Posted on July 30th, 2022


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. 

At the Urubokka Conference, the suggestion made that projectiles such as rockets would be effective against the Army’s Panagoda Cantonment, at Homagama. In early 1970, at the Dondra Conference, , the details of recruitment, training, uniforms, and collecting information on the Armed Forces, were discussed.

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. however, JVP also  gave its ‘classes’ to soldiers stationed at Diyatalawa. Wijeweera was more successful with the navy

. Wijeweera targeted the Sri Lanka navy from the very beginning. This is not well known.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.

Uyangoda alias “Oo Mahattaya” of the JVP Uyangoda held classes for Naval personnel, made contact with Air Force personnel in Wanathamulla and Katunayake, and delivered lectures to them.

Uyangoda had visited Karainagar naval base in 1971 and met one these JVP navy men. This navy man had succeeded in posting pro JVP sailors to work at the armories of the outstation navy bases, telling his superior that they were trustworthy men. The gullible superior had believed him. If the JVP plan had succeeded in 1971 it would have been disastrous for the navy as well as the country, said Indradasa Godahewa.

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.

If the match was held as planned, one of the Navy men who would have participated was Able Seaman H.M. Tillekeratne, one of the Navy’s best football players. A strong well-built man, Tillekeratne was serving at the Navy’s Elara Camp in Karainagar at the time.

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. 

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.

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.

On April 4, Tillekeratne was on duty at the Elara Camp  when the JVP insurgency began. By this time the CID had got wind of Tillekeratne’s strong connection with the JVP. Within 48 hours of the JVP uprising Superintendent of Police Jaffna, received a message from Colombo of a suspected move by Tillekeratne to put sleeping tablets into the water filters at the Elara Camp’s officers mess.  The police took immediate action.

Tillekeratne was ordered to go to Chunnakam and thereafter proceed to Palaly Airport for the flight to Colombo.  He knew the game was up.  There was no question he would be arrested as soon as he arrived in Colombo. Tillekeratne headed for Chunnakam in a Navy jeep.

What happened next was like a scene from a gangster movie, said Janaka Perera. Upon reaching the power station Tillekeratne got off the jeep, instructing the driver to keep the engine running.  Tillekeratne then walked nonchalantly towards the power station, which was guarded by a detachment from the Elara Camp. They knew him well. When he entered the power station the naval guards who had completed their duty the previous night were relaxing. They had kept their submachine guns aside. Suddenly, Tillekeratne picked up one of the guns ordered the other Navy men to raise their hands.

All obeyed Tillekeratne, except Petty Officers Cecil Gunasekera, N.J.T. Costa and another. Since the three men were his close friends they thought he was joking. He then repeated his order. “This is my last warning. Are you putting up your hands or not?”  But the three men ignored him.

Then Tillekeratne opened fire, killing two of them –Gunasekera and Costa – on the spot. Several others were seriously injured, among them a Navy PT instructor, T.M.N. Abdul, who was crippled for life as a result. 

Following the shooting Tillekeratne, according to Abdul, had forced two other Navy men at gun point to load the jeep with all the weapons and ammunition he had seized from his colleagues, and accompany him in the vehicle.  Tillekeratne’s aim was to join the insurgents.

Suspecting that he would try to flee Jaffna, the SP Sunderalingam, promptly telephoned ASP Mendis, manning the Elephant Pass Police check point to be on the alert for the jeep carrying Tillekeratne.  As soon as the message was received, the policemen at the check point along with army personnel waited for the vehicle to appear. A short while later they saw the jeep at a distance. They waited until it came close and then ordered the driver to stop. Their guns were aimed at the jeep.  At first it appeared the vehicle was going to slow down. Suddenly Tillekeratne tried to grab the submachine gun on his seat. But those manning the check point were faster. Their shots killed Tillekeratne and the driver on the spot.

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.

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