At Manal Aru ( Weli Oya ) Sinhalese State Ethnically Cleansed Tamils
The Island newspaper published in Colombo is well known for its pro Sinhala-Buddhist racist views. Recently the Asian Human Rights Commission described The Island newspaper as “A Sri Lankan newspaper well known for its racist propaganda.” AHRC was responding to two editorial comments by The Island newspaper criticising AHRC’s call for UN intervention in the civil war in Sri Lanka. So much for the credibility of The Island as a ‘national’ newspaper.
Sri Lankan army’s worst debacle in Vanni, where it lost 9 strategic towns, 1,000 Forward Defence Lines (FDLs), 1000 sq. kms of territory, which took the army two years to capture, to the LTTE in less than five days of fighting, had sent shivers down the spines of Sinhalese –Buddhist chauvinists. Especially they are jittery at the prospect of the numerous army camps dotting Weli Oya falling into the hands of the LTTE entirely. This had led to outbursts of anger against the Sri Lankan government itself. And the Island newspaper is in the fore-front leading the yellow brigade!
In an editorial titled “Don’t abandon the displaced! Don’t abandon the displaced” The Island ( November 11,1999) gave vent to its frustration bemoaning the ‘fate’ of the ‘poor’ ‘homeless’ and ‘ fleeing civilians’ at Weli Oya. Extracts from the editorial follows:
“Thousands of people according to press reports are fleeing areas like Weli Oya, Janakapura and Gajabapura fearing the LTTE artillery fire in the aftermath of the debacles suffered by the army over the past two weeks. About 8000 of them are said to have so far taken refuge in Padaviya and the number of the displaced is said to be increasing.
“The Maha Sanga has rightly called for public contributions to provide humanitarian assistance ….. those who opposed to terrorism … should take the cue from the Sanga and rush to help the victims…
“Chasing the Sinhalese from the Weli Oya area is what the LTTE had been planning for a long time as the area is of crucial strategic importance to them.
” Most areas of the north have already been ethnic-cleansed of the Sinhalese and Muslims by the LTTE and its sinister plan of eliminating the Sinhalese settlements in the Weli Oya area has to be defeated by all possible means.”
Who “ethnically cleansed” Whom?
The Island newspaper was nowhere to be seen when tens and thousands of Tamils fled their homes when state terrorism was unleashed by the Sinhala army in Vanni during 1997/98. To The Island when Tamils get displaced by the Sinhala army it is ‘nationalism’! When illegal Sinhalese settlers get displaced from villages which once belonged to the Tamils it is ‘terrorism’! This amounts to warped logic on the part of The Island , but then it comes as no surprise. Only when Sinhalese get ‘displaced’ The Island newspaper beats its chest, sheds tears and laments about “ethnic cleansing” of Sinhalese civilians.
A casual observer who reads The Island newspaper’s editorial will be left with the impression, quite rightly, that Weli Oya is peopled by the Sinhalese for centuries and the LTTE is now bent on driving them out. So what is the truth and what are the facts? At Manal Aru (Weli Oya) who in fact ethnically cleansed whom?
Manal Aru re-named Weli Oya in Sinhala over night
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 purpose 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.
This was not the first time that pure Tamil place names were changed into Sinhala names following colonization of traditional Tamil areas. The following list, by no means complete, shows the changes over the years.
Paddippalai Aru – Gal Oya
Pathavikkulam – Padaviya
Muthalik Kulam – Morawewa
Periya Kulam – Namal Wewa
Pudavai Kulam – Sangara Pura
Ampal Eri – Amparai
Kumaran Kadavai – Gomarankadawela
Periya Villan Kulam – Maha Divul Oya
Pannikkaddi Murippu – Pannikettiyawa
Thannimurippu – Janakapura
Vaan Aru – Vaan Ela
Sinhalese colonization of Manal Aru (Weli Oya)
Manal Aru renamed Weli Oya is only one of several state-aided Sinhalese colonization schemes launched in the traditional homelands of the Tamils since independence. It is hemmed between Anuradhapura, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee and Vavunia Districts. It is called the “border village” (s) since the territory north of Weli Oya is peopled by Tamils.
A total of 13,288 Tamil families living in 42 villages for generations 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 over the public address system.
Simultaneously land given to 14 Tamil entrepreneurs, including Kent Farm and Dollar Farm, on 99 years lease was 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 Mahaweli ‘L’ zone was established specially for coconut cultivation and each Sinhalese family was given 5 acres of land consisting of ½ acre for residence, one-acre of irrigated land and 3 ½ acres for coconut.
The Mahaweli Economic Agency (MEA) financed all development projects while Mahaweli Engineering and Construction Agency (MECA) handled all the construction works such as roads, electricity, houses etc. In 1998 alone Rs. 72 million was allocated for construction of roads.
The Sinhalese army did translate its threat and used force as promised. Thousands of Tamil villagers, some of them Hill country Tamil refugees victims of earlier Sinhalese violence in 1983, were driven out or they on their own fled in terror. Some were murdered by the army. One night alone 29 Tamil villagers were killed at Othiyamalai, a hamlet situated north of the Weli Oya colony.
The evil-minds and the driving force behind the Weli Oya Sinhalese 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 Sinhalese settlers after driving the Tamils out by using the Sinhalese army.
Industries Minister Cyril Mathew diverted millions of rupees allocated to various Corporations under his Ministry to finance Weli Oya colonization scheme. In addition institutions like All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Bhikku Peramuna etc. helped in providing financial and other material aid to the Sinhalese 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 ‘yeoman services’ rendered by the top elite of the Sinhala army, especially that of Major General Janaka Perera, the Tamil village of Thannimurippu was re-named Janakapura in his honour!
Military and strategic importance of Weli Oya
Currently the Sri Lankan government has deployed around 25,000 SLA troops and Home Guards to defend the strategic settlement complex, the so-called “border villages” of Weli Oya.
There are in all 15 villages in Weli Oya, but only 12 are occupied leaving Kambiliwewa, Konwewa and Weherawewa vacant. The villages in the ‘L’ zone of the Mahaweli Project are Gajabapura (since over-run by the LTTE), Nikaweva South, Nikaweva North, Ethawetuwewa, Ehetugasweva, Kalyanapura, Monaraweva, Kiri Ibbanwewa south, Kiri Ibbanweva North, Janakapura and Helambawewa With the capture of Othiyamalai on May 20, 1997 and Nedunkerni in June, 1997 during Jaya Sikurui military operation, the security of these villages were considered safe and cultivation of paddy commenced on a large scale.
Gloating over the capture of the strategic village of Othiyamalai in 1997 Major D.Weerasinghe told the Midweek Mirror –
“Ours was the worst area to come under LTTE attack. But under Brig. Janaka Perera we taught them a lesson or two bearing them at Weli Oya. Now Jaya Sikurui operation has given us more strength, it has boosted our morale. What I am doing now, can be done by a second lieutenant and that speaks a lot about Weli Oya today. We can now relax.”
Brigadier Hiran Halangoda spoke about the military importance of Weli Oya. He told the Sunday Observer dated February 22, 1998)-
“Weli Oya is very important militarily. Our presence will not allow the North-East merger. Terrorists cannot win Eelam as long as we stay here. If we go, there will be a threat to Padavia, Kebitigollewa and eventually Anuradhapura.”
What is the military importance of Weli Oya? It effectively bifurcates the territory between the North and East by driving a wedge between them! Any movement between North- East and East of Vavunia is not possible by land.
Sinhala colonies turned into army camps
The Sinhalese dominated ( 98% Sinhalese) Sri Lankan army, navy and air-force had been used as instruments of state terror against the Tamil people since 1956. Although the armed forces are paid out of the common exchequer, the government does not conceal the fact that their mission is to subjugate the Tamils and provide security to the Sinhalese colonists in ‘border villages’. Out of over 300 army camps dotting the North-East, more than half are meant to provide such security to Sinhalese colonists like in Weli Oya, Gal Oya, Allai-Kanthalai etc. No where else in the world, not even in Israel, a ‘national’ army is deployed for such blatantly racist objectives!
SLA troops as a matter of policy provide arms and military training to Sinhalese colonists in the border villages including Weli Oya. Recently 3,000 Colonists in Gonagala in the Amparai district were provided with arms and given weapons training despite the fact most of them have criminal records. The irony of it is these Sinhalese are farming in land owned by the Tamils after driving them out with the help of the armed forces! Yet The Island newspaper has the temerity to claim that Sinhalese are being ‘ethnically cleansed’ by the LTTE!
The truth, as anyone can see, is diametrically the opposite. The Sinhalese army ethnically cleansed 13, 288 Tamil families from their traditional villages in Manal Aru within 48 hours in April, 1988! (NamNadu-2000)