The real story behind the ‘Mirisuvil massacre’ needs to come out
(This article firstly released in 2015)
War hero Ratnayaka Mudiyanselage Sunil Ratnayaka is on death row at the age of just 38 for the crime of protecting 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 Sri Lanka 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 from the 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 the motherland! 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 large amounts 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 the 6th 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 Air Mobile Brigade of the SLA. The Air Mobile Brigade, also known a the Maha Sohon Balakaya” is a formation of the Sri Lanka Army that is a rapid deployment (LRRP) force highly trained and equipped to respond by air, land or by sea as required at 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 along the rebel held territory to near-suicide missions these soldiers walked the razor’s edge every day and became one of 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 Maha Sohon Balakaya!
For a fuller account of the dismal state the country was in 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 on terror 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 destroyed three Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) during a confrontation close to Puliyankulam. The MBTs were spearheading the SLA’s largest ever ground offensive codenamed Jayasikuru launched on May 13, 1997 to link-up with the SLA deployed at Kilinochchi to restore the Kandy-Jaffna A9 overland Main Supply Route (MSR) to Jaffna. Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte remained confident of completing the operation swiftly. But, by the third week of August, 1997, the SLA felt it could no longer sustain the offensive. A section of the officers believed that three devastating counter-attacks launched by the LTTE in June and July made their task impossible. Still the political leadership insisted that the SLA complete its mission (Tigers target tanks in fierce north battle––The Island Aug 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 dire straits. Having lost about 1,000 men, including some experienced young frontline officers, the Jayasikuru offensive was about to collapse. However, the SLA placed the number killed at 722 and wounded at 4,400 during phase I 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, which most of us now seem to have forgotten, can be summarised here courtesy of Shamindra Ferdinando War on terror revisited: Jayasikuru called off, new military adventure launched”- October 17, 2012 as follows:
- Sept. 1998- the LTTE dislodged the SLA from Kilinochchi which had been liberated in Sept. 1996.
- Troops engaged in Operation Sath Jaya and sustained heavy losses to bring Kilinochchi under government control.The then Director of Information revealed that bodies of over 400 SLA personnel killed in the Kilinochchi-Paranthan theatre were received by the ICRC on behalf of the GoSL (400 bodies of soldiers handed over to ICRC––The Island Oct 1, 1998).
- SLA troops re-positioned themselves at Paranthan having vacated Mankulam and Kilinochchi in mid 1990 on President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s watch.
- With the shocking battlefield defeat at Elephant Pass, the PA was forced to admit that restoring the Main Supply Route (MSR) to Jaffna was no longer feasible (Troops capture Mankulam with strap line Kilinochchi troops vacate positions––The Island Oct 1, 1998).
- The censorship prevented the media from reporting what was going on in the Vanni. But, sometimes the Competent Authority approved news items, which highlighted the actual ground situation. Eg. the Island published the following front-page report captioned (Another 74 bodies of soldiers handed over––The Island Oct. 3, 1998), approved by the Competent Authority: The LTTE yesterday handed over another 74 bodies of SLA personnel killed in fighting at Kilinochchi through the ICRC to the SLA at Poovarasankulam, Vavuniya. Altogether 684 bodies have been transferred by the ICRC from Mallavi in the LTTE-held area to the SLA-held area, whereas the SLA returned the bodies of 12 LTTE cadres.”
- On the morning of Oct 12, 1998, President Kumaratunga met the SLA top leaders in a desperate attempt to round up deserters for re-deployment on the front. The latest hunt for deserters was launched soon after at least 1,000 soldiers were killed in battles in the Kilinochchi-Paranthan sector and Mankulam.
- On Dec 2, 1998, the PA called off Operation Jayasikuru to pave the way for a new offensive Rivi Bala.
- In March 1999, the SLA brought more territory under its control west of the A9.
- March 17, 1999- The LTTE fired several rounds of artillery at the Thallady army camp on inflicting heavy damage on it. The SLA lost 19 personnel and five civilian employees.
- On March 19, 1999, the SLA launched an operation to liberate the Madhu Church area. Madhu was regained by Operation Ranagosa III.
- Within a week after the liberation of the Madhu area, the LTTE triggered a claymore mine blast at Moondumurippu in the newly liberated area killing four SLAF personnel.
- Operation Ranagosa further weakened the SLA’s presence in the Vanni; in a sense, it spread three Divisions of troops thin on the ground.
- In June 1999, the LTTE stepped up activity targeting Weli Oya. At Mirusuvil, Jaffna, the LTTE blasted an eighty KVA diesel operated generator at the rural hospital.
- In the second week of Sept 1999, Ranagosa troops ran into stiff resistance when they pushed ahead of their positions. The SLA withdrew in the face of heavy attacks. The SLA top brass downplayed the debacle, though senior officers privately admitted that the LTTE was poised for a massive onslaught on the SLA (LTTE hands over bodies of 15 soldiers to ICRC––The Island Sept 15, 1999).
- On July 6, 1999, exactly at 2.05 p.m, an artillery round landed inside the Weli Oya Brigade headquarters. It was the beginning of a sustained artillery attack on that military facility. For about two hours, Minister Ratwatte, Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera, Air vice Marshal Weerakkody, Lt. Gen. Weerassoriya, IGP Lucky Kodituwakku, Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and DIG Lionel Karunasena were trapped in the Weli Oya bunkers (Pause in artillery strike on Weli Oya Brigade HQ allows defence topbrass to escape––The Island July 10, 1996).
By 2000, the OSP team to which Sunil belonged was in Jaffna. Each and every one of the six soldiers that were accused of the so-called ‘Mirusuvil massacre’ were themselves injured many times over during the operations and had come back to serve the country even before their injuries healed properly. Sunil Ratnayaka was injured during the Jaya sikurui movement at Mankulam operation. He sustained horrific injuries from an enemy mortar on his face which broke some of his teeth and damaged the facial structure. He also sustained injuries to the back and legs. This team was tasked with the death defying task of entering kilometres into the enemy territory, find exact locations of terrorist bunkers and come back alive in order to deliver precision attacks on the enemy.
In the year 2000, the SLA sustained an unprecedented loss at Elephant Pass. The forward march of the LTTE was only stalled due to the extremely valiant sacrifices of the SLA who continued to hold Jaffna within the Muhamalai defence ring but the SLA was in an extremely difficult position. Tigers were using the ruse of civilians looking for firewood etc and infiltrating SLA territory to spy and later launch attacks on the military. The soldier going to the bush to answer a call of nature in the morning had no guarantee of ever returning. On most days the soldiers could only have food in the morning for the entire day due to the sheer number of attacks launched by the LTTE into the defence ring. Apart from four, the entire 24 member strong OSP team received injuries through such attacks while five members died. Those injured resumed duties even before their wounds had the time to heal properly. They fought under the direst circumstances most often without proper food or sleep for weeks on end. It was a team of four including Sunil who went into the enemy territory to spy in order to liberate Chavakatcheri. Appreciating the valiant efforts of Sunil in this regard he was awarded the Rana Shoora Padakkama in 2001.
Civilians had left Muhammalai area due to the incessant mortar falling on their houses as well as being sandwiched between the fire exchanges of the two warring parties. SLA soldiers stationed in the Mirusuwil farm watta area were in fact located only about 1.5 km from the terrorists’ defence ring. In that area there were only abandoned houses due to the incessant firing from both parties. Civilians were absolutely barred from entering the Mirusuwil farm area due to the fact that terrorists dressed in civilian clothes had a habit of infiltrating the SLA defence area under the pretext of collecting firewood or collecting fruit, vegetables etc; some of these so-called ‘civilians’ attacked the SLA soldiers while others spied on their locations which came under LTTE attack shortly after. Sunil and his team mates received numerous injuries through mortar fire from these fake civilians.
There was no age limit to the LTTE recruitment of soldiers; some cadres were as young as five or six years old while seventy to eighty year old cadres dressed in sarong carrying a Kalashnikov were also employed by the LTTE. There was no gender preference to the LTTE; men, women, girls and boys were deployed in the war in a ruthless manner. Then again, the International Community and the UN and Human Rights wallahs know this already.
It was in this environment that the said ‘mirusuvil massacre’ occurred. 8 ‘civilians’ out of a group of 9 who ventured into the SLA camp area allegedly looking for firewood were killed, allegedly by Corporate Sunil. The ‘crime’ was reported by Maheswaran, allegedly one of the group of 9 ‘civilians’. In a Hollywood movie-worthy ‘escape’ from SLA detention, Maheswaran not only lived to tell the tale but also to give the final piece of evidence to send Corporal Sunil to the gallows! Why Maheswaran and his co-civilians disregarded the ban on entering the security zone is not clear.
Maheswaran alleged that some people ‘dressed in clothes similar to that worn by the SLA’ beat the group of 9 Tamils 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 was tied across his eyes got entangled on one or more of the fence poles and got removed. How a band of clothing tied across someone’s eyes gets caught up in a fence pole and gets removed with no injury to the eye is also not clear. That is how he saw what was happening and who was involved thus leading to the identification of the ‘perpetrator’, Sunil. After that he was being escorted towards (now without the blindfold) a sewage pit where he allegedly heard someone struggling in the pit. Scared, Maheswaran, allegedly, ran away. How easy it was for him to get away from a group of men dressed in clothes that are similar to SLA clothing” while the other 8 succumbed is not clear. Maheswaran who allegedly succeeded in out-running the SLA soldiers, who were chasing him in the dark, reached his home. He was back at the site with the local EDPD members and Human Rights representatives in the area within four days and found evidence that suggested that a goat had been skinned near the pit while there were no dead bodies. Later, upon pressure put on the then Army Commissioner by local EDPD, the military Police was assigned the job of investigating Maheswaran’s claim. The investigating team of the military Police led by Major Sydney Soysa arrested five soldiers including Sunil. Major Soysa’s team later exhumed the 8 bodies of the victims which included a five year old child’s body. Major Soysa also presented to the court a few bicycles said to be belonging to the victims found in the sewage pit.
The soldiers accused in return that the Military Police recorded certain ‘facts’ given upon duress which saw the 5 top soldiers undergo a prison term of 2 years and 11 months. Soldiers claim that Maheswaran came to their camp with Major Soysa and that they never took Soysa and his men to show any graves or bicycles. The soldiers claim that the sheer pressure exerted by EDPD which was a power to recon with in the area at the time plus the rigorous campaigning of the Uthayan newspaper, meant that the Military Police had to arrest SOMEONE to ease the pressure put on them.
The case lingered on for the next 13 years; according to the MR Government due to lack of evidence- which in itself is a violation of the accused soldiers’ rights. What is not clear is why the case was not thrown out if there was a lack of evidence of a sufficient quality to condemn the accused. Should not the five soldiers’ seek redress for the breach of their rights? Justice must be done not only to the victim but also to the accused.
Then, in 2015 ‘evidence’ of the necessary quality obviously materialised as Sunil was sentenced to death while the other 4 were released due to a lack of evidence. At this point in time, Maheswaran’s evidence was that he ONLY saw Sunil at the time he was arrested by SLA at Mirusuvil. I believe that as a criminal matter the court required evidence ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. Was this standard met? The Government needs to release these details to the Sri Lankan public before they hang this soldier to allay the justifiable fears of the public!
The case against these soldiers, was dragged through the courts for 13 years and the lawyer’s fee of Rs25,000 per hearing was paid by the accused SLA soldiers by putting in Rs 5,000 each from their meagre wages. In some months when the case was heard several times in court these soldiers have had to pawn their family jewellery and property etc.
With so many unanswered questions regarding this conviction President Sirisena cannot give a command to execute this heroic soldier.
Sunil is the father of a toddler who will never really know the father who went forth valiantly to protect the country from a vile terrorist and was put to death as the ultimate reward! Sunil’s now destitute wife has written a letter 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 ranawiru brother.
There is no better time than this if the President wants to seek endearment of the kind that he wants from his people; showing mercy to this heroic soldier who contributed much to stop the blood flowing in the country will earn President Sirisena a place of merit in the annals of country’s history! On the contrary, if he allows this soldier be made a scape goat in the Tamil separatist appeasement game which resumed in Sri Lanka on the 8 January thus year, History will not forgive him!
If the reward for fighting for your country at the time of its dire need is a death sentence and poverty and pain to your family NO sane man or woman would join the Armed Forces to fight; nor should they. These young sons of the soil went to fight a brutal war while the honourable judges and the not so honourable politicians slept soundly in their comfortable beds.
Even if the ‘victims’ were in fact ‘civilians’ and this soldier is guilty of killing all 8 of them single-handed, he was only doing his job under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Under such circumstances and at a young age of about 23 this soldier is entitled to make a mistake; it is only human. The soldier went out of his bunker in the morning to protect his country. On the other hand NO LTTE criminal who went out with the sole purpose of killing as many civilians as possible has so far been convicted! What sort of justice is this? President Sirisena pardoned Sea Tigress Murugesu Bahirathi on 13 March 2015 even though she was instrumental in large scale killing of civilians. The LTTE cadre who carried out the Dehiwala train bombing and killed 64 civilians was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Kumaran Pathmanathan was the logistics chief of the LTTE killing spree for years but the Courts just confirmed that there is no evidence to convict him. Karuna Amman who killed scores of civilians and over 700 surrendered police personnel was never produced in a court of law. Why the difference in treatment? Is a Tamil human life more precious than that of a Sinhala human life?
Tamils as a community allowed their leaders to wage a war against a sovereign country either by direct participation/ encouragement or through tacit apathy! In my view they do not have the moral right to complain about their ‘civilians’ if any were killed. Those who take up arms die by arms- those who instigate war are doomed to die by war! You can’t wage a war and protect your civilians at the same time! Non-Tamils, especially the Sinhalese who did not instigate this war, suffered innumerable civilian deaths- they have no recourse to justice for those deaths. There are no Human Rights champions to shed tears for them and no court in Sri Lanka is prepared to hear their cases. No war should grant immunity from harm to civilians from one ethnic group which is not available to the civilians from other ethnic groups.
War hero Sunil Ratnayaka went forth and fought a battle for Sri Lanka at a time when for all intents and purposes Sri Lanka was losing the battle to LTTE. He came forward when thousands of soldiers were abandoning the Forces due to the futility they could see in their effort. If we sit back and allow Sunil to die at the hands of a Government hell-bent on appeasing the LTTE we would have the blood of a great war hero on our hands!
I urge all patriotic Sri Lankan organisations all over the world to speak for Sunil at this juncture of his need! We owe that much to HIM!
I thank ‘Rivira’ journalist Tissa Ravindra Perera, defence columnist Shamindra Ferdinando and various Sunil Ratnayaka support groups for the facts contained in this article!
By Ramanie de Zoysa