This week the Australian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA) mounted an impressive campaign in the print and electronic media coupled with mass demonstration against the appointment of former Major General Janaka Perera as Sri Lankan High Commissioner designate to Australia. AFTA has accused Janaka Perera ,who commanded the Sinhala army in Jaffna, being responsible for disappearances, torture and summary-executions of Tamil youths.
Amnesty International too had thrown its weight behind the campaign to block the appointment of Janaka Perera. Some Sinhalese too joined accusing Janaka Perera of responsibility for the mass murders, including those students schooling at the Embilipitiya Maha Vidyalayam, during the 1988/89 JVP insurgency.
AI told Sunday (Channel 9, Australian National TV) that until human rights allegations against Janaka Perera are fully investigated he should not be accepted by the Australian Government.
Yet Sunday revealed that Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has accepted the appointment of Janaka Perera. Instead of ordering an investigation of the general`s past by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Downer has relied on verbal assurances given by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Kadirgamar over the telephone that Major-General Perera, `is a suitable and worthy appointment.`
A prominent Sri Lankan Australian, Dr Brian Seneviratne, has detailed the charges against Perera to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and to his cousin, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Dr Seneviratne told Sunday the appointment is a provocation at a time when security forces in Australia have warned that Sri Lankan activists are a threat to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane in October.
Australian forensic pathologist Dr Kevin Lee told Sunday of his investigation of murders in the area which was under General Perera`s command in 1996. Dr Lee was an official observer for AI when bodies were exhumed from shallow graves near the Army check point at Kaithady in 1998. He described the wounds of these victims - broken skulls, arm bones bound with twine, blindfolds - consistent with torture, strangulation and assassination.
Sunday also showed CBC footage covering protest rally and demonstration staged on August 11,1986 by Tamil Canadians against the appointment of another war criminal Brigadier (Bull) Weeratunga as Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Canada.
When Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected Prime Minister in 1994, she and her ministers went to Suriyakanda armed with spades to unearth mass graves. By digging the mass graves Chandrika Kumaratunga was fulfilling an election promise that she will appoint a Presidential Commission to investigate the mass murders that took place during the rule of the previous UNP regime.
Rewarding members of the armed forces who kill Tamils or who are responsible for their killings is nothing new. As far back as 1974, the Police officers who tear-gassed and broke up the Tamil Research Conference in Jaffna and caused the death of 9 civilians by electrocution were given promotions by Srimavo Bandaranaike government. The police assault was totally unforeseen and unprovoked, but it was meant as a warning to Tamils to `behave` or else to face further assault.
Weli Oya (Manal Aru) Sinhala Colonization
Major General Janaka Perera played a crucial role in ethnically cleansing Manal Aru of scores of Tamil villages and settling Sinhala , mostly convicts brought from Welikada and other jails.
By an extra ordinary gazette notification dated 16th April, 1988, Manal Aru area in the Mullaitivu and Vavunia Districts was re-named Weli Oya in Sinhala. 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 purposes it was included in the Vavuniya Electoral District.) It was also declared that Weli Oya area had been included under the Rapid Mahaweli Development Scheme under the Ministry of Lands and Land Development.
Weli Oya is only one of several state-aided Sinhala colonization schemes launched in the traditional homelands of the Tamils since independence. It is hemmed between Anuradhapura, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee and Vavuniya Districts.
A total of 13,288 Tamil families living in 42 villages for centuries, including Kokkulai Grama Sevakar Division (1516 Tamil families), Kokku Thoduvai Grama Sevakar Division (3306 Tamil families), Vavunia North Grama Sevakar Division (1342 Tamil families), 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 moving in armoured vehicles over the public address system.
Simultaneously land given to 14 Tamil entrepreneurs, including Kent Farm and Dollar Farm, on 99 years lease were 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 Mahaweli Economic Agency in 1988 and declared as the Mahaweli `L` zone.
The Sinhala army kept its word and drove using brute force thousands of Tamil villagers that included Tamil refugees from the Hill country who were victims of earlier Sinhala violence in 1983. Most people fled in terror on their own fearing assault by the army. A few who remained behind were executed by the army. One night alone, 29 Tamil villagers were killed by the army at Othiyamalai, a hamlet situated north of Weli Oya.
The evil-minds and the driving force behind the Weli Oya Sinhala 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 Sinhala settlers after driving the Tamils out ,by using the Sinhala army.
Industries Minister Cyril Mathew, a dyed in the wool Sinhala racist, diverted millions of rupees allocated to various Corporations under his Ministry to finance Weli Oya Sinhala colonization. In addition institutions like All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Bhikku Peramuna etc. helped in providing financial and other material aid to the Sinhala 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 `wholesale ethnic cleansing of Tamils from Manal Aru by the top elite of the Sinhala army, especially that of Major General Janaka Perera the Tamil village of Mankindimalai was re-named Janakapura in his honour!
Chemmani mass graves
Following the Riviresa military operation during 1995/96, Jaffna peninsula came under the control of Brigadier Sri Lal Weerasuriya. Under his command, Jaffna peninsula was divided into two regions. Brigadiers Janaka Perera and Karunatilake functioned as commanding officers of both these regions. Chemmani security check point came under the control of Brigadier Janaka Perera. Though they were brigadiers, they functioned as unofficial Major Generals.
In Krishanti`s rape and murder trial, the first accused Lance Cpl. Dewage Somaratne Rajapakse when asked by the court whether he has anything to say before sentencing said, We did not kill anyone. We only buried bodies that were sent to us by our superior officers. He went on to drop the bombshell which even the Court could not have anticipated We can show you where 300 to 400 bodies have been buried at Chemmani. Other co-accused persons corroborated the first accused statement from the dock.
Lance Cpl. Rajapakse`s statement simply confirmed the report issued by AI after a fact-finding mission to Jaffna. AI in its report dated November 27, 1997 stated categorically that nearly all of them are likely to have died under torture or to have been deliberately killed by (Sri Lankan security forces) . It was widely believed that Major General Janaka Perera as the then army commander of Jaffna is the officer who gave orders for summary execution and burial of Tamil youths.
Janaka Perera is easily the most decorated officer with the worst record of human rights abuse in the army. For this reason he is seen as a War Hero by Sinhala extremists and racist outfits! Australian Foreign Minister John Downer`s excuse that he had a private telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Kadirgamar and the latter has vouched for the character of Janaka Perera is very clumsy. This is not the way to scrutinise the credentials of a would be diplomat. John Downer as a Minister of state should know that Kadirgamar`s testimony is like the lizard giving evidence in support of the fence. By rolling the red carpet for an alleged war criminal, the Australian government is making a historical blunder and damaging its own image as a country committed to uphold human rights. Accepting alleged war criminals like Janaka Perera tantamount to rewarding richly violators of human rights.
AFTA with help from the Tamil Diaspora should now explore legal means to arraign Janaka Perera for war crimes before the Court in Brussels. Survivors of the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees during Israel`s 1982 invasion of Lebanon have filed a case in Brussels accusing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of crimes against humanity.
A law enacted in 1993 and extended in 1999 gives Belgium courts the authority to try war crimes no matter where they wer...