Court to hear Mailanthanai massacre case

Place: Batticaloa | Courtesy: TamilNet
| Date: 20010128

The Mailanthanai massacre case in which 21 Sri Lanka army soldiers are accused of hacking to death 35 Tamils, including women, in a remote Batticaloa village on 9 August 1992 will be taken up for hearing in Colombo Monday lawyers appearing for the families of the victims said. "Justice delayed is justice denied. As with most cases in which SLA soldiers have been accused of massacring innocent Tamil civilians, a patently deliberate procrastinating strategy drawing on untenable pretexts is causing inordinate delays. This benefits the perpetrators of the murders," Mr.N. Kandasamy, a senior human rights activist in Colombo who has been monitoring the case for nine years told TamilNet Sunday.

Ten people were wounded in the massacre in reprisal for the death of one of a senior SLA commander who was killed in a landmine explosion in Jaffna the day before. Soldiers from the Punanai camp near Mailanthanai went on a rampage on the morning of 9 August 1992, hacking with swords and knives men, women and children in the village. Survivors hid in the jungles and the high Iluk grass for days fearing another attack before trekking to safety in Valaichenai, according to a witness.

Mailanthanai was an agricultural settlement of people from the island's central hills who survived the pogrom against the Tamils in 1977. It lies close to the border of the sinhala majority Polonnaruwa district.

There are thirty-two witnesses in the case. They were rendered homeless after the massacre and have been living in meager refugee camp in Valaichenai, 32 kilometers north of Batticaloa since 1992.

"This case should have been heard in the Batticaloa high court for the incident occurred in a place under its jurisdiction. But it was changed to the Polonnaruwa courts and then handed over to the Colombo high court where for five years it was not taken up for hearing because evidence given in Tamil by the witnesses was not translated into Sinhala" Mr.Kandasamy said.

The survivors of the Mailanthanai massacre identified 24 Sri Lanka army soldiers from the Punanai camp at an identification parade at the Batticaloa magistrate's court in 1992. A case was filed against the 24 soldiers in the Batticaloa magistrate's court on 2 April 1993. The soldiers petitioned the court that they cannot appear in that court because of security concerns. The magistrate therefore transferred the case to Polonnaruwa, a predominantly Sinhala town 95 kilometers north west of Batticaloa.

The Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) that was handling the case at the time raised strong objections against hearing the case in Polonnaruwa, averring that it was not safe for the witnesses to travel to and stay in that town. Human rights activists said at the time that the objection was tacitly underpinned by apprehension about an inevitable pro-army sentiment in the Sinhala dominated town.

The objections by MIRGE were, however, overruled and proceeding began in the Polonnaruwa magistrate's court on 11 October 1993. The Polonnaruwa magistrate acquitted three soldiers and handed over the case against the other accused to the Colombo high courts.

The MIRJE objected to the transfer on the grounds that the matter came under the purview of the high court in Batticaloa. It petitioned the Colombo high court that the case should be heard in the east. The case has been at the Colombo high court for five years.

Witnesses say that it is frustrating to be told that another date has been fixed for the hearing every time they made the arduous journey from Valaichenai to Colombo for the last five years.

"We are very poor people. The court pays only for our travel. We have to spend our money to find places to stay and eat. Some of the female witnesses have small children and infants. If not for the little assistance given us for going to Colombo by those who take an interest in the case we may not be able to make it at all" said Mr. Rasan Kitnan, 50, a witness in the case.

Each family in the Valaichenai refugee camp for the survivors of the massacre is given 1260 rupees (14 US Dollars) in dry rations per month. They eke out a living by chopping fire wood and working as agricultural labourers.

The SLA continues to block their resettlement in Mailanthanai.

"We have almost lost faith that justice will be done for my people," lamented Mr.Kitnan.

"Compelling these impoverished people to go to Colombo is wrong. One, it is very expensive for them; two, it is not safe. We must bear in mind how the witnesses in the Koneswary murder case were intimidated" a human rights activist in Batticaloa told TamilNet.

Koneswary was allegedly raped and murdered by Police personnel in the Central camp area, 30 kilometers southwest of Batticaloa in the presence of her husband. She was killed when hand grenade was exploded on her genitals to destroy evidence of the rape. Her husband and son who were key witnesses in the case failed to appear in the Kalmunai courts after being allegedly threatened by the Police.

Mr.Kandasamy points out that the Mailanthanai massacre is not the only case bogged down in this manner by the island's judicial system.

"The Police did not even bother to file first information reports (FIR) for the other mass murders by the Sri Lankan security forces in the north and east since 1990 despite strong recommendation by Commissions of inquiry urging the government to forthwith institute legal proceeding against the perpetrators identified and named in their reports" he said, referring to the massacres of more than 900 Tamil civilians in Kokkaddicholai (1991), Sathrurukkondaan (1990), Eastern University (1990), Puthukudiyiruppu (1990) and the Sithaandy Murugan temple refugee camp (1990) in the Batticaloa district and the Pandiruppu (1990), Wattiaveli (1990) and Veeramunai (1990).

Meanwhile, Mr.Kandasamy said that the case against soldiers accused of the Kumarapuram massacre in Trincomalee (1994) and the court proceeding on the Chemmani mass graves of civilians allegedly arrested and murdered by SLA soldiers in Jaffna in 1996 are still pending like scores of other cases in which the security forces personnel have been accused of murdering innocent Tamil civilians in the north and east.