Nimal Bandara of Migalewa (Translated by Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe a few years ago for Ceylon Today newspaper)
On 11th of June 1990, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) escorted 600 police personnel who had surrendered to them into the jungle in the Eastern Province, hacked and shot them to death.
Three police officers miraculously escaped this massacre.
G.H. Santha Ranaweera, a resident of Galgamuwa was a SI of Kalmunei police then.
“It was the time of peace talks between the government and the LTTE. I went to the beach to buy food for the police. It was around 6 a.m. Our jeep encountered a flat tyre. While the driver was repairing it, we waited near the jeep.
“A young man known to me said LTTE had split away from peace talks and attacking police. As he said, the police stations had been surrounded. Our OIC IP Keyas had been sick and admitted to Ampara hospital the previous night. SI Ananda was acting OIC. I spoke to him by my walkie-talkie. He told me that about 200 LTTE cadres had surrounded the police station. He asked me to return as soon as possible with the other officers.
“We left after the police driver replaced the tyre. We asked the driver to drive the jeep slowly and walked to the police station. On the way, terrorists stopped us and tried to shoot at us. We got ready to retaliate. They asked where we were heading. When we said we were going to the police station, they let us go.”
When Santha and others went to the police station it had been under siege by LTTE surrounded and mortars and other heavy armoury had also been positioned around the station. When they entered the police station, ASP Boteju was also there. He was deploying officers for the counter-attack. SI Santha Ranaweera was assigned duty in zone 17.
No clash erupted until 2 p.m. and terrorists were sending messages to police urging them to surrender.
“ASP Boteju asked what we could do. We said we should retaliate if they attacked. SSP of Ampara also advised us to retaliate if we were attacked. He promised to send supportive forces.”
After 2 p.m., they started to fire machine guns. We retaliated. Then they attacked us with bombs. Around 3 p.m., they started a barrage of mortar. They were stronger in terms of strength and the attack was getting fiercer. Twenty-five of our officers were injured and we had no way to take them to hospital. No one came for our assistance.
“We were getting weaker. ASP held a discussion with SIs and senior sergeants. The advice was sought from SSP Ampara. We received advice to surrender and we agreed to it because we had no alternative. Under their orders, we surrendered without arms with a white flag.”
Thus, about 140 police officers were taken to Kalmunai town and they were made sit on the ground. The injured and dead were still in the station. Around 7 p.m., LTTE brought three buses and got the police officers on board. Then they drove off saying they would be taken to SSP office of Ampara.
But the buses were not driven to Ampara. They diverted to a jungle path at Akkaraipattu and the unarmed police officers were taken to a Tiger camp.
“The camp was between Akkaraipattu and Pothuvil. They did not let us get off the buses. They noted our names and positions. After that, our hands were tied to back with coir ropes. Another Tiger cadre tore our shirts and blindfolded us with the cloth. I slightly untied the cloth and waited as I too had been tied. It was around 9 p.m.
“ASP Boteju was also sitting on the same seat with me. He said they were about to kill us and we had no escape. After that, they beat us with palmyra fronds. Around 11.30, buses were started. Nine Tiger cadres were on our bus. ASP’s jeep and the two traffic motorcycles were driven before the three buses which proceeded through a thick jungle.
“We drove about 20 kilometres. I could see what they did because my blindfold was loose. The place was like a playground. The officers in the first bus were taken out first. They robbed our wallets and watches etc. They asked us to lie on the ground until the end of the discussions and we would be released. I was the fourth in the queue. I knew we would be killed and I thought of my dead mother. I thought she would come to save me from wherever she was. Others began to cry with fear of death.
“Meanwhile, one Tiger saw my hand ties had been loosened and came to tighten it. He kept his weapon down for that. I thought of grabbing the weapon and shooting but another Tiger cadre noticed my motif and hit me with a weapon.
“I was unconscious and woken up when I heard the buses were driven off. Although the buses went away, four armed cadres of Tamil Tigers were guarding us. Suddenly, an order to fire came from somewhere and they showered us with bullets. I had no idea whether I had been shot but I knew that I was not dead. Those who did not die immediately were groaning. I lifted my head. Tigers came to us with torches, checked one by one and shot on our heads. The shot hit my ear.
“After 10 minutes, the terrorists went away. I tried to lift my left hand which was under my body. It did not work and I lifted it with the other hand. I heard the sound of cracked bones clattering. I sat there taking my injured hand with the other and spoke. I asked if there was anyone not dead. One PC told that he had not been shot. I called him to run away together. He said he was afraid if they would come back and he did not get up. Then I heard the sound of buses returning.
“I stood up in fear and crawled into the jungle taking my injured arm. I was watching busloads of police officers were brought, made to lie and shot. They were officers of the police stations of Akkaraipattu, Pottuvil, Kalavnchikudi and Eravur. Then the buses drove off. I was leaning to the tree and fell asleep. I was woken up around 3.30 a.m. The area was silent. I went back to the place we were shot and called if there was anyone alive. No sound replied.”
SI Ranaweera saw the ground was soaked with the cold blood of the fellow police officers. All were dead. Ranaweera bade them farewell silently and walked into the unknown jungle. He was encouraged by the urgency to save his life.
He walked on and on falling and getting up. Blood was oozing from his left hand and the ear. He was both hungry and thirsty too. His entire body was aching and he was shocked with fear. By morning, he was near a tank of which the name he was unaware. He drank water and continued to walk.
“I saw a hut in an open area. I went there. The time was around 7 a.m. There were Tamil shepherds. They were afraid when they saw me. I told them that I was caught between fire when Tigers and police clashed while I was working in a shop in Kalmunai. I said the friend who was with me was also shot dead while I escaped. They offered me milk which was in barrels. I told them that my hand was shot and asked them to pour milk to my mouth. They did so and I drank raw milk until I was not thirsty and hungry. Then they asked me to go.
“I walked on and met another person. I asked him to show me the way to a road. He reluctantly showed me a road and asked me to go along it. There was a paddy field and. I slept in a hut in the paddy field.
“The women who were removing weed in the paddy field saw me and informed the villagers. Three young men came. They were Sinhala. They told it was Manthottam paddy field. They wanted to take me to the village. I had no strength. My eyesight was also poor then. One man went to the village and brought a bicycle. They kept me on the bicycle and pushed it to Manthottam town.
“I went to the post office, made a call to the SSP office of Ampara and described what happened. The SSP instructed me to come to Damana police station with the help of the young men. They gave me Veniwelgeta to drink. After that, they kept me on a motorcycle and took me to the police station. I was admitted to Ampara hospital and transferred to Kandy hospital.”
Shantha Ranaweera’s life was saved after a six-hour surgery.
He married in 1996 and now he is a father of three children. Now he is the coroner of Galgamuwa Nagenahira Korale. He joined police in 1980 as a PC and promoted as SI in 1986.