The 13 victims – progenitors of the 30 years conflict
July 23rd of 1983 narrate us the turning point of the 30 years ended war in Sri Lanka with the LTTE terrorist. Much talk about the subsequent incident happened in July 25th (Black July) and less talk about what happened on two nights back on July 23rd.
Number 13 is considered a bad number or inauspicious mostly among Europe and America. There’s no thirteenth floor neither in the high storied buildings there and nor in hotels can be found room number thirteen.
Outbreak of the Sri Lankan thirty years separatist war was also begun from the 13, when the LTTE detonated a landmine on 23rd of July 1983 at Thrunelveli, Palai road in the Jaffna Peninsula. The victims were thirteen soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army, when they were moving in the night, at 23:45 hrs. However, killing of the thirteen soldiers SLA (Sri Lankan Army) became a turning-point and led to a three decade long separatist terrorist war. The conflict ended after losing more than one hundred thousand lives.
Under the post war Sri Lanka, we have achieved a military victory and the peace can be built among the hearts of both Sinhalese and Tamil through a genuine reconciliation mechanism plus a political solution for the minority Tamils. But the solution should be a Sri Lankan Model and not an alien or so-called solution proposed by the Westerners.
The aim of this article is to take a look back about the beginning of the conflict, particularly for the young generation of Sri Lanka who has born after 1983. But the reader should not be confused over this article with the North-East crisis of Sri Lanka and it’s root causes.
Velupillai Prabhakaran comes from Valvetiturai, (a place said to be a smugglers’ paradise) a small port town situated in Jaffna Peninsula and all illegal goods were brought by boats from South India and unloaded there. Having born there, he was engaged in smuggling business in the mid seventies. However there are no details available about his school life or education.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was founded on the 05th March 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran and the other founder members were Charles Lucas Anthony alias Colonel Seelan, Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias colonel Kittu and Aruna. After couple of years by 1978, Gopalaswami Mahendrarajah alias Mahattaya together with Ragavan and Anand too joined the Tamil separatists outfit.
In the beginning, armed with primary fire arms started to rob banks in order to find the funds for their organization. Subsequently, they started to assassinate what they called their opponents and the first victim was a distinguished political personality from their own minority Tamil, a former Member of Parliament and the Mayor of Jaffna, Mr. Alfred Duraiappa. He was gunned down by Prabakaran himself (?) on the 27th July 1976, in a Hindu temple though he was a catholic.
By the beginning of the eighties, they were well organized and began to launch guerilla attacks against the Sri Lankan Army. In their initial hostility campaign of Sri Lankan artillery Corporal, H.G.W.Hewawasam from Kuruvita and Corporal H.M.P.Thisera of Mathugama were killed on October 1981 on the KKS road in Jaffna. The attack was carried out by Charles Antony alias Seelan and some sources say he spat on the slain soldier’s face. In a separate incident, Sergeant Nihal Jayaweera also killed in Killinochchi same month on 23rd October 981.
However, Sri Lankan Army intelligence unit started monitoring the activities of Charles Anthony alias Seelan. Finally, on the 15th July 1983, Charles Lucas Anthony alias colonel Seelan was killed in a close encounter with the Sri Lankan Army at Meesalai, Thennamarachchi area located in the Jaffna Peninsula. The man who hailed from Trincomalee and being a catholic was a member of the original group that founded the LTTE and regarded as the confidante of the leadership and was part of a triumvirate that ran the LTTE in the north when the Tiger Leader was away in India. The other two were Mahattaya and Kittu.
There was a controversy over the death of Col. Seelan. While in a hideout at a coconut grove at Meesalai, Army ambushed the place where Seelan (Charles Anthony) Aruna and Anand were hiding. During the shoot out in which Aanand was killed on the spot, though Seelan and Aruna fought their way through but Seelan was critically injured. As the soldiers continued their chase, the wounded Seelan ordered Aruna to shoot him dead and get away with the weapons. But Aruna was reluctant and did not agree. After some heated argument he had no choice left, but to obey Seelan and shot him dead and escaped.
Praba, after being wedded to Mathivathany Erambu on 1984, both are Hindus, his first son was born in 1985, the tiger leader named his son Charles Antony in the fond memory of his confidante and the deputy.
After learning the fate of Seelan, Prabha was furious and mad. He wanted to take revenge on the Sri Lankan Army. Exactly after eighth day of the death of Seelan, Chellakili and Kittu planned an attack. They ambushed an army patrol “ Four Four Bravo” and detonated Army vehicle in the night at 23:45 hrs on 23rd July 1983 at Thirunelveli post office junction at Palali Road, Jaffna.
In the ambush, thirteen soldiers were killed, including an officer. It is said that even after the blast, some soldiers were alive, being critically injured. Both Prabha and Kittu approached the scene and shot the wounded soldiers in point blank range to make clear that all were dead.
The death of the thirteen soldiers triggered off anti-Tamil violence on 25th July 1983 (Black July 83) and led directly to an outbreak of the separatist war in Sri Lanka.
The 13 soldiers who sacrifice their lives were:
1. Lieutenant- A.P.N.E. Vaas Gunawardene
2. Staff Sergeant- S.A. Thilakarathne of Bandaragama
3. Sergeant- Guruge Premasiri Preyra of Homagama
4. Corporal-G.P. Perera of Battaramulla
5. Lance Corporal- S.S.Amarasinghe of Ganemulla
6. Lance Corporal- K.D.Karunarathne of Kaduwela
7. Lance Corporal-A.T.Wijesiri of Kegalla
8. Lance Corporal- S. Gamini Rajathilaka of Kegalla
9. Lance Corporal- M.B.D. Sunil of Nawalapitiya
10. Lance Corporal- A. Joseph Remijayas Fernado of Puttalam
11. Lance Corporal-D.M. Athula Dissanayake of Kandy
12. Lance Corporal-B.D. Robert of Kalutara
13. Lance Corporal-M.A. Sarath Chandralal Manatunge of Polgahawela
This incident spread every nook and corner of the island like a wildfire and the people of the south were furious. The bodies of the thirteen soldiers were air ferried from Jaffna to Colombo on the day after (24th) and the arrangements were made by then the Government to hand over the bodies of the soldiers to their respective families. But having done that, the Government was under impression once those bodies being taken to their villages, the situation may go worse since the people were about to react.
Finally, the government changed the arrangements and decided to give a State Funeral on 25th for all the soldiers at Colombo cemetery. At the time the bodies of the thirteen soldiers being buried, the impatience angry crowds started to react. As reprisal, properties of the Tamils in Colombo and suburb were set ablaze and some Tamils were killed by the violent crowds.
The anti Tamil violence spread to the other part of the island, where Tamils lived. Though the curfew was imposed, mobs showed scant respect and boldly carried out attacks on the Tamils and their properties. Thirty five Tamil prisoners were killed inside Colombo’s Welikada prison on 25th and on the 27th claiming further eighteen prisoners.
Most of the damages were done by the state sponsored mob who acted under the direction of some ministers of the then United National Party government.
On the 30th July 1983, by a special Gazette notification, the Government banned unlawfully and undemocratically, three leftwing political parties of Sri Lanka and alleged that they had been involved anti Tamil violence. They were JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna-Marxist-Leninist), Communist Party of Sri Lanka and the Samasamaja Party (Troskyist). Orders went to all the police stations throughout the island to arrest the leader of the JVP, Rohana Wijeweera (Who was later killed after seven years on 13th November 1989 when he was arrested) and the other two leaders of the communist party and Samasamaja Party. But the government’s top priority was to arrest the leader of the JVP and less attention was paid to other two leaders. The ban on the Communist party and the Samasamaja party were lifted after few months, but the ban on JVP continued up to eleven years till 1994.
Finally, the killing of thirteen soldiers and the subsequent anti Tamil violence on 25th July led to the creation of two insurgencies in Sri Lanka. Number one was, forming a Terrorist group, the LTTE which became world’s ruthless terrorist group fighting for separate home land in northern Sri Lanka, and ended after almost thirty years loosing uncountable number of lives.
The other was, launching the second JVP insurgency 1988/89 fighting against social injustice, Indian intervention and restore democracy for a united Sri Lanka for both Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority, was also ended up in a fiasco losing more than sixty thousand lives. Both were the consequences of the legacy, left by the European Colonialism in post-independent Ceylon.
- Asian Tribune -