‘The Saddest Day in Police History’
Twenty one years ago, today, 600 Policemen were murdered in
Eastern Sri Lanka in cold blood by the LTTE, on being ordered by the
Political Executive of those times to surrender to them.
This manifestation of LTTE savagery, coupled with the stunning
opportunism and naivete on the part of Sri Lanka’s political leadership
of those times is referred to by Senior-Superintendent of Police (Rtd)
Tassie Seneviratne as the ‘Saddest Day in Police History’, in his
recently published book ‘Human Rights and Policing - Reminiscences of My
Following are extracts from the book which vividly recall this
shocking and excruciating episode in local Police history
The biggest tragedy that the Police had ever suffered was the
massacre of over 600 Policemen who surrendered to the LTTE in obedience
to orders from the Executive President of Sri Lanka. President Premadasa
was overly keen to impress the international community by drawing
Prabhakaran to the negotiating table.
In a vulgar haste for personal glory, he was blinded to all lessons
learnt from Prabhakaran’s repeated intransigence, and the fate that
awaited the Policemen who were gallantly withstanding the terrorists’
onslaught. Ordering the Police to ceasefire would have been
understandable provided the ceasefire was mutual.
But to have given specific orders to the Police to comply with the
terrorists’ demand to lay down arms and allow the terrorists to
transport the Policemen to Ampara Police in vehicles controlled by the
terrorists, was the height of stupidity, and to have expected safe
passage for the Policemen, was the height of optimism.
Senior-Superintendent of Police (Rtd)
It was nothing short of a live offering of the gallant Policemen,
just to prove to Prabhakaran the extent to which President Premadasa
trusted him. With his trusted peace negotiator, Minister ACS Hameed
monitoring this entire episode and co-ordinating proceedings, the IGP
was left with no discretion but to comply with the President’s order to
carry out instructions as conveyed to him by Minister Hameed.
It has also been revealed that a couple of months prior to his order
to the IGP asking the Police to surrender, a large quantity of arms and
ammunition had been issued to the LTTE by the Sri Lanka Army on the
orders of President Premadasa, to fight the IPKF. These weapons were
used against the Sri Lanka Army when war broke out in June 1990.
Bradman Weerakoon who was Prime Minister Premadasa’s Secretary for
four years prior to his appointment as Presidential Advisor on
International Affairs since mid-1989, has gone on record saying that he
and the officials around President Premadasa were very much in the dark
about the whole affair relating to the delivery of the arms and
ammunition (Rendering unto Caesar - p 287). He also displays ignorance
of the fact that it was President Premadasa who ordered the Police to
surrender, and attributes the decision to IGP Ernest Perera. (Rendering
unto Caesar - p 290).
These two debacles alone point to the dishonesty with which President
Premadasa had been acting, going to the extent of even sacrificing the
lives of soldiers and Policemen, just to convince Prabhakaran of his
It is clear that he had been planning to deny the fact that he gave
the orders, when things backfired, and hence kept his much trusted
advisor on international affairs and other officials around him
completely in the dark and, deny he did when the inevitable took place.
Strenuous attempts are still being made to whitewash President
Premadasa’s heartless action and the subsequent cover-up attempts by the
stooges around him; but the truth must prevail.
On September 3, 1991, a Special Supplement was published for the
125th Anniversary celebrations of the Police. I wrote an account of this
tragedy for the Supplement. Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Senior
DIG Frank de Silva and the Editor of the Supplement, Senior DIG Merril
Gooneratne, at first required the approval of the IGP to publish my
article. I thereupon took it to the IGP Ernest Perera.
Having read through the article, the IGP passed it as a factually
correct account of events that took place and had no objection to it
being published. Still for all, the article was not carried in the
Supplement. It speaks to the sense of fear exuded by President Premadasa
over the people including senior officials. Subsequently I released it
to the media.
Having read my article, eminent lawyer R K W Gunasekere telephoned
and commended me for having the courage to expose the truth. The article
exposing gross violation of Human Rights by the LTTE, but had sadly
missed the attention of professed Human Rights advocates, is reproduced:
The Saddest Day - June 11, 1990
Seeds of Political Terrorism were sown in Sri Lanka since 1975. By
1987 Provinces of the North and East were engulfed by Terrorist
violence. As many as ten Terrorist groups took to arms against the
government to fight for a separate State of Eelam.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was the most powerful and
ruthless of these groups. Police stations became the main target and
with the sophisticated heavy arms the terrorists had acquired, Policemen
became sitting ducks.
This resulted in too many Policemen showing reluctance to serve in
the North and East. To overcome this problem, North and East were
declared operational areas and a special allowance was paid as an
incentive to officers serving in these areas. This however was not
commensurate with the risk to life, and the reluctance to serve in
operational areas remained a problem.
A policy of compulsory service in operational areas was next
formulated to overcome the problem. Furthermore, units of the Army and,
the Special Task Force (STF) which is the elite Commando Unit of the
Police Force, were placed at or near vulnerable Police Stations to
assist the Police in their defences.
In January 1989 Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa rose to Executive
Presidency pledging to solve the ethnic problem through consultation,
compromise and consensus. Resolutely he kept inviting all parties and
groups for peace talks. In April 1989, the LTTE accepted the President’s
call and peace talks commenced between the government and the LTTE.
The government was sincere in its peace offer and instructed the
Police and the Armed Services in the North and East to avoid
confrontations with the LTTE. Army and STF Units, which were located at
or near Police Stations to assist the Police in their defences, were
withdrawn as part of the peace package. Groups of Liberation Tigers
however committed acts of provocation against the Security Forces.
These provocations, though humiliating, had to be tolerated by the
Security Forces and in several cases the provocations grew in intensity
to wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, abduction and hurt. “No
confrontation at any cost”, remained the command, on the understanding
that the LTTE Leadership would sort out matters.
The LTTE was given a chance to bring its cadres, who were hitherto
fighting from the jungles, under some sort of discipline. These Tiger
groups thereby got away with their provocations with impunity and gained
a preponderance over the security forces who of course had no doubt
about the Tiger intentions.
Thus the LTTE built up their army - They built bunkers and collected
all the logistical needs for war. Bunkers were built even within firing
range of security establishments - the excuse being, to defend
themselves if attacked!
On June 11, 1990 while peace talks were still in progress in Colombo,
and the STF was providing security to the LTTE housed in five star
hotels, Police Stations in the East were surrounded by armed cadres of
the LTTE who ordered the Policemen under threat of death to surrender
their arms and vacate the Police Stations. The duteous Policemen found
themselves on the horns of a dilemma.
Ivan Boteju, ASP Kalmunai, who by this time had long completed his
compulsory spell in the operational area, had volunteered to carry on as
no one was willing to take his place.
It was only in November 1989 that he and his men faced a severe
attack from the Tamil National Army (TNA) with mortars, rocket propelled
grenades and automatic weapons. In that attack which lasted from 17th to
23rd November, 06 soldiers from the Army unit which augmented the Police
defence were killed and several Policemen injured. Ivan Boteju and his
men however had fought back gallantly and repulsed that attack.
And now they had to face this new and paradoxical situation. I van
Boteju contacted his superiors for orders and in the meantime ordered
his men to take up positions to defend the Police Stations if attacked.
The LTTE leaders however, convinced the Government in Colombo that it is
a misunderstanding, and gave an assurance that it will be sorted out.
The Government trusted the LTTE Leadership. “No confrontation” remained
Passing the deadline of 1500 hrs the LTTE commenced attacking
Kalmunai Police Station and the Policemen returned fire in defence.
Volleys of fire and defiant words were exchanged for three and a half
hours. At this stage the LTTE hierarchy giving an assurance to the
Government that all Policemen of Kalmunai, Akkaraipattu and Pothuvil
will be taken to Amparai and released, wanted the Policemen to
The Government was prepared to sacrifice its arms and equipment and
the Policemen were ordered to comply with this proposition. Ivan Boteju
and his men however were not willing to surrender and protested
insisting that they “would be tortured if not killed” and opting to face
the LTTE attack requested Air support and Military cover.
“No confrontation” remained the orders of the President, personally
conveyed by the IG Police who was flown to the East with the specific
orders from H E the President. Ivan Boteju, an athletic great of the
fifties, smart and always spick and span, walked from the Police Station
with his men - this time his head hanging low, unbuttoned shirt hanging
out, sobbing and obeying.
By way of deception the LTTE Tigers took 324 Policemen to the
Tirukkovil jungles instead of Amparai, blindfolded them, tied their
hands to their backs, got them to lie down facing the ground and
massacred them in a most cowardly manner, spraying bullets into them.
In this connection SP Amparai M F Noordeen has placed on record inter
alia thus: “.... At 1530 hrs contacted S/DIG Crimes and Ops and briefed
about the prevailing situation in Kalmunai and sought instructions
whether to evacuate Kalmunai also. I was told that instructions will
At 1555 hrs the LTTE started attacking Kalmunai Police Station with
mortars. All efforts to obtain air support and artillery support failed
up to 1720 hrs. At this time IG Police spoke to me from Batticaloa and
ordered to stop firing, and officers of Kalmunai to surrender to the
LTTE like at Kalawanchikudi.
By 1800 hrs Police surrendered without any assistance from anybody
and thereafter lost communications...”
Though no professed advocate of Human Rights has so far protested on
behalf of the Policemen, an old Tamil farmer who had seen the whole
carnage strongly disapproves of what the Tigers did. I met this good man
and he related to me the ghastly story. He concluded the story swearing
that god Muruga (god Kataragama) is greatly disturbed and will avenge
the inhuman massacre of those forlorn human beings.
Many a cynic, now with hind-sight, speaks of several options that
were available to the Policemen. What has to be appreciated is that in
spite of their own apprehensions, Ivan Boteju and the Policemen of
Kalmunai gave their whole hearted co-operation to the government which
pledged to find a peaceful solution.
The Government demonstrated its TRUST in the Tigers as TRUST was
believed to be an essential commodity towards a peaceful solution of the
ethnic conflict. This however was at the expense of the lives of the
Policemen, and that is the charge.
Over another 300 policemen were similarly abducted from Batticaloa
and Vavuniya Districts after they surrendered on orders and were
June 11, 1990 would go on record as the saddest day in the history of
the Sri Lanka Police Force as we celebrate its 125th anniversary on this
3rd day of September 1991.
Courtesy - Human Rights Policing, Reminiscences of my Police Day