The Indo-LTTE War (1987-90) - An Anthology.
Part 12: Curtain Falls on Despot Jayewardene’s 12 Year Rule
30 December 2008
Front Note by
Sachi Sri Kantha
The second executive Presidential election was held on December 18, 1988. The
main contenders in this election were Ranasinghe Premadasa (UNP) and Sirimavo
Bandaranaike (SLFP). Notably, both pledged to the voters that if elected they
will send off the Indian army from the island. The prevailing atmosphere in the
island during December 1988 was distinctly different from that of October 1982,
when the first executive Presidential election was held. Apart from the presence
of Indian army, other leading indicators were as follows: (1) Emergence of LTTE
in the North-East regions of the island and JVP in the Southern regions. (2)
Simultaneous eclipse of TULF in the North-East. (3) Temporary assent of EPRLF,
the puppet regime of Indian mandarins and intelligence peddlers.
From part 1 to part 11 of this anthology, I have assembled cumulatively 99
newsreports and commentaries. I would assert that more than 98 percent of these
publicly available materials have been either selectively or inadvertently
ignored by Sri Lankan president J.R. Jayewardene’s biographers Professors K.M.
de Silva and Howard Wriggins [vide, J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, vol.
II, Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword Books, London, 1994], to present their protagonist in
good light, and project LTTE as the ‘bad guys’. Nevertheless, the documented
record speaks otherwise. Presented below, for the part 12 of this anthology, are
10 news reports and commentaries that had appeared in December 1988.
In variance to the previous 11 parts where I have selected materials from either
weeklies (Time, Newsweek, Economist, Asiaweek, and
Far Eastern Economic Review) or monthlies (South), I have included
a commentary by Barbara Crossette that appeared in the New York Times of
Dec.18, 1988. Note that the Time magazine issue of the same date reported
that by then, “681
Indian soldiers, 900 Tamil Tigers and nearly 1,000 civilians” had died in the
Indo-LTTE war. The same issue also featured short ‘box profiles’ on the
thoughts/predicaments of seven Sinhala and Tamil individuals. Among these seven,
two (B.Y.Tudawe and Theepan) were well recognized in the island. Tudawe was a
Communist Party MP for Matara and the Deputy Minister of Education, from
1970-77. Theepan is “a Tamil Tiger field commander.”
Manik de Silva: Merged – for now.
Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec.1,
1988, pp. 36-37.
Anonymous: Enter Hydra. Economist, Dec. 3, 1988, p. 28.
Anonymous: Slide Into Anarchy.
Asiaweek, Dec. 16, 1988, p. 29.
Barbara Crossette: Blood, alienation and chauvinism accompany Sri Lankans to
polls. New York Times, Dec. 18, 1988.
Ron Moreau: Sri Lanka’s Killing Spree – Can anyone govern?
19, 1988, pp. 37-38.
Lisa Beyer: Edge of the Abyss – A surge of savagery that chokes off all reason.
Time, Dec. 19, 1988, pp. 28-33.
Manik de Silva: The killing Campaign.
Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec.
22, 1988, p. 23.
Sri Lanka Correspondent: Democracy’s Day of Courage.
Economist, Dec. 24,
1988, p. 33.
Michael S. Serrill: Patching an Old Feud.
Time, Dec. 26, 1988, p. 23.
Anonymous: Breakout – An explosive prison escape.
Time, Dec. 26, 1988, p.
Merged – For Now
[Manik de Silva, Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec.1, 1988, pp. 36-37.]
Sri Lanka’s major obligation under its 1987 accord with India was completed on
19 November with a council election for the temporarily merged Northern and
Eastern provinces where Tamil separatists have been fighting a five-year long
war. Yet, despite a surprisingly high 63% voter turnout, the credibility of the
new council remains in question because the dominant guerilla group refused to
contest the election.
Also in question is the permanence of the merger. The Eastern Province is
populated in almost equal proportion by Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and a
referendum must be held there within a year to determine whether the people wish
to remain linked – and therefore dominated – by the predominantly Tamil north.
Whether the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) refusing to contest because
they opposed the accord itself, the 36 northern seats went uncontested to an
alliance of the relatively less influential Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front
(EPRLF) and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front. The EPRLF also
contested seats in the east against the two year-old Sri Lanka Muslim Congress,
and the ruling United National Party (UNP).
Predictably, the EPRLF, which was backed by India, and the Muslim Congress
carried the province, with 17 seats each, with the UNP winning a solitary seat.
It was clear that Muslims had voted for the congress and the Tamils for the
EPRLF. The Sinhalese, resentful of the merger and unhappy about the lack of
protection from attacks by the Tamil separatists, appeared to have largely
ignored the election.
As both the LTTE and the militant Sinhalese Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in
the east had tried to frighten voters away from the polls, the 50,000-strong
Indian Peace Keeping Force, in Sri Lanka for 15 months now to help implement the
1987 accord, worked hard to ensure minimum disruption. The Indians stressed that
the election was conducted entirely by the Colombo government with their troops
only providing security and, where requested, some logistical assistance.
With the presidential election due on 10 December and the majority of the
non-Tamils in the Eastern Province perceived to be opposed to a continuing
north-east link, many observers in Colombo expect President Junius Jayewardene,
who is not seeking re-election, to quickly announce a date for the referendum in
the east. The Indians who perceive Tamil aspirations as strongly pro-merger
would not favor any delinking. Questions are already being asked about whether
the Indians would cooperate in holding a referendum in which their interests
might lose out.
The Muslim Congress, with its strong showing in the east and its less
spectacular successes in winning Muslim votes in earlier provincial council
elections elsewhere, is preparing to use its leverage with both the UNP and the
main opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to carve out a Muslim majority
provincial council in the east, for it does not favour a merger either. The
congress has thus far backed the SLFP’s presidential candidate, Sirima
Bandaranaike, but may now offer its support to whoever it can wrest concessions
from in the parliamentary election that mus follow the presidential poll.
While Bandaranaike is already committed to doing away with the provincial
councils, which were only set up this year, should she win the election, it is
clear that the SLFP is willing to concede considerable provincial autonomy to
Tamil- and Muslim- majority areas to resolve the ethnic strife that has torn Sri
Lanka society and its economy apart. Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, the
UNP presidential candidate, has slowly distanced himself from Jayewardene’s
arrangements with India – under which the provincial councils were to be formed
– and both he and Bandaranaike tell election rallies that if elected they will
secure an Indian pull-out. But with the Indians having failed so far to disarm
the LTTE, and Sinhalese militants creating havoc in the south, an immediate
Indian withdrawal would hardly be practicable.
Any Colombo government has to also be conscious of the fact that the Tamil
separatist war was able to assume the proportions it did because of the Indian
factor in the equation. The Tamil separatists enjoyed extensive support from the
southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and both trained and staged raids from there
until the 1987 accord, when New Delhi deprive them of logistical and other
support. A future Sri Lankan Government proposing to tinker with the accord
cannot be unconscious of the inherent dangers of such an action.
While the northeast election was being concluded, the southern militants
continued their rampage in the majority Sinhalese areas. A spate of selective
killings disrupted public transport in many areas with bus and train operators
refusing to work for fear of attack. Electrical sub-stations and power lines
were sabotaged causing extensive blackouts in some parts of the country and
troops had to be deployed to ensure essential services continued and to bring
frightened employees to work.
Enter Hydra [Anonymous, Economist, Dec.3, 1988, p. 28.]
Surely there must be something to report about Sri Lanka that is not wholly
gloomy? Well, there’s the tea crop. It is unusually good this year.
Unfortunately, much of it is likely to stay on the plantations. The roads from
the tea-growing areas to the capital, Colombo, where the tea would be auctioned,
packed and exported, are unsafe. Some gets through, escorted by soldiers, but a
lot of it will never reach the teapot.
The tea is a metaphor for all of Sri Lanka, a country with an abundance of good
things to offer the world, cash crops, precious stones, textiles, free-trade
zones and tourism, but all of them stymied by a civil war that is getting more
terrible each day. It is now taking on the character of Hydra, the monster of
Greek mythology that grew two heads when one was cut off.
Sri Lanka’s only monster used to be the Tamil Tigers, who have been fighting
tooth and claw for a separate state for the minority Tamils in the north-east of
the country. Sri Lanka has not quite cut off the Tigers’ head, but it has shooed
them into the jungle with the aid of soldiers from India. But by bringing in the
Indians, and be offering political concessions to the Tamils, it has created a
The People’s Liberation Front, generally known by the initials JVP (for its
Sinhalese name, Janata Vimukthi Peramuna), claims to speak for the island’s
Sinhalese majority. It is bitterly opposed to the provincial autonomy offered to
the Tamils of the north-east, and to the presence of 50,000 Indian soldiers in
Sri Lanka, who came in as part of a deal designed to bring peace to the Tamil
areas. The Front has declared war on the government of President Junius
Jayewardene for doing this deal, which, it says, has put Sri Lanka under India’s
Like the Tigers, the Front has a philosophy which is unlovely and implausible
mixture of Marxism and racism. Its aim is to disrupt the country so much that
the government will collapse. It has frightened the drivers of the tea lorries
and destroyed the tourist trade. The Front is as brutal as the Tigers. Since the
government signed the pact with India in July 1987 it is believed to have killed
more than 600 people, mostly government supporters. In a 24-hour period this
week it shot dead 15 people. In the rural areas of southern Sri Lanka, where
most Sinhalese live, its word has become law. It forbids people to go to work;
so there is no public transport, shops run out of supplies, hospitals have no
medicine and there is a shortage of cash because banks do not open.
The JVP’s target now is Colombo. Its posters went up in the capital this week
decreeing that all activity should stop on December 5th. From that
day even private cares will not be tolerated on the streets. The order will
remain in force until December 19th, when a presidential election is
due to be held. It seems the Front plans to make that election impossible.
It looks fairly impossible anyway. Were the country not near anarchy it would be
a straightforward choice between Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa, the candidate of the
ruling United National Party, and Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the candidate of
the main opposition group. After 11 years of United National Party government
under Mr Jayewardene (who is retiring), Mrs Bandaranaike would probably win. She
is a former prime minister and has the right background; all but one of Sri
Lanka’s governments during the 40 years since independence have been headed by
someone from one of the great political families, the Senanayakes and the
Bandaranaikes. She is of high caste (as important to Buddhist Sinhalese as it is
to Hindu Tamils), while Mr Premadasa is of low caste.
Such rationalities no longer seems to matter as much as they did even a couple
of months ago. Mrs Bandaranaike has hinted that she might pull out. She suspects
that the government may be fixing the election. In Colombo suspicious opposition
people mutter that 1.2m illegal voting slips have been prepared to stuff the
ballot boxes. The story is a symptom of the malaise in Sri Lanka, a once rather
decent country where previous elections have been mostly fair. Mr Jayewardene
sought to counter the rumour this week by agreeing that foreign observers could
monitor the election.
Or Mr Jayewardene may call off the election, believing that it will end in chaos
(even though the soothsayers claim it will be auspicious for Mr Premadasa). He
would then continue as executive president, perhaps calling a parliamentary
election, a popular move as there has not been one since 1977.
Assuming the presidential election goes ahead, the winner, whether Mr Premadasa
or Mrs Bandaranaike, will come to office on a promise to scrap the deal with
India. Not only would the Indian soldiers be asked to go home, removing from Sri
Lanka its most disciplined group on the side of law and order, but one of Mr
Jayewardene’s greatest achievements would be endangered. This was the highly
successful election in November of a Tamil-run provincial council for the
island’s northern and eastern districts. Voters turned out in great numbers,
despite a demand from the Tigers for a boycott. The council, which once seemed a
hopeless dream, has now appointed a terrorist-turned-democrat as provincial
minister. If the council collapsed, any hope of peace for the north-east would
These are agonizing times for the 82 year-old Mr Jayewardene. He acted
courageously in bringing in the Indians and pressing ahead with some kind of
Tamil self-government. The army is stretched to run even essential services, but
Mr Jayewardene has declined to impose martial law. He may not despair, but he
finds it difficult to know what else he can do to hold his little country
together. Getting rid of Hydra took all the strength and guile of Hercules.
Slide Into Anarchy [Anonymous; Asiaweek, Dec. 16, 1988, p. 29]
Once a familiar figure, the postman in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province has been
replaced by a stranger with a mail-bag in one hand and an automatic rifle in the
other. The postal service is one of the many institutions taken over by the army
as the country continues its slide into anarchy. According to the latest
official figures, 439 people were killed in a 30-day period recently, most of
them by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front). The JVP has
vowed to bring the government to its knees.
Civil administration in 20 of the island’s 26 districts has been crippled as
thousands of frightened administrators and clerks obeyed the terrorists’ call
for a nationwide boycott. More than 200 senior government officials in the
Southern Province were taken into ‘protective custody’ by the army. ‘They are
essential to keep the services running,’ explains Col. Vipul Boteju,
coordinating officer in the Hambantota district. ‘We had no alternative but to
force them to work.’ Ex-soldiers and officers are being recruited to meet
mounting manpower needs. Army technicians are being trained to take over
computer systems in major banks and the international airport. Others are being
taught to run the petroleum refinery, overseas telecommunications, power
stations and the television and radio networks.
Troops battling the insurgents have been given wide emergency powers. ‘If we
didn’t strengthen units in the south, the country would be in chaos,’ National
Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali told Asiaweek. President Junius
Jayewardene has appointed Maj.-Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne as head of the First
Division in charge of the all-out offensive. The division includes officers who
planned the May 1987 invasion of the northern Jaffna peninsula held by Tamil
separatists. Officers say troops have overcome qualms about fighting fellow
Sinhalese. But according to another army source, overzealous soldiers are
repeating mistakes made in fighting the Tamils. He says recruits from the south,
sickened by what they see as indiscriminate slaughter, are in a mutinous mood.
The opposition has urged Jayewardene to hand over power to a caretaker
government before the Dec.19 presidential elections to defuse the crisis.
Instead, he has promised to dissolve Parliament on Dec.20 and bring forward the
general elections by six months to Feb.15. ‘An opportunity should be given to
the people to elect a new parliament so that the new president will have the
benefit of the views of the electorate,’ Jayewardene explained.
The move is unlikely to assuage the JVP, which is disrupting presidential
campaigns with bomb attacks. Among the latest victims were Devabandara
Senaratne, vice-president of the opposition Sri Lanka People’s Party, and two
supporters. Tourists and expatriates are fleeing the country in the countdown to
the polls. The government has vowed not to let up on its military campaign.
Declares a senior cabinet minister: ‘Even if [the media]stand on their heads and
shout about human rights, we’ll go ahead. If not, there will never be peace in
Blood, Alienation and Chauvinism Accompany Sri Lankans to Polls [Barbara Crossette; New York Times, Dec.18, 1988.]
Dharshanie is only 22. Her brother is a soldier. But that does not dampen the
fire in her that turned her against one of Asia's oldest and most resilient
democracies. ''At the moment, I don't think that democracy exists in this
country,'' she said as she settled down with two fellow Sri Lankan students to
explain what has brought them to the brink of violence, even revolution. ''Look
at the adult generation we have,'' she says. ''They are calling it a democracy
and shooting schoolchildren. This is the kind of government our parents have put
in power to protect us.'' Opposition Grows Rapidly
Darshanie, a Colombo University student, and her colleagues, Kumar and Gamini,
are part of a rapidly growing phenomenon deeply troubling to Sri Lankans of
almost every political persuasion: the drift of the country's ethnic Sinhalese
youth, children of the majority, into a violent opposition coalescing around a
shadowy group called the People's Liberation Front and the more ruthless, armed
Patriotic People's Movement.
With a presidential election scheduled Monday, the movement this weekend has
threatened to shut down Sri Lankan cities and towns with a campaign of terror
and to cut off the hand of anyone who votes. A bus was set on fire in the center
of Colombo today and a gasoline bomb was thrown at a shop. No one asserted
responsibility for the incidents, but it was widely assumed here to be the work
of Sinhalese extremists. To counter this threat, the Government of President J.
R. Jayewardene, which held its last Cabinet meeting today, is planning to impose
a nationwide, round-the-clock curfew after the voting Monday, a senior official
The curfew is expected to be in effect for at least 36 hours while the votes are
counted and the next President is sworn in. Posters went up in some Colombo
neighborhoods today ordering citizens to stay home from midnight tonight until
Monday night. Voters run the risk of being shot, as they were in provincial
elections earlier this year. Troops and militias equivalent to a national guard
have been sent to populated places all over Sri Lanka to try to provide security
Three candidates are running for president: Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa
of the ruling United National Party; Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party, a former prime minister, and Ossie Abeygoonasekera of the United
Socialist Alliance, a group of left-wing parties. The leading contenders are
Mrs. Bandaranaike and Mr. Premadasa.
The People's Liberation Front contends that the Government in Colombo gave too
many concessions to the Tamil minority in a July 1987 peace agreement aimed at
ending the five-year insurrection by Tamil guerrillas in the north and east.
Tamils make up about 18 percent of the population. In 1983, Tamil rebels
launched their violent campaign for greater autonomy from the
Sinhalese-dominated Government. Sri Lanka's radical students call themselves
Marxists. But this is a new Marxism, said Kumar, who belongs to the student wing
of the People's Liberation Front. Their movement, whose hero is Lenin, is
nevertheless anti-Soviet and anti-Chinese, the students said, adding that of the
Communist countries, only Cuba and Vietnam help them. Maoist and Perhaps Fascist
Many Sri Lankans describe the People's Liberation Front, led by a former Maoist,
Rohana Wijeweera, as neo-fascist. For many, the militant chauvinism enshrined in
the mottos of the front - ''First Motherland, Then Education'' and ''First
Motherland, Then Work'' - poses a far greater danger to Sri Lankan unity and
development than the Tamil rebellions.
Many Sri Lankans believe that the Sinhalese-first movements formed by some
Buddhist monks and Roman Catholic priests as well as those of the university
students have been coopted by the more dangerous and ruthless political
tacticians of the People's Liberation Front. The students reject this. Their
politicization began, they say, on education issues, like opposition to private
higher education and a change in examination procedures, and mushroomed after
Indian troops arrived in Sri Lanka last year under an agreement between the two
countries aimed at ending the Tamil insurretion. When Prime Minister Rajiv
Gandhi came to Colombo to sign the accord, Darshanie said, ''I wondered why the
honor guards didn't spit in his face.'' A young sailor did hit the Indian Prime
Minister with his rifle.
Loss of Nationhood Alleged :
To many Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhist while most Tamils are Hindu, the
country has lost its sovereignty to Hindu New Delhi. Paradoxically, many Tamils
now battling Indian forces share this view. ''We are anti-Government,''
Dharshanie said. ''We are anti-accord. We are anti-Indian. If the J.V.P. has the
same attitude, we can't help that,'' she said, referring to the People's
Liberation Front by its initials in Sinhalese. Older Marxists are among those
most disturbed by the emergence of this new left. The students accuse
traditional Communists of reporting regularly and falsely to Moscow about their
activities. ''There is a phenomenon here that we have not fully studied: the
phenomenon of Pol Potism,'' Pieter Keuneman, leader of the Sri Lankan Communist
Party, said in an interview Friday. Pol Pot was the Communist leader of Cambodia
from 1975-79. He is blamed for the deaths of more than a million Cambodians.
''This Pol Potism came out of Maoism, the Red Guard movement and so on,'' Mr.
Keuneman said, adding that what is happening in Sri Lanka ''is not on a massive
scale like in Cambodia.'' ''But,'' he said, ''it's the same thing: young people
who don't know very much, who enjoy power, who enjoy dressing up and playing
Escaped Death Himself:
Mr. Keuneman said that assassins of the new left killed 185 Sri Lankan
Communists in the last year. Two days before the interview in his small office
here, Mr. Keuneman escaped an attack by gunmen. In some cases, the assaults by
the Patriotic People's Movement have been carried out with extreme brutality.
''If there's a chap you don't like,'' he said, ''you go around and kill him. You
kill his children. You chop their heads off. I would call it savage, but the
savages are much more civilized.''
Mr. Abeygoonasekera, a presidential candidate being fielded by a coaltion of
leftist parties including the Communists, has survived three grenade attacks in
the last few weeks. By the end of the campign on Friday night, he was more or
less in hiding. To combat rising Sinhalese terrorism, which includes the
intimidation of shopkeepers and public service employees, the Sri Lankan Army
and its paramilitary support groups last month were given wide powers that
critics label ''state terrorism.'' These powers include the right of police
officers above a certain rank to dispose of bodies without post-mortem
Students have compiled files on murders they say have been committed over the
last month by security forces or vigilantes. They bring the case studies,
illustrated by photographs of mutliated bodies, to foreign reporters, asking for
help in publicizing their cause abroad. Asked about the reported atrocities of
the Patriotic People's Movement, the students say that someone had to take up
arms ''to protect the people'' from the Government and from the Indian troops.
Sri Lanka’s Killing Spree – Can Anyone Govern? [Ron Moreau, Newsweek, Dec.19, 1988, pp. 37-38.]
On a grassy hill overlooking a stream where white egrets wade, a pile of human
bones lies smoldering in a heap of ashes. Villagers say that Sri Lankan soldiers
dumped four bodies one night and set them ablaze in this spot near the town of
Kaduwela, just east of Colombo. They say the victims were probably suspected
members of the Sinhalese revolutionary group, the People’s Liberation Front
(JVP), who were picked up by the military in one of its nightly house-to-house
searches – and then executed. ‘Why did the Army kill rather than jail them?’
asked one young man. ‘I think it’s a warning not to cooperate with the JVP’, a
Terror is nothing new to the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka, where the
struggle between ethnic Sinhalese and Tamils has claimed thousands of lives
since battles erupted in 1983. But with each passing month the nation’s
mightmare deepens as the once sporadic violence becomes common place and any
semblance of law and order evaporates. The JVP, which bitterly opposes the
Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord intended to grant limited self-rule to the Tamil
minority, has killed more than 600 government and treaty supporters since the
pact was signed in July 1987. Recently it has turned its guns on opposition
politicians in a savage attempt to disrupt the upcoming presidential election.
Outgoing President Junius R. Jayewardene has counterattacked with a vengeance,
imposing draconian emergency regulations and unleashing his 40,000 – man
security force – bolstered by shadowy paramilitary groups known as ‘Green
Tigers’, who terrorize government opponents. In the northern provinces where the
Tamils are in the majority, uncompromising Tamil guerrillas of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist organization continue to battle 60,000
Indian peacekeeping troops sent in under the terms of last year’s treaty. The
resulting islandwide slaughter is claiming more than 20 victims every day.
‘People are scared to death,’ says one Western diplomat in Colombo, ‘and the
government is fighting for its life.’
Early last month the JVP dramatically escalated its war against Jayewardene.
Through death threats spread by letters, posters, word of mouth – and by
selective political murders – JVP rebels have cast a pall over life in southern
Sri Lanka. JVP-ordered hartals (strikes) closed schools, government
offices, private shops, markets, banks and gas stations and brought bus, train
and truck service to a halt. Plantations that supply export-earning tea, rubber
and coconut have ceased production, and food shortages have become commonplace.
Many civil servants, bus drivers, truckers, dock workers and plantation owners
who didn’t comply with the warnings to stop work were killed. The extremists
beheaded student leaders and policemen who refused to cooperate and even exhumed
and beheaded the corpses of victims if families didn’t follow humiliating
funeral rites prescribed by the JVP.
The strikes and mindless violence have disrupted the lives of more than half of
Sri Lanka’s 16 million people. Hardest hit is the island’s Sinhalese deep south.
There, hundreds of disaffected, unemployed youngsters who have migrated from the
countryside to dead-end urban lives have drifted to the JVP. The hartals
destroyed the southern coast’s lucrative tourist industry, forcing the
government to evacuate some 5,000 European tourists and to cancel at least 18
charter flights due in over the winter tourist season. But the rebels seem
unmoved and refuse to end their reign of terror unless the peace accord is
scrapped; Indian troops are sent home; Sri Lanka’s Parliament, provincial and
local assemblies are dissolved, and the presidential election is postponed until
the JVP is ready to participate.
Clearly unwilling to meet any of those demands, Jayewardene sent in the Army
last month with orders to shoot any demonstrators or curfew violators. While the
security forces quickly restored the capital of Colombo to a rough equivalent of
normality, bringing law and order to southern towns and villages where the JVP
is entrenched was more difficult. But the government’s forces did have some
success. The Army and police killed dozens of pro-JVP demonstrators and perhaps
hundreds of suspected JVP guerrillas. House-to-house sweeps during 24-hour
curfews have resulted in the arrest of more than 1,000 JVP suspects.
The Army and its loyal paramilitary groups are indulging in their own brand of
terror. In the tiny southern village of Ampitiya, journalists last week ran
across the bodies of three teenage boys who had been taken from their homes.
Each had been shot in the head. Sri Lankan human-rights activists also report an
alarming number of missing persons among JVP suspects who are believed to have
been detained in the security forces’ sweeps. Some, like those found near
Kaduwela, are thought to have been executed and their bodies quickly burned or
buried to prevent identification.
Unfortunately, neither of the two main presidential candidates – Prime Minister
Ranasinghe Premadasaof the ruling United National Party (UNP) or former
socialist prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
(SLFP) – is publicly addressing the country’s deep-rooted problems. Premadasa,
who has taken over Jayewardene’s UNP’s powerful urban political machine, has
tried without success to blame Bandaranaike for the violence and is promising
Sri Lanka’s legions of poor the equivalent of $83 a month in welfare payments –
something the nearly bankrupt government can ill afford. And while saying that
he opposes the Indo-Sri Lankan peace treaty, he has spoken only vaguely of a
‘phased and orderly’ Indian troop withdrawal. Bandaranaike, 72, is slowing down
but still manages to draw large, enthusiastic crowds. She blames the government
for the breakdown in law and order, vows to cut food prices and to write off the
debt owed by poor farmers. She also promises to scrap the Indo-Sri Lankan accord
and send Indian forces home.
Neither candidate dares mention what should be the campaign’s major issue: how
to deal with the JVP. ‘Both major candidates are trying to appease the JVP,’
says a Western diplomat. ‘They wrongly think they can co-opt it.’ Only the third
presidential candidate leftist Ossie Abeygunasekera, has shown the courage to
publicly denounce the JVP extremists, whom he has called ‘fascist beasts’. For
his candor, JVP gunmen attacked one of his election rallies two weeks ago with
machine guns and grenades, killing his deputy and several supporters.
In the end, the JVP’s terror tactics probably won’t stop the election – but they
may help to decide the winner. While most Sri Lankan political analysts predict
that public sentiment favors Bandaranaike – if only out of frustration with the
UNP – her traditional strongholds are those very areas of the south now
dominated by the JVP. If the JVP succeeds in forcing large numbers of voters to
stay home there, Premadasa could win since his UNP machine is likely to get out
the vote in the cities.
But no matter who wins, the next president must somehow face up to the JVP
challenge. And with neither candidate voicing a coherent political and economic
program to combat the causes of JVP extremism, there’s little room for optimism.
‘No one is proposing solutions,’ says one pessimistic Western diplomat in
Colombo. ‘I’m afraid that no matter who wins, the prospects are not bright for
Edge of the Abyss: A surge of savagery that chokes off all reason [Lisa Beyer, Time, Dec.19, 1988, pp. 28-33.]
[Note by Sachi: This feature contained short ‘box profiles’ on the
thoughts/predicaments of seven Sinhala and Tamil individuals. Among these seven,
two (B.Y.Tudawe and Theepan) are well recognized in the island. Tudawe was a
Communist Party MP for Matara and the Deputy Minister of Education, from
1970-77. Theepan is “a Tamil Tiger field commander.” These ‘box profiles’ are
provided at the end of the main text.]
In most of the country, one would hardly have known that Sri Lanka was nearing
the end of its first presidential election campaign in six years. One morning in
Ambalangoda, a coastal town south of the capital of Colombo, the presidential
candidate of the ruling United National Party (UNP), Prime Minister Ranasinghe
Premadasa, was just about to arrive, yet there were no crowds to greet him, no
supporters waving party banners. The streets were practically deserted, and all
the stores closed.
The reason was plain, unadulterated fear. The militant People’s Liberation Front
(JVP), which opposes the government of President J.R. Jayewardene, had ordered a
‘curfew’, an edict Sri Lankans have learned to take seriously ever since the JVP
launched a terror campaign against the regime, killing anyone who defied their
writ. Security forces in Ambalangoda, however, had their orders: open up the
town. Soldiers and policemen moved up and down the streets, using the butts of
their rifles to smash locks off shuttered storefronts and arguing with residents
to persuade them to come out of hiding. Cowering in his shop on a side street,
one storekeeper was close to hysteria. ‘The army says open, the other side says
close. I am in the middle. I can’t think, I can’t even speak I am so afraid,’ he
whispered. ‘Please don’t mention my name or this shop,’ he added. ‘I’ll be a
dead man if you do.’
There are plenty of dead men – as well as women – in Sri Lanka to prove the
point. The island country, once South Asia’s success story, has been carried on
a bloody tide to the edge of disintegration. More than 10,000 have perished
since the first violent confrontations five years ago between majority Sinhalese
and minority Tamils, who demand greater autonomy in the north and east, areas
where they predominate. Since then, the conflict has spread, pitting not only
Tamils against Sinhalese but rivals in each group against one another. The
Sinhalese-chauvinist JVP, which describes itself as Marxist-Leninist, opposes
recent concessions to the Tamils and bitterly resents the presence of Indian
peacekeeping troops, who since last year have been helping to suppress
antigovernment Tamil guerrillas. JVP gunmen have wantonly contributed to the
bloodletting by killing at elast 600 UNP supporters plus uncounted others, and
are gaining momentum. In the south, where the JVP is strongest, more than a
dozen people are killed every day in the deadly give-and-take. Having spurned
invitations by the government and the parliamentary opposition to join the
democratic process, the JVP poses a serious threat to the success of the
presidential election on Dec. 19, as well as of parliamentary balloting promised
The savagery, on all sides, has reached the point where it chokes off all
reason. ‘The JVP, who say they want to save us, are killing us,’ says a
Sinhalese tea-plantation owner in Galle. Indian troops release a young Tamil so
badly beaten and tortured that he remains hospitalized a week later; he has been
forced to sign a statement saying, ‘I was not ill-treated during my stay.’
Families of JVP victims are forbidden by the killers to acknowledge the deaths
with any of the traditional signs of mourning, not even a funeral procession. In
Colombo the JVP orders public-sector workers to stay home from their jobs, with
the result, perhaps symbolic, that 500 inmates escape from the Angoda Mental
Still another chapter in the slaughter has opened up in recent weeks:
counterguerrilla vigilantism. In the Sinhalese-dominated south, the JVP itself
has become the target not only of the security forces but also of death squads
that operate with the government’s unacknowledged support. In Tamil territory,
the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), invigorated by its
victory in provincial elections, has linked up with Indian troops to murder and
terrorize Tamil rivals. Violence has become so endemic through much of the
country that when passersby see a corpse along the roadside – no uncommon sight
these days – they merely stop to check whether it is someone they know, then
move on. ‘We are becoming another Lebanon or another Cyprus,’ says Ronnie de
Mel, who resigned as Finance Minister earlier this year to join the opposition.
‘We are in a state of anarchy.’
The economy lies devastated. From 1977 to 1983, Sri Lanka’s growth rate averaged
6%: by last year it had slid to 1.5%. Inflation is estimated at 15%,
unemployment at 20%. Foreign investors, once drawn to the country’s prospering
free-trade zones, are having second thoughts. Electricity is out in much of the
south, and train service was cut off throughout the country last week. Most
universities have been all but shut for two years. In the north, Tamil
newspapers report that more than two-thirds of their advertising revenue comes
from death notices or from travel agencies offering to arrange emigration.
In such a climate, an election campaign seems out of place, perhaps even
irrelevant. In Colombo campaigning is fairly calm by normal standards, but in
the south, UNP officials are transported to rallies by helicopter and are
constantly surrounded by guards. Few Sri Lankans risk being seen at political
rallies, which have been declared off-limits by the JVP. In the town of
Akuressa, a JVP stronghold, barely two dozen people showed up for an appearance
Since September, an opposition coalition led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party has
not campaigned in the south at all because, unlike the incumbent party, it does
not have the military’s full protection. The SLFP’s presidential candidate,
former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, is further frustrated because all
her organizers in the south fled after talks with the JVP broke down last month
and the JVP declared the party ‘banned’. The Sri Lanka People’s Party, a weak
third contender, has been hit even harder: early this year its leader, Vijaya
Kumaranatunge, was murdered by the JVP. Two weeks ago, at a rally in Colombo,
automatic-weapons fire and hand grenades downed three more SLMP supporters but
missed the party’s new leader, Ossie Abeygoonasekera.
Such is the tumult surrounding the campaign that in the run-up to polling day,
politicians are wondering aloud whether the turnout will be large enough to give
the election legitimacy. Having declared the balloting unacceptable, the JVP is
expected to order a boycott. When the organization did that in local elections
in the Southern Province last spring, only 27% of those eligible turned out to
vote. Many analysts suspect that Jayewardene or his successor may use the
security system as a pretext for scrubbing the February parliamentary elections.
The contrast with the last presidential election, when the country was still at
peace and something of a model for developing democracies, could not be sharper.
‘I remember in the 1982 presidential campaign driving myself and never thinking
about security,’ says Education Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. ‘Today I can’t
move without a car in front, loaded with security men, and a car behind.’ Five
years ago, discontent among the predominantly Hindu Tamils, who make up 12% of
Sri Lanka’s population of 16 million, over discrimination by the mainly Buddhist
Sinhalese erupted into violence when Tamil guerrillas attacked an army patrol
and killed 13 soldiers. Nationwide riots resulted, and enraged Sinhalese
massacred as many as 2,000 Tamils.
India, home to 55 million Tamils who support their cousins in Sri Lanka, was
outraged. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, ordered her intelligence
organization, the Research and Analysis Wing, to intensify the training and
arming of Sri Lankan Tamils in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu. Ever
greater violence soon became the order of the day.
A peace accord signed last year by Jayewardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi
offered hope of a solution, but only briefly. Under the agreement, Jayewardene
promised Tamils a measure of local rule for the Northern and Eastern provinces
while Gandhi dispatched troops to keep peace and disarm the Tamil guerrillas.
New Delhi miscalculated: Velupillai Prabakaran, the leader of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the most powerful and dangerous of five Tamil
guerrilla groups, refused to go along, insisting that only an independent Tamil
state – or Eelam – was acceptable. Within months, the Indian peacekeeping force,
which had initially planned only a short stay, had grown to 70,000 men and found
itself involved in a hit-and-run war that has claimed the lives of 681 Indian
soldiers, 900 Tamil Tigers and nearly 1,000 civilians.
Last year the violence spread to the south, carried by the JVP, whose leader,
Rohana Wijeweera, a medical-school dropout, has not been seen in public in five
years. The party had faded away after leading a failed insurrection in 1971,
but, with the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord, re-emerged to champion the
cause of Sinhalese hegemony and to denounce Jayewardene as a traitor for
‘selling out’ to Tamil separatists as well as India, an ancient foe. The message
hit home particularly in the south, where Sinhalese chauvinism and distrust of
New Delhi run deep and where thousands of educated but unemployed young people
are receptive to the party’s Marxist appeal. In some southern areas, 6 out of 10
young men are thought to be JVP supporters.
The JVP has grown so quickly that in recent months practically the entire
33,000-man Sri Lankan army, including 9,000 of the 12,000 men normally stationed
in the north, has been deployed to the central west and south to help contain
the virulent guerrillas. The effort has not gone well. Sympathy or fear makes
much of the rural south JVP country. The price of disloyalty is still high: in
the small village of Thihagoda, the bodies of a woman and her adult son – deemed
government sympathizers by the JVP – were found in their homes, their heads
smashed by hammer blows.
The JVP makes life miserable in other ways as well. Last month it tried to put
pressure on the Jayewardene government by calling a general strike. In most
Sinhalese areas, the stoppage lasted only a few days, but in the south it
continued to sputter along as late as last week, trapping workers in a dangerous
dilemma. The JVP has warned bus drivers, for example, not to do their job, and
killed several of them to underline the point. Government orders, on the other
hand, require the drivers to work, and soldiers have forcibly escorted many
behind the wheel. Still, few buses, the main means of transportation, are on the
Strikes in ports and a shortage of fuel have led to transportation problems that
in the past month have nearly doubled the price of a pound of rice, to about 30
cents. In the south most government offices, including the courts, either are
shut down or have ceased to operate effectively. Says a community leader in
Matara, a major town in the south: ‘The ordinary man is pushed by terrorists one
way, the government the other. We are fed up with both sides but also at their
Some southerners are striking back. One morning in Matara, the bodies of two men
apparently linked to the JVP were discovered on the streets with signs reading
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO SO-CALLED REVOLUTIONARIES. Local citizens say that only
a group working with the government’s connivance could have broken the nighttime
curfew to dump the bodies. Corpses marked with similar signs have begun to show
up daily throughout the south.
Local strongmen aligned with the UNP are behind some of the killings. ‘The JVP
was about to take over this area; there were attacks every night, and the police
were helpless,’ a plantation owner in the south told TIME last week. To protect
himself, he ‘worked out an understanding’ with security forces and took matters
into his own hands. In little more than a week, men employed by him killed 25
suspected JVP members. ‘We eliminated the worst of the buggers and sent a shock
wave through the JVP,’ he said. ‘They know that we are on the hunt.’ Ironically,
some wealthy Sinhalese have hired former Tamil guerrillas to lead their private
death squads. ‘They know what they are doing,’ says a satisfied customer.
The government denies any connection with vigilantism, but does admit to using
other methods of intimidation, such as rounding up hundreds of young men for
interrogation, then holding htem in indefinite detention: according to official
figures, 4,000 are currently in custody. Colombo has granted police and soldiers
emergency powers, allowing them to shoot demonstrators and burn bodies without
an inquest, and is pushing a controversial bill that would protect
security-force members against prosecution stemming from ‘antiterrorist’ acts.
JVP activists say the killings and security sweeps have impaired their
operations but have not stopped them.
In the north and east, Indian and Sri Lankan forces have had greater success
against another foe, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Since the Indian army went into
action, the number of LTTE fighters has declined from an estimated 3,000 to
about 1,000. With their former training and logistics bases in southern India
closed by New Delhi, the Tigers are finding it much more difficult to move arms
into Sri Lanka. How much they have been weakened was demonstrated by their
failure to disrupt elections in November for the new Northeastern province
council, an institution created under the Indo-Sri Lankan accord to give Tamils
more autonomy. Although the Tigers threatened to kill anyone who dared to vote,
some 60% of those eligible cast ballots.
Both Colombo and New Delhi are well aware that they must eventually deal with
the Tigers on a political level. A lawyer whose father-in-law was killed by the
Tigers acknowledges that ‘any settlement that excludes the LTTE will not bring
peace.’ But no political steps have been taken. In their attempt to erase the
Tigers as a military threat, Indian troops are being assisted by a Tamil group,
the EPRLF which was shattered two years ago when the Tigers killed some 400 of
its cadres. Now the EPRLF, which unlike the Tigers accepts the peace accord and
the Indian presence, is getting its revenge. Initially, its alliance with the
Indian army was covert, with hooded EPRLF men identifying Tiger suspects rounded
up in security sweeps. The hoods came off after the EPRLF won a majority in the
November council vote, having been the only significant Tamil party to defy
Tiger orders and contest the election. Now Indian troops are openly arming,
deploying and sheltering members of the front.
The rebirth of the EPRLF has given the Tamil conflict a new, viciously
internecine aspect, resulting in a daily toll of people killed by ‘unidentified
gunmen’. The EPRLF, indiscriminately targeting not only Tiger fighters but also
civilians thought to be sympathetic to them, has killed some 200 over the past
three months. Says Vallipuram Pararajasingham, a doctor in the northern town of
Vavuniya: ‘Today I am afraid to smile at anyone on the street. If I smile at a
man who happens to be an EPRLF member or supporter, I am marked by the LTTE. If
I smile at a man who has LTTE connections, I am marked by the Indian army and
Some civilians say they have been brutalized by Indian forces. Each time there
is an attack on an Indian base or outpost, surrounding areas are cordoned off
and large numbers of civilians are arrested and, by some accounts, beaten.
Indian military officials deny the allegations of mistreatmenｔ.
The public’s anxiety over the abuses committed by Indian soldiers and EPRLF
hitmen is compounded by the fact that neither force is accountable to anyone.
‘Whom do we turn to for justice when the killers are the rulers?’ asks a Tamil
notary public in the Jaffna peninsula. The police force in the Northeastern
province has disintegrated, and courts have not functioned for more than two
years. Even if Tamils had someone to complain to, most would be too frightened
to do so. ‘We don’t dare to open our mouths except to eat,’ says the uncle of an
To many Sri Lankans, the presidential election offers the only hope, if a slight
one, of a diminution of the terror. Both the UNP and Bandaranaike’s SLFP sought
to stop violence in the south by talking the JVP into participating in the
balloting. Last May the government lifted a 1983 ban on the JVP and Prime
Minister Premadasa went so far as to make the disingenuous claim that no one
knew for sure that the party was responsible for the killings attributed to it.
The JVP responded with more assassinations. During the fall, it linked up
briefly with the SLFP-led opposition alliance – a bizarre marriage considering
that a Bandaranaike government, in putting down the JVP’s 1971 revolt, killed as
many as 16,000 of its people. The relationship ruptured last month when the JVP
insisted on the election boycott.
On one issue, the UNP, SLFP and JVP share the same position, at least publicly:
the Indians must go. The ruling party plans to maintain the Indo-Sri Lankan
accord – notwithstanding the fact that presidential candidate Premadasa has
opposed it from the start – but would like to send home the Indian forces as
soon as possible. The SLFP originally maintained it would abrogate the pact and
eject the Indians, but is now ruling out any unilateral changes. Both parties
know that the Sri Lankan army is not equipped to fight both the Tamils in the
north and the JVP elsewhere. Premadasa and Bandaranaike, a senior government
official told TIME last week, ‘privately assure us that what they are saying is
election rhetoric, but we have to wait and see what they will actually do.’
Bandaranaike’s party argues that its prescription for peace lies in a political
compromise – more local authority for the Tamils – that should end the security
problem in the north, thus the need for the Indian presence. Clearly, a solution
will not be nearly so simple, although some observers believe that the departure
of Jayewardene and a change of government would improve chances for peace.
Argues the opposition’s De Mel: ‘Mrs Bandaranaike hasn’t lost her credibility
the way this government has. She can deal with these equations de novo.’
The election is difficult to call. But if JVP intimidation leads to a low
turnout, the ruling party should benefit, since the voters most likely to stay
away are those in JVP-controlled areas, where SLFP support is strongest. But if
the turnout is low and the margin of victory is narrow, the winner, whoever it
is, will not be able to claim a clear mandate.
Another uncertainty is whether the mercurial Jayewardene will deliver on his
promise to dissolve Parliament the day after the presidential vote in
preparation for the February balloting. Postponement of those elections – the
last parliamentary vote was in 1977 – would create tremendous discontent, which
the JVP would surely exploit. ‘If we miss this chance for democracy, it will
result in anarchy and probably a military government,’ says Anura Bandaranaike,
Sirimavo’s son and the SLFP’s leader in Parliament.
Even if the elections are a success, the worst of the violence may be still to
come. Says a Western diplomat in Colombo: ‘Whoever wins, somebody is going to
take off the gloves and start bashing a lot harder.’ Given the seeming
intractability of the several conflicts in their country, Sri Lanka is left to
wonder whether it will ever regain its tranquility. Says Education Minister
Wickremesinghe: ‘The media, the legal sector, the top players in government, all
the institutions have been affected by the psychosis of fear. Even if all the
guns are put away, this country will never be the same again.’ [Reported by
Edward W.Desmond/Matara, and Anita Pratap/Jaffna]
[Note appended: “Names in quotation marks have been changed.”]
Box Profile 1: ‘Sarath’ a Sinhalese army sergeant
He is only 27, but he has the expressionless look of a man inured to death.
Having fought the Tamil Tigers for five years in Jaffna, he lost ‘at least 30
friends,’ was wounded twice in mine blasts and killed ‘a lot of Tigers’. When
will it end? ‘I really don’t know,’ he replies. ‘Maybe when we have a military
government.’ Three months ago, his infantry unit was transferred south to take
on the JVP. Looking across the empty streets of a town under a JVP curfew order,
he says, ‘These people observe the curfews because they are afraid. We can’t
protect every person in every house.’ He dislikes running buses, delivering food
and filling the gap in basic services. Most of all, he hates fighting a shadowy
enemy, going on ambushes that yield nothing, only to have morning reveal that
the JVP has killed nearby during the night.
Box Profile 2: ‘Mallika’, a Sinhalese schoolteacher
The pain in the frail young woman’s face is as startling as a gunshot. Clutching
her arms and pressing her lips together in an effort to hold back the tears, she
tells her story, desperately, to a lawyer. Two days earlier, her husband, a
merchant in a southern town, disappeared on a trip to a neighboring village. A
witness saw him being stopped by what appeared to be an army patrol, though it
may have been local vigilantes wearing army uniforms. After a brief discussion,
the armed men got in a jeep and told her husband and his companion, another man
from the village, to follow them. They drove off, and have not been heard from
since. ‘I have no idea why they took him,’ she says in a strained, soft voice.
‘We don’t have anything to do with politics.’ The lawyer has checked with police
and the military but has found no record of her husband’s being arrested.
Box Profile 3: B.Y.Tudawe, a Sinhalese Communist Party official
He leans forward and pulls back his shirt collar to reveal nine bumps at the
base of his neck. ‘Shotgun pellets,’ he says, ‘from the first time the JVP tried
to kill me.’ His forearm carries a piece of shrapnel from the second time.
Despite the two near escapes, he is one of the few politicians to remain in
Matara, a southern town where the JVP seems to strike almost at will. Because
Tudawe is a member of the provincial council, the police provide him with four
armed guards. ‘This is my place of birth, but I cannot even go out of the house
without these gunmen.’ Sitting under portraits of Lenin and Buddha, Tudawe says
he will stay in Matara to look after party members. He is determined to resist
the JVP effort ‘to kill off all the leftists so that they can say they are the
real leftists.’ This makes him a top target.
Box Profile 4: Theepan, a Tamil Tiger field commander
When he first saw Sri Lankan troops rounding up young Tamil men five years ago,
he made up his mind: the only future was Eelam, an independent Tamil state.
Theepan – his nom de guerre – joined the Tigers. ‘We are elated to fight the
Indians,’ he says proudly. ‘The whole world admires us for the fight we have
given the world’s fourth largest armed forces.’ The killing is difficult to
accept, he admits, but he cites Hindu texts that justify taking life in a
‘sacred cause’. His family has suffered because of his commitment. Indian
soldiers beat his father when they came looking for the guerrilla leader, but
Theepan, 25, shrugs it off. ‘I don’t let my personal feelings get in the way.’
On a string around his neck he carries two vials of cyanide, which, like many
Tigers before him, he has vowed to swallow rather than be captured alive.
Box Profile 5: ‘Gunarathinam’, a retired Tamil teacher
When his son, a top student, did not pass his grade-ten exams, Gunarathinam
became suspicious. Then he found two grenades in the 14 year-old’s room and knew
that the boy had joined the Tigers. ‘I had always dreamed about sending him to
the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras,’ he says, adding sadly, ‘but we
all have to contribute to the salvation of our community.’ When his son was
captured by Indian troops a year ago, the youngster immediately took the cyanide
escape route. Indian soldiers threw his body on the family’s front porch.
Recalling that moment, Gunarathinam, 61, breaks down. The mother, still crazed
by grief, hears dogs barking: perhaps an Indian patrol is prowling nearby.
‘Please go,’ she sobs to her visitors. ‘If they see you in our house, they will
shoot us.’ But part of Gunarathinam is already dead.
Box Profile 6: ‘Nimal’ a Sinhalese JVP organizer
In 1983, when he decided that the established political parties ‘were saying one
thing and doing another’, Nimal joined the JVP though not as a fighter. He took
a one-week course in socialism taught by a JVP activist in his southern village,
the only formal education he has had beyond secondary school. Today he is
responsible for indoctrinating JVP recruits. Talking in urgent, impatient tones,
Nimal, 33, insists that Sri Lanka’s problems began with the intervention of
India, acting as an ‘agent for American imperialism.’ To him, the future is
clear: ‘There are only two solutions to Sri Lanka’s current troubles –
independence [from Indian intervention] or death.’ He admits that the JVP has
done a lot of killing, but ‘never of innocent people.’ Three of his friends have
been killed by the security forces, but he is not afraid.
Box Profile 7: Jayamani Marianayagam, a Tamil mother
Her 17 year-old son was practicing
You Are My Rock, O Jesus on the organ
in Jaffna’s St.Mary’s Church when a gun battle between the Tigers and the rival
EPRLF erupted outside. A wounded Tiger stumbled into the church, his enemies in
pursuit. They grabbed young Jayamani. The boy’s body was found that night near
the church, his legs broken, his finger nails missing, his head half blown away.
Jayamani, 41, cried the night away, holding the remains of her son. ‘No mother
should ever have to face the tragedy of seeing her son like that.’ She is
terrified that her two younger boys, 15 and 13, will also become victims or join
the Tigers to seek revenge. Her husband works as a waiter in a West German
hotel. She wants to take the children and join him, but last year a travel
agency cheated her out of the family savings.
The Killing Campaign; Violence dominates Countdown to Presidential Poll [Manik de Silva, Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec.22, 1988, p. 23.]
Even as the countdown began for the 19 December presidential election, regarded
as the most crucial in recent Sri Lankan history, the killing continued. Both in
the troubled north and east, where Tamil separatist guerillas have taken on the
Indian army, and in the southern Sinhalese districts where subversive and
counter-subversive activity is rife, there is a frightening daily toll of lives.
According to the latest official tally, the 30 days ending 15 November had seen
a total of 112 political killings in the Sinhalese south. In the north and the
east, 32 people were killed during the same period.
Since then, there has been an average of about six political killings every day
in the southern districts, with fewer deaths in the north and east. The
presidential campaigns of the two principal contenders – Prime Minister
Ranasinghe Premadasa, 64, and former prime minister Sirima Bandaranaike, 72 –
are taking place in an environment of unprecedented disruption.
Meanwhile, the third candidate, Ossie Abeygoonasekera of the Sri Lanka Mahajana
Pakshaya (SLMP, or People’s Party), barely escaped two attempts on his life at
election rallies. He is the only candidate to publicly accuse the Sinhalese
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP, People’s Liberation Front) of responsibility for
the violence that is widely attributed to it.
Premadasa says that there is no proof that the JVP is responsible for the
killings and the disruption, while Bandaranaike, whose Sri Lanka Freedom Party
(SLFP) once announced JVP-backing for her candidature, alleges the violence is
caused by retaliatory hit squads set up by the ruling United National Party. The
issues are clear for voters. Both Premadasa and Bandaranaike have pledged to
send the Indian Peace-Keeping Force of 50,000 troops back home. Bandaranaike is
committed to scrap the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord while Premadasa says he
will replace it with a friendship treaty. Premadasa, who distanced himself from
the accord at the time it was signed by retiring President Junius Jayewardene,
has subsequently visited India to mend fences. Bandaranaike also is all too
conscious of the geopolitical realities. Only Abeygoonasekara backs the accord.
Premadasa, who does not hail from the well-educated land-owning or professional
elites from which post-independence Sri Lanka has traditionally drawn its
leaders, has made a strong pitch as the ‘common man’, aware of the problems and
aspirations of ordinary people. Bandaranaike says that he can hardly be a common
man after 10 years as prime minister.
Both have pledged to restore law and order, the issue that can swing the
election to see an end to the killing and the economy-sapping disruption.
Bandaranaike has refrained from saying that she smashed the JVP in 1971 when it
rose against her government, Premadasa discounts the government’s failure on the
law-and-order issue by saying that no powers are vested in him.
All three candidates were stumping in the predominantly Tamil Northern Province
during the last week of the campaign. On 9 December, National Security Minister
Lalith Athulathmudali told parliament that Bandaranaike’s son, Anura, and Kumar
Ponnambalam of the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress, an SLFP ally in the Democratic
People’s Alliance (DPA) which has been forged to back Bandaranaike, had secret
talks with leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the dominant
Tamil separatist group, on 6 December. Bandaranaike and Ponnambalam confirmed
the meeting, but said many of the details in Athulathmudali’s statement were
While saying that Athulathmudali, too, had once attempted to meet the LTTE
through Ponnambalam’s intercession, they were silent on the substance of the
talks and whether any deal had been swung. But within 48 hours of the SLFP-LTTE
meeting being publicized, the government claimed that communication intercepts
of contacts between the LTTE leadership and its ranks revealed that the LTTE had
told its cadres to back Bandaranaike on 19 December.
Many observers in Colombo believe that despite the best efforts of the two major
contenders, Abeygoonasekera may get more Tamil votes in the north and east than
either Premadasa or Bandaranaike. There are links between the SLMP and the Eelam
People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) which won last month’s election
to run the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern provinces. The EPRLF is
trying to reach an accommodation with the LTTE, which boycotted and tried to
prevent voters from participating in the provincial council elections.
Premadasa’s supporters hope that a poverty-alleviation programme, a major plank
of his platform, offering food stamp families – there are 7 million food stamp
recipients in the country – a monthly dole of Rs 2,500 (about US$ 75) per family
for two years could win him many votes. Premadasa said that the payment would
enable each family to build up a nest egg of Rs 25,000 in two years and launch
small income-generating enterprises with it. The SLFP has denounced the scheme
as a promise that cannot be kept as the country would never be able to afford
Many observers believe that a low voter turnout would be advantageous to
Premadasa while a high turnout could carry Bandaranaike to victory. The SLFP
leader agrees with this assessment and in recent speeches has been exhorting her
supporters to vote early and without fear. At the last three national elections,
the voter turnout was 80%, but the recent provincial council elections,
boycotted by the SLFP and disrupted by the JVP without any SLFP protest, saw
many people who might otherwise have voted, stay home.
Government intelligence expected subversive action – which has crippled much of
the country outside Colombo and placed as much strain on the electoral system as
the economy – to peak in the final week’s run-up to the poll.
Democracy’s Day of Courage [Sri Lanka Correspondent, Economist, Dec.24, 1988, p. 33.]
There cannot have been an election like it, certainly never in Sri Lanka. People
risked their lives to vote, and 18 were shot dead, either queueing at the polls
or returning from them. Gunmen attacked 20 polling stations. Fifty stayed closed
because the staff were afraid to turn up. Yet there was a turnout of 55%, well
down from the 80% or so of previous elections, but a brave effort by a
democratic-minded people determined not to surrender to gun law.
Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa, the successful candidate, and thus Sri Lanka’s next
president, said as he cast his own vote on December 19th that this
was a contest between the ballot and the bullet. ‘I am sure that the ballot will
win.’ He was right. Mr Premadasa won a more personal battle. Although most
commentators had predicted a close contest, the best guess was that 72 year-old
Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, of the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party, had
the edge. The argument was that Sri Lankans wanted a change, if only to see
whether an entirely new administration could end the country’s communal
For ten years Mr Premadasa has been prime minister, under the outgoing
president, Mr Junius Jayewardene. If that was a liability, a worse one appeared
to be that he belonged to a low caste, that of the laundrymen. He grew up in a
rundown area of Colombo, without the benefit of an expensive education provided
by wealthy parents. Sri Lanka’s previous leaders, including Mrs Bandaranaike, a
former prime minister, have been of high caste. Nevertheless, the 66 year-old Mr
Premadasa tipped the balance, winning 50.4% of the votes. Mrs Bandaranaike got
44.9%. The candidate of the left-wing People’s party, Mr Ossie Abeygoonasekera,
who survived two assassination attempts during the campaign, picked up the rest.
Mr Premadasa’s intense campaigning and the United National Party’s superior
organization won him support across the country. He even did well in the
southern rural districts where the gunmen of the People’s Liberation Front, or
JVP (for Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna), are most active and did their deadly best
to stop the voting.
All that was left for Mrs Bandaranaike was the anti-government vote that had
built up over five years of unparalleled unrest in Sri Lanka, plus the support
of white-collar suburbanites prepared to forgive her for the shortages that
marred her government of 1970-77. It did not do. Mrs Bandaranaike suffered the
ignominy of losing her hometown of Balangoda. She did not turn up for the formal
results and left for the country in a sulk, saying the election was unfair.
One of the new president’s first problems, when he takes over on January 2nd,
will be to decide what to do about the JVP, the anti-government Sinhalese terror
group which is believed to have killed more than 600 people over the past year.
In his victory speech, Mr Premadasa appealed to it to talk to him in a friendly
fashion. He is perhaps the only major politician to have escaped criticism from
the JVP. The Front appears to have made a distinction between the executive
president, Mr Jayewardene, whom it has tried to kill, and Mr Premadasa, whom it
has praised as a ‘patriotic leader’.
The Front and the president-elect have a common cause in their anti-Indianism.
Mr Premadasa was against last year’s India-Sri Lanka agreement which brought
50,000 Indian troops to the north and east to disarm Tamil guerrillas seeking a
separate state. The JVP calls them the invading forces of the Indian
imperialists. Mr Premadasa promised to make the Indians go. This should please
the Front, as should the dissolution of parliament announced on December 20th.
The country’s first parliamentary election in 12 years will be held on February
What will become of the accord with India? Mr Jayewardene says it is a fixture.
The limited self-rule it promised to Tamils in the form of a provincial council
for the north and east is now functioning. Only the Tigers, of all the
separatist fighters, remain on the loose, but they now seem weak as kittens
because of the presence of the Indians. Those close to Mr Premadasa say he may
replace the accord with a ‘friendship treaty’, whatever that means. He may then
ask the Indians to start pulling out. This, he hopes, will keep the JVP quiet.
Perhaps. But the real aim of its Marxist leaders may be to force a revolution in
which it can come to power.
Mr Premadasa’s promises of peace, an end to poverty, and the removal of the
Indian forces without resurrecting the Tigers, will be hard to keep. Mr
Jayewardene, still the ‘old fox’ at 82, will be watching attentively as he
shuffles slyly to the sidelines.
Patching an Old Feud: Gandhi’s Beijing visit aims to end decades of mutual
mistrust [ Michael S. Serrill; Time, Dec. 26, 1988, p. 23]
Only 18 months ago, Indian and Chinese troops were massing along their disputed
Himalayan frontier in what threatened to become another military face-off
between the world’s two most populous nations. Last week the two powers were
preparing for a new and, it was hoped, more pleasant era of bilateral relations:
New Delhi and Beijing were laying the groundwork for a five-day visit to China
this week by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the first such call by an Indian
leader in 34 years….
A cynical view holds that Gandhi would welcome an opportunity to offset his
unsuccessful effort to gurantee a settlement in the Tamil-Sinhalese
confrontation in neighboring Sri Lanka. His July 1987 attempt to resolve the
conflict through an agreement with President Junius Jayewardene helped spark a
bloody reaction by Sinhalese militants, who resent what they consider India’s
infringement on Sri Lankan sovereignty. India’s 70,000 – member peacekeeping
force on the island now finds itself embroiled in a guerrilla war that has left
nearly 700 Indian soldiers dead, along with 4,300 Sri Lankans….[reported by
Sandra Burton/ Beijing and Anita Pratap/ New Delhi].
Breakout; An explosive prison escape [ Anonymous; Time, Dec. 26, 1988, p. 24]
The break should not have been that easy. Air force guards, armed with automatic
rifles, were on alert in the watchtowers of Colombo’s high security New Magazine
Prison. The inmates, members of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), the violent
Sinhalese group that seeks to overthrow the government of President Junius
Jayewardene, were locked up in two cellblocks inside. Suddenly two flares arced
over the compound, and prison security unraveled, permitting the second biggest
jailbreak in Sri Lankan history last week.
As about 20 gunmen opened fire on the New Magazine guards from a lane outside
the walls, the doors to the blocks housing JVP detainees opened. Several
prisoners charged out to place an explosive device near the prison wall and
detonated it electronically, blasting open a 5-ft. hole. Within minutes, 221
prisoners ducked through and ran 80 yds. Across a stretch of cleared land. They
scaled a second 6 ft.-high brick wall, then scattered in all directions, leaving
behind six men who were shot dead by soldiers. By midweek the government claimed
that 15 more escapees had been killed and 35 recaptured by security forces, who
imposed a curfew on parts of the capital as they searched for escapees.
The mass break was the fourth by JVP militants in just two months; in earlier
escapes, 162 members of the extremist group had gained freedom. Last week’s
carefully planned effort had all the markings of an inside job, and authorities
quickly launched an investigation into the affair. While the possibility of JVP
infiltration of the police and the armed forces has worried the government for
sometime, the jailbreaks heighten the threat to the Jayewardene regime: the JVP
now has more muscle behind its vow to use terror to disrupt presidential
elections scheduled for this week to determine a successor for Jayewardene.
To underscore their determination, JVP terrorists killed at least 85 people last
week, mostly in the south of the island, and warned newspapers to avoid
publishing articles on the impending vote. Security forces and anti-JVP
vigilantes continued their own counterterror action, which claimed about 40
lives last week. Saying that elections could not take place in the midst of the
killing, opposition leaders met with the President and urged him to cancel the
balloting. Jayewardene was determined that the voting would go on as scheduled,
but the sudden restoration of 165 cadres to the JVP’s ranks was a painful
setback. ‘The situation was bad before,’ said a senior government official. ‘Now
it is much worse.’