The real story behind the ‘Mirisuvil massacre’ needs to come out
By Ramanie de Zoysa
War hero Ratnayaka Mudiyanselage Sunil Ratnayaka is ondeath row at the age of just 38 for the crime ofprotecting his country from bloodshed and ruin. Very little is known of Sunil by the public at large even though the so-called mirusuvil massacre” he is accused of participating in, is an event that has been blown out of all proportion by the human rights industry and the Tamil Diaspora for collective advancement.
Sunil is a young man from a faraway village in the Mahiyangana area. He joined the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in 1995 at the age of about 18. This was a time when SriLanka was overwhelmed by the flames of a cruel war perpetrated on the country by Tamil Tiger terrorists. LTTE financiers and theologians were operating quite openly from Western capitals fuelling a war in Sri Lanka killing thousands of mainly Sinhala civilians with impunity fromthe Human Rights industrialists and the so-called International Community. The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora who received a free education from Sri Lanka and now domiciled in foreign countries were sending back ship loads of arms addressed to the LTTE to repay” their debt to themotherland! President Chandrika Kumaranatunga was at the helm of the country and Armed Forces very much on the back foot while the LTTE flourished militarily acquiring largeamounts of arms. Desertion from the Armed Forces was the order of the day and many of the well-known operations against the Tigers ended in resounding losses to the Army.
In this dismal background the youngster Sunil joined the6th Gajaba regiment of the SLA. As a young fighter he showed the ability, skill and the bravery to be included in a special task force called AirMobile Brigade of the SLA. The Air Mobile Brigade, also known a the Maha Sohon Balakaya” is a formation of the SriLanka Army that is a rapid deployment (LRRP) force highly trainedand equipped to respond by air, land or by sea as requiredat short notice in a volatile situation. Some refer to these as the suicide units” aptly acknowledging the certainty of death the Brigade faced every second of the day. Whether conducting prisoner snatches, engaging targets, search and destroy missions, or hunting for the enemy’s secret base camps, these LRRP soldiers depended on each other 110 percent. One small mistake by one man could mean sudden death for all. From saturation patrols alongthe rebel held territory to near-suicide missions these soldiers walked the razor’s edge every day and became oneof the most respected and most feared battalions in the history of the separatist war.
How much fear this Brigade instilled in the minds of the terrorists is articulated in the fact that in 2002 when Ranil Wickremesinghe was signing a so-called peace accord” with the Tiger terrorists one of the conditions the Tigers laid down was the dismantling and destroying of the MahaSohon Balakaya!
For a fuller account of the dismal state the country wasin at the time it is worthwhile reading Shamindra Ferdinando’s article dated October 9, 2012 in the Island newspaper titled The army in serious trouble; War onterror revisited” at:
Ferdinando highlights the debacle the Armed Forces were facing during this time with the Army experiencing debilitating attacks from the LTTE while certain members of the Army leadership pretended to be on a winning streak which prompted the PA Government in Colombo to insist that the Army march forward regardless- putting young soldiers’ lives at risk. I quote the above article which is actually quoting the Island newspaper as follows:
On Aug 19, 1997, the LTTE anti-tank squads destroyedthree Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) during a confrontationclose to Puliyankulam. The MBTs were spearheading theSLA’s largest ever ground offensive codenamed Jayasikurulaunched on May 13, 1997 to link-up with the SLA deployedat Kilinochchi to restore the Kandy-Jaffna A9 overlandMain Supply Route (MSR) to Jaffna. Deputy Defence MinisterAnuruddha Ratwatte remained confident of completing theoperation swiftly. But, by the third week of August,1997, the SLA felt it could no longer sustain theoffensive. A section of the officers believed that threedevastating counter-attacks launched by the LTTE in Juneand July made their task impossible. Still the politicalleadership insisted that the SLA complete its mission(Tigers target tanks in fierce north battle––The IslandAug 21, 1997).”
By late October, 1997, the SLA was exhausted, though the PA painted a different picture. The media couldn’t report what was happening in the Vanni due to censorship. The government continued to propagate the lie that the Jayasikuru offensive was on track and the LTTE in direstraits. Having lost about 1,000 men, including someexperienced young frontline officers, the Jayasikuruoffensive was about to collapse. However, the SLA placedthe number killed at 722 and wounded at 4,400 during phaseI and II of the offensive.”
Between 1998-2001 soldiers’ individual heroic efforts continued in the face of a now strong and ferocious enemy.Some of the significant events during this period, whichmost of us now seem to have forgotten, can be summarisedhere courtesy of Shamindra Ferdinando War on terrorrevisited: Jayasikuru called off, new militaryadventure launched”- October 17, 2012 as follows:
Sept. 1998- the LTTEdislodged the SLA from Kilinochchi which had beenliberated in Sept. 1996.
Troops engaged inOperation Sath Jaya and sustained heavy losses to bringKilinochchi under government control.The then Directorof Information revealed that bodies of over 400 SLApersonnel killed in the Kilinochchi-Paranthan theatrewere received by the ICRC on behalf of the GoSL (400bodies of soldiers handed over to ICRC––The Island Oct1, 1998).
SLA troopsre-positioned themselves at Paranthan having vacatedMankulam and Kilinochchi in mid 1990 on PresidentRanasinghe Premadasa’s watch.
With the shockingbattlefield defeat at Elephant Pass, the PA was forcedto admit that restoring the Main Supply Route (MSR) toJaffna was no longer feasible (Troops capture Mankulamwith strap line Kilinochchi troops vacate positions––TheIsland Oct 1, 1998).
The censorshipprevented the media from reporting what was going on inthe Vanni. But, sometimes the Competent Authorityapproved news items, which highlighted the actual groundsituation. Eg. the Island published the followingfront-page report captioned (Another 74 bodies ofsoldiers handed over––The Island Oct. 3, 1998), approvedby the Competent Authority: The LTTE yesterday handedover another 74 bodies of SLA personnel killed infighting at Kilinochchi through the ICRC to the SLA atPoovarasankulam, Vavuniya. Altogether 684 bodies havebeen transferred by the ICRC from Mallavi in theLTTE-held area to the SLA-held area, whereas the SLAreturned the bodies of 12 LTTE cadres.”
On the morning ofOct 12, 1998, President Kumaratunga met the SLA topleaders in a desperate attempt to round up deserters forre-deployment on the front. The latest hunt fordeserters was launched soon after at least 1,000soldiers were killed in battles in theKilinochchi-Paranthan sector and Mankulam.
On Dec 2, 1998, thePA called off Operation Jayasikuru to pave the way for anew offensive Rivi Bala.
In March 1999, theSLA brought more territory under its control west of theA9.
March 17, 1999- TheLTTE fired several rounds of artillery at the Thalladyarmy camp on inflicting heavy damage on it. The SLA lost19 personnel and five civilian employees.
On March 19, 1999,the SLA launched an operation to liberate the MadhuChurch area. Madhu was regained by Operation RanagosaIII.
Within a week afterthe liberation of the Madhu area, the LTTE triggered aclaymore mine blast at Moondumurippu in the newlyliberated area killing four SLAF personnel.
Operation Ranagosafurther weakened the SLA’s presence in the Vanni; in asense, it spread three Divisions of troops thin on theground.
In June 1999, theLTTE stepped up activity targeting Weli Oya. AtMirusuvil, Jaffna, the LTTE blasted an eighty KVA dieseloperated generator at the rural hospital.
In the second weekof Sept 1999, Ranagosa troops ran into stiff resistancewhen they pushed ahead of their positions. The SLAwithdrew in the face of heavy attacks. The SLA top brassdownplayed the debacle, though senior officers privatelyadmitted that the LTTE was poised for a massiveonslaught on the SLA (LTTE hands over bodies of 15soldiers to ICRC––The Island Sept 15, 1999).
On July 6, 1999,exactly at 2.05 p.m, an artillery round landed insidethe Weli Oya Brigade headquarters. It was the beginningof a sustained artillery attack on that militaryfacility. For about two hours, Minister Ratwatte, ViceAdmiral Cecil Tissera, Air vice Marshal Weerakkody, Lt.Gen. Weerassoriya, IGP Lucky Kodituwakku, Maj. Gen.Sarath Fonseka and DIG Lionel Karunasena were trapped inthe Weli Oya bunkers (Pause in artillery strike on WeliOya Brigade HQ allows defence topbrass to escape––TheIsland July 10, 1996).
By 2000, the OSP team to which Sunil belonged was inJaffna. Each and every one of the six soldiers that wereaccused of the so-called ‘Mirusuvil massacre’ werethemselves injured many times over during the operationsand had come back to serve the country even before theirinjuries healed properly. Sunil Ratnayaka was injuredduring the Jaya sikurui movement at Mankulam operation. Hesustained horrific injuries from an enemy mortar on hisface which broke some of his teeth and damaged the facialstructure. He also sustained injuries to the back andlegs. This team was tasked with the death defying task ofentering kilometres into the enemy territory, find exactlocations of terrorist bunkers and come back alive inorder to deliver precision attacks on the enemy.
In the year 2000, the SLA sustained an unprecedented lossat Elephant Pass. The forward march of the LTTE was onlystalled due to the extremely valiant sacrifices of the SLAwho continued to hold Jaffna within the Muhamalai defencering but the SLA was in an extremely difficult position.Tigers were using the ruse of civilians looking forfirewood etc and infiltrating SLA territory to spy andlater launch attacks on the military. The soldier going tothe bush to answer a call of nature in the morning had noguarantee of ever returning. On most days the soldierscould only have food in the morning for the entire day dueto the sheer number of attacks launched by the LTTE intothe defence ring. Apart from four, the entire 24 memberstrong OSP team received injuries through such attackswhile five members died. Those injured resumed duties evenbefore their wounds had the time to heal properly. Theyfought under the direst circumstances most often withoutproper food or sleep for weeks on end. It was a team offour including Sunil who went into the enemy territory tospy in order to liberate Chavakatcheri. Appreciating thevaliant efforts of Sunil in this regard he was awarded theRana Shoora Padakkama in 2001.
Civilians had left Muhammalai area due to the incessantmortar falling on their houses as well as being sandwichedbetween the fire exchanges of the two warring parties. SLA soldiers stationed in the Mirusuwil farm watta areawere in fact located only about 1.5 km from theterrorists’ defence ring. In that area there were onlyabandoned houses due to the incessant firing from bothparties. Civilians were absolutely barred from enteringthe Mirusuwil farm area due to the fact that terroristsdressed in civilian clothes had a habit of infiltratingthe SLA defence area under the pretext of collectingfirewood or collecting fruit, vegetables etc; some ofthese so-called ‘civilians’ attacked the SLA soldierswhile others spied on their locations which came underLTTE attack shortly after. Sunil and his team matesreceived numerous injuries through mortar fire from thesefake civilians.
There was no age limit to the LTTE recruitment ofsoldiers; some cadres were as young as five or six yearsold while seventy to eighty year old cadres dressed insarong carrying a Kalashnikov were also employed by theLTTE. There was no gender preference to the LTTE; men,women, girls and boys were deployed in the war in aruthless manner. Then again, the International Communityand the UN and Human Rights wallahs know this already.
It was in this environment that the said ‘mirusuvilmassacre’ occurred. 8 ‘civilians’ out of a group of 9 whoventured into the SLA camp area allegedly looking forfirewood were killed, allegedly by Corporate Sunil. The ‘crime’ was reported by Maheswaran, allegedly one of thegroup of 9 ‘civilians’. In a Hollywood movie-worthy ‘escape’ from SLA detention, Maheswaran not only lived totell the tale but also to give the final piece of evidenceto send Corporal Sunil to the gallows! Why Maheswaran andhis co-civilians disregarded the ban on entering thesecurity zone is not clear.
Maheswaran alleged that some people ‘dressed in clothessimilar to that worn by the SLA’ beat the group of 9Tamils and tied their eyes with a strip of clothing.Apparently, then he was thrown over a fence by someone(supposedly a SLA soldier) whence the clothing that wastied across his eyes got entangled on one or more of thefence poles and got removed. How a band of clothing tiedacross someone’s eyes gets caught up in a fence pole andgets removed with no injury to the eye is also not clear.That is how he saw what was happening and who was involvedthus leading to the identification of the ‘perpetrator’, Sunil. After that he was being escorted towards (nowwithout the blindfold) a sewage pit where he allegedlyheard someone struggling in the pit. Scared, Maheswaran,allegedly, ran away. How easy it was for him to get awayfrom a group of men dressed in clothes that are similar toSLA clothing” while the other 8 succumbed is not clear.Maheswaran who allegedly succeeded in out-running the SLAsoldiers, who were chasing him in the dark, reached hishome. He was back at the site with the local EDPD membersand Human Rights representatives in the area within fourdays and found evidence that suggested that a goat hadbeen skinned near the pit while there were no dead bodies.Later, upon pressure put on the then Army Commissioner bylocal EDPD, the military Police was assigned the job ofinvestigating Maheswaran’s claim. The investigating teamof the military Police led by Major Sydney Soysa arrestedfive soldiers including Sunil. Major Soysa’s team laterexhumed the 8 bodies of the victims which included a fiveyear old child’s body. Major Soysa also presented to thecourt a few bicycles said to be belonging to the victimsfound in the sewage pit.
The soldiers accused in return that the Military Policerecorded certain ‘facts’ given upon duress which saw the 5top soldiers undergo a prison term of 2 years and 11months. Soldiers claim that Maheswaran came to their campwith Major Soysa and that they never took Soysa and hismen to show any graves or bicycles. The soldiers claimthat the sheer pressure exerted by EDPD which was a powerto recon with in the area at the time plus the rigorouscampaigning of the Uthayan newspaper, meant that theMilitary Police had to arrest SOMEONE to ease the pressureput on them.
The case lingered on for the next 13 years; according tothe MR Government due to lack of evidence- which in itselfis a violation of the accused soldiers’ rights. What isnot clear is why the case was not thrown out if there wasa lack of evidence of a sufficient quality to condemn theaccused. Should not the five soldiers’ seek redress forthe breach of their rights? Justice must be done not onlyto the victim but also to the accused.
Then, in 2015 ‘evidence’ of the necessary qualityobviously materialised as Sunil was sentenced to deathwhile the other 4 were released due to a lack of evidence.At this point in time, Maheswaran’s evidence was that heONLY saw Sunil at the time he was arrested by SLA atMirusuvil. I believe that as a criminal matter the courtrequired evidence ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. Was thisstandard met? The Government needs to release thesedetails to the Sri Lankan public before they hang thissoldier to allay the justifiable fears of the public!
The case against these soldiers, was dragged through thecourts for 13 years and the lawyer’s fee of Rs25,000 perhearing was paid by the accused SLA soldiers by putting inRs 5,000 each from their meagre wages. In some months whenthe case was heard several times in court these soldiershave had to pawn their family jewellery and property etc.
With so many unanswered questions regarding thisconviction President Sirisena cannot give a command toexecute this heroic soldier.
Sunil is the father of a toddler who will never really know the father who went forth valiantly to protect thecountry from a vile terrorist and was put to death as theultimate reward! Sunil’s now destitute wife has written aletter to the President asking for mercy for her husband.
Sunil’s young brother is collecting 100,000 signatures for a petition asking for a pardon for his ranawirubrother.
There is no better time than this if the President wantsto seek endearment of the kind that he wants from his people; showing mercy to this heroic soldier whocontributed much to stop the blood flowing in the countrywill earn President Sirisena a place of merit in theannals of country’s history! On the contrary, if he allowsthis soldier be made a scape goat in the Tamil separatistappeasement game which resumed in Sri Lanka on the 8January thus year, History will not forgive him!
If the reward for fighting for your country at the timeof its dire need is a death sentence and poverty and painto your family NO sane man or woman would join the ArmedForces to fight; nor should they. These young sons of thesoil went to fight a brutal war while the honourablejudges and the not so honourable politicians slept soundlyin their comfortable beds.
Even if the ‘victims’ were in fact ‘civilians’ and thissoldier is guilty of killing all 8 of them single-handed, he was only doing his job under the most difficultcircumstances imaginable. Under such circumstances and ata young age of about 23 this soldier is entitled to make amistake; it is only human. The soldier went out of hisbunker in the morning to protect his country. On the otherhand NO LTTE criminal who went out with the sole purposeof killing as many civilians as possible has so far beenconvicted! What sort of justice is this? PresidentSirisena pardoned Sea Tigress Murugesu Bahirathi on 13March 2015 even though she was instrumental in large scalekilling of civilians. The LTTE cadre who carried out theDehiwala train bombing and killed 64 civilians wassentenced to 10 years in prison. Kumaran Pathmanathan wasthe logistics chief of the LTTE killing spree for yearsbut the Courts just confirmed that there is no evidence toconvict him. Karuna Amman who killed scores of civiliansand over 700 surrendered police personnel was neverproduced in a court of law. Why the difference intreatment? Is a Tamil human life more precious than thatof a Sinhala human life?
Tamils as a community allowed their leaders to wage a waragainst a sovereign country either by directparticipation/ encouragement or through tacit apathy! Inmy view they do not have the moral right to complain abouttheir ‘civilians’ if any were killed. Those who take uparms die by arms- those who instigate war are doomed todie by war! You can’t wage a war and protect yourcivilians at the same time! Non-Tamils, especially theSinhalese who did not instigate this war, sufferedinnumerable civilian deaths- they have no recourse tojustice for those deaths. There are no Human Rightschampions to shed tears for them and no court in Sri Lankais prepared to hear their cases. No war should grantimmunity from harm to civilians from one ethnic groupwhich is not available to the civilians from other ethnicgroups.
War hero Sunil Ratnayaka went forth and fought a battlefor Sri Lanka at a time when for all intents and purposesSri Lanka was losing the battle to LTTE. He came forwardwhen thousands of soldiers were abandoning the Forces dueto the futility they could see in their effort. If we sitback and allow Sunil to die at the hands of a Governmenthell-bent on appeasing the LTTE we would have the blood ofa great war hero on our hands!
I urge all patriotic Sri Lankan organisations allover the world to speak for Sunil at this juncture ofhis need! We owe that much to HIM!
I thank ‘Rivira’ journalist Tissa Ravindra Perera,defence columnist Shamindra Ferdinando and various SunilRatnayaka support groups for the facts contained in thisarticle!