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Taraki's Column

28th March 1999

Eastern silence, articulate Jaffna-ese

By Taraki

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The people of Jaffna, one is ever compelled to acknowledge, are a tough lot. Many who set out smartly to 'pacify' the peninsula since 1995 would agree now that they are indeed a different kettle of fish.

Look at the Chemmani case.

The number of people alleged to have been killed and buried at Chemmani is but a fraction of the mass killings which the army and STF have been accused of perpetrating in the east between 1990 and 1993 even as recorded by the Human Rights Task Force appointed by President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

The UNP never had such a difficult time with the people of the east.(except that more of their offspring went away to fight for the Tigers)

If the PA assumes it can handle the problem in Jaffna cleverly, with some helpful and subtle input from sections of the foreign media and it's shamelessly calumnious Tamil lackeys here and abroad, then it is mistaken.

And while the PA is trying to sort out Chemmani in time for the elections, Jaffna Municipal workers discovered skeletons in a pit near the Duraippa stadium on Friday. According to reports from Jaffna there appear to be a large number of human skeletons buried at this site. The story was splashed on the front pages of the two independent Tamil dailies yesterday.

And on Friday a lone CID official from Colombo turned up at the Jaffna courts with the report of the geologist who had taken a soil sample from Chemmani with much fanfare on March 5. There was no judge to look at the report and issue instructions to the officer about what should be done next. The judge Mr.N.Arulsagaran had been left behind in Colombo. No one had bothered to pick him up for the flight.

No. The Jaffnaese are not prepared to overlook the matter as an accident. According to the Jaffna press the members of the Missing Persons' Guardian Association are saying that there is a sinister connection between the reintroduction of capital punishment and the fact that the judge was not flown to Jaffna to proceed with the case.

They say, according to an interview on the BBC on Friday night, that the government expected Mr.Arulsagaran to issue an order to bring Lance Corporal Somaratna Rajapaksa to Jaffna so that he can identify the alleged mass grave at Chemmani. The reasoning in Jaffna is that the government wants to delay the judge from issuing this order until Somaratna Rajapakse is hanged to death under the reintroduced law on capital punishment.

The death of the Lance Corporal would ensure that there is no one to identify the spot where more than 300 people were alleged to have been buried the case could drag on like every other case in the courts on alleged mass massacres of civilians in the north and east, says a senior journalist in Jaffna. Even the 'Frontline' sounds somewhat embarrassed in a write up in its latest issue that there is no immediate indication that Somaratna Rajapaksa would be taken to identify the spot.

(The magazine of course is not skeptical of the PA like the people of Jaffna. It says "The most evident outcome of the visit organised to Jaffna and the conduct of soil sample tests at the Chemmani site was that the Government made clear its sincerity about its attempts to unravel the truth.")

Now contrast the reaction of the Jaffnaese to Chemmani with the attitude of the easterners in the context of the following.

One hundred and one persons were arrested from Thuraineelavanai, a peninsular village south of Batticaloa, during a single night by the security forces in May 1990. Later more than eighty youth were taken away by the army from here and Pandiruppu.

None of these persons were ever seen again by the villagers.

"On May 17 around ten o'clock in the night, a group of military personnel came to my house and said they were taking my son for questioning - he is missing since," says S. Kanagasabai of Thuraineelavanai who gave evidence to the Human Rights Commission.

Seven years later, on September 18, 1997, after complaining to the Commission, Kanagasabai was asked to report to the Colombo High Court. His statement was recorded. These were compared with the official documents Kangasabai had sent earlier. He was assured that a reply would come in due course. But no reply came.

More can be said about the massacres of Tamil civilians in Veeramunai, Pandiruppu, Thangavelayuthapuram and the Fourth Colony in the Ampara district alone. Tamil MPs allege more than 6000 Tamils were massacred in the Ampara district between 1990 and '93.

Or in Batticaloa take the case of K. Krishnakumar, 35, the only person who escaped when the army arrested and allegedly massacred 181 people, including 35 children below the age of 10, in Sathurukkondan, Kokkuvil, Panichchayadi and Pillaiyarady, a cluster of Tamil villages three miles north of the Batticaloa town, on the night of September 9, 1990. Krishnakumar has related what he saw that night to the ICRC, the Human Right Task Force, the Batticaloa Peace Committee and the Presidential Commission to Inquire into Disappearances in the East.

The UNP government first denied that the massacre ever took place. The Divisional Secretary of the area submitted a report to the government on the incident soon after. But the government at that time stood by the local Brigadier who insisted that no untoward incident took place in the area. Later the Human Rights Task Force which was appointed by President Ranasinghe Premadasa recorded evidence and described the Sathurukkondan -Kokkuvil massacre in its report published in April 1994.

In early 1997 the Special Presidential Commission to Inquire into Disappearances in the East under Justice K. Palakidnar also recorded evidence about the Sathurukkondan -Kokkuvil massacre.

Of course there was no international uproar to locate and exhume mass burial in the Sathurukkondan -Kokkuvil area.

Or take the Koneswary case.

In a report to the President the Batticaloa MP Joseph Pararajasingham alleged "Murugesapillai Koneswary (35) mother of four children, was gang-raped and murdered by policemen attached to the Central Camp police station in the 11th Colony in the border of the Batticaloa-Amparai districts. It appears that from evidence of relatives and the husband of the deceased that the offenders of this crime, after raping this woman, had thrown a grenade into her abdomen in order to cover up any medical evidence of rape.'

Dr. Kumuthini Thurairatnam who carried the post mortem said in her testimony that "the explosion had ripped the body from left armpit through left thigh, including her genitals".

Nothing can be done now to find justice because witnesses, including the woman's son who is said to have witnessed the crime were scared to come forward to give evidence. And the grenade blew off the physical evidence.

Compared to the public outcry over Krishanthy Kumarasamy case the local and international reaction to Koneswary's murder wouldn't even amount to a murmur.

The Jaffnaese can be vociferous about their problems because they are, among other things, more literate and better networked.

The east, as always, remains silent, as though irredeemably cowed by the terror inflicted on it in the past.

And military pundits may continue to ponder why the LTTE is still able to draw more recruits from among the easterners than from the ranks of the articulate Jaffnaese.

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