20 October 2010
Mr. S. Chandirakanthan
(Chief Minister, Eastern Province)
C.R. de Silva: Mr. Chandirakanthan, at the very outset I wish to thank you for finding the time to come over here to assist us in our deliberations. I am sure that with your experience in these areas that you will express very valuable views on matters pertaining to reconciliation and other matters which are covered by the Mandate that has been given to us by His Excellency the President. I wish to also enlighten you on the procedure that we adopt in this Commission. You are entitled to give evidence either in public or in camera and the choice is yours. At the end of your representations the Commissioners are entitled to ask you questions on matters which arise on your representations or on any matter that is relevant to the Warrant. You are entitled to respond to these questions either in camera or in public – the choice is yours – and nobody else other than the Commissioners can ask you any questions on the representations that you make or on any matter that is relevant to the Warrant.
Chandirakanthan: I am very happy to submit my evidence today before this Commission. I express my thanks and gratitude and I also wish you success in the efforts that you are taking on the initiative of His Excellency the President, from the experiences that we have come across in the past, to bring about reconciliation and also to bring about a strong future. I do not know the time that has been allocated to me, Sir, but I hope and I trust that at least one hour will be given to me.
C.R. de Silva: We find it very difficult to give you one hour, but anyhow try to curtail it.
Chandirakanthan: I will try to as far as possible, because there is a process of interpretation also. If I speak half an hour in Tamil it has to be translated into English also. The Commission’s area of coverage is from 2002 to 2008 I suppose, but nevertheless I would like to go further back to the period of the British also to bring about my views here. You will know that after the prime ministerial system was introduced in this country there had been a lot of problems that have surfaced in this country, especially I could say that the Gal Oya Development scheme is also one of them. I would say that it was during Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayagam’s period that the Tamil leadership took forward many issues, especially the Banda-Chelvanayagam Pact that was signed between the two leaders had been subsequently torn off. The reason for Mr Bandaranaike to tear that pact was that Mr. J.R. Jayewardene at that time created a wide opinion that through the Regional Council system this country was going to be divided or some wide powers are going to be given to the Tamil people. That caused Mr. Bandaranaike to dishonour the agreement that he entered into with the Tamil leadership at the time, and after that the Dudley-Chelva Agreement was entered into which was called the District Development Council system. Though that District Council system was implemented it did not have the powers to administer it. It was at that time that this agreement did not enforce or create a climate of separation of the people and the Tamil people never asked for a separation and a climate was created where the Tamil people were subjected to violence and even at Galle Face they were assaulted and chased away. Subsequent to that due to the political changes at the time the Tamil Arasi Kachchi, the Federal Party had a big fall. The resolutions taken up by the Tamil political leadership to fill the vacuum of the Tamil leadership, the resolutions that were taken up by those leaders pushed the Tamil youths to a separate state.
So the historical facts are there that the Tamil leadership subsequent to that action had a great victory and were able to win over about 16 seats. Since there was a feeling and atmosphere that the Tamil leadership did not have the vigor and the vitality to push in for a separate state the youths were forced to take up to arms. Subsequent to the contradictions or confrontations among those Tamil leaderships various organizations in the name of TELO, LTTE and other organizations emerged and they were forced into a struggle for a separation.
So it is after that that our President had a vast majority and today he is able to get a two-thirds majority. It was at that time that there was the necessity and a climate in the Indian political scenario and in Sri Lanka also the same political scenario was prevailing and after that the Provincial Council system as a solution for the political problems of the people was introduced. There were lot of difficulties that prevailed at the time and the political problems were there and there were particular changes also that took place at the time and it was in that climate, in that background, that Mr. Premadasa became the President of this country.
You must understand the background of this problem. The Banda-Chelva Pact was protested against – But the Provincial Council system which gave more powers was accepted by the then leaders. What I feel is that if it had not been protested or if they had not gone against that Pact at that time I think the devastation or destruction that we faced subsequently could have been avoided. Then Mr. R. Premadasa who became the President was against this reconciliatory solutions and he also approached this Peace Accord in an antagonistic manner. But how did they do that? I would say that they gave indirect or unofficial support to those who were behind the Provincial Council system and also they gave arms and ammunition to the other alien forces and tried to destabilize or destroy the system that was created. At the time some were given accommodation in hotels like the Hilton and at the time one of our leaders who declared Tamil Eelam was assassinated.
In the year 1990 the LTTE again declared war against the armed forces. Then what happened was, the very arms and ammunition, weapons that were given to them to destroy the armed forces were used against the destruction of the various forces that were against their political culture. There was vast destruction owing to that. That was the very reason why I had to go in a different direction and continue my struggle. According to my view I would say that these two political leaders had betrayed.
If Mr. J.R. Jayewardene had accepted and respected the people he would have at least accepted and given the minimum devolution to the people. Mr. Premadasa very diplomatically manipulated to destroy the Provincial Council system through the LTTE, through the arms that he gave the LTTE and subsequently after that he wanted to destroy the LTTE and the net result was the vast devastation and destruction that we faced.
1990 was the reason why I also felt that separation was the only way for us. I could remember very well that on the 6th of November 1990 so many incidents took place. I remember how many abductions, kidnappings, killings; mass killings took place, and especially in the Eastern University over 174 people were taken and their whereabouts are still not known. The armed forces manipulated in a very diplomatic manner by mentioning their names as Muslims. For example- Captain Munaz- when the Muslim name was mentioned the Tamil people thought that it was the Muslim Home Guards that were committing all these murders. So as a result of it there were struggles by killings among the Muslims and the Tamils. So there was vast destruction owing to that. Therefore the net result was that there was large amount of killings, murders and I could see over 4,000 youths were taken in and that was my experience. That was how the LTTE’s growth was very fast and swift. I was an eye witness to that and I was 16 years of age at the time and having been a witness to that, I thought and realized that the LTTE’s actions were correct and I was compelled or forced to join the LTTE.
You are all aware that the LTTE’s growth was based on armed struggle. Some of their aims they have achieved at the point of arms and also through terrorism as well. There were two agreements between 1990 and 2000. The subsequent agreement was through Norway – the agreement between Ranil Wickremasinghe and Mr. Prabhakaran. While this agreement was in force there was a split, a division within the LTTE. So we had differences of opinion especially the provincial differences. The mistakes, the errors that have been committed by the political leaderships of Jaffna which belonged to the upper class society have been repeated or committed by Mr. Prabhakaran also. So what I could say is that Mr. Prabhakaran had not utilized that agreement on a political basis and also he had not realized the global changes that were prevailing or taking place at that time. There were lot of differences and there was lot of loss of life among us also because of the approaches of Mr. Prabhakaran to find solutions through the means of arms. So it was in the year 2004 that we had differences of opinion. There was internal strife among us. There was East and North – that separatist tendencies grew among us and internal struggle, conflict cropped up, and as a result he very cruelly, atrociously killed many of our cadres – Mr. Kingsley Rajanayagam, Mr. Rajan Sathiyamoorthy- the intelligentsia groups were targeted by him. So we were compelled or forced to take up to arms and answer, reply through the arms in the same manner as theirs. So as a result many lives were lost and subsequently due to the change of political climate in this country the incumbent President is able to build the nation. Subsequently there was a breakdown in the agreement and the Ceasefire and as the LTTE was not willing to come forward to negotiate in a peaceful manner we were compelled or forced to join with the government, extend our cooperation to the government and act.
There was loss of life also when we were trying to win the East, and our President was able to establish a democratic form of government after wiping out terrorism, violence in the Eastern Province. So we also stopped our armed struggle. After giving up our armed struggle we entered the democratic forces and there were lot of political changes in the East and today as a democratic party we have entered the democratic main stream, and we are able to create and develop through the Provincial Council system that has been created by Mr. J.R. Jayewardene, the Eastern area.
You are all aware that the war continued in the North and as long as Prabhakaran was alive no political solution could be achieved or arrived at. These are what I could say until I was made the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. Now we cannot speak the names, the names that I have mentioned, the names of Mr. J.R. Jayewardene, Mr Amirthalingam, Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayagam. Now we can’t bring them to the forum and speak.
As a person who was able to learn of the incidents of a period prior to 1990, as a person who had experienced the post-1990 activities, I make a request that this Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission should act very efficiently. What I say is that this Reconciliation Commission should not listen only to evidence that we give. You must ask questions and act in a manner that will create a situation wherein all the people could live in equality and the Provincial Council system which we have established, that is in force now will be more strengthened and implemented. The Provincial Council system is in force now. I do not like to speak much about it. Nevertheless everybody knows why this Provincial Council system was brought and for whom this Provincial Council system was brought in this country- to achieve those aims and objectives of that system as a basis through learning of the past experiences. This beautiful country with a 65,610 sq. kilometers must be brought in as a peaceful and harmonious nation and through the present devolution system we must build the future and a prosperous future for the nation. I have come to give evidence before this Commission with full confidence and trust that this beautiful country with its great culture and traditions will be always protected, and this Commission will find ways to bring about more reconciliation and bring about a harmonious and prosperous future for the people. It is with that trust and confidence that I have come forward to give my evidence before you. We have a government, a very strong government which has brought about an end to terrorism and also brought about strength for the nation. So our citizens of this country or the children of this country should not look at the present problem as a headache for them.
I conclude my evidence with the trust and confidence that my actions and activities as well as your actions and activities will bring about confidence and build a harmonious nation for the people and bring about confidence to the people.
Q & A
Palihakkara: Thank you Mr. Chandirakanthan. I have two questions. Firstly, when we visited the Eastern Province people have told us that although the LTTE is no more, LTTE-like practices continue. They complain about harassment, extortions and sometimes problems about children. What are your views about solutions to this, as to what should be done?
Chandirakanthan: Very importantly there are some incidents which do take place. If you could be very specific about and directly say what it is I may be able to give an answer? But like in other provinces, like in other areas, similar incidents do take place in our area also. But through the legal and judicial means we are trying to take action.
Palihakkara: What are the actions that can be taken?
Chandirakanthan: If you could specifically say about the incidents I maybe able to tell you, but there are one or two abductions that have taken place.
Palihakkara: Well I have been specific enough. I think they also mentioned some political party names.
Chandirakanthan: I also saw it in the papers. It may be those incidents similar to what I have told you now. Lot of incidents have taken place between the period 2002 to 2008. For example, if you take the framework of our organizations you will see that in one particular family, one member of the family will be a supporter of the LTTE and the other member of the very same family will be a supporter of the TMVP. So there were confrontations or conflict of opinions based on that. Through a legal framework, a legal system these matters have been taken up and inquiries or investigations are proceeding.
Paranagama: Another important matter I would like to ask you is, when people are coming back to settle down they are unable to get their original place of residence, the land and the paddy field. How can you solve that problem?
Chandirakanthan: It is very grave problem. In our country this distribution of lands in various forms had taken place. But as an example I could say that during Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s time, vast jungle areas were destroyed and that through an issue of a small permit the land was legalized. I will give you an example now. Those lands that have been given to the people for cultivation after destruction of the jungles have been given for paddy cultivation and also some lands have been alienated for paddy cultivation and some for dairy cultivation, for cattle farming. So we have to accept that position of the authenticity and the ownership of those lands. The reason is we can’t separate dairy farming from agriculture cultivation. My experience is that we are ready and we want to give lands to those poor people – small plots of land. Those people who ask for small plots of land we are ready to give them. But the people who come with complaints of landlessness are owners of 50 acres or more.
Paranagama: But my problem is this. To allocate new lands we can decide on a new policy. But at the moment what is relevant is, because of the war people went away. Now they are coming back to their village. They can’t get back their original place of residence and the paddy fields they worked on. So what is your solution for the present moment?
Chandirakanthan: Now I would like to tell you, there is a place called Vadamunai inn the Batticaloa district. These people of Vadamunai had got displaced during the war time and they had gone and settled in some other areas. There they had been given some lands. Now they are coming back again to get their lands. But when people come to claim their original lands those people who have been given alt4ernative lands cannot be given new lands. So that is the problem.
Ramanathan: (Not translated)
Chandirakanthan: If they have the title deeds then they can claim ownership and all these lands that you say have problems are permit lands.
C.R. de Silva: But even if they have permit lands if they were granted permits and they were forcibly evicted those lands when they come back if they have not been given new lands are they not entitled to the lands from which they were forcibly evicted?
Chandirakanthan: What you say is one hundred percent correct.
C.R. de Silva: But their complaint is that the local administration and your group are not permitting them to get back their lands from which they were forcibly evicted. What have you to say about that?
Chandirakanthan: These allegations have not been brought to me direct. I am a person who is seriously involved in my social service activities to avoid any social conflict, and what I say is most of these lands that you say are in dispute are being utilized by the people either for residential purposes or for agricultural purposes.
Ramanathan: You say that some people have got their lands and when they are unable to sell their lands there were threats to them.
Chandirakanthan: You know very well that you cannot transfer the land to outsiders other than your blood relations.
Ramanathan: These lands are not given by the President. These lands are their own lands, their private properties.
Chandirakanthan: It cannot be so. When the land problems surfaced in that area they used to have a land kachcheri for larger areas and when there are any individual complaints they send their officers and investigate those problems. Likewise the total problems in their area are being attended to by them then and there so that there will be social stability. I would like to give an example; in the Batticaloa District for cashew plantation and coconut plantation for each individual 50 acres were allocated. This happened about 40 years ago. Presently those beneficiaries would have migrated or would have died. What I would say is that these lands would have been given about 40, 50 years ago and the people who have a full knowledge of this land would have approached any parties in Colombo or other areas transferred the land and like that they would have done three, four transfers within these 30, 40 years – manipulated these transfers and that would have created some problems. That is what I feel and they may think that I will be an obstruction to this type of manipulations. So they are trying to complain about me.
Bafiq: You know that the Muslims of Jaffna were driven away in a most inhuman manner from their homeland- we will forget that- what steps will the Tamil community, Tamil organizations, Tamil civil society – leave alone the state – the Tamil people do to bring back those people back to Jaffna, settle them down, and bring about reconciliation between the two communities and live peacefully as they did earlier? Not the State, but will the Tamil people, and the organizations give your leadership to that?
Chandirakanthan: In the Eastern Province you don’t have that problem. But in the North that is a political problem and there cannot be any intervention by us.
Paranagama: In the Eastern Province also the Muslim community was deprived of their original land. They were chased away. That was revealed when we visited Batticaloa and I can definitely say reconciliation cannot begin without settling these people in their original lands, and I would definitely say that you must play a big role in settling this land issues. One can say if you have permits you can go to courts, but it is a long procedure. You may want the government to play a big role. It is a very difficult thing unless you all co-operate in that.
Chandirakanthan: I accept what you say and we are ready, even if you ask for a report from us, we are ready to submit a report on this land issue in our area.
C.R. de Silva: What are the steps that you have taken to ensure that the Muslim people who were forcibly evicted from their lands in the Batticaloa area are resettled in their lands?
Chandirakanthan: I would say that in the Batticaloa District most of the people have been resettled in their lands, but only in the Sampur area about 6,000 people are still not resettled. As far as the Batticaloa District is concerned we will not allow any social unrest to prevail in the Batticaloa District. We will take instant action and we will definitely establish peace there, but as far as I am concerned I know some incidents in the Ottumawadi area where one particular person had used the tractors and machinery to locate and take possession of a particular land. So we are very carefully and cautiously handling any land issues that will surface and whenever any land problems are brought to us we will solve them and we will also submit a report to you in case you need.
Paranagama: We welcome that report.
C.R. de Silva: You said there are about 6,000 persons who have not been resettled in the Sampur area who had been forcibly evicted. Now as leader of a very influential political party why don’t you take the initiative to have these people who have been unreasonably evicted from these lands to be settled in their original lands?
Chandirakanthan: Of course, when His Excellency the President visited our province he spoke to me about this and he told me to take this matter seriously and find a solution to this.
C.R. de Silva: So would you give an undertaking to this Commission that you will take all initiatives to have these people who have been forcibly evicted in the Sampur area resettled in their original lands?
Chandirakanthan: Of course I must point out the problems that prevail in this situation. This Sampur is a place which is just facing the Trincomalee harbour and it was in that particular place that the LTTE was concentrated. Now a thermal power station with the support of the Indian government is going to be established there and they want to convert it to an economic zone. Now development activities are taken up there. But the people are insisting that they should be given their original lands but we are telling them to identify any lands within the Divisional Secretariat area to relocate them. We have to take the present economic conditions into consideration. Take the Hambantota harbour. It is only 17 metres deep. But the coastal area of Sampur that we are speaking of now is 23 metres deep. So it will be a very important area for economic and navigation purposes. What they say is that because they were Tamil people they had been discriminated and the TNA is also backing their allegations. So if they ask for alternate land instead of their original lands we have the powers and we can give them, but if they insist on their original lands then I have no power and it is for the President to take a decision.
C.R. de Silva: So have you identified any lands where they could be relocated? Now you said that you asked them to identify lands. Isn’t it the duty of you, as the Chief Minister, and a very influential person in a very influential political party in the area to identify the lands and ask them whether they would like to be relocated in those lands?
Chandirakanthan: That is a very good question you asked, sir. After my dialogue with the President I have visited those places twice. My last visit was three days ago. I insisted on them to show an alternate land but they persist that they should be given their original lands and they say that they will not go to any place other than their original Sampur area.
Paranagama: Don’t you think that it is within their rights to ask for their original land?
Chandirakanthan: It is correct.
Ramanathan: Mr. Chandirakanthan, can I ask any question from you?
Ramanathan: We are Commissioners of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and we have been to Batticaloa and when we came back we were very sad. Lots of people in Batticaloa spoke to us in camera. They say that they were unable to get their lands back, unable to sell their lands because of the conflict they got displaced. We asked them why, they are so scared of you.
Chandirakanthan: I feel sorry. If that is the situation there then I really feel sorry for them.
Ramanathan: If they are frightened of you is that the truth or is it a rumour?
Chandirakanthan: They should not be frightened. They should not be reluctant or have any fear to claim their rights and get their rights, and whenever their problems are surfaced I immediately go to the place instantly and try to solve the problem, and if it is possible by you and if you have confidence and trust in me please tell me those problems, submit those problems to me, and I will study it and solve it.
Ramanathan: We told them so, but they are frightened.
Paranagama: The Muslim community said that the LTTE forced them to sell their paddy fields at a very nominal price to their nominated Tamil community. Now they want to set aside that sale and get back their lands. A list was submitted to us about the sales that were forced.
Chandirakanthan: You will definitely know that the lands that were in the control of the LTTE cannot be sold to anybody legally.
Paranagama: Yes. Legally it cannot be sold, but yet they have been forced to sell and they have some document.
Chandirakanthan: Yes, if that is so then they can report the matter to the police, submit those documents and solve their problem.
Chanmugam: Mr. Chandirakanthan, there were quite a few people who appeared before us in Batticaloa when they had disputes they normally had to go to the local administration, police or Government Agent or Government departments, but in many cases they had to go to a political office in order to get assistance to sort out their problems. Is it a good thing? Despite the fact that the conflict had raged for so many years but now almost two years have passed, shouldn’t the people be able to sort out their problems in the administrative offices of the country rather than having to go and sort it out in a political office?
Chandirakanthan: Yes. Of course it should be so. I would say that during the LTTE time they had their police, the courts system, the administrative or inquiries system and the people used to go to them to redress their grievances. But now after our civil administration has been established those people the very same people who had been to the LTTE are coming with the very same documents with which they had gone there then and asking us to find remedial measures. How can we do that? So certain things are habits of the people.
C.R. de Silva: Mr. Chandirakanthan, you know that over 600 policemen were asked to surrender and they were all lined up and shot and persons who are members of your group were instrumental in that massacre. Now, don’t you think for the purpose of bringing about ethnic reconciliation that your group should make a public apology to the members of the families of those officers who were killed?
Chandirakanthan: That is a good question that you have asked. If we are asked to ask for a public pardon for being members of the LTTE….
C.R. de Silva: No. Not pardon, but apology.
Chandirakanthan: As I told you in the course of my evidence earlier, on the 11th of June 1990, I was in school at that time and I know that the LTTE encircled many areas. I went to join the LTTE on the 4th of February 1991, but I remember having been told by the people that all those police officers who were encircled and taken by the LTTE were killed after two or three weeks. I think that if you say that we must make a public apology to those people, I think the most appropriate person would be Mr. Karuna who was the leader at that time.
Paranagama: In fairness to what Chairman asked you, you might think that we are only asking about the wrong done by the LTTE. Can you say of any instance where our forces have done any grave crime like that?
Chandirakanthan: I was an eye witness to similar incidents by the forces in the year 1990.
Paranagama: How many incidents?
Chandirakanthan: I was an eye witness to an incident where one Seeni Thambi who was an immediate neighbour to me was shot by the forces, and I saw partly burnt bodies scattered on the roads at that time, and there was a special force that was brought to our area at that time and they were called vettu party, that is slaughtering group. I have seen many people taken alive and shot, cut and thrown into the rivers. I saw two of my class mates taken away at midnight and I saw one Rasa who was another neighbour of mine, at midnight the army came took him and he prayed at their feet, worshipped at their feet, but they kicked him and I saw them shooting him on the spot. I was a teenager of 16 years and I got assaulted by the army.
Paranagama: But wasn’t that a part of the war that was at the time?
Chandirakanthan: Yes, of course. We must look at the political background for those incidents and all the political leaders and all the political leaders who worked or who injected these incidents must make a public apology.
C.R. de Silva: Mr. Chandirakanthan, I also concede that if there were excesses the government also must tender an apology.Now, I must take this opportunity for thanking you for coming over here and expressing your views very candidly and I think some of the views you expressed were very important and we will take that into consideration in formulating our recommendations. Thank you.