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25 years since Sathurukondan massacre

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the massacre of 184 Tamil civilians by soldiers of the Sri Lankan army.

On September 9, 1990, the men, women and children from Sathurukondan and surrounding villages, on the outskirts of Batticaloa, were taken to an army camp by Sri Lankan soldiers, where they were killed.

The mass killings, which were carried out during the presidency of the UNP's Ranasinghe Premadasa, were investigated in a probe established by then-president Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1997. The probe identified three captains in the Sri Lankan army as being responsible for the killings. The retired judge who led the inquiry, K Palakidnar said that there was strong evidence for the massacre and urged Ms Kumaratunga to hold the perpetrators to account, however no action was taken by the government.

Police blocked Tamils from remembering the victims last year (Photo: Tamil Win)

A previous massacre on the September 5 left at least 158 Tamils dead, as they were seeking refuge in the campus of the Eastern University. Sri Lankan soldiers, with the assistance of Muslim homeguards and pro-government Tamil paramilitaries, took them to another location where they were shot.

The dead of the Sathurukondan atrocities included five children less than a year old, 42 children under 10, 9 pregnant women and 28 adults over 68 years of age. 38 were from Sathurukondan, 37 from Panichchaiyady, 62 from Pillaiyaradi and 47 from Kokuvil.

Speaking at a memorial event in 2003, TNA MP Selvam Adaikkalanathan, who still serves the Vanni district, said the government tried to "hoodwink" the people by setting up inquiries.

“Whenever massacres by Sri Lankan armed forces took place, the government of the day covered them up, and supported such actions by its forces. Then the governments tried to hoodwink the people by appointing commissions of inquiry."

"When such commissions got close to finding out the truth," he said, "the inquiry would be inordinately delayed, citing several false reasons, and eventually the commission would provide a report without completing its proper inquiry, without holding anyone accountable. This situation allowed the continuation of such massacres of Tamil people as the people behind such actions were allowed to go scot-free.”

Only one man survived the massacre and lived to tell his account to the ICRC and human rights groups.

Speaking to TamilNet in 1997, Mr K Krishnakumar, recounted what happened that day:

"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 passer-by I went to the hospital."

Tamil civil society leaders say more than six thousand Tamils were murdered by the Sri Lanka army and its paramilitaries between August and December 1990 in the Batticaloa-Amparai districts.

Last year a memorial event organised by TNA MPs was halted by a court order.

Bishop Swampillai speaks on the Sathurukondan massacre to the BBC World Service (10 September 2014)

Remembrance event for Saththurukondan Massacre halted by court order (10 September 2014)

Batticaloa massacre victims remembered - TamilNet (09 September 2000)

A luxury they cannot afford - TamilNet (10 December 1997)

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