Posted on July 22nd, 2022


The subversive activities of the JVP had come to the attention of the intelligence services and  a special unit has been formed in the CID to watch them, said Indradasa Godahewa. The first police report of the existence of the JVP underground movement was presented to the Cabinet in 1968. In 1970 the government set up a special police unit nicknamed the `Guevara Bureau’, through which all intelligence pertaining to the subversive movement was channeled.

From January 1971, at Kegalle, police intelligence and the spy network floated by SP Seneviratne with the special vote of Rs. 50,000 started receiving significant information. Reports came in from grama sevaka, DROs and school principals in Kegalle district, of young boys going ‘missing’ from home for days. Tailors in the area told us how orders for a large number of uniforms had been placed. 

There were reports in Kegalle of small groups of youth meeting in secret in lonely places,  the ‘desana paha’ being delivered, collection, manufacture and storage of weapons, jungle training of fighting cadres, testing of devices in the jungle, shooting practice, strange explosions. Six-foot lengths of barbed wire were being removed from fences. These were subsequently cut into pieces and used in anti-personnel bombs”

At the Government Agent’s residence in Kegalle, one could hear at night, the tell-tale ‘clink-clink’ of the insurgents making their way through the forest behind the Residency. They were carrying ‘Molotov cocktails’ in their haversacks and as they walked over the uneven terrain, stumbling over rocks and roots, the bottles and cans would knock against each other.

Kegalle authorities informed the government .Daily dispatches were sent through special messengers, but no action was taken. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike discussed the intelligence reports at her Cabinet meetings with MPs from the area. The MPs said repeatedly that our boys” wouldn’t do such things.

Then in February 1971, a clear warning went to the authorities that something was brewing among the university students. The JVP had hidden a large number of detonators in the ceiling of Peradeniya University’s Marrs Hall and due to the heat, they began exploding like firecrackers. The explosions went on for five days..

In March 1971, there was a massive blast at Nelundeniya in Kegalle. Five died. The authorities found a 15′ x 20′ pit with many tunnels leading from it. It was an arms dump. The army was alerted. The police began raiding JVP hideouts  police arrested about 500members and sympathizers of the J. V. P. Wijeweera was arrested on the 13th March and sent to the Jaffna jail. On March 16, the government declared a state of Emergency.

The JVP was not deterred by these developments. The JVP inner circle met in secret On April 2 at the Sangaramaya temple of Vidyodaya University, Kelaniya and decided that all police stations in the country would be attacked at 11 p. m.on April 5th.  This decision was communicated to the district cadres and local leaders. a coded telegram   saying ‘JVP Appuhamy expired. Funeral 5th”, would be sent to announce the start of the attack.

Wijeweera had sent a message that posters and leaflets should be published calling for his release and 500 comrades should be sent to Jaffna to secure his release. The   plan therefore was to launch a simultaneous night-time attack on the police stations. Also to attack concurrently the Jaffna police station, Jaffna naval base and Jaffna prison and rescue Wijeweera.

The police station attacks were to be launched by 15 separate groups, each consisting of 40 to 50 JVPers.The attackers were armed with shotguns, locally-made hand bombs and `Molotov cocktails’. They were in home-sewn dark blue uniforms,  military boots, and carried haversacks. They were ordered to fly the JVP flag, a lion on a red background, on captured police stations. Their  attack approach varied. Some launched frontal attacks arriving in buses and lorries which had been forcibly commandeered, while others resorted to more surreptitious approaches.

But things did not go according to plan. Wellawaya Police Station was attacked  prematurely   at dawn, 5.20 a.m.on the 5th April. Two policemen were killed. This  attack alerted the government.  An all-island curfew was declared on the 6th of April.This curfew lasted until mid-July. It continued till the end of November , 1971 in the Western Province.

This curfew prevented JVP attacks in Ampara, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Ratnapura and Monaragala,but did not deter the JVP elsewhere. JVP continued to attack police stations, in the rural areas till the  11th of April. Police stations around the country were placed on alert but they were ill-equipped to face the sudden onslaught. Police stations in remote areas were temporarily closed.

Ninety three police stations across the country were attacked in the week of 5-11 April 1971 and five, Deniyaya, Uragaha, Rajangane, Kataragama and Warakapola were  taken by the insurgents. Fifty-seven police stations were damaged.  43 police stations in Kegalle, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Galle and Ambalangoda districts were abandoned.  Police stations at Akuressa, Hakmana, Kamburupitiya and Mawarala were closed and the personnel were brought down to Matara. In the Matara District all police stations other than Dondra and Matara were attacked and several policemen were killed.. Several police stations were set on fire after the police withdrew.

After the initial attack on the 5th of April 1971,  there came a second phase which was confined to the following districts: Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province, Kurunegala in the Central Province, Monaragala in the Uva Province,  Kegalle in Sabaragamuwa Province,  Matara, Galle and Hambantota in the Southern Province. Kegalle and Galle were  hotbeds with over a thousand full-timers each.  Badulla had around 500 members.

JVP occupied several major towns in semi-urban and rural areas.In some cases the JVP  by passed  towns to secure the surrounding countryside, thereby isolating the government forces in the town centers.  There was long-term occupation, protracted guerrilla warfare  and open fighting with the military.

JVP assumed command in areas where the police had withdrawn and the civil administration was in disarray. They  took over  whole areas , disrupted the transport system, telecommunications, power supplies.Main roads and rail tracks were damaged. They ran  the post office, distributed food from cooperative stores  and even held their  own courts of law.

JVP had insurgencies in Kegalle and Ratnapura in Sabaragamuwa province  Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in North Central Province,,  Kurunegala in North Western Province,  Matale and Kandy in Central Province,  Moneragala in Uva,  Galle and Hambantota in Southern Province, Gampaha Kalutara and Colombo in Western Province. The Kegalle, Kurunegala, Galle and Anuradhapura Districts were the worst affected. the insurgency  fizzled out in Chilaw as  the weapons  were  too  few and unsatisfactory. 

The JVP  entrenched itself in Kegalle district. The Kachcheri  area, where  the police station and the Courts of Law are located, was held by the armed forces while the J. V. P. dominated the rest of the district. There were  fierce confrontations along the main road from Kegalle to Colombo. Tholangamuwa Central College, located some five miles from Warakapola on the Kegalle road was the JVP headquarters. A bulldozer was parked across the entrance to the school so that no one could storm them.

All petrol stations in the Kegalle district were sealed ,by the government  to conserve fuel and police guards deployed at water supply stations, electrical sub-stations and the telecom exchange.,  But the JVPers were one step ahead, said KHJ Wijedasa , who was GA, Kegalle, at the time.  They felled trees across the power lines, plunging whole areas into darkness. Cycle chains were thrown over high tension wires to cause short-circuits. Phone lines were cut and roads blocked with uprooted trees and lamp posts.   ,

“By midnight on April 5, there was a total blackout in the district. There was no transport, no communication, no vehicles on the roads, and no water. Kegalle was deserted,” said Wijedasa.  The police radio was their only link with the outside world. Within the district, all 14 police stations had fallen. “There was minimal resistance by the Police. The cops just vanished.

From Kegalle JVP moved to Anuradhapura then when that got hot they fled to Kantalai and Wilpattu. Anuradhapura unlike Kegalle was thick jungle in the interior with public in the central areas only.. then JVP went into difficulty areas off Kantalai, a vast are forest reserve on Trincomalee  Road.     JVP has had all this planned ahead.

JVP  fought in certain areas in the Anuradhapura District,and in the small towns of Elpitiya and Deniyaya. Elpitiya was under  the JVP for nearly three weeks.  At Batapola, in  Ambalangoda the JVP had barricaded themselves with trees and lamp-posts. Sentry points had been set up and big bungalows and walauwas commandeered. Some 300 shotguns had been stockpiled like firewood. The cadres got around on bicycles, with couriers going from one stronghold to another. Villagers were only allowed to leave their homes to find food.  The JVP held Batapola till April 23. Then the army with the help of villagers attacked their camp.

At Matara a lorry-load of bombs entered the fort. The moment we found the lorry of bombs we clamped a curfew and everyone chased away from all roads by the army. Later we found evidence of two other lorries coming with bombs. The cadres could not group and the lorries could not reach the cadres and Matara was saved from a bloodbath, said Garvin Karunaratne, then GA Matara.

At Deniyaya the police station was repeatedly attacked and the police retreated all the way to Rakwana and Embilipitiya as the roads to Matara had been taken over by the JVP.  Deniyaya was ruled by the JVP for around three to four weeks. In Deniyaya many well to do people were  killed. This included Dr. Rex de Costa. it was his murder that made Prime Minister dispatch a platoon of soldiers to the Matara District, said Karunaratne.

Akuressa was under the control of the insurgents. The army was ambushed  about ten miles from Matara and the JVP fire power was so strong that the army had to retreat. the Government had lost control of most of the Matara  District for around three weeks during which period the JVP ran their kangaroo courts arresting, charging people and punishing them even with death, said Karunaratne.

the armed forces delayed  launching a counterattack . Initially, the government  did not send army troops to the affected areas when the GAs asked for them. Garvin Karunaratne, then GA Matara and Neville Jayaweera, then GA Vavuniya,  said, independent of each other, that the government ignored their requests for  security forces   when the JVP attacks were at the initial stage. Army units were sent much later.

However, by the end of April the government forces had got their act together.  the J. V. P. ‘s entire plan of attack had been revealed to the security forces by an informant..J. V. P. ‘s camps were attacked by air and land. Mortars were  used. Military co-ordinators were `appointed to govern the districts previously   held by the JVP .

JVP,  retreated to   the jungle or national park nearest the areas they were in.  They went, in the south to Sinharaja , from Anuradhapura, Kegalle and Kurunegala districts to   Wilpattu, Ritigala and  from Dambulla and Polonnaruwa to the surrounding jungles. By the end of August 1971,69 guerrillas were hiding in Wilpattu and about 50 in the forest surrounding Dambulla. They did not know how to survive in the jungles.

At Haputale,  the 100 cadres who had gathered to attack the Haputale Police Station, retreated through Attampitiya to Uda Pussellawa and on to the Walapane jungles, heading for Hunnasgiriya. One they way, the seized guns from people who possessed licensed firearms. 

200 guerrillas from  the Kegalle and Kurunegala districts retreated to Wilpattu National Park in two lots under the cover of darkness and along unpopulated tracks. During the day they camped in isolated areas either on the mountains or in the jungles. A. C. Alles observed that this retreat was marked by murder, arson and looting. only about 30 reached their destination.

A special Department under  former IGP, Aleric  Abeygunawardena  was  set up to  investigate the  insurgency. OICs and ASPs were asked to send their investigation files direct to this office. Under Emergency Regulations, admissions made to ASPs by suspects were made admissible in courts. State Counsels and other lawyers were asked to prepare cases for prosecution and advise the police officers on further investigations. Cases were filed in courts without delay. This Department had CID and Intelligence officers to help  with arresting the balance rebel leaders who were hiding.

In May and June  1971, with the backbone of the uprising broken, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike offered an amnesty to those who were willing to surrender. It is reported that 3,978 surrendered in response to this amnesty. Yet another amnesty was offered from the 7th to 9th of June when 236 surrendered. . It appears that another ten day amnesty was declared thereafter and ‘thousands surrendered to local DROs and temples.’

There were approximately 18,000 in custody by the end of 1971, said Samaranayake.11,748 arrested and 6,025 surrendered.Not all of them were  JVP. On the contrary, it is obvious that some of them were never involved in the armed struggle, said Samaranayake. He   suggests that only about 20,000 to 25,000, actually participated in the insurrection According to  Godahewa, 8000     JVPers, out of a possible 14,000, were arrested by government. However, the last JVP fighters were not captured until 1976, observed Samaranayake.

The J. V. P. members  in custody, were kept in detention camps in   the Universities, under army volunteer officers. Some 200 state officers were mobilized to question them and record their statements on ‘pink’ forms for those who had been arrested and ‘blue’ forms for those who had surrendered. charges were brought against 3,872 persons who were believed to have been involved in armed attacks on police stations and other acts of political violence.

A Criminal Justice Commission comprising five judges of the Supreme Court, including Justice Alles was hurriedly set up, in May 1972 to try those prisoners,  dispensing with the normal laws of evidence, to deal with the heap of cases.  when the C. J. C. trials concluded in 1975, 92 of the accused had been acquitted, 2,519 had been released on suspended sentences, and 365 had been sentenced to prison terms.

According to Sri Lankan Government statistics, about 12,000 suspects were placed in rehabilitation camps   Those not involved in the insurgency were released’. This process was slow.  Nevertheless, compared to release rates in other Third World countries, the rate of release in Sri Lanka was quite fair and timely, said Samaranayake.When the U. N. P. Government  came to power in 1977, the remaining detainees, including Wijeweera, were released.

The human cost of the JVP insurrection was high. Fifty-three Security Forces personnel had died and 323 were injured. 37 police officers were killed and 195 wounded. Though the government gave the figure  for JVP as 1,200 dead, it could be safely claimed that the actual number of deaths ranged between a minimum of 6,000 to a maximum of 8,000 said Samaranayake.it was estimated that some 8,000 -10,000 JVPers were killed said another source. According to Wijeweera, 15,000 of his cadres had died and twice that number of civilians had lost their lives. JVPers who escaped  death and custody went underground with the objective of re-organizing the JVP. 

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