29 September 2010
W. D. Sirimanne
(Representations made in Sinhala, interpretation as follows)
Sirimanne: First of all I must thank the Honourable Commissioners for considering my representations and calling me before Your Honour to give evidence. I am happy that a Commission of this nature has been appointed to consider the lessons we have learnt after ending a 30 year war and what we could learn from our mistakes and how we could set about towards the future. I am very sensitive to the destruction that was caused due to this 30 year war. What I feel is that we in the south or the others in the north we are not responsible for this war – that is my idea, my opinion. Now both sections were harmed by the war. Those who were killed in this war are the children of poor parents. Due to this war the educational system in the north was disrupted: they lost their belongings; they lost their houses, lands and some their lives. Then we in the south had to live in fear and we cannot estimate the loss, the harm caused to our economy due to this war. The main reason that made me very sensitive to this war was … Now as my first appointment to the local Government Service I was appointed to the Municipal Council, Jaffna. I took lodgings along with Mr. Hettige who was already working there. At that time Mr. Lionel Fernando was the Government Agent in Jaffna.
With the commencement of my service in Jaffna that I came to feel and know about the people of Jaffna for the first time. When I assumed duties and met the Municipal Commissioner I came to know that it was only in Tamil that we had to work here. Apart from me there was a Sinhala typist working there. When I apprised Mr. Sivagnanam who was the Municipal Commissioner of this problem he asked me not to make an issue of it that he will solve the problem. He allocated a seat to me and made me sit there and after that he called all the officers who were working in that office. Then after that after about 5 minutes he sent them all out and called me in. Then after that he called me and told me that he will appoint an officer who is proficient in Sinhala, Tamil and English to help me. I held the post of Storekeeper in that office. Then he handed me over to the Accountant, who is to be my boss there. Now the Accountant he took me round to all the offices and introduced me and brought me back to the Storekeeper’s place and I worked there and retired in 2010 January. I worked in Jaffna for less than 2 months but during the rest of my service period I have never experienced such a situation in any other office where I worked in Sinhala areas. Mr. Sivagnanam was the Storekeeper. I worked with him very amicably and I was given that officer who was proficient in all 3 languages to help me. I am a person who has leftist leanings. We sit at the same table during meals and I used to ask them whether they want a separate eelam. At that time it was just a notion – eelam was just a notion at that time. They laughed at me. They said they did not want an eelam. They laughed at me and say: you have tea, rubber, you have your houses, you have jobs, you have factories but we do not have anything. If we go for an eelam we cannot go to Colombo to be employed. Now we study, get a job, go to Colombo and we send a money order to our home – that is how we live. And they were very vehement about it that they did not want any eelam because of that. And main problem that Prabakaran faced was that the Tamil youth did not want an eelam.
One day I visited Mr. Gnanaratnam in Chavakachcheri who was the Chief Storekeeper. And now I went there in the evening and he cleaned his place and collected all the refuse into a compost pit and he said that he will be visiting his land the next day and I said that I will accompany him. We went on a push cycle and I went along with him. Then after reaching his field there was a hut and in that there was a bucket and he took the bucket and drew water from his well and watered the plants. We were thus engaged till evening and in the evening we came back home. We had a bath and we were there then suddenly he left me and went and came along with another person. My home town is Bentara and the person whom my friend brought was a person who was employed in the Public Works Department at Bentara as an Overseer so therefore he brought this gentleman who had retired and who was at Bentara earlier to talk to me. He was in conversation with me and we exchanged pleasantries about the persons who were in my village and he knew most of them and we had a nice conversation and after that he went home. I slept on the verandah – the outer portion of the house – and there were slats there and when I woke up at about 4.00 a.m. and looked round the owner of the house was not there. When I looked round he was milking the cow. Then by about 6.00 a.m. he said now I have finished that work I will be going back to my field and I too went along with him. Then by about 7.00 a.m. we returned home. He plucked a pumpkin and gave me to take home and we came back. Then after that we had a wash and we came back by bus to the Municipal Council. He asked me: ‘Sirimanne I am like this; I work like this every day; are you also like that?’ I was ashamed because I never performed such duties. They led very simple lives. They were not arrogant or haughty. Not like the Sinhala people. They were very dedicated. They were very hard working. Therefore they were able to make ends meet even with a small sum of money. The youth too were very often engaged in agricultural pursuits.
After my official hours I go to the Jaffna library to read papers. There was no difference. There were the young, the old, the very young and the very old people. The library was full of people making use of the place reading papers, reading books even on the steps they were seated and reading books, and even at the Duraiappah Stadium on benches people were reading books, papers, magazines. We do not see this type of scene at any library in the south. When we returned to our quarters there is a cart stopped at the entrance every day. It is only after we come in and open the gate that the two persons who come in this cart enter the premises. Our lodging quarters were situated in about a 2 acre block of land. They collect all the leaves that have fallen – that is on the ground – and take it to their farms for manure. Even though we knew them they never entered the premises without our permission. And they were such good persons they used to chop firewood for us and do some odd jobs too.
Very often at night after meals we go to Mr. Lionel Fernando’s residency because it was just a short distance away from our quarters – we used to go there at night Mr. Hettige, I and the others. The family was not there. There was a servant. We used to be given a drink. And after that very often we were engaged in discussions about the work that was to be performed the next day – what we hade to do and such things. It was under such circumstances that Mr. Lionel Fernando was summarily transferred to Colombo and made the Chairman of the Insurance Corporation. The Members of Parliament of Jaffna they protested against this sudden transfer and they were very disturbed about this sudden transfer. This protest did not materialize; nothing happened; no answer to that but the transfer was not cancelled. And we had a meeting at Weerasingham Hall to bid him farewell and the roadside was decorated in traditional Sinhala fashion and even Mrs. Somalatha Subasinghe, Mr. Lionel Fernando’s wife, attended this meeting. At this meeting Mr. Amirthalingam, Mr. Sivasiththamparam and other Tamil political leaders blamed the Government for this transfer. They say that by this action the Government broke the bridge that was joining the south and the north.
In his farewell speech Mr. Lionel Fernando says because I am a Government Servant I have to bow down to this transfer. I have to accept this transfer but I have a right to be in Jaffna because my mother’s ashes are interred here in Jaffna. Mr. Lionel Fernando’s mother passed away in Jaffna and her funeral was conducted in Jaffna. The Hindu religious rites were performed and Buddhist religious rites were performed at this funeral. He says he has a right to Jaffna because his mother’s ashes are interred there. He says it even now.
A friend’s father had a jewelry shop in Jaffna in Kannachetti. That was a person who lived in Jaffna and he used to say when I visited him that shops were looted. Now that my friend’s father was employed along with Mr. Hettige and he came away from Jaffna in 1985; he was there up to 1985. The Sinhala people in the south when they attacked the Tamils in this area and the people from here went and related those incidents to the people in Jaffna it came to a situation where we could not be there. Now I will just relate an incident to explain this situation. There was a friend of mine Saddhasena and we go for a drink of toddy on Sundays. Now at such a time there was a youth. He came up to me and tapped me on the back and asked “where do you work”. Then he asked “can you hear what is being said there”. Then I asked Saddhasena what is it? Then he said Tamil people in Colombo had been attacked. They came back here and related those things and when these people hear about those incidents they say that not a single Sinhala person in Jaffna should be sent back. Then I asked him who he is? Then he said: “I am from Tangalle. I am a Sinhala man. I have been here in this area for 30 years engaged in fishing”. This was a message, warning us of the danger because he was a Sinhala man and because we were speaking in Sinhala he recognized us as Sinhalese and he came and gave us this warning and we left the place. This situation became graver day by day and after that the Sinhala employees in the Electricity Board and various other institutions left Jaffna in a few days.
One day Mr. Hettige gave me a call and said that he is leaving by the Yal Devi train at 7.00 and that I should leave Jaffna soon. I went to Mr. Sivagnanam to obtain leave to leave Jaffna. Then he told me “do not go, I will give you protection, you better not leave”. Then I left Jaffna after obtaining a week’s leave because staying there was not going to be of any use. There was another gentleman who was working with us. He took us to the Jaffna station and he was sobbing and he told us not to leave. And the following day we reported to our respective departments and officers and said this is the situation in Jaffna; this is what happened in Kopay; this is what happened at this place; this place; we gave them an account of that and said that for us to be employed and be working according to our conscience please send us to any other part in the country. Mr. Paskaralingam was the Secretary of the Ministry and he said that such a thing has not been reported to him so therefore asked me to go back to Jaffna and to report for duty. Mr. Hettige and others they reported to their respective departments and they were asked to go back to Jaffna. There was a lady Mrs. Arangala who was in the Ministry where I worked and she said that first of all you must live you should be able to save your life to serve and asked me to go back and make a request again, and I was sent temporarily to a Grade 1 post in the Moratuwa Municipal Council. I was sent to Kurunegala just after 3 months after going there on my wedding day to Kurunegala. Then I asked for 2 weeks leave and after that I reported at Kurunegala.
I left Jaffna in the middle of the month. I have to get half a month’s salary from Jaffna. After I went to Kurunegala since I did not receive that half a month’s pay from Jaffna I made inquiries and they said that the cheque had been sent. When I inquired from Moratuwa they said a cheque had been sent written in Tamil and since it could not be deciphered it had been laid aside so that it could be sent to Jaffna. There was an Assessor at the Moratuwa Town Council who was a Tamil gentleman. He had not been even consulted on this. That was the way the Tamil language was treated in the south. And a Municipal Commissioner in Jaffna treated me, who did not know Tamil, in that manner.
Then in the 1981 Development Council election the opposition boycotts that election. On the 4th of June 1981 is the date of the poll. Then on the 2nd of June the Municipal Commissioner of Kurunegala comes to my room at night and asked me whether I could go as an Election Officer to Jaffna to work in this Development Council poll. Then this Municipal Commissioner (Mr. Unamboowe) tells me “no there is not much trouble. A train load of persons are going there. There is the Army, there is the Police and there is protection”. Then the next day morning I went to the Kurunegala Kachcheri and from there we were taken to the station and we were taken to Jaffna in the train.
My first appointment was to Jaffna and for the second time I visit Jaffna as an Election Officer. At that time the Kurunegala member, the District Minister, was Mr. Gamini Jayawickrema Perera. When we reached the station these various compartments were marked Wariyapola, Kurunegala, Yapahuwa etc. according to the areas and Mr. Jayawickrema Perera took a microphone and he announced “now you officers are setting off on a national heroic mission. You will be provided all the facilities and that you all are taking part in some very heroic activities”.
Mr. Dissanayake, who was the Additional Government Agent of Kurunegala accompanied us in this train. Mr. Somapala Jayaweera who was a SLAS officer too travelled with us. Now it was at about 8.00 p.m. when we reached the Jaffna station and it was Army personnel who received us there. We were packed into buses and taken from there. When we were going towards Jaffna we saw that all the shops were ablaze and apart from that curfew had been declared. There was a curfew on and the next day was the day of the poll and we were thus taken and we had lodging at the Hindu Vidyalaya. And a little while later Mr. Alawathuwela, Mr. Premachandra, Mr. Gamini Dissanayake and Mr. Gamini Jayawickrema Perera all these politicians came to the Hindu Vidyalaya. Then we were all asked to gather and various persons made speeches and finally Mr. Gamini Dissanayake gave us instructions how to act the next day. Now by this time we had not even received our letter of appointment as Polls Officers. An officer collected our details/data while we were travelling in the train. Now Mr. Gamini Dissanayake said that by 5.00 the next morning you have to be ready; your letter of appointment will be handed over to you and the polling starts at 7.00 and the polling has to be stopped by 10.00 a.m. And if there are people left who have not voted who are in the queue, they should be dispersed by the Army. You will be provided transport to go to your polling stations and you will be accompanied by the Army and if there are still persons left in the queues those persons should be dispersed and the remaining ballot papers should be marked by you. I told my friend who was with me, when these instructions were given to us, I went on my first appointment in 1979 to Jaffna. I cannot participate in this type of pilfering the poll, so by tomorrow morning somehow I will scoot off from here.
There was no way for us to scoot off from here because the Army was there and this was a locality which we did not know anything about. The next day morning at about 5.00 a.m. we were issued our letters of appointment. Next day at 5.00 a.m. appointment letters were brought there. All the officers who were taken in that train were not there. Some had gone for their morning ablutions; some had gone to have a wash or something like that and when their names were there so and so is appointed to this post and when they were read out relevant people were not there. So a large number of those appointment letters were left without being distributed. They could not locate these people to whom these letters belong so Mr. Gamini Dissanayake says if the name is Ariyadasa and the person who was there was Piyadasa he tells him now you take this letter and sign this name and take it. Now these letters were distributed when the Chief of the polling booth was given the letter and when his name was called 5 officers from this group was sent along with him and in that manner we also came out of that place. And now there was real mayhem there because the senior presiding officer cannot locate the 5 people who were allocated to him. And the persons who were allocated to a certain senior presiding officer they cannot find with whom they had to go to the polling station and finally when there was this rush and hullabaloo the Army personnel they come and just get 4/5 people put them together and send them to the polling station and by the time they reached there it was past 7.00 o’clock and polling had started. And it was a situation where like the island Delft you had to travel for about 13 miles by sea and there was no transport. There were difficulties like that.
We scooted off from this commotion and we went towards Chavakachcheri, the Kachcheri. Then I went towards the Jaffna Municipal Council. It was locked. So I said to Mr. Somapala Jayaweera ‘let’s walk towards the library’ and when we were going towards the library we saw black smoke emanating from the library – from that direction. We were just there for a few minutes and we walked around that place and came away. There were men weeping, sobbing and wailing when they saw the smoke and when they saw the library on fire – the people of that area. Now there was one polling station and on our way back we passed that polling station. It was 3.00 p.m. and still the voting was going on though we were instructed to stop the poll by 10.00 a.m. That happened to be a polling station where the Assistant Commissioner of Elections for Jaffna he had come with his staff and they were carrying on the polls. So therefore they said that we are the legitimate persons to hold the elections. Then our staff also went there and those officers also did not want to upset or pilfer this poll. So they also went on and that is how they were still working at 3.00. When the results were announced for whom we went and we were asked to mark the cross against that animal but those candidates they lost even their deposit money and the TULF won that poll. This was the reality; that was the wish of the people. When we got that result in the eyes of the whole world we had become a very despicable lot and that valuable library was set on fire and all these illegal and unlawful things that happened but they did not win the election. When we came back to the Hindu College I met Mr. Dissanayake the Addl. G.A (I know him) and along with him we went to the place where Mr. Gamini Dissanayake was lodging to find out about our return because we wanted to check the train which would take us back to Kurunegala. He told Mr. Dissanayake that we could not travel that evening because the Anuradhapura train had been attacked and that we would be going the next morning and with that reply we came back.
The next morning we were taken in Army vehicles to the station and we were packed into compartments along with an Army platoon and when we were to set off some Tamil persons complained that 2 wrist watches had been stolen by Army personnel and some boutiques had been looted. Along with these Government Servants who were packed into these compartments of this train and the Army personnel there were other friends of politicians other thugs who were there along with these Government Servants and this train was stopped at various stations. When the train stops these helpers used to go to the nearby boutiques and shops and loot these shops and bring all the things that were there in these shops to the train. And now the train in that manner reached the Vavuniya station and there was a small boutique on the station platform. These hooligans they got off the train and looted this small boutique. Then the man chased them with a mammoty and said: “I am a Sinhalese; I am from Tangalle; hand over everything that you took.” Then when we showed him the things that were brought in he took them away. Then when we showed him the goods that were brought the boutique keeper he got entangled with us and in that manner we could not go further than Anuradhapura and from Anuradhapura we got off the train. We alighted from the train at Anuradhapura and from there we went to Kurunegala. The very next morning I prepared a full report of all the incidents that took place and all that happened and I handed it over to the Aththa paper.
C.R. de Silva: Mr. Sirimanne, if you have any proposals for national unity and reconciliation can you please submit those.
Sirimanne: And now my first appointment as a Government Servant was to Jaffna. Then my second visit to Jaffna was as a polling officer and that trip by train. Then on the third occasion in 2001 I visited Jaffna during the period of the ceasefire agreement. I am a member of PAFFREL and there was a tour of Jaffna organized by the Centre for Policy Alternatives. We visited there to see whether this ceasefire agreement could be consolidated and peace could be achieved. There were 20 organizations and 53 persons participated in it. We go to the Killinochchi LTTE Headquarters here. A number of organizations participated in this tour. We had discussions mainly with the university students and we very categorically told them that at this point we are able to discuss with you in this manner but if these happenings goes on peace will be very far away and we will not be able to reach peace. And they too had their grievances and we had extensive discussions with these groups. (Robert) EPDP representative was a member of the Municipal Council, Jaffna. And now that member of the Jaffna Municipal Council Robert told me he was very happy to see me. (It was) I who worked in the Jaffna Municipal Council. He said that they are doing their best to quell these outbursts but after returning from this trip after a few weeks I saw in the papers that Robert was slain by the LTTE.
Now there is another thing that I wish to say. It was Mr. Gamini Dissanayake who engineered the disruption of the polls. They are killed by a LTTE bomb in 1994 – all of them they are here on the stage (he showed a picture appearing in a newspaper). There is an article on the other page of the same paper Mr. Gamini Dissanayake stating that all this mayhem is because there is no ethnic unity. Now who disrupted the unity? As a person who was there before all these things happened – I was there in Jaffna; then while the war was going on I was there in Jaffna; I experienced and I saw all these things and I would like to ask who is responsible for all the killings and deaths that had happened during these 30 years. I wish to say that those who were responsible for these things they were just killed in random incidents. There were so many youths who were killed in the north as well as in the south. Who is compensating for these lives, these children of poor parents in the north and the south? There should be some lesson that we have to learn from it. There is a reply sent by Mr. Lionel Fernando to a letter that I sent to him. I remember you, Hettige and Saddhasena the time that I spent with you all. I remember that with sadness. What happened at the Development Council election is worse than the Black July and the persons who were responsible for it had to pay with their lives. If Prabakaran learnt a little Buddhism he would be able to live as a man and he would be able to learn much. What our people from the south when they went to the north what they did in 1981 was destroying one whole generation wasn’t it?
I have written to the media time and again and I have written an article in the “Ravaya” paper and there was an article in a Tamil newspaper after a Tamil journalist discussed with me about these incidents. I wish to say that as civil citizens we have our duty, our role to play. Some of these things happened because we were silent – people were silent – about the things that happened. At all times I have written to the media and presented myself at these discussions and Commissions during the Commission appointed by Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike I wrote there also but there are certain instances where nothing had happened. No results were obtained for the troubles that I had taken – but we have a duty.
I along with Mr. Hettige wrote a series of letters to “Diyatha” of the “Lankadeepa”. I participated in these media discussion on condition that at that time in the past the politicians who were there they worked according to a self centred agenda that is why all these things happened and even at present the politicians work in such a manner we cannot say what would happen in the future. Only on condition that such a situation would be stopped that steps would be taken on that ground that I had this media discussion.
C.R. de Silva: Thank you Mr. Sirimanne