Tamil civilians suffer as security situation
deteriorates in Jaffna
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
"Even when the Elephants make love the grasshopper gets crushed
underneath " is an African saying. If that is the fate for a grasshopper
when jumbos make love then it does not need much imagination to gauge
their position in a time of war. This then is the tragic plight of the Tamil
civilians caught up in a cycle of violence they have no control of or ever
The Tamil civilians have suffered for long during times of war. Today
there is no formal or de jure war but there is for all practical purposes a
de facto war.
An undeclared and unacknowledged war has been declared by the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam against what is termed as an army of
occupation in Jaffna. It is supposedly a Makkal Yuddam or people's war.
LTTE political Commissar Suppiah Paramu Tamilselvan says that it is the
people who are resisting army occupation.
15,000 LTTE cadres
It is however an open secret that the war in the name of the people is
being conducted by the Makkal Padai or People's Force. It is primarily a
civilian militia. It is estimated that the LTTE has given arms training to
over 15,000 people of all ages in the north. These are not full- fledged
Tigers. It is believed that some of these people described in some circles
as a 'third force' are currently engaged in the ongoing attacks on the
armed forces and police in Jaffna.
Landmine attacks, firing of RPGs, grenade throwing, bomb throwing,
shooting etc., are but part of these attacks. The violence is scattered and
sporadic but continues with regularity. Security personnel have been
killed and injured. Though the LTTE claims to have had no hand in this
violent spree it is well known that the Tigers are backing this so called
people's war. They are providing centralised authority, guidance, moral
and logistical support etc., to those engaged in these attacks.
Sadly for the Tamil people demanding that their inherent right of
self-determination be recognised by the Sinhala dominated state, another
dominant entity is imposing decisions on them. In the presidential election
an 'enforced boycott' was imposed on the people. Again the LTTE said
that the people were freely and fearlessly exercising their freedom of
choice. Now a war is being conducted in the name of the people. Again
the LTTE says that all this violence is as a result of the spontaneous
resistance of the people.
This stealth or shadow war poses a fresh and somewhat new challenge to
the 40,000 plus soldiers occupying Jaffna soil for decades in the name of
sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. Actually this particular cycle of
violence was begun by the state when its Tamil henchmen described in
Tiger jargon as 'paramilitary' started targeting perceived civilian
supporters of the LTTE in Neervely on November 30. Some more killings
of LTTE civilian supporters have continued.
As stated in these columns earlier the new security challenge in Jaffna
requires much restraint, understanding, tact and political wisdom on the
part of the state and its armed forces. This is particularly so if the Tamils
and Jaffna is still considered as being an integral component of Sri Lanka
and not some alien entity. The state and its security forces have seldom
displayed political maturity in handling these problems in the past. The
three-and-a-half-year of ceasefire seems to have not done much good
either. Like the French bourbons nothing has been learnt or forgotten. It
is a case of a clenched fist response all over again.
Steering the ship of state
Besides we have a new helmsman steering the ship of state. His
chinthana has no appreciation of the complex national question. His right
and left hands are national socialists and religious chauvinists. His Prime
Minister is a well-known hawk who wanted the majority community to reject
birth control so that more and more lion cubs to fight would be born. His
defence secretary is his own brother, a retired army officer whose
greatest exploit was overseeing the evacuation of the Jaffna fort. His army
commander is a hardliner who refused to comply with the ceasefire
provisions and who was responsible for destroying Thenmaratchy after
the LTTE went away. His defence adviser is a man notoriously known for
his mass arrests and is an office bearer of an organisation believing in the
supremacy of one community over others.
Against this backdrop it is certainly no matter for surprise that the
response to the 'peoples war' violence is equally or even more violent.
State terror is being unleashed in doses. As in the past the victims of
state terror are inevitably the hapless Tamil civilians. Their position has
been made worse by the LTTE's irresponsible and inhuman conduct. The
LTTE boasts that they have nothing to do with this violence and that it is
the 'people' who are reacting makes the ordinary people vulnerable. The
stupid and false claim that the people are the Tigers and that the Tigers
are the people adds to this vulnerability
Targeting ordinary people
Except for rare exceptions the armed forces have not displayed particular
concern for the Tamil people during times of war. Any goodwill that the
armed forces may have accumulated in the hearts and minds of the Jaffna
Tamil people in the past years of ceasefire is rapidly evaporating now.
Predictably the armed forces are responding to the new threat by
targeting the ordinary people. The LTTE claim that the people are taking
on the army in Jaffna provides the soldiers an opportunity to justify their
anti- people actions. It is also much easier now to target an innocent
civilan and then blame the victim as being a Tiger in civilian garb.
One pathetic consequence of LTTE inspired and state sponsored
violence is that Jaffna has returned to the days of a war situation again.
Hartals are very regular. Shops are closed by evening. People do not
venture out after dark. Soldiers manning checkposts wear intimidating
black masks. The army-people bonhomie is gone. The area goes to
'sleep' by nightfall.
One recent example of the fearful situation was the death of an asthma
patient at Mudamaavadi in Thirunelvely. The woman was afraid to go to
the hospital after a serious heart attack at night because of army
hostilities and died early morning at home. Some people call Jaffna an
open air prison again.
Apart from those killed by the Tamil paramilitaries at least a dozen
civilians have been killed by soldiers during the past few weeks. The most
serious one being the shooting and arrests incident in Jaffna town along
Muniappar Road. Two including the Jaffna Central College security guard
were killed in the firing. Three others including a 45-year-old woman were
allegedly arrested and then shot. It was claimed that all five were Tiger
terorists attacking the army. Needless to say 'evidence' in the form of
firearms and grenades was placed by the bodies as in the '80s. That was
a time when civilians killed by the forces became 'terrorists' in official
versions with 'proof' provided in the form of captured weapons.
Among other incidents were the killing of three civilans in
Punnalaikadduvan. Two youths were answering a call of nature in the
bushes and were killed. An elderly bakery employee loitering on the
street was shot. Two other youths detained at the Jaffna Muthirai Santhi
checkpost were shot dead when one of them reached into his pocket to
take a cellular phone out. The soldiers are very harsh on those carrying
cell phones thinking they are passing information to the LTTE. So people
generaly leave their mobiles at home now. In another case soldiers broke
into the house at Kodikamam and killed a17-year-old youth. Apparently
they came in search of a well-known Tiger sympathiser and shot his
innocent brother instead.
Apart from trigger happy soldiers killing civilians under the pretext of being
suspected Tigers there have been many 'disappearances' too. At least 16
complaints have been registered at the offices of the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission and Human Rights Commission. The latest being 29-year-old
Rasaratnam Thevachandran who runs a tutory at Nelliaddy. The
complaint was registered on Thursday, January 5. In some cases the
young people who went 'missing' were arrested by the forces at their
residences. Agitated parents were told that there was no record of arrest.
Many people fear that if this pattern continues Jaffna would once again be
a major area of mass disappearances. It was estimated that around
500-600 youths 'disappeared' in Jaffna during 1996- 97. It was later
alleged that there was a mass grave in the plains of Chemmani. Given the
fact that most of the commanding officers in Jaffna are 'hardliners' of the
Sarath Fonseka mould, the spectre of Chemmani is sending shivers
again. There is also the fear of rape as illustrated by the Pungudutheevu
There is also the regular practice of assaulting civilians. There have been
many instances of civilians being assaulted by fists, rifle butts, belts, rods,
clubs and sticks in a brutal and humiliating manner. Young men and
women are very often the targets. Assaults now are part of everyday life
according to Jaffna residents. Most of the injured resort to native
medicine. Some of the serious cases go to hospital. While these attacks
go on at check posts there was also the armed repression on
undergraduates at the Jaffna University. The varsity has resumed work
but the checkposts in the vicinity remain. Once again there is much
tension rippling underneath the seemingly calm exterior.
Sense of deja vu
There is a sense of deja vu in all this. This was exactly how the armed
forces behaved in the early '80s. By doing so they alienated the bulk of
the Tamil people. Now the same thing is happening. The armed forces are
treating every civilian as a potential Tiger and venting their spleen on
them. If the armed forces were equally brave and forceful on the real
Tigers as they are on the innocent civilians the situation would have been
entirely different. The situation could be much worse if open war resumed.
What is currently going on in Jaffna cannot bring satisfaction to anyone
other than the LTTE. The imposition of state terror and brutality is driving
the people into the hands of the Tigers once again. The contradiction
between the LTTE and the people become 'lesser' while the contradiction
between the security forces and the people become 'greater.' The Tamil
civilians should not be made to suffer for no fault of their own. Their basic
human rights and safety should be safeguarded. Sadly for the Tamil
people their so called sole representatives have disturbed the bees' hive
and recklessly exposed them to the wrath of the enraged bees.
The violations of the ceasefire, unleashing of violence and excesses of
emergency regulations are not restricted to Jaffna alone. There are many
different developments in different places. In Colombo the rights of the
Tamil people are being violated collectively through racist operations like
'Strangers Night.' In Trincomalee five students were killed and two
seriously injured by 'men in uniform' who shot them dead in cold blood.
In Mannar people in a village settlement were rounded up and assaulted
after a landmine explosion in the vicinity. The menfolk were humiliated
through degrading punishment while many women were sexually
harassed. In Batticaloa a Tamil parliamentarian was shot dead in the
Cathedral during Christmas mass after partaking Holy Communion from
the Catholic Bishop.
The scale and scope of these human rights violations are massive. The
SLMM and Human Rights Commission are being inundated with
complaints. The HRC has responded to this situation by appointing a
special rapporteur on the protection of human rights in the context of
emergency power and ceasefire violations. Retired Judge Suntharalingam
will be the special rapporteur. He will be assisted by a multi -ethnic team of
Judge Suntharalingam with the assistance of the HRC regional officers will
inquire into matters like the disappearances, mass detentions, rapes,
executions etc. It remains to be seen how quickly and efficiently the HRC
will act in these matters in the future.
Human rights violations
Meanwhile it is incumbent on the part of human rights groups like HRW,
ICJ, AI etc., that have highlighted the human rights violations of the LTTE
to condemn the state terror too. The various diplomatic missions including
that of India which took over the responsibility of protecting Tamils in
terms of the Indo-Lanka accord too must focus attention on the situation.
Unless these organisations and countries exert pressure on the
government the situation could deteriorate dangerously. Another
Chemmani or something even worse could happen.
This does not necessarily mean that the LTTE be absolved of blame but it
is the democratically elected government that should bear responsibility to
ensure the human rights of all people and guarantee equal protection
under the law.
The fact that Tamils did not vote for Mahinda or the fact that Rajapakse
won due to an enforced boycott does not mean that Tamils should be
victimised cruelly or that the world should sit watching idly. Time is of the