People worried as Trinco Monitors cease
functioning

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Trincomalee and its environs continued to be caught up in a vicious
cycle  of violence as various agencies engaged in sporadic attacks
and counter - attacks.. While the armed forces  were at the receiving
end of Tiger - sponsored violence civilians particularly Tamils
suffered at the hands of security forces and other sinister state -
aligned elements. Adding to the tensions was the announcement by
the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission that it was suspending duties in the
district until further notice.

The SLMM decision has begun causing panic in Trincomalee.The
much maligned monitors provided a reassuring  oasis of stability in a
bleak desert of violence. With the SLMM decision fears began
mounting on either side of the ethnic divide. The security forces are
apprehensive of escalating  levels of tiger motivated attacks against
them. The helpless Tamil civilians are fearful of increasing harm at
the hands of the security forces and their "lumpen" sidekicks.

If ever the ordinary people of Trincomalee needed a comforting third
party this is that time. But the SLMM has chosen to desert the people
at a crucial time. The Monitors seem to have a history of abdicating
their duties at times when people sorely need them. In 2004
Batticaloa was under severe strain due to the rebellion of eastern
tiger commander Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias "Col"
Karuna. Yet the SLMM suspended its functions and withdrew. Now
the same thing is happening in Trincomalee.

One does understand that the SLMM is in a predicament. The Nordic
representatives from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark
came to the North - East to monitor what they thought was a genuine
ceasefire. Instead they have seen violations in their thousands. Now
the situation is changing for the worse.The atmosphere is that of an
undeclared war. The SLMM is being required to monitor "ceaseless
firing" instead of a ceasefire. Monitoring a war - overt or covert - is
not their mandate. Besides there is the question of the safety of the
monitors themselves.

It was the incident at Uppuvely on Jan 17th that led to the SLMM 's
decision. The monitors staying at a hotel in Nilaweli travel along the
Nilweli - Trincomalee road  to their headquarters in Trincomalee and
back on a daily basis. They had done so that morning too but later
on a claymore mine had exploded at Uppuvely on the same road.The
monitors had passed through on the same route about 90 minutes
before.

Furthermore a monitor team was proceeding towards Thiriyai along
the same road when the explosion had occurred. The Police at
Upuuvely had refused to let the monitors proceed further in the
interests of their own safety. While held up at the Police the reprts of
gunfire were also heard. It was after this incident that the SLMM
announced its suspension of duties.

The Uppuvely incident was one more instance of the tragic pattern of
violence enveloping Trincomalee. About 24 Naval personnel were
travelling in a bus via the Nilaweli road. They were going from their
camp at Gopalapuram in the Nilaweli region to the dockyard road
base in Trincomalee town. The sailors had reached a point near the
Uppuvely junction or the third mile post junction from Trinco town  on
the Nilaweli road. Uppuvely is predominantly Tamil.

The naval vehicle had veered off the road and taken a short cut .
This apparently was a regular practice. The vehicle was yards away
from the Love lane - Palms road intersection when a claymore mine
attached to a parked cycle on the wayside was triggered off by a
remote - controlled device. The obvious suspects were the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Fortunately for the navy the explosion
occurred a fraction of a second late after the bus had almost passed
the claymore - cycle. This minimised the damage. The time was
10.05 am.

Nevertheless twelve naval personnel sustained injuries. None were
killed though the condition od three sailors is said to be serious.
Dazed security personnel hit the ground and began firing away.
Some ran here and there firing away at a non - existent enemy.
There was no enemy to fight against. This was not a conventional
ambush where guerillas trigger a landmine and then shoot it out with
surviving security personnel. It was only a one- sided shooting spree.
This was simply because the tigers had exploded the claymore by
remote and fled the scene letting innocent civilians face
repercussions.

Though sections of the media say there was a shootout and that
civilians were killed in the crossfire the reality is that all the firing was
done by the naval personnel alone. There is an army camp at
Uppuvely within a stone's throw of where the explosion took place.
But none of the soldiers participated in the shooting spree. It was
during this melee that at least six  civilians sustained serious  and
another ten minor injuries.

Two civilians were killed. According to eyewitness reports these two
were killed at close quarters. Reportedly an injured sailor bleeding
from his injuries was seen killing one and then  daubing his victim's
body with that of his own blood. The cruelly melodramatic gesture
seemed to indicate a "blood for blood" thirst for vengeance.

The shooting melee lasted for about 20 to 25 minutes. It may have
gone on further but for the intervention of a high - ranking Naval
officer who arrived at the scene. It was this officer who brought the
situation under control and ensured that the sailors leave the scene
with injured sailors and civilians being given priority . This officer
apparently arrived with reinforcements from Trincomalee upon
hearing of the incident. Affected civilians are grateful to this man but
are unaware of his identity.

The civilians injured and killed at Uppuvely were not tigers. They
were people who were either passing through the place or had come
to buy things or for other matters. Tragically they were in the wrong
place at the wrong time. Among the places in the vicinity was the
Asian Hardware stores; Opposite to that was the Kandeepan
enterprises a telecommunications agency. On top of this was an
NGO office. Adjoining Kandeepan Enterprises was the Jeya studio.

Most of the affected civilians were either in these buildings or on the
road when the shooting started. These buildings too were damaged.
Later on another development occurred. Naval personnel
presumably from the Gopalapuram camp arrived later and conducted
an intensive search of the area for the "elusive" tigers as if the LTTE
was waiting to be captured. Soldiers from Uppuvely also joined them.
Of course no tigers were snared but the operation was not without its
rewards. One result of this search operation was the large- scale
looting of houses,  businesses and shops.

The people had all fled from the scene. Seven civilians three women
and four men were trapped but managed to hide themselves. Again it
was the intervention of superior officers who arrived at the scene
which ended the "search cum looting spree". After the security
personnel left the scene Policemen from the Uppuvely station
arrived. They took the seven civilians to the station, recorded
statements and arranged for safe return to their homes.

The two men killed in the Uppuvely shooting  were identified as
Sellathurai Selvarajah (25) of Chelvanayagapuram and Wilson
Christopher George a resident of Nithyapuri in  Allesgarden,
Uppuvely. Selvarajah was a mason by profession and George a
construction labourer. Both were at the Asian Hardware stores to buy
materials when they were killed.Trincomalee Judicial Medical Officer
Dr. Gamini Kulatunge who conducted the post - mortem stated that
deaths were caused by gunshot injuries.Trincomalee magistrate V.
Ramakamalan recorded a verdict of death due to gunshot injuries.A
joint funeral for both victims was held at the Alles Garden cemetery in
Uppuvely  on Jan 19th afternoon.

Seven civilians were admitted to hospital for surgery after the
Uppuvely incident. . Six of these were victims of the Uppuvely
shooting spree. They were TM Chandrasena (38), AKE Premadasa
(36),Kadiramalai Duwaraga (45), Ganesh Saraswathy (46),
Sebastian David (35) and Sivagnanam Kavitha (25).Three of the six
were women . Two were Sinhala and four Tamils. Apparently Sailors
on the shooting spree had not discriminated gender or ethnicity -
wise in targeting victims.

The seventh civilian to receive surgery was 20 year old S.
Devadharshan. He worked in a boutique at Madathady junction in
Trincomalee town. Within minutes after the Uppeveli attack there was
much excitement in Trincomalee town with naval personnel rushing to
the scene. It was at this time that some "persons" in a vehicle had
lobbed a grenade at this boutique seriously injuring the Tamil shop
employee.The Police station is in close proximity to this shop.

Another "mystery" grenade targeting Tamil civilians had been thrown
at a Tamil residence on Jan 14th Thaipongal day too.The family
comprising  Rajkumar (35) his wife Rajeswari (35) daughter Saivithya
(10) and son Vithyakaran (04) were at their residence in the Urban
Council residence quarters at Anbuvalipuram on the Trinco - Kandy
road. The family was watching TV in the evening when a grenade
was lobbed inside injuring all four. Again the Police came out with a
version that a grenade concealed inside the house had exploded.
SLMM monitors however discovered the grenade clip outside the
house.Senior DIG Mahinda Balasuria has ordered a full investigation
into the incident.

Meanwhile the magisterial inquest into the killing of five Tamil youths
at the Dutch bay beach was concluded on Jan 18th  with Trincomalee
magistrate V. Ramakamalan ruling that all five had died due to
gunshot injuries. Earlier Trincomalee JMO Dr. Gamini Kulatunga
submitted post - mortem reports . The JMO stated that all five had
been shot with bullets piercing through heads, lungs,liver, intestines
and other vital organs causing instantaneous death.The shots had
been fired from above. Though there were other injuries it was
gunshots that had caused death said Dr. Gamini Kulatunga.

Parents and close relatives of the five youths also gave evidence.
Deputy Solicitor - General De Livera and three other state counsels
from Colombo were in Trincomalee to lead evidence. Attorney at law
A. Jegasothy watched the interests of the families of the dead
students.At the conclusion Mr. Ramakamalan  delivering his order
ruled  "The court determines that the five Tamil youths killed on
January 2 night near the sea beach of the east port town had died
due to gunshot injuries instantaneously. The court has come to a
conclusion that an offence has been committed in this instance.
Therefore the court orders the Police to conduct further inquiry into
these deaths and to produce the suspects before the court,"

With this official verdict being recorded and President Rajapakse
himself giving his word that the guilty ones would be punished let us
hope justice would be done. The false propaganda about the five
youths being killed through a grenade explosion has now been
disproved legally and officially. It is time for all human rights
organizations to increase pressure on the regime and urge full
inquiry and retributive justice. President Rajapakse has to be given
full support to overcome reactionary elements and pursue justice. Let
it not be forgotten that the image of Mahinda the man of human
rights and the self - respect of the nation lies in how this issue is
handled.

In what seemed to be the only silver lining in a dark Trincomalee  
scenario a satisfactory decision was arrived at on the question of the
continuous hartals called in Trincomalee by Tamil and Sinhala
organizations.The Sinhala organizations called off their hartal with
effect from Jan 15th following a meeting with Senior Police  DIG in
charge of North - East Mahinda Balasuriya on Saturday 14th evening.

Thereafter on Sunday Jan 15th DIG Balasuriya met with Tamil
organization representatives, religious leaders and senior security
officials. With Mr. Balasuriya assuring Tamil reps that he would take
steps to implement decisions taken the Tamil organizations also
announced that they were calling off their hartal.Tamil and Sinhala
organizations for different reasons had paralysed Trincomalee with
their respective hartals causing immense hardship to the ordinary
people.

DIG Balasuriya is to be commended for persuading both parties to
call off the hartals. It remains to be seen as to how quickly and
effectively the assurances given by Balasuria are implemented.
According to Mr.V.Vigneswaran, President of the Tamil  Resurgence
Forum in Trincomalee  the assurances provided were -

1. All government troops located near schools, temples, sea beach
and Government Technical College should be removed.

2. Police personnel should be deployed in addition to members of
armed forces at sentries in the town and its suburbs. Police should
be allowed to check civilians passing through sentry points.

3. Home guards should not be allowed alone on duty. Home guards
should accompany Police. Home guards should not be allowed alone
to enter Tamil areas.

4. Police and government troops should provide in writing on the spot
to relatives of a person arrested by them the reason and where the
arrested is being taken for inquiry.

5. Soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Navy should not
cover their faces with black clothes when they conduct search
operation and when they are on patrol.

Mr. Vigneswaran further said the DIG had asked them not to launch
hartal without informing him if there is a delay in implementing these
decisions. He also  said the Forum had asked the Sri Lanka
Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in Trincomalee to monitor the
implementation of the decisions.

Though normalcy began returning to Trincomalee from Monday Jan
16th incidents like the Uppuvely attack on 17th were soon plunging
the region into turmoil and despair. With the SLMM announcing its
temporary "withdrawal" the people particularly Tamils were feeling
more and more insecure. Even the implementation of the decision
arrived at with Police DIG Balasuriya  was to be monitored by the
SLMM.

Adding to Tamil fears was the announcement that more security
personnel were to be deployed in Trincomalee to fill the vacuum
created by the SLMM suspension of duties. This itself was an ironic
contradiction because the SLMM was here to monitor the ceasefire
between the LTTE and Sri Lankan government troops. For one party
to announce that it was filling the gap will be unacceptable because
the security forces cannot be regarded as neutral or independent.
They are a party to the conflict and cannot be seen as impartially
carrying out their duties.

Another development increasing Tamil insecurity is the move to train
and arm 600 homeguards from the district. In a blatant racist move all
600 were to be from the Sinhala and Muslim commuities. This is seen
as something clearly detrimental to ordinary Tamil civilians. Already
some lumpen Sinhala elements aided and abetted by sections of the
armed forces have run amok in Trincomalee.

Even a BBC crew filiming the "Sinhala" hartal was not spared with
club wielding mobs threatening and demanding films taken of the
patriotic hartal. Most of the young men were in shorts and tee - shirts
and quite drunk before noon. The  terrorising of the BBC crew was
done in the presence of Police and Army personnel who did not
interfere at all.If this is the plight of the BBC crew with two British, one
Indian and two Sri Lankan nationals then one can imagine the
problems to be faced by Tamil civilians in a kingdom of armed
homeguards.

It is imperative therefore that the SLMM resume operational activities
as soon as possible. While understanding and sympathising with
their predicament it is also of importance to emphasise that the
SLMM should be at work as long as the ceasefire is "officially" in
force. The SLMM must revise its stance in the larger interests of the
ordinary Trincomalee civilians. The SLMM has admonished both the
LTTE and the security forces for prevailing tensions and violence in
Trincomalee and urged both to regulate themselves. Let us hope
then that the monitors resume duties after the full import of their
action sinks into all concerned parties.

Even as this article is about to end there comes bad news again from
Trincomalee. According to preliminary reports three naval personnel
and a Policeman were injured when a bomb was thrown at a navy jee
pon Thursday Jan 19th  at about 4 pm in the Gandhinagar area of
Anbuvallipuram . The incident occurred near the Anuradhapura
junction along the Trincomalee - Kandy road about two miles away
from Trinco town. In a replay of what went on in Uppuvely on Jan 17th
enraged security personnel had gone on the rampage spraying the
surrounding area with gunfire.

Ten civilians were injured. One was Sinhala , two Muslims and seven
Tamils. Their names and ages are - Chandrasekara (38) , Nawas
(42),  Mashoor (73),  Benedict (38), Vinotharajah (28) , Kamalathas
(48), Pakiarajah (24), Arulraj (30),  Ravichandran (37) and
Jeyachandran (34). A shop in the area was also damaged. Many
Tamils have been detained for questioning.

With the LTTE stepping up violence through direct and indirect
means the North - East is continuously on the boil. Trincomalee with
its strategic importance and ethnic mixture will feel this impact
acutely. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the SLMM
resumes duties and helps to alleviate at least some of the tensions
and insecurity felt by the people.

More importantly the LTTE must be made to realise that its
deplorable conduct of launching attacks and running away leaving
the innocent  people at the mercy of infuriated security personnel
cannot continue in this fashion.

At the same time the atrocious behaviour of security personnel in the
North - East including Trincomalee cannot be condoned and
deserves condemnation. Ultimately however it is the democratically
elected President of Sri Lanka and his government that has to bear
overall responsibility for the cruel victimisation of innocent civilians
irrespective of ethnicity and habitat. Sadly Mahinda is yet to realise
his responsibilities and take meaningful action.