Colombo, End of war special edition, Human Rights, Human Security, Identity, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Vavuniya

Vanni in the year after war: Tears of despair and fear

About six months after the end of the war, in November 2009, the government of Sri Lanka relaxed restrictions on travel to the Vanni[1] and started to allow some of the displaced people to go back to their villages.

Although the government still maintains some restrictions on travel, I managed to visit these areas many times. My visits including overnight stay in Vanni without beds, attached bathrooms, running water, electricity, helped me to better experience and understand life there after the war. It also increased my admiration for some of my friends, Catholic priests and sisters, who warmly welcomed and hosted me and my friends every time we visited, despite the very basic and difficult life they had opted to live.

My visits took me to interior villages deep inside the Vanni. From Paranthan on the A9 road to Ponneryn, and then further south on the A32 road, down to Vidathalthivu, visiting villages such as Mulangavil, Thevanpiddy. We also visited villages and towns such as Mallawi, Thunukai, Uruthirapuram Sannar, Eechalavakai. In the Mannar district, we went to Adampan, Alkataveli, Uylankulam etc. East of the A9 road, in the Mullativu district, we visited places such as Oddusudan, Katsilaimadu and upto Vattapalai on the A34 road.

The A9 road was crowded with buses, vans and even luxurious vehicles such as Prado, Defenders etc. I had talked with some and most appeared to be tourists from the south going to Jaffna. Name boards from buses indicated the variety of places they were coming from, practically all districts of Sri Lanka. Many were picnicking under shady trees on the roadside, others admiring war monuments built by the military.

However, I saw no tourists and luxurious vehicles along the dusty, broken and bumpy roads beyond the A9 road. Every time I went in a van, after the journey, the drivers told me they will have to send the van for repairs and service! The times I went by motorbike, it was a bit easier to negotiate the gaping holes on the roads, though the dust, heat and sitting upright for hours was not so comfortable.

What’s hidden beyond the A9?

On most occasions as we turned from the A9 road or from the Mannar – Medwachiya road to go interior villages, it seemed to arouse suspicion and curiosity in soldiers. Familiar questions of earlier years, such as “where are you going?” “why are you going?” “who are you” were thrown at us. Our response that we are going to visit friends didn’t appear to be a satisfactory answer. In the Vanni, it seems to be considered something abnormal and suspicious to visit friends!

My Tamils friends from the North found these questions offensive.

“This is our land, our people are living here, these soldiers are from outside, how dare they ask us all these questions and stop us? Why can’t I visit my place? Why can’t I visit my relatives and friends? Why can’t I invite friends (meaning me)?” were the angry and frustrated refrain I was to hear often from my friends.

Most of my friends were Christian priest and sisters, some of them were going to their own places, own land and houses. Places they had grown up, and their families had been living and still lived. These were also areas where they had served their religious and social ministries and their colleagues were now living and working in very difficult circumstances.

The fact that I was Sinhalese from Colombo seemed to arouse further suspicions and curiosity amongst the soldiers.

We asked why they were trying to stop us from visiting, especially as these were areas formally declared as areas cleared of land mines and people were already living there.

“We don’t know, we just follow orders” was the inevitable response. Some of the soldiers were apologetic. On several occasions, it was mentioned that we have to get permission from the Ministry of Defense or that we should go to a nearby Brigade Headquarters and get special permission or a pass.

My friends and I tried to maintain our composure and sometimes soldiers at the check points tried to help us by contacting their superiors while we waited patiently. Some occasions, soldiers did their best to sooth our frustration by offering us chairs, chatting to us and giving us tips about how bad the roads were! I didn’t think they had anything else to offer. On one occasion, we waited for about 30 minutes near Paranthan on the A9 road and one solider rode on a bicycle to inform the checkpoint that the commander had given a special permission for us to proceed to Uruthirapuram. On another occasion, me and a priest friend from Mannar waited in vain in the hot sun for about an hour at the Mankulam junction check point awaiting permission to visit the recently returned people in Oddusudan. The permission never came and we left the embarrassed and apologetic soldiers at the checkpoint and turned back. On yet another occasion, we waited patiently at a barrier in Vattapalai in the Mullativu district for about 30minutes, again while the officer on duty contacted his superiors and that superiors contacted his superior. We wanted to proceed to Killinochi through the shortest road through Puthukudiruppu that we learnt was already open, but not for civilians. Permission never came and we finally turned back and took the longer route through Mankulam. When we turned back and went, some officers on duty offered to call us on our mobile phones if they did get permission from their superiors to allow us through, but we never got a call. On several other occasions, the soldiers or officers at the checkpoints consented to allow us to proceed after some initial hesitation.

Anyways, like we did with the LTTE during the time they were in control of the Vanni and restricting travel to Mullativu and other interior villages, my friends and I did manage to negotiate with those trying to stop us and visit our friends in the interior villages.


On most roads inside the Vanni, whether on the A9 or interior roads, I felt as if we were travelling within a military camp. Military camps and check posts were along all the roads.

In Pooneryn, the main road literally ran through a newly built Army camp. In several other places including the A9 road, army camps occupied the main tarred road and we as civilians were forced to take a roundabout route, on muddy dusty makeshift pathways. In the more bushy and jungle areas, sign boards on the roadside indicated military camps inside the jungles.

Soldiers were everywhere with uniforms and with weapons. Some soldiers were in civil but were easily identifiable through the gun on their shoulders, even as they were walking or riding their bicycles. Other soldiers were relaxing, playing cricket and bathing in small streams. The buildings that were in the best conditions were all military and police structures. I could very well empathize with what one elderly gentleman in Mulangavil told me; “it looks as if it’s their (military) land and we are strangers, while the truth is they are occupying our land”.

Clearly, the military has less to do on military matters now. I saw and heard in several places that the military is assisting with road construction, distributing water, organizing cultural and sports events etc. I also heard of efforts of some military officials to assist civilians in their basic needs. In view of the massive needs of the population for basic services and infrastructure, and the very weak civil administration and reluctance of the government to allow NGOs access to help those in need, people are compelled to depend on the military for even basic services like water.

Security fears

The huge military presence, with past experiences of abuses, has caused deep rooted fear amongst many of civilians I spoke to.  “We are scared to have young girls and boys walk around in the dark” one mother told us.

Catholic sisters who had gone to be with the people had sent additional reinforcements, as they didn’t want sisters to be alone.

“I was accused several times by the Army intelligence of being in the LTTE. Another boy was also accused. The Army had also told a villager that I would be taken away. I’m scared and don’t go anywhere alone” was what one man in Kathalampiddy, close to Vidathalthivu told us. “Although only two people had been threatened, the whole village is now scared” another woman from the village told us.

“Will the Army leave soon?” one anxious young man asked me, to which I had no answer.

Snakes have also instilled fear in several villages in visited. In one village I visited, snake bites had caused two deaths and several injuries.

Sexual abuse

“In front of our own eyes, and inside our premises, the army was touching a young girl…so what would happen if we are also not there” one Catholic sister asked me when I met her in the Vanni.

Amidst the huge military presence, one lady was raped in newly resettled area of Alkataveli, close to Adampan and north of Mannar and one person was killed in Killinochi. The checkpoint and soldiers with their guns had been unable to prevent or bring perpetrators to justice. An incident of sexual abuse by a soldier in Nachikuda was narrated to me. I heard of other incidents of rape, sexual abuse, killings, but could not get confirmation.

Two young female students we spoke to complained that they felt they were being harassed by regular requests to see identity cards as they cycle to school in nearby Illupaikadavai. “They don’t ask the boys, they only ask girls, even when they know we don’t have identity cards at our age, and they know who we are. It seems they are trying to flirt with us” one girl said.

Happy to be back…but incomplete return

Most of the people I met would start conversations with bright smiles, saying they are happy to be back in their own land, despite all they have lost and the adverse circumstances.

But as we continued to listen to them and be with them, we would often be left speechless and helpless, as tears welled up in their eyes.

Most families had returned incomplete. Not just without properties, but also without their loved ones who had been killed, missing and detained.

Discriminating the dead

Many of the people I met in Vanni had parents, children, brothers and sisters, grandparents and other close family members killed during the final months of the war in 2009. It almost seemed normal and inevitable in most of the villages I visited in Vanni.

Since 2006, I had met families of Sinhalese killed in claymore attacks, suicide bombings by LTTE in rural villages such as Kebidogollwe, Moneragela. The sorrow I experienced with them and with the Tamils in Vanni was not very different. The tears and sorrow didn’t seem to have an ethnic dimension.

But how the society and government deal with these certainly seems to be on ethnic lines.

Society and the government had been quick to condemn killings by the LTTE and mourn with the grieving families. Sinhalese people killed by claymore attacks, suicide bombings had got death certificates, compensation from government and even business groups. They all had funerals, often with media coverage, even state patronage. I had seen these on TV, in newspapers, and saw and heard from family members and villagers. I felt these were some basic measures, even though we all know lives lost can never be compensated.

But there seems to be a reluctance of Sri Lankan society and the government to mourn and grieve with the Tamils who had lost thousands of loved ones within a few months. The large number of Tamils killed don’t have death certificates, no compensation, no funerals. “We had no time to mourn, leave alone a funeral. We had to run over the dead bodies, just to save our own lives” one woman whose two children were killed told us.

“About 25 have been killed in this Grama Seweka division. I can easily collect the details of those who have been killed in the village, witnesses etc., and assist people to get death certificates and compensation. But I have not got any instructions from the government. I think the government wants to cover up that so many people were killed. Im scared to do anything by myself as I might fall into trouble” said one Gramw Seweka in a village in Manthai West division when I asked him about this.

I tried to find out procedures for obtaining death certificates, but was not successful. In the Vidathalthivu area, I was told there was a mobile clinic to issue birth and death certificates, but that all applications for death certificates were rejected.

Families of those missing, detained, injured

Families of those killed were not the only ones who were crying.

Many didn’t know where their loved ones were living or dead. And if they are living, where they are. Most had seen their children, husband, brother etc., go off with the army. Subsequently, they had searched in IDP camps, detention centres, hospitals, with relatives. Except few, many had failed to find their loved ones.

“I live crying everyday, and searching for my 3rd son. He was injured and taken to a hospital by the armed forces. I heard that he was in Mannar hospital and I went there. With help of Police there, I could find the name of my son on the register. I was told by the hospital that the Army had taken him away after getting him discharged. But I couldn’t find the Army officers who had taken him. I can’t find my son. Who will find my son? There are so many mothers and fathers in this situation. Can those who have elections find our children?” was what a mother from Krishnapuram told us.

In April, I and some friends joined an 67 year old man now in Zone 4 of Menik Farm IDP camp (Chettikulam, Vauniya district) to find his missing son. We went to Padaviya hospital where the son had been admitted after being evacuated from the Vanni by the ICRC in March 2009. Padaviya hospital records showed that the son, who was mentally retarded and unable to walk, was indeed admitted and had been transferred to Vavuniya hospital. When we came to Vavuniya hospital, there are no records of such a person being admitted.

Many others I met had similar stories.

In every village, I would also meet people whose children and family members are being detained, for almost a year and some for many years. They have not been charges in court of law. And have limited access to friends, family and no access to ICRC and lawyers.

“I have come back to my village. I could probably build my house. But my son is a prisoner. I don’t know when he will be allowed to come home. First the LTTE took him and now the Army has taken him. How can I be happy at coming back when my son is still a prisoner and I don’t know what will happen to him” asked a mother with tears in her eyes.

Each time I visit the office of the National Human Rights Commision (NHRC) in Jaffna and Vavuniya, I run into anxious families, glancing through the list the NHRC had displayed. This list has a round one thousand names of people being detained in Boosa detention camp and elsewhere. But the governments officials have claimed over 10,000 are detained in Vavuniya alone. Many thousands more are in detention facilities all over the country.

But these helpless families don’t have access to a centralized list with any government or independent agency, to check and see whether their children or loved ones are in any official detention facility.

Fear of Sinhalese domination

In the interiors of Vanni, I could see many sign boards in Sinhalese. Despite the fact that almost all the civilians in Vanni are Tamil speaking now, Tamil language was visibly absent in many sign boards.

Some places and names had been given new Sinhalese names by the military. As I took a photo of a signboard in Sinhalese marked “Ali handiya” (meaning elephant junction) Along the Mankulam – Mullativu road, an army officer rushed to stop us and asked us why were taking photographs. We asked in turn about this board. “The Tamil name is too long and complicated, so when we took control of this area, we put this name, as this is much easier for us” was his explanation. My friend from Mullativu was inside the van, but kept quiet, but he couldn’t hide his anger and hurt afterwards.

Some of the signboards in Sinhalese are those with names of Sinhalese soldiers. Gamini Kularatne Mawatha in Pampaimottai and Ranawiru Abeysundara Mawatha in Kalliyadi are examples. When I asked a villager what this meant, he said he thought it was their village name written in Sinhalese, and was shocked when I told him that it was not the village name, but a Sinhalese soldier’s name.

At the Mankulam junction on the A9 road, there is a signboard in all three languages. But in addition to the usual and accepted Sinhalese names, the board also mentions older Sinhalese names. “This is an attempt to show that these lands are Sinhalese lands” one Tamil priest told me.

Foremost place to Buddhism even in Hindu and Christian villages

A striking feature along the A9 road, in the Killinochi town is the large arch proclaiming “May Buddhism shine”. From what I understood from the civilians I spoke to, vast majority of the civilians were Hindus and a significant number Christian. However, there were of course no arches or boards proclaiming “May Hinduism shine” or “May Christianity shine”. The Lumbini Viharaya, the Buddhist shrine in Killinochi town was spick and span and was obviously being given a lot of attention.

Compared to this, the Hindu kovils and Christian churches were visibly in bad shape, some were abandoned and buildings damaged.

Along the A9 road and the smaller roads in the interior villages, new and shining Buddhist monuments and statutes were visible. All of these were villages with large majority of Hindu and Christian civilian populations. I saw soldiers cleaning up an area in Mankulam with a Bo Tree, probably to put up ayet another Buddha statue.

There was even a Buddhist dagaba in the premises of a Catholic Church which was occupied by the Army when I first visited Manthai West AGA division in Mannar district, immediately after people were allowed to go back. 09.

I have a lot of respect for Buddhism. But I wonder why Buddhism has to given such a prominent in villages where the civilian population is predominantly Hindu and Christian? Is it because our constitution has a clause saying “foremost place to Buddhism”? Or to show that Buddhism is the religion in Sri Lanka and people in Vanni had better learn to accept it now?

New monuments for the Army and destruction of dead Tamil militants cemeteries

Along the A9 road such as in Killinochi and Elephant pass as well as in interior villages such as Pooneryn, there were monuments built by the military. These symbolize victory for the military and the government, but for most of the Tamils I spoke to these monuments symbolize domination of their lands by the Army. And glorification of a war that killed and injured thousands of their loved ones.

There were no monuments for the thousands of Tamil civilians who were killed and went missing in the war. I asked many times, in many places from many people about any monuments to remember the thousands of Tamil civilians killed and gone missing, but there were none.

Making this worse is the destruction of cemeteries with dead LTTE cadres by the Army. I saw at least one in Vanni, while I had seen such destructions in Jaffna as well. Despite it’s brutality and record of violence & killings, the LTTE had a tradition of respecting it’s dead cadres and this had provided family members and friends to visit the graves of their loved ones and conduct religious and cultural rituals, especially on special days such as birthday and day of death. Now, family members are compelled to gaze emptily at gravel heaped together.

Re-displacement and occupation of land by Army

In my most recent visit to the Vanni, earlier this week, I went to Eechalavakai, along the Periyamadu Road from Vidathalthivu, in the Mannar district. There, I met some people who were still living in tents in a common village land as displaced persons. Amongst them was a 10 day old infant.

“We were told by the Divisional Secretary that we can go back to our lands. So we came from the camps. But when we came and started to clean up the land, the land we have been living for more than 25 years, the Army came and told us to go away. When we asked why, they told us that they are going to take our land for a Army Camp” one villager told us.

Later, we were shown their lands, in nearby Sannar, where notices were pinned to trees saying “This land is reserved for Army”


Most of the houses had been damaged. Most people I met were living in temporary make shifts tents built with canvas and tin sheets provided with foreign aid. Many more were living in makeshift houses that were damaged. When I first visited Adampan, some people were living in a church.

We also saw a number of houses destroyed. Some were totally destroyed and will have to be built from scratch. Others were partly destroyed, but parts still standing.

I was told by people that while some houses were damaged during actual warfare. In case of other houses, people had just abandoned their houses and left as the Army advanced. Several had been converted as bunkers by the LTTE. Others had been occupied by the Army. Some are still occupied by the Army.

Basically, there was hardly any house that was in good shape that I saw. Except some that were occupied by the Army.

“The house we built had to be abandoned during the last phase of the war. When we came back, the house had no roofs, windows, doors. There was not much fighting in these areas. Who took these? Why did they take these? What was the connection between war, terrorism, LTTE and the roof, windows and doors of our house?” questioned a Principal of a school close to Killinoch town.

“When we came back (after displacement), we found that roofs, doors, windows of all houses were missing, except one house. The remaining house with roof was because the army had used it as their camp. Valuable household items were also missing” commented a middle age man from Vattapalai, close to Mullativu. Another middle aged man from Katsilaimadu, also close to Mullativu showed visible anger as he told us “I have heard that doors, windows etc. is available for sale. This means selling our own things that were stolen from us. There was no war in these areas, we left everything. Walls of houses are there. But nothing else.”


Along the A9 road and along the interiors, we saw many school children. Some schools buildings had been renovated some had not been repaired after been damaged or abandoned. And there were many classes being held in the open air under trees.

In one of my visits to Thevanpiddy, I was surprised to hear that that the whole Church, the residence of the priest and even the garden was being used for the school, as the school itself had been damaged. In a subsequent visit this week, I learnt that some classes are still conducted inside the Church.

One of my friends from Jaffna, is now teaching in this school. “We do our best to teach our children. But we who try to educate the children have no hostel or proper facilities to stay, while the Army and Police have good buildings” lamented my friend, who stays the weekdays in the makeshift school and travels every weekend to Jaffna to be with his family.

We had the chance to chat with several students, teachers and principals and one Deputy Zonal Director of Education, who I met by coincidence in the train I was travelling to go to Vanni. Below are some of the stories we heard:

  • In Panikankulam Government Tamil Mixed School, along the A9 road, we found that there are 19 teachers for 18 students. However, teachers have to travel 2-3 hours, and some even more, from Jaffna and Vavuniya, on a daily basis. A free bus service was provided till the Presidential elections of 26th January, but since then, the teachers have to spend a major portion of their salary for transport.
  • But in other schools, there was a clear lack of teachers. One Principal there were no teachers for Mathematics, Science and English
  • We met some students (aged 17-18) who had sat for the G.C.E Ordinary Level examination in December 2009, and were now volunteering as substitutes for teachers
  • At the time we visited in February, we learnt that only 10 of the 54 schools in the Thunukai division had started. 18 out of 29 were functioning in the Poonagary division.
  • At least in two schools, we heard that children walk at least 8km a day (4km either way) to go to  school, as there is no bus service or any other transport system
  • Some children have also been compelled to travel far to distant schools, as schools in their villages had not reopened
  • Several children told us that they had not received text books or even copy books
  • We observed that some children were in school uniform, while others were not in uniform. “Many children don’t have uniforms, they have not been given uniforms and parents don’t have livelihoods and can’t afford to buy school uniforms. So we allow them to come without uniform” explained one Principal
  • Most of the support for students comes not from the government, but from UN. The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) was providing mid day meals to some school students. One Principal told us the WFP subsidy comprises rice, dhal and cooking oil and is an average of Rs. 2.00 per student
  • UNICEF provides most other materials, from mats for children to sit on (both indoors and classes under trees) as well as school bags, books, tools etc.
  • Several Principals and teachers also told us about teachers and children who had been killed and injured during the last months of the war. Principals also reported about their students who had been abducted /recruited by the LTTE. One Principal added some students forcibly recruited are now detained by the government

Military restaurants and people’s restaurants

One of the initial sources of livelihood when people went back to villages in the Vanni were the small tea shops that they set up along the A9 road and other roads.

But these were overshadowed by the bigger, better looking and better equipped “Janaavanhalas” (People’s restaurants) put up by the military. Each and every time I go along the A9. There appeared to be more military run restaurants than before. In the small Paranthan junction, there were around 10 such restaurants, run by various divisions, brigades of the military.

“We have nothing, had to start from scratch and wanted to slowly build up business. The Army has the resources to put up big structures, refrigerators, tables, and chairs etc., also people to work. Visitors coming in buses and vans from the south go to the bigger restaurants run by the Army. Most of the visitors are Sinhalese from the south and maybe they prefer to go to the restaurants run by the Sinhalese soldiers. So although thousands of buses and vans go on the A9 road, we have very little business and it’s very difficult to build up and develop our tea shop” was the grievance of one elderly women, at whose small and basic tea shop I had stopped to have some tea.

Cultivation and fishing

As I visited the Vanni, I was struck by the fertile land and greenery, especially around Adampan. It was refreshing to see that some farmers had already started cultivation in these areas.

However, in most parts of Killinochi and Mullativu, there was no cultivation yet and I heard despairing farmers waiting to start cultivation. Some had received some agricultural tools, but no seeds. Most importantly, many still didn’t have access to their farmland. Some remain occupied by the Army, some areas are claimed to be still not demined and other areas simply declared off limits without reasons.

Fisherfolk on the western coast have been more fortunate in terms of easing of restrictions since the end of the war. Restrictions still apply however, such as around Iranathivu, Periyathivu, Sinnathivu, all of which are occupied by the Navy.

Some fishermen complained to us that the Navy had beaten them. “We thought the restrictions were lifted and went nearby these fertile areas for fishing. But we were beaten by the Navy and told we can’t fish there as the area belongs to the Navy. At least they could have informed us without beating us” was what a group of fisherman told us.

A major problem these people face is the lack of boats and nets, as most of these had been abandoned when they fled for their lives. Most boats and nets were lost, while others are damaged. Some said boats had been stolen. “There were about 250 boats in our village, but now, there are only 3 left” one fisherman told us. Another fisherman told us that they can earn about Rs. 1,000.00 per day when they go fishing, but they only get the chance to go once a week on average, due to lack of boats.

Government servants such as the Grama Sewekas, Divisional and District Secretaries and their staff, health officials, teachers and education officials have also returned to work.

Freedom of Association

The government is also trying to restrict any peaceful mobilization, collective action of empowerment of people in the Vanni.

The Presidential Task Force headed by the President’s brother Basil Rajapakse had granted permission to some NGOs to launch some projects to assist people in need of assistance. “But permission has been granted only to build houses and infrastructure and start income generating activities. Permission has been rejected for counseling, capacity building and empowerment activities. So we are restricted in what we can do” said one head of an NGO based in Mannar, which is keen to assist people in Vanni.

“We tried to start a small association to help people who were helpless. But the army doesn’t allow us to meet” an elderly gentleman told us in Vattapalai, close to the Mullativu town.

What does the future hold for Vanni?

Vanni people had suffered a lot. Under the authoritarian rule of the LTTE when people, including children, were forcibly recruited to fight, dissent was punished and many lived in poverty. Then during the war, where entire villages were displaced more than ten times, some had been injured, all had lost properties, and most have had their loves ones killed, missing and detained.

So people I met in Vanni are happy that the bombings and shelling have ceased. They are relieved to have been allowed to go back, after multiple displacement and subsequent detention by the government.

But they still face an uncertain and fearful future.

Most people in interior villages live isolated lives, surrounded soldiers they fear. Men live in fear of being abducted or detained. Women and girls live in fear of sexual abuse. They also fear domination of their lives, lands and culture by the Sinhalese and Buddhists.

Students are concerned about access to educational facilities. Farmers and fisherfolk await opportunities to engage in their traditional livelihoods.

Even those who had suffered under the LTTE and had opposed the LTTE are saddened as the cemeteries of Tamil militants are destroyed and monuments are built by the military and for Sinhalese soldiers

And the despair and fear worsens as the rest of country prepares for a massive celebration of a war victory, while people in the Vanni cry over their dead family members, try to trace their missing family members, try to recover from their injuries, await release of detained family members.

Divisions between Sinhalese & Tamils, North & South become clearer as the Sinhalese in the South celebrate and Tamils in North mourn for the same occasion. If Sri Lanka is a home to one family, where Sinhalese and Tamils are brothers and sisters, what we might see on the occasion of one year since the end of the war is something like having a funeral and a wedding in two rooms of the same house for two children of the same family.

One year after the end of the war, reconciliation would be a hollow and empty word unless concerns such as the above are not addressed.

End of War Special Edition

[1] Vanni is the term commonly used for areas previously controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The area comprised the whole districts of Kilinochi and Mullativu and parts of Mannar and Vavuniya districts.

This report is based on many visits to villages in the Vanni between November – May 2010.

  • justitia

    This is a harrowing eye witness account of life in the wanni of civilians left to recover in the aftermath of the war.I am sure that the president and his ministers/advisers know what is going on but are unable to correct the situation and bring any semblance of normal lfe back to the populace, but are unable to do so, as the armed forces have become a ‘law unto themselves’.
    Revenge is a primordial/fundamental human behaviour and it appears that the wanni civilians are being treated in this manner as they are suspected of having been supporters – both actively & passively – of the LTTE which had killed many members of the armed forces during the past many years.
    It is no point in talking about ‘human rights’ when this inhuman wilful behaviour by the ‘army of occupation’ is ignored.

  • Humanist

    This is a horrendous account. Oh where, oh where has basic human decency gone? We don’t need any complex political or social analysis to know that this is horribly wrong…

    Do not do unto others what you would have them do unto you… or hatred is not appeased by hatred, by love alone tis quelled. It is amazing that we have four of the world’s religions on this soil and hardly anyone who goes north from the south seems to be practising any of them.

  • Hari Narendran

    A depressing account of how far we are from winning the hearts and minds battle, crucial to fulfilling the vision of a united, inclusive country.

    Once again, our so-called leaders, both political & military, fail to define a non-majoritarian view of government administration and rule of law.

  • Sudan

    Why is the status quo of any article EVEN in the so-called sane groundviews starts with “the LTTE was the issue and now it is gone…”

    If anything this piece tells us that is the reason why LTTE and the Tamil militancy in general came into picture is still very much present over there.

    When the majority is not ready to look into it, but blowing the victors’ trumpets and marches with the same big brother attitude, any sane person can not see the permanent light. South Africa survived because it had the Truth and Reconciliation process. Here what is tried to be on the plate is the Military Victory and Walk on the same path process.

  • Conscience

    Good and informative account which portrays what has been and is so incredibly wrong and primitive in governance, then as now. Ruki has been courageous to throw open what goes on behind closed doors in what has been another world without witnesses. If only they could talk!

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    We have reached the stage where war has for all intents and purposes ended.

    Those who fled the July ’83 pogrom and who have been nourished by the West sing nostalgic of the life they had in SL and the relatively comfortable life the West bestowd on them in their adopted countries.

    Then our litany begins when we go on ‘holidays’ to our brithplace and while our second generation who were cultivated in Western style harp on the mosquitoes, the nosiness of our predecessors we left behind as to whether they would choose their own relatives for brides and grooms depending on the caste system they instilled on us or how the elders deride their younger generation for their open criticism og ancient and closeted attitudes; we still are hung up on our own narrow ethnic agenda.

    What will take for our Tamil brethren to understand that in the grand scheme of things; in the wake of living in a global village; that man is but one whole species with identical genes and that whether we once belonged to this caste or the other; a man-made concept not of Asian origin but of those colonial Bitish that in the eyes of God (if he or she exists) we are all same.

    This alone would put to shame the claim of Sinhalese to be the inheritors of Mother Lanka.

    We are all Indians notwithstanding Palk Strait dividing us; you either like it or lump it.

    Whether we are superior to one caste or another depends on how we treat our brethren. No more no less.

  • Raj

    Thank you so much for writing about your experiences in the Vanni. It takes enormous courage to tell the truth of what is really happening to the people there —horrible things we know are taking place.

    The question is what do we do to stop what is taking place?

    The government will deny everything (as always) and the majority of people from the South do not oppose what is happening.

  • Sie.Kathieravealu

    The most the ordinary persons like you can do is to make as many friends of yours and in particular the non-Sri Lankans aware of the REAL situation in the Vanni where the so-called IDP’s are said to being resettled. GOD stopped the VICTORY celebrations. Will the UN care about the situation of the people in the Vanni at-least after reading this article? Where are those people who voiced for and against the war at the time the war was going on? India and China are competing to do business in Sri Lanka for the benefit of those in power in those countries and in our country.

    It is HOPED that the WORLD will awake or be awoken in the near future.

    It all depends on the FATE of these people.

    GOD proposes and Man disposes.

  • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

    I hope you will continue to visit the Vanni and show to all who want to see and understand the true nature of the life of the people in the Vanni. Someday your compassionate narrative will strike a chord in someone or some community of people who would be in a position to change the conditions of the people in the Vanni for better.

  • anthony jones

    Thank you for this eye popping article.

    The present [edited out] Sri Lankan government, with their petty Buddhist chauvinist attitudes are only digging themselves deeper and deeper into the pit from which they and the likes of them they will have no chance of return.

    The UN seeks an investigation into allegations of war crimes by the two sides to the conflict, the LTTE is kaput, my desire is that the truth should come out and those found guilty should be punished.

    The [edited out] Army were an obstacle in the implementation of the agreement signed between the government of Ranil W and the LTTE. The antics of the then president gave the LTTE no other choice but to renegade on a useless sheet of paper.

    Then the stupid Pirbakaran, swallowed Rajapakse’s gundu, deprived the Tamil people from excercising their sovereign right, if only Ranil W, become the executive president this nation would have been well on it’s way to have become the next Singapore.

    Now as this article clearly states the Army with it’s present masters have just got too big for their boots, with the help of the insecure government Buddhism is being forced upon the throats of the suffering foodless, homeless people.

    Very soon the sinhalese people will realize their stupidity but it is just too late to redeem their lost souls. They have voted a Papa Doc, a brother’s Doc’s and a sonny Doc who will rule them for ever and ever.

    Now the newly appointed Minister of External Affairs the always jumping from one side to the other desperately desires the Tamil Diaspora to play an active part, it will be another wet dream .

    The gods and nature have other plans, they ruined the victory day parade, today’s news is that even crocodiles have infiltrated into primarily sinhala areas after the recent rains, anyway it is the poor who will be the sufferers. A j.

  • LankaLiar

    What you saw is only the tip of an ice burg And the majority is very proud of what they are doing. Decency humanity civilisation honesty justice . Did you see any trace of it . Why Tamils wanted a separate sate .? Work it out.Who is the terrorist ? work it out. Only a Tamil know what it means to live in Sri Lanka? The Shine of Buddhism is there for everyone to see.

  • Vani

    UN is guilty of warcrimes by abetting Sri Lankan warcrimes!
    Inner City Press: yesterday you repeatedly said to me, “check, listen to Al Jazeera” on the question I was asking about what the Secretary-General — what, you know, what he rejected and what Mr. Nambiar, that the allegation that he said he totally rejected. So, I did, I did, it wasn’t easy, but I’ve listened to what Mr. Nambiar said. And I have to say it still gives rise to questions. There are two, and I’ll just, there are two that really come to mind. He acknowledges that he was contacted, he says through UN Headquarters by a Sunday Times correspondent, through the UK Foreign Office and UN Headquarters of the desire to surrender of these LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders. And he says he spoke with the President, the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and Palitha Kohona, who is now the ambassador here, and that they said that they would be treated like normal war criminals. I mean, excuse me, they will be treated like normal prisoners of war – I want to be clear on that. He doesn’t say how this was conveyed back to the people who surrendered. He doesn’t say, and I think it would be important to know who in the UN Headquarters was part of this chain of communication and it’s unclear to me why, given both Mr. Nambiar and Mr. Kohona were the ones discussing the accountability panel that Ban Ki-moon is setting up if they, at least, you know, again without casting aspersion on them, there are factual questions about a possible problem, that Philip Alston is looking into. So, how is it not a conflict of interest to have Mr. Nambiar or Mr. Kohona being the ones to discuss the composition in terms of reference of a panel that is dealing with exactly the incident in which they were involved by Nambiar’s own statement to Al Jazeera? Sorry.

    Spokesperson: What do you mean, “sorry”?

    Inner City Press: No I’m sorry to put those all together; I just wanted it sort of a package question.

    Spokesperson: It’s okay, it’s okay. Firstly, there are a lot of very specific questions that I do not have the answer to. So I can seek those to the best of my ability and the ability of my colleagues. The second is that the panel of experts that’s being put together, this is not simply in the purview of the Chef de Cabinet. Of course, there are other people involved in this, and not least the Secretary-General because it is the Secretary-General’s panel of experts. So it’s not as if it’s simply the Chef de Cabinet. And it’s not something that involves directly — the setting up of that panel clearly does not directly involve the Sri Lankan Mission itself. This is the Secretary-General’s panel of experts.

    Inner City Press: Are there any provisions for sort of recusal? In the case of, sort of, at any type of UN inquiry, if — and again, I’m trying to be very careful here, I am not trying to say that — I am just saying that this is an incident that would fall within the purview even of the lessons learned in the reconciliation commission of Sri Lanka, this incident that Alston has asked about in which prisoners who surrendered with white flags ended up dead. If, as Mr. Nambiar — I had never heard of Mr. Kohona being involved and giving the assurances — but if he is, it just seems that there should be some, you see, this is the type of thing that, for example, [Luis Moreno] Ocampo [Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court] has criticized Sudan for — allowing those accused of crimes to be involved in Sudan’s own inquiry. He said that’s laughable. But it seems here, and I don’t want to be, it’s a, there obviously, it’s apples and oranges, but just in terms of involvement in the incident to be looked at, and involvement in setting up the inquiry to do it, I just wonder if you are… comfortable…

    Spokesperson: As I’ve said, it’s not as if this is being somehow done in isolation. There are other people involved within the United Nations to establish that panel of experts. But the other questions, I’ve heard them and we’ll see what we can find out.

  • Ruki’s article clearly shows that the Reconciliation which the President appears to work for is only another in the series of deceptions this government has been practicing so deftly. So long as there is Emergency Rules and military presence in the Vanni, there is absolutely no possibility of reconciliation and the people of the Vanni resuming their normal activities with a peace of mind.

    It is my wish that the contents of Ruki’s article should be translated into Sinhala and made available to as many Sinhala readers as possible. I have a feeling there are many reasonable kind hearted Buddhist Sinhala citizens in Sri Lanka who would not approve of what the government is doing to the people of Vanni who are also citizens of this country. The problem is they are kept in the dark about these matters.
    One wonders how long it would take for the people of Sri Lanka to realize that the Rajapakses are leading this country to inevitable doom. Merely defeating the LTTE which was only a symptom of the problem of the Tamils and not dealing with the cause of the rise of the LTTE is sheer stupidity. How long can they keep the media muzzled and cheat not only the people of Sri Lanka but also the international community. Lets hope at least the EU will do something using the GSP + weapon to make the government act more humanely.

    The war crimes investigations appears to be round the corner. Perhaps the results of the investigation would eventually make the Rajapakses hang down their heads in shame and lead to the people of Sri Lanka throwing them out.

    Ruki, you have done a wonderful job writing this candid report. Thank you.

  • Nimalan

    ONE ISLAND Island of Cylone
    TWO NATIONS Srilanka + Tamileelam
    THREE RACE Sinhalees + Tamils & Muslims
    If it is to be it is up to me…Change is the only constand in the world

  • Shoba

    The ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Tamil areas

    Sri Lanka accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Tamil areas

    officials, human rights campaigners and politicians claim Tamils have been driven out of areas in the north-east of the country by killings and kidnappings carried out by pro-government militias.

    They say the government has simultaneously encouraged members of the Sinhalese majority in the south to relocate to the vacated villages.

    Sri Lanka’s government deliberately concealed official casualty figuresOne foreign charity worker told the Daily Telegraph the number of Tamils disappearing in and around Trincomalee, 50 miles south of the final conflict zone in Mullaitivu, had been increasing in the last three months.

    He claimed to have known 15 of the disappeared, three of whom had been found dead. He said all three bodies showed signs of torture, while two were found with their hands tied behind their backs and single bullet wounds in their heads.

    Another aid worker said the killings were part of a strategy to drive out the Tamils.

    “Eastern province is vulnerable, there’s cleansing by the Sinhalese. There will be more problems with land grabbing. The demography changes and the Tamils who are the majority will soon become a minority,” he said.

    He claimed many villagers had moved out after the army declared their land to be part of a ‘high security zone’ and Sinhalese had been given incentives to move in to provide support services to new military bases.

    Many Tamils sold their homes and land at below-market prices after members of their families had been killed or had disappeared, he said.

    One western human rights advocate said Tamils in and around Trincomalee were terrified because they believed the police were either complicit in, or indifferent to, the numbers disappearing or found dead. “There’s no investigation. It’s a climate of terror and impunity,” he said.

    A local campaigner for the families of the disappeared said the killings were speeding the flight of Tamils from the area. “When there’s a killing other Tamils move out. Who goes to the Sinhalese police? You either live under threat or you move out,” he said.

    He said much of the “ethnic cleansing” was being done in the name of economic development in which Tamil villagers were being moved out to make way for new roads, power plants and irrigation schemes, while Sinhalese workers were being drafted in with incentives including free land and housing.

    “Thousands of Sinhalese are coming in, getting government land and government assistance from the south. It’s causing huge tensions,” he said.

    R. Sampanthan, the parliamentary leader of the Tamil National Alliance and an MP for Trincomalee said he shared these fears. A new road being constructed from Serubilla, a Sinhalese village in Trincomalee district to Polonaruwa, a Tamil village, was under construction and Sinhalese families were being settled on either side of the road as it snakes further north-east.

    “It’s ethnic cleansing, and we’re concerned that this is what they will also do in the north,” he said.

  • Thayaparan

    Sinhala Sri Lanka-The Terror State
    1958: Hundreds of tamils were massacred by Sinhala racists.
    1972: Over 20,000 Sinhala youths were massacred by Sinhala military.
    1977: Hundreds of tamils were butchered again.
    1983: Thousands of tamils were massacred and chased away from their homes.
    1989: Over 40,000 Sinhala youths were massacred by Sinhala Military.
    2009: Over 100,000 tamils were massacred and 300,000 were chased away from their homes by the Sinhala Military.

    The above are wholesale terror by Sri Lanka state. All these crimes are committed by Power hungry politicians in the Government. In Sri Lankan history, none of the Sinhala leaders who ruled (political or military) took responsibility for these crimes. The pattern of the crimes clearly shows that the cycle of violence cannot be stopped in Sri Lanka because of its Racist fundamentalism. The crimes and the bloodshed done in this (once a beautiful and friendly) nation by Racists Power hungry politicians is not comparable with any war crimes in the world

  • Thivya

    Reconciliation is a two way process. As long as the Tamil Diaspora is hell bent on disrupting Sri Lanka, I honestly don’t think real reconciliation is possible. Also political parties in the North must shed their communal outlook and start working for people of all races. For instance Tamil National Alliance should shed their “Tamil” communal idetity in favour of Peoples or Elam National Alliance. We cannot expect the government to do all reconciliation without doing the little bits to make it easier.

    The ball is in the court of we Tamils because the government can run like this forever but we cannot. We should shed Tamil demands first and take up peoples demands. Tamil Diaspora should stop Boycot Sri Lanka, war crimes campaigns first. Otherwise the status quo will continue and it is not the government or the Muslims or the Singhalese who will suffer most, it is us – Tamils.

    You may disagree with me but I honestly don’t think there will be any real reconciliation in Sri Lanka as long as TNA, GTF, TGTE continue with communal demands. They live in fear and we live in fear. We give up our communal demands and they will give up theirs.

    Making a contest out of it as to who should take the first step (Tamils or the government) is the best way to put off this indefinitely. And that hurts us more than them. Not knowing where and how this will end is also a big concern for us but not for them. So we should take the first step to reconciliation not them.

  • Susantha

    Crimes against the Sinhalese by Tamil terrorists

    Campaign by GG Ponambalam to subjugulate Sinhalese by robbing representation (1940s)
    GG Ponambalam demanded that 50% of the seats be reserved for the minorities in the country which added up to less than 30%.and the other 50% of seats to be decided by an election.if this system was activated 65% of seats will go to the minorities who make up 30% and 35% of seats will go to the majority which made up about 70% of the population at that time.This is a clear plan to subjugulate the Sinhalese majority by Tamil extremist politicians like GG ponambalam

    Ethnic Cleansing of Jaffna by Tamil exteemists (1971-1981)
    Between 1971 and 1981 the Tamil exteemists terrorized and kicked out 27,000 Sinhalese from the Jaffna peninsula where they had been living for generations.

    Ethnic Cleansing of Batticloa by Tamil Extremists (1957)
    Sinhalese people were ethnically cleansed from Batticloa by Tamil extremists in 1957

    the 1953 census for Batticloa gives 12% of population in Batticloa as Sinhalese

    but 1963 census which was taken after these attacks gives a 3.5% of population of Batticloa as Sinhalese

    The Attack on Sinhalese students and lecturers at the University of Jaffna(1977)
    in 1977 Tamil extremists stoned and drove out 400 Sinhalese undergraduates and lecturers from the Jaffna university some of the Sinhalese who were a victim of this attack were handicapped for life.. thus making it a pure-Tamil University, while all other universities in the South were multi-ethnic campuses including an open door policy to register Tamil students

    Cultural Genocide by Tamil Extremists (1950s onwards)
    The Destruction of 100s of Sinhala Cultural Heritage sites by Extremists in the Northern Province and also in the Eastern province with the sole aim of erasing the evidences of Sinhala civilization in the north and east and in most places after destroying the Buddhist temples they have built Hindu Kovils on top of them

    Educational Genocide by Tamil extremists(1960s-1970s)
    Tamil Communalist teachers gave bogus very high marks for the Tamil students during the paper marking for A/L exam So that Tamils will enter the universities in large we know that university seats are limited such an act made other students from the Sinhala and Muslim community not able to enter university even if they were better students.This was indeed an educational genocide on the Sinhalese and Muslim communities

    Ethnic Cleansing of the Vavuniya district(1984)
    Tamil separatist terrorists shot dead 73 Sinhalese people in villages in vavuniya in order to create a fear psychosis and make the Sinhalese population leave the area (vavuniya district)therefore at least 6,000 Sinhala refugees have resulted from Vauniya

    Ethnic Cleansing of Sinhalese in the Trincomalee District(1984 onwards)
    Tamil separatist terrorists killed at least 150 Sinhalese villagers in various places in trincomallee district including members of clergy in an attempt to Ethnically cleanse the district of Sinhalese people by creating a fear psychosis and this has caused about 20000 Sinhalese people to leave the district and become refugees

    Ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese from Mannar District(1980s)
    Seperatist terroist killed a large number of Sinhalese peopel and set fire to houses to create a fear psychosis in order to ethnically cleanse this district of Sinhalese people which has resulted in 10000 sinhalese people becoming refugees from the Mannar district

    Second Sinhalese expulsion from Batticloa(1980s)
    The separatist terrorists were successful to reduce the percentage of Sinhalese living in batticloa to almost 0% by 1990s

    Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims from Northern province (1990s)
    The Tamil separatist terrorist forcibly expelled the entire ethnic Muslim population (approx 100,000) from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. The Muslims were given 48 hours to vacate the premises of their homes while their properties were subsequently looted by LTTE. Those who refused to leave were killed. This act of ethnic cleansing was carried out so the LTTE could facilitate their goal of creating a mono-ethnic Tamil state in Northern Sri Lanka.

    Attempted Ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the eastern province(1990s onwards)
    Tamil separatist terrorists killed more 300 Ethnic Muslims in the eastern province in one instance more than 100 Muslims were killed while they were praying in mosques in an attempt to create a fear psychosis to drive out the entire Muslim community from the eastern province of Sri Lanka

    Attempted Ethnic cleansing of Ampara district (1980s onwards)
    Tamil separatist terrorist have carried out attacks on Sinhalese villages killing hundreds in order to ethnically cleanse the region of Sinhalese people


    Conclusively, after 1977, 78, 81, 83, and 84, due to around 128 Tamil racist attacks, around 100,000 Sinhala villagers have become refugees and around 3,500 killed.
    What’s so special about this is that their villages have been occupied so that they can never go back to their original villages. Vast majority of these ppl have become beggars, workers in other villages or have migrated to southern coastal areas. There is nobody to talk about these people. The reason is that, Sinhala people becoming refugees or getting killed is not considered a violation of ‘human rights’ by the subsequent governments, the UN or the human rights organisations.
    I am yet to hear any ‘democratic’ Tamil politician or any Tamil scholar publicly condemning this systematic ethnic cleansing against the Sinhala ppl in North and East provinces, which has been happening over several decades, in order to create a ‘pure tamil’ state. Perhaps, bcos, this ethnic cleansing is a result of the myth of Tamil homeland.

  • Thiruvengadam

    Human Rights abuses are still a major issue in savagely repressive Sri Lanka terror state.

    Recently, Political Activist, 50 year old Tamil woman arrested at Katunayake airport , Sri Lanka, for taking part in ‘Anti War’ Demonstrations in Germany.

    GoSL arrested a Tamil Woman , on her arrival in Colombo at Katunayake Airport in Colombo. She is accused of taking part in demonstrations against the Sri Lankan Government in Germany.

  • Humanist

    Thivya is right. As long as the Tamil Diaspora/TGTE and western governments put pressure on the government of Sri Lanka (no matter how oppressive it is) with the hope that there will be commissions and inquiries that will right all the wrongs that have been committed, the end result is the further misery and suffering of Tamil people within Sri Lanka. Even if these commisisons took place, what is there at the end except a piece of paper? Unless someone acts on it – which is highly unlikely given past experience.

    Global geo-politics have changed and the emerging powers are China and India, both of which will not antagonize Sri Lanka because they do not want SL to come under the other’s sphere of influence. This is not something the TGTE (nor the Colombo-based activitists who have been oriented towards Europe and N. America given their traditonal links) seem to be fully comprehending because their mindset is too far away from the Asian political arena and the developments taking place in this part of the world. Sri Lanka can survive as a vassal of either country or both or by playing one against the other for longer than we can imagine. This will not only be the end of the struggle for basic human rights of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka but also that of the democratic and tolerant Sinhalese and Muslim people who do not support the agenda of Sinhalese supremacy or want it to become another Burma.

    The time to act is now – to use whatever spaces and opportunities we have for peace and reconciliation to the best of our abilities so that this even darker scenario will not play out.

  • The Sri Lankan State sponsored violence against the Tamil people in the island of SriLanka has a very long history. A startling aspect of this State violence is the large scale massacres of Tamils. Some of them are so spectacular that they are etched in the Tamil psyche

    For more than sixty years, successive Sri Lankan governments backed by racist Sinhala extremists have been oppressing the Tamil minorities. They brutally killed thousands of innocent Tamils, burnt their properties and sent the rest in ships as refugees to the North of the country in the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties.
    When Tamils asked for their rights, Sinhala extremists always responded with violence.

    1977 communal pogrom
    In the July 1977 parliamentary elections the United National Party received a landslide victory capturing 5/6 of the parliamentary seats amounting to 140 seats. The party that was in government, the SLFP, received only 8 seats. Tamil Allaiance group campaigning on an election platform of working towards an independent Tamil Eelam state won 18 seats by receiving the vast majority of the Tamil votes.
    This was not well received by the Sinhala polity.
    In was in this context that the Sri Lankan police in Jaffna was pulled up by the public for sexual harassment of school girls at a school exhibition. Armed police later arrived at the scene in large numbers and began threatening people.
    Following this, the Jaffna-Colombo and the Colombo-Jaffna night mail trains were attacked when it stopped at the Anuradhapuram railway station. Follwing these attacks, violence against Tamils spread through out the island. Tamils in Trincomalee, Vavuniya, Ratmalana, Badhulla and Colombo were badly affected.
    Tamil Alliance members of parliament raised the violence in parliament. Yet, the then Presisndet in Colombo J R Jayawardhana did not even declare curfew or emergency. He said that he does not like to rule the country under an Emergency Regulation.
    The Sansoni Commission investigated the 1977 communal violence and submitted its report in 1980. The Sansoni commission reported that the police acted irresponsibly during the violence. Sansoni report said that more than 300 civilians were killed during this pogrom. However, statistics collected by other nongovernmental organizations put the number killed at more than 1500. These reports also said that many were injured with knife, iron bars, and logs. The report recommended compensation to the victims. It said,“Incidents which occurred during the specified period were of such an extreme nature and so widespread that an exception should be made as regards the payment of compensation”. The committee appointed by the government on this recommendation to assess the compensation never sat.

    1981 communal pogrom
    This pogrom surrounds the events in which the Jaffna library was burnt down with its irreplacable book. It was during a period of election campaign. Miniters of the then UNP government, Gamini Tissanayake and Cyril Mathew were in Jaffna. A large police force was brought to Jafna together with many Sinhala thugs. These thus were accomomadated in the Jaffna Thuriappa Stadium.
    At an election campaign meeting on 31.05.1981, in Jaffna, a Sinhala police was killed. Following this the police set fire to the Nachchimar Temple outside of which the campaign meeting was taking place. Following this the police burnt down the large Jaffna market building with shops and stocks. Many statues representing Tamil culture were destroyed. The memorial
    built for those killed in the Tamil Research Conference was also destroyed. The thugs went into the home of Member of Parliament, Yogeswaran, and inquired about the location of his house. Realising what the thugs were after, Yogeswaran, escaped through the back door with his family. His house was burnt by the Sinhala thugs. Yogeswaran in a statement published in India Today of June 1981 said that those who burnt down his house were Sinhalese. The same thugs burnt down the office of the Tamil Alliance party. Several other homes and public buildings were set alight.
    The Jaffna library was burnt the day after the above arson. Rev Fr Thaveethu, who watched the Jaffna library burning from the second story of the Bishop’s House died of heart attack on the spot.

    1983 communal pogrom

    The precursors
    Local government elections were held in the Northern district of that time in May 1983. This turned out to be a contest between the Tamil moderate party and the emerging Tamil nationalist sections which boycotted the elections. 98% of the voters boycotted. Following the elections the Sri Lankan military which by now has been sent in numbers to Jaffna burnt down shops in the Kandarmadam area and entered private homes and stole valuable properties. The troubles spread to Vavuniya and Tamil shops were burnt there as well.
    The worst hit was Trincomalee where during the month of June 1983, every day a village was attacked and at least one civilian was murdered by the military and Sinhala thugs supported by the military On 01.07.1983, many Tamil Nationalist organizations called a protest against the massacres in Trincomalee. A train from Colombo was burnt by Tamil militant youths. Two senior protest leaders, Dr Tharmalingam and Kovai Maheson, were
    arrested and taken to Colombo. Two press offices in Jaffna that of the Suthanthiran and Saturday Review publications were sealed off by the military.
    Using the claymore attack on 23.07.1983 in Thirunelveli that killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers, as a pretext, an island wide pogrom against Tamils was let loose organized by the government ministers.
    In Colombo On Sunday 24th of July 1983 several persons boarded public and private buses in Colombo and began to make racist remarks designed to whip up animosity towards the Tamil community. Some shops belonging to Tamil traders were burnt and some people beaten and killed. Troubles spread quickly. By Monday morning the attacks has spread to several outlying areas of Colombo. Violence continued with increased intensity throughout Monday. Vehicles driving on the road were stopped.
    If the occupants were Tamil they were beaten and sometimes killed. Thugs with electoral lists in their hands went from house to house, killing Tamils and burning property owned by Tamils. The electoral lists helped them to identify Tamil houses.
    Some Sinhalese people at great risk to their own safety hid Tamil friends in their houses.
    Several eye witnesses including tourists have reported that the security personnel looked on as the violence was perpetrated. There are reports that the Army even threatened Police not to harass the rioters. On Monday 25th of July at 4.00 p.m. the government imposed curfew and this stayed in force throughout Tuesday the 26th.
    It was again imposed on 27th from 4.00 p.m. to 5.00 a.m. In spite of the curfew attacks on Tamil people continued through out this period

    Rest of the island
    The communal violence against Tamils was not restricted to Colombo. Thugs roamed the city of Kandy looking for Tamils on the streets and in the buses. In Trincomalee on 26th of July, 200 houses of Tamils were burned. Violence in Trincomalee town has been continuing for over a month by the time the violence broke out in Colombo on the 23rd of July. The Trincomalee town has a Sri Lankan naval base. The violence against Tamils here was assisted by Sri Lankan Navy as well as the Army and the Police. In Jaffna on the 23rd of July, the Army went on a rampage shooting, on the road, in the houses and in buses killing a total of 50 civilians.

    Welikade prison massacre
    On 25th July Sinhala prisoners attacked and murdered 35 Tamil detainees in a section of the Welikade prison in Colombo. Another 28 Tamil detainees in a different section was immediately transferred to the Youth Ward. On the 27th armed Sinhala prisoners scaled the walls and appeared in front of the Youth Ward.
    Dr. Rajasundaram respected for his tireless work among the downtrodden sections of the Tamil community was one of the detainees in the Youth ward. He came forward and pleaded with the attackers to spare them. Door suddenly opened and Dr Rajasundaram was dragged out and beaten to death. The rest of the detainees broke the chairs and tables and used it to keep the attackers at bay.

    ICJ report
    International Commission of Jurists issued a report on the pogrom. It was written by Paul Sieghart. This report suggests that the riots of July 1983 began even before the reports of the killing of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers in a claymore attack in Jaffna appeared in the local newspapers.
    Only on the fifth day, on 28th July the President of Sri Lanka appeared on television. In a brief address he blamed the violence and destruction exclusively on the reaction of “the Sinhala people” to the movement for the establishment of a separate Tamil state, and announced the Cabinet deciion to bring in what in the event became the Sixth Amendment to the country’s constitution.
    Following is from Paul Sieghart’s report,“In his address to the nation on the 5th day of rioting president did not see it fit to utter one single word of sympathy for the victims of the violence and destruction which he lamented. If his concern was to reestablish communal harmony in the Island whose national unity he was anxious to preserve by law that was a misjudgment of monumental proportions…
    But what I find most extraordinary is that, to this day, there has been no attempt to find out the truth through an official, public and impartial enquiry, when the situation in the country cries out for nothing less.”
    Casualty figures
    Due to the absence of any public inquiry following the riots the actual number of deaths and the cost of damage to property were never established. 200,000 Tamils were immediately rendered refugees. Tamil organizations that have carried out their own survey estimate that nearly 3000 Tamils were killed. All non government reports on the riots came to the conclusion that the violence was deliberately started by the government and was carried out through the use of thugs, controlled and organized by members of the governing United National Party.

  • Michael Roberts

    This is a tremendous account thanks –which i am still digesting.

    May is suggest a distilled version as well — with each point embellished by one suitable human interest anecdote.

  • allen

    ruki – question for you _ you have written ” tamil people saying that soldiers are haveing best places, while farmers stating its like tamils are in soldiers country”


    would like to see ur reply here!!

  • SomeOne

    Dear Susantha,

    “…Crimes against the Sinhalese by Tamil terrorists…”

    If you wish to have a balance view, please, draw two columns.

    1.As you written here, “Crimes against the Sinhalese by Tamil terrorists”
    2.“Crime against the innocent Tamils by Sinhala terrorist (Govt??)”

    Fill both columns with as many information as possible. A brain storming session with your friends or enemies (even better) is a good idea.

    Brain storming session is better. It will help you to get to the root of the matter.

    NB: You called “Tamil terrorist”. Fair enough. However, political campaign by GG ponnampalam is NOT a crime. Expressing your view in a non violence mean is your birth right, in my view.

    Thank you.

  • Susantha

    whole problem is the tamils cannot understand that sri lanka is a sinhala country until they understand that they will not continue to have their grievances

  • Shan

    A great deal has been said here that the Army is occupying or have invaded a seperate country/ land. The truth is that Sri Lanka is one country, like it or not it will remain as one entity.

    Therefore the Army can and has the right to camp anywhere they like be it in the south, north or anywhere else. After going through 30 years of a hellish war, waged upon on the entire population by one moron (of course amply funded , supported and cheered on by a large section of the Tamil population) if people still think the country should be divided; they should simply go and live elswhere.

  • Eelamaran

    Very fair report but some of the comments about chasing away the sinhalese from north and east are without any factual evidence.The students in the jafffna Uni were given protection by tamil students and were sent in buses safely. This is one evidence.Late D.S.Senanayake started colonizing Tamil areas as far back as 1937 and the communal attitude was planted in sinhalese minds by the sinhala polititians and not the tamils started. Please find the root causes and genocidal actions of the sinhalese governments and you will find that tamils had no other alternative but to support an arms struggle.The initiative to reconcile should come from the sinhalese state who is powerful and if they would like to show the world that they are a fair thinking race and follow Buddha in real terms.

  • Shan

    Ealamaran; you comments about colonizing is intersting. Sri lanka is one unitary country. Like it or not it will remain that way. Therefore terms such as invading and colonising does not apply.

    Therefore if Sinhalese in large numbers chose to live in the North so be it. The same applies to the large numbers of tamils currently living in Colombo (Wellawatte), Kotahena etc. This does not amount to colonising Colombo either.

    That should be the way and it should be encouraged. So get used to seeing notice boards in Sinhalese like we are used to seeing the same in Tamil. There is nothing wrong with that.

    This is the new reality…better get used to it fast.

  • Ruki


    you have combined two separate things i said in two places, and also misquoted me, so i will respond separately and suggest you read more carefully

    the fact that buildings occupied by the army and police are in better condition than the houses (and tents) vanni civilians live now is something i saw with my own eyes, not what tamil people said (read carefully the original article)

    if you make the effort, you can see for yourself this, so you dont have to believe me

    and its upto you to form your opinion, whether it is just, fair, humane….and whether this will help reconciliation

    for me, its not just, its not humane, and it doesnt help reconciliation

    to respond to other question, no tamils told me about soldiers occupying their (tamils) country (again, pls read carefully….to me, country and land mean very different things, especially when we talk about ownership)

    but several did tell me that they are not happy about the large presence of sinhalese soldiers, in villages that have been traditionally been predominantly tamil (even before LTTE forced and compelled non tamils to leave)

    several tamils also told me that some of the buildings and land legally belonging to them, and some they had been living in for decades, are now occupied by army and police (this was substantiated by what i saw with my own eyes, many houses, that clearly appeared to be that of civilians, now occupied by army and police..although i didnt have chance to check deeds of ownership)

    i think i fully understand why tamil people i met in vanni are not happy with large numbers of soldiers and camps in their villages and towns

    i was not at all happy when for years, the airforce blocked off the access road to my house, and everyday, in rain and sun, i had to walk extra coz the buses were not allowed to go through

    and i would be even more unhappy if the army and police came and built camps on land that i legally own and houses that i built and legally belong to me

    even if some sri lankan law made it legal for the army ad police to forcibly occupy private land and property, i wud expect that i would be informed, consulted, provided alternative land, compensation

    and if this was done in an emergency without consultation, providing alternative land and compensation, i would expect it at least a bit later (months, not years)

    perhaps you might feel different about your village / town or particularly land or house you may own?

    the fact that many tamil people have had negative experiences of army and police in the past (sexual abuse, rape, torture, abduction, disappearances) and changing tamil village names to sinhalese, display of sign boards in sinhalese only, more attention to buddhist monuments than hindu & christian, building memorials for soldiers and stopping memorials for tamil civilains killed and and even obstructing religious ceremonies for civilians killed, makes it even more understandable that tamils are not happy, and worried, about large army and police presence in their villages

    i trust i have answered your questions?

  • Humanist


    The army can go anywhere in the country and establish camps that serve the strategic military interests (which needs to be justified on the basis of acceptable criteria) of the country on government land or land that they purchase, rent or lease from private owners.

    However, they should not have the right in peace time to occupy or take forcibly land and houses owned by civilians who do not want to sell, rent or lease these land or buildings to the army. Nor should they have the right to change names of villages or put up new nameboards of villages. This should be under the jurisdiction of the local authorities in consultation with the people of the villages in question. Nor should the army have the right to destroy or deface cemeteries where the ancestors of local people are laid to rest. Nor should they have the right to run businesses that take away livelihood opportunties of people and thus prevent or prolong the recovery of local economies.

    If they have the right to do all these things under a new peace-time civilian government, we can safely conclude that what prevails is the law of the jungle. Some people used to accuse the LTTE of having a “jungle mentality”. It seems that the Rajapakse regime is surpassing the LTTE in its jungle mentality. Peace and reconciliation, any one?

  • Suren Raghavan

    Thank you for being brave to record

    The wider question is with all this empirical evidence, Hilary Clinton says she happy with the Reconciling Progress made? see:

    And India, the largest democracy with 70 million Thamils watches very happily

    Again I say the inability to understand the global politics is a destructive blindness of the Thamil Freedom struggle

  • allen

    Dear Ruki – you say

    “i think i fully understand why tamil people i met in vanni are not happy with large numbers of soldiers and camps in their villages and towns ”

    well look at this way – in US do CIA and FBI check white males? they mostly check muslim males . why do we need large number of security in wanni – obviously cos the main threat to sri lankan state came from that area.

    ok – let me re-state my question – in your opinion – can the tamils ask for a seperate state ? is it justifiable. thats my question. (let see how you answer this one)

  • Kanishka Ratnapriya

    Dear Ruki, Don’t bother responding to allen, he lives in a past that led to war and destruction, the future lies ahead of us and in our hands, in the hands of the children that survived the war.

    But we cannot build this future if we live on the mistakes of the past and continue to not address the root causes of the conflict. Reading your article was like reading a replay of 1984 to 2009 and its shameful.

    Ignore [Edited out] allen and speak to the hearts and minds of the real people of the South. They will listen.

    The truth will set the South and the North free.

  • Burning_Issue


    ” Therefore if Sinhalese in large numbers chose to live in the North so be it. The same applies to the large numbers of tamils currently living in Colombo (Wellawatte), Kotahena etc. This does not amount to colonising Colombo either.”

    Ahh; there is a big difference between minorities setting in other areas to Sinhala only colonisations. I am all for people to live anywhere they chose to live. However, for e.g. the Tamils in Wellawatte and Kotahena financed by themselves and there was no government assistance or funding do you get it? By contract, the Sinhala are colonised exclusively with government sponsored programmes, do you get it?

    This is what the minorities object to not the fact the Sinhalese wanting live in North and East by their free will. Yes of course we will get used to the blatant majoritism!

  • allen

    still waiting ruki – if u take the power to write a articel, you should bear the responsibility to reply to questions also…

    kanishka – stop coughing for cash …lol

  • ahamed

    guess u didnt see this place ruki——

    Jaffna Muslims reopen mosque after 20 years
    Jaffna Muslims evicted by Tamil rebels 20 years ago, have revived prayer services following the re-opening of their newly renovated Grand Mosque.

    About 75,000 Muslims, mostly involved in trade were evicted in 1990 from the northern districts of Jaffna by the now-defeated LTTE in their struggle for an independent Tamil homeland.

    For the last 20 years, Muslims lived in other parts of the country as refugees or built up communities in the western part of the country. After the defeat of the Tamil forces last year, a number of Muslims began to return to their homes.

  • Kanishka Ratnapriya

    Why should he reply, when I’m there to reply to you allen. I guess I cough for cash so that I can reply to misguided sensationalists like you. Someone’s go to do the dirty work and at least attempt to recycle the garbage.

    Don’t you know that there’s been a paradigm shift in the Sri Lankan conflict and political power dynamic?

    If you didn’t hide behind a false identity I’d make sure you end up in the dustbin of history in which you belong now.

  • Susantha

    Do you have proof that it is the government that is building Buddhist monuments in the North? or is it religious organisations?So you say Buddhist Organisations don’t have the right to build Buddhist temples in North and settle Sinhalese people in the north ?

    listen man the Sinhalese regard sri lanka every inch of it as the traditional homeland of the Sinhalese and therefore have all the rights to settle in any part of it even if done artificially.give me a single historical document which proves tamil terrorists homeland concept?I am not asking for references from books written by some one give me a document.Even if Tamil students helped the Sinhalese does it mean that a racist attack did not take place ?Some of these Sinhalese students were handicapped for life.

  • Ruki


    i dont beleive in a seperate state – though i have long advocated for equal rights and treatment for all poeple in sri lanka

    no one i met in vanni in the last 6 months had spoken to me of a separate state

    also, if someone else does something wrong (like CIA or FBI) i dont think its an excuse for others also to wrong things, i wud take it as a challenge to be more humane and

    i dont think we can ever have security in sri lanka when its at the cost of someone else’s security – i think its possible to work towards security of all sri lankans, although this maybe more difficult than trying to ensure security of some sri lankans at cost of other sri lankans life, liberty and wellbeing

    i hope your question is answered

    i find it a pity that u seem to be using subjects such as “seperate state” which i never mentioned, and asking me questions, to avoid responding to facts i had mentioned


    i have seen and also visited the mosque in jaffna….but as i had made clear, i have limited this article to only vanni, and not covered jaffna, mannar etc.

    and no where do i say this covers all details of life in vanni, rather it attempts to share what i saw and heard, and i hope will provoke others to do same, which i hope will include things i had failed

    i have also been long concerned about the rights of the muslims evicted by the ltte, the organization i work with is doing extensive work on this issue with some muslim community leaders, some of whom in puttlam and elsewhere are my good friends, and if you are interested to discuss, collaborate, pls let me know your phone number or email and would be happy to talk more on this


    i dont have proof the the government is building buddhist monuments, and i didnt say that either. i did mention what i saw, soldiers cleaning up an area under a bo tree in mankulam, which with i dont find anything wrong

    however, it is clear that whatever is done in north is done with full cooperation of the government, particularly military, and as the vast majority of the civilians vanni now are non buddhists, i think its likely that buddhist monuments are built with consent, cooperation of government and military

    i also dont think its wrong to build buddhist monuments in any part of the country, but i do think that when so many kovils and churches have been destroyed, and almost all civilians in these areas are hindus and christians, that it would be better to give priority to rebuild these also than only buddhist monuments

    i think giving priority to buddhist monuments in predominant hindu and christian areas is not helpful to ensure co-existence and reconciliation

    i have basically stated what i have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears

    in some situations, i have raised some questions and expressed my opinions and feelings….im aware of coz that others cud have different opinions, but facts remain as they are

  • Burning_Issue


    I have read you article and posts with great interest. It is conspicuous that many Buddhist emblems have been sprung up within the North and East, and there is no doubt that they are done with government cooperation and financing. There should not be any objections for Buddhism among the Tamils. It would have been more appropriate for the Sinhalese to settle by their free will and build Buddhist Viharas etc! As it stands now, it projects that the Government is Sinhala and Buddhists, and it has won the war becoming the new masters of the Tamils!

    To me, it is crystal clear that, the Foremost place given to Buddhism in the constitution is at work; it is perceived that the government machinery is to uphold Buddhism, and the whole country is to be painted with Buddhist flavour! What is your view on this? Is the Foremost place given to Buddhism has anything to do with what is afoot in the north and east?

  • truthseeker

    This is a matter of fundamentalist nationalism. Like Nazism in Germany and Hindutva in India ‘Jathika Chinthanaya’ is the name given to the fundamentalist nationalistic ideology in SL. The extreme nationalists of Sri Lanka identify the country with the Sinhalese (Aryan) race and Buddhism(based on what is indoctrinated in the Mahawamsa). They identify the Tamils as a common enemy and a potential threat. Hence, the tragic fate of Sri lankan Tamils is strikingly similar to the fate that befell German Jews and Indian Muslims.

  • Henry

    In the face of the plight of these Tamil people, we should respond as humans first and later as Singhalese or what else. It is a pity that the government is not using the opportunity to extend the hand of friendship and understanding to them and really win their heart and genuinely assuage their suffering. Who ever suffers so much, we humans must respond with love and sympathy and not pose legal, political and philosophical questions. Tamil militants have done wrong and so have the Singhalese and Muslims – we cannot escape from.
    As you know, if any group is oppressed, after a time it will show resentment and hit back sooner or later. If we show them friendship, we win them over. Read Mandela and such great humans.

    I feel sorry when you ask for proof that the government is putting up Buddhist shrines etc. We have to be Buddhist at heart not only in name.