Batticaloa mass graves investigation urged on massacre anniversary

Place: Batticaloa | Courtesy: TamilNet
| Date: 19990905

Prayers and token fasts were held in Tamil temples and churches in many parts of the Batticaloa district today to mark the memory of the 158 Tamil refugees who went missing after they were arrested and dragged away by the Sri Lanka Army from the Eastern University campus at Vanthaarumoolai on September 5, 1990.

An association for persons who went missing after being arrested by the Sri Lankan security forces and paramilitary groups operating with them was formed in Batticaloa today.

A spokesman for the association told the TamilNet correspondent that The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF) appointed by the UNP regime in 1993 under international pressure and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) established by the PA government in November 1994 have both investigated the massacres of innocent civilians and clearly named the SLA officers and paramilitary leaders.

"But nine years have gone by and none of these have been brought to book. No action has been taken, despite the two commission's findings, to determine what came of the people who were arrested by the SLA and have gone missing. We intend to agitate for the identification and exhumation of the mass graves that are said to be at Navalady and Saththurukkondaan where many of them are buried" the spokesman said.

It is stated in the 'Final Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearance in the Northern and Eastern Provinces' published September 1997 by the government printer.

"The arrest from the Vanthaarumoolai eastern university refugees camp was the biggest group arrest of this district. The arrests took place on 5 September and 23 September 1990. Hundred and fifty eight persons were arrested on the first day, while sixteen were taken into custody on the second day.

A list containing the names of hundred and fifty eight persons who were reported to have disappeared was produced before this commission and eighty-three witnesses testified to the disappearances of 92 persons out of the 158 reported above.

Also evidence was given regarding ten of the sixteen persons who disappeared on (sic) subsequent arrest. According to the evidence, nearly 40 thousand people had taken refuge since July 1990 following the outbreak of violence in the vicinity of the university."

"On 5 September 1990 by about six O'clock in the morning army men from the Kommathurai army camp along with personnel from some other army camps came in a SLTB (Sri Lanka Transport Board) bus and entered the premises of the eastern university.

This was followed by an announcement by an amplifier fitted to a white coloured van asking the refugees to form into three different queues- persons of the age group of 12-25 in the first row, persons of the age group of 26-40 in the second row and persons over forty years in the third row.

People in the three queues were asked to pass through a point where five persons in masks (and) clad in army uniform were seated in chairs along with seven Muslims standing behind those in masks.

Whenever the persons in the masks gave a signal, the people who were in the queues were taken away from the queue to a side. When this operation was completed, 158 persons who were pulled out from the queues were taken away by the army despite the protests by their kith and kin.

There was evidence to show that the arrests were done by the Kommathurai army camp with the assistance of personnel from other army camps as well, and that the following army officers were directing the operations. Captain Munaz, Captain Palitha, Capt.Gunaratna, Major Majeed and Major Mohan."

"There was also evidence to show that Gerry de Silva (former SLA commander) had visited the refugees camp on the 8 September 1990 and had told the officers responsible for the administration of the refugees camp that all the 158 persons who were taken into custody on 5 September 1990 were found guilty. However, he had declined to say what had happened to them after they were found guilty."

"There was further evidence to say that one of the officers who were in charge of the refugee camp made a request to the Army personnel in charge of the operation to give a list of persons arrested for which there was no response.

It also transpired in evidence that Thalayasingham Arunagirinathan, the chairman of the (Batticaloa) peace committee, had received a letter in October 1990 from A.W Fernando, Air Chief Marshal, who was then the secretary to the Hon.minister of State for Defence, wherein it was stated that on 5 September 1990 only 32 persons were taken into custody from the Eastern University refugees camp and that all had been released within 24 hours of arrest.

The letter contained a list of 32 names who were alleged to have been released.

However the commission was informed that none of those who were arrested had returned either to the said refugee camp or to their homes but still remain missing. (p. 31 - 32 of the Commission's final report)

One of the commissioners, retired judge Krishnapillai Palakidnar, heard evidence in Batticaloa.

More than 2400 Tamils went missing during this period due to the activities of the SLA and paramilitaries operating with it, mostly from the northern coastal parts of the Batticaloa district, according to the findings of the human rights commission.