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Where is the Mass Grave of Vantharamoolai?

While the disappearances in and around the environs of Suriyakanda in the Sabaragamuwa Province have caused a ripple effect with a few middle-level high ranking military personnel being hauled up before Courts, in far-off Vantharamoolai in the Eastern Province, a similar crime almost equal in magnitude has receded into relative obscurity', in spite of the indictment levelled against alleged miscreants by the Human Rights Task Force (HRTF). What is published below gives in almost graphic detail the events leading to the disappearances of no less than 158 students and adults under highly suspicious circumstances, as presented by the HRTF Chairman J.E.A. Soza, in his Report of September1993 (Address: 75 Norris Canal Road, Colombo 10).

After the establishment of the Regional Centre of the HRTF (Human Rights Task Force) at Batticaloa there was a spate of complaints and repre­sentations on matters of grave concern to the public at Batticaloa. A series of complaints about the illegal taking away of as many 158 persons from the refugee Camp established at the Eastern University premises at Vantharamoolai has resulted in a public outcry against the Army offi­cials said to be responsible. The Re­gional Manager at Batticaloa and the Chairman conducted inquiries into this incident. There were nearly 45,000 refugees in this camp at Vantharamoolai. Early morning on the 5th September 1990 a batch of soldiers many of whom were fr6m the HQ 8 Brigade at Valachchenai, ar­rived at the Refugee Camp in several jeeps brings along two buses. The women were asked to stand aside while the men were asked to line up in 3 queues. Two hooded men stood along with the soldiers and the peo­ple who were in the lines were made to walk past them. Every time the hooded men nodded, it was taken as identification and the man or boy involved was taken into custody. While this was going on there was a group of LTTE men who had taken refugee in the Eastern University who had ignored the army orders to line up outside and were hiding inside the Assembly hall. Accidentally or otherwise there was a bomb blast inside the Assembly hall which killed some of the LTTE men who were in hiding and severely injured the others. They were all taken away in the jeeps. The bomb blast no doubt added to the acrimony of the proceedings. In all 158 persons were rounded up on the identification of the hooded men. Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were bundled into the two buses while the parents and kins­men looked on helplessly. The sol­diers said the men would be released after inquiry. There are many willing witnesses to this incident which took place in broad daylight in the pres­ence of nearly 45,000 people. The University authorities whose names are available and will volunteer as witnesses if called upon, kept a list of the persons who were taken away as they were responsible for all the refu­gees who had taken shelter in the Eastern University Camp. Among the men taken there were young and old. One at least was as young as 11 years. There was much indignation at this outrageous removal of many innocent people solely on the identi­fication of 2 hooded men whose cre­dentials and creditworthiness are unknown. Four army men have been identified among the soldiers who took part in this inhuman exercise. They are:

  1. Capt. Kaluaratchi from Chenkalady Army Camp

  2. Capt Mohammed Munas said to be masking his identity under this name when his real name was Dias Richard, attached to the NIB Batticaloa

  3. Maj. Majeed Commanding Officer of Valachchenai Army Camp

  4. Maj. Mohan Silva of Batticaloa Camp

The statements of several par­ents and kinsmen of the men and boys who were taken were recorded by us. Apart from these witnesses the University authorities have identified the four army officers who were responsible.

Most of the witnesses are able to identify Capt. Mohammed Munas. Mas­querading as Capt. Munas he was the bane and terror of the defenseless inhabitants of Batticaloa during this period. Among the public he was feared and very well known. Representations were made to the Ministry of Defence. On 17 October 1990 Air Marshal A.W. Fernando who was the Secretary to the Hon. Min­ister for Defence sent a reply to the in­quiries made in which he stated that only 32 persons were taken on 05.09.90 from the Vantharamoolai Camp. The names of 31 boys and men were listed as having been taken on 05.09.1993 during a cor­don and search operation conducted at the Vantharamoolai Camp. The letter said they had been taken only for questioning and all had been released within 24 hours. But regretfully none of these persons who had reportedly been released reached their homes. Among the persons so said to have been released was a young boy V. Wijeratnam only 11 years old and the one S. Sudakaram 16 years of age. It is necessary to mention that No.18 in the list of names given was that of N. Stanley, 35 years of age from Vantharamoolai. The supreme gaffe came during the Presidential Mobile Services at Batticaloa in July 1993. Stanley's wife had complained about her husband's dis­appearance. She received a reply to say that Stanley was never taken by the au­thorities. This was the standard reply on a cyclostyled form issued to any person who complained of a missing person. This is in the teeth of what was stated by the Secretary to the Ministry of State for Defence that N. Stanley was among the 31 taken for questioning and released. There is yet another matter to be men­tioned. In response to the representa­tions rnade by the people the Govern­ment Agent apparently wrote on 22 Sep­tember 1990 to the Army authorities about the incident Maj. S. Seneviratne from the Headquarters of 8 Brigade Group, Paper Mills Quarters, Valachchenai wrote back on 29 October 1990 to the GA that the troops which conducted a search opera­tion, rounded up and questioned over 200 inmates of the Eastern University Refugee Camp and no one had been detained. Add to this tragic farce of blun­ders the fact that in the evening news bulletin of the SLBC on 7 September1990 an announcement was made that 148 persons had been taken into custody from the Eastern University Camp by the Army for inquiries. This incident is a dastardly crime which cries aloud for a proper investigation. The HRTF has not been able to trace even one single person out of the 158 that went missing on that fateful morning of 5th September 1990. The losses are irrevocable. The least that can be done now is to pay adequate compen­sation to the bereaved families many of whom have lost their breadwinners and to issue death certificates.

[Social Justice 92]

Posted on 1999-01-01


Cyberspace Graveyard for Disappeared Persons
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