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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

The Pirabaharan Phenomenon
[part 45]

18 October 2002

The Scenario of the Eastern Front

D.S. Senanayake’s notorious Lebensraum (Living Space) strategy: a synopsis

To analyze the dilemma faced by Pirabhakaran at the Eastern Front of Eelam in mid-1980s, I need to review the sinister significance of the Sinhala-Buddhist Lebensraum strategy which occurred in the first half of 1950s, for two reasons. First, for the benefit of Indian analysts who cavalierly pontificate with a belief that the currently existing population dynamics of the Eastern Front is an unadulterated occurrence. Secondly, to rebut an abominable lie presented in the second page of the Broken Palmyra book authored by Rajan Hoole and his three colleagues. 

Commenting on the fervor of Sinhala Buddhist forces during the first decade after Independence, K.M. de Silva, the dean of contemporary Sri Lankan historians, had written:

“If religious fervour was the prime determinant of change, the language question was its sharp cutting edge. Indeed the two elements – Buddhism and Sinhalese – were so closely intertwined that it was impossible to treat either one in isolation. The anxiety to preserve and strengthen the Sinhalese language stemmed partly at least from a fear if it fell into decay in Sri Lanka, its religious and cultural tradition would die with it. What occurred at this time was a profoundly significant transformation of nationalism – with language becoming its basis. (The most appropriate analogy for this would be the linguistic nationalism which erupted in Central Europe in the mid-nineteenth century.) This transformation of nationalism affected both the Sinhalese and Tamil population.” [Book: A History of Sri Lanka, 1981, p.500]

K.M. de Silva is an adept wordsmith who could hide nauseating words such as Aryanism and Buddhist demagoguery by masking the rough edges in euphemistic terms and portraying the horrendous events as inevitable occurrences. His linking of Sinhala-Buddhist power exhibition to a reference to the 19th century linguistic nationalism of Central Europe is an example of such an exercise. His specific choice of the name ‘Central Europe’ in place of Austria-Hungary Empire (a legacy with bad connotation, since Hitler was born in the dismantled Austrian empire in 1889) has to be noted. To demonstrate how far K.M. de Silva’s analogy of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism fits with the linguistic nationalism of the 19th century Central Europe, here are the excerpts from the first page of Alan Bullock’s biography of Hitler:

“The Europe into which he [Hitler] was born and which he was to destroy gave an unusual impression of stability and permanence at the time of his birth. The Hapsburg Empire, of which his father was a minor official, had survived the storms of the 1860s,… even the transformation of the old Empire into the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary…

The three republics Hitler was to destroy, the Austria of the Treaty of St Germain, Czechoslovakia and Poland were not yet in existence. Four great empires – the Hapsburg, the Hohenzolern, the Romanov, and the Ottoman – ruled over Central and Eastern Europe….” [Book: Hitler – a study in tyranny, 1962 revised ed., p.1]

If S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike – born 10 years after Hitler – portrayed the pocket Fuehrer image remarkably (see, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – Part 44) in colonial Ceylon of the 1930s, his senior rival and the first prime minister of independent Ceylon D.S. Senanayake (1884-1952) – born five years earlier than Hitler – was no push-over. While padre Bandaranaike was perfecting his act of Hitler-imitation in oratory and linguistic demagoguery, it was the wily padre Senanayake who deliberately planned to implement Hitler’s Lebensraum (living space) strategy in the island. It could even be inferred that his son Dudley Senanayake’s interest in the Sinhala Maha Saba, during its inauguration phase (see, the foot-note in The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon - Part 44) would have been a privately planned spying errand for his father who wished to ‘keep an eye’ on his learned competitor Bandaranaike. According to K.M. de Silva,

“D.S.Senanayake was passionately interested in the development of peasant agriculture, and under his leadership the UNP in its early years of power stressed the building-up of traditional agriculture, especially its extension in area through land development and irrigation schemes such as the massive Gal Oya scheme, the first major project since the days of the Polonnaruva kings.” [Book: A History of Sri Lanka, 1981, p.505]

In his 563 pages of text, de Silva had conveniently hidden the notorious Lebensraum plan of Buddhist Aryanism with the above-mentioned lengthy sentence. In reality, from where Senanayake gained inspiration for Buddhistic Lebensraum in the island? Parakrama Bahu of the Polonnaruva period, hidden in the obscure past, could only have been a distant model. I could assert that Hitler’s actions in the late 1930s, was a more appropriate answer as a proximal influence on politician Senanayake’s motives. To quote Bullock’s three citations on Hitler’s policy of annexation,

“Germany’s future, Hitler declared, could only be safeguarded by acquiring additional Lebensraum. Such living space was to be sought, not overseas, but in Europe, and it could be found only at the risk of conflict.” [Book: Hitler – a study in tyranny, 1962, p.368]

“Hitler began from the same premises as in November 1937: the problem of Lebensraum, and the need to solve it by expansion eastwards.” [ibid, p.509]

“Neither agreement with Russia nor the decision to attack in the west represented any change in Hitler’s ultimate intention to carve out Germany’s Lebensraum in the east.” [ibid, p.558]

Hitler chose the eastward direction to establish his Lebensraum. Similarly, Senanayake was also adamant with the Eastern front of the island, rather than developing the Southern front [see below for details].

Following the premature death of his elder brother, padre Senanayake dreamt a life as the ‘Father of independent Ceylon’. It is my contention, that being in competition with Bandaranaike, to clip the wings of his competitor, who was threatening to steal the power-base with his Hitler-imitating act, Senanayake instituted the Lebensraum plan of Gal Oya Valley development plan. However, to add insult to injury, four Tamil pseudo-historians had even exempted D.S.Senanayake from the Lebensraum crime in their much-hyped The Broken Palmyra book. To cite,

“It is probably wrong to say that D.S. Senanayake was involved in a deep anti-Tamil conspiracy to bring about Sinhalese domination. Nor is it possible to make a case that Mr. Senanayake was hatching a diabolical master plan to colonise Tamil areas with Sinhalese. When work for the Gal Oya settlement scheme in the Eastern province had been completed, first preference was given to people from the province. It was only after about six months, when faced with the paucity of local applicants, that the doors were opened to applicants from other provinces.” [Book: The Broken Palmyra, 1990, p.2]

I have located a reference directly from the horse’s mouth, as heard by a Sinhalese irrigation engineer who worked for him in this Gal Oya project, to prove that this version by Rajan Hoole and his colleagues is nothing but nonsense. Because of its historical importance and other interesting tidbits like how public money was cavalierly transported then, I wish to reproduce this memoir by R. Kahawita in entirety. Wherever appropriate, I have added italics for emphasis; but the ‘three-dot’ marks noting omission of quotes are as in the original.

National Harmony: The D.S. Way 
[Tribune, Colombo, Oct.1, 1983, pp.21-22]

“The other day, Minister Athulathmudali, speaking at a function at Amparai, referred to the communal harmony in that region and referred to the ideals of D.S.Senanayake. There are many ideas of D.S.Senanayake, not publicized today, nor known or appreciated by the present day politicians. In the present context of ‘communal disagreements’ it may be relevant to revive memories of this great man’s ideas and ideals for a united nation.

The writer was asked to design and prepare plans for the construction of Gal Oya Valley and Walawe Schemes in 1945. When the designs were completed I was asked to go to America to get the designs checked by that famous ‘Dam Designer’ – Dr. Savage of Denver – and to select a suitable firm and negotiate a contractor to build the two schemes. I was dispatched to Denver with half a million dollars of public money in my personal account to carry out the assignment. 

In 1947, when Independence was being discussed, I wrote to the then Minister of Agriculture – D.S. Senanayake – suggesting that one way of commemorating the ‘new slice of political independence’ was to construct an entirely new irrigation project where a new pattern of development and settlement could be undertaken and that the choice was either Gal Oya or Walawe. The reply came asking me to finalize the details of Gal Oya, negotiate a contract, and get back to Colombo. Morrison Knudson of Boise, Idaho, was selected as the contracting firm and a target estimate of 10.5 million dollars was negotiated for the construction of the project.

On return to the country and during a discussion on the two schemes, I asked ‘Why do we go to the Eastern Province to start a new settlement scheme, when there is over population and a land hunger in the Southern Province?’ The answer was ‘They are all Sinhala. If I want to build a new independent Ceylon all communities must be brought together so they understand each other…without that there cannot be one people, one country…and the ideal setting for this is the Eastern Province, where there are already Tamils, Muslims and a scatter of Sinhala people living harmony…I want to consolidate this peace and communal harmony by bringing in more Sinhala families to live and understand the Tamils and Muslims and work towards a common goal… As a matter of fact Batticaloa Tamils do not like the Jaffna Tamils…The Jaffna Tamils have their own reservations and they do not like the Tambimuttus, Casinaders etc. etc. of the East… So I want to settle some Jaffna peasants also in Gal Oya valley so that they will mix and understand their Eastern brethren.’

This, a summary, was his ideal. The development work went apace. Land was settled with Sinhala families on the Left Bank, Muslims on the Right Bank, Sinhala around Digavape and Malwattu Vihare and Jaffna Tamils around Kalmunai. Never for a moment these different communities and sections of a community thought differently that they were anything but one community with common goals – till 1956.

‘Sinhala Only’ became a political cry and the first language riots started in the Valley in 1956 and the dream of D.S. – ‘One People, One Country’ was shattered by this single phrase coined by the power hungry politicians. From that day onwards, murder, looting, arson became a way of life with us. Not that D.S. did not care for the Sinhala language. His conviction was ‘Leave the language issue alone. Tamils will master the Sinhala language better than you and I and beat us in the game – don’t force it down their throat. Anybody would resent such force.’ The wisdom of this great man we realize today. What the language issue has caused to divide the two communities and destroy each other, we experience since that cry ‘Sinhala Only’ was raised in 1956.”

My observations after reading this memoir were as follows. First, that the writer R. Kahawita was a D.S. Senanayake loyalist and partisan to his policies is abundantly clear. Thus, he had hidden the vainglorious political motive of Senanayake with a varnish of ‘national harmony’. The vainglorious deed was to emulate King Parakrama Bahu, as K.M. de Silva has indicated in his above-cited sentence ‘massive Gal Oya scheme – the first major project since the days of the Polonnaruva kings.’ 

Secondly, this memoir was written immediately after the 1983 anti-Tamil riots – thus projecting the ‘shattered vision’ of Senanayake was the main motive. 

Thirdly, that the Gal Oya Valley Lebensraum plan was preconceived with the intention of settling the Sinhalese from the South in the Tamil-Muslim dominated Eastern front has been confirmed. If the alternative Walawe Valley plan would have been chosen, Empilipitiya and Ambalantota regions would have been the recipients of new settlers. Thus the view of Rajan Hoole et al, expressed in The Broken Palmyra book that padre Senanayake did not hatch a ‘diabolical master plan to colonise Tamil areas with Sinhalese’ is nothing but hogwash. 

Fourthly, D.S.Senanayake’s observation of the friction between the Jaffna Tamils and Batticaloa Tamils was true for the colonial Ceylon, but by 1983 – such friction was an anomaly rather than the rule. [Here, I can speak with personal experience, since in late 1970s – while serving as an assistant lecturer, I shared the same boarding house with two undergraduates from Jaffna peninsula and two undergraduates from Batticaloa region at the University of Peradeniya without any friction whatsoever; and I even produced and directed two Tamil dramas for stage performance at the campus in 1979 and 1980 casting all of them.]

What Bullock wrote about Hitler’s policies that, “Hitler’s originality lay not in his ideas, but in the terrifying literal way in which he set to work to translate these ideas into reality, and his unequalled grasp of the means by which to do this… His comments on everything except politics display a cocksure ignorance and an ineradicable vulgarity…” [Book: Hitler – a study in tyranny, 1962 revised ed., p.408] may apply to D.S. Senanayake’s experiment on Ceylon’s Lebensraum as well. Even 50 years after his death, apologists of padre Senanayake do live in Sri Lanka as evinced by the following appreciation from an anonymous ‘Special Correspondent’:

“I am reminded of the manner in which Mr. D.S. Senanayake not only established new settlements from Padaviya in the North to Ampara in the South-East, but also de-franchised the Tamils of ‘recent Indian origin’ with such formidable Tamil leaders such as Ponnambalam, C. Suntheralingam and C. Sittampalam in his Cabinet! Tact and diplomacy seem to have been significant by their absence when Bandaranaike and those who followed him, dealt with the Tamil issue.” [Island newspaper, Colombo, March 4, 2001].

I cite this recent comment specifically to focus on the lack of foresight shown by the three learned Tamil leaders who preceded Pirabhakaran, in opposing the notorious Lebensraum policy of padre Senanayake.

Mervyn de Silva on the Eastern Front

Apart from R. Kahawita, even respected journalist Mervyn de Silva had rebutted the abominable lie of Rajan Hoole and his colleagues, relating to the colonisation issue. To quote,

“…The truth of course lies in the flow of history, colonial and pre-colonial, and at which point you choose to dive into the river. Since history is itself in fierce dispute (and there are few ‘objective’ historians today!) much of all this is purely polemical.

But ‘colonisation’ was certainly a declared policy of successive Sri Lankan governments even before Independence – settling Sinhala families from the ‘overpopulated’ South in the newly irrigated areas of the so-called Dry Zone. Opening new lands supported by irrigation schemes and responding to the land hunger of the Sinhala peasant made economic and political sense. What is ‘colonisation’ for the government, a rational policy, became in the eyes of post-independence Tamil politicians and ideologues, ‘internal colonialism’. And thus the fight for the East, the virtual theatre of this separatist war’. [Lanka Guardian, Dec.1, 1992, pp.3-4] 

Before Chandrika Kumaratunga and her side-kick Lakshman Kadirgamar received diplomatic recognition in India and elsewhere, Mervyn de Silva also knowledgeably wrote about Pirabhakaran’s thinking as follows:

“Though Prabhakaran is often dismissed as a ‘thug’ by his critics and a narrow-minded, if brilliant, strategist by others, the LTTE supremo has intuitively grasped the geo-political aspects of this secessionist struggle. ‘Eelam’ confined to the northern province is neither viable nor makes sense as a mini-state. He needs both space and green pastures. What is the LTTE’s attitude to the eastern province election? Though the military, rather than political, dominates his thinking, Prabhakaran is no crude militarist. He understands the importance of land, people, natural resources, in short, the viability of his EELAM project. He also appreciates the significance of the external factors – India, world opinion, certainly the West and economic assistance (the AID group), propaganda abroad etc.” [Lanka Guardian, March 1, 1994, p.3]

I cite this passage for two reasons. One is to refute the vitriol and name-calling peddled by Ms. Kumaratunga and her side-kick Kadirgamar [for Many Eelam Tamils, the Sri Lankan political equivalents of the Bonnie and Clyde gang] between 1995 and 2001, to present Pirabhakaran as a megalomaniac, terrorist outlaw and child-grabber to the international observers. Second is to impress the point that Mervyn de Silva can also play the Sinhala apologist role with a hidden sneer ‘what nerve Pirabhakaran has, to claim the Eastern Front as his own, even if one considers offering the Northern Province?’

The After-Effects of the Lebensraum Strategy in the Eastern Front

Six months before Pirabhakaran was born, the Geographical Review journal carried a review paper on the Gal Oya Valley settlements authored by Clifford MacFadden, then an associate professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. During the academic years 1950-51 and again 1953-54, he also served as the Chair of Geography at the University of Ceylon, both in Colombo and Peradeniya. I quote the last paragraph from MacFadden’s paper, which provides the statistics about the number of ‘original settlers’.

“Work was begun on the Gal Oya project in late 1949, and within two years the main dam was completed and water began to be impounded in the new reservoir. The spillway dam, the diversion channels, and approximately 1,200 acres of cleared land complete with houses were also readied for use in late 1951. Accordingly, the first contingent of 300 colonist families were able to settle in the valley during the latter months of 1951, only two short years after the project had been officially inaugurated. 

This was the first real fruit from Ceylon’s courageous new adventure in large-scale national planning and self-assistance. During the second year, 1952, there were 1,500 more new families settled in the valley, and during the third year, 1953, there were 1,360 more, making a total of 3,160 families settled during the first three years of Gal Oya Valley settlement operation. 

However, the real accomplishments of the Gal Oya Scheme can be best appreciated by reckoning the number of persons, rather than family units, settled during these first three years. The average number of persons per colonist family settled during 1951 was five, during 1952 eight, and during 1953 nine. (In future years the average number of persons per family is expected to be nine or ten.) 

Consequently, during the latter months of 1951 there were about 1,500 persons settled in the valley, during 1952 there were about 12,000 settled, and during 1953 there were about 12,240 settled, making a grand total of about 25,740 new persons settled in the Gal Oya Valley during its first three years of settlement operations…” [‘The Gal Oya Valley: Ceylon’s Little TVA’, Geographical Review, New York, Apr.1954, vol.44, pp.271-281]

For the benefit of non-American readers, I should mention that the TVA in the title of MacFadden’s paper stands for Tennessee Valley Authority. MacFadden was only a geographer and not a sociologist or a cultural anthropologist. So he had failed to distinguish the ethnic identities of these original settlers in his review paper. He closed his paper with a prophesy [obviously proved wrong within a decade!] that the Gal Oya Valley settlement would be “a great and lasting credit to the vision, determination and ability of the free people of Ceylon.” But as pointed out by R. Kahawita, the irrigation engineer who did the spade work for D.S. Senanayake, the first language riots started in the Valley in 1956, four years following the death of the ‘faulty visionary’. The transplanted Sinhalese settlers from the Southern regions, imbibing the ambrosia of Buddhist Aryan vigor, lit the fire on ethnic harmony.

Creation of Amparai electoral constituency

The immediate after-effect of the Gal Oya Valley development scheme was the creation of a new Amparai electoral constituency in 1959 for the benefit of the newly settled Sinhalese voters. Before Independence, in 1946, there were 7 electoral constituencies (Trincomalee, Mutur, Kalkudah, Batticaloa, Paddiruppu, Kalmunai and Pottuvil) in the Eastern Front. In 1959, two additional constituencies Amparai and Nintavur were added to the existing seven. Amparai constituency was carved mainly from Batticaloa and Pottuvil constituencies with small chunks from Paddiruppu and Kalmunai. The distribution of ethnic population in Batticaloa, Pottuvil and the newly formed Amparai constituencies in 1946 and 1959 are given below:

1946; Total Electorate 27,409 individuals consisting of Tamils 52.6%, Moors 28.7%, Sinhalese 13.0%, Malays 0.2% and Others 5.5%.

1959; Total Electorate 37,832 individulas consisting of Tamils 55.3%, Moors 36.0%, Sinhalese 5.2% and Others 3.5%.

1946; Total Electorate 18,164 individuals consisting of Moors 60.0%, Tamils25.5%, Sinhalese 7.0% and Others 7.5%.

1959; Total Electorate 18,250 individuals consisting of Moors 56.0%, Tamils 35.7%, Sinhalese 7.6% and Others 0.7%.

1959; Total Electorate 19,535 individuals consisting of Sinhalese 90.9%, Tamils 6.3% and Moors 2.0%.

Amparai constituency was the harbinger which announced the formation of a similar Seruwila constituency 17 years later in Trincomalee district constituting the upper Eastern Front. A detailed analysis of this Lebensraum strategy has been authored by Amita Shastri in 1990. [ref.: The Material Basis for Separatism: The Tamil Eelam Movement in Sri Lanka, Journal of Asian Studies, Feb.1990, vol.49, pp.56-77]. Few observations made by Shastri need highlighting.

“With the Tamils losing majority status in Amparai and Trincomalee districts, central spokespersons could also argue that the Tamils’ claim to the EP [Eastern Province] as their ‘homeland’ was an exaggerated one.”

In a foot-note following this sentence, Shastri had exposed the faulty logic of two Sinhalese academics G.H. Peiris and historian K.M. de Silva proposed in such a debate. To quote Shastri,

“Parallel academic arguments using historical and census data have been made to refute the Tamil claim that large areas of the EP are part of their ‘traditional homelands’ (notably G.H. Peiris 1985; K.M. de Silva 1986). While informative, the methodology employed is questionable. 

For instance, Peiris first isolates the EP for close scrutiny and then argues that the interior areas had been earlier inhabited by Sinhalese and are now depopulated or continue to be (sparsely) inhabited by them. He equates sparse interior settlements (often of fewer than ten persons) to the Tamil and Moor agglomerations of several thousand persons along the coast. No examination of a similar Tamil claim that might be made of parts of Sinhalese-dominated districts is made to balance the analysis.

 Further, the majority principle for dominance is upheld at the national level but explicitly derogated at the provincial and administrative district level to undermine Tamil claims. Their analyses thus support the homogenizing policies of the central state in regard to language, employment, resettlement, and education. In a fundamental sense, these writers miss the contemporary and dynamic politico-economic nature of the conflict between a majority-dominated expansionary state and a resistant regional minority.”

Among contemporary Sri Lankan academics, exhibition of such faulty logic, factual inaccuracy and fallacious prophecies are the norm rather than exceptions. One of the ardent practitioners of such academic debauchery, apart from Rajan Hoole, is Susantha Goonetilleke. His writings on Pirabhakaran and LTTE and his flaws deserve serious analysis and it will be presented later.

Snap-shots on the plight of Eastern Front Tamils in 1985

I provide below lengthy excerpts from two eye-witness accounts penned by international correspondents, to illustrate the Gestapo-style savagery including book burning perpetrated on the Tamil villagers by pyrophilic Sri Lankan armed forces and the Home Guards. These accounts appeared in the international press before the emergence of the self-anointed clique of human rights activists who named themselves as the University Teachers for Human Rights- Jaffna.

Batticaloa as seen by Steven Weisman 

“[datelined, Batticaloa, Feb.3, 1985]. Several dozen women stood silently outside the drab, barricaded police headquarters of this quiet fishing town today. They were waiting for word of their husbands, brothers and sons.

Residents say the drama of the waiting women has become a fixture of Batticaloa, near the eastern coast of this island nation. In stifling heat, the women wept openly as they appealed to the Rev. Joshua Ratnam, a Roman Catholic priest, for help in securing the release of men from his area who have been arrested by the police…

At the Batticaloa police station, the people tell stories of unrelieved sorrow. ‘The commandos take innocent boys from the paddy fields’, said one man, a Government inspector. ‘They take the boys and torture them’, another man said. ‘We can’t go out on the road without being threatened. We can’t go to our shops. We have no freedom at all.’

The Government authorities have a different story. To them, the mass arrests have led to breakthroughs in the drive to stop the insurgents. The Tamil guerrillas, they say, have preyed on the civilian population to a far greater extent than the Government…

All the police stations in this region are virtually bunkers. Each is surrounded by sandbags and nets strung high to catch stray grenades. A tower with armed sentries has been put up next to the bungalow of Sarath Seneviratne, the Batticaloa police coordinator. Despite the barricades, Mr. Seneviratne said in an interview in his bungalow that only a few random incidents had occurred. ‘We don’t arrest each and every person’, he said. ‘We arrest only the people we know are involved in terrorism.’ Mr. Seneviratne, a square-faced Sinhalese with gray hair clipped in crew-cut, said Tamil insurgents were failing in Batticaloa because they had no support in the large Moslem population and were losing support among Tamils because of their indiscriminate killing.

But none of the dozens of Tamils interviewed at random in Batticaloa agreed. All said the police actions were making Tamils increasingly angry and sympathetic to the arguments for Tamil Eelam, the name that the insurgents want to give to the Tamil state…” [‘Rebels in Lotus Land: Sri Lanka hunts ‘the Boys’, New York Times, Feb.8, 1985, p.6]

Trincomalee as witnessed by Simon Winchester

“…a small village called Tiriyai, 50 miles north of Trincomalee. It is a place named in the guidebook for its exquisite 7th century Buddhist pagoda, and is said to have a population of 2,000, most of them Tamils and most in the business of paddy-farming or raising cashew nuts.

When we arrived in Tiriyai last week, almost every single house had been wrecked and burned, and fewer than 100 people remained. One resident, an elderly Tamil rice-grower – his characteristically complicated name had 23 letters and seven syllables – said the Sri Lankan army had arrived five days before. ‘A helicopter came first at 8 am, firing guns down at us,’ he said. ‘Then the lorries came with hundreds of soldiers. They fired their guns, and drove us all out into the jungle. Then they poured paraffin on the houses and burned them. They went very quickly. They were gone by 10 am, and they left the whole village on fire.’

Certainly there had been terrible devastation. The few who remained were still stunned and shocked. One man, a farm manager, showed me a letter he was writing to his superior in Trinco: ‘Sir, I beg to inform you that the following properties of mine were damaged, burned, or stolen by the security forces…’ The letter went on to list the pathetic accumulations of a Sri Lankan rural life: ‘One Honda motor cycle, one sewing machine, one push-bicycle, two stools, one umbrella large, one umbrella small, many dresses, 10 gunny sacks, two bags of paddy’. The ruins of his life lay round about him as he wrote, wisps of smoke still curling up from the piles of sacking in which he had stored his spring harvest.

Every shop had been looted and smashed. In the tiny public library, all the books had been heaped together to make a pyre, the index cards burned, and the filing cabinets wrecked. The temple had been set on fire. Most villagers were to be found later, camped out at a school 40 miles south, on the outskirts of Trincomalee. Three people had been killed by gunfire, half a dozen had been left wounded and all the rest were homeless. ‘And this is just the tragedy of one village’, said Kandaratnam Sivapalan, the local chairman of the Tamil citizens’ committee. ‘There are 10 villages north of Trinco, and 30 south that have been smashed and burned by the army and by the hooligans they call the Home Guard,’ he said. ‘The Sinhalese are trying to drive the Tamils away from Trinco so that they can keep control of the port. No outsiders can come and see, and the press are not allowed to write about it here.’

In an official comment on the Tiriyai operation, the Ministry of National Security has said that in response to a terrorist attack on a police station near the village in early June ‘operations were carried out in an attempt to isolate the perpetrators’. The government strongly denied claims that it intended to move out Tamil villagers and replace them with Sinhalese. In the flat countryside to the south of Trincomalee harbour – which can be reached only by a rickety ferry boat that carries more fish and live chickens than human passengers – dozens more Tamil villages were found to have been burned and sacked in army operations in the last 10 days. (The security forces’ co-ordinating officer for the Trincomalee region is actually a naval officer, a Commodore Jayasuriya; he commands some 10 battalions of infantry, commando squads and naval assault parties as well as helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft of the airforce.)

Five new refugee camps have sprung up in the neighbourhood of the gutted village of Sampoor and now house some 30,000 refugees, many with appalling tales to tell. We met a man who claims to have been arrested by the army in the village of Killiveti; he had been tied, with 37 others, in a human chain and forced to walk past a machine gun which then opened fire. He was hit by bullets in the throat and right elbow, but feigned death. The troops piled brushwood and timber battens on the bodies and set fire to them. But as one log slipped from the pile, the man who had wriggled free from the rope, was able to dive into the undergrowth and crawl away under cover of the smoke and flames. When we met him he was thin and desperately sick, suffering from loss of blood. But he had already become something of a hero among the younger Tamils…” [‘Behind the lines with the Tamil guerrillas’, Sunday Times, London, June 23, 1985]

Steven Weisman’s account on Batticaloa appeared in the New York Times of Feb.8, 1985. Simon Winchester’s account on Trincomalee appeared in the Sunday Times (London) of June 23, 1985. Between these two dates, the LTTE attack on Anuradhapura took place in May 14, 1985. [see, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – part 8] Thus, one could reasonably infer that the Tiriyai demolition of Tamil settlements by the Sri Lankan army was nothing but a revenge operation to the Anuradhapura attack. But how could one explain the rationale for the Batticaloa operations of the Special Task Force commandos, other than Tamil hatred fueled by the State’s Lebensraum policy. [continued.]


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