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How The Attempt by The JVP in April 1971 To Rescue Rohana Wijeweera From Prison in Jaffna Ended in Failure

By B. Anton Jeyanathan

Patabandi Don Nandasiri Wijeweera known to the world at large as Rohana Wijeweera–pic: JVPSriLanka.com

(The writer is a retired Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the Police.)

The 5th of April dawned and passed without much concern or notice by the majority of the present generation who were born after the 1970′s and 1980′s, as they never experienced the atrocities committed by members of the JVP under the propaganda of a revolution. The 5th of April every year from the year 1971, is a day which any policemen of the Sri Lanka Police could not overlook or forget. It was on the 5th of April 1971 the JVP mounted an attack on the Wellawaya Police Station, and commenced their so called revolution. It was the start of a series of attacks on various police stations throughout the island, mostly in the Southern, Western and North Western provinces, the killing of policemen, ransacking of police stations and removal of firearms.

The attack on the Wellawaya Police Station took place on 5 April 1971 and continued throughout April. One of the five lessons the JVP inculcated in the minds of youngsters was “how to grab arms and ammunition by attacking police stations”. The JVP did not have much arms to boast about, except maybe some homemade shot guns and some side arms which they had stolen or obtained from underworld characters. They needed firearms to attack the police stations and kill the policemen.


In their master plan to revolutionarily grab power from the “capitalist bourgeois” they had been conducting classes on “marxism”, “Indian expansionism”, “grabbing of arms and ammunition from police stations” etc. Altogether they had five lessons. They had a well knit network throughout the island, especially among university students, unemployed and under employed youth, and they held such classes clandestinely in various areas under cover. Even some of their frontline comrades visited government departments and held such classes during the lunch hour or after hours. They had also infiltrated to recruit members of the armed forces, specially from the air force and navy.

Arrest of Wijeweera

Wijeweera was holed up in Ampara and conducting lectures and meetings clandestinely in the area. Amongst the intelligence agencies, Wijeweera was the prime target as he was heading the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
On the 16 March 1971, the late Mr. L.M.P. de Silva who retired as a senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG), on receiving information, raided the hideout and arrested Wijeweera and a few others. On the news of his arrest the intelligence agencies had Wijeweera transferred from Ampara to Colombo.

Having completed their interrogation, he was produced in courts and taken into remand custody, and thoughtfully the authorities transferred him to Jaffna prison, where he languished in a cell.
Planned rescue of Wijeweera

Some of the front line JVP’ers, most of whom were students of Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara universities and some of them young Buddhist monks, conspired to travel to Jaffna and rescue Wijeweera from the Jaffna prison. They had planned to travel by train. The Buddhist monks were all in civilian clothes. Since they did not have arms and were taking a risk carrying arms by train, they carried with them home made grenades which were manufactured in a workshop in the Kelaniya area. Since these were homemade they did not possess the sophisticated facility of pulling the trigger before throwing, for it to explode.

There was a wick which had to be ignited by a match or a lighter and the grenade had to be thrown before it exploded. Armed with such grenades, about thirty of them travelled to Jaffna. They had also organized a Peugeot 203 black coloured car with white paint markings on the bonnet to be used for Wijeweera to be spirited away and brought out of the prison to some hiding place once he was rescued. Incidentally, at that time the police department used black Peugeot 203’s for the travel of senior officers.

On reaching Jaffna, they stayed in viharas as pilgrims and towards dawn approached the prison building which was located in the Jaffna Fort area, adjacent to the Panni Causeway. A few of them managed to scale the prison walls and got on top of the roof of the prison. They were not certain as to the exact location where Wijeweera was being held captive.

A few of them who were perched on top of the roof shouted “Sahodaraya, Sahodaraya” expecting Wijeweera to reply. The prison authorities who never expected any such rescue attempt heard some noise and came out with shot guns, which were the only weapons they had, only to realise that some people were on top of the roof. The JVP members who were on top of the roof attempted to ignite the hand grenades to throw on the prison guards.

Unfortunately due to the breeze which was blowing from the Panni Causeway, the wick failed to ignite. The prison officers informed the Jaffna police and with their help arrested a few JVP’ers who had come into the prison. The black Peugeot vehicle which they had brought to take Wijeweera into hiding once he was rescued was also traced in Jaffna and taken over by the police.

Having arrested them and taken them to the Jaffna Police Station they were interrogated and based on their information the remaining JVP members who were at the Pilgrim’s Lodge too were rounded up and arrested.

“Hammond Hiel”

The Jaffna Police would understandably not have realised the implications of the arrest of the JVP suspects who had come to rescue Wijeweera. On being informed by them, members of the intelligence unit flew to Jaffna and found that the arrested suspects had been detained in a prison which was known as “Hammond Hiel”. It is known that “Hammond Hiel” is a prison established in the middle of the sea during the time of the Dutch to detain people they had taken prisoner. With the help of the navy, the arrested suspects were transferred to “Hammond Hiel” and detained. The Jaffna Police produced a list of names of those who had been detained.

Having obtained the list, the team of intelligence officers who had a leading JVP’er in custody, dressed him in a police uniform and took him along with them to “Hammond Hiel”.
“Hammond Hiel” is a circular prison building where the cells are downstairs and there is a stairway leading to a balcony on top which goes round the building where the prison guards during the time of the Dutch were positioned to guard the prisoners.

JVP’er in uniform

The team of officers from Colombo, along with the informant in uniform, went up the stairway and shouted the names, one by one, as given in the list by the Jaffna Police. The informant who was with the team would immediately identify and whisper whether the person who came out answering to the name of “Perera” was really a “Perera” or a “Silva”, or a “Munasinghe” or a “Ranasinghe”. Surprisingly, it so happened that all those arrested had given false names and with the help of the informant the team from Colombo was able to identify the real names of the suspects who were leading members of the JVP. Subsequently, they were confronted with their real names which they admitted and came out with a lot of useful information. Having identified their real names and their involvement in the JVP insurgency, they were all remanded in prison custody and subsequently dealt with according to the law.
If the band of JVP’ers who went with the specific plan of rescuing Wijeweera were successful, the history of the JVP would have been completely different from what was experienced by the people of our country. Wijeweera had to languish for many more months before he was brought before a court of law.

Courtesy:Sunday Times