Reflecting on the LTTE Crimes in the North-East

Noel Nadesan, in the Daily News, 17 & 18 October 2012**

After my recent visit to Mullativu I came away with the distinct feeling that the Tamil leadership is playing the same old game of the three proverbial monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. As usual they are playing the same old game of pointing the finger at the others with the sole objective of trying to pass the buck to others. The latest victim in the blame game is Erik Solheim. No other figure in the international community went out of their way to defend the Tamils better than Solheim.

He faced a barrage from Sri Lankan media and political establishment for siding with the Tamils. He did everything within his power, with the advice and consent of India, to save the Jaffna Tamils bogged down in futile war.

Victims of Violence: Now, when he is pointing the finger at the Tamil leadership, namely Prabhakaran, for refusing to accept the advice of the international community to surrender — a humanitarian act that would have thousands of Tamil lives in the last days of the war — all those Tamils who hero-worshipped him have turned against him.

Solheim’s criticism goes to the heart of Tamil politics. The Tamils do not want to accept blame for their stupid mistakes. They believe that all the mistakes were made by others and the whole world should sympathize with them and give them their demands.

Their refusal to analyse and understand the realities of the day, combined with intransigence and arrogance, has ruined all the opportunities that were offered on a plate to the Tamils. They also believe that they can win the hearts and minds of the world by pointing the finger at ‘the Sinhala state’. They have done that from day one and where has it taken them? The time has come for the Tamils to acknowledge publicly the war crimes and the crimes against the Tamils — let alone the others. Unless they are honest enough to face the realities of their past they can never find their way ahead. Their blindness to their evil past will prevent them from seeing the future clearly.

Though the Tamil leadership is pretending that they are pure, the Tamil victims of violence know the truth. How can they ever forget what happened to them and their children under Prabhakaran’s regime? The list of crimes committed by LTTE records some of the most horrendous evils that occurred in war.

Consider the following which does not amount to even a minute fraction of the totality of the crimes committed against the Tamils and non-Tamils.

  • During 1981-1982 fishermen from Negombo were transported by lorries to jungles off Nayaru and Kokilai and shot dead. They were Sinhala-speaking Catholics. One of their rituals was to go on annual pilgrimage to Madhu. Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph would vouch for this fact. After killing the elders, Tigers smeared the tongues of boys with cyanide and killed the boys. During that era, Tigers did not want to waste the bullets. I could produce people who have witnessed the massacre and many who helped bury the victims.
  • At the crack of dawn on July 18, 1996, the LTTE launched an attack on the Army base in Mullaitivu and, after four days of heavy fighting, the LTTE overran the base. At the time of attack there were around twelve hundred soldiers of the Vijayabahu Regiment, out of whom only eight escaped death by hiding in a water tank. Four hundred or so soldiers who surrendered to the LTTE at Vattuvaikal were put to death following Prabhakaran’s policy of not keeping surrendees as prisoners of war.
  • Vattuvaikal straddles the borders of Vanni and Mullaitivu. By a strange quirk of history, LTTE cadres surrendered to the Army in May 2009. Special forces of the Vijayabahu Regiment claimed that they had shot Prabhakaran dead during early hours of May 19, 2009. Isn’t it ironic that the soldiers who finally liquidated the LTTE hierarchy in Nandikdal also came from the same regiment that was massacred by Prabhakaran’s cadres in 1996 in Mullativu?

Velupillai Prabhakaran sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. He had only one policy and that was to kill. In the end he was killed by his own policy. There are no regrets.

But questions remain haunting the memories of the victims of Prabhakaran’s war. Was the war necessary? If the war ended in Tamils gaining nothing why did so many Tamils have to die for nothing? Were the Tamils obsessed with the war because they have a death wish?

Human rights activists:

The massacre of soldiers at Vattuvaikal, a sandy area dotted with shrubs, had nothing to do with the survival of the Tamils, though it was projected as such at the time. I am revisiting Vattuuvaikal as there is a reason for it. If we brush Vattuvaikal under the carpet then we lose our humanity and our responsibility to our people who have suffered enough.

The human rights activists in Geneva should also take into account the 300,000 Tamils who were given food, water, shelter, medical aid by the SL government — none of which was available when they were on the run with Prabhakaran. Some soldiers offered their rice packets to the Tamil IDPs. They also made sacrifices.

During the reign of the LTTE there was a big prison at Vattuvaikal. In Tamil Nadu there is a popular slogan which refers to their notorious place for punishment: “Have you been to Vellore prison?” The equivalent of Vellore prison to the Tamils in Mullaitivu was Vattuvaikal. Tamils who refused to bow down to the dictates of LTTE were asked: “Do you want to go to Vattuvaikal?”

The answer is not difficult to fathom. Not only people who were labeled as ‘traitors’ by the LTTE, but also those who assaulted their wives during family disputes, petty thieves and small time crooks were imprisoned at Vattuvaikal prison. Around three thousand inmates of the Vattuvaikal prison and another at Thunukai disappeared without a trace. What happened to these prisoners? Why are there no questions about their disappearances? Surely they could not have evaporated into thin air?

Where are the pens and papers of Tamil poets and writers who cry only for one set of Tamils and not the others? Would not the blood of those who were killed by the LTTE muddy the soil of Vattuvaikal? Are you blind to the blood of the victims of the LTTE because you believe that they deserved to die for a cause that served no one — not even the Tamils?

To top it all, forty or so LTTE disabled cadres were transported in a bus under the pretext of handing them over to their relatives. But those disabled cadres died a horrible death when it was blasted with explosives. The corroding carcass of this bus is still there at the place where final battles were fought. There are still witnesses who could give details about this mindless massacre of the LTTE

During my last visit to Mullativu in June 2012, I saw an unusual small cannon in a munitions’ dump. It was used to fire chemical bombs. Clay mixed with cyanide and enclosed in a metal casing would explode on firing and slowly emit cyanide gas.

This is not the only time that the Tigers used chemical weapons. When they withdrew from Jaffna in 1994, they poisoned wells with cyanide. Fortunately, the quantity used was not enough to harm anyone seriously. In 1990, they used chlorine gas to attack the Army base at Palaly. But the winds saved the soldiers as it blew back in the direction of the LTTE cadres, stinging their eyes.

There are number of pro-LTTE writers and activists around the world moaning demise of LTTE and Vellupillai Prabhakaran. They can be categorized into groups:

* Some expatriate Tamil poets and writers who got close to the LTTE after the signing of Ceasefire Agreement believing that the LTTE has come to stay and that they could benefit from Prabhakaran’s regime.

*Pseudo intellectuals, mainly from the Maoist wing of N. Shamugathasan, backed Prabhakaran.

Their excuses and justifications for Tamils killing Tamils and other non-Tamils cannot be accepted on any moral grounds. Besides, killings have not solved any of the problems of the Tamils. Tigers did not become terrorists because of the Sinhalese or any other circumstances. Nor did they start killing Tamils because of state terrorism. From the very beginning they had tendency to mindless violence. They had no intellectual or moral background to lead the Tamil people through rational, non-violent, or democratic politics. Some worshipped Prabhakaran’s violence and forgot all about human values.

What I discovered in during my last visit to Mullaitivu revealed the depths to which violence had fallen.

While I was travelling in a vehicle, I saw a lady of European origin defusing a bomb. This particular place had been used by the LTTE as one of their munition dumps. LTTE had laid landmines around munition dumps to protect them. Now that peace has dawned, public are denied the right of entry into these mined areas. Although Tigers were stationed at Killinochi, Mullaitivu was their area of strategic importance. They had their vital installations such as naval bases, training centres and munition dumps all in Mullaitivu.

Since the end of war, I have been to Sri Lanka ten times but it was only on the last occasion that I got a chance to visit Mullaitivu. I travelled from Paranthan to Mullaitivu by a CTB bus with my companion poet Karunakaran. I saw lush paddy fields and people moving around attending to their day-to-day chores. The bus I travelled in was more or less full with teachers from Jaffna. The only inconvenience I had was the dust raised by the moving vehicles clouding my pair of glasses.

Political slogans:  I was also reminded of what the LTTE stalwart in Australia, the late Thilai Jeyakumar, used to say when asked: “How come I haven’t seen you for sometime?” He would usually reply saying: “I have just returned from my soil. “Around the time I was in India I remember EPRLF Pathmanaba telling me: “We love the people and not the soil.”

I travelled from Puthukudiirruppu in a jeep owned by former parliamentarian S Kanagaratnan and all along the way I saw scars of war such as walls of damaged houses and coconut palms without their tops. The former MP, on his way spoke to people and attended to some jobs. I told him if he was with the TNA his tasks would be confined to issuing statements and granting interviews to radios in countries outside Sri Lanka. He laughed and in his laughter I could notice the genuineness of someone who was committed to serving the people and not peddling political slogans. Then he said on the previous day he had been to Manal Aru (Veli Oya) and had seen the suffering of displaced people, adding that it was a heart-rending experience. His place in Tamil society, rising above narrow politics, has not been given due recognition by our society.

The house where Sea-Tiger Chief Soosai had lived is now a tourist attraction. The Army has opened many shops to cater to the needs of people who throng that area. From there I went to the place where Prabhakaran had stayed. It was in a forest and resembled a military fortress with four basements.

The doors were made of cast iron. On seeing his dwelling, one could imagine the extent to which he had taken care of his life. On the other hand, he had not given the same concern for the lives of others, and it angered me very much.

Human shield: In Prabhakaran’s last photograph, I was struck by the care he had taken to colour his hair and moustache jet black. It also made me think that Prabhakaran had not given the same care to the lives of 300,000 Tamils who were left high and dry when they were herded as his human shield.

Earlier I could see Sinhala people only at Madhu and Nagadeepa. Now one could see them in Mullaitivu as well. It was to me another sign of President Mahinda Rajapaksa breaking down communal fences and uniting the nation. I believe that whether we like it or not at the end of the day, all communities have to live together. It is another sign of us belonging to the human race and not to this or that community.

As for Tamil leaders their achievement is nil and instead they had taken the Tamils to a dead-end with no end in sight. In this era that has spanned 60 years, what have we learnt? If one is to analyse who is responsible for the events that have bedeviled Sri Lanka, no one can disagree with Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who said that we are all guilty.

All races in Sri Lanka have shed blood because they were misled by politicians. Although the losses suffered may vary between individuals or communities, all have shared the pain that was common to all. Our politicians and the Tigers scarified many lives in their pursuit of empty soil. Now LTTE fellow-travellers in foreign countries and opportunistic politicians are hell-bent on wiping out the remaining Tamils in Sri Lanka by reviving memories about dead Tamils.

The question we are confronted with now is who will come forward to build a country where there is equality among all racial and religious groups. The answer to this question cannot come from India or the US or even Geneva. The Messiah has to emerge for the people, rising from the ashes of the futile war. Let us think good for the good of the country.

**  Noel Nadesan is a theevan, an Island Tamil, who was a political refugee in Tamilnadu before he gained asylum by legal process in Australia. A ver-surgeon, he has been the Editor of the Uthayam for a long time. He has ahd the courage to criticise the Tigers and in more recent years has worked with the government in order to alleviate the conditions of people in the north and east, thereby earning severe condemnation irom diasporic circles and some elements in Colombo.

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