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Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne gives evidence at Truth Commission

by Ananda Kannangara

Nawa Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) leader Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne giving evidence at the Presidential Truth Commission (PTC) said on Monday that the NSSP, JVP and a section of the Communist party were proscribed by the then UNP Government alleging that Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Leenus Jayathilaka, A.K Annamalai, Rohana Wijeweera and he (Dr. Karunaratne) had organised the communal riots which erupted in many parts of the country on July 23, 1983.

The PTC on 1983 Ethnic Violence resumed its sittings on Monday at the BMICH where NSSP Leader Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratna made submissions. The commission was presided over by retired Chief Justice S. Sharvananda comprised President's Counsel M.M. Zuhair and President's Counsel S.S. Sahabandu. State Counsel A.H.M.D. Nawaz led evidence, Dr. Karunaratne further said:

" The proscription of our party and two other political parties were announced over the radio on July 29 and in the print media the following day".

"Although the Government unnecessarily accused us, we knew that riots had started due to the killing of 13 Sinhalese soldiers by Tamil militants and the bringing of the bodies from Jaffna to Colombo for burial. So, as there was no other alternative. All of us including Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Rohana Wijeweera, my self and many others went into hiding fearing for our lives".

"We were in hiding from 1983 to 1985 and the proscription was lifted at the end of 1985. During that period we had to undergo immense hardships and we couldn't even visit our families".

When State Counsel Nawaz asked whether he took a correct decision by going into hiding at a time when the Government had proscribed his party Dr. Karunaratne said that it was a correct decision taken by all considering the possible danger to their lives.

"The Government proscribed our party due to various reasons. We stand for the rights and self determination of the Tamil people as we are sympathizers of the LTTE. As we know the LTTE wanted separation, therefore the then Government thought that the NSSP organised the riots in the South in order to facilitate Tamil separation".

"One Prof. Ratnasekara openly said that our party was responsible for the riots."

"Prof. Ratnasekara had also said that I organised the riots and Vasudeva and Wijeweera supplied the people".

"But we did the opposite of it. We went round the country trying to protect the victims and also organised refugee camps too. Meanwhile, we transported victimised people to refugee camps and supplied them with food".

"They thought that I was the mastermind behind the riots. They were under the impression that I had prepared the plan of the attack and diesel was supplied by Vasudeva and Wijeweera".

"We came out from hiding in 1985 with the help of Vijaya Kumaratunga, Sarath Muttetuwegama and Prof. Carlo Fonseka and thereafter we were taken to the fourth floor of the CID ".

"Our party was for rights of self determination for Tamils and it stands for Tamil liberation. Therefore, they thought that we had links with the LTTE to divide the state and separate the Sinhalese and Tamils. So on that basis they said that we masterminded the riots".

When State Counsel Nawaz asked whether the self determination of the Tamils was a part of the NSSP manifesto Dr. Karunaratne said that they advocated that in 1974 when they were a faction of the LSSP.

"We advocated the right of self determination for the Tamil speaking people".

"As according to our Marxist theory, nationalities cannot be kept together by force. They can be kept together only by mutual understanding between communities. So every nation has right to be treated equally in language, religion and culture".

At this juncture when State Counsel Nawaz asked the witness the reason for him to get involved in politics leaving his academic career as a lecturer of the University Mr. Karunaratna said that his only desire was to sacrifice his life in the service of the mother land while doing a service to the University too.

"In 1986, we were invited for the round table conference chaired by former President J.R. Jayewardene with the objective of stopping the war."

When asked for his views about the massacre which took place in the Welikada remand prison where around 55 Tamil prisoners were killed by fellow Sinhala prisoners, Dr. Karunaratne said that the then Government should take the sole responsibility for this killing since it took place at a time when those prisoners were in state custody.

Dr. Karunartana also blamed the then Government for not taking immediate action to stop communal violence from spreading.

"The rioters on that day behaved in an unruly manner and even the law enforcement officers too did not take any action to stop the rioters who rampaged in the streets.

When asked about his suggestions for solving the ethnic conflict Dr. Karunaratna said he was happy about the Government's current peace initiatives because they would immensely help to resolve this unending problem.

"We always admire the devolution process and it was we who agitated from the start for solving this matter through devolution of power."

"Meanwhile, the education system too must be changed according to the needs of all communities".

"English education must be developed to a greater extent for the benefit of children of all communities in the country. For this a separate Ministry must also be created to handle the subject of English education", Dr. Karunaratne added.

Further hearing was put off for April 9.

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