A luxury they cannot afford
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 10 December 1997, 23:59 GMT]
"The soldiers set upon the pregnant woman. As one of them stripped her naked, she screamed. The second sliced her belly with a sword. She fell down, blood spurting out. They cut her breasts and finally her throat. She rolled into the pit. Then came the turn of the second woman, also pregnant".
"I closed my eyes" said K. Krishnakumar, 35, the only person who escaped when the Sri Lankan army arrested and massacred 181 people, including 35 children below the age of 10, in Sathurukkondan, Kokkuvil, Panichchayadi and Pillaiyarady, a cluster of Tamil villages three miles north of the Batticaloa town, on the night of September 9, 1990.
Krishnakumar has related what he saw that night to the ICRC, the Human Right Task Force, the Batticaloa Peace Committee and the Presidential Commission to Inquire into Disappearances in the East.
But more than seven years have gone by and the Sri Lankan government is yet to take action against the soldiers and officers of the Sri Lankan army camp at Sathurukkondan who raped, hacked and killed innocents on that September night.
TamilNet's Batticaloa correspondent met Krishnakumar and others who lost kith and kin in Kokkuvil, Sathurukkondan Panichchayadi and Pillaiyarady.
Many children who lost either of their parents live in poverty, their growth stunted by severe malnutrition. Krishnakumar is frequently stung by severe pain from the knife wound he received during the massacre. The doctors have told him he has to go through another operation. Krishnakumar now ekes out a living as an assistant to the butcher at a mutton stall in the Batticaloa market. He is paid 80 rupees (1. 35 USD) per day. He said that he has lost hope that justice will be done.
He had no objection to his picture being taken. He said he has undergone so much that he no more worries about his role in the search for justice for the victims of the Sathurukkondan massacre.
He related to the correspondent what he saw of the massacre.
"The villages were cordoned off by the Army around 10 a.m. It was almost 7 p.m. by the time the villagers - including infants, women, pregnant mothers and the old - were herded to the Sathurukkondan camp and locked inside. "Four masked men walked into the hall and selected me, T. Kumar, C. Sinnaththamby, and K. Jeevaratnam. Our shirts were removed and our hands behind our back with them. Then we were taken to the camp's back yard. We were dragged about fifty meters further, where we saw a pit about 20 ft by 5ft. There was a Cashew tree by the pit and well which was about 10 meters from it.
"In the dim light I saw 25 soldiers armed with long swords and cudgels standing round the pit and the well.
I was hit with a cudgel and I fell face downward. When the other three screamed the soldiers stripped them and stuffed cloth into their mouths. One by one they were taken to the edge of the pit and hacked with swords and were pushed in.
"A soldier came up to me and slammed me against the Cashew tree, pulled out a long kris knife, and stabbed me through the chest. He then pushed me into the pit. He stabbed me again on my back. Though I was bleeding, I didn't lose consciousness.
"Four more men were brought there, hacked to death and were pushed in to the pit. The soldiers went again and brought two pregnant women. They were stripped naked and their breasts were sliced off. The soldiers then cut open the stomachs of these women with their swords and pushed them into the pit.
"Later they brought many girls stark naked. Sand was stuffed in the girls' mouths and all were raped repeatedly. Then the soldiers cut off their breasts with the swords. Three of these girls were pushed into the well. "As the area was dark, I was able to slowly crawl out while they were busy raping, killing and pushing bodies into the pit. When the soldiers left, I crawled towards the camp fence and hid in shrub jungle behind the camp. Later the soldiers brought tires and set fire to the bodies in the pit. The fires burned till 3 about a.m. in the morning. Once the pyre died out, the pit was filled with sand.
With the help of a passerby I went to the hospital.
Our correspondent also spoke to Thambi Ayya Kirubaratnam who lost his wife in the incident.
"My wife was also taken by the army. The next day I informed the ICRC. They contacted the brigadier and we went to the Chathurukkondan camp.
The Brigadier denied any knowledge whatsoever regarding my wife being taken by the soldiers."
"In the back yard of the camp I found my wife's clothes and the pair of Bata slippers she was wearing when she was taken away by the soldiers. The brigadier was silent. He had nothing to say."
"I also testified to the Presidential Commission on the incident, but nothing has happened so far" he lamented.
The Sri Lankan government first denied that the massacre ever took place. The Divisional Secretary of the area submitted a report to the government on the incident soon after. But the government at that time stood by the local brigadier who insisted that no untoward incident took place in the area. Later the Human Rights Task Force which was appointed by President Ranasinghe Premadasa recorded evidence and mentioned the Sathurukkondan -Kokkuvil massacre in its report published in April 1994.
In early 1997 the Special Presidential Commission to Inquire into Disappearances in the East under Justice K. Palakidnar also recorded evidence about the Sathurukkondan -Kokkuvil massacre.
The Sri Lankan government is dragging it feet on many other atrocities as well. The judicial proceeding on the massacres of Tamil civilians at Mayilanthanai, Kumarapuram and the fourth Colony are stagnating in courts due to inaction. Witnesses in these cases have been threatened and intimidated by Sri Lankan security forces personnel who were involved in the massacres.]
For Krishnakumar's people and scores of others like them Human Rights remain a luxury they cannot afford.