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CHAPTER 4: AMPARA DISTRICT

The Commission held its sittings at Ampara from 01.03.97 to 07.03.97 at the Ampara Kachcheri and from 20.04.97 to 22.04.97 at the Divisional Secretary’s Office (Tamil Division) Kalmunai.

 

During the Sittings in Ampara between 01.03.97 and 07.03.97 there was comparative peace in the area but it was brought to our notice that a large number of persons were still harbouring fears of earlier abductions and killings in Ampara and it was suggested that sittings be held in Kalmunai as well.  The final sittings were held at the divisional Secretary’s Office at Kalmunai from 20.04.97 to 22.04.97.

 

Sittings were also held in the Conference room of the Ministry of Justice in Colombo to enable people who were able to come to Colombo from these districts to set out their complaints of disappeared persons.  These persons were summoned at their request and reimbursed for their expenses of travelling and incurred expenses.  On more than one occasion scheduled sittings were postponed because of serious security concerns on the advice of the police authorities.  But our hearings proved to be very effective from the point of view of public interest, co-operation and response.

 

In the Kalmunai area, which included Pandiruppu, Naipattimunai, Karativu, Nintavur, Veeeramunai, Sammanthurai and Malawatle, several complaints were recorded. The figures are shown in the Annexure S.

 

It was revealed at the sittings that in Akkaraipattu, which included Addalaichenai, Irakkamam, Thandiyadi, Thirukkovil, Habiluvil and Ambilanthurai,, a large number of disappearances were alleged to have been caused by the Special Task Force stationed at Akkaraipattu.

 

In Pottuvil, which included Arugam Bay, Panama Lahugala and Komari, several persons testified to disappearances in these areas.  The details and dates of such occurrences are contained in the Annexure T.  The Special Task Force stationed at Arugam Bay and the Pottuvil Police and Home Guards (mainly Muslim) have been alleged to be responsible for the arrests.

 

The Amparai complaints reached back to the year 1988 to which our mandate related to as the commencement date.  Amparai included Damana, Hingurana, Central Camp Kondawattuwan, Padiyatalawa, Uhana, Inginiyagala, Ambagahawatta, Dehiyattakandiya, Maha Oya and Girandurukotte.

 

4.1              J.V.P.

 

It is significant that in the years 1988 and 1989 the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insurgency was rampant in this district and a large number of killings and persons found dead have been spoken about by the aggrieved parties.  The arrests and disappearances have been attributed to the Police, unknown persons and persons described as Green Tigers. The details are contained in the Annexure U.

 

 

 

 

 

4.2              L.T.T.E.

 

A large number of disappearances are attributed to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.  The complaints have been made mainly by aggrieved persons from the Muslim Community.  The major incident is to have  taken place in Kurukkalmadam, a village midway between Kalmunai and Batticaloa where on the fateful day in May, 1992 a large number of Muslim businessmen returning from Kalmunai to Batticaloa were waylaid, robbed and abducted.  It is observed that none of these persons have returned to their homes although the International Red Cross Organisation too had intervened to secure their release or locate their whereabouts.

 

The L.T.T.E. has been responsible for the disappearance of many Police personnel from Akkaraipattu and Pottuvil Police Stations. The police officers on duty have been subject to surprise attacks in both Akkaraipattu and Pottuvil.  21 cases of missing  Police Personnel were reported to us.  The International Red Cross was contacted by us to locate the whereabouts of these persons.  But we have not met with any helpful response from this organisation which is normally in communication with the L.T.T.E.  The witnesses who gave evidence before us were resigned to the view that they are no more alive.  We are compelled to accept that view.  It is very consoling to note that in most instances compensation has already been paid at the Police Departmental level and their salaries too are being paid to the legal next of kin.  On an overview of the victims it is observed that an equal number of Muslims and Sinhalese persons have disappeared in these attacks.  A few Tamil members of the Police force and supporting staff have also disappeared.  There has been a marked reluctance on the part of the Police authorities to pay compensation to some of the Tamil persons.  This seems to have stemmed from the notion that some of them may have voluntarily disappeared during these attacks.  However, we did not find any positive evidence to support that view.  We have suggested to the authorities to pay the compensation for all the disappeared persons whose claims are pending and placed before us at the hearings by us.

 

4.3              Kalmunai

 

In the Kalmunai area during the year 1990 in the months of June and July a very large number of persons have disappeared involuntarily.

 

Kalmunai is a district wherein an equal number of Muslims and Tamils live in areas side by side.  Muruthamunaimb, Ninthavur and Sainthamaruthu are villages which are predominantly occupied by Muslims.  In the Kalmunai town itself Muslims and Tamils live in divisions where there is a distinct predominance of one community or other.

 

In Pandiruppu, Natpattimunai and Karativu there is a majority of Tamil persons living in these areas.  A sizeable number of Sinhalese too live in the town area.  Mandur, which is closer to Samanthurai on the Amparai road, is entirely populated by Tamil people.  The involuntary removals in Kalmunai area were spoken about by aggrieved parents, wives and sometimes children of the victims.  It is clear that Special Task Force men of the Police force, Security personnel from the Army, regular Police Officers and Home Guards have conducted cordon and arrest operations described as round ups of areas and removed persons from their homes at all hours of the day and night. 

 

Persons going on the roads to places of work and to purchase provisions and foodstuffs have been arrested within public view never to be seen again. Persons who were then taken into custody were followed by hopeful parents, wives and children to the very camp where they were taken to.  Their sorrowful and anguished pleas for release were met with assaults, threats and even shots fired above their heads to drive them away.  The more persistent of these kinsfolk, mothers in particular, have waited for days keeping vigil in the fervent hope that the detainees would be released.  Some were told by the security men that they would be released after inquiry, but such releases were not effected.  The persons who were taken into custody were seen at the camp of detention by wailing relatives outside.  They were seen doing manual work or in state of distress and dismay at their enforced detention.  In several instances they ceased to appear in their places of detention.  Anxious inquiries would elicit cursory answers that they were removed to different locations where their captors themselves had moved.   But the stark reality of the disappearance without trace was not told to the distraught mothers, wives and brothers and sisters, that they were not in the land of the living any more.

 

It was seen by the views expressed by the complainants before us that they were living with unshakable faith that their loved persons in detention were still living somewhere and would someday return.  A vast majority of them expressed the hope that they had pinned their faith on our commission that we would secure their release.

At this stage it would be appropriate to mention that the responses of the Security Authorities have been most unhelpful.  A total denial of any arrest has been the rule, no record of any arrest has been the frustrating refrain.

 

4.4              Pandiruppu

 

Pandiruppu is a village to the north of the Kalmunai town.  It is a predominantly Tamil Hindu Village.  The sacred Thraupadi, Amman Temple famed for its fire-walking ritual at the annual high festival is surrounded by the houses of its devoted worshippers.  The months of June and July 1990 was turbulent periods for the inhabitants of this village.  Its ethnic homogeneity seems to have attracted the Security Forces and the Police in their search for insurgent elements harbouring in that area.  This resulted in a large number of arrests and disappearances from this locality.

 

It is a redeeming feature that persons of public-spirited concern had initiated and moved to obtain relief by way of compensation to the persons who have lost their bread-winners in the main and close members of the family in general in this area.  It is strongly recommended that relief in this manner should be given to all afflicted persons to relieve them of their suffering and abject poverty.

 

The pattern of removal of the suspects seems to be a very abrupt entry into the house of the suspect and physical removal of the person or persons in front of and in full view of all the other members of the household.  The time the hour of the day seems to be of no concern.  Young students hard at work with their books have been forced away by the security personnel.  Persons from sick beds have been marched away.  The helpless occupants could only look on barely being able to identify the captors. All they could say was that it was the Army. Very often they said that it was persons dressed in army uniform.  The chief unit identified by consensus perhaps was the Special Task Force. They could not identify any individual as these security personnel keep moving from camp to camp.  However, some persons who seem to have gained some notoriety have been named in specific cases.  We shall advert to them later in this report. A detailed list of persons arrested and the date of arrest is shown in the Annexure V of this report.

 

4.5              Chavalakadai

 

Chavalakadai area encompasses a lagoon that is a part of the Batticoloa lagoon.  In this area the main occupation of the community living there is fishing and prawn fishing. Between August and December 1990, persons variously described as Army and S.T.F. have conducted several arrests of persons who were fishing in the lagoon.  The victims were not only fishermen, but also cattle grazers and firewood gatherers who were summarily marched away or taken away in trucks.

 

4.6              Natpattimunai

 

A village in close proximity to Chavalakadai and Kalmunai town is also a place whose inhabitants engage in paddy cultivation, lagoon fishing and cattle grazing.  Persons in this area have also been arrested by security personnel from the Special Task Force and the Police.

 

The practices of entering refugee camps by security personnel and the removal of persons who have sought refuge with the families have been fairly rampant.  In disturbed circumstances, to avoid violence and escape from cross fire, it was common for the inhabitants of whole villages to go to places of worship like temples and

Churches for refuge in the hope that they would be save from death and injury.

 

4.7              Veeramunai Pillaiyar temple

 

One such place was the Weeramunai Pillaiyar Temple, a place dedicated to the worship of Lord Ganesha by the Hindus.  It is to be noted that the worship of Lord Ganesha is common to both Tamils and Sinhalese who profess the Hindu and Buddhist religion respectively. The 29th of June, 1990 seems to have been a fateful day at the Pillaiyar Temple.

 

Persons described as armed groups and the Special Task Force have been cited by the complainants as persons who arrested the people who had taken refugee in the Temple Camp.  On the 4th July, 1990, and 8th August, 1990 further arrests were made.  They all lament in anguish that the protection they would have expected in the refugee camp was denied and the persons arrested have still not returned to their houses. The names and dates of arrest are set out in the Annexure W of this report.

 

4.8              Pottuvil

 

In the Pottuvil area, which includes Lahugalla, Komari and extends south to Panama, which is the furthest habitation adjoining the Yala reserve on the South Eastern coast, in the month of July, 1990, a large number of arrests were made by the Special Task Force stationed in Pottuvil, Arugam Bay and Komali.  One sees in these widespread arrests of persons, a vengefulness and vindictiveness consequent to the Police Station attack in June, 1990.  The arrests have been made in paddy fields and places where cattle grazed.  The people in this area are mainly agricultural labourers. The vast majority of them are breadwinners and young men on whom aged parents have been dependent.

 

A place called Inspector Hill seems to have been the location where many arrests have taken place.  The apparent reason seems to be the proximal location of the Komari and Arugam Bay S.T.F. camps.  In the Pottuvil town itself the Police and the Home Guards, composed of Muslim volunteers, have arrested many persons who have come to the town in the normal course of business activity.

 

The details and dates of the arrests have been shown in the Annexure X of this report.

 

4.9              Akkaraipattu

 

Akkaraipattu is a town which lies between Kalmunai and Pottuvil.  It includes Thirukkovil to the South and Thambuluvil, which is also a village adjoining Akkaraipattu. The people here are mainly agriculturists doing paddy cultivation around tanks and channels fed by the Gal Oya Scheme.  In the latter part of June and the month of July and August 1990 a large number of arrests were made by the S.T.F  This can be related to the Tiger attack on the Police Station in early June 1990.  In August and September 1990 several Tamil persons were arrested from their houses, paddy fields and grazing grounds in the area.   Here too arrests have been made in refugee camps at Kolavil, Akkaraipatu and the Methodist Church refugee Camp  In troubled times the tendency of persons to draw strength from grouping together in schools, temples and other refugee centres is very great.  They seek thereby to get protection from the security forces and pool the relief resources for survival.  If into this group the security forces see a happy hunting ground to arrest persons gathered there, there is very little left to the public by way of hope for greater protection or security from the Sale.

 

4.10            Amparai Town

 

In the year 1988 there has been a fallout of the insurgency in the south of Sri Lanka. Many persons were arrested and their bodies found murdered.  Several cases of that nature were reported to us by complainants who said that armed groups which could not be identified by them had arrested the victims from their homes and from public places.  The Amparai bus stand has been a noted place where travellers passing through the town to distant destinations were removed by the Police or Army.

 

Near Amparai on the Colombo road lies the sprawling Kondaiwattuwan Army Camp.  According to the evidence given by several witnesses the Kondaiwattuwan Army Camp has been the ultimate destination of the victims of arrest in Amparai, Kalmunai, Veramunai and Inginiyagala.  Relatives had followed the victims right up to the camp only to be chased away by the sentries.  The camp in effect has been a one way route, a point of no return for many. The long absence after the arrest over a period of nearly six to seven years makes the despondent relatives lose all hope of their survival or return. Apart from the fact that no records of arrest were made, there has been no communication with the relatives after their arrests. Communication by letters

while in custody would have gone a long way to reassure the relatives of their being alive and strengthened the hope of their return someday. We have not been able to record a single instance where any letters were received by the relatives from the victims after their arrest. This serious lapse undermined all hopes in the minds of relatives and dependants in the survival of persons arrested. A list of the persons arrested is shown in Annexure Y of this report.

 

4.11            Check points

 

Check points were set up by the Army at strategic places on the highways to have a greater supervision of the ingress and egress of travellers to and from the areas under security survey.

 

At these points travellers along with their baggage are subject to careful scrutiny to detect any subversive material including explosives and arms. Although it is highly unlikely that a seasoned subversive would hazard himself to be checked at these places it may be possible that a die-hard may slip through ingeniously under the cloak of innocence.

 

These security checks have had unfortunate consequences as well. The Malwatte Check Point on the Amparai Kalmunai road  has been the venue of many a disappearances. Travellers to distant places like Colombo have been stopped and arrested never to be seen again. Whole families travelling together for social gatherings like weddings with children and young girls have totally disappeared after being stopped at these checkpoints. These horrendous accounts have been very revolting to the mind. These cases have been highlighted in the Annexure Z of this Report.

Posted on 2002-08-30



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