SLA tenders qualified apology as officer retires

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 31 January 2001, 21:30 GMT]
The Sri Lanka army in Batticaloa town Wednesday tendered a qualified public apology for massacring hundreds innocent civilians of this eastern district in the past in a handbill and over loud hailers. The SLA handbill, among other things, states "on some occasions people had to be murdered on the orders of certain commanders".

However, some junior army officers in the northern sector of the district noted it was significant that the apology should have come on the day of Major.Gen.Janaka Pereraís retirement. Reports in the Colombo press last year indicated strained relations between him and the SLA high command.

"It is true that the army was involved in the massacres of civilians in Kokkaddicholai, Sathurukkondaan, Vanthaarumoolai and Batticaloa. But they were not carried out with the aim of wiping out the Tamils as the Tigers say. One day in June 1990, the Special Task Force commandos killed more than 20 youth on the Periya Kallar beach. The murder of these youth was not premeditated. It happened accidentally when the commandos went looking for the Liberation Tigers there".

"The LTTE spreading falsities about us to prevent the army and the people getting closer to each other. Hence we have decided to tell the truth" the SLA said.

Maj.Gen.Janaka Perera
The army hand bill claims that the military had not planned the massacre of civilians at a religious festival in Batticaloa town in May 2000 and that soldiers were compelled to do so on the orders of a commander who had allegedly been drunk. "Buddhists do not kill on Vesak day" the handbill states, explaining the situation of the soldiers who went on a rampage, killing at least 19 civilians, including nine children from a Christian orphanage.

The government and the SLA denied reports about the massacre by news agencies and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

However, human rights activists in Batticaloa said that the SLA has glossed over a lot of other atrocities and implied that they were not fully responsible for some mass murders in the district in which its involvement has been established by commissions of inquiry.

"The central question is not a vague apology like this but that none of the soldiers or officers who perpetrated the massacres have been brought to book and there is absolutely no guarantee under draconian laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Regulations that such atrocities will ever stop" a senior human rights activist in the east said.

Meanwhile, a military source in Batticaloa pointed out that only allegations by human rights activists against Maj.Gen.Perera that several mass murders in the island's north and east were perpetrated by soldiers in areas under his command, implying his tacit complicity, have been high lighted by interested parties with the deliberate intention of denigrating his professional standing among the army's rank and file.

"Mass murders have been committed under other commanders in the north and east. But to tender an apology on the day of Maj.Gen.Perera's retirement is not in good taste " he said.


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