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Eye witnesses of Burning of Jaffna Library

By: Kris Krishnadasan (Retired Sri Lankan Police Inspector)

Ex-DIG Edward Gunawardena Challenged and questioned Over his “Version” of the Jaffna Library Burning by a former Police officer Mr. Krishnadasan (Following is the text of an open letter sent by former Sri Lankan Police officer K. Krishnadasan to senior DIG of Police Edward Gunawardena about assertions made by the retired DIG about the burning of the Jaffna public library in a book written by him. Mr. Krishnadasan who claims to be an eyewitness to the burning questions Ex-DIG Gunawardena about references in his book that the library was burnt down by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization.

Mr. Krishnadasan also poses some challenging questions to Mr.Gunawardena about the retired DIG’s role and conduct in Jaffna at the time of the Jaffna library incident) Herewith forwarding the reply I sent to Rtd S/DIG Mr Edward Gunawardena in response to the Book he launched in 2013. The book titled ‘Memorable Tidbits Including The Jaffna Library Fire’ in which he explains as to who was responsible for burning the Jaffna Public Library in 1981. This is a long awaited reply which I have with-held, and I have explained the reasons for the delay in my reply to Mr Edward Gunawardena. Rtd SSP Mr Tassie Seneviratne’s article to the news-paper appears below for your reference.

Rtd DIG Mr Edward Gunawardena

Subject Re: Burning of Jaffna Public Library

Hi Sir My name is K. Krishnadasan.

I served in the Sri Lanka Police Service from June 1967 until December 1986,and I migrated to Australia and have happily settled down with my family in Sydney. I did not have an opportunity to work under you during my career in the Police. You functioned as our ADT at the Echelon Square Police Training School In June 1967 until I passed out in December 1967 and was posted to Matara as my first station. My last major posting was HQI Batticaloa, from October 1983 to March 1986. Thereafter I served a few months at Police HQ 132 Rising from the Ashes Tragic Episode of the Jaffna Library when you were S/DIG Administration, before migrating to Australia.

By the way Sir, I am also an old Josephian like you. I am writng this in response to Rtd SSP Mr Tassie Seneviratne’s article which appeared in the Sri Lankan news-papers recently.Mr Tassie Seneviratne is a good friend of mine and he is currently holidaying in Sydney.

Since I was an eye witness to the burning of the Jaffna Public Library, he requested me to write to you giving details of my version of the event. I wish to relate to you the circumstances under which I was an eye witness to the burning of the library. From January 1980 to December 1982, I functioned as the Officer in Charge of the Divisional Crimes Detective Bureau (DCDB),directly under the supervision of SP Jaffna Division and ASP Crimes Jaffna.

I was the second most senior Inspector next to the HQI at the Jaffna Police Station. The HQI was Mr Lalith Gunasekera, at that time. Eye Witness – Burning of the Jaffna Public Library On the 31st of May 1981, at about 7.00 – 7.30 p.m. I was at the front compound of the Jaffna Police Station, in the company of DIG/NR Mr P Mahendran. From the station premises we noticed heavy smoke emerging from the Jaffna Public Library building, and we knew that the library building as been set on fire.

At that moment DIG instructed me to take a Police party and rush to the library building immediately. I then promptly rushed with a police party comprising of 2 Sub Inspectors and about 10 Constables on foot as the library building is only about 250 yards from the Police Station. As we approached within a few yards from the library building, I notice about 20 Army personnel in uniform inside the building. They were adding fuel to the fire by pulling down the books from the shelves and throwing them into the fire.

On seeing the police party one officer came out followed by a few other army personnel pointing their AK47 rifles towards us and shouted in a rough tone in Sinhala and ordered us to get back to the Police Station. I then immediately contacted the DIG and apprised him of the situation. DIG was constrained to advise us to get back to the Police Station.

Sometime after we came back to the Police Station, we noticed the whole building going up in flames. DIG tried his best to contact the Army top brass who were in Jaffna, to inform of the situation, but to no avail. Under the circumstances it was not at all prudent for the police party to take any action against the army personnel. It was a tragic scene I had to witness haplessly. The sight which I witnessed on that day cannot N.Selvarajah 133 be easily forgotten, and it will linger in my memory as long as I am alive. After my return to the Police Station, I made an entry in the RIB re what I had seen.

DIG/ NR too made his OVB entries to the effect. Unfortunately Mr Mahendran is not among the living today, otherwise he too would have supported my statement. But, Mrs Mahendran is still alive and domiciled in Sydney, Australia.

You may contact her to find out what Mr Mahendran has told her when he returned to his DIG’s quarters in Jaffna, after the fateful event. Please read Mr Tassie Seneviratne’s article to the news-paper that a Police Sergeant attached to the Jaffna Police had initially set fire to the library building, and that he has confessed to him and also to Rtd DIG Mr C L Ratnayake (batch mate of mine).

Whoever initiated the fire, what I have reported is what I saw. I only visited the scene after the fire has started to engulf the building. Recently I had the opportunity to read your book ‘Memorable Tidbits including the Jaffna Library fire’. You have attributed the blame for burning the Jaffna Public Library to the LTTE, due to the caste conflict prevailing among the Tamils.

It is highly unlikely that LTTE would have set fire to the library building to implicate the Forces and the Government. The precious Jaffna Library belongs not only to the Tamils, but also to the whole country. Burning of Jaffna Public Library is now history, and most sensible thinking people knows as who had done it. It’s high time the Government appoint a commission to go into the truth about burning of the Jaffna Public Library, by appointing a high level judicial panel even at this late stage. The truth will never be discovered unless the various stories are independently examined. It is not too late to revisit the scene independently and objectively, and establish the facts, taking into account the version of all concerned.

As you have gone public with your views on this episode, may I humbly seek from you the following information that will help to put the matter to rest:- (1) Was the special assignment on which you were sent by President Jayewardene, to do with Police duties or with the Government’s election campaign? (2) If it was in connection with police duties, how is it that you did not come to the Police premises to meet DIG/NR and the Jaffna Police and hold briefing / debriefing class as usually done in such important police assignments? Or, were your duties ‘under-cover’? Even so, how is it that you did not want to see or hear what everyone else knew? I wish to state that I never saw you at the Jaffna police premises on the day in question.

134 Rising from the Ashes Tragic Episode of the Jaffna Library (3) Were any other police officers associated with you in your assignment other than IP Sathiyan? If so who were they? (4) What made you to avoid CID officers who had come to Jaffna to make enquiries about the burning of the Jaffna Library, and reveal to them whatever you knew, because the CID too was sent on HE the President’s orders? (5) Was a report submitted by you to IGP / HE the President re matters pertaining to your special assignment in Jaffna? At this point I need to explain why I waited so long to come out publicly with what I saw and reported to DIG/NR immediately: The atrocities being committed by the military that dominated the country were such that it would have been suicidal to implicate the army.

Although I migrated to Australia I used to visit Sri Lanka frequently, my last visit being in June 2014 to attend our Police 67 batch get-together. I however have disclosed privately what I saw to whoever wanted to know it. The situation has now changed since the last Presidential election, and I am writing to you now because, now I can go public in this issue.

I shall be very grateful to you Sir if you could help to clarify the information that I am seeking with great respect.

Yours Sincerely
Kris Krishnadasan

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