CONTINUED ATTACKS ON
TAMILS - JULY/AUGUST 1981
"...(The) August (1981) incidents of violence
centred on three specific areas: the gem mining area of
Ratnapura, Negombo near the capital city of Colombo,
and the plantation towns in central Sri Lanka. Before
the violence was brought under control... at least 10
Indian Tamils had been killed, numerous Tamil shops and
businesses burned, and more than 5000 Indian Tamils had
fled to refugee camps...
It was widely reported that attacks in Negombo as
well as an attack against passengers on a Jaffna to
Colombo train were made by organised gangs. Tamil
sources stated that it could not be ruled out that
people close to the government were behind the
They also claimed that the police and the army did not
intervene to prevent attacks until the declaration of
the state of emergency many days after the attacks
began..." - Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and
Violence in Sri Lanka - Report of a Mission to Sri
Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of
Jurists, July/August 1981
The Cover Up That Failed - The Prohibited
Report From Colombo, 20 September 1981 from Brian
Eads in Bangkok, The London Observer, 20 September
"Since Jayewardene came to power four years ago, a
system of what his critics call 'State terrorism' has
brought an Ulster-style situation in the Tamil
majority areas of the north and east."
This Dispatch should be datelined `Colombo': that it
is not is a measure of the sorry state of Sri Lanka
after a summer of racial violence marked by killing,
arson and rape.
The report I sought to telex a to London on Friday
night was seized by Sri Lanka's Commissioner of Police
`on the instructions of the Ministry of Defence,' he
said. I would not be allowed to send it, or any other
material, and the original would not be returned to me.
It appears that the decision originated with President
J.R. Jayewardene himself.
The police, the army, and the President have much to
be ashamed of and much to conceal from the prying eyes
of the British press.
It is now established that the orgy of looting and
arson in June in the northern city of Jaffna, the
'homeland' of the minority Hindu Tamil community, was
planned, orchestrated and carried out by the
predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist police force in the
Among their targets were Jaffna public library where
97,000 books burned, the offices of a Tamil newspaper,
and the home of a Tamil MP.
It is also clear that subsequent violence in July
and August, which was directed against Sri Lanka Tamils
in the east and south of the country, and Indian Tamil
tea estate workers in the central region, was not
random. It was stimulated, and in some cases organised,
by members of the ruling United National Party, among
them intimates of the President.
In all, 25 people died, scores of women were gang
raped, and thousands were made homeless, losing all
their meagre belongings.
But the summer madness, which served the dual
purpose of quietening Tamil calls for Eelam, that is a
separate state, and taking the minds of the Sinhalese
electorate off a deepening economic crisis, is only one
of the blemishes on the face of the island which the
tourist brochures characterise as 'paradise.'
Since Jayewardene came to power four years ago, a
system of what his critics call 'State terrorism' has
brought an Ulster-style situation in the Tamil majority
areas of the north and east.
Ostensibly in response to terror tactics by the
so-called Tamil Tigers, who have killed 20 policemen,
staged daring bank robberies and captured weapons from
police posts since 1977, the Government has given carte
blanche to police and army units in Tamil areas.
Hundreds have been detained without charge or trial.
This year at least 156 Tamil youths have been detained
and tortured , then released. Thirty-five are still
held at Colombo's Panagoda army camp.
Human rights workers, Sinhalese as well as Tamil,
told me that the most favoured tortures are hanging
prisoners upside down over heaps of burning chillies,
and inserting needles under their finger nails.
As counter-insurgency experts the world over might
have told them, the strategy is counter-productive. The
Tamil Tigers now number over about 1,000, some 200 of
them armed, and overseas Tamil communities are looking
to them rather than the mainstream politicians of the
Tamil United Liberation Front.
President Jayewardene has abandoned the previous
Government's `welfare socialism' in favour of 'what the
World Bank calls 'a bold economic experiment.' Colombo
now has newcars, television, shops filled with consumer
durables, telephone operators who urge you to 'have a
nice day,' and call girls in the hotel lobbies.
Inflation, however, runs at nearly 30 per cent, and
huge shortfalls are in prospect for the budget and
balance of payments.
The country is totally dependent on Western aid,
Western loans, and Western investment. Some of The debt
has been paid in Sri Lanka's drift from genuine
non-alignment. Colombo has become the 'Western Voice'
in South Asia, used to counter the `Soviet voice' of
While human rights runs a distant third to strategic
and economic interests, the prospect of civil strife
will not delight western bankers and businessmen. It
helps explain tentative settlement efforts which
continued last week between the Government and
The Tamil leader, A. Amirthalingam told me that
agreement in principle had been reached on all demands
save one - that an international body, such as Amnesty
International, be invited to report on the violence.
Among other things, the Government agreed to speed the
recruitment of Tamil speaking police, look into
compensation for the victims of violence and slow down
colonisation of Tamil regions by Sinhalese.
''In April and May 1981 some 30 members of the Tamil
minority were arrested without warrant and held
incommunicado following a bank raid in Neervely in
which two policemen were killed... On 30 April and 11
June Amnesty International expressed its concern to
President Jayawardene about these reports and urged him
to allow all detainees immediate access to lawyers and
relatives... At the end of 1981, 22 were still held
without charge or trial in Panagoda Army camp; five in
Amnesty subsequently received allegations that all
the detainees had been tortured. Habeas Corpus
applications of four detainees resulted in their first
court appearance... In its judgment on these petitions
the Appeal Court ruled that torture and ill treatment
had occurrred in two cases...'' - Amnesty
International Report, 1982