27th July, 2003  Volume 10, Issue 2

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Dispute over landmarks of a war

The LTTE has been kept quite busy this month, as usual. July has always been a month of action for the LTTE starting from July 15, 1983 when Jaffna Commander, Charles Anthony was killed.

It commemorated the over running of the Mullaitivu army camp on July 19, the Black Tigers on July 5 and last week held a ceremony at  Thirunelvely Junction on the Jaffna-Pallali Road to commemorate Sellakili, the LTTE leader who died during the attack on the Four Four Bravo patrol on July 23, 1983.

Soon after the LTTE moved into Jaffna, a large billboard of Velupillai Pirapaharan was put up at the location of the attack. About two months back it was removed in the night. The LTTE planned to erect a memorial for Sellakili to mark the 20th anniversary of his death.

The memorial was ready by Wednesday noon, but the army was not willing to play ball. Around 12.30 p.m. officers and soldiers who arrived at the second mile post junction where the LTTE had organised the ceremony to be held later in the day  informed the residents that the memorial and the ceremony were both illegal - the memorial since it was erected on government property.

Agitated crowd

The arrival of the army also meant that people including LTTE sympathisers had converged at the memorial. When crowds began to swell and get agitated, the army had covered the memorial with asbestos  and planks, and called in a riot squad and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM.) Covering the memorial and the banning of the ceremony was nothing new to the army. When it moved into Jaffna in 1996, the army destroyed an earlier memorial built at the same site.

The LTTE's case was taken up by students of the Jaffna University among the crowd of about 400. The students were arguing that the memorial was not illegal and that the army had no right to intervene. Despite such claims, officials of the SLMM too initially agreed with the army saying that the memorial and the ceremony were both illegal.

It was then that others among the crowd had intervened. Sources present at the site told The Sunday Leader that the persons who intervened were senior LTTE cadres in their  40s. The army and the SLMM had not been aware that they were affiliated to the Tigers.

They told both the army and the SLMM that the memorial was on private land and that the owner had given permission. The owner confirmed that he had given his permission. Then the argument was that the memorial faced the main road and that it could not be allowed.

Ironically the LTTErs brought the example of the former parliament premises at Galle Face where all the statues in front are placed facing the road. The impasse however persisted, till the SLMM got a call from Colombo and the army soon afterwards received orders from the Palaly Base to withdraw.

However, the SLMM in Jaffna has now written to the Jaffna Municipality requesting it to look into the legality of the Sellakili Memorial. The SLMM wants the municipality to make it clear whether the memorial that is at the edge of the main highway and facing the road is within the normal legal parameters. If it is not, the SLMM would request the LTTE to remove it.

The municipality now is literally stuck between the deep blue sea and the growling Tiger.

In fact the army may have done the LTTE a favour by intervening in such a manner. "They (army) created the interest," residents in the area later said. A lacklustre event was given some colour due to the morning's commotion. The speeches that were delivered in the evening dealt more with how the army was out to scuttle the peace process than on Sellakili's life.

Before the commemoration ceremony could proceed though, the organisers ran into a major hitch. There was  no photograph of Sellakili. Riders were dispatched to Nelliyadi, Sellakili's home town and even to Mullaitivu to locate a photograph. By the time the ceremony commenced at 6 p.m. the riders had returned with two photographs.

Sellakili's statue was garlanded by Kanndappa Vigneswaran who witnessed the attack on Four Four Bravo in 1983. Vigneswaran has related the story many a time. Around 11 p.m. on July 23, 1983, 15 LTTE cadres led by Sellakili had arrived at the location in army like uniforms, placed a clay-more mine and laid in wait. Sellakili's family members say that Pirapaharan was not involved in the attack, neither was Kittu. Of the 15 man team, only Baby Subramanium is still alive. Subramanium now oversees education in the LTTE controlled areas.

The life of Sellakili is typical of the early LTTE cadres. Born to a farmer family on June 21, 1953 he was the third in a family of three boys and two girls. One of his sisters is still living in Jaffna. He left school after grade eight and was gearing himself for an "armed struggle" by the time he was 17. He used a lathe machine at home to manufacture rudimentary arms and according to the family sold two cows to buy his first pistol.

"Freedom struggle"

Family members relate that Sellakili was talking of a "freedom struggle" when the likes of Uma Maheswaran and Pirapaharan were squabbling over leadership issues. He was also not too taken up by the spate of bank robberies committed in the Jaffna peninsula during the teething stages of the Eelam war.

By the time the attack on  Four Four Bravo took place, Sellakili was an experienced hand. He had been running from police for years. Once he was arrested by a police party near Puthukkudiyiruppu in the Mullaitivu District. He told the police officers that he had to attend a call of nature and ran off to the jungle. On several other occasions he had got out of the hook simply by saying that he was not Sellakili.

Pirapaharan was a frequent visitor to Sellakili's home and so were Kuttumani, Thangadurai and Sri Sabaratnam. Sellakili is believed to have been involved in the murder of police officer Bastiyampillai in the Madhu jungles and days before he died had killed a wounded comrade to prevent him from falling into government hands.

He was mortally wounded in the Thirunelvely attack.

The Sellakili commemoration gave the LTTE the opportunity to keep the PR machine going. There was no such commemoration last year. The string of commemorations has been used for the LTTE to up the ante.

At the anniversary celebrations of over running of the Mullaitivu base camp, Vidusha, who heads the Malathy Special Forces in the LTTE, reiterated the LTTE's commitment to war.

"The only way the Tamil people could achieve total freedom is through an armed struggle. This is the truth we have learnt from past experiences," Vidusha said at the ceremony.

She however pointed out that the LTTE should make sure that whatever action the LTTE is taking at present does not undermine its future. And the organisation is still in a position of strength to wage  war, according to the female Tiger leader.

The LTTE is also mounting a letter campaign. Vidusha related that after the death of 12 Sea Tigers recently, ordinary folk in the Wanni had written to Pirapaharan encouraging the LTTE Leader not to give in to government pressure.

A similar letter has been handed over to the LTTE office by residents in Jaffna requesting the organisation not to return to the negotiating table till the government clears the High Security Zones.

Vidusha warned in her speech that the government should not use the negotiating process as a bargaining chip and that the LTTE should have the right to decide on the future of the Wanni.

- Amantha Perera

 

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