Posted on September 20th, 2020


In both JVP insurgencies, 1971 and 1987, JVP tried to infiltrate all four security services, police, army, navy and air force.  The 1971 insurgency this was not very successful in this. Only about ten persons became   JVP supporters in each of the four services in 1971 said Chandraprema., Some joined the JVP when the insurgency ended.  However, Godahewa observed that several members of the armed forces were recruited into the JVP and used very discreetly.

Wijeweera had tried to recruit   army personnel who were thought to be loyal to SLFP, but they were not interested.  Wijeweera was more successful with the navy. Wijeweera targeted the Sri Lanka navy from the very beginning. A list of navy personnel were submitted to him by a contact.   Wijeweera met this group at Trincomalee navy base and spoke to them,   probably in 1965. And a group of JVP navy men” was created. Many naval personnel attended the JVP classes in 1966 and 1967. Naval ratings who were close to Wijeweera were among the instructors at the JVP training camps.

Able Seaman H.M. Tillekeratne was the ‘Coordinating Officer’ between the Navy and the JVP, and the JVP was planning to appoint him as North-East commander if they seized power.     He was in the habit of regularly travelling between the Elara Camp and the Trincomalee Naval Base.  He was conducting political classes for some Navy personnel. 

The notion that in 1971 the JVP was only interested in taking over police stations is incorrect. This was only a cover. Even then, the target was the armed forces and the military installations. During the 1971 insurgency, JVP took over the Anuradhapura air strip and was eyeing the one at Vavuniya. JVP planned to establish military units in each police area in the country. 

JVP was also planning to take over Trincomalee by sending JVPers parading as football players to start the insurgency there. Towards the end of March, 1971, the Trincomalee Naval Base received a letter from the Peradeniya University requesting to arrange a football match between university students and Navy personnel on the naval base grounds n Trincomalee on April 5. The letter also requested the Navy to arrange for the university team to spend the night at the base, since it was difficult for them to return to Peradeniya the same day after the match.

The naval authorities were wary.  The Navy decided it was not safe to allow a football match between the Navy and University team at Trincomalee. The university authorities were informed that the naval base grounds could not be given for the match.

JVP planned to take over the navy bases in Jaffna or at least their weapons. Sailors who supported the JVP has been posted to the armories there. Within 48 hours of the JVP uprising Superintendent of Police Jaffna, received a message from Colombo of a suspected move to put sleeping tablets into the water filters at the Elara Camp’s officers mess. The police took immediate action. They arrested Tillekeratne and after a squirmish, shot him dead.

After Tillekeratne’s death, police searched his personal belongings and found secret documents, and several bottles of sleeping tablets which were to be put into the water filters of the Elara Camp’s officers’ mess. Tillekeratne’s plan was to seize all weapons and ammunition from the camp’s magazine, before joining his JVP comrades, after making naval officers unconscious.”

Since the army and navy had refused to go over to the JVP wholesale, it was necessary to somehow put them out of action during the 1971 insurgency. JVP had planned to put laxatives and sleeping pills into the food in the army and navy camps.  They   were   going to introduce an ayurvedic laxative, japala seeds, which tasted like coffee. If taken in excess it could even cause death by dehydration. This was known as the ‘japala plot’. The army was aware that something of the sort had been planned. Around March 1971 army officers who were in camp had heard that there was a threat to poison them, said one commentary.

One of the tasks assigned to the JVP in 1987-89 was to    weaken the Sri Lanka army and divert military attention away from the Eelam war. The first targets of the JVP in 1987 were, therefore, armed forces and police.

JVP planned this well. An Increasing number of youth were reported,   when arrested, in 1987, to have in their possession detailed maps of army camps, important government institutions, and residences of government politicians. One youth had several maps of the Panagoda army camp. It was obvious that JVP   was planning large scale strike against the state, noted Chandraprema.

Saman Piyasiri, head of the DJV, had plans of vital military installations, photographs and documents, in his house when he was taken into custody.  The photos included installation of the military police headquarters Sri Lanka.

JVP launched their attacks on military establishments at the height of the Eelam wars. On 15 April 1987, JVP attacked the Pallekele Army Camp in Kandy. Lead by a former soldier, under the directions of Shantha Bandara. JVP successfully raided Pallekelle and took off with firearms and ammunition. JVP   seized 12 Type 56 assault rifles, seven sub-machine guns and ammunition. The daring and ingenuity of the Pallekelle raid in early hours of New Year day showed the imprint of a well organized movement, said Godahewa. 

When the 1987 Vadamarachchi campaign was turning out well, three days after the Indian ‘parippu’ drop, JVP launched two armed attacks on the Katunayake air force base and Kotelawala Defence Academy,  removing a valuable haul of weapons from each.  They had support inside the Air force base    and were able to take away eleven T56 and 15 submachine guns.

 In Oct 1987 JVP  attacked Kallar army camp in Trincomalee and  after a   20 minute gun battle, over ran the camp and took away a huge amount of  weapons, six T56, three LMG spare barrels,  This was the JVP ‘s Largest haul of weapons to date. The Kallar army camp was near Mahindapura in Serunuwara in the Kantalai police division

In Jan 1988 JVP attacked the army training camp at Kumbukke in Horana. In April 1988 there was a second attack on Katunayake Air Base and JVP took away weapons and ammunition. In November 1988 JVP attacked the Pannala National Air Force training camp .The arms haul from Pannala was bigger than those from Kallar. At Pannala JVP was helped by an air force deserter.   There was also an unsuccessful attack on Panagoda army camp.

In the period 1987-1989, soldiers were killed not only by the LTTE but also by the JVP. JVP targeted and   killed members of the armed forces. In 1988, a soldier of Gemunu watch was beheaded when he was on leave at Weeraketiya. In 1989 two soldiers were knifed at Tyre Corporation,  two NIB officers were gunned down in Timbirigasyaya  and a soldier who came to celebrate New Year at Navagamuwa was killed on his way to see an Avurudu play and his severed head displayed. Many STF officers were killed when they came home on visit or on sick leave.

In 1988 JVP ambushed an army commando unit sent out on to track down JVP killers at Kirula in Hungama area. Three commandos died. In April 1989, there was a spate of landmine blasts in Embilipitiya, four soldiers were killed. There were    landmines in Hungama, Tissamaharama, Angunokolapelssa, Kamburupitiya, Urubokka, and Middeniya as well. Land mine in Medirigiriya killed four police officers.

JVP specially targeted the Counter Subversive Unit (CSU) set up to hunt them down. CSD operatives were handpicked as targets, their homes were burned and loved ones killed.  In 1987 PC Sapukotana of Matara police was stabbed and killed. This was the beginning of a series of attacks on CSU operatives, said Gunaratna.   Peliyagoda CSU sub inspector Wickremasinghe was   killed as he was driving. In December 1987 JVP shot dead the Director of the CSU, Terrence Perera. CSU  did not develop after his death.

JVP  humiliated the armed services. In October 1988 an army detachment was attacked with stones by demonstrating school children in Ambalantota. Family members of security forces were made to walk at the head of JVP demonstrations, so that they would be the first to be killed if the force opened fire.

From 1984 onwards JVP had infiltrated the armed forces. JVP infiltration of armed service in 1987-89 was more successful than in 1971 observed Chandraprema. DJV had a registry with names of over 700 service personnel from police, army, navy and air force who held membership in JVP or supported it. The registry also showed how to contact them. 

JVP successfully infiltrated the lower rungs of the police and armed services. Three policemen attached to Kandana and Middeniya police     stations were JVP activists. At Athurugiriya a soldier killed tenother soldiers in the night. A pro JVP  police officer had infiltrated the military police of the army. JVP also had a military officer in the Ops Combine   audio visual unit. He had given JVP the names and addresses of officers engaged in anti JVP operations.

There was  another benefit from the infiltration. JVP infiltration helped to retard army attacks on the JVP. There was   at least a degree of hesitation, said Rohan Gunaratna. The government found that the army was not that eager to go after the JVP in March- April 1987 said Chandraprema. 

Infiltrating the army was not difficult as persons were recruited to army and police without full screening in 1984, said Godahewa. But the army soon realized that its lower rungs had been infiltrated. There were acts of indiscipline and appropriation of arms. The army suspended its training of one batch of recruits suspecting that they were JVPers. And the batch recruited in 1986 to the army was not sent for training until they were fully screened.

The JVP was able to get some service men to desert, mainly from the lower and middle grades. There were over 150 desertions, between 1984-1987   and there were     250 desertions from 1987 onwards, said Chandraprema.  They were asked to bring a weapon with them but   most of the desertions took place without weapons.

These deserters were useful to the JVP .The military campaign in the south was started by three deserters from the army.  Another deserter, a ‘trained ex army man,’ led the operation at Pallekelle. Army deserters had trained JVP in three locations in Kandy district.

However, JVP was unable to infiltrate the armed forces in the number needed to generate large scale desertions.  JVP  even approached those who were suspended from the army.  In 1988 JVP asked the security forces to desert and join JVP.    In late June 1989 the JVP repeated its call to the armed forces to defect from the State by July 29, 1989, but large-scale desertions did not happen.

JVP had also hoped for a large scale mutiny of army. JVP were waiting for forces to mutiny and come to their side but this did not happen, though JVP waited a long time, said Chandraprema.

 JVP then decided on strong arm tactics. JVP issued threats to members of the armed services and police that they should resign or be killed. JVP threatened the families of service personnel who did not desert.  Police officers investigating JVP activity also got death threats. Letters were sent to OIC of police directing them to release suspects already taken into custody. Due to JVP threat many in the army retired or  left the service.

JVP radio repeatedly warned that August 1989 was the deadline for security forces personnel of all ranks to desert or face the consequences which was death.  In  the Ranabima bulletin of 21st April 1989, JVP specially threatened the families of those active in counter-insurgency operations, the  Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) and the Special Task Force (STF). Chandraprema observed that a similar threat had  been made in 1988 as well.

 In 1989 JVP carried out their threats. JVP already had the addresses of captains, lieutenants, and second lieutenants. Over hundred homes of military men were set on fire in south and northwest.   JVP killed 122 members of families of security forces and police in the most brutal fashion. Some were hacked to death, some were burned alive in their homes which were set on fire. JVP  made no   allowance for old people or children.

One such case was the murder of mother, brother, sister in law and two nephews of a DIG ( Udugampola) who was serving in the south. They were shot and whilst still alive, their residence was set on fire with them inside. The IGP had said he wanted to finish off the JVP.

JVP’s decision to kill family members of the security forces and to destroy their property was the main factor in changing the security forces’ approach towards the JVP. The security forces became very angry.  Among the public also, there was a wave of indignation against JVP. JVP had made an irrevocable and fatal mistake.

No one in the JVP took responsibility for the decision to kill servicemen. They all denied it when  they were arrested. JVP’s deputy leader Gamanayake had said that this threat was not intended to be carried out, but only to neutralize active sections of the security forces.

No sooner had they issued death threats to the families of the servicemen, posters appeared all over the country under the name of vigilante group, Deshapremi Sinhala Tharuna Peramuna, announcing, Ape ekata thope dolahak!”

Deshapremi Sinhala Tharuna Peramuna also circulated a note to the families of the JVPers, which read as follows:

“Dear father/Mother/Sister,

“We know that your son/brother/husband is engaged in a brutal murder under the pretence of patriotism. Your son/brother/husband, the so-called patriot, has cruelly taken the lives of mothers like you, of sisters, of innocent little children. In addition he has started killing the family members of the heroic Sinhalese soldiers who fought with the Tamil Tigers and sacrificed their lives, in order to protect the motherland.

“It is not amongst us, ourselves, the Sinhalese people, that your son/brother/husband has launched the conflict in the name of patriotism? Is it then right that you, the wife/mother/sister of this person who engages in human murder of children should be free to live? Is it not justified to put you to death? From this moment, you and all your family members must be ready to die. May you attain nirvana! Deshapremi Sinhala Tharuna Peramuna.”

Then came the counter attack. There were ruthless series of counter terrorist groups, PRRA, Black cats, Yellow cats, Rajaliya, Ukussa. They killed  JVPers and dismembered the bodies and hung placard round their necks warning similar fate to others..

‘In October 1989 after Capt T.E. Nagahawatte, the Assistant Registrar of the Peradeniya University, who was also a volunteer soldier was killed by two gunmen inside the University premises, eighteen heads were found the next day placed neatly around the University pond. The headless corpses had been placed in various postures in the vicinity. Bodies kept appearing by the dozen in the rest of the country, as well.’

The army also attacked the JVP. A Sri Lankan Army official said ‘we have learned too many lessons from Vietnam and Malaysia. We must destroy the insurgents completely. We have no choice. ‘  At Embilipitiya  the  Army intercepted JVP letters at the post office itself, so no extortion letters reached the public. The public appreciated the army effort. By December 1989 all members of the new JVP committee were taken in,  the last was  taken in January 1990. (Continued)

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