Archive for November 10th, 2007

He’s known only as KP, and he runs a shadowy smuggling network that stretches from the skyscrapers of New York to the suicide bomber training camps of Sri Lanka.

With a medium build, a mustache, slight paunch and thinning hair, the 52-year-old man blends easily into the places where he buys weapons for Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels, such as Thailand, Indonesia, Bulgaria and South Africa. And he operates right under the nose of the West, which experts say is so preoccupied with al-Qaeda that it largely ignores other terrorist group’s even one as accomplished as the Tamil Tigers.

In dozens of interviews with Sri Lankan officials, Western diplomats and former rebels, The Associated Press found that the Tigers raise $200 million (euro139 million) to $300 million (euro208million) a year, mostly through extortion and fraud. They then use front companies or middlemen to buy arms from legitimate weapons makers in Europe and Asia. They move the weapons back to Sri Lanka on their own ships, all to continue their 24-year-long fight to create a homeland for the Tamil minority.

The Tigers’ success in arming a 10,000-strong force has come into sharp focus in the past year with the resumption of full-scale civil war in Sri Lanka and a broadening investigation into alleged Tiger operatives in New York.

The investigation offers a glimpse of the Tigers’ methods and reach. More than a dozen suspects have been arrested for allegedly plotting to loot ATM machines and bribe US officials to drop the Tigers from Washington’s list of terror groups. One suspect once worked for Microsoft Corp. and allegedly helped the Tigers buy computers, according to court papers.

Another suspect arrested in Indonesia was caught with a laptop that had spreadsheets detailing more than $13 million in payments in the summer of 2006 for military equipment, including anti-aircraft guns and 100 tons of high explosives, court papers say. His passport showed more than 100 trips in the past five years to countries such as China, Kenya and even Sri Lanka.

Authorities are also looking into the dealings of a Wall Street financier suspected of donating millions of dollars to the rebels, say officials who spoke anonymously because the investigation is ongoing. He is identified only as “Individual B” in court papers and has not been arrested.

International efforts were supposed to shut down such operations after the Sept 11 attacks, but experts on terrorist financing say the Tigers’ network has thrived in the past six years. “After 9/11, the know-your-client principle was supposed to be integrated into the financial markets and into pretty much every business,” said Shanaka Jayasekra, a terrorism expert at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. The Tigers are “showing what can be done to exploit the holes in this system.” Sri Lanka has stepped up its efforts to cut off rebel supply lines in a war that has killed 70,000 people over the past 24 years. Its navy has sunk seven insurgent ships in the last year, and several Tiger operatives in the United States, Europe and Australia have been arrested.

And on Friday, its air force bombed a rebel facility and killed five people, including a top rebel leader. But Sri Lanka’s resources are limited, as is the interest of the West. “If we find (Tiger operatives) breaking the law, of course we’ll go after them,” said one Western diplomat, who spoke anonymously to avoid upsetting Sri Lankan officials.

“But we’re not running around hunting for these guys.”Even some Islamic groups with ties to al-Qaeda blamed for bombings that have killed more than 300 people in India over the past two years fly largely below the radar of the major Western powers, said Peter Chalk of the Rand Corp., a US think tank. “No one is paying a bloody bit of attention to any other group” apart from al-Qaeda, especially one like the Tigers, whose fight is in a single, relatively poor country with little international clout, he said. These often-ignored groups “pose real threats,” Chalk said.

The Tigers’ network mirrors the sophistication of the mini-state they’ve built in northern Sri Lanka. There, they levy sales taxes 10 per cent on building materials, 7.5 per cent on car parts, 20 per cent on cigarettes to support their own courts, traffic police and military, a cult-like force whose fighters don’t drink or smoke, and who carry cyanide pills to swallow if they are captured.

Outside Sri Lanka, the Tigers’ network relies heavily on the Tamil diaspora, which has swelled to between 600,000 and 800,000. They run the socio-economic gamut from doctors and bankers in upscale New Jersey suburbs to construction workers and cab drivers in London’s gritty immigrant neighbourhoods. The diaspora has helped the Tigers set up front companies in more than a dozen countries, legitimately selling everything from dried fish in Thailand to mobile phones in Toronto. The Tigers provide seed money to start the businesses, which then return profits to the Tigers.

They also use their small fleet of oceangoing ships and dozens of smaller vessels to haul lawful cargo for paying clients. But the bulk of their money comes from large and lucrative communities of Tamils abroad more than 200,000 in Canada, about 110,000 in Britain, others in Western Europe, Australia and the United States. Some donate willingly.

“Others have to be convinced,” said a former Tiger who worked in London as a fundraiser. The preferred method of persuasion, he said, is threats aimed either directly at the unwilling donor or at relatives back in Sri Lanka, which is “always the easiest because they knew we were the law at home.”

If threats fail ”very rare” then “may be we would beat him. Or if he had a shop, we could smash it.” The former Tiger, who would not discuss why he left the group, spoke anonymously because he feared retribution and because it is a crime in Britain to raise money for a terrorist group.

Reports from activists such as Human Rights Watch detail dozens of cases of Tamils in London and Toronto being forced to donate.

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The new TMVP leader Pillayan is continuing to extend his control over the party by appointing his close allies to some of the top posts with reports that cadres loyal to Karuna Amman had vacated their offices in Ampara and some 35 others were under ‘house arrest’ in Batticaloa.

Sources in Batticaloa said Pradeep Master, an associate of Pillayan, had been appointed as the TMVP political head in Batticaloa following the death of Thileepan who is reported to have committed suicide by swallowing cyanide.

TMVP spokesman Azad Maulana told the Daily Mirror that they had lost contact with Thilepan but could not confirm reports of his having committed suicide and added that the TMVP was investigating reports that some cadres were under house arrest in Batticaloa.

“Once our inquiries are over we will let the media know where things stand,” Mr. Maulana said.

The Daily Mirror has learnt that Pillayan placed 55 Karuna associates under house arrest after taking control of some of the offices in Batticaloa but subsequently released 20 cadres who have now reportedly either switched allegiance or had severed all connections with the TMVP.

Karuna cadres in Ampara have meanwhile moved out of their offices in an attempt to avoid confronting Pillayan cadres even as Karuna Amman himself remained in the custody of British immigration officials after his arrest with a forged passport.

The STF was this week deployed to provide tight security for the TMVP after a group of its cadres traveling in a van came under a grenade attack last Sunday, killing one and injuring seven. However despite the STF presence Pillayan cadres, on Monday, forced their way into offices still under the administration of Karuna and took control resulting in Thileepan committing suicide to avoid capture.

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  This week saw the government imposing a ban to “print, publish, distribute or transmit” material pertaining to proposed military operations or arms procurements, and the “deployment of troops or personnel.” But as suddenly as it was imposed so was the ban withdrawn.

The sudden imposition of censorship and its equally abrupt withdrawal is part of a series of interventions by the government to control the media. Human rights organisations condemn these as moves as stifling free reporting of the war. Similarly, the international community has condemned the LTTE for circumscribing media freedom and feeding the public one-sided news and commentary in the areas under its control.

Despite such criticism, neither the government nor the LTTE has let up controlling the media, especially on matters military. Needless to say, this is not new. In Iraq, reports describe the elaborate plans the Pentagon had in place to doctor news about war and peace issues even before invading troops were actually on the ground.

The reason for this is simple. In this age where the production and consumption of news is becoming democratic, the role of information is crucial in influencing public perceptions. This is especially so in insurgencies where established state forces are in conflict with guerrilla organisations. “In irregular (guerrilla) warfare, superiority in the physical environment is of little value unless it can be translated into an advantage in the information environment,” says Professor Lawrence Freedman. (The Transformation of Strategic Affairs, IISS 2006)

The importance of influencing perceptions in civil conflicts such as what we have in Sri Lanka is important because both the government and the LTTE are competing with each other to strengthen their political legitimacy in the public they control, while at the same time trying to expand control into areas which they perceive are inimical to their authority. One way of accomplishing this is to portray oneself as the sole protector of the civilian population, while portraying the other as the villain, destroyer or terrorist. This is especially so because the Sri Lankan state demands the adherence of its citizens as a matter of course, while the LTTE, as any guerrilla organisation, knows it needs public support and sustenance (the fish in the sea) for its existence.

Both parties realise that strengthening their legitimacy and undermining the enemy would depend on how they manipulate the perceptions of the public. Therefore, modern warfare is a contest between competing ideas as much as it is between contending physical power. To reach the mind of the enemy, information spin doctors use various methods including that of psy-ops.

Psy-ops or psychological operations have had a long history, but has become sharpened today in the context of civil wars in different parts of the world. Psyops are an important component in the branch of military science known as military operations other than war (MOOTW), a doctrine developed by the US as part of its response to irregular warfare because much of that type of warfare is fought by militaries by means other than shooting at each other.

Psy-ops are defined by Wikipedia as constituting “a planned, systematic process of conveying messages to and influencing selected target groups. The messages conveyed by military psy-ops are intended to promote particular themes that can result in desired attitudes and behaviors.” Contending forces, therefore, use psy-ops extensively “to promote particular themes that can result in desired attitudes and behaviors.”

In a recent interview, Government defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella was quite candid about it: “We are running counter propaganda, when false propaganda is being spread by the LTTE. Therefore it is correct if somebody says that the MCNS (Media Centre for National Security) is cleaning the government forces sometimes,” (Daily Mirror 16 Oct.07).

Among the better-known theories about propaganda are Hitler’s ideas on the Big Lie. Wikipedia quotes the United States Office of Strategic Services describing Hitler’s psychological profile, “His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

The government admitted openly that it was the fear that the LTTE would steal a march on the propaganda war that prevented Colombo from giving permission to UN Human Rights Chief Louise Arbour from visiting Kilinochchi. Similarly, it is alleged that both sides indulge in propaganda when reporting casualty figures — inflating the number of casualties of the enemy, while seeking to minimise their own. News agencies refer to this problem in the reports they file.

Information becomes of absolute importance in the battle to influence and dominate the mind of the public. The press, electronic media, the internet, and the plethora of IT equipment in in the hands of citizen journalists, not only facilitate creating support for a cause in local populations, diaspora and the international community, but also serve as effective tool for mobilisation. What is important to note is that in the past, governments had an advantage in the manufacture and dissemination of information or disinformantion but no longer so. The age of information technology has democratised the process, thereby allowing non-state actors too access to technology for psy-ops.

Therefore, use of information technology to shape perceptions of allies as well as enemies makes information technology, effectively used, a force multiplier, meaning that it enhances the effect of actual act by manipulating perceptions about that act.

The keyword, however, is ‘effective.’ For information to be effective, it has to be credible. Though the government was keeping up a barrage of information on numbers of LTTE cadres killed as well as an impressive number of LTTE vessels transporting military hardware sunk, news agencies reporting on these matters say such information “cannot be independently verified.”

But where government propaganda falls short is on what can be verified. The fiasco of the government admitting initially to five aircraft destroyed at Anurdhapura and then to eight was bad; when the opposition said up to 18 were gone there was no effective counter by the MCNS. What this has done is to also call to question the veracity of the earlier reports the public might have believed. If perceptions are key to winning a war the government has not fared too well! It is the boomeranging of an ineffectively handled psy-ops that perhaps compelled the government to try resorting to censorship. That would only make matters worse.


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“Ever smiling face, Heart that burns enmity, Heart of youthfulness, Strength of Himalaya, In the path of the old lion Balasingham, Moulded and ripened. Helped immortalize him too for the freedom fight, Never dying an honoured young man, Never abandoned by the kith and kin, In every land in every home where ever Tamils live, You’ve sculptured your fame, Selva – where have you gone”? 

It was 01.35 pm Friday Nov. 2 and I was just reaching home and my cell alerted me to a message “Thamilchelvan killed” – only those words appeared. It shocked me. Could be an internal conflict, I consoled myself. [The same notion is still being spread by some observers] Pat came another one “in an air attack”. It confused me further, and now I recalled, from the yard where I had parked my car, the security guard was listening to the Sinhala news on his radio that mentioned the name of LTTE, but I took no notice of it. A few minutes later every thing became crystal clear.

The death of Thamilchelvan spread like wildfire in Tamilnadu. People wondered ‘why he’? Leaders opined against the killing saying ‘it was inappropriate to do away with the messenger’, and ‘killing Thamilchelvan was like killing peace’. Subsequently, reams were written about him even in Sri Lanka. Walls were decorated with Thamilchelvan’s obituary posters with his ‘ever smiling face’. All Party condolence meetings were held. Protests against the SL High Commissioner’s office were organized. Even the disciplined Communists didn’t stay quiet but contributed their part. The Congress party of Tamilnadu however was placed between the devil and the deep blue sea. Their leader G.K.Vasan expressed his anguish saying “We neither forgot Rajiv’s murder nor pardoned the murderers”. As far as they are concerned piraphakaran is the greatest criminal who ever walked this earth.

TV channels devoted more time on Thamilchelvan and debates were held on the future of peace talks in Lanka. Prof. Su. Pa. Veerapandian, who was imprisoned for being an LTTE sympathizer, was a guest on Sun TV on Nov 5 at 10.30 pm. He impressed viewers with his upto date knowledge of SL politics. At one stage when the moderator questioned him “Had the LTTE supported Ranil, this much of calamity on Tamils could have been avoided no”? He replied in the negative. In fact all these activities were unconstitutional but seemed to have been freely accorded and based on Thamilchelvan’s personality rather than his military ideology. It is doubtful whether the Sun God would have received such sympathy.

Jayalalitha was right in objecting to the poetic eulogy written by the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu M. Karunainidhi, praising Thamilchelvan, which took everybody by surprise. But what of Vaiko, who is presently sitting with her and singing the same hosannas much louder? To anger Jayalalitha even more, Karunainidhi’s daughter, MP Kanimoly, also joined the fray praising Thamilchelvan, lambasting Jayalalitha and accusing GoSL of killing a person, ‘who exposed the suffering of the SL Tamils to the world after Balasingham, and of war culture’. She went on to ask what Jayalalitha had to do with the Tamil people, indirectly pointing out Mysore born Jayalalitha’s mother was not a Tamil but a Kannada. But Jayalalitha refuted the allegation saying she is also a pure Tamil woman who was concerned about SL Tamils. On the Vaiko issue she defended him saying he has not taken an oath as an administrator to uphold the constitution. She is planning to take the poem to the Supreme Court. Wasn’t it she who refused education to SL refugee’s children living in Tamilnadu?

Karunainidhi who distanced himself until recently from the LTTE after Rajiv Gandhi’s murder that limited his party to a single seat in the 1991 Legislative Assembly election, emphasizes in his poem that the death of Thamilchelvan was for the cause of freedom. If so does the CM accept that the LTTErs are freedom fighters not terrorists? He used the same two words at different times to suit his political agenda. Only recently he was condemned for his non cooperation in shipping the food collected by Nedumaran to Northern civilians. Has he changed his tune now?

Politicians always bet on winning horses. Does Karunainidhi think the Tigers are better off now despite the setbacks and GoSL’s assertions that they are about to finish them off, or was it a mere show of sympathy to one who spoke fluent and flowery Tamil with an ever smiling face as TN went into mourning? Any way a significant change can be noticed in the CM’s attitude.

Time will tell whether this Chanakya is enticing pro LTTE parties such as the DMK and the likes to remain with him for the next election, inviting Vaiko back to the fold and letting go of the Congress Party which aspires to make its own government and go with Vijaykanth, crowning the Finance Minister P.Chidambaram as the CM.

Besides, a Tiger is a Tiger, can’t change its spots or stripes and a terrorist is a terrorist which can’t change its mindset, even though he crosses the line. No doubt the killing of Thamilchelvan dimmed some of what the LTTE accomplished in the Anuradhapura air base attack, but the Tigers can’t be expected to crawl back with their tails between their legs. In war one could find one’s self flying from the zenith of magnificence to the depths of disgrace at a moment’s notice. It looks like the month of November is going to be quite decisive in the Northern battle field.

He was not a peace dove, no doubt about that. What has a dove got to do with eagles, except being killed? Only a hawk can coexist with hawks. But why was it that while the whole world condoled with his family after his death barring the major section of the majority community of SL sans former minister Mangala Samaraweera? While nations that were involved in our peace process expressed sorrow, those who had nothing to do with SL’s ethnic conflict also conveyed their sympathy. Reaction of Tamil Diaspora is understandable and well known. At the same time no nation officially condemned the offender as these were common military acts.

Was Thamilchelvan the real target? Was he the number one in the list, not his boss? Was not Adolph Hitler the target but his secretary Ms.Traudl Junge, who typed his last private (and political) will and testament, or Adolf Eichmann who developed the infamous Nisko Plan that got rid of Jews in Germany? If so, a rumour circulates, was it because that Thamilchelvan one day might spill the beans about the visit of some Southern politicians to Wanni in late 2005? Analysts find it difficult to digest SL’s bragging.

If he was a marked man then SL should have revealed the real story to the world, why pick the story from a Tiger source seven hours later? Further why is SL now backtracking saying they were unaware of Thamilchelvan’s presence, having boasted “we know everybody’s hideout and would take them out one by one”? Something surely is fishy here. Another leader in parliament challenged the Tigers with a military force of less than 5% of that of the state, to a conventional war. Has that ever happened in any country with terrorists? Is one minister’s announcement that the LTTE should make a declaration on January 14 still valid? People look for responsible statements from civil leaders who have the people’s destiny in their hands.

Deepavali – the festival of light that rejoices over the extinction of Naragasuran – the evil doer, saddened the hearts of Tamils all over. Why? Whatever race or creed they may be, everybody wanted peace in Sri Lanka. Whether a separation is achievable or not, is not the question for the commoner who finds it difficult to pass his day to day life. A thin thread of hope was hanging as long as Balasingham was living since he was defined as the one and only person who could at some stage convince the LTTE’s leader to accept peace if presented with agreeable terms. With his demise, though Thamilchelvan never enjoyed that amount of clout with the leader, the job was entrusted to him. Whether his participation in peace talks was genuine or pretense his message went far and wide to the Tamil speaking people or Tamil only speaking people in SL, Tamilnadu and the world over.

His rise to this position, being one from the lowest emblem of a downtrodden community was well received in Tamilnadu, as the majority belongs to that circle. Whether he was totally truthful or covered himself cunningly at points as a spokesman is debatable but he articulated his position to the ordinary masses in a way that was easily understood by them. Whether peace was a mirage or not, his presentation created an impression to the average person who may be hoping that one day peace would be achieved and he might even become the CM.

But he is accused of not contributing meaningfully towards the peace process. Persons of trade loved not one another. What were the clauses we fulfilled before proceeding to Oslo? It was said, in Geneva the SL team was handled by a puppeteer agreeing to terms that were impossible, against the wish of the team leader. The result today is – bloodshed on both sides, a financial disaster, and severe traffic restrictions in the city.

Anyway Thamilchelvan was a person we were talking peace with or were we both pretending talking peace shaking hands and expressing pleasantries? Killing him in his sleep, not in the war front or in uniform, irks the sentiment a bit.

In Tamilnadu, many small boutiques mushroomed named after Thangathurai and Kuttimani, with their photos on sign boards, after they were killed in Welikada prison during 1983 riots. It’s no wonder if history repeats itself again with Thamilchelvan, not only in Tamilnadu but also all over the globe, as the Tamils are seen like crows after 1983, except in Africa and South America.

Does one ever get all one wants in life? No, Selva. Human beings are in this world to learn and to change themselves. It does not take nearly as much courage as one might think to admit to our mistakes and learn from them. We should listen to the voice of our conscience, you too Selva.

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Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake yesterday said a security Coordinating Centre would be set up in Tissamaharama in the wake of the situation in the area after several people were hacked to death by an armed gang during the past few days.

Addressing parliament during an adjournment debate on the Tissamaharama situation, Mr. Wickramanayake said though it was not clear as to who was behind the violent acts he believed the LTTE was behind them.

He said the LTTE had been launching attacks in the South when they were defeated in the North and East. “We will continue the military operations in the North while safeguarding the South,” he assured.

UNP Hambantota District MP Sajith Premadasa who moved the adjournment debate said a serious situation had arisen in Tissamaharama and other surrounding areas. He said the crisis started with the attack on Yala where 6 soldiers were killed on October 15. He said a series of incidents had taken place since then.

Mr. Premadasa said three people identified as A. P. Sisira Kumara, A. P. Ajith Kumara and Sarath Abeydheera who were abducted on October 29 were still reported missing.

The MP said the situation might worsen if it is not brought under control immediately.

He also said the revenue of the Yala wildlife sanctuary had dropped from Rs 70 million in 2006 to Rs 47 million as at October 1, largely due to security concerns.

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Villages bordering the Yala Sanctuary had been living on the edge, since early October, with a series of attacks on both civilians and army personnel which began with the attack on the Thalgasmankada army unit on October 15. This spate of violence came to a climax this week, with 5 people being hacked to death, while 3 have been abducted. Despite the deteriorating ground situation, and several search operations in the Yala sanctuary and adjoining villages, the perpetrators are still at large. Several key issues are still unanswered, with the villagers unanimously blaming the Police for their lackluster response to their complaints.

Responding to allegations by the villagers about the lackluster response of the Police SI Kulawardena said “it is difficult to please everyone. Sometimes the police work overnight and then they are also edgy.” The Tissamaharama Police conducted a series of awareness programmes for the civilians residing in the villages bordering the Yala Wildlife Sanctuary. The Daily Mirror witnessed one such session at the Ranminithenne Primary School on November 7. A fact which came to light was the impracticality of the ‘practical’ measures proposed by the Police in times of danger.

Here’s how it went-: “If you see anyone suspicious start shouting! If you hear your neighbours shouting continue join in the screams. Catch any suspicious elements and hand them over to the police,” SI Kulawardena said. Then he immediately added that army personnel were roaming the area dressed as civilians and that the villagers had to be careful not to mistake them for suspicious elements. How the villages can distinguish between the two remains unraveled.The impracticality of some of these techniques was highlighted on that very same night when people acting on instructions of the Police to alert neighbours by shouting, roused there friends and relatives living in villages far from where the initial crime took place.

By Dilrukshi Fernando and Poornima Weerasekara
The white ‘Landmaster’ flew towards the Tissamaharama Base Hospital carrying the bodies of the latest victims of the terror that had stricken the area since early October. But despite all measures to calm the edgy crowd, pandemonium struck with villagers obstructing the work of the Mortuary officials while trying to rip off the white bags in which the bodies were wrapped.

The latest victims of the spate of violence that had gripped the border villages of the Yala Sanctuary were R.M. Abeywardena (47) and J.H. Padmasiri (48) from the 7th Colony in the Beralipola village. Emotions were running riot, when the villagers threatened journalists who tried to cover the incident. Threatened and attacked journalists’ claim that the mobs were mobilized against them under the directives of the police.

The remnants of hacked bodies were found in a Chena in Galara at about 8.45 am on November 8, by an army search team that had combed the area after panic struck Ranminithenne, Osuwinne and Yodakandiya Diyawawara village the night before.

A shotgun fired by a civilian after seeing two suspicious individuals roaming around in Yodakandiya Diyawawara village had sparked an outcry with villages pouring out of their houses and thronging to schools and temples. Pandemonium spread to peripheral areas, with people calling relatives and spreading rumours of a Tiger attack on the village.

“My mother got a phone call from a relative in Yodakandiya and she was told Tigers had come to the village. We started running and saw that people had already come out onto the roads carrying knives and clubs,” 10 year old Fazmia from the Kirinda fishing village said. The spate of violence that had hit Tissamaharamaya since the attack on the Thalgasmangkada army unit on October 15, climaxed this week with five civilians being hacked to death, while three dairy farmers had disappeared a week earlier. Maybe it was a twist of fate, which made the funerals of the three victims who were hacked to death in the Thambarawewa to coincide with the latest murders.

The Thambarawewa massacre, where 3 farmers were hacked to death, occurred on the day the Yala sanctuary was to reopen after being closed for over a month, due to clashes with the LTTE.

Nanda Nilani, wife of W.K. Hemandanda, one of the victims slain on Monday, November 5, said “we moved out of Ranminithenne after our house was destroyed by elephants four times. Although they warned us not to go back to our Chena’s close to the forest, we had no alternative. Both the army and the police kept saying that they would give us protection, but nothing was done.” Staring at the still body of her husband, while clutching her two children, she said “we have received 50,000 rupees as compensation. But how am I to bring up these two kids? The police had scolded the villagers in filth when they went to complain. It’s only the army who came to our assistance. How can we put our security in their hands?” she asked.

Prema Ratnayake was with her husband R.K. Piyasena on the night he was brutally killed. They had just returned to their shack in the thicket after a Samurdhi meeting. Loud voices were heard outside and someone had banged on the door. “They were dressed in dark green outfits which looked like Army suits”, Prema said describing the four unknown men who met her terrified gaze.

“They pushed me aside and threatened both of us to stay quiet if we wished to stay alive. Although the man who threatened us spoke in Sinhala, they conversed only in Tamil amongst themselves,” she added. “They tied my husband’s hands behind and beat him repeatedly when he tried to struggle. I pleaded with them to not hurt him but then they turned their wrath on me. One man came up to me and pushed me against the bed hitting my head against the bed head three times. Then they tied my hands”, Prema said. “My husband pleaded with them asking them not to hurt me because I was a heart patient,” Prema said tears rolling out of her eyes. The man had pushed her against the wall before dragging Piyasena away into the night.

“They even took my medicines,” she added. In a frenzy of fear Prema had struggled with the bonds that tied her down and then crawled into a newly-dug lavatory hole. “I spent the whole night in there pressed against the wall hoping that I would not be found. Late in the night I heard footsteps outside and saw torch lights being flashed,” she said. But Prema was not discovered and the following morning she escaped into a nearby thicket where she was discovered by a couple outside at about 10.30 am, and was admitted to hospital diagnosed with high pressure.

K.K. Priyantha Chandrasiri, the victim’s son says; “My brother died from an elephant attack. I have four sisters. There is nothing for us to do other than chena cultivation. Everyone is afraid to go to their fields after these incidents. If we miss the Maha season, we would be left paupers for another 6 months.” He was echoing a problem that has rendered most villagers helpless, since over 70% of them rely on chena cultivation or dairy farming to earn their livelihood. “The cows have been allowed to run astray because we are too afraid to go to their grazing grounds in Yodakandiya. If we don’t start planning before the rains, then the crop will be ruined. But we are too afraid to go into the jungle,” another villager said.

P.P.G Ariyalatha, the wife of the third victim N.H. Piyadasa, had also narrowly escaped death. “They banged on our door and asked in broken Sinhalese what our names were and whether we could give them some tea. Then they closed the door and flashed torches at our faces. One person came forward and pinned my hands down while another person tied my legs and gagged me with the cloth that was wrapped around my shoulders. Two others were beating my husband who was pleading with them to let me go. Then they covered my face with my husband’s shirt. Then everything went dark and they dragged him away,” she said, shuddering upon recalling the incident and the final screams of her husband that had resonated in her ears. Ariyalatha had untied herself after hours of struggling and crawled to the shack next door. “My neighbours tried calling my son and then he had tried to contact the police. The Tissamaharama Police number had not responded for a long time and then when it was finally connected they had scolded him in filth and said that he was trying to mislead the police. Then we called an army mobile unit that had patrolled the area a few days ago and they are the only ones who came,” she sighed.

Responding to allegations by the villagers about the lackluster response of the Police SI Kulawardena said “it is difficult to please everyone. Sometimes the police work overnight and then they are also edgy.” The Tissamaharama Police conducted a series of awareness programmes for the civilians residing in the villages bordering the Yala Wildlife Sanctuary. The Daily Mirror witnessed one such session at the Ranminithenne Primary School on November 7. A fact which came to light was the impracticality of the ‘practical’ measures proposed by the Police in times of danger.

Here’s how it went-: “If you see anyone suspicious start shouting! If you hear your neighbours shouting continue join in the screams. Catch any suspicious elements and hand them over to the police,” SI Kulawardena said. Then he immediately added that army personnel were roaming the area dressed as civilians and that the villagers had to be careful not to mistake them for suspicious elements. How the villagers can distinguish between the two remains unraveled.

The impracticality of some of these techniques was highlighted on that very same night when people acting on instructions of the Police to alert neighbours by shouting, roused their friends and relatives living in villages far from where the initial crime took place.

Face to face with the perpetrators-:
W.H. Bennet alias ‘Sudu Aiya’ rode his motorbike on October 30, at 6.00 am to the Badunuwewa thicket to visit his son-in-law Ajith Kumara and his brother Sisira Kumara. As he reached the herd of cows he had seen Ajith and his colleague Sarath Abeydheera being led away by an individual dressed in Army fatigues with their hands bound behind their backs. “They did not see me there and since that person was in an Army suit I didn’t interfere. Instead I started up my bike loudly, making some noise intentionally so I could catch their attention,” Bennet said recalling how his attempt failed. “I sped away to the Godekalapuwa Army camp situated about 12 Km away from the shack and reported the incident immediately,” Bennet said adding that although they noted down his complaint, the Police had come to record his statement two days later.The other eye witness, I.M. Kitchim, went to Badunuwewa to purchase cattle from those who were abducted. “We reached the place at about 9.30am and four men dressed in Army uniforms jumped out at us from the shrubbery. They told us to put our hands up, before we had a chance to escape”.

The men had then taken Kitchim and his two assistants into the shack and had them seated. Fortunately however no harm was done to them. Kitchim recalled that the four had books, pens, and laminated maps strapped to their jackets. Two had carried daggers while the other two were armed with guns. “My driver told me that the dialect they spoke was akin to that spoken by estate Tamils”, said Kitchim adding that thus he had understood only a part of the conversation. “Once in a while they talked to us in Sinhala and they asked us a lot of questions for nearly one and half hours.”

The questions were mostly related to information regarding the armed forces according to Kitchim who said, “They asked us how many boats the Navy had, whether the roads in the area were in good condition and finally asked if we are satisfied with the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya(!).” Later on when we asked them if we are free to go, they said to leave someone behind. But I told them that either we all go or we won’t leave”, Kitchim said.

Although the three had been body searched the men had not taken any of their possessions. “I had 30,000 worth of cash, my wallet and a packet of cigarettes with me but nothing was taken”. As soon as they were released Kitchim reported the incident to the Kirinda Police.

The first hand account of an eyewitness who escaped the claws of death

The Thambarawewa massacre had no witnesses except Galawalagamage Gunatunga, who had a confrontation with the unknown group of six men who are presumed to have been the murderers. Riding his bicycle along the road bordering the Ranminithenne village at 9.05 in the night after visiting a friend; Gunatunga saw a dark lump moving in the middle. Thinking it was a herd of cattle he dismounted from his bike and cautiously walked towards the object. He realized his mistake when someone flashed a pen torch in his face and boomed “stay where you are”.

“In the torch light I saw that the person holding it was wearing boots and had the whole of his face except eyes and mouth covered in black,” Gunatunga said adding that the other five had closed in on him and grabbed the bike from his clutches. “Then they inquired my name and whereabouts and from their accent it was obvious that they were not fluent in Sinhala.”

Then one man had removed the bicycle chain and tried to tie his hands. But a noise heard from the nearby thicket distracted them and Gunatunga grabbed this opportunity and fled for safety. “I didn’t run home. Instead I hid deep within the thicket. I was too scared to shout for help since they had 3, T-56 rifles and 2 knives with them.” From his hideout Gunatunga had heard what he terms “slashing noises like something cutting into flesh and people moaning at about 9.45”. After waiting for another fifteen minutes, he escaped, alerting an Army unit patrolling the area who promptly arrived at the location where the six men had attempted to abduct him.

Hope running thin for the families missing dairy farmers

It was only on days on which his father fell ill that Sarath Abeydheera assumed the double role of dairy farmer and chena farmer. The family which owns a plot of land adjoining Banduwewa uses it alternatively for paddy cultivation and livestock during the ‘Maha’ and ‘Yala’ seasons. Sarath left home on the evening of October 29 to collect milk for a relative’s almsgiving the next day.

As usual he had left for Banduwewa with two neighbours Ajith Kumara and Sisira Kumara. His family started to worry when Sarath didn’t return the next day, as usual. “We received the disturbing news in the afternoon when Ajith’s father-in-law said that he had seen Sarath and Ajith being taken away by a man dressed in Army fatigues. Padmakumara had immediately lodged a complaint at the Tissamaharama Police and also informed the Army officials stationed in the area. According to him the Police never approached them to record any statement. “When we inquired about the progress of the investigations and the possible return of the three we are merely told that the matters are being looked into. So we are forced to expect the worst,” Padmakumara added.

Despite increasing doubts his young wife Ishanka Lakmali, awaits the return of the father to her six month old son as does Shanika Madushani, wife of Ajith Kumara. “No matter how busy they are Ajith and his brother always came to see the baby and spend a little time with the child,” Shanika said, unable to believe that he may never return home. According to her the three usually milk the cows by 5.00pm and return home by 1.30 the next day after spending the night in the forest shack.

“Everything in the shack had either been looted or damaged. All their tools and even the battery in the motorbike were stolen.” Ajith and Sisira’s sister, Dinusha Priyadarshini said.


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The CID is to question a coordinating officer of a government VIP in connection with the recent LTTE attack on the Anuradhapura air base, over his alleged links with a group which sent vehicles to the Wanni, the Daily Mirror learns.

A high ranking police officer said a special CID team which is probing the attack had revealed that a Coordinating Secretary of a government VIP had allegedly given the contract to a suspect with LTTE connections to supply soil for the Anuradhapura Air Force airstrip expansion project.

The official also said the Coordinating Secretary was also alleged to be involved with a group which stole luxury vehicles from Colombo and its suburbs and sold them to customers in the Wanni.

Earlier a top government Parliamentarian recently revealed that a probe was underway to ascertain whether a person who provided soil for the reconstruction of the Anuradhapura Air base runway under the ‘Maga Neguma’ project was linked to the attack.

It is also claimed that a Black Tiger who had identified himself as a Karuna loyalist had been recruited as a driver for a lorry transporting soil for the Anuradhapura air base runway development project.

While three CID teams and two teams from the Air Force are investigating the attack on the air base, the President has appointed a high-level defence team headed by Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda to probe the matter.

The high-profile defence team is expected to hand over its final report to President Mahinda Rajapaksa next week.

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