By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Ceylon Today
Colombo, Octobr 19: The inhuman order given to 90,000 Muslims of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province to leave the province in October 1990, giving them just a few hours to obey the diktat had proved to the international community the ultra-racist, chauvinist stance of the terrorist outfit. The entire Muslim population of Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Kilinochchi Districts were evicted from their homes at gun point and turned into Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) overnight by the LTTE.
This ill-advised and inhuman action unmasked the true face of Velupillai Prabhakaran and his companions in terror. Earlier he had projected his fight against the Sri Lankan armed forces as a struggle to win the rights of the Tamil speaking people, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The disinformation campaign that the Tamils and Muslims, as Tamil-speaking people, desire a separate State, gained sympathy in the world – including some Muslim countries – for a short while. To get Muslims youths to join his movement, Prabakaran named his deputies, Balasubramaniam Canagarathnam as ‘Colonel Raheem’ and Thambirasa Kuhasanthan as ‘Lt Col Nizam’ to hoodwink the Muslims that there were youths from their community among the LTTE top-rankers.
While, the immense sufferings caused by the ethno-political conflict and terrorism to Sinhala and Tamil civilians was well publicised, very little has been told about the plights of the Muslims of the North who became victims of terrorism.
Grappling With This Paradox
The LTTE first ensured the exodus of all Sinhala residents from the Northern Peninsula. The second phase of the strategy was the 1990 eviction of Muslims, the largest displacement in the country. Referring to the plight of the expelled Northern Muslims who were languishing in the refugee camps in Puttalam District, the Editor of Nepal’s Himal political journal said: “The nature of this event helps us understand the contradictory faces of Tamil nationalism, as well as the paradox the situation represents: how one group of people, Tamils, has the freedom to belong, while the other group, Muslims, is without the right to belong but has retained the freedom to speak, because the community is not subject to the LTTE’s focus. It is necessary to grapple with this paradox if we are to understand what democracy could look like for those living in the north and east.”
On 22 October 1990, quite unexpectedly, the LTTE announced over loudspeakers in the streets of the Muslim populated areas in the Northern Province that the Muslims must leave their homes, villages and towns, leaving all their valuables behind, or face death. The ultimatum was that Muslims should leave this region within 48 hours from the 22 of October 1990. In Jaffna town the time given was only two hours.
“On 27 October 1990, I was working in the fields. LTTE cadres came and asked us to leave the place within two hours. We took a few clothes in plastic carrier bags and walked a long way”, said an elderly man now living in a Puttalam camp.
LTTE Grabbed Their Possessions
On the Mannar mainland, on 25 October, the LTTE announced that the area’s Muslims must surrender their possessions, register with the LTTE office, and leave the following day. They were allowed to bring five travel bags per family, one gold sovereign and 2000 rupees. At the final checkpoint leading south, in Vavuniya, all additional items were confiscated.
The orders for the Muslim eviction came from the highest rung of the Tigers. This was an LTTE-only military operation, and there is no evidence of civilian collusion; no ordinary Tamils participated in the eviction. neither was any reason for the operation ever offered. The LTTE, faced with a numerically and politically stronger Muslim minority in the East, simply decided to evict a much smaller and more politically vulnerable Muslim minority in the north. It was to give a message to the people that LTTE was to keep the Northern Province solely for Tamil people. What is certain is that this was a decision to remove an entire community, and without any attempt to legitimise the action through popular campaigns.
Quick And Dirty Operation
It was ethnic cleansing. Devenesan Nesiah, a Member of the Citizen’s Commission, referring to the expulsion of the Northern Muslims by the LTTE stated that “the details of the constraints imposed on the victims varied from location to location depending on the brutality of the local leadership of the LTTE, but nowhere were those who were evicted able to sell, transfer or otherwise secure or dispose of their property or to take with them cash or other movable possessions. The operation was carried out quickly and with such ruthless efficiency that there was little or no resistance.”
The tragedy is that the Muslim leaders also found that it was to their advantage to keep the displaced people permanently in the camps in Puttalam as that was a valuable vote bloc for them. While the vast majority of the displaced Muslims live in makeshift camps and temporary shelters, a few politicians who represent them became multimillionaires. One example is former minister Rishad Bathiudeen who arrived as a pauper from the North to a Puttalam camp in 1990 today boasts of thousands of acres of land and property owned by him and his immediate family members.
Address Displaced Muslims’ Problems
R. M. Imtiaz, a researcher attached to Temple University, warned in a research paper that “one should not simply disregard any possible future connections between the economically weak but religiously rich Northern Sri Lanka Muslims who construct their ethnic identity on Islamic faith and global Islamic forces and who desperately need recruiters beyond the borders for their campaign to build an Islamic state. Our recent communications with a few frustrated displaced Northern Muslim youth suggests such possible future collaborations with the Middle-East-based Islamic transnationalists.”
“The rapid Islamisation of the local Muslim community and the desire to uphold Islamic values suggest some form of transformation among the Muslims of Sri Lanka in general and the affected North and East Muslims in particular.”
He added that one way to rationally prevent radicalisation is to address the problems of the displaced Muslims. Sri Lanka should not be a new recruiting base for global Islamic forces. Such an eventuality will further complicate the path to Sri Lanka’s much needed long-term peace. This prophetic view was proved correct on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019.