. Both Puvanendran and Anandarajah had been alive for  some time after the shooting. The student who died later in  Amparai hospital may have been saved had she been quickly brought  to Batticaloa hospital that is much closer.

It is also known from  experience (cf.Bulletin No.6) that it is futile for a local  organisation or individuals to try to rush an emergency case to  Batticaloa hospital. They have often to face long delays and  interminable questions from the security forces at checkpoints. In  the bulletin referred to, a patient bleeding from a gunshot  injury(again when the LTTE fired at a van in which a few STF men  were travelling with other passengers to get to Batticaloa  hospital) bled to death because it took 4 hours to cover the 4  miles from Thalankuda to Batticaloa.  

Questions being commonly asked among the people are:

Why did not  the ICRC go to the area over next two days, when the area was not  readily accessible, to look for the civilian dead and injured?  What is their relevance to civilians if they are mainly handing  over dead bodies of combatants? (Of course they are also visiting  prisoners.) They point out that only the ICRC may have the ability  to provide quick relief to the injured. Normally it is the police  who should have been the first into that area to do the needful.  

It is in the context of a breakdown in the local machinery for  relief and law enforcement that organisations like the ICRC are  called upon to play a role.  

The reporting of the incident 

A front page item in the Island of 7th December quoting security  sources said,

"29 STF commandos and at least 40 terrorists of the  `Black Tigers Group' were killed in a massive LTTE attack...The  raid was repulsed by the STF personnel forcing the Tigers to  withdraw. During the attack, three inspectors, two sub inspectors  and 24 police constables, including 12 Reserve PCs, lost their  lives..." 

There was no reference to civilian casualties or to any  culpability on the part of the STF. Under such circumstances the  reader is normally left to conclude that the civilian dead had  been grouped with the LTTE and to fear that much is being hidden.  

That evening (7th December) a leading TULF MP claimed in  parliament that STF personnel had run beserk killing 30 civilians  and burning houses. On the basis of this, the TULF voted against  an extension of the state of emergency.

The claim appeared to  clarify what was reported in the press under the prevailing  censorship.  The STF perhaps felt the need for some damage control.

The Island  of 8th December quoted a senior STF spokesman obliquely admitting  a degree of culpability on the part of the STF;

"...As  reinforcements from neighbouring STF camps in Arayampathy and  Manmunai came in these buses with the civilians, terrorists who  had monitored STF communications had ambushed the buses about two  and a half kilometres away from the Puthukkudiyiruppu STF camp. Then they had attacked all vehicles that came along the  Batticaloa-Kalmunai Road using RPGs..."

There was still no  reference to civilian casualties.  

The LTTE press release from London the same day (8'th) contained  the following item: "30 Tamil civilians slaughtered by Sri Lankan  army in Batticaloa: The Sri Lankan security forces ran amok in  Puthukkudiyiruppu in Batticaloa after 40 of its members were  killed there during an attack on one of its camps by the LTTE. At  least 30 Tamil civilians in the area were slaughtered by the Sri  Lankan forces. A complete news blackout was imposed in the area by  the Sri Lankan army and no one was allowed to enter or leave the  area for the past 48 hours where the killings took place."  

This "English translation of an LTTE statement" was issued three  days after the event closely following what was said in the Sri  Lankan parliament the previous day and then in an interview over  the BBC Tamil Service.

Owing to the bankruptcy of the Government  media and spokesmen, the latter version would be largely believed  by those in Batticaloa itself, who were not immediately concerned  with the incident.  

2. The young as instruments of terror 

The following two incidents illustrate how the young in a society  where values have been broken down by years of state oppression  and violence are used as instruments of terror and to gather  information.  

Pathmanathan is a schoolboy from Arasadytivu of well-to-do  parents, who is boarded in Batticaloa. The LTTE asked him to meet  them for extortion purposes. When he did not respond, a caller  gave him another option. If he could do the job of killing a given  member of the TELO, he would become one of them (i.e. the LTTE).  Then there would be no reason for him to meet them.

Since P. could  hardly hold a revolver, he got hold of Maharajah, an O.Level  student from Palugamam living in a boarding house and studying at  Shivananda College. He had been trained and worked for the local  LTTE intelligence chief Ramanan, who had asked him to return to  school and be an informer. He had once thrown a grenade at a  police patrol in Manjanthoduwa which failed to explode. The two of  them organised Koneswaran, an O.Level student also at Shivananda,  who agreed to do the killing for money.

The revolver was supplied  to Pathmanathan by Thiruchelvam, a bus conductor, and was passed  on to Koneswaran via Maharajah. The weapon was discovered by the  people of the boarding house where Koneswaran lived. They asked  Koneswaran to leave. Koneswaran returned the gun to Pathmanathan  via the same route and moved into a new residence. Pathmanathan  gave the weapon to Muraleetharan, another O.Level student at  Shivananda.

One Krishnakumar from Kallady, an ex-Boosa detainee  who had supplied the weapon to Thiruchelvam (the bus conductor)  was caught by the security forces, leading to the arrest of all  those in the chain of contacts. The weapon was recovered from  Muraleetharan. Also taken in were two female attendants from  Batticaloa hospital, who had helped to hide some bombs supplied by  Thiruchelvam.  

Another case is that of Ganeshamoorthy Sivadarshan(15), an O.Level  student. He was returning to Batticaloa from Paduvankarai about  early October when he was detained by the air force and beaten up,  having been suspected of LTTE involvement.

The boy and his mother  maintained that he had gone to visit the Amman Temple. The air  force placed him on two months parole, where he had to sign once a  week. Sivadarshan was missing after he went to the air force on  26th November. The air force maintained that he had left after  reporting. His mother maintained that he was missing after going  to the air force. A few days later, an ambush party caught him  swimming into Batticaloa from the other side of the lagoon with a  bag of bombs.    

All the students caught above have been released on parole and  sat for their O.Level examinations, except Muraleetharan who sat  his examinations with an army guard to watch over him.  

3. Other incidents 

The following gives a selection of incidents over the past 7  months.  

2nd May 1995: Bulletin 6 referred to 4 persons taken by the army  to Valaichenai camp of whom 3 were later found tied up in the  jungle. The other, Kanagaratnam Krishnapillai is still missing.  

26th May 1995: Vellavelly: Kandasamy Thambiratnam and Vallipuram  Thevarajah were taken into custody by the STF at 40th colony which  was witnessed by the father of the first. The two are since  missing. Having failed to trace them, Brigadier Kalupahana, who  was then in charge of Batticaloa, advised the families to take  compensation.  

3oth June 1995: Poondukalchenai, near Kiran: 18 soldiers involved  in route clearing were ambushed and killed by the LTTE. A day or  two later an army patrol went into the village at 4.00 a.m. when  the people took alarm and ran. The army opened fire killing ten  villagers. Elayathamby Tharmaratnam(33) who was taken into custody  was reported missing.  

30th July 1995: Kalkudah: Arumugam Jeyaganesh(15) was abducted by  the LTTE at 10.00 p.m. from his father's house. The father works  as cook at the Kalkudah police camp.  

10th September 1995: Oddaimavady: Weerakoonlage Dayananda, a boy  schooling at Minneriya, and whose father Podisingho Chandradasa  works at the Valaichenai paper factory, went missing while  visiting Oddaimavady. The LTTE is deemed the chief suspect.  

8th October 1995: Arumugam Ganeshan of Pethalai (off Valaichenai- Kalkudah Rd.) was taken by the police in the presence of his wife.  Both DIG/Police in Batticaloa and the brigadier in charge denied  the arrest. About 6 days later he was handed over to the CSU  (Counter Subversive Unit of the police). The elderly married man  with a child is now deranged.   

19th November 1995: Santhiveli: The LTTE attacked a route clearing  patrol of the army along the railroad. about 40 soldiers died in  the ensuing confrontation. When the army came into the village at  11.00 a.m., most of the villagers ran away. Indrani, a woman aged  24 was alone in a house. Having checked the house, the army shot  her. In another house a lady was shot dead and her sister cried  for help. Soldiers burnt the house with the dead lady. Eight of  the injured civilians, including 4 children, were later admitted  to Batticaloa hospital.  

Late November 1995: Siruthayankallu: 4 children who were playing  in this interior village ran when they saw a helicopter overhead.  The gunner in the machine fired a shell injuring all four children  (two males ages 5 & 7 and two girls, ages 12 & 11).  

9th December: Araipattai: Santhiramohan(30), a carpenter, while  walking on the road was called by men in uniform, assaulted and  shot in the leg. The victim lodged no complaint with anyone. He  was receiving treatment in Batticaloa hospital.  

10th December 1995: Punnaicholai: The LTTE warned a man whose  daughter was to be married to a member of another militant group.  The marriage went ahead, following which the LTTE murdered the  father.  

23rd December 1995:Santhiveli: 33 army personnel were killed  during an LTTE attack in the afternoon. No reprisals reported. The  `Virkesari' reported one civilian killed during the attack.   

The abduction of Prof.Santhanam, Vice Chancellor of Eastern  University  

An event of considerable significance that has attracted  comparatively little publicity is the abduction by the LTTE of  Prof.Santhanam, who was coming to the end of his term as vice  chancellor of Eastern University. During the `peace process' of  the early months of 1995 , Karikalan, LTTE's Batticaloa leader,  addressed a meeting of the staff in the university.

Numerous  allegations ranging from malpractices to political deviations  were made, along with expressions such as 'Death would be the  minimum punishment'. Every time someone tried to speak, he was  signalled to wait. When Karikalan finished and people tried to  respond, they were given to understand that they were there only  to listen to him, and the meeting ended.  The events must also be seen in the context of the LTTE's  nervousness about`regionalism' and its utter inability to come to  terms with the Muslim question.  

Prof.Santhanam was known to have been held in Kokkadichcholai and  has been seen by a few individuals who did not report any  mistreatment. The LTTE claims that he had ignored several letters  calling upon him to report to them.

Some had been told by the LTTE  that Prof.Santhanam had to pay a sum of the order of Rs. 25 lakhs  for his release- a sum which his close associates say he does not  possesss.  

 4. Treatment of detainees 

According to citizen's groups in Batticaloa, arrests are now far  fewer, and in town at least the methods of interrogation and  treatment of prisoners by the Military Intelligence unit is far  more professional and enlightened.

Complaints about missing  persons are fairly promptly looked into, and nearly all of them  have turned out to be false alarms - in the town at least. In this  respect Colonel Dissanayake, who heads the unit, and his  assistants Lieutenants Abeysekera and Bandara, have been described  as 'very fair'. (See the case of the school boys above.) The  situation in Valaichenai is still described as very  unsatisfactory.  

5. General behaviour of the Forces 

The fact that villagers still run when they see a patrol  approaching, particularly after an incident, shows that the old  problem has still not been addressed - that of the army continuing  to be seen as an alien and hostile institution.

Villagers continue  to assume that the risk of running away and getting shot is less  than that of staying at home and getting shot. 

In areas that the Forces have ceased to control, the attitude  seems to be ,anything goes. An year ago the armed forces  controlled much of Paduvankarai (sunset shore). Following the  resumption of war in April and the closure of smaller camps, the  LTTE had asserted control. Since then the areas were shelled and  now they are being bombed. The case of the 4 children above who  were injured is typical. Villagers have also complained about the  use of barrel bombs. These are crude devices that are pushed out  of aircraft and are untargetable. The use is suggested by the  admission to hospital of about two female patients with extensive  skin burns.  

The use of human shields by the forces, which received some  publicity during the middle of the year (eg. our Bulletin No.6 &  Macan Markar in the Sunday Times of 11th June 1995) has refused to  go away.

Shortly after the resumption of war, the army route  clearing patrols used human shields in the Sittandy and Commaturai  areas. In June the army got local civilians to sit in front of  Sittandy and Morakkothanchenai army camps. These were stopped  shortly after the Batticaloa Peace Committee & MPs protested. But  the BPC had little influence in STF controlled areas. Apart from  being cowardly and reprehensible in itself, the practice of using  human shields reveals a cavalier approach to the basic rights and  dignity of civilians.

It does not take much imagination to answer  the question, "How do civilians living in the vast expanses of  territory in the East, which are regularly subject to military  activity, see the Government and its forces?"  

The Government and civilian security 

The question is important not least in view of the Government  calling upon the civilians to return to Jaffna. The President in  her address to the nation on 6th December after the army took  control of Jaffna, said:

"I invite all those who left Jaffna to  return to your homes and lands, and live normal lives in peace and  security. My Government undertakes to ensure you that..."  

The situation in Batticaloa gives us some idea of the extent to  which this laudable aim could be translated into practice.  Impunity, despite improvements, remains the norm. If the Forces  come under pressure, the civilians could with impunity be  shelled, sometimes summarily killed, have their houses burnt or be  used as human shields. Why do people continue to run from the  forces? Why are people afraid to protest and meekly allow  themselves to be used as human shields?

The answer is surely that  the Government is yet to take any significant positive action to  assert the rights of the people who are punished through more  violations instead of those perpetrating them.

If what the  Government 'undertakes to ensure' cannot stand up in a crisis, the  pledge becomes largely rhetorical. The Tamil parties too must  share the blame for not addressing these issues with consistency  and foresight, rather than make dramatic gestures when what is  waiting to happen, happens. As regards human rights, we are far  from being out of the woods. There is no cause for human rights  monitors to relax their vigil.   

The need for the vigil is not to deny the fact that there have  been notable improvements, but more so to ensure that these are  stabilised against the constant threat of relapse. The changes  which have quantitatively increased restraint among the forces in  the East, are yet to yield a qualitative transformation. This is  crucial for the Government to gain legitimacy among the people.  

The cause of human rights is also imperilled by the prevailing  popular confusion about military and political objectives. The  Government, for example, is accused of having lost control of the  East, which the former UNP Government is said to have secured by  early 1993. What sort of control it was, needs to examined.

There  used to be a large number of army camps that could contain a  relatively small LTTE presence, but not a huge influx of cadre  form the North. The LTTE continued to make its presence felt in  the villages through extortion and executions.  The people who managed their lives in constant fear of both sides,  did certainly not identify with the government forces. The latter  remained aliens whose massive violations targeted against the  Tamil community, particularly during 1984 - 87 and 1990-91, remain  a vivid memory. Several known offenders continue to remain at  large.

The control we are talking about is therefore a stifling  one, requiring a large military presence and beset with constant  danger. How each of the army and the LTTE relate to the people was  clearly brought out by the following remark made by a civilian in  the East. He said ,"When the Tigers attack and kill the army, the  people feel good. Yet, when the army kill the Tigers, the people  are not sad".  

Hence without political movement, the control referred to was at  best tantamount to the control of an occupying power. Once the  army camps were withdrawn from the rural areas, the LTTE quickly  took control with no significant political challenge to its claim  of legitimacy. The kind of control that is talked about therefore  is costly, ephemeral and meaningless in the absence of a political  process of reconciliation that restores accountability to the  people. Such a process is yet to get off the ground.      

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