This is the second in the series on ‘grave miscarriages of justice at the hands of Police Chiefs’
Policing the Police
In January 1989, Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa rose to Executive Presidency pledging to solve the ethnic problem through Consultation, Compromise and Consensus. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who claimed to be the sole representatives of the Tamil People, accepted the President’s call, and peace talks began between the President and the LTTE.
LTTE cadres, however, committed acts of provocation against the security forces. These provocations, though humiliating, had to be tolerated by the security forces and the provocations grew in intensity to wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, abduction and hurt. “No confrontation at any cost”, remained the President’s command. The LTTE thereby got away with its provocations with impunity and gained an advantage over the security forces, who, of course, had no doubt about the LTTE intentions.
On June 11, 1990, while peace talks were still in progress in Colombo, Police stations in the East were surrounded by armed LTTE cadres who ordered the policemen under threat of death, to surrender their arms and vacate the police stations by 1500 hrs. Kalmunai ASP Ivan Boteju contacted his superiors, apprised them of the situation and ordered his men to take up position to defend the police stations. The LTTE, meanwhile, convinced the President that it was a misunderstanding and it would be sorted out. The President trusted the LTTE. – “No confrontation”, remained his orders.
Passing the deadline of 1500 hrs, the LTTE began attacking the 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, giving an assurance to the President that all policemen of Kalmunai, Akkarapattu and Pothuvil would be taken to Amparai and released, wanted the policemen to surrender. The president was prepared to sacrifice its arms and equipment and the policemen were ordered to comply with this proposition.
ASP 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 and Military support. “No confrontation” remained the orders of the President, personally conveyed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who was flown to the East with specific orders from the President.
ASP Boteju walked from Kalmunai Police Station with his men, sobbing and obeying. By way of deception, the LTTE took 324 policemen blindfolded to the Tirukkovil jungle instead of Amparai, got them to lie down facing the ground and massacred them in a most cowardly manner, spraying bullets into them.
In this connection, Ampara SP M.F. Noordeen, has placed on record his observations, which inter alia, said: “…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 follow. 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 I.G. Police spoke to me from Batticaloa and ordered to stop firing, and officers of Kalmunai to surrender to the LTTE like at Kalawanchikudi. By 1800hrs Police surrendered without assistance from anybody and thereafter lost communications…”
More than 300 policemen were similarly abducted from Batticaloa and Vavunya Districts after they surrendered on orders and were similarly massacred.
The Right of Private Defence is an undeniable right conferred on all persons by the law of the land. This right as enshrined in sections 89 and 90 and further elaborated in section 93 of the Penal Code, reads:
89 – “Nothing is an offence which is done in the exercise of the right of private defence.”
90 – “Every person has a right, subject to the restrictions contained in section 92, to defend.
Firstly – His own body, the body of any other person, against any offence affecting the human body; secondly, the property, whether movable or immovable, of himself or of any other person, against any act which is an offence under the definition of theft, robbery, mischief, or criminal trespass, or which is an attempt to commit…”
93 – The right of private defence of the body extends, under the restrictions mentioned in the last preceding section, to the voluntary causing of death or any other harm to the assailant, if the offence which occasions the exercise of the right be of any of the descriptions hereinafter enumerated, namely,
Such an assault as may reasonably cause apprehension that death will otherwise be the consequence of such assault; grievous hurt, kidnapping or Abduction, wrongful confinement,
Who then are the Executive President and the I.G. Police, to deny this Right of Private Defence?
The IGP clearly blundered when he complied with the President’s unlawful order. It is a pity that this episode fell to the lot of IGP Ernest Perera who had hitherto given decisive directions and stood by the actions of his subordinates and boosted the morale of the Police Force. SP Amparai too blundered when he in turn complied with the unlawful order of the IGP and did nothing to defend his men, knowing well that the policemen of Kalmunai “would be tortured if not killed,” if they surrendered. He not only had the right but was duty bound to exercise the right of private defence to defend his subordinates.
Action taken by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands War of April 1982, to send troops to regain the Falklands, and her justification of the action, is a precedent to follow: “We shall exercise our right to resort to force in self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter until the occupying forces leave the islands.” She did not wait for UN response in the Falklands issue at hand, knowing well it will be a negative response.
As ASP Trincomalee, I faced a similar situation during the 1983 Pogrom and the ensuing war. I had reliable information that an attack on the Kiliveddy Police Post was imminent. This Police Post under the supervision of Mutur Police, with a police sergeant placed in charge, had been hastily opened on orders of the Defence Ministry to contain internecine clashes between two rival Tamil groups.
It was housed in two rooms of a wayside boutique at the ferry-point on the brink of the river. The toilet facility was a common VC latrine about 300 meters from the post. The purpose for opening this post was no longer valid. In the context of the situation in hand, it had become a liability. There was no way to strengthen its defences in that place.
I intimated the situation to SSP Division and DIG/NCR and suggested withdrawing this post giving reasons, but they would not hear of it, saying it was a Defence Ministry order. I then spoke to the IGP who also said he could not approve its closure because it was a Defence Ministry Order.
I had to make a decision as it concerned the lives of the policemen apart from communication equipment and firearms. Having no other option, I exercised the right of private defence, Defence Ministry Orders notwithstanding, and withdrew men and material to Mutur Police that same evening and relayed messages to all concerned informing that: “the men and material of Kiliveddy Post were withdrawn temporarily till it can be secured, as there is no other option.” No questions were raised, nor was the police post ever reopened. Many years later, a new prototype police station building was put up and a regular police station opened in Kiliveddy.