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Archive for September 12th, 2004

Since her soldier husband’s death in 1993 she has been appealing for compensation. How long will it take?

Chithra Piyaseeli and her nine-year-old daughter Hasini are destitute. They live with Piyaseeli’s brother and his family at Eheliyagoda, and are dependent on him. Piyaseeli’s husband died while in active service with the Army in Trincomalee six years ago. She has appealed to the authorities for payment of compensatory and terminal benefits which she says she is entitled to, but has had little relief in six years.

“My husband, Lance Corporal Dhanapala died on July 21, 1993, when he was on duty at the Army detachment at Mahamariam Kulam in the Trincomalee District,” Piyaseeli said.

“He was injured after a fall into a bunker, when carrying out orders given by his superior officers. He continued working until his condition worsened on July 21 and then was taken to the Kinniya Hospital on a tractor- trailer. We subsequently learned from the Court of Inquiry Report that he died enroute to the hospital. If he had received medical attention in time, his life could have been saved,” she said.

Piyaseeli explained that the Commanding Officer concurred with the report of the Court of Inquiry, and recommended compensation applicable to servicemen killed in action. The recommendation was scrutinised by the Divisional Brigade Commander, who indicated that the death was attributable to Army service and recommended that full compensation and salaries applicable to those killed in action should be paid to his next of kin.

However, such relief has been slow in coming. In response to her several letters to Army authorities, Piyaseeli received a letter (dated December 20, 1994,) signed by the Director Pay and Records, to say that the Court of Inquiry had not recommended the payment of compensation and terminal benefits.

Piyaseeli appealed to the President on June 18, 1996. After this appeal, which was referred to the Army Commander, she received a letter from the Commander on August 16, 1996, informing her that she cannot be paid any benefits because the Preliminary Court of Inquiry appointed to ascertain the cause of death had concluded that the death was not attributable to Army Service as her husband died of an illness.

Three years later, Piyaseeli had received nothing from the Army. In desperation, she sought the assistance of the Armed Services Ranaviru Welfare Foundation – Sitawaka. Not satisfied with the cause of death as given by the Army, Piyaseeli, with the help of the secretary of this organisation, Commander Banagoda, a retired Navy officer, obtained a copy of the post-mortem report of the District Medical Officer of the Trincomalee Base Hospital.

The report gave the cause of death as “Cardio Respiratory failure due to shock and Haemothorax following rupture of a congenital bullae of right side lung” (a kind of internal bleeding in the lungs which eventually stops the heart functioning.)

She then appealed again to the President to say that there were contradictions in the cause of death as given by the Army.

“On probing the matter, the Secretary to the Defence Ministry, in a letter dated August 29, 1997, directed the Army Commander to pay the compensatory benefits as the Preliminary Court of Appeal had concluded that the death of my husband was attributable to service and his Commanding Officer and the Divisional Brigade Commander had recommended the payment of compensatory and terminal benefits,” Piyaseeli said.

Thereafter, the Army Commander informed Piyaseeli on March 19, 1998, he had approved the payment of benefits.

In September 1998, five years after her husband’s death, Piyaseeli was awarded 42 months basic salary payable to service personnel who die due to natural causes in operational areas. Half this amount was placed in a savings account in her daughter’s name and the balance paid to her.

The Secretary of the Armed Service Ranaviru Welfare Foundation – Sitawaka, looked into the matter and helped her with her appeals.

He argues that in the recommendations of the Preliminary Court of Inquiry, late L/Cpl Dhanapala’s Commanding Officer and Divisional Brigade Commander have recommended the payment of compensatory benefits as the death was attributable to army service. As previously stated by the Army Commander, that the recommendations of the Court of Inquiry are final, the benefits recommended are not the 42 months basic pay introduced in 1996 for those who die of natural diseases in operational areas but the benefits applicable to those killed in action.

Further it appears that according to the Cabinet decision of 21.7.82 on Cabinet Paper No.305, approval was granted for “next of kin of those personnel of the Armed Services and Police, who are killed whilst performing operational duties or as a result of terrorist activity or other law enforcement measures, to be paid the full salary and allowances of the diseased officer which were paid to him on the date of his death till such time as he would have reached 55 years of age if he was alive.”

As L/Cpl Dhanapala died whilst engaged in law enforcement duties in operational areas, his death has been accepted as being attributable to Army service, it could be concluded that he is entitled to compensation in terms of the Cabinet decision of 21.7.1982 and the Treasury approval dated 16.12.1985.

“In response to my request for a death gratuity due to me, the Army Pay & Records Directorate informed me on the October 13, 1997 that I am not entitled to a death gratuity since my husband was a volunteer,” Piyaseeli said.

However, according to Commander Banagoda, this decision is an infringement of fundamental rights as members of the Volunteer Force cannot be differentiated from members of the Regular Force for benefits and discipline.

He quoted Regulation 3 (3) of the Army Act Chapter 357 of the Revised Edition of the Legislative Enactments which states “where the whole or any part of the Regular Reserve, Volunteer Force or Volunteer Reserve is called out as hereinafter provided on active service, or for military training, the officers and soldiers of such Reserve Force or part so called out shall during the period of such service or training be deemed for all purposes to be officers and soldiers of the Regular Force”.

Also he said, “Regulation 24 of the same Act states that every officer or soldier not belonging to the Regular Force who is on active service shall be entitled to such pay and allowances and be quartered in such manner as may be prescribed in Regulation 26 (i) of the Army Pensions and Gratuities Code”.

“The Army Pensions and Gratuities Code 1981 provides for the payment of a death gratuity for the dependents of soldiers who have completed five years of reckon able service.

Regulation 29 (a) of the Army Pensions and Gratuities Code 1981 defines the applicability of benefits that are being paid to regular members, to members of the Volunteer Force when they are deemed to be officers and soldiers of the Regular Force under provisions quoted earlier,” he added.

“Regulation 28 (a) also provides for a Dependent’s Pension as part of the terminal benefits”.

Chithra Piyaseeli has appealed again to the present Army Commander on August 6. The major portion of the 24 months pay she received has been spent on medical expenses on her retarded daughter. She is anxiously awaiting a favourable response to her appeal in the hope that she would receive some redress.

Piyaseeli is just one case. There may be many other widows of servicemen who have had similar experiences and faced inordinate delays in receiving their legitimate dues.

“It is disheartening to find that there are dependents who are made to suffer due to erroneous decisions taken by service authorities when deciding the attributability of deaths of service personnel whilst serving in operational areas,” Commander Banagoda said.

“The respective service pensions and gratuities codes provide for the payment of an annual pension to dependents on the recommendation of the respective Service Commander in the event of deaths caused by illness, certified by a Medical Board to be attributable to service conditions.

“Medical officers based at Headquarters, without paying any heed to the circumstances which lead to the death, conclude that the death is not attributable to service conditions. Acting on the verdict of the Medical Board, the Service Commanders reject the payment of terminal benefits to dependents thereby causing them great hardship due to the loss of the breadwinner,” Commander Banagoda said.

The Army says…

L/Cpl Dhanapala is not entitled to the special compensatory benefits granted by the Cabinet decision of 21.7.82, since he died while engaged in normal duties in an operational area and not whilst on operational duty or law enforcement duty.

A sum of Rs.7,495.68 is however, available in L/Cpl Dhanapala’s account and a cheque for this amount will be sent to his widow. A sum of Rs.4,197.90, as salary for the last month of service is also due to him. The necessary documentation for this payment will be completed in five days and the widow will receive the cheque in a week.

His total reckonable service is 7 years and 3 months. Gratuity is paid only to those with a minimum of 10 years of service.

For those who died in operational areas from a cause other than terrorist action after 1995, the Army pays 60 months salary. L/Cpl Dhanapala was not entitled to this payment since he died in 1993. However, as a special case, the Ministry had asked that his widow be paid 42 months salary. Pension is paid only to soldiers after 22 years of reckonable service.

To be eligible for the provisions of Regulation 26 (i) of the Army Pensions and Gratuities code, a soldier must have a minimum of 10 years or 22 years, depending on his death.

(The Sunday Times Plus 26th September 1999)

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Since her soldier husband’s death in 1993 she has been appealing for compensation. How long will it take?

Chithra Piyaseeli and her nine-year-old daughter Hasini are destitute. They live with Piyaseeli’s brother and his family at Eheliyagoda, and are dependent on him. Piyaseeli’s husband died while in active service with the Army in Trincomalee six years ago. She has appealed to the authorities for payment of compensatory and terminal benefits which she says she is entitled to, but has had little relief in six years.

“My husband, Lance Corporal Dhanapala died on July 21, 1993, when he was on duty at the Army detachment at Mahamariam Kulam in the Trincomalee District,” Piyaseeli said.

“He was injured after a fall into a bunker, when carrying out orders given by his superior officers. He continued working until his condition worsened on July 21 and then was taken to the Kinniya Hospital on a tractor- trailer. We subsequently learned from the Court of Inquiry Report that he died enroute to the hospital. If he had received medical attention in time, his life could have been saved,” she said.

Piyaseeli explained that the Commanding Officer concurred with the report of the Court of Inquiry, and recommended compensation applicable to servicemen killed in action. The recommendation was scrutinised by the Divisional Brigade Commander, who indicated that the death was attributable to Army service and recommended that full compensation and salaries applicable to those killed in action should be paid to his next of kin.

However, such relief has been slow in coming. In response to her several letters to Army authorities, Piyaseeli received a letter (dated December 20, 1994,) signed by the Director Pay and Records, to say that the Court of Inquiry had not recommended the payment of compensation and terminal benefits.

Piyaseeli appealed to the President on June 18, 1996. After this appeal, which was referred to the Army Commander, she received a letter from the Commander on August 16, 1996, informing her that she cannot be paid any benefits because the Preliminary Court of Inquiry appointed to ascertain the cause of death had concluded that the death was not attributable to Army Service as her husband died of an illness.

Three years later, Piyaseeli had received nothing from the Army. In desperation, she sought the assistance of the Armed Services Ranaviru Welfare Foundation – Sitawaka. Not satisfied with the cause of death as given by the Army, Piyaseeli, with the help of the secretary of this organisation, Commander Banagoda, a retired Navy officer, obtained a copy of the post-mortem report of the District Medical Officer of the Trincomalee Base Hospital.

The report gave the cause of death as “Cardio Respiratory failure due to shock and Haemothorax following rupture of a congenital bullae of right side lung” (a kind of internal bleeding in the lungs which eventually stops the heart functioning.)

She then appealed again to the President to say that there were contradictions in the cause of death as given by the Army.

“On probing the matter, the Secretary to the Defence Ministry, in a letter dated August 29, 1997, directed the Army Commander to pay the compensatory benefits as the Preliminary Court of Appeal had concluded that the death of my husband was attributable to service and his Commanding Officer and the Divisional Brigade Commander had recommended the payment of compensatory and terminal benefits,” Piyaseeli said.

Thereafter, the Army Commander informed Piyaseeli on March 19, 1998, he had approved the payment of benefits.

In September 1998, five years after her husband’s death, Piyaseeli was awarded 42 months basic salary payable to service personnel who die due to natural causes in operational areas. Half this amount was placed in a savings account in her daughter’s name and the balance paid to her.

The Secretary of the Armed Service Ranaviru Welfare Foundation – Sitawaka, looked into the matter and helped her with her appeals.

He argues that in the recommendations of the Preliminary Court of Inquiry, late L/Cpl Dhanapala’s Commanding Officer and Divisional Brigade Commander have recommended the payment of compensatory benefits as the death was attributable to army service. As previously stated by the Army Commander, that the recommendations of the Court of Inquiry are final, the benefits recommended are not the 42 months basic pay introduced in 1996 for those who die of natural diseases in operational areas but the benefits applicable to those killed in action.

Further it appears that according to the Cabinet decision of 21.7.82 on Cabinet Paper No.305, approval was granted for “next of kin of those personnel of the Armed Services and Police, who are killed whilst performing operational duties or as a result of terrorist activity or other law enforcement measures, to be paid the full salary and allowances of the diseased officer which were paid to him on the date of his death till such time as he would have reached 55 years of age if he was alive.”

As L/Cpl Dhanapala died whilst engaged in law enforcement duties in operational areas, his death has been accepted as being attributable to Army service, it could be concluded that he is entitled to compensation in terms of the Cabinet decision of 21.7.1982 and the Treasury approval dated 16.12.1985.

“In response to my request for a death gratuity due to me, the Army Pay & Records Directorate informed me on the October 13, 1997 that I am not entitled to a death gratuity since my husband was a volunteer,” Piyaseeli said.

However, according to Commander Banagoda, this decision is an infringement of fundamental rights as members of the Volunteer Force cannot be differentiated from members of the Regular Force for benefits and discipline.

He quoted Regulation 3 (3) of the Army Act Chapter 357 of the Revised Edition of the Legislative Enactments which states “where the whole or any part of the Regular Reserve, Volunteer Force or Volunteer Reserve is called out as hereinafter provided on active service, or for military training, the officers and soldiers of such Reserve Force or part so called out shall during the period of such service or training be deemed for all purposes to be officers and soldiers of the Regular Force”.

Also he said, “Regulation 24 of the same Act states that every officer or soldier not belonging to the Regular Force who is on active service shall be entitled to such pay and allowances and be quartered in such manner as may be prescribed in Regulation 26 (i) of the Army Pensions and Gratuities Code”.

“The Army Pensions and Gratuities Code 1981 provides for the payment of a death gratuity for the dependents of soldiers who have completed five years of reckon able service.

Regulation 29 (a) of the Army Pensions and Gratuities Code 1981 defines the applicability of benefits that are being paid to regular members, to members of the Volunteer Force when they are deemed to be officers and soldiers of the Regular Force under provisions quoted earlier,” he added.

“Regulation 28 (a) also provides for a Dependent’s Pension as part of the terminal benefits”.

Chithra Piyaseeli has appealed again to the present Army Commander on August 6. The major portion of the 24 months pay she received has been spent on medical expenses on her retarded daughter. She is anxiously awaiting a favourable response to her appeal in the hope that she would receive some redress.

Piyaseeli is just one case. There may be many other widows of servicemen who have had similar experiences and faced inordinate delays in receiving their legitimate dues.

“It is disheartening to find that there are dependents who are made to suffer due to erroneous decisions taken by service authorities when deciding the attributability of deaths of service personnel whilst serving in operational areas,” Commander Banagoda said.

“The respective service pensions and gratuities codes provide for the payment of an annual pension to dependents on the recommendation of the respective Service Commander in the event of deaths caused by illness, certified by a Medical Board to be attributable to service conditions.

“Medical officers based at Headquarters, without paying any heed to the circumstances which lead to the death, conclude that the death is not attributable to service conditions. Acting on the verdict of the Medical Board, the Service Commanders reject the payment of terminal benefits to dependents thereby causing them great hardship due to the loss of the breadwinner,” Commander Banagoda said.

The Army says…

L/Cpl Dhanapala is not entitled to the special compensatory benefits granted by the Cabinet decision of 21.7.82, since he died while engaged in normal duties in an operational area and not whilst on operational duty or law enforcement duty.

A sum of Rs.7,495.68 is however, available in L/Cpl Dhanapala’s account and a cheque for this amount will be sent to his widow. A sum of Rs.4,197.90, as salary for the last month of service is also due to him. The necessary documentation for this payment will be completed in five days and the widow will receive the cheque in a week.

His total reckonable service is 7 years and 3 months. Gratuity is paid only to those with a minimum of 10 years of service.

For those who died in operational areas from a cause other than terrorist action after 1995, the Army pays 60 months salary. L/Cpl Dhanapala was not entitled to this payment since he died in 1993. However, as a special case, the Ministry had asked that his widow be paid 42 months salary. Pension is paid only to soldiers after 22 years of reckonable service.

To be eligible for the provisions of Regulation 26 (i) of the Army Pensions and Gratuities code, a soldier must have a minimum of 10 years or 22 years, depending on his death.

(The Sunday Times Plus 26th September 1999)

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Old soldiers never die

Bound together by two World Wars, a happy band of ex-servicemen share evergreen memories with Uthpala Gunethilake as Poppy Day approaches

The house in many ways matches those living in it. Like the residents, it is old, nearly 80 years. Standing away from the main road, flanked by a spacious garden and backyard, it is a serene haven for its dwellers who, like the house itself, have memories of a lifetime to recall with pride.

“You can’t get a place like this anywhere in the world,” assures Tikiri Banda Herath, ignoring his friends who laughingly ask him when he last toured the world. But unlike the house, their memories belong with thousands of others scattered around the world, which make up the history of the World Wars. For, the residents are ex-servicemen, the majority who have served the British Army during World War II.

Mr. Herath is one of 15 ex-servicemen who live in the Veterans’ Home in Katana, run by the Sri Lanka Ex-Servicemen’s Association (SLESA). It was opened in 1987 on the initiative of A. B. Maas, then Chairman of SLESA’s Committee of Managers which is responsible for the running of the elders’ home, in the house which belonged to the the late Bharatha Wickremasinghe. SLESA is affiliated to the British Commonwealth Ex-Servicemen’s Association. “The Commonwealth Ex-Servicemen’s Association looks after the veterans who fought in the British Army during colonial times, and our home is one of many around the world run with their help,” says Lt. Pemsiri Seneviratne, the resident manager.

Of the 15 residents of the home, five are ex-servicemen of the British Army who later joined the Ceylon Army and who therefore receive a pension. “We have designed small chalets for them with all the facilities, and we charge them Rs. 2000 a month,” says Lt. Seneviratne. “There is also a dormitory, with separate cubicles for veterans of World War II who, since they did not join the Ceylon Army, do not receive a pension. They are housed free and we give them a monthly allowance,” he explained.

Apart from the contributions by donors, the Poppy of Remembrance Day, which blooms every November 11 partly funds the home. The funds allow SLESA to house 22 residents, give them meals and other facilities, and keep a staff of four.

A great sense of camaraderie prevails here, maybe because they have something in common being war veterans. The oldest member of the home is 92 and the others are above 70. However, around noon when everyone gathers in the living room to wait for the bell to announce lunch, they hardly seem like a group of elderly people. With ready smiles they tell me their stories. “We are like a family. But some don’t like to spend their time entirely in the home, so they get leave and visit their children or friends. There is one gentleman who gives tuition to the children in the area. In the evenings some of us get together and play cards and chat,” says Lt. Seneviratne, himself from the Sri Lanka Navy.

Kingsley Dias (81), occupies a chalet and is one of the newcomers, but says that he has fitted in well. He joined the Ceylon Garrison Artillery (CGA) in 1943 and after the war, joined the Ceylon Army in 1951 and served in the Ordnance Corps. A graceful man despite his age, he says he spends his time reading and listening to Jim Reeves.

S. Dambadeniya is the ‘dean of the corps’ at 92 years. Though he cannot move about with ease anymore, he remembers his wartime experiences in detail and with pride. When the Japanese bombed Colombo in 1942, Mr. Dambadeniya had been the officer on duty at the Ratmalana railway workshop. When it was evident that their camp was about to be attacked by the Japanese, it fell on him to raise the alarm. Ratmalana went down in history with the Angoda Asylum and a few other places as sites bombed by the Japanese, but according to Mr. Dambadeniya, Ratmalana survived without any casualties. “After the raid, Brigadier Guff and Admiral Sir Geoffrey Leighton visited the camp and asked me how many casualties were there. I said, ‘None, sir’. Then they both said that it was a great job,” he recalls with pride.

D. G. L. Athukorala, 91, boasts of being one of the first four Ceylonese riders in the CGA. Affectionately called ‘shell company’ by his companions because he spends his free time making coconut shell spoons, he had also served in the South East Asia Command (SEAC), and had been in Hiroshima just after it was bombed. But more importantly, he eagerly recalls that he won an All-Island Prize for agriculture while in the army, and says that he helps out in the garden.

No one is as proud as S. Aloysius (79) about his time in the army. He lovingly treasures all memorabilia from the army, from a book of Rules of Conduct to the Life Member card and official badge of the Artillery Association, sporting a T-shirt stamped with the picture of this badge. He feels that the glory went out of war when guerrilla warfare came in. “We attacked enemies whom we could see. But now you don’t fight face-to-face. Too many people die in vain, and it’s just not worth it.”

These veterans had an active hand in the Poppy Day project too. The Armistice on November 11, 1918 , saw the official ceasefire of World War I, and later the day was declared the “Day of Remembrance” for the fallen. Folklore has it that the poppy which was originally white, began to bloom in red in the fields where soldiers were buried. Thousands of soldiers who died in the battlefront at France were buried in Flanders, now a part of Belgium. The Red Poppy of Flanders, made famous through a few verses pencilled by Colonel McRao who was in charge of a small post, thereafter became the symbol for the fallen.

This year, the poppies that were sent to SLESA from the Royal British Legion were packed and made into various ornaments by the inmates of the Veterans’ Home in Katana.

Whatever else they did after the war, these veterans have remained essentially soldiers at heart.

(The Sunday Times Plus 5th November 2000)

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Life for women in these villages is a nightmare. But the State ignores the problems

“In 1994 my husband was abducted by the army and we never discovered what happened to him. After a long wait I obtained a death certificate for him. I have applied for compensation but I have not got it yet.

After my husband died I faced a lot of difficulties. I handed over my third child, a girl, who was then about 13 years old to a police constable…. There was no news from her for a long time when I went to see her; the girl was not there. They told me she had run away but there is no police report on this.”- Devamalar from Namalpokuna.

It may be a cliché to say women and children are the most affected by a 16-year-old war in the north and east of Sri Lanka, but it is the reality. Today this country has more widowed women than married women and the role of a mother has changed drastically in most households. The Movement for Inter-racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) a few months ago appointed a fact-finding citizens’ commission to study the problems of people who live in the border villages close to the war zone.

The stories, especially those from women, were horrifying. Border villages, or the area that came under scrutiny, are villages lining the conflict zone. Most of these villages house army camps or police posts and are caught up in confrontations between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The women in this area suffer the same plight of being affected by the war, but face other peculiar problems as well. “The people who live in border villages are a vulnerable group because they face attacks from both armed groups, so there are peculiar problems that women face,” explains Selvi Thiruchandran, author of the book ‘The other victims of war’ and executive director of Women’s Education and Research Centre (WERC).

Primarily among them is the increase in prostitution. Abject poverty and the lack of proper employment in these areas have made it a profitable business. More and more women are taking to prostitution and the large clientele of soldiers ensures continuous income for them.

“There is an increase of prostitution in these areas. Anuradhapura is known for this increase and there are certain people who have commented that prostitution should be legalised in these areas,” says Thiruchandran. She says “In Anuradhapura alone there are some 60 brothels operating, catering to soldiers who are either going or coming from leave and travelling through the city.

The prevalence of army camps or police posts in most villages in this area that line the conflict zone has also resulted in a lot of sexual abuse against women. According to the MIRJ commissioners most women are reluctant to come up with the truth but stories of women being harassed by armed personnel were floating amongst villagers.

“A monk in one of the villages said ‘We have to protect our girls from the armed forces.

“Today our girls can’t even go to the temple freely and we are very afraid they may get into all kinds of situations,” says Nimalka Fernando, president of MIRJ and a member of the commission.

Fernando says most villagers are concerned by the problem but can do little to change the situation.

The commission found that like in the conflict zone in the border area too women were predominantly widowed or single. Most women had either lost their husband in the war or their men had gone out to fight with the army. “What you come across in most of these villages are single women whose husbands have joined the war or become gramaarakshaka. Most of these women are engaged in servicing the army personnel,” says Fernando.

“If you want to get something done in an office, when a woman goes, the guy in the office knows whether she is a single woman or a married woman and even if you want to get some of your social provisions the discussion is, you have to do favours for me. So this is the kind of culture,” she says, adding that it is the peculiarity of having so much military presence in the village that has led to this situation.

“They have to keep them happy and their households are protected and these army people know these women’s husbands have died.

“These kind of situations are common. It is not forced, but circumstances have compelled these women to use there bodies, use there womenhood in some form to look after their children,” says Fernando.

The commissioners found that relationships between soldiers and young village girls were common and there were even cases where the girl would get pregnant and not be able to trace the father of the child.” There is a promise of marriage and the parents will go in search of the soldier and the officer will say the soldier is transferred,” says Fernando.

Poverty though remains the biggest problem amongst women in these areas. Most of them widowed, women find themselves having the task of being the sole income earner.

“In our village there are 38 widows. Their husbands were taken away by the army as suspected LTTErs. They have not got any compensation yet.

“I am too a widow. My husband was killed by the LTTE so I didn’t find it hard to get compensation,”-statement made to the commission by Somalatha from Soriwila.

The complete breakdown of infrastructure has left few opportunities for women to earn a living. Some of them either cultivate or fish but most others work as hired labourers in nearby cities.

“The important thing to remember is these areas which are in the border are already poor economic areas where now things have got worse, so their livelihood has been cut off. The fisherman can’t go out to fish, people can’t go to the forest because it is mined,” says Bernadeen Silva, MIRJ commissioner and assistant director of the Centre for Society and Religion.

Silva says that economic conditions in these areas are bad but the women are not seeking state aid.

“Most of the women we met, their problem was they wanted to be equipped in order to learn, they sometimes produce fruits and there is no way of sending them out so they are asking for training skills in order to learn how to preserve the food,” she says.

“These people are not asking for money, they are saying please repair the tanks so we can cultivate,” says Fernando. She says most of the villages are badly neglected despite still being under state control. “The government, the provincial councils, the pradheshiya sabhas all have a duty to develop these villages. They may be war-torn but are still under state control,” says Fernando. The commission found a high level of malnutrition amongst women and children in these areas and the lack of proper health facilities barred a healthy lifestyle.

Poverty, abuse and threats to life are a part of the everyday scenario for women who live in these border villages. They are constantly insecure afraid that they may be caught up in fighting between the army and LTTE. Few of them have the opportunity to lead a normal life and most of them head the household.

“From a middleclass point of view we might say there is trauma but I think we have created a society that learnt to cope and live for the day,” she says.

What is most alarming is the negligent attitude that the State appears to have towards these people. Their misfortune of having to live in an area that makes them vulnerable to attacks, has become a convenient excuse to ignore them.

According to the commissioners, people in this area strongly voiced their opinion against the war and demanded an end to it. There was also a strong sense of betrayal and anger expressed towards the government for its lack of interest over the problems they faced.

“They said enough is enough. We are willing to live happily they are very radical in their views saying it is an unnecessary war,” says Thiruchandran, adding “They are biased against the State but not against the soldiers or the LTTE they feel the State should pay them more attention.”

These women ask for such little, they only want normal living conditions so they can fend for themselves and live a decent life. But, few are even concerned of their plight.

“There are so many single women why haven’t the Women’s Affairs Ministry thought of having income generation projects?

“What do they mean when they say they are looking after the problems of women?

“What kind of voice has the minister raised in parliament?” asks Fernando, “All these areas have representatives in parliament, but I have never seen a single Hansard referring to their problems.”

(The Sunday Times Plus 8th August 1999)

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A young soldier who fought in Operation Riviresa and gave his life to help the Army take Jaffna, Staff Sergeant H.B. Pasan Gunasekera was awarded the Parama Weera Vibushanaya (PWV), the country’s highest award for bravery posthumously on October 10, 1998.

In a citation presented along with his medal, his Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. N.A.J.C. Dias described the events that led to his award.

On November 29, 1995, the Army was on the verge of capturing Jaffna town in Operation Riviresa. The LTTE meanwhile was fighting a fierce battle in the town, supported by the Sea Tigers, who were using boats to bring in supplies and evacuate casualties. They did this under cover of darkness and on some days they used as many as 200 to 300 boats to ward off the Army’s main operational force trying to capture Jaffna Town.

A group of LTTErs stationed in ‘Chiruthivu’ Island, between Jaffna town and Mandathivu where the 10 Gajaba Regiment troops were located were providing cover for the boats. They had to be evicted from Chiruthivu if the Army was to stop this boat movement.

Gunasekera volunteered for this mission with a small group of men unmindful of the danger. With the help of improvised rafts, he landed on Chiruthivu Island at about 0200 hours with 16 men and managed to occupy the island after evicting the terrorists. He then established a fire base to engage the terrorist boats moving in the lagoon but died in the shootout. His action further isolated the terrorists and helped the Army capture Jaffna town.

Born on November 9, 1964, at Millewa, Pasan Gunasekera was the son of Padma Malani and H. Jinadasa Gunaskera. His father died in 1991. After leaving school, Pasan had worked for awhile at Morawaka Medito, an Ayurveda concern. “He met a retired Army officer working there and became very keen to join the Army,” his mother Malani recalled. “He wanted to dedicate himself to his country. I was not for it but his father gave him the letter of consent. He felt he would go anyway.”

He joined the Army in 1985 and served mostly in the North. His mother said Pasan was deeply committed to his work in the Army. He had fought in several major operations such as Vadamarachchi, Haye Para, Balavegaya 1 and 2 and Wanni Wickremaya 1,2,3. “Even when he came home on leave, he was always keen to get back to his post.He had been shot in the stomach at Vavuniya earlier and at that stage, his Commanding Officer had tried to transfer him to Colombo but Pasan wanted to get back to Jaffna and fight.”

However, Pasan was a dutiful son, his mother said. When his sister married in 1992, Pasan together with his elder brother, attended to all the arrangements as by then his father was dead. When his mother had to undergo a heart operation in 1995, he took leave to be with her. While he was on leave, he was urgently recalled to Jaffna. He had been ready to go on a course abroad but that too was cancelled because he was needed in Jaffna. “When he left that day, he told me, ‘Amme, if I am not able to come back, give my clothes to someone who can wear them,” she recalled tearfully.

Mrs. Gunasekera said Pasan would write poems to all his family members, from the war front. After his death, they had found a book of handwritten poems among his belongings.

Pasan used to come home for about 10 days every three months, his mother said. “That day, I had prepared food for him and when he did not come, we could not eat,” she said. That night about 2 a.m., came the fateful knock on the door and the news about his death. “His body had been brought home the next day. Army personnel and the Army Band were present at the funeral,” Mrs. Gunasekera said. “My son’s commanding Officer, Lt. Col. N.A.J.C. Dias assisted us in getting the compensation and other payments without delay. The Army was also helpful during the funeral and the almsgiving.”

Pasan was awarded three medals for bravery, the Ranashura Padakkama, Weera Wickrema Vibushanaya and the Parama Weera Vibushanaya, all received by his grieving mother. “Although I carry a great grief in my heart, I am proud of his bravery and his devoted service to his country,” she said.

(The Sunday Times Plus 29th October 2000)

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A large contingent of the Special Task Force (STF) and the Police moved into the Tiger held village of Palugamam around 7 a.m. this morning. Palugamam is a large village about 24 kilometers south west of Batticaloa across the lagoon where the Liberation Tigers had many of their military, financial and other administrative centres.

The operation was aimed at searching the house of ‘Ramanan’ who, according to the army, is currently the headof the LTTE’s intelligence in Batticaloa.

The Police and Sri Lankan army intelligence claim that he is the master mind behind most of the bombs which have gone off in the south and the attacks in the Yala and Kadirgamam (Kattaragma in Sinhalese).

His parents and relatives had been questioned and some identity papers were removed by the STF from his house said sources.

No one was allowed to enter the area until 10.30 a.m. this morning when the STF withdrew from Palugamam and across the Pattiruppu bridge

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On July 5, 1987, while the Sri Lankan armed forces were engaged in ‘Operation Liberation’ to wrest control of Jaffna, the LTTE decided to turn the tables. Confronted with the firepower of a conventional army replete with its numbers and hardware – by rough estimates 8000 soldiers and officers took part in the operation – the Tigers had to dig deep into the reserves and bet on their advantage.

The ace was a cadre willing to sacrifice his life for the cause, Captain Miller alias Wasanthan was the cadre. He drove an explosive laden truck into the Nelliady Army Camp in Jaffna around 8.15 P.M. on July 5, 1987. He blew himself and the truck up after crashing through the entrance, killing two dozen soldiers.

Tomorrow, all over the north east, the LTTE will commemorate the Black Tiger (Karumpuliga) day. The commemorations had already commenced last week with ceremonies honouring cadres who died during the ceasefire being held even in areas under government control. Cadres who died during a sea confrontation in July last year came in for special emphasis. The LTTE laid foundations at the Kopai Heroes Cemetery in Jaffna to erect tombstones for these cadres.

The ‘heroes’ cemeteries would be decorated with the red and yellow flags as would most public places in LTTE controlled areas, while family members and other cadres would pay homage at the cemeteries and other shrines. The Tigers said before the commemorations that they had organised poetry competitions and other public events as well.

First Black Tiger

Last year LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan took part in the commemoration at an undisclosed location where he lit a lamp honoring the suicide cadres. The celebrations would include ceremonies at the Nelliady Central College, where Miller made history by becoming the first officially acknowledged suicide cadre. In 1985 an LTTE cadre perished during an attack at the Kilinochchi police station and army camp while at the wheel of a bowzer. However, it has never been proved whether the cadre was meant to die in the attack and the LTTE has not acknowledged the attack as a suicide mission.

Since Miller’s mission, according to official estimates by the LTTE, 265 others including 53 women have followed him. However the LTTE does not acknowledge cadres who perished in attacks that are politically sensitive like the murders of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

According to the armyan estimated total of 66 major suicide missions have been carried out by the LTTE up to September 2001, of which 10 were directed at prime economic targets.

On September 16, just five days after the 9/11 attacks in the US, the LTTE suicide cadres in speed boats attacked ‘MV Pride of South’, a ship carrying 1200 soldiers returning on leave, killing 11 navy personnel and injuring another 58 service personnel on board.

An article released by the army on the eve of the September 11 attacks in 2001 said, “out of the total of 66 suicidal missions in Sri Lanka, 10 economic targets including the Hotel Lanka Oberoi (Jan 21, 1984), Central; Telegraph Exchange Office in Colombo (May 7, 1986), Kolonnawa and Orugodawatte Oil Storage complex (Oct 24, 1995), Central Bank of Sri Lanka (Jan 31, 1996), Colombo Galadari Hotel (Oct. 15, 1997), Colombo’s Kelanitissa Power Plant (Nov 14, 1997) and International Air Port (July 24, 2001) were among those badly affected or destroyed in these attacks.

“Prominent personalities, the likes of Minister of Defence Ranjan Wijeratne (March 2, 1991), Commander of Sri Lanka Navy, Vice Admiral W.W.E.C. Fernando (Nov 16, 1992), President R. Premadasa (May 1, 1993), Gamini Dissanayake, a presidential candidate (Oct 24, 1994) and C.V.Gooneratne, Minister of Industries and Industrial Development (June 7, 2000), Neelan Thiruchelvam, a Tamil intellectual and TULF parliamentarian, Brigadier Lucky Algama and Brigadier Larry Wijeratne also fell victim to these suicide cadres, along with hundreds of monks, security personnel and other innocent civilians.”

The same article revealed – “Following these suicidal attacks, reports confirm that over 750 innocent civilians have been killed, another 2458 injured, some of who are maimed or disabled for the rest of their lives.

“Security personnel, including police killed in these attacks stand at 269. Casualty figures among them (armed forces and police) are 511 while those missing in action were 177.”

The number of suicide cadres is a well-kept secret within the LTTE. They have only been put on display in public once, during the Heroes Day celebrations in November 2002, when 27 suicide cadres paraded in hoods. However, during last year’s celebrations in Jaffna, an LTTE commander acknowledged that there were more than 500 Black Tigers in the Wanni. Given the size of the LTTE (roughly around 16,000 fighting cadres), and the determination of even the ordinary cadres (who still carry the cyanide capsule) the number can be very much higher.

Present in strength

At last year’s celebrations, Miller’s mother was given pride of place and she is expected to attend this year as well. The LTTE also erects special podiums and shrines to honour the cadres. The Tigers make it a point that the whole organisation turns up in force for the commemorations. In Mullaitivu, the commemorations commenced on July 2. The main commemorations are due to take place in Mullaitivu. However due to prevailing security fears, the LTTE has not allowed outsiders including journalists to attend the ceremonies this year, which are restricted only to high ranking LTTE members.

Last week, the Tigers held a special commemoration of four Sea Tigers: Lt. Colonel Nagaratnam Niranjini alias Yarlini of Karainagar, Jaffna, Lt. Colonel Balasubraminiyam Suganthini alias Eelapriya of Thellipalai, Jaffna, Major Chelvan Gnaneswaran alias Kathir Oviyan of Punnalaikattuvan south, Jaffna and Captain Kugendran Ramanan alias Ekaivannan of Kokkuvil, Jaffna. They died during a confrontation off the coast of Mullaithivu on June 27, 2003. The LTTE maintains that the confrontation took place in international waters.

Human rights experts have pointed out that the LTTE has been able to feed off the dire situation in the Wanni to recruit cadres into the suicide units. Dahnu, the female cadre who blew herself and Gandhi up was reportedly raped by members of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. The suicide cadres are afforded almost mythical admiration. In the heroes cemeteries where graves of ordinary cadres are marked with wooden plaques, the Black Tigers are given granite tombstones despite the fact that there is no body.

The training given to the Black Tigers also differs from ordinary cadres. Once a cadre is selected to become a suicide cadre, he or she is isolated from the others and sent for special training. Communication with the outside world is kept to a bare minimum if not none. Along with the basic drills and other training, strict discipline is induced. They are also provided training in all weapons ranging from pistols to automatic weapons, plus driving at high speeds and shooting from moving vehicles.

Multi-task training

The Sea Tiger units are provided training on speed boat operations. Officers who have had opportunity to interrogate suspected Black Tigers say that the LTTE makes a distinction between cadres sent out for reconnaissance missions or as advance military units during operations and often get killed, and cadres who are trained to infiltrate, remain unnoticed and are then activated as and when the need arises. “They consider the second type, the real Black Tigers,” one such officer said. Sometimes only the handler and the high command would be aware of the mission and it would be conveyed to the cadre at the very last moment.

The climax of the training is a meal with Pirapaharan. Considering that most ordinary rankers hardly get a chance to see the elusive leader, it is most certainly considered an honour among LTTE cadres.

The value of the suicide cadres is military, economical and political. Former military spokesman, Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne, once termed the suicide cadre as “a one way weapon”. “You get someone into that mentality, there can be no limit,” he said. “Once it’s on the way to the target, there is no turning back.” Irrelevant of whether the operation succeeds or not, there would be the least amount of evidence left behind. The best example is Babu, the cadre who was responsible for the Premadasa assassination. He infiltrated the inner most-security of the President and waited for two years before he finally launched the attack. The fallout of that attack was more political than military.

“The Black Tigers are the strongest force of a much weakened people,” said Amithaab, an LTTE official at the Nelliady ceremony last year.

According to what transpired during the attack on the Katunayake Airport in July 2001, all the attackers were either killed or they committed suicide. There is some doubt as to whether one escaped leaving behind a communications set. The Katunayake attack crippled the economy while depleting the air force’s fleet.

The LTTE had adopted a similar pattern of inducting suicide cadres in its attacks in the city like the Central Bank attack and the Orugodawatte oil refinery attack.

The suicide units have given the LTTE an unparalleled advantage, and so far no military expert has developed any method to stop one.

Determination

“With perseverance and sacrifice, Tamil Eelam can be achieved in 100 years, but if we conduct Black Tiger Operations, we can shorten the suffering of the people, and achieve Tamil Eelam in a shorter period of time,” Pirapaharan has said of the Black Tigers in the early 1990s.

“No weapon and no technology on earth, can stop the determination of the LTTE’s suicide bombers. The suicide squad came into being at a critical juncture in the history of the Tamil liberation movement and has taken it to the next stage,” he was quoted as saying just before last year’s Black Tiger celebrations.

The Tigers might make use of tomorrow’s commemorations to drive home the tough stance they have adopted on the resumption of talks. Last week during Erik Solheim’s meeting with S P Tamilselvan, the Tigers toughened their position even more.

“If the Sri Lankan President and government are serious about the ceasefire agreement and peace talks they should stop sheltering Karuna and backing the murder and mayhem some of his henchmen are indulging in in Batticaloa. This is what we told the Norwegian facilitators today,” Tamilselvan told journalists soon after the meeting. “We made our stand known to the Norwegians very clearly and firmly,” the LTTE political wing leader said adding that the resumption of talks would now depend of the actions of the UPFA government. The Tigers were reacting to comments made by Cabinet Spokesman Mangala Samaraweera that some elements within the army were involved in aiding Karuna without the official sanction of the government.

Ball in govt’s court

The tone had been set during several ceremonies organised by the Tigers earlier. ” President Chandrika Kumaratunga said at the recent discussion she had with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians that the reason for the current stalemate in the peace process was due to her distrust of the LTTE. She should understand that we have exercised utmost restraint and have shown our determination to reach a negotiated solution through the peace process amid loss of several of our Sea Tigers and Black Sea Tiger cadres during the ceasefire period,” LTTE Trincomlaee District Political Wing Head, S .Elilan said during a ceremony to mark the first death anniversary of Sea Tiger Major Puhalini who died on July 30, 2003. At the same ceremony, the Tigers revealed that they had lost 33 cadres during the ceasefire and that patience was running thin.

Tamil Chorus

The London-based Tamil Guardian joined the chorus of Tamil voices raising concerns. The editorial last week said that the peace process had reached its lowest ebb and whatever goodwill there was between the Kumaratunga government and the LTTE had been totally evaporated due to the Karuna incident. “Most importantly,” the Guardian said, “these were not merely vindictive opportunist attacks (in the east), but part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to destabilise the region. The question thus raised is what does Colombo really want: peace with the Tamils or victory over them?”

It continued – “in short, the hawks in the Tamil community are having a field day. See, they argue, the Sinhalese simply cannot be trusted to deal honourably with the Tamils if the slightest opportunity to defeat them presents itself.”

The lack of a cohesive policy within the UPFA on how to approach negotiations on top of the Karuna rebellion has now moved the Tigers to issue an ultimatum. Is it war by proxy, or otherwise, or peace?

The Guardian, echoing the Tigers, said that war or peace would now depend on Colombo’s actions. It would depend even more on how the Tigers react to the next move by the PA/JVP alliance.

(Focus – Sunday Leader 4th July, 2004)

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