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INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA
The Charge is Ethnic Cleansing
Sri Lanka's Undeclared War on Eelam Tamils
...in the Shadow of the Ceasefire: 2002 - 2007
Innocent Tamil civilians continue to be caught up in the vicious cycle of violence that grips Jaffna and other Tamil areas of the North - Eastern province. The latest incident in this seemingly endless saga was at Manthuvil in the Thenmaratchy sector of Jaffna peninsula.
Eight Tamils involved with festivities at a local temple went “missing” overnight leaving traces of blood behind. Sections of the Sri Lankan army were suspected of having murdered them. Reports of some bodies being sighted in adjacent shrub jungle led to public outcry.
A curfew was clamped down and public movement restricted. Scandinavian monitors were “late’ in visiting the spot and conducted an unsatisfactory search which failed to discover any body. It is now feared that the missing persons were killed by the army and the bodies disposed of while the SLMM stands accused of failing to conduct an intensive search.
Manthuvil is a rural village that is less developed than many other Jaffna villages. It is in the Thenmaratchy sector and about 7-8 km away from Chavakachcheri town. Liberation Tigers of Tamil eelam (LTTE) political commissar for Jaffna district Ilamparithy is a son of Manthuvil soil.
The Kelakkai Seerani Amman temple known generally as Kerathamman temple of Manthuvil is situated in Manthuvil East on the Manthuvil - Varany road. Further away in Varany is a large army camp. Other smaller camps are in the area too. People were living in areas north of this temple while areas to the South had paddy fields, palmyra groves and shrub jungle etc.
Some renovation and repainting had been done in the temple after more than a decade. A “kumbhabishegham” or “kudamulukku” ceremony held every twelve or fourteen years was to be held on Sunday May 7th.In keeping with custom festivities had begun five days prior to the main ceremony on the sixth final day.
A large crowd was cleaning up temple premises On Saturday May 6th evening when a routine army patrol came up. The soldiers did not enter temple premises , spoke to the people about the festival and left. This was a regular practice. The time was about 7 pm.
Since the “Amman” deity had been bedecked with gold jewellery for the occasion and decorations, loudspeaker systems etc had been set up it was decided that some youths should keep watch at the temple premises during night to prevent theft or robbery.
Eight persons led by a schoolteacher stayed on at the temple that night. They were -
An army patrol returning to Varany at about 10 pm stopped at the temple and inquired from the people about the festival and left.At about 1.00 am residents saw an army jeep and truck stopping near the temple. Some Manthuvil people reportedly heard many gunshots at about 1. 10 - 1. 15 am. Some screams were also heard. Being terrified none of the residents ventured out . At about 4 am two jeeps and an armoured personnel carrier stopped at the temple. The vehicles remained there for nearly 45 minutes. By this time the villagers were particularly family members of those who slept at the temple were worried. Speaking to each other clandestinely and quietly the people felt something was wrong at the temple. This unusual army activity left them concerned.
At daybreak on Sunday 8th Manthuvil residents comprising mainly of family members went to the temple in search of their relatives staying there. They were shocked to find them missing. A search of temple premises made them even more upset. Bloodstains were found on the wall near the chariot stall. There were signs of blood being covered up with gravel in the area in front of the chariot.
Pieces of clothing, six empty ,bullet cases, three national identity cards etc were also found within temple premises. Bloodstains were seen on the road outside. Both the inner and outer temple precincts had many bootprints like the ones usually made by soldiers.It appeared that the youths had been killed at the temple and taken elsewhere with attempts to cover traces.
Agitated relatives ran to the Varany army camp and inquired about the missing persons.They were told that the army had no knowledge of them. The relatives then went to the Chavakachcheri Police station and lodged a complaint. They also got in touch with Tamil National Alliance MP’s Selvarajah Gajendran and Nadaraja Raviraj. The Monitoring mission was also informed.
Meanwhile Manthuvil people began a search for the people on their own. Soon news began spreading like wildfire that bodies of the missing persons had been sighted in the shrub jungles. The shrub jungle area straddling Manthuvil in Thenmaratchy and Kappoothu in Vadamaratchy sector is about 4-5 square km in area. It is called Kombmunaik kandal or Kombimunaik Kaadu.. It was here in a spot that was geographically in Kappoothu that the bodies were allegedly cited.
Agitated and enraged people ran to the army camps and began complaining. They wanted the army to come with them and recover the bodies.Though cowed by the army under normal circumstances the alleged sighting of bodies seem to have angered the people and given them courage to confront the army.
With the possibility of a mob situation emerging the army panicked. The people gathering at the army camp were asked to disperse or face action. The family members of the missing persons arguing with the army were taken forcibly to their homes and ordered not to venture out.
An unoofficial curfew for Manthuvil was declared. Roadblocks were set up at the Manthuvil junction, Kanaganpuliaddy junction and Vembirai junction and transport stopped. Transport was also stopped at the Varani - Mulli junction and Kaligai junction where the Point Pedro - Chavakachcheri road and Kodikamam - Nelliaddy roads intersected.
Manthuvil was now effectively sealed as far as road transport was concerned. Using hailers the army asked the people to remain indoors despite an official curfew not being declared. People were asked to remain calm. They were told that the army would cooperate with Police and the ceasefire monitors in searching for the bodies alegedly in Kappoothu. The Army was not allowed to act on their own in this matter it was said.
With the eight youths missing and resultant developments the “kumbhabishegam” ceremony and related festivity became non - events. The villagers saddened by the deaths were in no mood for the festival. Besides the suspected shooting of youths within temple premises decreed special poojas to alleviate the “theettu”. The people now waited for the monitors.There was concern that the curfew would be used to make the sighted bodies vanish.
But the monitors did not come that day. After dusk the army announced through hailers that a curfew was in force till 4 pm the following day. Announcements were also made by 9 pm that the curfew was imposed for the entire peninsula. It would be effective from 12 midnight to 4 pm the following afternoon it was said.
The monitors had been informed by the army that the Manthuvil situation was volatile. This prevented them from coming to Manthuvil immediately. The monitors arrived on Monday nearly 30 hours after the first complaint was made it is alleged. According to Manthuvil residents speaking on the telephone the SLMM conduct left much to be desired.
The people wanted to go with the SLMM in search of the bodies allegedly belonging to the missing youths. The SLMM refused to take any one on the search mission. With people agitating they agreed to take a solitary peoples representative. The Manthuvil residents refused because the lone civilian would have been marked by the army for future revenge. The people’s strength in situations like this was to go in large numbers.
The SLMM then went on the search mission. According to Manthuvil residents the monitors did not venture directly into the Kombimunai shrub jungle area. The monitors never left the road but paced up and down peering into Kombimunai areas with binoculars. After a fruitless search the monitors officially announced that they could not discover any bodies.
It is not known whether the army suspected of killing the eight youths used the curfew to take away or destroy the sighted bodies without leaving any traces. It could also be a case of SLMM inefficiency where the monitors by not taking people who knew the area with them or by not venturing directly into Kombimunau failed to discover the bodies.
There is lot of resentment in Manthuvil about SLMM delay in responding and the manner in which they handled the situation. In fairness to the SLMM they may have been forced to conduct themselves in that way due to security pressures.
One point however is that this writer could not discover the identity of the person or persons who allegedly sighted the bodies in Kombimunai. Those Manthuvil residents I spoke to over the telephone had not seen the bodies but only heard that they had been seen. They did not divulge the names of the people who allegedly saw the bodies. This could be either due to the “discovery ” being mere hearsay or to protect the people who actually saw the bodies.
I am inclined to believe that this was to protect the people. This is quite natural in the prevalent context where the army is right there and is suspected of killing innocent civilians. It is very difficult to get people to talk over the phone in situations like this. A journalist who interviewed a close relative of one of the missing persons found the man very nervous. After the interview was over he changed his mind and wanted the journalist not to quote him at all.
Another puzzling thing about the Manthuvil incident is the lack of provocation. In other incidents in the North - East members of the security forces have either directly or indirectly through paramilitaries and homeguards targetted civilians as part of their retailiation theory. If and when the LTTE attacks through proxies the security forces respond immediately with reprisals against Tamil civilians.
Manthuvil is a departure from this norm as there is no evidence of any provocative act done against the army.Innocent civilians involved with temple activity have been the victims.
Jaffna district parliamentarian Nadaraja Raviraj pinpointed this when he told BBC sinhala service “Sandeshaya” that “There was no violence in the area during the recent weeks,” MP Raviraj added that the local residents accused Sri Lanka military of abducting young men attending the religious ceremony.He added however that the regional commander of the Sri Lanka Army denied any involvement in the incident.
Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe also categorically denied the accusations. “Definitely the Army will not do a thing like that in a temple; rather the Army will never kill civilians,” he told BBC Tamil service”Thamizhosai”.
Whatever the army may say most Manthuvil people suspect the army of having killed the youths.Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Raviraj told the BBC that ” the people in the area are living in fear due to threats and continued abductions “.
This then is the crux of the matter. The people of Manthuvil worry about the missing youths presumed to be killed by the army. They are sad, fearful and angry. If the current cycle of violence continues and extends itself in this way the mood of all Jaffna could very well be like that of Manthuvil in the future.
Amnesty Urgent Action Appeal
UA 164/06 "Disappearance"
The eight Tamil men named above went to a Hindu temple in the north of the country on the evening of 6 May, to decorate it for a religious festival. The following morning they were reported missing and their whereabouts remain unknown. There are grave concerns for their safety.
Due to a curfew imposed at the time, it was not until 9 May that, following complaints by relatives, members of the Jaffna branch of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission (HRC), (a statutory body conducting independent investigation of reports of human rights violations), were able to visit the temple, called Seerani Kelakkai, in Manthuvil East, 7km northeast of Chavakachcheri town in Jaffna District. There they interviewed more than 50 people living nearby who said that on 6 May more than 25 army personnel had come to the temple for no apparent reason and then left. At the time there were many other people at the temple getting ready for the festival. Later that night, at around 1am, the residents reported that a vehicle came to the temple and they heard gunshots. Soon afterwards they reportedly saw two army vehicles leaving the temple. At about 4.30am, two more vehicles arrived.
Local people were afraid, and waited until daylight before they went to the temple to see what had happened. When they arrived at the temple at 6am, they found some army personnel there, who when they saw the villagers left immediately in an army truck and an armoured vehicle. They drove in the direction of Varany army camp, the headquarters of 52 Brigade, which is 3km from the Seerani Kelakkai temple.
The HRC team inspected the site and found bloodstains, several spent cartridges, some identity cards and discarded clothes lying on the ground at the temple. The local residents allege that the eight young men were taken away by the army. One of the men, Rasanyagampillai Sivananthamoorthy, is the general secretary of the Temple Trustee Management Board, while Markandu Pushpakanthan is a member of the Board. After their relatives complained, the local magistrate reportedly told the police at Kodikamam, a town near Chavakachcheri, to conduct investigations into the "disappearance" of the eight men.
Sri Lanka has a population of 19.5 million of whom the majority are Sinhalese (74%), who are mainly Buddhist. The next largest groups are Tamils (18%), who are mainly Hindu, and Muslims (7%). Tamil demands for regional autonomy in the island surfaced during the 1970s and precipitated the start of a conflict running for over two decades, when the armed opposition group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the island.
The government and the LTTE entered into a ceasefire agreement, known as the CFA, in February 2002. Human rights abuses have been reported regularly since the CFA was signed, but they escalated dramatically following a split in the LTTE in March 2004, with politically motivated killings, torture and the recruitment of children as combatants being reported from the east. Since December 2005 violence has spread from the east to include the north, with numerous armed clashes, killings and "disappearances" reported. Over 600 people, including civilians, have been killed in the north and the east during the past six months. In response to the killing of army personnel in landmine and other attacks, attributed to the LTTE, the security forces have conducted house-to-house searches and other operations in Jaffna town and other locations in areas where Tamil people are living. According to the HRC, over 150 people have been arrested and then "disappeared" during the past six months in northern Sri Lanka, although the actual total may be much higher. There are fears that a pattern of "disappearances" is re-emerging, in a similar way to the period in Jaffna in 1995 and 1996, when hundreds of Tamils "disappeared" during army operations in the area.