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Selected Writings by
Sachi Sri Kantha
The Pirabaharan Phenomenon
Analyzing the Tamil Victims of LTTE’s Power
In one of his recent syndicated columns, humorist Dave Barry wrote a spoof of conservative columnist and language maven William Safire, as follows:
“…Today we regret that we must begin our column with this: TERRORIST THREAT WARNING. We have received some alarming information from very high sources in the federal government.
Q: How high were they?
A: They were wearing their underpants on their heads.
According to these sources, terrorists may be planning an attack on America’s linguistic infrastructure. The targets will be critical strategic phrases without which this nation cannot function…” [International Herald Tribune, Aug.31, 2002]
Dave Barry will be delighted to know, how many simple English words have been twisted and roasted beyond the dictionary meaning by the editorialists and analysts (aka linguistic terrorists) in Colombo and Chennai. For example, opportunists who don’t have a following are pronounced as ‘leaders’. Defeats were embellished as a ‘victories’. Retreat was referred to as ‘Adjusting the Forward Defence Line’. Pakistan’s dictator and Osama bin Laden’s back-alley pal is gloatingly addressed with the phrase ‘a friend in need’. Thugs who had never seen a real battle field are tagged as ‘ex-militants’. Sense-challenged peeping toms are anointed with the accolade ‘human rights warriors’. Similarly, the word ‘victim’ is a gut wrenching blanket word for an individual if he or she had an unnatural death at the hands of LTTE, irrespective of his or her nefarious deeds of vainglory. But hapless Tamil citizens who lost their lives to indiscriminate bombing and torture by the Sri Lankan army were called as ‘terrorists’.
Categories of LTTE’s Main Victims
That LTTE’s growth, in terms of power, since 1986 produced quite a few categories of victims of different shades is undeniable. This is expected, since the power balance equation shows that one party has to lose power simultaneously for the other party to gain power. The parties that lost power totally or partially came to be identified as victims. Segments which lost power due to LTTE’s assertion of military clout include the following:
(1) Post-Independent Sri Lanka’s unitary state, controlled by the power wielding Buddhist Aryan elements.
(2) Sri Lanka’s Buddhist-dominated military establishment
(3) India’s military establishment
(4) Tamil-speaking Muslims
(5) Political and societal power wielders among Tamils
That the first four categories were lording it over the Eelam Tamils for the past four decades is a given. Since I have analyzed the first four categories in the previous chapters, I will discuss the fifth category in this chapter.
LTTE Victims among the Tamil political and societal power wielders
According to a list assembled by G.H.Peiris, a professor of geography at the University of Peradeniya, in 2000, LTTE was responsible for the death of 47 “Tamil leaders and important political activists”. To protect his dubious credibility, Peiris has used the clause “believed to have been killed by the LTTE”. This is the one of the comprehensive list on the LTTE victims, until January 2000. Thus, it deserves analysis, since this list (in various permutations and combinations) has been prominently displayed in the internet by the racist Sri Lankan Buddhist websites and even in the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) maintained by India’s mandarins of Intelligence affairs. Another list, prepared by Walter Liyanarachchi, which added few more names of LTTE victims appeared in the Ceylon Daily News of June 1, 2001.
I should add that I have previously discussed the circumstances surrounding the killings of some Tamils included in the two lists provided by Peiris and Liyanarachchi; for example, Duraiappah [part 13], Amirthalingam [part 22], Yogeswaran [part 22], Dharmalingam [part 23], Alalasundaram [part 23], Rajani Thiranagama [part 24], Sri Sabaratnam [part 39] and Padmanabha [part 39] who held political and societal positions.
For record, first I provide the complete list of victims (names, positions and date of killing) prepared by the Sinhalese academic Peiris, as it appeared in the parochial Island (Colombo) newspaper of Dec.27, 2000. This list include a few noticeable fabrications, since Peiris in turn has relied on another anti-LTTE polemicist Rohan Gunaratna for assembled list. Secondly, I assess the relevance of the attributed ‘leadership criterion’ by which the victims’ names gained attention. I have (a) corrected the idiosyncratic spelling and errors in spelling of some names, from the original list; (b) noted the factual fabrications within parentheses.
1. A.T.Duraiappah : Mayor, Jaffna; 27 July 1975
2. A.Thiagarajah : UNP organiser, Vaddukoddai; 24 April 1981 [This killing has been identified with PLOTE by other observers.]
3. K.T.Pulendran : UNP organiser, Vavuniya; 19 January 1983
4. Mala Ramachandran : MMC, Batticaloa; 1 Sept. 1983
5. R.J.Rajasooriar : UNP organiser, Jaffna; 12 August 1983
6. S.Gnanachandran : Govt. Agent, Mullaitivu; 24 February 1985
7. C.E.Anandarajah : School principal; 26 June 1985
8. B.K.Thambipillai : Chairman, Citizen’s Committee; 22 August 1985
9. M.Alalasundaram: TULF MP (Kopay); 3 Sept. 1985 [This killing has been identified with TELO by other observers.]
10. K.Rajalingam: TULF MP (Udupiddy); 3 Sept. 1985 [Mr.Rajalingam had a natural death.]
11. V.Dharmalingam : TULF MP (Manipay); Sept. 1985 [This killing has been identified with TELO by other observers.]
12. K.Thurairatnam : TULF MP (Point Pedro); Sept. 1985 [Mr.Thurairatnam had a natural death.]
13. P.K.Kirubakaran : Judge, Primary Court; 11 March 1986
14. Sri Sabaratnam : TELO leader; April/May 1986
15. K.Padmanabha : EPRLF General Secretary; mid 1986 [The listed date of death is erroneous.]
16. S.Kathiramalai : NGO social worker; 26 Sept. 1986
17. P.Vignarajah : Assistant Government Agent, Sammanthurai; 15 September 1987
18. P.Anthonimuttu : Government Agent, Batticaloa; 8 October 1987
19. S.S.Jeganathan : Assistant Government Agent, Batticaloa; 8 October 1987
20. P.Sinnadurai : Assistant Government Agent, Trincomalee; 26 November 1987
21. M.E.Kandasamy : School principal; 14 December 1987
22. S.Sithamparanathan : School principal; 31 January 1988
23. S.Wijayanandan : District secretary, Communist Party; 8 March 1988
24. M.Velmurugu : TULF organiser; 20 March 1988
25. S.Rajshanker : President, Citizen’s Committee; 27 October 1988
26. S.Sambandamoorthy : TULF, District Development Council Chairman; 7 March 1989
27. V.M.Panchalingam : Government Agent, Jaffna; 1 May 1989
28. K.Pulendran : Assistant Government Agent, Kopay; 28 June 1989
29. A.Amirthalingam : Leader of the TULF; 13 July 1989
30. V.Yogeswaran : TULF MP [Jaffna]; 13 July 1989
31. Rajani Thiranagama: University teacher – political activist; 25 Sept. 1989
32. P.Ganeshalingam : EPRLF provincial minister; 28 January 1990
33. S.Thambimuthu : EPRLF MP; 7 May 1990
34. Mrs. Thambimuthu : Social worker; 7 May 1990
35. K.Padmanabha : Leader of the EPRLF; 19 June 1990 [This is the same individual listed as no.15. Thus, a redundant addition.]
36. V.Yogasangari : EPRLF MP; 19 June 1990
37. K.Kanagaratnam : MP, Eastern Province; 15 July 1990
38. K.Kandasamy : Vice President, DPLF; January 1995
39. A.Thangathurai : TULF MP; 7 July 1997
40. S.Nadarajah : Chairman, Jaffna Development Council; 1997
41. M.Sambandamoorthy : Chairman, Batticaloa Development Council; 1997 [Again, this is the same individual listed as no.26]
42. S.P.Tharmalingam : SLFP organiser, Jaffna; 3 October 1997
43. Sarojini Yogeswaran : Mayor, Jaffna; 17 May 1998
44. P.Sivapalan : Mayor, Jaffna; 11 Sept. 1998
45. P.Mathimugarajah : MMC, Jaffna; 24 December 1998
46. Neelan Tiruchelvam : TULF MP; 29 July 1999
47. Vadivelu Wijeratnam : Chairman, Point Pedro Urban Council; 14 January 2000.
My General Observations on the List of LTTE Victims
It is evident that, when it comes to anti-LTTE propaganda, the task of fact-checking at the editorial desk of parochial Island newspaper receives an abysmally low priority. Among the 47 listed above, two names [that of K.Padmanabha and S.Sambandamoorthy] had appeared twice in the list. Two recognizable names, that of K.Thurairatnam MP and K.Rajalingam MP, also do not belong in this list, since both died of natural causes. In addition, by consensus, the assassinations of three more former Tamil MPs (A.Thiyagarajah, V.Dharmalingam and M.Alalasundaram) have been strongly attributed to the cadres of PLOTE and TELO. Thus, seven listings have to be deleted from the above list. This reduces the number of LTTE victims between July 1975 and January 2000 to 40. For analytical purposes, one needs to assume in good faith that all 40 were in fact killed by the LTTE cadres, despite the fact that there were other armed mercenary gangs who could have done the killing at the instigation of the armies and intelligence operatives of Sri Lanka and India, to tarnish the LTTE’s reputation.
All the 40 Tamil victims are not equal in ranks other than one criterion that they were ‘believed to have been killed by the LTTE’. The key-word as stated by Prof. Peiris is ‘believed’. Among these 40 individuals, apart from a few like A.Amirthalingam, V.Yogeswaran and A.Thangathurai, the identification of all and sundry as ‘Tamil leaders and important political activists’ by blind-sighted Peiris is also erroneous. Majority of them were simply power wielders or power brokers or power peddlers and clearly not leaders. Also, not all of them were innocent wall flowers. As in any society, some were selfish turn-coats who looked only for their personal interests in political intrigues. Quite a few were undoubtedly hostages of the ‘situation’ - unfortunate victims, positioned in the wrong place and at the wrong time –willingly or unwillingly in consultation with the military adversaries of the LTTE.
When studying the above list, one pattern is markedly visible. Significant majority (33 Tamils, from A.Thiagarajah’s killing in April 1981 to K.Kanagaratnam’s assassination in July 1990 – in the above list) lost their lives during the period when J.R.Jayewardene and Premadasa were the heads of government. Two related (and probably contributing) factors should be highlighted. It was the decade, when the then prevailing democratic norms in the island was tossed out by the Jayewardene-Premadasa cabal which controlled the island. Also, it was the decade that the Eelam society was physically and mentally abused by the Indian army between 1987 and 1990.
While LTTE’s opponents had cavalierly tagged the words fascism and dictatorship to Pirabhakaran, the real demonstration of fascism, dictatorship and anarchy prevailed in the 1980s decade. None other than Bertrand Russell had provided a spitting image of Jayewardene and Premadasa, in his classic book Power, four decades earlier. Only the words ‘dead’ or ‘death’ need to be altered with ‘replaced’ or ‘replacement’ in the following passages. To quote Russell,
“The most successful of democratic politicians are those who succeed in abolishing democracy and becoming dictators. This, of course, is only possible in certain circumstances; no one could have achieved it in nineteenth-century England. But when it is possible, it requires only a high degree of the same qualities as are required by democratic politicians in general, at any rate in excited times. Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler owed their rise to democracy.
When once a dictatorship has been established, the qualities by which a man succeeds a dead dictator are totally different from those by which the dictatorship was originally crated. Wire-pulling, intrigue and Court favour are the most important methods when heredity is discarded. For this reason, a dictatorship is sure to change its character very considerably after the death of its founder. And since the qualities by which a man succeeds to a dictatorship are less generally impressive than those by which the regime was created, there is a likelihood of instability, palace revolutions, and ultimate reversion to some different system.” [Book: Power, George Allen & Unwin, 1938.]
Russell’s descriptions of the techniques such as ‘wire-pulling, intrigue and Court favour’ by which petty political turn-coats and middle level administration employees curry favor with the ruling dictatorship is relevant to the understanding of the fate of the 40 Tamil victims of LTTE. Also, what Russell had anticipated in 1938 did occur in Sri Lankan South following Premadasa’s ascension of power, between 1990 and 1994; “instability, palace revolutions and ultimate reversion to some different system”. Among the LTTE’s political victims, the fates of Sam Tambimuttu (nominally identified with EPRLF) and Neelan Tiruchelvam (nominally identified TULF) deserve further analysis.
I do not wish to create an impression that I condone the killings of the Tamils by the LTTE. Rather, I provide a personal point of view ‘why’ they suffered their fates. Here, I use the term ‘fate’ as implied in the Hinduism’s world view, attributed to the Law of Karma [Action with Inevitable Consequences], which in brief states, ‘Good is rewarded with good; evil is rewarded with evil; and the rewarding of good and evil is only a matter of time.’ This is a delicate proposition and pliable to twist and abuse by those who are semi-literate on the karmic belief, but I subscribe to it.
Pirabhakaran; a leader and power wielder
A distinction between the ‘leader’ and ‘power wielder’ is needed first to sort the LTTE victims, many of whom have been mis-labeled as ‘leaders’ in the Indian and Sri Lankan press. For this I refer to James MacGregor Burns. In his Presidential address entitled, ‘Wellsprings of Political Leadership’ to the American Political Science Association in 1976, he had defined the meaning of ‘power’, and demarcated the difference between the ‘leader’ and ‘power wielder’. I provide relevant paragraphs:
“Power over human beings is exercised when potential power wielders, motivated to achieve certain goals of their own, marshall capabilities in their power base, such as economic, institutional and skill resources, that enable them to influence the behavior of respondents by activating their motives – wants and needs, expectations and values – relevant to those capabilities. This is done in order to realize the goals of the power wielders, whether or not these are also the goals of the respondents. Power wielders also exercise influence over respondents by mobilizing their own power base in such a way as to establish direct physical control over the respondents’ behavior, as in a war of conquest, or through direct psychological control, as in hypnosis, but these are relatively restricted exercises of power, dependent on certain times, cultures and personalities….” [American Political Science Review, March 1977, vol.81, pp.266-275]
Then, Burns explains the much misunderstood concept of what is leadership?
“Leadership over human beings is exercised when persons with certain motives and purposes mobilize, in competition or conflict with others, their own institutional, political, psychological and other resources in such a manner as to arouse, engage, and satisfy the motives of followers. This is done in order to satisfy similar needs and values held by both leaders and followers. In brief, leaders with motive and power bases tap followers’ motive bases in order to realize the purposes of both leaders and followers. Leadership is exercised especially in a condition of conflict or competition in which other leaders compete in appealing to the motive-bases of potential followers.” [ibid]
In the subsequent paragraph, Burns distinguishes the difference between the leader and the power wielder.
“Thus, leaders constitute a particular kind of power wielder. Like power, leadership is relational, purposeful and collective. Leadership shares with power the central function of achieving purpose. But the reach and domain of leadership is, in the short range at least, more limited than that of power. Leaders do not obliterate followers’ motives even if they wish to do so. They lead only other creatures, not things (and lead animals only to the degree that they recognize animal motives – i.e., leading cattle to shelter rather than to slaughter). To control things – tools, mineral resources, money, energy – is an act of power, not leadership, for things have no motives; power wielders, but not leaders, may treat people as things. And unlike the power holder, who may operate in a closed system, leaders act in a context of conflict and competition. All leaders are actual or potential power wielders, but not all power wielders are leaders. Conceptually, leadership is a subset of power.” [ibid]
The fate of EPRLF Power Wielders
The distinction provided by Burns between the leader and the power wielder provides relevance to the list of LTTE’s ‘believed to be’ victims. In aligning the date of killing in relation to which party controlled the axle of political power in the island [the SLFP, the UNP or India’s mandarins], the designations of quite a few individuals functioning as ‘UNP organiser’, ‘SLFP organiser’, EPRLF MP or EPRLF provincial minister reveal that who fell victims of the LTTE were power wielders and power peddlers of certain rank.
Some additional quotes from the policy paper published in the Annual Report of the Indian Defence Review 1989, cited in the previous chapter [The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – part 48], reveals the circumstances clearly on why quite a few leading members of the EPRLF became the victims of LTTE in 1990. India’s policy mandarins had the nerve to pontificate the following:
“…In purely military terms, India had ensured the emergence of a Tamil leadership more amenable to her interests. This alarmed both the Sri Lanka and the LTTE. In yet another volte-face the Sinhalas and the LTTE joined hands to demand an ouster of the IPKF in July 1989. In very stark terms the matrix of Indian options was as follows:
(a) Nativize the conflict. India had succeeded in installing a pro-Indian Tamil group in power. This now had to be strengthened militarily so that the conflict could be nativized. This implied raising an EPRLF/ENDLF armed force that would progressively take over the burden of fighting the LTTE. The pertinent point was that this could not be achieved overnight. The Soviets had taken almost nine years to bring the Afghan Army to full fighting potential, so that it could hold its own against the Mujahideen. This implied that India would have to maintain her present level of force commitment for at least two to three years more while the EPRLF force found its military legs and completed its period of probation fighting.
(b) Come to Terms with the LTTE. The pertinent military difference between the Afghan-Sri Lankan scenarios was that by a brutal process of ‘natural selection’ the LTTE had emerged as the most powerful Tamil resistance group. To that extent an Indian decision to come to final terms with it by giving its due share in the democratic set-up in the North-est would be a most logical one. The Sri Lankan conflict had seen too many mind-boggling about-faces, U-turns and changes of alignments that one more would make little difference. If the Sri Lankans and the LTTE could sink their differences, why couldn’t the Indian leadership also alter course? Nations have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. This was ideal. But was this still possible? Much blood had been split on both sides and resumption of such a dialogue would need a major political initiative from the very top. With the change in political leadership after the elections [Note by Sri Kantha: This was in reference to the 1989 elections, in which Rajiv Gandhi lost the prime ministership to V.P.Singh] this has become a very viable and attractive option. It would be relatively much easier for the new Indian administration to come to terms with the LTTE.
(c) The third, somewhat extreme option, was for the Indians to come to a clear-cut decision that the LTTE had turned renegade and had to be destroyed militarily whatever the costs. This would have called for the induction of minimum of say two more divisions and the unrestricted employment of offensive air support to act as a force multiplier to offset the lack of adequate ground troops.
Both options (a) and (c) would involve India in a long politico-military haemorrhage. However, beyond a particular point it becomes a question of ‘loss of face’ and such a loss may not be palatable to a regional superpower…” [Lanka Guardian, Aug.1, 1990, pp.11-21]
It is apparent now that though India’s policy mandarins opined that both options (a) and (c) would result in ‘a long politico-military hemorrhage’ in this 1989 policy paper, they eventually opted for these two options. Option (a) was pursued as described above by their purported ‘nativization of the conflict’ through propping up the EPRLF and establishing the Tamil National Army, both turning out to be flops. And when the Indian army was forced to leave by the end of March 1990, the Option (c) was modified to a ‘mole operation’ to destroy the LTTE leadership.
The Tragedy of Sam Tambimuttu – an Eastern Front Tamil Activist
Among the many LTTE victims, the fate of Sam Tambimuttu (a noted politician and ‘a reputable contact source for information’ on the Eastern Front, according to journalist Mervyn de Silva’s eulogy) had puzzled me a lot. Thus, I provide two descriptions featuring Tambimuttu’s activities in late 1980s. These were penned by the Anderson brothers for their War Zones (1988) book and William McGowan’s memoirs for his Only Man is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka (1992). Since these authors are Americans, one can accept a reasonable degree of neutrality in the recorded activities of Tambimuttu. One distinction between the two books may provide some clues to the fate of Tambimuttu. To the Anderson brothers who interviewed him in 1987, he presented the face of a notable human rights activist. He became a member of parliament representing EPRLF (then functioning as India’s puppets) in early 1989. McGowan also presents him as a shrewd businessman engaged in shady deals. In May 1990, Tambimuttu was killed.
Tambimuttu, as interviewed by Anderson brothers in 1987
I present Tambimuttu’s story, as interviewed by Anderson brothers, in entirety [two and a half pages in the book], since he describes the mind-boggling notorious activities of the Sri Lankan government’s antiterrorist Special Task Force (STF) in torturing and ethnic cleansing of Tamils of all ages in the Eastern Front. It was an important published document, condemning the Nazi-style torture meted out to Eelam Tamils by the Jayewardene-Premadasa cabal who ruled in the 1980s. Please note that the numbers of Tamil victims Tambimuttu quoted in his interview are in not tens or hundreds but thousands.
Andersons also identified Tambimuttu as ‘a bearish Tamil lawyer turned shrimp farmer’. McGowan provides information in his book that this shrimp farming activity caused the downfall of Tambimuttu. First I reproduce Tambimuttu’s recorded interview to the Andersons. Words within parentheses, and elliptical dots (for omission) are as in the original.
“You must first understand the attitude of the STF. They are all young chaps in their teens. If you watch them going out on their vehicles, they go like you would expect a person going on a safari to go. When you go on a safari, big-game hunting, you get on top of the hood with guns pointed out. Here, this has become a safari for the young fellows, but the game are human beings. They go around the streets; if they see somebody running, they fire at him! The only provocation is that a man is running!
Now, there was a land-mine incident just down the road. Following that, the STF indiscriminately opened fire everywhere. Thirteen persons were officially reported killed. About twenty-eight persons were missing subsequently; we don’t know what happened to them, but we know, we have evidence, that some of them were killed and their bodies taken away. Here, once the Force shoots a person the body is taken away, old tires are heaped, and the body burned. Thereafter, there is absolutely no evidence that the person ever existed! It’s very easy for the state to turn around and say, ‘X, who is missing from his home, has become a terrorist. He is hiding in England or he is hiding in Germany.’
They must have learnt the lesson after the last [world] war. Germany made the mistake of leaving skeletons behind (smiles); in concentration camps, you found millions of skeletons. So these people are not going to leave any evidence behind. That’s why they burn all the bodies. Here, they are legally entitled to burn the bodies in their camp. They are allowed to; it’s not written into a law, but, under the emergency regulations, the Coordinating Officer is permitted to dispose of the body however he thinks fit.
What we do is, when a person comes to us and tells us that so-and-so has been arrested by the forces, we do not take any step immediately; we wait for three days, because a large number of persons who have been arrested are released subsequently. But after three days, if he is not released, we immediately write to the Coordinating Officer.
We have a system with the CO…. You see, when a person is arrested and taken to these camps, the state does not provide him with any clothes whatsoever. So, even if he is kept there for one or two years, he has only the clothes that he has been wearing, nothing else. So we request that the next of kin be permitted to give them clothes. So, after about three days, the next of kin take a change of clothes to the camp and they hand over the clothes, and if they accept the clothes, we know that the person is alive and in the camp. But if somebody comes back and tells us, ‘I went to the camp; they refused to accept his clothes,’ then we know that something is wrong and immediately we write to the CO asking for his whereabouts. Invariably, the reply comes in that he has not been arrested.
(Thambimuttu opens a loose-leaf binder.) In all these cases, we have affidavits by persons who saw the person being taken away by the STF. We prepared this list in May of ’86, of persons arrested by the STF forces whose whereabouts are not known. This list gives the name of the person, his address, age, place where he was arrested, and by whom he was arrested. We sent this list to the Coordinating Officer. I sent 359 names and asked him for the whereabouts of these persons. I received a letter from him in September 1986; I have it here. It says there is only one person who had been sent to Boose [detention camp]. The reply to everybody else was, ‘not arrested’. That means they have killed them. Now, the number of people who have disappeared in this district is roughly about seven hundred.
According to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, any person can be taken into custody on suspicion of being a terrorist; it says, ‘any person’. But it is not merely a person who is being taken into custody; they are taking entire villages! Which certainly is not the intention of the law, but there is nothing we can do about it.
Say in one of their cordon-and-search operations, they round up a thousand people. They are kept there, and people like government servants and old people are released, and so maybe five hundred will be taken to the camp. There, they pass before a hooded informant. If he nods his head, it means that person stays in the camp and goes through the full range of torture. The others are released. This takes a period of three, four days. Along the way, a few chaps may get bumped off. Or there at the camp, in the ‘helicopter training’ [torture], one or two may die. These are the cases that become ‘missing’.
This maltreatment is virtually throwing the local people into the militants’ camps, because if they join the militants they are safe. If they remain at home, they are invariably caught and taken and killed or sent to Boosa. So, the only way to escape is to join the militants, and once you do, you know how to avoid these chaps!
Now the biggest problem we have here is that about thirty-five hundred breadwinners of families have been either arrested, are in detention camps, or in Boosa, or missing, or are dead. These thirty-five hundred families are destitute, with absolutely no means of sustenance. We are also worried whenever an advanced-level or university student is picked up; invariably, they never come back.
You know, this area is essentially an agricultural and fishing area, but because of constant raids and constant harassing, these people now refuse to go into the fields. So much so that [rice] paddy cultivation in this area has decreased by as much as forty percent. This has been going on for the past three years. Batticaloa was a surplus rice-producing area, but now we have to get our rice down from elsewhere. This affects others, too; you see, the entire community exists on the income of paddy. You have the paddy miller, you have the paddy trader, you have the man who pounds the paddy and sells the rice. So the throwback, as far as employment is concerned, is vast.
In Batticaloa, we live for the evening, not even the next day. Life has become so uncertain. Everything is so uncertain that in the morning you only think of the evening and nothing beyond that. All our actions are based on the immediate necessities, rather than on thinking of the morrow. We don’t go out after six. You see, in Batticaloa, by six o’clock, life is over. There’s absolutely no social contact between people. This is also affecting children. You see, if you hear a noise, you immediately think that there is a blast somewhere. If you’re on the streets and you hear a sound, you think there’s a blast and you’re running for shelter somewhere.
Now, every parent who can afford to, sends his child out of the country…You know, one fear that we have is, if this goes on, we may lose the flower of our youth! That may be the end of the community. I suppose that is what the government wants also.” [Book: War Zones, Dodd, Mead & C, New York, 1988, pp.217-219]
It is puzzling to understand that the same Sam Tambimuttu who condemned the activities of Sri Lanka’s Gestapo-gang in 1987 to Anderson brothers, became an informant to the same Gestapo-gang, one or two years later. This is revealed in William McGowan’s book, which appeared two years following Tambimuttu’s killing.
Complex Persona of Tambimuttu, as presented by William McGowan in 1992
Like the Anderson brothers, McGowan also had visited Batticaloa in late 1980s and met Tambimuttu. He presented the story about Tambimuttu, as follows:
“I spent a little time following up on the rumors of the prawn farm massacre. Sam Tambimuttu, the very man who had briefed us the year before on the details of the massacre, had, according to reports, played a role in that incident.
According to the American who was managing the farm at the time, the farm’s directors, of whom Sam was one, had been divided about continuing operations amid the prevailing political chaos. The Tigers had also set up camp right next door, which made it appear as though the farm had close ties to the rebels. Sam, it was said, saw an opportunity to profit from the predicament. If the farm ceased operations, he could buy it from the current owners at a very cheap price and could let it lie fallow for a few years until the conflict was over, at which point he would be the sole owner of a very profitable enterprise. To induce the owners to quit, he had allegedly informed the Special Task Force that the farm was a nest of Tigers, thinking they would close it down. Instead, they had wiped out the entire staff in a frenzy of retribution for the soldiers killed in the nearby landmine blast.
Sam had dismissed the whole story as Tiger propaganda. According to Rajah [Note by Sri Kantha: whom McGowan has identified in a previous page as retired accountant S.R.Rajah], with whom I had a tea later that day, Sam had all along used his position to enrich himself. ‘How did he get the money to build his two houses?’ Rajah wanted to know. ‘These haven’t exactly been boom times for lawyers, you know’. And wasn’t it suspicious that the man who had replaced Sam doing the human rights work in Batti had been imprisoned by the Indians?
Father Hebert [Note by Sri Kantha: the same Louisiana-born Father Hebert, whose disappearance I had described in part 47 of this series], who ran the technical institute from which several of the massacred workers had graduated, made the most convincing case. Hebert believed Sam was still angling to assume ownership of the potentially lucrative prawn far. ‘He gave information to the Special Task Force to better his position, but it wound up boomeranging on him. It backfired much bigger than anyone could have imagined, and made him a hunted man.’
I didn’t know what to believe. Most of the rumors I dismissed as disinformation. But if Sam had ‘collaborated’ with the forces in the prawn farm incident, he wouldn’t be the first to put self-interest ahead of Tamil solidarity. Many of the informants were members of other militant groups who were offering their services to the Indians in return for protection and advantage at a later date. Others were lone operators…” [Book: Only Man is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1992, pp.243-244]
Towards the end of his book, in the Epilogue, McGowan also recorded the disappearance of Fr. Eugene Hebert with the words, “It was strongly suspected that the army and the police had a hand in Hebert’s death. He had made insistent protests over unjust detentions and other human rights abuses in Batticaloa.”
The prawn farm massacre, which McGowan refers to in the first sentence of the quoted passage refers to the first Kokkaddichcholai Massacre [which happened at the adjacent Mahilattivu village of January 27, 1987] in Eelam history. In a presentation made at the International Conference on Tamil Nationhood and Search for Peace in Sri Lanka [Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, May 21-22, 1999] anthropologist Margaret Trawick had shed more light on the shady deal of Sam Tambimuttu, by interviewing one of the Tamil victims' siblings and incorporating the facts into her paper. I quote the segment relating to Tambimuttu’s deal, from Prof. Trawick’s paper, since the minor details were missing from McGowan’s description.
“The Prawn Project was an American scheme. Earlier, an EPRLF MP, whose name was Sam Tambimuttu, had a business partnership with an American. While Sam Tambimuttu was working in this partnership, the partners bought some paddy fields for ‘ready cash’, cleared the bush, and put a prawn pond there. They bought those fields from poor people. They paid Rs. 2,500 per acre. Out of each 2,500, the poor people got 500, and Tambimuttu secretly took 2,000. At that time, the people did not know. They were poor people – they took the 500. A couple of months later, the people somehow found out, and went and told the American partner. Then, that American asked (Tambimuttu). When he asked, Sam Tambimuttu denied it. Sam Tambimuttu was ousted from the partnership. Then Sam Tambimuttu got angry. Out of anger, he had two laborers plant a bomb in the pump that was used to fill the prawn pond with water.
After that, from the American scheme, the LTTE bought kerosene, diesel oil, petroleum. Sam Tambimuttu told the police headquarters in Colombo that there was a connection between the prawn project and the LTTE. Sam Tambimuttu drew a map of the project for them. After that, the STF came here on November 2, 1986….”
In sum, when aligning the killing of Sam Tambimuttu in May 1990, Fr.Hebert’s view of Tambimuttu’s role as an informant to the STF and the subsequent disappearance and death of Fr. Hebert in late 1990, one can reasonably infer that Tambimuttu’s fate was sealed when, in the words of McGowan, he ‘put self-interest ahead of Tamil solidarity.’