WSWS : News & Analysis : Asia : Sri Lanka
Eyewitness account from Sri Lanka: Tamil mass graves excavated in Chemmani
By our correspondent
26 June 1999
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The World Socialist Web Site won the right to send its own correspondent to the scene of the excavation of mass graves of victims of Sri Lankan military butchery under the Peoples Alliance regime of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Priyadarshana Maddawatta of the WSWS was one among 40 journalists taken to Jaffna on Wednesday, June 16 by an air force plane. The trip was organised by the Sri Lankan Department of Information. This is an eyewitness account by Maddawatta.
The day before we went to Jaffna, June 15, Somaratna Rajapaksa, who served in the North of Sri Lanka as a corporal in the army during 1995-96, when over 600 disappearances of Tamils took place, was flown to Jaffna under tight security. Rajapaksa claimed he could show the locations where the bodies of the disappeared were buried in mass graves
Rajapaksa, 27 years old, disclosed the existence of mass graves in Chemmani from the dock of the Colombo High Court. He made the revelation after he was convicted and sentenced to death, along with four other members of the Sri Lankan army, for the rape and murder of a Tamil schoolgirl, Krishanthi Kumaraswamy. It was a case of multiple murder. When her mother learned that Krishanthi had been arrested at the army checkpoint on her way home from school, she rushed to the nearby army camp in search of her daughter. Krishanthi's mother, brother and a neighbour were murdered by the army the same evening.
After the conviction, Rajapaksa said from the dock: ?We did not kill anyone. We only buried bodies. We can show you where 300 to 400 bodies have been buried.? The area he described was Chemmani where he had served.
Rajapaksa's statement in the High Court was made nearly a year ago in July 1998. But the People's Alliance (PA) regime, offering different reasons at different times, postponed an inquiry into the matter. Three magistrates appointed to conduct the inquiry refused to undertake responsibility, one after the other. This was due to ?external pressure,? as they called it. This time a magistrate had to be flown from Mannar, about 150 miles south of Jaffna, which is now under virtual military rule, to supervise the excavations.
In the week before his departure to Jaffna to point out the mass graves, Rajapaksa's family received continuous death threats, according to a complaint made by his wife to the police in the area. Obviously the military hierarchy, defended by the PA regime, did not want Rajapaksa to fulfil the commitment he made a year ago.
Army corporal reveals torture and killings
I saw Rajapaksa for the first time at the magistrate's court of Jaffna. His spat out furious denunciations of the army hierarchy, naming the personnel without restraint and accusing them in detail of the crimes they committed.
He spent about an hour giving evidence in front of the magistrate, prior to his trip to show the mass graves. Although some signs of strain were visible on him, he confidently said: ?I can show you how people were arrested in Ariyalai, tortured and buried.?
Rajapaksa began his evidence by attesting: ?I was at the Ariyalai army camp looking after civil administration. My job was to register family names and addresses and the names of the youths brought to the camp as suspected terrorists. We prepared two lists for this purpose.
?Once I was given a list of names, whom Captain Lalith Hewa and Lieutenant Wijesiriwardena said were Tiger suspects. I was ordered to show the places where these people lived. I showed them the places, as I know the area very well. Thereafter a group of soldiers conducted cordon and search operations in those areas and arrested some youths.
?Major Weerakkody and Major Gunasekara brought those people before two informants who were wearing masks, and the informants were asked to point out who the Tiger members were. The ones they identified were separated from the others.
?Then these people, about 50 of them, were brought to a camp. Some were kept in a school building. The orders were given by Captain Lalith Hewa, Lieutenant. Wijesiriwardena and Lieutenant Thudugala.
?One day they arrested the civil servant Selvaratnam, who worked at the educational department, and brought him to the camp. The next day his wife came and asked me if I had seen Selvaratnam. Although I did not know where Selvaratnam was held at the time, when I later went to the building which was used to torture people, Selvaratnam was among 25 others who were tortured there. Selvaratnam's legs were tied. He pleaded with me, saying he didn't have any Tiger connections. I asked Captain Hewa to release him. He agreed. But that same night he was killed. The next morning I saw 10 dead bodies there.
?The next day another man, one Udayakumar, was arrested and brought to the camp. Later his family came and pleaded with me for his release. I went to Captain Jayawardena and asked him to release Udayakumar. That afternoon he was transferred to another camp. When I went there, the officers in charge of that camp got a radio message to release Udayakumar. By that time he was hanging from his feet inside the camp and his body was cut with razor blades. They could not release him in that condition. He was killed later by a bullet. I know the weapons they used to torture people, and I think even now I can show them to you in that building.
?One day I was asked to bring a mammoty
type of spade
by Captain Lalith Hewa. When I took it to him he was with a woman who had no clothes on. This woman and her husband were brought to the camp earlier that day. Lalith Hewa had raped the woman and later attacked her and her husband with the mammoty I brought to him. Both of them died. Lalith Hewa tried to bury them there himself but he couldn't do it. Then the bodies were brought to Chemmani. I can show you where the bodies were buried.