தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

Home

 Whats New

Trans State Nation Tamil Eelam Beyond Tamil Nation Comments Search

Home  >  Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Human Rights & the Tamil Nation > University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna Branch) > The Vanni: A People Crushed Between Cycles of Violence, 22 October 1996

The Vanni: A People Crushed Between Cycles of Violence

UTHR Bulletin No.12
22 October 1996


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

 Summary

Very little has been written about the Vanni, aside from recent reports  following the battles at Mullaitivu and Killinochchi. It is an area which is  considered militarily important by the security forces and the LTTE, where  both parties have imposed hardships on the population for their own  gains, resulting in unending misery for the civilian population. The groups  concerned include approxiamately 150,000 displaced civilians from Jaffna  and over 250,000 who are native to the Vanni. Freedom of movement is  restricted by both the Army and the LTTE, to the extent that corruption and  human rights violations are rampant.

 The movement of those displaced from Jaffna has been closely controlled  by the LTTE in the past. The LTTE originally was the main party to apply  pressure on civilians to use the boat service to cross the Jaffna lagoon to  the Vanni, but there is also a constant fear of the Army. Often, especially  during the Killinochchi offensive, the security forces have not allowed  civilians to leave LTTE-controlled areas. Contrary to military statements,  it is not the LTTE that is restricting access in recent months to the Vanni as  much as the Army. Upon attempts to gain access to Vavuniya town,  civilians have been subjected to various levels of harassment, beatings and  arbitrary refusals by the security forces. Young people especially fall victim  to this treatment. The whole set-up reinforces the feeling to the Tamil  civilians that they are second class citizens in this country, and that their  dignity can be tampered with without any hinderance.

 The bombing of areas with a large refugee population and the shelling of  Killinochchi where the hospital was not spared, have convinced civilians  that these raids are often meant to terrorize the people rather than destroy  the LTTE. Often bombs have been dropped miles away from stated  targets, such as during Operation 'Sathjaya' when Killinochchi hospital  was extensively damaged. Even this incident occurred after a curfew was  declared and civilians were told to seek refuge in places of worship.  Furthermore, in Vavuniya town Tamil militant groups operating closely  with the Army, such as the PLOTE and the TELO, have been responsible  for harassment of humanitarian workers, and corruption are even and  suspected of murder. Two well-known torture centres in Vavuniya town  continue to be maintained by the PLOTE and the Counter-Subversive Unit  of the Police.

 Conditions in refugee camps in Army controlled Vavuniya have been  likened to those of a prison or worse. Basic medicine is not available and  disease, undernutrition and mental depression are widespread in LTTE  controlled areas, where Government food rations are constantly delayed  and never enough, and upon arriving at centres they are placed under the  strict control of the LTTE, which is often concerned about maintaining  levels of stocks, however dire the civilian need. Food rations for the  displaced from Jaffna were stopped by the Government shortly after the  Army took control of the whole of Jaffna in April.

A request from  Killinochchi for a desperately needed 40% increase in medical supplies was  flatly refused by the Government. Alarmingly, the Medical Committee of  the Ministry of Defence cut medical supplies to the Vanni by 75%, to which  health officials made no protest. This decision was made just as a large  number of wounded civilians needed immediate treatment after the  fighting in Killinochchi. Included in this cut were necessities such as  treatment for snake bites and chemicals needed for purifying water. As a  result, the rural Vanni is rife with hepatitis, typhoid, malaria, meningitis  and dysentery, and infant mortality is reported to be on the increase.  Clearly, the Government is unable or unwilling to cope with the influx of  those displaced by the fighting.

 In attempts to escape the horror of living in the Vanni outback, some  civilians continue attempts to travel to India. Contrary to official military  statements, the LTTE has not needed to pressure civilians very much to  make the trip. Large groups of Tamils have been arrested and detained,  following attempts to travel by boat to India. Usually about a half of the  varying fee charged to go to India is taken by the LTTE, many people  having to sell all their worldly possessions to afford the journey. Similar to  the system of corruption at military check-points in the Vanni, the LTTE  gives travel privileges to those with means, influence and money.

 Aside from violations in Jaffna and military control in the Vanni, the  people are trying to escape the LTTE's recruitment of their children. There  are recruitment centres in nearly every village of the Vanni. Methods often  involve psychological coercion and harassment of school children, threats  with abuse, abduction and a regular ominous presence over refugee  camps. Many of the dead cadre from the recent onslaught at Killinochchi  were reported to have been between the ages of 13 and 16. There is at  present no pomp and ceremony by the LTTE for the dead youth; they are  considered by leaders to be mere fodder for the killing machine. The Vanni  is one of the most predominant regions where these young cadre have  come from. It is precisely when this displacement and disruption occurs,  that young children become the most vulnerable to the LTTE's campaigns.

 The LTTE must be held accountable for this suicidal path which many  Tamil youths have been driven down, but the political inertia of the  Government and the terror unleashed by the security forces must also be  clearly seen as a major factor in this tragedy. In the Vanni, the LTTE  remains to exercise a large amount of control and influence, despite the  fundamental weakness and unpopularity of its association. Thus, its  strength relies heavily on the violence and misery brought to the Vanni by  the security forces. Sadly, impunity continues to dominate the politics of  this country, with army personnel who are charged with serious violations  being released or even promoted. The only hope for the people of the  Vanni lies in a political solution which respects human rights, guarantees  the physical well-being and dignity of the Vanni people, and works  towards a future where the displacement of communities ends.

 Vanni: A People Crushed Between Cycles of Violence

 Over the last decade the Vanni has been largely a theatre of war about  which little has been written. It had a brief notice in international  headlines when the Sri Lankan Army massacred more than 100 civilians in  Murungan towards the close of 1984. The Vanni comprises the districts of  Killinochchi (to the north), Mullaitivu (east), Mannar (west) and Vavuniya  (south). In the southeast of the Vanni area is situated the controversial  Weli Oya settlement(UTHR(J)Special Report No.5) from where the army  used inhuman methods to displace Tamil civilians and establish a  settlement of Sinhalese who regard themselves no better off than  prisoners(UTHR(J)Information Bulletin No.4). Although regarded as a  strategic area Weli Oya has been a curse to the Sinhalese and Tamil  civilians involved, and a school of indiscipline for the Sri Lankan Army.

 Two other events in the Vanni stand out as giving an indication of the  ongoing political mismanagement of the problem by the State. On 23rd  November 1990, the LTTE attacked the Mankulam army camp which was  defended by 250 men. A large number of women cadre took part in the  attack. One Black Tiger, Borg (31) of Semamadu, drove an explosive- laden lorry into the camp perimeter. The camp fell. But most of the  soldiers, including the commander, Major Daylagala, escaped to  Vavuniya. On the 18th of July 1996 the Mullaitivu army camp, defended by  some 1250 men, was attacked by the LTTE. About 60 Black Tigers with  explosives strapped to their persons were used to breach the forward  defences. Very few soldiers survived.

Similar tactics were used by the  LTTE to break the Army's resumed advance on Kilinochchi in late  September, but these failed despite the loss of nearly 100 soldiers. From  July to September, the estimated LTTE losses were above 1000 dead. Until  July most of the Vanni was under LTTE control with the government  having hardly any hold on the interior territory, which straddles a 50 mile  stretch of the northern trunk road between Thandikulam, just north of  Vavuniya, and Elephant Pass on the southern edge of Jaffna peninsula.  Government forces are now in control of Kilinochchi town and operations  are proceeding amidst many uncertainties for civilians and combatants  alike.

 Our main interest in the Vanni in this report deals with the suffering of  civilians who faced intense hardships commencing from the time of the  Jaffna exodus late last year. A large number of the native population of the  Vanni have themselves become displaced during the course of hostilities.  These populations are now scattered mainly within the area south of  Kilinochchi, west of the Mullaitivu coast and around Mankulam, the  UNHCR-run refugee camp at the pilgrimage site around the shrine of Our  Lady of Madu, and other parts of Mannar district. The numbers involved  are the displaced population from Jaffna and elsewhere of about 150,000  and a native population of over 250,000 [the official figures emanating  from the area are subject to dispute, depending on the vested interests  involved].

The humanitarian crisis immediately following the  displacement of the population from Jaffna in November 1995 received  publicity when the UN Secretary General voiced his concern. It also  spurred the government to take some ameliorative measures and Vanni  was once more forgotten until July this year, when the overrunning of the  Mullaitivu army camp by the LTTE and subsequently the army's  temporarily aborted thrust into Killinochchi brought it back into the news.

 It has generally been recognised that the Vanni area has played a militarily  fundamental role in the ongoing civil war. The area had been regarded  unhealthy and unsuitable for human habitation for much of the colonial  period. But its agricultural prosperity was revived after the early part of  this century with the restoration of tanks, particularly Giant's Tank in the  Mannar District and the construction of Iranaimadu Tank near  Killinochchi. The population also expanded as the result of a migration of  peasants from the Jaffna peninsula and more recently of Hill Country  Tamils displaced by starvation in the plantations during the food crisis of  the mid 70s. The area has however continued to be educationally deprived.

 The region was mobilised into Tamil nationalist politics in the 1950s, not as  a result of the discrimination in education and employment that concerned  mainly the educated urban Tamils, but largely because of fear of the  government's colonisation programmes. With the onset of the militancy  from the mid-70s, many of the early militant leaders recognised the Vanni  as a place where they could readily find shelter and cultivate bases. During  the mid-80s, all the militant groups were represented in the Vanni, with  the PLOTE having a large following around Vavuniya.

However, the  nationalism of the native population was not of the ideological sort  articulated by their more educated counterparts. There was in fact hardly  any antipathy towards the Sinhalese at a personal level. Sinhalese Roman  Catholics who were regular visitors to the shrine at Madu found easy  social inter-relations with the Tamil population of the region. Today many  of them still have ties of friendship and also family ties with the Sinhalese- speaking Roman Catholics between Negombo and Puttalam. Following  the onset of the militancy and atrocities by all sides, the Sinhalese  population in the Mannar District is now totally displaced.

 The LTTE's erstwhile Deputy Leader Mahattaya(recently reported to  have been executed by his own group over charges of treachery) who was  in charge of the Vanni during the mid-80s, laid the foundation for the  LTTE's build-up in the region. He clearly recognised that unlike the urban  youth who would be constantly beguiled by alternatives such as  emigration, the population in Vanni, once in a situation with their backs to  the wall, would fight to the bitter end. Provoking the Army into reprisals  against the population became a natural counterpart of such thinking that  also actively prevented the people from taking any political initiative. In  the present situation we actually do find much of the population feeling  cornered with their backs to the wall.

 From the onset of the war in 1990 the only contact civilians had with the  Government was through aerial bombing by the Air Force. Even  Killinochchi hospital's maternity ward was bombed in November 1993.  During and before the current military operation 'Sathjaya' (the meaning  of which is a mystery to most Tamils) Killinochchi hospital suffered  extensive damage. These resulted from shells fired in anger taking no  account of the presence of the hospital. Displaced civilians already living  in small temporary cadjan sheds had to flee once more and live in open  spaces around Mankulam and Akkarayan Kulam.

 One must also take into account the calculated manipulation of the LTTE.  It has become quite evident that the LTTE wanted a build-up of a civilian  population in the Vanni to serve three main purposes: to preserve political  credibility as the supposed protector of Tamils, to oil the wheels of its war  machine and secure resources from international agencies and the State,  and to maintain a pool of young persons from among whom it can recruit.  This last reason was implied in Thamilchelvan's statement at Jaffna  hospital during November last year, that they (the LTTE) would not relax  their grip on the young generation.

 Initial Attitudes Towards the Exodus  

 Soon after evacuating people from Valikamam in the Jaffna peninsula  beginning on 30th October 1995, the LTTE applied enormous pressure on  them to use its boat service and cross the Jaffna lagoon into the Vanni.  Rash promises were made about providing them with amenities to start a  new life. Many of those who left did so because of the fear of government  forces particularly when the family had some close relative in the LTTE.  But very soon reports started reaching the Jaffna peninsula about the  enormous suffering in the Vanni and the utter inadequacy of amenities.  There were only a few good houses which were mostly taken over and  given to persons with preferential connections. Most of the others had to  make do in temporary shelters. Disease was widespread. As difficult as  things were for the refugees in the Jaffna peninsula, further inducements  to move to the Vanni had little effect.

 Around Chavakacheri where the condition of the refugees was among the  worst, the LTTE sent cadre to call meetings and persuade people to go.  During January some cadre addressed one such meeting. Failing in his first  appeal, the speaker singled out a girl and asked her "Why don't you come  to the Vanni?" The girl remained silent. Towards the end the LTTE speaker  was close to breaking down through exasperation. He said finally, "Please,  will not even a few of you agree to go?"

 As the rainy season came to an end the crisis in the Vanni became worse.  People who had settled in certain areas found their temporary wells drying  up. For example people who had been settled in a part of Oddisuddan  found that they had to travel one mile to wash and bathe. Around  Killinochchi the displaced had to depend on water released through  irrigation canals from Iranaimadu Tank. As a result, scabies became quite  common among these people. Snake bites and mosquitos were additional  hazards. Basic materials for shelter too were very costly. One hundred  cadjans sold at about Rs.2500, and a bicycle tyre cost about Rs.2500. Basic  medicines when not available at the hospital, were almost unobtainable.  As usual the LTTE took charge of stocks of government rations and relief  sent for the refugees. Whatever the plight of the civilians it was usually  when the new stock arrived that the old stock was released for sale or  distribution to the public.

 In addition to this, when the LTTE organised meetings and called for  recruits the displaced were driven beyond the limits of endurance. When  the LTTE came to address meetings people told them angrily, "Back in  Jaffna you used to tell us that you had enough people but you only wanted  money. We gave you at the rate of Rs.25,000 and Rs.50,000. You then  chased us out of Jaffna and have now come to take our children. Get out  and don't come back!" In March the LTTE opened the schools and in the  higher classes such as O/Level, the students were constantly addressed at  meetings. They were told "You must join us now to save Vanni. If not the  army will come and finish you off." The response was often to the effect,  "Let the army come, we will die once and for all".

 Some had come from Jaffna transporting their shops wholesale in hired  boats, and spent a good deal of money buying cement at Rs.5000 per bag to  put up new shops in Killinochchi. Following the recent army operation  which at first stopped short of Killinochchi, these persons too lost their  goods and joined the others as vagrants. For much of the time the feeling  remained among the displaced in the Vanni that the LTTE had cheated  them. With July came a fresh bout of bombing and shelling by government  forces and stories of rape and disappearance in army-controlled Jaffna,  leading to a feeling that the government did not mean well by them and  further that little good could possibly come from it. Their attitude towards  the LTTE also tended to become more ambivalent as a result.

 Control of the Civilian Population 


 Given the state of dissatisfaction among the displaced population, the  LTTE also managed applications for permits to leave the area with  incredible shrewdness. Soon after the exodus of November 1995, many of  those better off and influential were allowed to leave for Vavuniya and  Colombo. By about mid-December a clamp-down was imposed and those  going generally had to leave a member of the family behind to guarantee  their return. In April when the army brought the rest of Jaffna peninsula  under its control and reports of hope and relief started coming from  Jaffna, the LTTE once more relaxed the pass system allowing people to  leave. There was a further relaxation when large numbers of civilians  were once again displaced following the army's Killinochchi operation in  July. This time however the main obstruction to the people leaving came  from the government side. The pass system has thus been carefully  managed to permit the exit of those with the means to go to Colombo and  even go abroad -i.e those who would have been vocally dissatisfied if  forced to remain. The remaining population, the bulk of it, are being  carefully cultivated with the LTTE's long term aims in view. Certainly  though, those who leave and go abroad are not without their uses.

 Among the group who were displaced from the Jaffna peninsula, almost  all aspects of their life are under the patronage of the LTTE. Their  organisation also reflects the breakdown of trust within the LTTE that  came to light prominently with the arrest of Mahattaya in 1993 followed  by his reported execution and also the investigation of a number of senior  LTTE leaders in 1994 over charges of embezzlement. The administration of  the Vanni is such that there are overlapping responsibilities among the  different arms of the organisation and even a sense of purposeful rivalry.  Reportedly about 14,000 families are from the displaced population of  Jaffna fisherfolk, under the care of the Sea Tigers and have been settled in  coastal areas. For example, Poonampitty on the west coast has a displaced  fisher population mainly from Passaiyur and Madagal. All relief is  channelled though the Sea Workers' Welfare Society where the office  bearers, though formally elected, are virtually LTTE nominees. Welfare  societies for the interior populations are under the Tamil Eelam  Administrative Service (TEAS). There are then organisations like the  North-East Development Organization (NEDO), Mannar District  Rehabilitation Organisation (MDRO), Livestock Producers Association,  Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) and the Rural Development  Societies(RDS) that were once formed by the government but are now  virtually controlled by the LTTE.

 The settlement of displaced persons was often haphazard. For example  when the LTTE wanted to reopen schools in March it just shifted the  refugees out, and a community of toddy tappers from Jaffna was suddenly  dumped at Kompansanjan two miles from both Murungan and  Kattayadampan. This was an area with no water from where people have  to go three miles to fetch water. Cadjan huts were built with material  provided by the LTTE. Some of these communities who were already  refugees in Jaffna found themselves suddenly moved out to places where  there were numerous snakes and elephants, with little means of making a  living. Characteristically, the people are almost never consulted. Under  these conditions the international NGOs tended to be very unhappy about  going along with the LTTE.

 Many of the natives in Mannar and Mullaitivu districts are today part of  the displaced population. Following 1990, nearly all those within about 7  miles of Mullaitivu town had been displaced. The populations closest to  Mullaitivu town were at Iranapalai, Chemmalai and Mullivaikaal. In  Mannar District populations from Arippu and Silavathurai are displaced  as these places are subject to shelling from the sea. Thus even here a  sizable native population has moved to the interior, to Madu and other  areas, some of which like Moonampitty are notably malarial. In the west  there is a military fence to protect Thirukethiswaram army camp. There  are still about 80 families living in the old native village of Mudatti. 

The LTTE's organisational efforts had to do with little direct help from  international agencies. It has established an administrative centre at  Periyamadu, a Muslim village whose residents had been expelled, seven  miles from Madu. (A sizable Muslim population in the area was forced  out on orders of the LTTE in October 1990). There it had also established a  central dispensary using doctors in its employ. As for economic viability,  the fishing population has fared much better. Fuel and materials had been  provided to them and the marketing of produce is handled by the LTTE  itself. These coastal people show far fewer symptoms of nutritional  deficiency syndrome and their mental health is much more sound in  comparison with the displaced population in interior areas. In a life that is  in the interior absolutely without an independent means of subsistence,  mental depression and malnutrition are very common. Many of them  suffer from psychosomatic headaches which are not relieved by any  normally available treatment.

 Coordination between the LTTE and its various institutions is often  lacking.Places in the Vanni had been regularly bombed or attacked with  rockets by the Sri Lankan Air Force. For example, the Leopards' camp was  bombed and missed. Civilians suffer while living in conditions where  almost every place is an LTTE target. One example is the Air Force attack  on the fishing village of Nachchikuda on the northwest coast last March,  when about 16 civilians were killed. The Government, on the other hand,  claimed that 30 Tigers were killed. During the month of May the  Silavathurai church, which was being decorated for a festival, was  bombed killing two civilians.

 The social geography of the Vanni areas would be far from complete  without describing the aspect of recruitment. Koorai, is a village with a  population of Indian origin near which there is also an LTTE unit known  as the Young Leopards. Nearly every village has a recruitment centre.  Several of those manning these centres are tragic victims of the war who  had lost limbs in the course of fighting. There is now no possibility of a life  for them outside the Movement. They make passionate speeches to the  young of the village waving their truncated limbs challenging the others to  sacrifice themselves as they had. They evoke a mixture of pity, horror and  shame in others. "If you do not want to go and fight the Sri Lankan forces,  give me your arm or your leg. I am itching to go back and fight", they  would say. Contrasting with these desperate speeches of 'heroism', there  are mass graves for "Heroes" (Mahaveerar Mayanam) in several places,  including Pandivirichan and Alkaattiveli. According to reports originating  in the latter area, the remains of about 12 very young recruits who had  joined only a month earlier were brought for internment during June.

 Both the politics and the military strategy of the LTTE has a tendency  towards recklessness with cadre resulting in a voracious appetite for  recruits. There have been continuing reports of recruitment where a large  degree of coercion is used. The following incident took place at the Madu  refugee camp on 1st July, 17 days before the assault on Mullaitivu camp.  Some LTTE women cadre abducted a young girl who was a refugee from  Point Pedro. The girl had several sisters and the family was very angry  about it. Some time later the sisters spotted one of the abductresses  walking through the camp. They pounced on her removed her weapon and  pinned her to the ground. They scolded her, "You Vanni people should  know how to behave with us folk who are from Vadamaratchi." Then the  LTTE police arrived and negotiated the release of the abductress. This  spontaneous resistance touched a raw nerve in the Movement that was  sensitive to the slightest hint of dissent. Subsequently armed LTTE cadre  surrounded that part of the refugee camp and threatened the refugees  telling them that if there is a repeat of this kind of thing, they would not  hesitate to shoot. The abducted young girl was never restored to the  family.

 The rank and file of the LTTE who are mostly young recruits who join the  organisation in their teens are trapped inside. Those from the Vanni are  largely in this category. It has been a fairly common complaint among  parents that a particular vested interest that recruiters have in getting  these young boys and girls into the organisation, is to spare themselves the  obligation of having to do the fighting or committing suicide with  explosives strapped around them. Local observers deny any suggestion  that several parents were happy to see their children joining the  organisation because they had difficulty in feeding and maintaining them.  Recruitment had generally been falling, but during times of displacement  and disruption the young are more prone to join through sheer frustration.  Once they had joined, parents hardly get to see them or influence them.

 The organisation is putting in measures to discourage people from  leaving. To this end a new regulation was introduced lately. In earlier  times a number of those leaving the fighting units found employment in  administrative positions in organisations controlled by the LTTE. The new  regulation prevents those leaving the fighting units, from being employed  in these administrative positions.

 The Mullaitivu Attack and the Advance Towards Killinochchi

 The LTTE assault on the army camp at Mullaitivu was launched during  the night of 18th July. The people had no hint that the assault had been  planned. The civilians were led to believe that there was going to be an  assault on the Elephant Pass camp. It is believed that only a few in the  LTTE hierarchy knew the real purpose. According to local sources, the  apparent arrangements were suddenly reversed and those taken towards  the Elephant Pass area were in a matter of hours redeployed by night in  Mullaitivu. It is learnt that the camp defences were breached by sending in  Black Tigers with explosives strapped to their bodies who blew themselves  up upon reaching the defences. The army had little opportunity to use their  cannon. The camp was subdued within two days with heavy loss of life on  both sides. Civilians in this area were affected mainly by shelling from the  army camps in Manal Aru (Weli Oya).

 Tens of thousands of people fled from Mullivaikaal, Thanneer Oottu and  Vattapalai because of the shelling. One man, S.Pulendran, was killed in  Thanneer Oottu on 21st July and an injured lady, V.Marinayaki (26) died at  Killinochchi hospital. The Air Force continued with the bombardment of  several parts of Vanni. On 22nd July, bombs were dropped around  Iranaimadu. According to a local report which we have been unable to  verify from other sources, four persons travelling in a bullock cart were  killed at Iranaimadu junction. On 24th July Mallaavi junction was bombed  killing 6 civilians including a two year old child, Sivalingam Sindujah. The  others killed were mainly elderly persons including a father, Kadiravel,  and his son who were refugees from Jaffna. An elderly woman killed,  Sellamah, was from Mallavi itself. These bombing raids continued. As far  as all civilians questioned are aware only one bomb dropped from a Kfir  bomber struck an LTTE target. This was an LTTE garage in Mankulam.  One LTTE cadre and two civilians were killed. One woman was killed  when a bomb fell near an LTTE farm in Vattakatchi. The policy behind  these bombings as described by a military spokesman and reported in the  Colombo press was of this sort: "---meanwhile air attacks were aimed at  LTTE camps in Mankulam, Killinochchi and the Murugandy jungles"  (Island, 4th August 1996).

 A particular scene after the Mullaitivu attack was reported by people from  the Mullaitivu and Killinochchi areas. Bodies of a large number of Sri  Lankan soldiers and their weapons were displayed on the ground. The  people were summoned and an LTTE spokesman delivered a fiery  harangue: "No one should underestimate us. If we knock off another two  or three Army camps like the one at Mullaitivu, we would have all the  weapons we need. Then no one can stand in the way of our getting  Eelam". A number of young people picked up some of the weapons. The  speaker then ordered them to put the weapons back. He said, "You first  give your names. We will train you. Then the weapons would be yours".  The high estimation of the LTTE's strength however wore itself down as  the days advanced.

 The Army appears to have been unnerved by news of the attack on  Mullaitivu and its effect was to make them forget the image of a caring  and disciplined army that they had been trying to build. The very next day  Killinochchi was shelled from Elephant Pass killing one person in the  hospital premises and four others nearby. Three of those were at a  jewellery shop. One was a father who had that morning brought home his  wife who had delivered a child at the hospital and had then gone to the  shop. On 26th July the Government launched its operation towards  Killinochchi. Although a curfew was declared at 1 pm and civilians,  according to the Government, were asked to assemble in places of  worship, the shelling was far and wide. No effort was even made to spare  Killinochchi hospital from the shelling. The District Medical Officer's  report gives 12 items under damages caused by shelling. These include the  OPD, Wards 1,2 & 3, X-Ray unit, theatre, labour room and the residence of  the MSF staff. Ward 4 is reported to have been damaged by aerial  bombing.

 So intense was the shelling that by the time the government announced the  curfew at 1 pm on 26th July, the people were already on their own vacating  the town. The hospital was subsequently shifted with whatever could be  rescued to Mallavi and Akkarayankulam. A witness describing the shelling  said that it was like a giant AK-47 automatic firing the whole day. Shells  fell even at Murugandy, 5 miles south of Killinochchi and in  Akkarayankulam to the west. A few corpses of animals were seen far south  of Killinochchi. To the civilians all these had no purpose except to kill or  terrorise them. The hospital continued to function in the same premises on  the 27th, strongly suggesting that there was no marked LTTE presence in  the area. According to civilian sources, the total civilian death was placed  at around 20 to 25.

 Lack of Medicine and Relief

 With the civilian population displaced and the Killinochchi hospital closed,  it was clear that the civilians were in a very bad way. The food distribution  system had broken down. About 40% of the medicines were lost and  facilities like an operating theatre had to be improvised at Mallaavi in  very inadequate premises. Even before the military events of July, the  health situation in the Vanni was very bad. Following the exodus of  civilians from Valikamam, which almost doubled the population around  killinochchi, the medical authorities at Killinochchi had requested the  government for a 40% increase in the supplies. This was not granted.  Patients continue to die from illnesses like brain fever because the testing  facilities were inadequate or the drugs had become ineffective. LTTE  injured were treated at Killinochchi hospital and they were certainly  privileged patients. But there have been no verifiable complaints that the  LTTE was taking over medicines meant for civilians.

 In the case of food, as we have mentioned earlier, all stocks are controlled  by the LTTE. Even as the LTTE was launching an international campaign  accusing the Government of deliberately starving the civilian population,  the stores remained substantially full. It was only around the 26th of  August, nearly a week after government relief had started coming into the  Vanni from the South, that the LTTE released the existing stocks that were  made available to civilians. It might also be mentioned that the  Government had unilaterally stopped free food rations for the displaced  from Jaffna into the Vanni just after it brought the entire Jaffna peninsula  under its control in April.

 The normal procedure for supplying medicine is for the Deputy Provincial  Director for Health Services in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu, to send his  requirements to the Ministry of Health which releases supplies every  quarter. Once the Ministry of Health's approval is obtained, it needs to be  authorised by the Ministry of Defence before the goods are released. The  requirements for the first and second quarter of the year had come through  without much difficulty.

 The Medical Committee of the Ministry of Defence took its decision on the  3rd quarter's requirements on 3rd September. It approved the requirement  subject to a cut of 3/4 of the normal requirement. Among the items totally  rejected were Tropical Chloride of Lime (TCL) and Anti-Snake Bite Serum  and injections of Pethidine, a tranquiliser. TCL is a necessity in the Vanni to  purify water in temporary wells. Snake bites are more common because  the people have been displaced. It should also be mentioned that the entire  list of requirements submitted by the medical authorities in Killinochchi to  facilitate the work of the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), was turned  down by the Ministry of Defence. The MSF performs some very urgent  medical functions including surgery and there were scores of persons with  shell injuries from army shelling. The move is again seen by the people as  something vindictively aimed at them. The LTTE has little difficulty in  getting its medical requirements by other means. This seems to be a game  where the Ministry of Health looks good by approving what is asked for  but makes hardly any effort to protest, or even critically examine, the  actions of the Ministry of Defence.

 A report from S. Thillainadarajah, government agent in Killinochchi,  dated 25th September, stated the following:

 "No improvement in the control of contagious/infectious diseases  spreading widely due to absence of pure drinking water. Typhoid,  Diarrhoea, Dysentery, Virus fever, infective hepatitis, urinary  infection, malaria both positive and cerebral, malnutrition, anaemia  are marauding the already vulnerable population. Infant mortality is high.

 "It is feared that the oncoming monsoonal rains will make things  worse and mass epidemics would be realistic."

 The Sunday Island of 6th October 1996 quoted Guillermo Bertoletti,  Country Director for MSF, on the situation in the Vanni. Referring to the  Ministry of Defence decision taken more than a month earlier (3rd  September), he said that basic medical supplies for routine surgery, snake  bites, and anti-rabies vaccine, were available only for between 7 and 14  days. He said that at the peripheral unit in Mallavi, "There are no strong  analgesics, no oxygen and no blood grouping". Madhu, which he said had  not received medical supplies since August, had "no quinine, no saline or  Dextrel, very few anti-biotics and low supplies of snake-bite anti-venom".  He added, "Even basic items such as folic acid and vitamins for pregnant  mothers have not been allowed through by the defence authorities".

 Stating that there are ongoing talks with authorities and that "appeals  have been made to all necessary sectors", Bertoletti said,"There is  hepatitis, typhoid, meningitis, malaria and dysentery, but there are still no  epidemics...There is also no malnutrition by international standards but  this is being monitored carefully...Our teams are frustrated up there. They  are present in the area to heal, but are not able to do it without supplies".  In a later Reuters report, (Sunday Island 13th October), Western aid  workers were quoted as saying there was undernutrition but not  starvation among refugees.

 The Deputy Defence Minister said in a Sunday Times interview (6th  October): "We made arrangements to receive 125,000 [refugees in  Vavuniya]. We took over schools and provided all facilities. We were  surprised that people did not turn up. We heard that some of the people  coming were stuck at Omanthai without any facilities. We waited for  awhile and sent medical supplies".

 From this it would appear that the Government's defence of its decision of  the 3rd September was to the efect that the people ought to come to army  controlled Vavuniya as refugees to receive medical treatment. This process  of decision-making is muddled, impractical and indefensible, since, for a  start, the maximum number expected in Vavuniya as refugees was less  than half the minimum estimated population in the Vanni.

 Through the Eyes of the People  

 Combatants expressed little concern for civilians, and their statements  were intended either to cover up or to score some points at their expense.  Once the Mullaitivu operation got under way the passage to the South  through Thandikulam remained effectively closed. Where the LTTE is  concerned they seem to have been issuing passes quite freely to those who  wanted to go South. The decision not to allow people to come into  Vavuniya seems to have been taken by the security forces. Patients injured  by army shelling whom the Red Cross attempted to take to Vavuniya, were  stopped by the army. Several such patients were later taken to Vavuniya  by the ICRC and the MSF through the Madu road. Military spokesmen,  however, claimed that they "believed that the LTTE had closed the border  crossing", adding that 120 trucks loaded with food were waiting to move  to the North. This response was after the LTTE had claimed from London  that the Thandikulam barrier had been closed by the army and all  shipments of food had been stopped for two weeks.

 There was also another side to this. In a security measure adopted by the  government to prevent smuggling by the LTTE, lorries bringing food from  Colombo had to enter a security zone in Vavuniya from where the supplies  had to be taken out and reloaded into lorries coming from the North. The  LTTE had used or requisitioned a large number of lorries used to transport  food in connection with their activities following the Mullaitivu operation.  This was a matter in which lorry operators had no choice. When concern  came to be voiced about food supplies to the civilans, the Government  itself (as suggested in press reports-e.g. Week End Express 3rd August)  asked for lorries to be sent from the North to collect food supplies. 40  lorries duly arrived in Vavuniya on 4th August. Then the unprecedented  happeded. The drivers and cleaners were badly assaulted even bitten by  drunken soldiers and about 14 of them were hospitalised in Vavuniya.  Even worse, no disciplinary action was taken against the assailants. It was  suggested by local sources that some of the lorries retained smells from  having transported dead and injured combatants and the innocent drivers  became the victims. As an outcome food supplies to the civilians in the  combat zone were stalled for a further nine days.

 It had been agreed between the Government and local officials that it  would take about 50 lorries per day to cater to the needs of the civilian  population. Some civilian sources considered this inadequate since the  number referred only to lorries supplying cooperative establishments and  excluded private supplies which were previously conveyed. The army  permitted civilians to move into Vavuniya only from 13th August. That  was also the time that food shipments started in an irregular fashion. The  number of lorries permitted varied from only 12 per day to a maximum of  50 per day.

 As we shall explain below civilians, particularly the young, faced  enormous difficulties in clearing the army check point and coming into  Vavuniya. Then even in Vavuniya they had the prospect of spending a  number of days in what witnesses have described as sub-prison conditions.  Under these conditions a number of civilians decided to cross over to South  India. By about the middle of August 118 persons had reached India, rising  to 2,000 by mid-September. These persons needed no prompting from the  LTTE. The Government, however, was quick to accuse the LTTE of forcing  civilians to go to India, thus involving the Indian government as a  concerned party (The Island, 16th August). This claim was reiterated by  the Deputy Defence Minister.

 Soon after refugee arrivals in India received press publicity,  Mr.Karunanithy, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, called upon the Indian  Central Government to condemn military operations in Sri Lanka.  Although the Army was stalled short of reaching Killinochchi, heavy  shelling continued that was duly publicised by the LTTE. A Government  statement was revealing: "On 14th August one soldier was killed by a  sniper in the outskirts of Killinochchi. Troops engaged enemy targets with  heavy artillery and mortar fire killing a number of terrorists" (Island, 16th  August).
 The LTTE statements, although containing falsehood, exaggerations and  distortions, at least had the merit of giving meticulously accurate details  abut the effects of bombing and shelling on civilians. The Government, on  the other hand, did not appear to care about what was happening to  civilians. Whether in military matters or matters pertaining to the  civilians, its statements carried very little credibility. Rather, it seemed the Government was merely reacting to LTTE propaganda and concerns  voiced by humanitarian organisations.

 In these circumstances, civilians saw no hope from either side. Despite  LTTE propaganda, civilians knew that there was food at least for  immediate use in stores under the LTTE's supervision. Yet they received  their food relief only a month after their displacement when Government  supplies had started coming in. LTTE propaganda aside, civilians in the  area remarked, "Even if the people are starving or dying the LTTE will  make sure that the stores are kept full". At the same time, civilians felt  angry at the manner in which the LTTE had recruited their children. The  speeches they regularly heard being made by the LTTE or read in the  papers left them with no illusions. They had been told again and again,  "More civilians must die. Not enough of you have died. In other countries  people gain liberation only after a massive death of civilians".

 Vavuniya: Categories of Citizenship and Unnecessary Excesses of Security

 We have remarked earlier that following the Mullaitivu operation, the  LTTE had been rather free with passes for the displaced. Their system of  checks had also been disrupted. Very often people were able to get passes  merely by surrendering their precious family card and making a signed  statement giving details of their property - it being understood that if they  did not return within their given time the LTTE would assume control of  the property. Having obtained their pass they proceed to Omanthai where  a lodge built with relief funds is run by the LTTE and each person pays  Rs.30 per night. From there they proceed in the early morning towards  Thandikulam, paying Rs.20 for a bus ride. The LTTE checks their passes at  three points. From the last point they have two options- either to walk for  4 miles or pay Rs.50 for a 3-mile lorry ride bringing them to  Panichchaneeraavi Kulam. A further mile's walk and a descent into an  open field leaves them facing an army sentry point one hundred yards  away.

 At the sentry point, they must get into three lines. One line is for those  going to Vavuniya in connection with their day to day business - mainly  small traders. The second line is for passengers going through to Colombo  or elsewhere in the South. The third queue is for persons coming in as  refugees. These persons are only allowed to go into supervised refugee  camps in and around Vavuniya. Particularly the young, wanting to go  South, have to first get a parent or a guardian to get into Vavuniya and  make an application on their behalf. They are then summoned to the check  point on the basis of a list. At the time of writing, only about 20 to 30 such  young persons or fewer were allowed in daily. We will not dwell  extensively on this particular aspect as there have been a number of  complaints, press publicity and the matter is being taken up with the  Government by Tamil representatives. A large number of people had  opted for the refugee line even when their intention was to go to Colombo,  so as to gain easy entry into Vavuniya. These persons were taken to the  camp situated at Nelum Kulam Kalaimagal Vidyalayam.

 Those coming as refugees faced no restrictions over entry. But many of  them were later picked up from the refugee camps and taken for screening.  At one time 1,500 persons were staying in this camp which was a school,  having two halls each with an area of 2500 square feet. Each hall became  the temporary residence of 300 persons. Many others were accommodated  in tents. Initially there were only four toilets (ten more were later being  built). People were not allowed to go out initially, but later a three hour  pass was issued. Owing to the high concentration of flies one person had  to eat while someone else fanned. The fear of an insect called  Chakkarapandy getting into the ear holes and burrowing its way inside  the head kept people awake during the night. Subsequent to  representations being made, the number in the camp was brought down to  800 by clearing government servants, persons with jobs in the Middle East  urgently wanting to get to Colombo, and others with influence.

 There was then only a marginal improvement in the conditions at the  camp. It had one tube well which was used exclusively for drinking water.  For other uses, a water bowser brought two loads a day. Out of all those  who entered Vavuniya as refugees only nine families wished to proceed to  the permanent refugee camp at Asikkulam, that had 4000 inmates. The rest  wanted to be allowed to find their own way. Both the conditions and the  restrictions offered so little hope that 25 families opted to go back to the  LTTE controlled North and did so.

 About 3000 persons who wanted to come into Vavuniya continued to  languish at Omanthai, coming daily to Thandikulam and going back if they  were not allowed inside. The cost of travel, food and accommodation  came to about Rs.200 daily. For the young it was a matter of coming to  Thandikulam daily to check if their name was on the list of persons being  allowed in. Even for those who were successful in getting into the check- point it was often the beginning of more headaches, trauma and often  humiliation. The intelligence officers at the check-point possessed power  with no appeal against its use.

 For young people, things are even more uncertain. They are questioned at  the point of entry by officers of Military Intelligence, and the Counter  Subversive Unit and National Investigation Bureau of the Police. All of  them maintain separate files. Quite often those being questioned are  beaten and young girls are spoken to in abusive language. About 200 or  more youth are kept overnight at the entry point screening centre. This  process could take up to three days. Those cleared at the interrogation  centre to proceed to Colombo are then sent to the camp at Veppankulam  meant for south bound travellers. Once they contact friends or relatives in  the South by telephone or by fax and get confirmation that someone will  take responsibility for them they are transferred to the Railway Station  camp from where they board the train after getting clearance.

 Residence in Vavuniya itself is now a tricky affair involving complicated  procedures and permits. Those who are on the 1993 voters list are the only  ones entitled to permanent stay. Others who have cause to reside in  Vavuniya are issued three-month permits. These two categories of persons  can travel freely to Colombo and back. During the second week of  September a new system was introduced where those coming into  Vavuniya on business were given only one-day permits which were  renewable daily at the Brown Company Camp for up to three days.  Following the army's thrust into Killinochchi in late July, Major General  Saliya Kulatunge and Mr.Somapala Gunadeera, the Rehabilitation  Coordinator for the North, decided that anyone coming into Vavuniya  town will be allowed to stay for a maximum of one week. This was said to  be a move aimed at preventing further encroachment on crown lands  within the town limits.

 As for permission for the young to enter Vavuniya from the North, lists are  prepared jointly by Kachcheri administrative officials and security  officials, but the ultimate authority is the brigadier in charge of Vavuniya.  Following complaints, there were moves to involve the Red Cross. This  too ran into some controversy as the LTTE also wanted a say in the  preparation of lists. In the matter of permission to proceed to Colombo at  the three camps at Veppankulam, Nelum Kulam and the railway station,  both security and Kachcheri officials are involved. But again the brigadier  is the final authority. The civil authority, the Government Agent (GA), has  no power in the matter. It is said that the GA has visited the Nelum Kulam  camp only twice, facing a barrage of sarcastic questions such as "If we give  you Rs.50,000 would you let us go?". Such questions stem from a deep- seated anger among civilians. They have seen people going after invisible  arrangements are made. Talk of corruption is widespread.

 Each time permit requirements have been tightened, corruption has  increased steeply. Soon after the one-day pass system was introduced, a  vendor was caught with 600 passes. He was evidently acting as a sub- agent for persons in the security forces. A number of sources have claimed  that backdoor systems enable a young person to come into Vavuniya from  the North and proceed to Colombo following a smooth pre-arrangement.  Sums ranging from Rs.5,000 to Rs.10,000 have been quoted. Agents are  known to operate both from Colombo as well as Vavuniya. There are  young persons without influence or money in Omanthai, who have been  travelling daily to Thandikulam and getting back for a month, while there  are also those who reach Colombo the same day. While screening is  necessary for maintaining security, the arrangements in Vavuniya raise  some pertinent questions.

 Earlier, we quoted the Deputy Defence Minister as having said that the  Government had made preparations to receive into Vavuniya, 125,000  refugees from the North (Sunday Times, 6th October). The same paper in  an earlier report (18th August) quoted S. Ganesh, GA Vavuniya, to the  effect that 35 schools and other buildings had been done up to accomodate  a huge flow of refugees. The same report quoted refugees arriving in  Vavuniya, after walking 40 to 50 miles, as saying that they expected  thousands of others to follow them and that the LTTE was placing "no  restrictions on civilians leaving the area".

 Eventually, though, a total number of nearly 3,700 displaced persons (GA  Vavuniya's figures) arrived in Vavuniya from August 13th (when the army  first allowed civilians) to early October, of whom 1,200 remained in  'Welfare Centres'. Contrary to available testimony, the Deputy Defence  Minister claimed that the LTTE had stopped the refugees proceeding to  Vavuniya from Omanthai.

 Describing what was in store for the refugees, the second report (18th  August) had quoted GA Vavuniya: "These people will not be allowed to  step out of the schools allocated to them and police will restrict their  movements from outside the camps making sure that nobody escapes".  Coming from a closely watched, experienced administrator in a sensitive  position, this remark has a strong hint of tongue-in-the cheek.

 The Defence Ministry, apparently the chief architect of the plan, appears  to have failed to ask the brigadier in Vavuniya how long it would take his  outfit to screen the 125,000 people expected. At best, about 120 persons of  all ages were screened daily to leave Vavuniya for other areas.  Specifically among the youth, the number was at best 25 a day. At this rate,  it would have taken about 1,000 days to screen such a refugee influx. [The  last time a large number (about 1,000) were screened and allowed to pass  through Vavuniya was on 31st January, the day of the Central Bank bomb  blast. From that time the numbers had been dwindling]. Such lengthy  confinement under the conditions prevailing at the 'welfare centres',  would have been so appalling that the Government would have become  vulnerable to some very extreme allegations of repression. It was not a  prospect the civilians would readily exchange, even for conditions and  uncertainties in the Vanni outback.

 In early October, the Nelunkulam refugee camp was closed to reopen the  school. The inmates, then numbering about 400, were shifted to the more  commodious College of Education premises. Only 45 families had opted  for refugee status. The one-day pass system was relaxed by issuing one- week passes, extendable on a weekly basis. The number of persons in  Omanthai waiting to enter Vavuniya had also dropped to about 1,800,  many having given up trying.

 There is an important lesson to be drawn from this episode. While security  concerns cannot be glossed over, the plan such as the one mentioned here  was wholly unrealistic. Local observers noted that the administrative  machinery finds it impossible to cope with even the present influx - so  much so that the routine administrative work at the Vavuniya Kacheri is  almost at a standstill. Other facilities were grossly inadequate - e.g. apart  from the question of shelter, only two water bowsers were available, with  one used for the security forces. They conclude that accomodating the  125,000 refugees talked about was pure fantasy. Was it purely a  propaganda gesture? If so, it makes the decision to slash medical supplies  even more inexcusable. The next time such a scheme is talked about, it  ought to be dismissed outright. As to conditions in Vavunia, a number of good articles have appeared in  the press and the Tamil political parties have repeatedly made  representation. Yet even in relatively easy matters, just to make the  civilians feel that they are treated as human, the Government has been  unable to make any notable impact. It seems too much to expect such a  state machinery to re-evaluate its stubbornly unchanging practices in the  use of bombing and shelling that have helped to render peace a receding  prospect.

 For Whose Benefit?  

 Importantly, one needs to ask whether the purposes of security are  realised by these arrangements in Vavuniya. Certainly Vavuniya appears  normal. But behind it there is an eerie atmosphere where several  disconnected security establishments operate with impunity. Two well  known landmarks in Vavuniya are the torture centres, one at Malar  Maligai under the PLOTE, and the other is Ramya House inside the Air  Force camp, under the Counter Subversive Unit(CSU). There have been  about 20 murders in Vavuniya town since the August 1994 elections that  were unconnected with normal crime. Several of the bodies that were  found in public places were unclaimed. A notable murder was that of  Sritharan, a highly respected young social worker in early January this  year. Although a government employee, he gave his spare time  unstintingly to the relief of refugees at Asikkulam camp. The finding of his  body with about 100 stab wounds remains an "unsolved" murder although  the PLOTE is widely suspected. It is suggested that his voluntary labours  posed a challenge to the PLOTE that had its own agenda for the refugees.

 Individuals who try to do some public service such as volunteering for  social or medical work, have complained of being accosted threateningly  by the PLOTE. There is also the case of a Co-operative Society convoy  officer who used to accompany relief convoys to the North. Upon  returning one day with the money accrued from sales, he went missing in  Vavuniya town. At that time he had Rs.23 lakhs in his possession.

 The PLOTE, a Tamil militant group, has worked closely with the Sri  Lankan Armed Forces since 1990. Many of its cadre in Vavuniya were  imprisoned by the Indian authorities after the Maldivian fiasco of 1988,  where they had acted as mercenaries in an attempted coup. Among the  notorious figures are Manikkathasan and Alavanguthasan, who are held  responsible for a number of murders. According to knowledegable sources  Manikkadasan and Alavangudasan are held by the authorities to be prime  suspects in the murder early last year in Colombo of Karavai Kandasamy,  an elderly PLOTE spokesman, who was earlier in the Left movement.  More recent killings, as documented below, point to Vavuniya having  become the home turf for the activities of PLOTE and TELO, who in  official jargon are now part of the `democratic process'. The PLOTE, of  course, has three MPs in the Vavuniya district who have vested interests in  trying to win the support of the people. It has been suggested that even  these MPs are afraid of the two aforesaid gentlemen.

 Arjuna was the political and military leader of the PLOTE in Trincomalee.  At the central committee level, he opposed Manikkadasan's control over  his area on the grounds that the group was being thrown into disrepute by  its association with abduction and murder. During last July (1996),  Manikkadasan requested Arjuna to come to Vavuniya to settle the matter.  When he did so he was abducted and killed. According to low ranking  PLOTE cadre, their own group was responsible for the murder of Arjuna.

 Jainudeen was a well known van driver in Trincomalee who was  associated with the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Around 1992, he  had a quarrel with the TELO when a member of the group was detained  on charges of abduction. During last September, Jainudeen came to  Vavuniya by van with two others. All three were found murdered.
 During the first week of October journalists from the 'Yukthiya' went to  Vavuniya to do an investigative report. Asked about the killings and  shooting incidents in town, Gamini Silva, Senior Superintendent of Police,  Vavuniya, was non-committal. He said that there were many lapses in  discipline both among policemen and soldiers, a number of whom he  himself had to punish.

 He cannot therefore, he said, expect more discipline from the Tamil  militant groups. Concerning the murders, the SSP admitted that a number  of them had taken place in town which the police duly recorded. But  beyond this they had drawn a blank. He did not give the impression of  being unduly perturbed. He did however add significantly, that nearly all  the victims were non-residents from outside Vavuniya town - a strong hint  that the LTTE was not generally involved.

 The `Yukthiya' team also interviewed Siyambalagaswewa Wimalasara,  chief incumbant of the Vavuniya town Buddhist temple, among the senior  most Buddhist monks in the country, and also a much respected peace  activist having regular dialogue with all communities. He was much more  forthright. He said: "We all know that the LTTE is not responsible for these  incidents. You know that the LTTE carries munitions and devices through  the security system in Vavuniya all the way down to Colombo, to carry out  devastating attacks. If the LTTE so wishes it has the capacity to do  something really big in Vavuniya - not just shooting a few policemen and  individuals".

 A murder that received publicity recently was that of Subramaniam, a  Colombo based textile merchant. He was detained in Colombo by the CSU  and brought to Vavuniya on suspicion of having links with the LTTE. He  was released from Anuradhapura prison on a fundamental rights  application after nearly 4 months in custody. He was last seen a few days  after his release on 13th July, going to the CSU office in Vavuniya to collect  his personal effects. What was believed to be the burnt remains of his body  together with another body were found in Nikeravettiya. It was reported  in the press that the CID who were asked to investigate the murder,  arrested the coordinating officer in charge of the CSU at Vavuniya along  with four other personnel (The Island, 16th August). The brazenness with  which the crime was committed is a measure of the extent to which such  practices had been ingrained in the system. Whether the vested interests  which underly such violations will allow justice to take its course is a  question to which an answer is anxiously awaited.

 What exists in Vavuniya can be described as a 'mafia set-up'. It is said that  almost every racket related to such an outfit goes on there except for  drugs. The basis of this is the high level of cash flow in Vavuniya that feeds  a variety of interests. It is a central town servicing the traffic of goods and  people from the North to the South and vice versa. Cash flows vary in  form from private funds from relatives in Western capitals, to NGO and  rehabilitation funds. Because of this the town is able to put up with a level  of extortion much higher than what provincial towns like Batticaloa and  Trincomalee would have been able to bear. It is said that even when the  Rehabilitation Ministry allocates transportation charges for North-bound  lorries, taxes by the PLOTE and even the LTTE are included. According to  a social worker, the PLOTE recently ran up a repair bill of Rs.4.5 lakhs for  their vehicles at a garage. This visible racketeering by Tamil groups in  league with the armed forces may just be the tip of the iceberg. Elements of  the security forces are creditied with being into it in a big way.

 There were attacks in Vavuniya town on 27th August and 20th September.  In the first incident a CSU vehicle was fired at inside the town killing two  police personnel, 2 soldiers, 12 civilians and injuring 10 policemen. The  second attack took place at the Vavuniya railway station in the night,  shortly after the departure of the Colombo train, injuring 5 off duty  policemen, including two women. No one is sure who was responsible.  Many suspected the PLOTE in the first attack, suggesting that the PLOTE  was unhappy after its cadre were withdrawn from the Thandikkulam  check point over complaints that they were demanding money from  travellers. These sources are clear that the LTTE maintains a significant  presence in Vavuniya town, mainly for intelligence purposes, but that the  LTTE would not like to create too much disruption in Vavuniya since they  need supplies from the South to continue flowing to the North.

 Passage to India 

 Life in the Vanni is definitely becoming intolerable. Among the pressures  facing parents are the aggressive tactics used by LTTE recruiters on their  children. To take a young person to Colombo could however involve bribes  of well over Rs.5,000. On top of humiliation and harassment, upon  reaching Colombo the young Tamil is again faced with the impunity and  arbitrariness with which the security forces act. Irritations in Colombo  may range from off-duty policemen calling over for petty favours to being  picked up by the police and released after a bribe is arranged, or having an  indefinite detention order slapped on and sent to prison to live alongside  criminal elements. Life in the Eastern province or in the Jaffna peninsula  held no greater promise. Staying in a refugee camp in Vavuniya under sub- prison conditions can be a dehumanising experience lasting several weeks  or months.

 Apart from such considerations, given the choices facing these people  enumerated above, paying Rs.6,000 to a boatman for a passage to India  would have seemed a bargain. Once accepted as refugees in India,  restrictions placed on them are minimal. Most would have been free to  travel from Mandapam to Madras and back without any hindrance, in  sharp contrast to what it would take to travel from Vavuniya to Colombo.  Moreover, for those depending on money from family members abroad,  life in India would be far cheaper, considering especially that they have  little to go back to after having lost their property in Jaffna last October.  Thus, quite apart from whatever interest the LTTE may have in the  matter, the Government first needs to look closely at the plight of Tamil  civilians resulting from its own misplaced actions.

 On Sunday 6th October the Sri Lankan Navy detained 107 Tamil refugees  bound for India from the mainland coast. It was claimed in Colombo that  the boat was overloaded and about to sink when the Navy 'rescued' the  passengers. The passengers, comprising 33 males, 33 females and 40  children, are now held at Al Hazar Vidyalayam (School), Mannar and look  frightened, according to local reports. They had reportedly paid Rs.8,000  per head for their passage. The Navy had earlier (17th September)  detained 21 refugees and eight Indian fishermen from two Indian trawlers  off the Mannar coast. On 11th October, another boat was detained with 28  refugees (8 men, 9 women and 11 children). A graphic illustration of the  desperation confronting those fleeing to India is the capsizing of a boat off  Mannar in bad weather on 14th October in which 14 civilians, including 7  children, were drowned.

 In a report filed by S. Annamalai in the Madras Hindu (6th October),  Indian authorities were quoted as saying that there had been a "controlled  influx" since February this year. "The arrivals picked up momentum on  31st July, and from this date till October 1st, 2,933 Sri Lankan Tamils  reached the Rameswaran coast". According to this report, the fare paid by  a passenger ranged from Rs.300 to as high as Rs.15,000 for an adult. A boat  owner originally from Valvettithurai is said to have charged Rs.5,000 for a  child.

 This is in fair agreement with the information gathered from local sources.  According to these sources, the going rate at Nachchikudah is about  Rs.10,000 per passenger, of which Rs.5,000 goes to the LTTE. Passengers  are taken to an island and transferred to Indian fishing vessels. The  refugees are finding the money for the journey by often selling their  remaining possessions. For example, two men rode into Nachchikudah on  a Honda 90cc motorcycle. Immediately local residents started bidding for  this coveted possession. The men then rode the further 3 miles to the sea- coast, negotiated a price with the boatman and proceeded to India.

 The pattern has now emerged. After the attack on Mullaitivu army camp,  the LTTE was, according to reports, canvassing civilians in the area to go  to India. On the other hand, with mounting reports of violations by the  Army in Jaffna and the impending control of much of the Vanni by the Sri  Lankan forces, India came readily as a safe destination for many families  with LTTE links. According to persons coming from this area the fare being  charged to these segments of society was a modest Rs.1,000, with the LTTE  taking Rs.500. When others too in desperation wanted to leave, higher  prices owing to various circumstances, including actions taken by the  Indian cost guard, became an effective barrier.

 We mentioned earlier that the Defence Ministry expected 125,000 refugees  to come into Vavuniya and then blamed the LTTE for placing restrictions.  In fact, the LTTE did not need to place restrictions because the Army and  the government machinery were effectively restricting people from  leaving the LTTE-controlled area. The LTTE was freely issuing passes  charging a mere Rs. 200/= for an application form and a further Rs 500 for  young persons. Having gone to a lot of trouble gathering people into the  Vanni, it is doubtful if the LTTE would have watched indifferently if  125,000 actually marched into Vavuniya. The question did not however  arise.

 Thanks to the ineptness of government policy, the LTTE has been given a  wide range to respond to constraints through a policy of controlled  outflow in some respects advantageous to itself, while turning the ire of  the people against the Government.

 Children in Violence: Questions arising from conditions in the Vanni In the present report we have also alluded to a unit named the Young  Leopards who are in a camp at Koorai in the Mannar District. According  to local sources the training given to these young recruits is not so much to  do with shooting as with the use of swords and knives. Many of them are  said to be very young children recruited recently in the Eastern Province  and brought to the North. Along with the methods of recruitment we have  mentioned in the past, the use of psychological pressure on children in the  Vanni schools is increasingly aggressive.

 There have been reports to the effect that many of the LTTE casualties  during the army's late July thrust into Killinochchi, were very young  persons. Moreover, in press notifications of LTTE casualties unlike in the  late 80s and early 90s, one today notices markedly fewer officers of ranks  such as captain, major and lieutenant colonel. Indirect corrobration of this  comes from the wider use of suicide operatives in the battlefield. A group  of persons who had seen several years of active service in the LTTE were  asked how many Black Tigers (suicide squad) there were today. They  replied that the number was so high that they had stopped maintaining a  ceremonial record. It was the ethos of an organisation where the young  were constrained not to see beyond the prospect of a life that was short  and brutish.

 These qualitative observations concerning this phenomenon of child  soldiers, is part of the reality where the LTTE has silenced a whole  community and made it powerless. The LTTE's deployment of child  soldiers has also been used as part of a major propaganda campaign  against the LTTE by the Government. It is, we think, important that  anyone who cares for the Tamil community must hold the LTTE  accountable for the creeping destruction of the community that the  phenomenon of child soldiers entails. It is something that needs to be done  with moral responsibility. But have those who have talked about this  phenomenon in the South and in the Foreign Ministry shown a sense of  moral responsibility?

 International agencies that have shown a concern about this problem as a  world-wide phenomenon, such as the UNICEF, are quite right to highlight  this tragedy. But at the same time, as even this report would suggest, we  have a state structure here that is almost entirely unsympathetic to the  Tamil problem. It is manned largely by persons to whom the Tamils come  alive, not as people, but only as dreaded suicide bombers. A large part of  the responsibility in dealing with this problem falls ultimately on the good  sense of the people in this country. The fact that the crisis has come to its  present state is a harsh judgement on this country's intellectual culture.  Our academic traditions leave much to be desired and our culture is very  deficient in self-examination.

 Look for example at the other aspect of this phenomenon of child soldiers.  Take the case of mothers who have faced years of living in continual  hysteria owing to the effects of bombing and shelling, and death or  disappearance of loved ones. Very often parents have had to relinquish  control over their children owing to conditions resulting from the  callousness of the State. What we have is a community where a substantial  section of it needs to keep swallowing psychiatric pills to prevent their  brains from popping out.

 A Defeatist Approach? 

 The plight of the Tamils and the intricacies of the current crisis, apart from  the politics of the South, cannot be isolated from the methods used by the  LTTE. It must be mentioned that even humanitarian openings in the South  are relentlessly used by this organisation to service its programmes of  terror. Far from liberating the people it seeks to trap them and bind them  in a dance of death. There are now strong indications that the leading  operative in the Dehiwela train bomb blast on July 24th, which claimed  about 65 lives, was sent to Colombo under the care of an unsuspecting  couple after the Jaffna exodus late last year.

A large number of civilians  have been constantly wanting to flee the deteriorating conditions in the  North. Between December last year and April this year the pass system  was operated stringently. A large number of civilians who came to the  South have admitted privately that pressure had been applied on them to  indirectly help LTTE operations in the South. The request, accompanied by  the dangling of a pass, was usually to take a young person along with  them on a vague pretext or to provide accommodation to someone  connected with the organisation. All of them kept on giving personal  reasons to wriggle out until the pressure was withdrawn. There are also  persons who became so frightened that they withdrew their application  for a pass.

 Looking back at the 13 years of civil war, the ups and downs of military  fortunes have been largely irrelevant. What is of significance is that little  has been done politically to dent the legitimacy of a cause even so weak as  that which the LTTE represents, and one that has been so devastating to  Tamil society. While hopes were raised last year of a successful political bid  by the Government to bring peace, it now seems that the Government has  lost the political initiative and has allowed practices among the security  forces which brought the country into disrepute to gain the upper hand.

 Not surprisingly, this loss of initiative was reflected in a petulant response  to the Amnesty International report of mid-August by the Government as  well as in editorial commentaries, particularly in the government- controlled Daily News. The following paragraph from the report is very  relevant to the present state of affairs in Sri Lanka:
 "Human rights are at a crucial juncture in Sri Lanka. The Government has  given repeated indications of its commitment to the protection of human  rights. How it will put this commitment into practice in the next year or so  will determine whether respect for human rights is restored in the country.  How the Government takes forward the process of public  acknowledgment of past human rights violations and the bringing to  justice of those responsible will be a further key test of its stated  commitment."

 A series of events this year boded negatively for human rights in the  foreseeable future. This is sad considering that the Government had  initially meant otherwise. The first in the series was the suspension of  action on the President's order to the Army Commander to send on  compulsory leave about 200 security personnel, including officers at  brigadier level, who had been implicated in serious human rights  violations before ongoing commissions of inquiry. Then came in February  and June respectively the release on bail of security personnel detained in  respect to the `Corpses in the Lakes Affair' during August last year, and the  Killiveddi massacre of February this year. From April this year three  brigadiers who faced charges for serious violations had been promoted to  major general. Though this may be pragmatically justified as unavoidable  in fighting an adversary such as the LTTE is, it has on the other hand  helped the old discredited order in the armed forces to regain their  initiative.

 The reverses of July provided the setting for the latent institutions of terror  to reassert themselves again. We see a disturbing rise in routine violations.  After the Army made a good start in Jaffna we are now faced with a rising  incidence of disappearances, murder and rape in Jaffna. Some serious  violations following the Mullaitivu reverse are only now coming to light.  The brazenness of the murder in Vavuniya with which the CSU has been  associated, and the subsequent murders in Vavuniya, could hardly have  taken place without an unfavourable change in the atmosphere concerning  the respect for human rights. It is not merely the security forces on the  ground but also the government institutions at higher levels have been  conniving in a vindictive approach to the people of the Vanni.

 The fight against the LTTE is thus being pursued in a defeatist frame of  mind that is instead more productive in violations and corruption.  Moreover the censorship which prevailed until early October 1996,  appears to have entailed the Government believing its own propaganda  which bears little in relation to reality, and then getting angry when it is  contradicted. The current mood of defeatism comes from the political  leadership losing a sense of direction.

 The Government cannot go on trying to deal with this problem under the  constraints of covering up for the security forces on the one hand, and on  the other, trying not to offend dominant ruling class interests in the South  in its search for a political solution. The original aim of the Government,  to bring justice to the much abused masses of the people and to give this  country a proud place as a nation where human rights prevail, are  laudable ones which are now under a cloud. The Government is also  handicapped by a machinery whose acquired inertia over the years would  hardly allow it to respond creatively to the dangers confronting this  country. The only hope lies in a drastic political initiative, having at its core an uncompromising respect for human rights, that would restore a sense  of purpose and direction.  

Mail Us up- truth is a pathless land - Home