Anton Balasingham on behalf of the LTTE expressed profound regret and also apologised to the Muslims

By Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

The Colombo Telegraph published a statement issued by the National Peace Council titled “Deal with the Muslim Expulsion also through Geneva process” and the comments that followed.

Amarasiri in his comment rightly claims that “Ethnic Cleansing is a WAR CRIME. Period. Refer to war Crimes.”

The expulsion of Muslims from the North was ethnic cleansing even if that was retaliation for violence against Thamils in the east by Muslim Home Guards aided and abetted by the armed forces. Thamils living along Muslim border villages were forcibly driven away and their homes and paddy fields appropriated by marauding Muslim goons.

Twelve years after the summary expulsion of the Muslims from the Northern Province, the LTTE held a meeting at Kilinochchi on April 13, 2002 presided by Prabhakaran. The meeting was meant to mend fences between the two communities and was attended by SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, Athaullah, Uthumalebbe. Mohideen Abdul Cader, Basheer Segu Dawood, Masoor Noordeen and Masoor Moulana. Also present were Anton Balasingham, Political Advisor, S.P.Thamilchelvan, Head of Political Department and District Commanders of the LTTE.

Following the talks between the two sides, Anton Balasingham on behalf of the LTTE expressed profound regret and also apologised to the Muslims. “I made an apology to the Muslim people that what has happened in the past has to be forgotten, that we are willing to talk to them and resolve their problems,” Mr Balasingham said, assuring Muslims that they could return to their homes in the North. He stressed that the Tamil homeland and the Tamil territory in the North-East “belonged to the Muslim people also.”

Mr Hakeem said that they are willing to forgive the LTTE. “We have told them unequivocally that we are prepared to forgive and not forget (the past)… We have bitter memories of the past. But it is time we contended with the ground realities. That would mean that the LTTE also has to look at Muslims and their separate political identity as something that has become quite pronounced over a period of time,” he said in an interview.

At a function held last week to mark the 25th  anniversary of the expulsion of  Muslims from the North, Sumanthiran, TNA MP told Express “Just as  the NPC  passed a resolution condemning the genocide conducted against the Thamils, the NPC should pass a resolution condemning the en masse expulsion of Muslims by the LTTE which amounts to ethnic cleansing. If the NPC does not do it, the world will not take the Thamils’ contention that they had been subjected to genocide, seriously.” “The Thamils cannot condemn the misdeeds of the Sinhalese majority while ignoring the misdeeds of the Tamil majority,” the Jaffna district MP further said.

This is not the first time Sumanthiran, TNA MP has articulated his principled stand on this subject, and he has done so previously also. Delivering his commemorative address to mark the 36th death anniversary of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam held in Vantharumoolai he said; Recognising the expulsion of the Northern Muslims from the five districts of the North – Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi as an act of ethnic cleansing is overdue. The Thamil community needs to acknowledge its own mistakes and take steps to correct them, including in not neglecting the Muslim community. He emphasized that unless the Thamil community does this, it would have no moral right to expect others, including the international community to take up their grievances.
The Secretariat for Muslims (SFM) issued a statement welcoming Sumanthiran’s speech and described same as important steps in rebuilding and reconciling relations between the Thamil and Muslim communities in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Mr. Sumanthiran’s gesture provides an example to other political and civil society leaders of the measures that need to be taken to strengthen peace in Sri Lanka.

For some time now, the unorthodox and frank views by Sumanthiran have earned the ire of the counter-part of Wimal Weerawansas among a section of die-hard Thamil nationalists living in Diaspora. Unfazed, Sumanthiran continues to look at the problems faced by the Thamils from the other side of the great divide as well.

As rightly pointed out by Dr.Gnana Sankaralingam, the LTTE gave strict orders to leave Muslim owned properties intact. Not a single Thamil was allowed to occupy or appropriate those properties. This is in stark contrast to confiscation of privately owned Thamil properties by the Muslims in the eastern province where the Thamils were at the receiving end of both Muslims and Sinhalese.

If ethnic cleansing is a war crime, then the successive governments since independence are guilty of ethnically cleansing the Thamils from the North and East, especially the East. Large scale state-aided colonization schemes were implemented by the government creating Sinhalese colonies in Gal Oya, Allai, Kantalai, Padaviya etc. Due to this colonization, two electorates were created for the Sinhalese, Seruwila (1976) in the Trincomalee district and  Digamadulla (1978)  in the Amparai  district in the eastern province. Amparai district was carved out of the southern part of Batticaloa district in April 1961.  By the late 1960s the government has settled 67,000 Sinhalese in major colonization schemes covering an area of 300,000 acres (1214 Sq.Kms). The following demographic changes in the East since 1946 say it all.

Census Sri LankaWhile the Sinhalese population has increased from 61,996 (29.28%) to 251,018 (38.73%) between 1963 and 2012 the Thamil population increased from 49,185 (23.23) to 112, 750 (17.40%) a drop of 5.83%! The demographic situation for the Thamils in the Trincomalee district was a total disaster as the following Table 2 shows.

Table 2
Population of Trincomalee District by ethnic group 1827 to 2012

Census Sri LankaSince 1946 the population of Thamils have steadily decreased from 44.51% in 1946 (1881 – 64.44%) to 32.29% in 2012 a dramatic drop of 12.22 % largely due to state aided Sinhala colonization.  Thus, Thamils are now in a minority in two out of 3 districts in the Eastern province.

In the Eastern province, the Thamils are just 39.79% in 2012 in comparison to 48.75% a drop of 8.96% while the Sinhalese count 23.15% compared to just 8.40% in 1946 before Gal Oya /Allai-Kantalai Sinhalese colonization. The following Table 3 shows the demographic changes in the population of Eastern Province:

Census Sri LankaAfter completing major colonization in the East, the government set its eyes on the North. While it took several years to colonize the East, the colonization in the North was in record time.

Ethnic Cleansing of Thamils in Manal Aru re-named Weli Oya is only one of several state-aided Sinhalese colonization schemes launched in the traditional homelands of the Thamils since independence. Weli Oya is hemmed between Anuradhapura, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee and Vavuniya Districts. It is called the “border village” (s) since the territory north of Weli Oya is peopled by Thamils.

A total of 13,288 Tamil families living in 42 villages for generations including Kokkulai Grama Sevakar Division (1516 Tamil families), Kokku –Thoduvai Grama Sevakar Division (3306 Tamil families), Vavuniya North Grama Sevakar Division (1342 Tamil families) and other Divisions of Mullaitivu District including Naiyaru and Kumulamunai (2011 Tamil families) were asked to vacate their homes and farmlands within 48 hours, on pain of eviction by force in case of default. This threat was issued by the army over the public address system.

Simultaneously, land given to 14 Thamil entrepreneurs, including Kent Farm and Dollar Farm, on 99 years lease was also cancelled and taken over by the government. Settlements in the Weli Oya began in 1984 as a dry zone farmer colony under the land Commission, but it was later acquired by the Mahaveli Economic Agency in 1988 and declared as the Mahaveli ‘L’ zone.

The Mahaveli ‘L’ zone was established specially for coconut cultivation and each Sinhalese family was given 5 acres of land consisting of ½ acre for residence, one-acre of irrigated land and 3 ½ acres for coconut.

The Mahaveli Economic Agency (MEA) financed all development projects while Mahaveli Engineering and Construction Agency (MECA) handled all the construction works such as roads, electricity, houses etc. In 1998 alone Rs. 72 million was allocated for construction of roads.

The Sinhalese army did translate its threat and used force as promised. Thousands of Tamil villagers, some of them Hill country Thamil refugees’ victims of earlier Sinhalese violence in 1983, were driven out or they on their own fled in terror. Some were murdered by the army. One night alone 29 Tamil villagers were killed at Othiyamalai, a hamlet situated north of the Weli Oya colony.

By the same gazette notification Weli Oya was proclaimed the 26th District of Sri Lanka and for administrative purpose brought under the jurisdiction of the Government Agent, Anuradhapura. However, for election purpose it was included in the Vavuniya Electoral District!

The evil-minds and the driving force behind the Weli Oya Sinhalese colonization were Messrs. Gamini Dissanayake, Minister for Mahaweli Development, Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister of National Security, Cyril Mathew, Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs and N.G.P. Panditaratne, Chairman Mahaweli Development Board.

The ‘gang of four’ openly advocated the colonization of the North and East in general and Weli Oya in particular by Sinhalese settlers after driving the Thamils out by using the Sinhalese army.
Industries Minister Cyril Mathew diverted millions of rupees allocated to various Corporations under his Ministry to finance Weli Oya colonization scheme. In addition, institutions like All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Bhikku Peramuna etc. helped in providing financial and other material aid to the Sinhalese settlers.

From 1988-89 Sinhala colonization of Weli Oya was put on a war-footing. A total of 3364 families, most of them ex-convicts brought straight from prisons, were settled in Weli Oya. A further 35,000 persons comprising 5,925 families were also settled under the same scheme. It is in recognition of the ‘yeoman services’ rendered by the top elite of the Sinhala army, especially that of Major General Janaka Perera, the Tamil village of Thannimurippu was re-named Janakapura in his honour!

During the war years, SLA troops as a matter of policy provided arms and military training to Sinhalese colonists in the border villages including Weli Oya. Three-thousand Colonists in Gonagala in the Amparai district were provided with arms and given weapons training despite the fact most of them have criminal records. The irony of it is these Sinhalese are farming in land once owned by the Thamils after driving them out with the help of the armed forces!

On 22 April 2013 before election to the Northern Provincial Council the then president Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over 3000 land deeds to Weli Oya settlers at a ceremony held at Sampath Nuwara Mahaweli grounds in the former conflict-affected Weli Oya. 

The Weli Oya administrative division consisting of 8 Grama Niladari divisions is carved out from the Padaviya AGA Division (Divisional Secretariat Division) of the Anuradhapura district. Earlier in 1987, this administrative division was part of Padaviya and was brought under the Anuradhapura administrative district.

With the  creation of Weli Oya AGA Division, the Mullaitivu district consist of six AGA Divisions (Maritimepattu, Puthukkudiyiruppu, Oddusuddan, Thunukkai, Maanthai East and Weli Oya ) with a total of 136 Grama Sevakar Divisions, constituting 2616.6 Sq.Kms of total area (3.8% of the Island) and a population of 126,582 in 2014. The district had 127 GSDs and a population of 220,311 people as at December 31, 2007.

Mullaitheevu district was the worse affected district by three decades of war and tsunami. It suffered damage and loss of life, property and livelihoods and bore the brunt of the war during last phase of the war.

The expulsion of Muslims from the North was an aberration necessitated by war. They were not dispossessed of their properties permanently. But, Thamils have been subjected to ethnic cleansing through state aided colonization and land grab by the army even after the war ended.

The total area of Jaffna district is 1,025 Sq.Kms. Six years after the end of the war, the armed forces are still in occupation of 7,933.63 acres (32.35 Sq.Kms) of land. The breakdown is as follows:

Census Sri LankaThis data is only in respect of one district in the North. There are 4 administrative districts viz Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar where large swaths of land are under the control of the armed forces.

In Valikamam North alone the army is still in occupation of about 5,200 acres of land. In 2014 the Northern Provincial Council handed over a report to the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa claiming the armed forces are in occupation of 65,000 acres of land in the North. It also claimed that 30,000 houses, thirty schools, thirty factories and 40,000 acres of arable land is held within the military HSZ. Only a fraction of this land has been released to the IDPs since 2015.

The resettlement of IDPs promised before, during and after the elections by president Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is painfully slow. Minister for Resettlement and Rehabilitation D.M. Swaminathan says the armed forces are resisting re-settlement since they have developed vested interests since they are running businesses like luxury hotels, restaurants, health resorts, swimming pools etc. This only reveals that this government is simply inept.

Right now, the mood of the Thamil IDPs is one of scepticism and resignation to their fate. Government commitment to Good Governance (yahapalayanaya) is simply not succeeding. The euphoria is giving way to severe depression. The government’s foot dragging over the release of political prisoners is another glaring example of insensitiveness. These prisoners are languishing in jails for decades some without charges or inquiry. This is in stark contrast to the lightening speed at which Sarath Fonseka was rehabilitated and promoted as Field Marshal. Hence, discontent among the Thamil people grows as each day passes.

What we need today is a President and Prime Minister who will take bold decisions to ease the suffering of Thamil IDPs both in the North and East. Their government is refusing to give back several thousand acres of private land grabbed by the armed forces during the tenure of previous government(s) under the cloak of national security.

Thamil IDPs forced to live in shelters have been denied the right to return to their lands in violation of their rights and humanitarian laws. This is the untold story of ethnic cleansing of Thamils from their traditional lands by successive Sinhalese governments. Mr. Sumanthiran who boldly admits that the expulsion of Muslims by the LTTE in 1990 is ethnic cleansing, he has also referred to the forced expulsion of Thamil IDPs from Valikamam North and other areas as ethnic cleansing in parliament. The admission by the Minister of Resettlement and Rehabilitation that the IDPs cannot be resettled because the government of the day cannot exercise control over the armed forces is blithely pathetic.

The time is ripe to admit our past mistakes, confess to our sins, and negate all injustices done to the Thamils since independence and move forward to build a prosperous country where everyone could live in peace, dignity, enjoying equality before the law regardless of one’s nationality and religious affiliation. Good Governance means building real freedom and real development.