Kokkatticholai Prawn Farm Massacre – 1987
On 28 January 1987, the Srilankan state launched a major military operation, at Kokkatticholai near the eastern coastal town of Batticaloa. An estimated 2000 commandos of the Special Task Force supported by bomber planes and helicopter gun-ships were involved in this operation. Commandos surrounded six villages covering an area of 25 square miles.
As the helicopters began machine-gunning the villages, the inhabitants fled into the nearby jungles for cover. Commandos moving in South African-built armoured ‘Buffels’ fired heavy machine guns into the villages.
The military operation which began on January 28, according to the Batticaloa Citizens’ Committee, an estimated 150 to 175 civilians were killed by the STF commandos. The victims included 23 employees of a prawn culture farm run by Serendib Sea Foods Ltd, a fifty per cent American owned Hong Kong based company.
The employees were rounded up, herded onto a tractor and trailer, taken to a road junction and shot dead. Seven of the victims were boys aged 12 to 14. Forty others who had sought refuge in the farm were also shot and killed. The bodies were later burnt on piles of old tyres obtained by the security forces from the town’s bus depot. Subsequently, the commandos rounded up nearly 83 people from the villages of Mudalikuda, Munaikadu, llupadichenai, Thandiady and Mahiladitivu and deliberately killed them. Another 12 people were reported to be missing and are feared dead. The operations zone had been virtually sealed off. Some escaped by swimming across the lagoon, but several others who tried to cross by boat were killed when they were attacked from helicopters.
The government denied the massacre at the farm but the Managing Director, Mr. Victor Santhiapillai, who is a former Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (a United Nations body) and the Company’s former Manager and the present Consultant, Mr. Bruce Cyr (an American national) rebutted the government’s denial and confirmed that the massacre in fact took place.
They also contradicted the government’s claim that those killed were either terrorists or that they died in the crossfire. Rejecting the government’s Media Centre’s claim, the Managing Director, Mr. Santhiapillai, said, “I totally reject the Media Centre’s charge that the 22 Serendib Sea foods staff members (plus 12 still missing) who were shot by the security forces were terrorists, The Centre must find some other more intelligent and plausible ways of handling such incidents.” (The Island,4 February 1987).
Angered by Mr. Bruce Cyr’s revelations about the massacre, the government first announced that he was going to be prosecuted under the Emergency Regulations for making ‘false statements’ about the killing of the Company’s employees, but later retracted following representations from the American Embassy in Colombo.
(Tamil Times, March 1987)