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Basil is the Sun around which The Eastern P.C. will revolve

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The controversial election to the Eastern Provincial Council is over but the controversy over the chief minister (CM)appointment is not over.

Speculation whether the new CM will be Pillaiyan, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah or some other is somewhat absurd because in a sense the issue really does not matter.

Regardless of who becomes de jure Eastern chief minister the de facto chief minister will be none other than national list MP Basil Rajapakse.

[Basil Rajapakse]

The Presidential sibling who calls the shots in matters concerning the East will be the unofficial Viceroy of the province.

The result of the first ever election to the Eastern provincial council was a foregone conclusion even before the poll was held.

There was no way that the Rajapakse regime would lose it. The Government had to win it whatever the cost.

If a Government victory was a “known” the only two “unknowns” were firstly the methods to be used by the Government and secondly the final figures of voting.

How will the verdict be engineered?
What will it be?

[M.L.A. M. Hizbullah]

The Government contesting under the betel symbol as the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA)got 308, 886 votes and 18 seats. It also got two bonus seats thus making it’s overall tally 20 out of a 37 member council.

The Chief opposition United National Party (UNP) obtained 250,232 entitling it to fifteen seats. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) got 9,390 votes and one seat. The Tamil Democratic National Alliance (TDNA) with 7,714 votes got one seat.

The district break down was as follows. Amparai district that has fourteen seats saw the UPFA with 144, 247 getting eight and the UNP with 121,272 obtaining six..

Batticaloa district with eleven seats saw the UPFA getting six with 105,341 votes and the UNP getting four with 58,602 votes. The TDNA consisting of the EPRLF (Naba), PLOTE and TULF got one seat.

Trincomalee with ten seats saw the UNP with 70, 858 votes getting five seats and the UPFA with 59,298 votes obtaining four. The JVP also got a seat in Trinco district.

Apart from the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) other parties contesting as part of the UPFA were the break-away tiger faction known as the Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP), the National Unity Alliance (NUA), The All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) and the National Congress.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress contested in all districts under the UNP elephant symbol.

Both the UPFA and UNP fielded multi-ethnic candidates. These lists reflected the multi – ethnic demography of the Eastern province.

[Pillaiyan, a candidate for the post of Chief Minister for Eastern provincial council is seen in his office in Batticaloa, via Yahoo! AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe]

This however did not remove the “communalism” factor. Ethnicity and region played an important role both overt and covert in the hustings.

The stakes in terms of real politik were immense for the Rajapakse regime. The 75% Tamil speaking “kizhakku” province officially referred to in Sinhala as “nagena hira” is the jewel in this government’s military conquest crown.

This government has derived much political mileage out of the fact that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization was driven out of the east and that the province has been liberated from tiger clutches.

The logical follow-up to this conquest was to rehabilitate, re-construct and develop the province.

Making a showpiece out of the liberated east is a pre-requisite in demonstrating that the province is well under Government control and that the people appreciate the fact.

Colombo also requires much international assistance and financial investment to re-construct and develop the East.

Some countries including India have expressed willingness to provide such aid.

One condition however was that the East should have its own provincial administration. The development should be initiated and co-ordinated regionally and not from Colombo it was emphasised.

This necessitated the setting up of either an interim advisory council or re-activating an elected provincial council.

The Rajapakse regime opted for polls due to a number of reasons.

Chief among them was the desire to concretise the de-merger and “Sinhalaise” the province.

The Rajapakse regime deeply infuenced by the Sinhala supremacists has been blatantly open about its eastern agenda.

One of its objectives was to de-link the Tamil dominated Northern Province and Tamil majority eastern province.

Both had been “temporarily” merged in terms of the Indo-Lanka accord of July 29th 1987.

When the Supreme Court ruled that the merger was invalid due to procedural flaws the Government always had the option of re-merging it through appropriate action.

There was also the option of letting the status quo prevail till a better alternative was found.

Instead the government went ahead with the de-merging process.The government wanted to ensure that the de-merged east remains permanently separate.

Effective de- linking was necessary to usher in “Sinhalaisation” of the east. So retired military officials and experienced administrators subscribing to the “sinhalaisation” agenda were given key appointments.

What then is the not so hidden “Sinhalaisation” agenda of the Rajapakse regime?

This writer has referred to it in these columns on previous occasions. Nevertheless it is important to note the contours of this project at this juncture.

An earlier politico – military objective of previous regimes was to interdict the territorial contiguity of the Northern and Eastern provinces/.The creation of the Weli – Oya/Manal aaru region consisting of areas from the Mullaitheevu, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Anuradhapura districts was the chief component of this strategy.

This Government however has expanded and enlarged this strategy. If a new district is to be created out of Weli-Oya/ Manal Aaru a Constitutional amendment is required. The regime does not have two-thirds majority in Parliament for such an amendment.

But then this Government is resolved to go beyond the confines of a mere district. Instead of creating a new district to interdict contiguity of both provinces the Rajapakse regime is determined to alter the demographic structure of an entire province.

At the turn of the twentieth century 55% of the East was Tamil, 40 % Muslim and 4 % Sinhala. Thanks mainly to state-aided colonisation schemes the population ratio at the turn of the twenty-first century was 38 % Tamil, 36 % Muslim and 26 % Sinhala.

The idea now is to alter this ration further. The Sinhala population is to be increased in the Trincomalee and Amparai districts so that within a few years the single largest ethnicity in both districts would be Sinhala.

Currently the Muslims are the largest ethnicity in both districts but no single ethnicity is a clear majority. If the Sinhalaisation agenda gets underway the Sinhala community will be more than 50 % in both districts. The Tamils and Muslims will be a minority.

The Batticaloa district will remain a Tamil majority district but there will be an enhanced Sinhala presence. The Kudumbimalai/Thoppigala region along with areas like Thirukonamadhu and Vaaganeri will be Sinhalaised. Eventually the Sinhala community will be the second largest ethnicity in Batticaloa district.

Thus the “Sinhalaisation” agenda will ensure that the single largest ethnicity in the East would be the Sinhalese. Given the current ethnic ratio where the Sinhala people are only one – fourths of the province such a possibility may seem remote.

But the demographic ratio can be altered rapidly and drastically if and when the Sinhalaisation agenda is implemented with vigorous gusto. In that case the goal may be reached by 2015.At the latest 2025

Already hard line Sinhala Buddhist organizations have compiled lists of people willing to re-locate to the East if and when the correct conditions are created.

The process will be expedited when the re-construction and development projects are underway and the total security of the east is guaranteed.

The induction of new Sinhala settlers from the South into the eastern province will rely mainly on an “encroachment approach”.

Already an extensive road and highway network is being constructed and developed in Trincomalee district.

Thereafter Sinhala settlers will be brought in as “officially sanctioned unofficial encroachers” and settled with the help of the military.

After a short period their encroachments will be legalised through both the Provincial and central administration.

Similarly as and when development projects get started much of the labour would be brought in from outside though local Muslim and Tamil residents will also get some jobs for cosmetic reasons.

For this “sinhalaisation” agenda to succeed militarisation is necessary. This has been done to a great extent after the LTTE was driven out.

Recruiting Sinhala youths into the armed forces or auxiliary forces is also being done.

The setting up of a provincial council controlled by the regime would help the military consolidate its hold on the province.

Though there woud be a nominal civil administration the security forces will wield real power. The elected administration will simply toe the line.

But for the strategy to succeed in the long term ,extensive investment and development projects are needed.

Only then can the economy be sustained and new influx of people accomodated. It is here that an elected provincial administration is very necessary.

Portraying the Provincial council as a harbinger of change and engine of economic growth ,foreign investment, aid and assistance will be procured. India is expected to provide much help to develop the east .

A key component of this development strategy will be agriculture and tourism. The extensive lands in the East will be handed over to International agro – business concerns.

A pliable provincial council would be helpful in this land alienation.

Apart from these issues the holding of an eastern provincial poll also ensures that the de – merger stays in place.

If the provinces are to be re – merged the Eastern provincial council must first pass a resolution. Thereafter the President may hold a referendum if deemed necessary.

A govt controlled Council will not support a merger conditional or otherwise. In fact it may pass a resolution welcoming the de-merger.

There is also the need to demonstrate the Government’s success in winning the war against “terror”.

Enthroning the LTTE break-away faction TMVP in the provincial administration can be cited as proof that the eastern Tamil people are firmly behind the Government.

Against this backdrop it was imperative from the government’s perspective that the UPFA should win the Eastern PC. Whatever the cost it had to be done.

There was no alternative and there was no way in which the opposition would have been allowed to win.

Realising that a government victory was a foregone conclusion this column virtually ignored the eastern polls in the past.

This column did not go through the motions of analysing or speculating about the electoral campaign.

While it was certain that the Government would win the uncertain aspects were the methodolgy to be used and the margin of victory.

The architecht of the UPFA victory was Basil Rajapakse. He is the master puppeteer who pulled all the puppet strings in this mock show.

Initially the Government wanted to conduct a free and fair election.The polls required political credibility both nationally and internationally. So the government was keen on a flaw – free poll.

Basil devised an incredible campaign strategy.

Many of us have heard or read the story about the boatman who had to ferry a tiger, goat and a cabbage in his boat.

He could only take two at a time across the water. If left alone together, the tiger would have killed the goat or the goat would have devoured the cabbage. So the boatman did more than one trip to ferry them across.

In this case Basil brought within UPFA folds the Sinhala Buddhist extremist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) the Pillaiyan led TMVP and various Muslim parties. They all had different and competing interests.

Unlike the boatman in the fable “Apey” Basil adopted a different tactic. He promised the chief minister post to both the Muslims and the Tamils if either side got the most number of votes.

It was like the boatman in the story telling the tiger and goat they would get to devour what they wanted if they helped get the boat across.

Basil Rajapakse’s campaign strategy may have worked well if not for the Muslim Congress.

Since the pro – LTTE Tamil National Alliance had been intimidated to the extent of keeping out of the polls the “Tamil” field was clear for the Government.

The TMVP, EPDP, TDNA, EDF etc were all Tamil parties either with the government or pro – government.

The TMVP was relied upon on to terrify voters through subtle and indirect means. Also ethnic differences with Muslims were to be exploited. Stationing TMVP members at each Police post was a deliberate move to frighten Tamils.

The TMVP also engaged in psychological warfare to terrify the Tamil people.

Basil enticed Muslim leaders like Hizbullah in “B’caloa district, Azeez in Amparai district and “thideer” Thowfeek in Trincomalee district from SLMC to UPFA ranks. They were made candidates.

The personal influence of people like Athaullah, Ferial Ashraff, Ameer Ali, Najeeb Abdul Majeed, etc along with that of the Respective Muslim candidates was expected to sway the Muslim vote.

The Government was very confident about the Sinhala vote. The development work done in Trincomalee and the integration of Sinhala civilians into the military effort was enought to attract the bulk of Sinhala votes in that district.

In Amparai former UNP strongman P. Dayaratne was with the government now. Itt was felt that the party with its lackluster leadership would not be able to galvanize enough votes.

As for the Tamils and Muslims the strategy was quite cynical. A multi – ethnic list if handled correctly could have helped promote inter-ethnic amity. But here it was different.

By promising the Tamils and Muslims the chief minister post much ethnic enmity and competition was promoted. It was a divisive and not a unifying approach.

The UPFA may have won the election without resorting to fraudulent means but for three or four factors.

Firstly the Muslim Congress and UNP were able to strike a deal and the SLMC took the bold step of contesting under the elephant and not its own tree symbol.

Secondly the unexpected twist of SLMC stalwarts Rauff Hakeem, Basheer Segu Dawood and Hasan Ali resigning their Parliamentary seats and contesting in the Trinco, B’caloa and Amparai districts respectively, electrified the Muslim masses. The opposition charge about the SLMC abandoning the tree symbol did not make an effective impact

Thirdly there was the welcome sign of many Tamils being ready to defy the dictates of the TMVP and avoid being lured by Government promises. Many Tamils stayed away and also spoiled their votes. But many were prepared to vote against the government and did vote for the UNP.

Fourthly some Tamils if not all were ready to sink their ethnic differences and vote for Muslim candidates in the UNP. This was visible particularly in the case of Hakeem and to a lesser extent with Basheer.

In such a situation intelligence reports procured by the Government indicated that the UNP would edge out the UPFA if a free poll was held.

The UNP would come second in getting Sinhala votes but would get more Muslim and come close in getting substantial Tamil votes it was reported.

Thus the Government had to resort to other means to win. Muslim gangs were brought from Puttalam to “facilitate” electoral work in the east.The TMVP also engaged in its own tactics. But due to the spotlight being on the TMVP and the over confidence that the fear factor had terrorised Tamils the ex-tigers could not engage in large scale rigging.

Sections of the Police and even armed forces “helped” the UPFA on election day.

Thus the UNP-SLMC combine came second in getting Sinhala and Tamil votes but was ahead in getting more Muslim votes.

The SLMC and UNP have protested strongly about electoral malpractices and alleged that the election was not free and fair. More details of the fraudulent methods used will come to light in the coming weeks.

There is much truth in these complaints and allegations. The eastern provincial council poll was a flawed one. Statements endorsing the fairness of the poll by partisan election monitors lack credibility in this respect.

The silver lining in this dark cloud scenario is the Trincomalee, Muthur and Kalmunai electoral division results. Trincomalee town and environs, Kinniya, Kalmunai and Saithamaruthu etc have been places where a substantial number of votes were cast for the UNP.

In such areas of groundswell votes the scope for vote rigging has been less.The vote tampering was more in the rural regions and also places where the competition was close and intense.

Despite fervent efforts by the UPFA to “garner” votes through unorthodox methods the UNP-SLMC combine won Trincomalee district.

This shows that whtever the pressure tactics an overwhelming expression of public opinion can defeat authoritarianism and tyranny.

Now the speculation is about who the chief minister will be. Is it Hizbullah or Pillaiyan? The chances are that Pillaiyan may be CM for 2 years and then a Muslim would be appointed on a rotational basis. It could be the other way about too.

Pillaiyan’s prospects are brighter not because he is a Tamil but because he could be a greater puppet than Hizbullah.

It is tragi-comic to see both Pillaiyan and Hizbullah claiming that their respective communities have brought in more votes for the government.

In short the Tamil and Muslim puppets are proudly boasting about having served their Sinhala master puppeteer better.

It does not matter whether Pillaiyan or Hizbullah or someone else becomes eastern chief minister.Real power will be in Basil Rajapakse’s hands.

There will be de-jure Chief ministers but the de-facto CM will be Basil Rajapakse. The President’s brother would be like the viceroy of the east.

Pillaiyan or Hizbullah, Basil is the sun around which the eastern provincial council will revolve in the future.

There may be many projects in the pipeline and the gravy train could indeed be long The moolah to be made will be more than ten percent.

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached on

May 13th, 2008

Madhu Church: Tragic Casualty of Politico-Military Crossfire

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The continuing strife between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has had many unintended consequences.

Chief among them are the numerous victims caught in the politico – military crossfire of a conflict they were never a part of.

The latest casualty in this respect is the Catholic church dedicated to our lady of the Rosary in Marudhamadhu (Madhu) in Mannar district.

Our Lady of Madhu Church is the premier place of Marian worship in Sri Lanka. Until the ethnic conflict escalated it was a magnet drawing all Catholics and even people of other faiths towards it.

Sadly the deepening conflict widened the ethno – linguistic chasm. The Catholic church in Sri Lanka became increasingly divided between Sinhala and Tamil as religious unity crumbled before ethnic identity.

[Road in Madhu-file picture-pic by Mahesh]

Currently a savage war rages around the vicinity of Madhu Church and the sacred statue of Mary and baby Jesus has been taken away to another location for safety.

The LTTE has obstructed plans of taking the sacred statue to St. Sebastians Cathedral in GOSL controlled Mannar.

Instead the statue has been taken to St. Xaviers Church in Thevanpitty in the LTTE controlled area of Mulangaavil.

Arguably there has been a political dimension in Colombo’s military project of acquiring Madhu.

Madhu has political significance far in excess of its military value though sections of the media continue to harp on its “strategic importance” without any concept of the region’s geography.

The hidden factor that increased the importance of Madhu in recent times was the involvement of the first family.

Madhu Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary is called Sebamalai Matha Thevaalayam or Madhu Maatha koyil in Tamil.

[Madhu Rosary Stall-Pic. Courtesy of Mahesh]

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a devout Buddhist but the First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa is an equally devout Catholic.

Shortly before his Presidential election campaign in 2005 Rajapaksa wished to go to the Madhu church with his wife.

Since the Madhu church was in LTTE controlled territory, “permission” was sought from the Tigers for the visit. Rajapaksa was Prime Minister then.

The LTTE laid down the condition that once inside LTTE territory, Rajapaksa should dispense with his security detail and rely only on Tiger escort. This was unacceptable and the idea of a Madhu visit was aborted.

The issue however rankled in Mahinda’s mind. During his election campaign he often referred to the fact that though he was Prime Minister he was not allowed to visit some parts of the country.

After assuming the Presidency one of Rajapaksa’s achievements was his visit to the Vatican with the First Lady and his audience with his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

President Rajapakse met with Pope Benedict and the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as part of a four-day visit to Italy.

The question of Madhu church transpired during the Papal audience. It was discussed in greater detail with Cardinal Tarcio Bertone. It was emphasised then that the church should not come to any harm during the on going war.

President Rajapaksa had to explain that the Madhu church was not under government writ. He gave an assurance that no harm would come either to the church or pilgrims while military operations were in progress.

“In light of the current situation in Sri Lanka, the need to respect human rights and restart the path of dialogue and negotiations was stressed, as the only path to put an end to the violence that has bloodied the island,” a Vatican statement then said.

“The Catholic Church, which offers a significant contribution to the life of the country, will intensify the delicate commitment to form consciences, with the sole aim of favoring the common good, reconciliation and peace,” the statement also added.

Despite the sentiments evinced by Vatican there was no adherence to it in Colombo. The “divided” Catholic church in Sri Lanka did not engage in any significant pro – peace activity in deference to the Vatican

Military activity in Mannar district escalated after the entire eastern province was captured in July last year. A noteworthy aspect of the fighting in Mannar was the ostensible focus on the area surrounding Madhu church.

The military gain in capturing Madhu does not seem to be much but the political and symbolical value is great. Besides members of the First Family, many southern Catholics would love to do a pilgrimage and worship at Madhu.

The Madhu victory was played up during an election campaign in President Kumaratunga’s time. If southern pilgrims are able to visit Madhu safely in large numbers it would no doubt enhance President Rajapaksa’s prestige further.

It is therefore important to understand that the military project to take Madhu is more political than military.

Instead of trying to move into Madhu and endangering the Church the security forces could have by – passed the area and tried to advance further up.

If the security forces had done so successfully the LTTE would have had no option but to abandon the militarily non – important Madhu and withdraw.

Then the security forces could have simply walked in without any damage to Church or civilians.

But this was not done due to a gigantic ego problem where people wanted to “conquer” areas they were not allowed to go in earlier.

Madhu had to be conquered and exhibited as a trophy like Kudumbimalai/Thoppigala.

It had to be thrown open to Southern pilgrims before the northern war was over to derive political mileage.

The security forces to their credit were extremely cautious earlier and took great care to avoid damage to the Church.

Recent events suggest that an element of impatience has entered. Recent firing has not been that cautious.

It is not correct to charge the security forces of an “evil” intention to wilfully damage the church.

If destruction was the motive the forces have the firepower and airpower required to demolish it.

That is not the objective and any damage inflicted can only be accidental and not intentional.

But there seems to be a sudden” hurry” militarily.

This may be due to fresh directives that Madhu should be taken before April new year.

Again political motives are dictating over military considerations.

The security situation however is not likely to imporove after the re- location of the sacred statue from Madhu.

It was perhaps anticipation of further deterioration that compelled church authorities to transport the statue elsewhere.

The tigers have so far remained outside the church and church compound but they are now openly visible in the outer precincts> They are setting up defensive positions in the vicinity.

Increased artillery and mortar fire by both sides is an indicator of the future.

As troops advance the LTTE may entrench themselves on church premises and precincts.

The security forces will be caught in a dilemma as damage and destruction to the Church will be politically damaging.

LTTE political Commissar Balasingham Nadesan has come out strongly against the GOSL on the question of Madhu.

“The Sinhalese armed forces that cause danger to the people has imposed yet another atrocity on them. Once again, the GoSL is striving to transform the sacred area of the Madu Shrine into a war zone.” Nadesan said in a statement.

Expressing concern over escalating military conflict in Madhu and the plight of civilians is a legitimate exercise. But when the LTTE does so it becomes a rank exercise of hypocrisy.

The LTTE is the proverbial “uruthiraatchap poonai ” or sanctimonious cat (or tiger) in this instance.

There was earlier an unofficial agreement that an area of one mile radius around the church be kept free of fighting as a “no war zone”. Both sides adhered to it for many months.

But it was the LTTE which violated this agreement first. Mortars were taken to the Madhu church vicinity (though not into precincts) and fired. Subsequently LTTE positions were established in close proximity to the Church.

The military made many requests to Bishop Joseph Rayappu to prevail upon the LTTE to abide by the assurances. But despite the best efforts of the Bishop the LTTE did not oblige.

It was finally in frustrated agony that church authorites decided to pull out with our Lady of Madhu’s statue. Church leaders realised that the LTTE was going to turn the area into a battle zone.

Against this backdrop Nadesan’s accusation about “transforming sacred Madhu into a war zone” rings hollow and smacks of duplicitous hypocrisy.

That is not all.

The tiger political commissar also laments over the plight of civilians being displaced from Madhu.These are people who were displaced from their homes and sought refuge in Madhu.

The Tiger Political Head termed as “barbaric” the Sinhalese government’s act of making a war zone out of the Madu Shrine that provided refuge to thousands of internally displaced people says the LTTE mouthpiece “Tamilnet”.

Expressing concern over IDP plight is legitimate but such tears are “crocodilean” when the LTTE starts shedding them over IDP’s in Madhu.

Due to escalating military activity more than 10,000 IDP’s of all religions had found shelter at the Madhu church precincts last year.Youths fleeing LTTE conscription also sought refuge in Madhu

The LTTE was not happy. They had set their sights on 1000 – 1500 youths sheltering in Madhu. The predator wanted its prey.

When church authorities prevented it the LTTE turned nasty against the church dignitaries. Several priests were abused and threatened. One priest had to seek protection elsewhere.Even an eminent church leader was reprimanded harshly by low – level tiger cadres.

This is what happened next according to a report ” Conflict-related Internal Displacements In Sri Lanka”, released by the Inter Agency Standing Committee last year.By March 19, 2007 there were 10,197 IDPs seeking shelteri n Madhu

The report details how the IDPs had to leave the compound in the nine days after March 19.

“The LTTE had a tacit agreement with the church authorities that they would not recruit from within the church grounds. However, with over 1000 men and women of ‘fighting age’ amongst the IDPs sheltering at the church the LTTE started to put increasing pressure on the church authorities to allow unarmed, plain clothes LTTE cadres access to the church to speak to the families about recruitment.

[Madhu Church sign announcing festivals]

By the beginning of March, LTTE cadres were entering the church premises on a regular basis for this purpose.

“At the same time, the LTTE announced that it would prevent any more displaced families from entering Madhu Church to seek temporary shelter and that it would ask IDP families currently inside Madhu Church to relocate to alternative displacement sites.

The LTTE also claimed that it could not guarantee the safety of humanitarian agency staff travelling by road to the Madhu Church which meant that humanitarian organisations were unable to access the area.

“On March 23, it was reported that the LTTE had ordered the IDPs to leave Madhu Church and head north towards Vellankulam, allegedly for security reasons. It was also agreed that the LTTE was using the movement of IDPs from the church as a recruitment opportunity.

On the evening of March 23, the LTTE brought trucks to the church and started to force the remaining IDPs to leave.

The LTTE cadres were allegedly armed and they used wooden sticks to force the most reluctant IDPs to get into the trucks. By March 25, more than 5000 IDPs (75% of the IDP population) were forced to leave the church. T

he LTTE cadres told the IDPs that they would be able to return after three days to collect their belongings, but the IDPs were not allowed to do so and their belongings were taken by “thieves”.

The IDPs moved to Andakulam, Adampan and Vaddakandal in LTTE controlled areas of the Mannar District.”

The report said that by March 28 the Tigers stopped all supplies to the church compound and shops in the vicinity were closed. On April 2, they informed the UNHCR that all IDPs had left Madhu Church.

When the UNHCR raised concerns over forced relocation on April 4, the Tigers said “that the Madhu Church area had been under heavy shelling by the Sri Lanka Army and as a result the IDPs had spontaneously and voluntarily fled the area.”

As of end December 2007 only 1, 223 remained in the Madhu division as IDPs, and an additional 208 remained with host families.

However the whole Madhu region has been demarcated as an area where there was ‘no access’ to UN and other agencies and it is very unlikely that detailed reporting of the kind seen last year would take place this year.

This then was how the LTTE treated the IDP population in Madhu and virtually shut down the refugee haven.

Thereafter the LTTE applied further pressure and made the remaining IDP’s also relocate.

The tigers also banned further IDP’s coming ito Madhu.

Nearly 20, 000 people displaced from the Musali , Nanaattaan and Manthai West AGA divisions were forced to move further north into the Mulangaavil – Vellankulam areas at different times instead of seeking refuge in the Madhu church premises

After such inhumane treatment meted out to the pathetic IDP’s in Madhu the very same LTTE is now evincing concern over Madhu refugees.

The “Tamilnet” also says Nadesan ” recalled that in 1999, “invading Sinhalese troops had fired from armoured tanks laying siege to the Madu Shrine and killed more than 30 people, including children, women and the aged, who had sought refuge there.”

The question of who fired the shells at Madhu is something that is yet to be answered conclusively. Both sides accuse each other.

It may be relevant however to quote from Bulletin no 23 of the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) about the incident.

This is the same UTHR (J) that is being hailed in the Tamil media for its courageous exposure of those responsible for the AFC employees massacre in Muthur.

This is what the UTHR had to say about the Madhu incident referred to by Nadesan now.-

“We said in our last bulletin that the Church believed that the shells which killed 38 refugees in Madhu in November 1999 had been fired by the LTTE. We now have confirmation that this is widely shared by church officials in Madhu and technically the Army could hardly have fired those shells. We also learn that shortly after the incident, Bishop Joseph Rayappu gave Karikalan, a senior LTTE figure, a dressing down”.

Nadesan also called upon the International Community and Human Rights organizations to come forward to condemn the Sri Lankan government, which according to the LTTE “concerns itself about the mental peace of the Buddhist people and the sancticity of the Buddhist places of worship, but tosses away the peace and holiness related to other people and instead prioritizes only its military interests.”

It is certainly correct that Buddhism has been given foremost place in Sri Lanka but it is disgusting to see the tigers accusing the Govt saying it ” tosses away the peace and holiness related to other people and instead prioritizes only its military interests.”

This is the LTTE talking!

Yes the very same LTTE that attacked the sacred Bo tree in Anuradhapura and drove an explosive laden truck into the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy; the same LTTE which massacred young Buddhist samaneras in Aranthalawa;

This is the same LTTE that killed in cold blood Muslim worshippers in the Mosques of Kattankudi, Eravoor, Sammanthurai and Akkaraippatru;

It is the same LTTE that killed Tamils dubbed as “traitors” in Hindu temple premises and used Hindu and Christian places of worship to conceal weapons or hide themselves.

It was the LTTE that killed a Hindu priest in Santhiweli for doing Pooja during President Rajapakse’s visit to Vaakarai

But now the tigers are accusing the GOSL of “tossing away holiness ” related to other people and ” prioritizing only its military interests”.

One can only cry out “vetkam! vetkakedu! (shame!shameful)

Attempts are also on in pro – tiger media to justify the transporting of the sacred statue to Thevanpitty instead of Mannar.

Only time will tell whether the statue of our Lady of Madhu will be protected or be subjected to greater harm in the future.

What is being overlooked or deliberately distorted is the fact that our Lady of Madhu belongs to all of her devotees regardless of race or region.

The church may have been located in a pre – dominantly Tamil area but the “Maadhaa” is universal and not a parochial deity.

It must also be remembered that but for a quirk of history the sacred statue may have been ensconced in the Kandyan kingdom 400 years ago.

Let me quote from the historical account of Madhu as stated in the official website of the church. Here are the relevant extracts -

“Those who brought Christianity to our shores planted also in our midst the devotion to the Mother of God. The kingdom of Jaffna in the 16th century consisted of the northern peninsula (called Yalpanam in Tamil and in Sinhalese Yalpane) along with the neighbouring is lets, a portion of the adjacent mainland and the sea coast up to the island of Mannar.

The first news the people of this kingdom had of Christianity was from the new converts of the Fishery Coast of India. About the year 1544 the fame of the preaching and the mairacles of St. Francis Xavier induced the Mannarites to sent deputation to the saint to come to them. As he was busy in Travancore at the time, he sent them a priest who bore his name, to instruct and baptize them.

Over 600 men, women and children embraced the faith and most of them sealed with their blood their belief in Jesus Christ The massacre of the new converts was carried out on the orders of Sankily the king of Jaffna.

The new religion that was planted in Mannar and its neighbourhood did not die. In 1583 the number of Christians is said to have been about 43,000 with 26 churches.

One of these churches was situated in Mantai, a village on the mainland and about six miles from Mannar. This church was the original home of the statue of Our Lady of Madhu, which at that time was called Our Lady of Good Health.

The conquest of the Island by the Dutch opened an era of cruel persecution against the Catholics and the faithful of Mantai were forced to consider seriously the desirability of removing the statue of Our Lady of Mantai to a haven of safety.

There were no priests to give them any spiritual support or strength.

With the consent of the people twenty devoted families, in the year 1670, migrated with the statue of Our Lady of Mantai into the Kandyan territory, where they hoped to save the statue from profanation and them selves from persecution.

Under the protection of the Heavenly Mother the little company wandered hither and thither in the thick forest of the Wanni in constant fear of the enemy.

Guided by divine Providence, they reached a hamlet by the side of an ancient tank on the royal Rameswaram-Kandy route, wherethere was a customs house belonging to the Kandyan king.

The hamlet was called Maruthamadhu; and there the Manthai Catholics planted the seed of Catholicism.

In the calm and serene atmosphere of Maruthamadhu the seed grew under Our Lady’s protection, while persecution raged throughout Jaffna Pattanam.

About the same time there was another movement to wards Madhu from the Jaffna Peninsula. To avoid the Dutch persecution about 700 Catholics crossed over to Poonaryn and sought refuge in the Wanni. Having wandered for days in anxiety and fear, they too, as if by a miracle, were led to Maruthamadhu.

What a happy meeting amongst sylvan surroundings! Among the newly arrived Catholics named Helena whose fervent piety and edifying life won for her the title of “Santa Lena” i.e. St. Helena. In the course of time she married the officer who was in charge of the customs house at Madhu and the first little church dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu was built by this pious lady.

For this good act the Christians have immortalized her memory by calling the place “Silena-Marutha-Madhu” which to the present day continues to be one of the names of the holy sanctuary. From her sylvan shrine Our Lady of Madhu dispensed liberally her favours spiritual and temporal to her children.”

[Madhu Church-pic by Mahesh]

Let us remember then the history of how Our Lady of Madhu found her abode though the original intention was to take the sacred statue into the Kandyan kingdom.

Of course some of the Waani chieftains of the time were paying tribute to the Kandyan King.

So the reference to Kandyan territory could be those of Wanni fiefdoms under the Kandyan kingdom.

People of faith however would not see this event as a historical twist but simply as manifestation of a divinely defined destiny.

For people of such simple yet strong faith all what is happening now to the sacred statue is part of an ordained fate.

As the bard of Avon said “there is a divinity that shapes our ends , rough-hew them how we will”.

Related: Our Lady of Madhu Joins Fellowship of Internally Displaced-by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

23 comments April 5th, 2008

Trinco and Muthur: The Truth Behind The Killing of Students and Aid Workers

by University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)

On 4th August 2006 17 aid workers were extrajudicially executed in their Action Contre la Faim (ACF) compound in Mutur town. Through blatant cover up by the Sri Lankan authorities, their experts, Attorney General and diplomats overseas the facts of killings have been suppressed along with any potential association between this massacre and the killing of five students on the Trincomalee foreshore on 2nd January 2006.

With the support of individuals equally interested in bringing out the truth and finding justice we have uncovered information that reveals that the 17 aid workers were killed by at least one member of the Muslim Home Guard (Jehangir) and two police constables (Susantha and Nilantha) in the presence of the Sri Lankan Naval Special Forces. Four different types of guns were used. Evidence suggests that the killers had prior approval from ASP (Sarath Mulleriyawa) and OIC (Chandana Senayake) for their vile enterprise. But it is highly unlikely that the ASP and OIC would have taken a reckless approach or that they had any particular reason to want the aid workers killed and they had earlier received orders from Trincomalee to ensure the safety of the aid workers. We believe they may have received an instruction from their superiors in Trincomalee (namely the DIG Rohan Abeywardene and SSP Kapila Jayasekere) that the aid workers should be killed. The commandos must have been informed by their superior to let the killings take place and may be directly responsible for firing the bullets that killed at least one of the aid workers.

SSP Kapila Jayasekere, along with Zawahir (OIC Crime Harbour Police, Trincolmalee), is widely known to have been responsible for planning, orchestrating and covering up the killing of the five students by STF assassins amidst a naval security cordon and hundreds of witnesses, who were part of a captive audience. The intimidation of families and witnesses and the killing of witnesses and a journalist who pursued the case are well documented. This includes the family of Hemachandran, one of the five students killed, in particular Hemachandran’s brother, Kodeeswaran. Kodeeswaran had spoken to a member of the STF killing team, believed to be VAS Perera its head, who answered one of the victims’ mobile telephone just prior to the killing of the five students. Kodeeswaran was then systematically harassed by the security forces until he was killed in the ACF massacre seven months later. We believe that the 17 aid workers would have lived, had disciplinary action been instituted against SSP Jayasekere over the killing of the five students.

The murders of the 17 aid workers and the five students are among thousands who have died by violence during the past 26 months. Perhaps we know more about these 22 tragedies because of contact with some of the families, but the ones we do not know are no less poignant. The stories of thousands of young dying and maimed in the Vanni, having been forced to fight for the LTTE against their will, remain a closed book until perchance a plaintive unsent letter is recovered from a dead cadre.

These two cases, given also the international interest, remain the most promising means of making cracks in the prison of impunity, which grips the nation. In the history of crimes of this nature, even when they lead to investigation and court proceedings, we are left in the dark about the deeper political underpinnings of the crime, instigation at higher levels, the thinking behind and motivations, knowledge of which are key to exposure and deterrence.

The country has learnt to be comfortable with grave crimes going unpunished one after another, with the certainty that even graver ones would follow. The answer to the question why Sri Lanka is steeped in recurrent gross crimes, especially against the minorities, that go unchecked is not far to seek. The rulers without good sense or vision would fight hard against command responsibility being invoked in judicial practice. This would have been relatively harmless if the politicians and security forces were reasonably law abiding. Unfortunately, this country is determined to earn the contempt and ridicule of the rest of the world.

For years the State has gone on denying, obfuscating, abusing detractors, intimidating or killing witnesses and making matters progressively worse. Our envoys like the foreign minister, foreign secretary, minister for human rights, Attorney General and many more have tried to cover the country’s shame with rhetoric–’We have our Supreme Court, our judges, our own Police Force, Attorney General, forensic pathologists and ballistic experts. We don’t need foreign help in investigations that are progressing well’.

The ACF case by itself proves this rhetoric to be empty–not because of local incompetence but because of malice. Malice against justice and against the minorities. We use the word malice advisedly because it is an unvarying condition, with no desire for correction.

As for the Police that was directly responsible for the killing of both the Five Students and the ACF staff, it has largely ceased to be a police force. The Police are more involved in perverting the evidence and silencing witnesses than in any real investigation. In a state that has deliberately truncated itself to a Sinhalese State, the Police have been increasingly used as its criminal arm.

The hypocrisy about our state institutions has to stop and the fact has to be faced that there has now been a long history of justice being out of the reach especially of minorities even for sensational crimes that draw world attention.

It is not without great pain that we appeal to the outside world for justice. It abases us and hurts our pride and often, for unfair reasons, our self-respect. When we had working institutions solving the cases above was routine work. But today the criminality of the very institutions that are meant to deliver justice has thrown huge barriers against justice and the people are helpless.

Early attempts to get information from sources close to the Police and Home Guards were fruitless. What was clear was that they knew, but were very scared to talk. And so, it was maintained, their superior SSP (Operations) Kapila Jayasekere knew about the killings only when apparently an anonymous caller told Prem working at the Trincomalee ACF office on the 6th and he told the Police resulting in Jayasekere ordering SI Gunawardene to investigate. Contrary to what the Police maintain, a local councillor Ragees from Mutur had informed ACF Trincomalee on the 5th morning and also told the BBC the same day.

After a search by friends, we came across a number of sources with a good knowledge of goings on at the Police Station. Several sources are involved and we will merely describe what happened. A number of persons would speak out if they would not suffer adverse measures from the protectors of the law.

Having gone through over a year of deception by the Police and Attorney General’s Department, a simple policeman with a sense of shame who was then in Mutur confessed, “Ape kattiya thamai marala dhamma. Kaatath kiyanda bahe. Api boruwata thamai satchi dhunna.” Rendering the Sinhalese idiomatically into Sri Lankan English, it reads, “Our chaps only killed and dumped them. It is a shame we can’t tell anyone. For lies only we gave
evidence.” Indeed, just before the policemen went before the Commission of Inquiry, a senior officer told them to maintain that they were stuck in the Police Station and did not know what went on outside.

About 3.00 PM on 4th August it got around the police station that a message had come from a senior officer of the Trincomalee Police that the ACF staff was stranded, to take care of them and send them to Trincomalee safe and sound. Our sources said that the police officers in charge did not act as though this was their intention.

After the Naval Special Forces patrol came back to the Police Station around 4.00 PM there was a sense of relief. They were sure that the LTTE had left Mutur town. Jehangir, who had come to know that the ACF staff had stayed back had been insistent about the ACF being an LTTE base. We believe that anything that Jehangir said in anger was a pretext for others high up who wanted to harm the ACF staff, as all responsible persons knew that it was civilians who were at the ACF office. Jehangir as a home guard had no rank and was lower than a constable. Such persons are at best servitors and scavengers used in dirty work (See Appendix I). In Mutur, Jehangir had been guiding the commandos and had in the meantime become very chummy with them.

The ASP and OIC asked Jehangir, the OIC’s bodyguard Susantha, and another favourite Nilantha, who received a minor injury on the 2nd from LTTE fire in an incident described above, to go with the Special Forces to see if there were any LTTE cadres at the ACF. A party of about two-dozen went including a dozen commandos (Naval Special Forces) and the rest home guards and policemen. On the way Jehangir spoke to men who came on a
bicycle who confirmed that the ACF staff was there.

Led by the commandos, Jehangir and the rest of the party including policemen and home guards turned left from the main road past the Hospital, and went to the ACF. The commandos surrounded the place. Those at the ACF were drinking tea and eating biscuits, stuff they had bought a little while ago.

The commandos called the ACF staff and asked them in Sinhalese what they were doing there after everyone else had left. The latter replied that their Trinco office had asked them to remain. Jehangir butted into the conversation and without giving the ACF staff a chance to explain, insisted that the staff were LTTE. Susantha and Nilantha, the two policemen with him said nothing. The commandos remained passive. Jehangir got the staff to kneel, and the victims were fired upon as they begged for mercy. It was all over within five minutes from the time they arrived. Two were killed away from the others, apparently trying to run away and their bodies were found separately.

The main persons who fired at the ACF staff were Home Guard Jehangir, Police Constable Susantha and Police Constable Nilantha. The party got back to the Police Station by 5.00 PM. The word of a mere home guard and servitor of dubious reputation sufficed apparently for the commandos and policemen to commit the atrocity.

Upon their return, there was an air of celebration. Jehangir, Susantha and Nilatha were given a heroes’ welcome by ASP Sarath Mulleriyawa and OIC Chandana Senanayake, who warmly shook hands with them.

This was very strange. The fact of the ACF staff being stuck in Mutur was much talked about in INGO circles. There had been a meeting of INGOs and NGOs at 11.00 AM the same day at the Trincomalee UN office where the matter was taken up. Most importantly, the ASP and OIC in Mutur had been asked to ensure that the ACF were safely conveyed to Trincomalee.

How does one explain the celebration of murder at the Mutur police station? The way it happened and the far reaching cover up, all go to suggest that it was not the ASP and OIC who took the decision to kill. Despite their receiving instructions from a senior officer to safeguard the ACF staff, someone else more powerful, it seems, gave instructions to use some pretext to kill them. Jehangir and perhaps some other hotheads who wanted revenge may have provided such a pretext. The commandos must have been instructed by their commanding officer to let it happen. We explain later why someone more senior in Trincomalee may have welcomed the pretext provided by Jehangir for the executions.

One thing is certain about the ACF killings. They would not have happened if minimally, timely disciplinary action had been taken against SP Kapila Jayasekere once his role in the Five Students outrage became widely known. Instead he was promoted to SSP in July 2006. The ACF killings followed just after-a celebration observed by the Mutur ASP and OIC with handshakes. Jayasekere may not have spelt out the order for the ACF killings, but in his presence the air in the Police Force was reeking with impunity-anyone could do anything. Both killings flowed from the same compulsion to kill young Tamils.

That brings us to the State. For two years it has gone on denying, obfuscating, abusing detractors, intimidating or killing witnesses and making matters progressively worse. Our envoys like the foreign minister, foreign secretary, minister for human rights, attorney general and many more have tried to cover the country’s shame with rhetoric–’We have our Supreme Court, our judges, our own Police Force, Attorney General, forensic pathologists and ballistic experts. We don’t need foreign help in investigations that are progressing well’.

The ACF case by itself proves this rhetoric to be empty–not because of local incompetence but because of malice. Malice against justice and against the minorities. We use the word malice advisedly because it is an unvarying condition, with no desire for correction.

Take the Chief Justice’s role as ex-officio chairman of the Judicial Service Commission. He had the ACF case transmitted to the Anuradhapura Magistrate after the Mutur Magistrate had issued orders in the exercise his investigative function (Special Reports 25 and 27). The public senses the true intention of such meddling. For one, it scares off witnesses. An important witness Haji Abdul Rahuman, who was earlier down to testify, is now missing. A bold local magistrate who is strict with the Police can do a great deal for justice and this instance, the case was moved out of the locality. There are at least two more important instances of the JSC removing magistrates from cases to cover up for the security forces (Special Report No. 25 and Appendix III of Special Report No.29)

The Attorney General’s Department that has led the evidence at the Commission of Inquiry purposefully relied on the distorted evidence and accounts provided by the Police. It has not helped in making any honest breakthrough, in contrast with the alacrity with which it set out to quash Dodd’s identification of a 5.56 mm projectile.

We must also question the bona fides of JMO Anuradhapura who was mysteriously imposed as pathologist for this case. We now know that the time he put down in the inquest reports, ‘Most likely in the early morning of 04 August 2006′ was very misleading. He must also explain the missing original photograph of the ‘5.56 mm’ bullet found in Romila at the second autopsy that has remained a subject of controversy. Now that we know that Uzi submachine gun and other bullets had also been used that did not turn up in the investigation, we must ask if the Anuradhapura JMO removed any evidence during the first post mortem.

Further, the fact that only one type (7.62 mm) turned up in the investigation, whereas the fact that at least three different types of bullets were used, along with controversy about the type of bullet found in Romila, questions the integrity of the process of collection, preservation and transmission of evidence and ballistic analysis.

As for the Police that was directly responsible for the killing of both the Five Students and the ACF staff, it has largely ceased to be a police force. In a state that has deliberately truncated itself to a Sinhalese State, the Police have been increasingly used as its criminal arm.

The hypocrisy about our state institutions has to stop and the fact has to be faced that there has been a long history of justice being out of reach especially for the minorities, even in respect of sensational crimes that draw world attention. This hypocrisy reaches bewildering heights when our Foreign Ministry secretary Dr. Kohona, an Australian citizen, articulates Asianness (New York Times 9 Mar. 08) as governments who are nice and courteous to each other–leave alone however abominably they treat their own people.

The ACF case has been an act of grand perjury where the entire hierarchy down to the Attorney General’s Department and Police have misled the evidence. We will not insult the AG’s Department by supposing that the truth evaded their intelligence. The President disingenuously cited the paucity of witnesses in the Five Students case and allowed Kapila Jayasekere to get a promotion. The Government has piously refused any foreign role in checking our institutions citing their virtues that now lay naked before the world. Who will now see that a measure of justice prevails in Sri Lanka?

It is not without great pain that we appeal to the outside world for justice. In our courts and police we had institutions that were working quite well until the communal violence of 1977 when the new UNP regime used the Police as an instrument of appalling crime against a minority. The institutions never recovered since, but deteriorated further. This is not going to change overnight and certainly not under this Government. We have no alternative but to eat humble pie and accept outside help.

It abases us and hurts our pride and often, for unfair reasons, our self-respect. When we had working institutions solving the cases above was routine work. But today the criminality of the very institutions that are meant to deliver justice has thrown huge barriers against justice and the people are helpless.

In this connection we welcome UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour’s statement on 15th January with regard to the Sri Lankan conflict where she pointed out that international law prohibited all sides in the Sri Lankan conflict from committing unlawful killings or torture, arbitrary detention, recruiting or deploying child soldiers, and forcing people out of their homes. She said “Violations of these rules by any party could entail individual criminal responsibility under international criminal law, including by those in positions of command.” It is now time for her and others of a similar mind to get a move on.

A Note on the Addendum and Witness Protection

We received important testimony that corroborates aspects of the evidence cited above. Every revelation of sensitive evidence at present leaves someone potentially vulnerable. We are constantly faced with the dilemma of balancing the public good that revelation would bring with the danger faced by witnesses. Young Tamils are being targeted by the Defence Ministry’s killers simply because they were active or showed some spirit-that is all the 22 victims considered in this report were guilty of. The recent case at the end of Appendix II shows how little a life counts under this Government. No investigation and even the Press too scared to report it. The Tamils certainly need liberation from the Tigers but not to live under a regime that is no better.

After 15 months of the Commission of Inquiry there is no meaningful protection for witnesses or others. Three witnesses were killed. Haji Abdul Rahuman, a key witness in the ACF case, is missing from late 2006 after the Police had identified him as a witness. The Police has thoroughly misinformed the CoI about him. Others affected in the two incidents have been continually harassed and intimidated into leaving the country. Some did not have the means or the will to carry on in Sri Lanka. Asylum in a few prominent cases cannot be the solution to a much larger problem. This should never be lost sight of.

[This is the summary and conclusion of special report no 30 by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) titled" Unfinished Business of the Five Students and ACF Cases–A Time to call the Bluff"]

39 comments March 31st, 2008

The Muthur Massacre: Are we any closer to the truth?

By Poornima Weerasekara

The thirteen men and four women who were killed in the deadliest
attack on aid workers in Sri Lankan history would not have even
thought for a moment that they were walking into a death trap. It is
difficult to fathom what final thoughts crossed their minds while
watching their colleagues being shot. There was a father, a driver and
a daughter, a programme officer among the deceased. Which one of them
died first? Who had to bear the agony of watching their loved one
being killed? These are questions that would plague our collective
psyche to which answers may never be found.

[An aunt of Ambigavathy Jayaseelan, one of the 17 Action Contre la Faim aid workers killed, gives evidence in front of a panel of judges in Colombo March 24, 2008-Pic: Buddhika Weerasinghe, Reuters via Yahoo! News]

Setting off on a deadly journey

Mr. Ponnathurai Yogarajah’s eldest son Kodeeswaren was also killed in
the ACF massacre. He had already lost another child, Hemachandran in
January of the same year, when five students were killed in
Trincomalee after tensions arose due to the construction of a Buddhist
statue in the town.

“Before my son Kodeeswaren left to Muttur at about 6.00 a.m. on August
2, I gave him Rs. 200 for his meals. That was the last time I spoke to
him,” he sobbed while giving evidence to the CoI via video
conferencing from an undisclosed location. Mr. Yogarajah fled the
country due to threats on his life and family.

“I spoke to him for the last time on August 3, 2006 after 6.00 p.m. He
told me that there were LTTE terrorists on the main street in Muttur,”
the grieving father said.

A relative of Ambikapatthi Jayaseelan, who received Rs. 480,000 as
compensation from the ACF, recounted the beloved boy’s final departure
through tears, unable to appease her sorrow after almost two years.
“I took Jayaseelan under my wing from the time he was 10 years old. He
had no father and his mother found it difficult to raise four
children. I spent for his education and looked after all his needs.”

“After he passed his OL exams he did his AL’s. Then he followed a
computer course and also completed a pharmacists’ course. He joined
the ACF in February 2005,” she added. Jayaseelan who worked as a water
supplying officer attached to ACF’s Trincomalee office usually took
the ferry to Muttur at 7.30 a.m. and return on the same night.”

“They will come and take us”

On August 4th he was trapped in Muttur because the ferry service had
stopped due to the heightened security situation.

“We could hear explosions from the sea. When I spoke to Jayaseelan he
said that he was frightened. He said that there was ongoing fighting
and that people have been asked to get out of the area,” she continued
recollecting the final conversation with him. “We are alone here. The
Trincomalee office wants us to stay in the compound and not go out
because it would be difficult to trace us then. We are dependant on
them to come and take us because we can’t get out,” late Jayaseelan
had said in that conversation. I rushed to the Trincomalee ACF office
and pleaded with them to do something. I tried to call him again on
Friday but the line wasn’t clear. The next day, I went again to the
Trinco ACF office. There were no foreigners there at that time. The
local staff said that the phones were out of order and that they were
trying to use the radio link. They asked us not to worry and to go
home,” she said.

Helpless and distraught without any information, on Saturday (August
5) afternoon the witness then went to Konaligam Madya Maha Vidyalaya
which had turned into a temporary shelter for refugees flooding out of
Muttur. But this also proved futile. “On my return, as I was entering
the house, the phone started ringing; it was a call from Muttur.

The person identified himself as a Muttur Pradeshiya Sabha MP. He said
that he had received information that the 17 aid workers at the ACF
office had been killed. He asked us to make arrangements to get the
bodies,” she explained.

The identity of the call is yet unconfirmed.

Stumbling on the bodies

A government official in Muttur left home at about 7.30 a.m. on his
routine rounds of the refugee centers. While he was at a junction on
the Main Street in Muttur, near the turn to Abdul Cassim Mawatha on
which the ACF office is located, he saw a villager from his own
village gesturing at the AFC office, trying to give him a signal.

“The villager made a hand motion towards the ACF office and walked on.
I saw crows flying overhead. So I turned my motorbike and went to see
what it was,” the witness said. “I saw the bodies lying between the
front wall and the portico. They were bloated and a strong stench was
emanating from them. The blood splattered all over had clotted. Based
on these observations I concluded that they would have been killed
about 24 hours earlier. I made these observations based on my
experience,” he informed us.

When asked whether he informed any authorities in the immediate
aftermath of the discovery he said, “I knew that there weren’t any
proper authorities to take necessary action at that time in Muttur. I
went straight to the Al-Hilal Boys’ Maha Vidyalaya refugee camp. That
school had a three story building. I could only get clear signals on
my mobile phone from the third floor,” the witness continued.

“The camp housed Muslims from the Muttur beach area who hadn’t left.
People frantically wanted to know whether their relatives were safe.
It was utter chaos. There were some people who didn’t even have the
phone numbers of their relatives but as they are illiterate people
when they saw the phone in my hand they thought that they can talk to
their families. I was trying to help them. A person called Imam Asally
wanted to get a phone call. I knew he could handle a phone so I gave
it to him. At that moment a call came and someone asked ‘what happened
at ACF?’ I said that I saw that some people were dead. There was no
time to ask the caller who he was because there were people waiting in
queues for the phone. Thereafter, calls came continuously from the
Trincomalee ACF office and others inquiring about the incident.”

In the meantime the witness had related the incident to a journalist
from a Tamil FM station. After the news was aired he was flooded with

Faced with the problem of giving more details about the incident he
went back to the ACF office and while standing outside the compound,
counted 15 bodies. “Nine of them were wearing ACF t-shirts. I had to
go back to the refugee camp to get the phone signals. After confirming
the death of 15 persons I started getting calls asking about what
happened to the other two.”

The witness went back to the scene, this time with a team from another
humanitarian organization and entered the compound. That’s when he saw
the other two bodies, one near the garage and the other in the
opposite direction.

Let’s not forget

The relatives of victim Madawarajah Kedeeswaren – a 36 year old
programme officer who supervised road work and sanitation projects -
received his remains in a sealed coffin with his picture pasted on it
for identification.

“Kedeeswaran had said that there were problems in Muttur and that they
found it diffcult to come alone and that the ACF Trincomalee office
had told them that there was an important meeting in progress when
they had called and once that was over they would come to Muttur and
take them back,” a relative of late Kedeeswaren said recounting a call
between the deceased and his father.

“We sent our child to an international organization. We wanted our son
to work in a respectable place. He went there to work and he had to
come back in a coffin. We couldn’t even open it and see the body.
They are all educated children,” Jayaseelan’s relative said.

Independent reports compiled by the University Teachers for Human
Rights (UTHR) went as follows.

“Before a large crowd walked to Killiveddy at about 8.30 a.m. on
August 4, a Christian priest and the Divisional Secretary had gone to
the ACF and advised the workers to join them in going to Killiveddy.
The ACF workers had said that their Trinco office would send a vehicle
for them and had asked them to remain where they were.”

“A man who was from Mullipotana said that some of them went to the ACF
office and asked Mohamed Jaufer of the ACF who was also from
Mullipotana to join them. Jaufer said that he must stay with the
others. This was around 2.15 p.m. or 2.45 p.m. on August 4. Another
ACF worker M. Narmathan was asked by his cousin who worked for the DS
office in Muttur to join him and leave on his motorcycle. Narmathan
declined saying that a vehicle would be sent to escort them out. This
was around 3.00 p.m. on the same day.”

“Different organizations have different policies about staff safety
and security. But it is better to let those who are in the situation
to make the decisions on what emergency steps to take especially in a
very volatile situation, where it is very difficult to decide the best
strategy while sitting in Colombo without access to adequate
information on the ground situation,” an aid worker attached to a
humanitarian organization said on grounds of anonymity.

A code of ethics for humanitarian agencies

A spokesperson from an umbrella organisation for humanitarian agencies
said that they were currently working with the government’s NGO
secretariat and other stakeholders to device a code of ethics for the
non governmental organizations sector. “Transparency and
accountability are of paramount importance if aid agencies are to
function effectively, while winning the trust of different
stakeholders, especially in volatile situation. Therefore, we are
working on a code of ethics which our members should abide by,” he
said. “The NGO secretariat has the option of making it mandatory for
everyone to adopt this code of ethics,” he added.

Finding the crucial evidence

The team from another humanitarian organization that managed to
capture the first photographic evidence of the ACF massacre on August
6 recounted the fateful events which took them to the crime scene in
an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror. They were instrumental
in revealing the facts of this gruesome horror to the world and in
creating enough pressure to ensure that bodies “just didn’t
evaporate.” It was a perilous journey that they embarked on to assess
the humanitarian crisis triggered by a mass exodus of over 40,000
people from Muttur.

“We didn’t have plans of going to Muttur at first, but when we got to
Kanthalai people were pouring out in hand tractors and on foot and
they were asking for a safe place to stay. Rows of aid agency vehicles
were parked near the Kanthalai DS office, because they were unable to
proceed without information on the situation. It was a pathetic
scene,” a team member who wished to remain anonymous said. “We felt
that there was an urgent need to assess the ground situation due to
conflicting reports on deaths and injuries en-route and of others
trapped in Muttur who needed immediate attention. When we reached the
army checkpoint in Sirimangalapura we saw an ICRC convoy and two ACF
vehicles waiting to get clearance.”

“Although the army gave all of us the green light to proceed we had to
go through a cluster of Singhalese villages, whose inhabitants had
stoned aid agency vehicles on the previous day because they were
furious about not receiving assistance in securing drinking water
after the Mavil Aru incident when the water supply was cut. That was
when we saw an army tank bulldozing its way through and we just put
our vehicle in front of it and drove on. Later we learnt that the ICRC
convoy and the ACF vehicles had to turn back after being stoned,” he

They passed through ghost towns in Serunuwara and crossed the
Kiliveddi bridge. The few people they met; those who had come to
collect some of their belongings had said that a group of Tamil
civilians had fled in the direction of Ichalampattuwa, towards LTTE
controlled areas, while others, mainly Muslims were fleeing to
Kanthalai. “We met with the BBC correspondents by chance in Thoppur.
They decided not to come with us due to the continuous shelling. By
this time I had received two SMS’s from colleagues alerting me about
15 ACF workers in Muttur who were believed to be missing,” he told us.

“When we entered the town, we saw army personnel trying to restore
electricity. They told us to ask the people to come back because there
was no more fighting. We started asking civilians where the ACF office
is. Then one person on a motorbike asked us whether we wanted to go to
the ACF office. We followed him without knowing what was in store,”
the witness, who had given evidence to the CoI said.

“There was a short parapet wall around the compound. When we parked
the vehicle, we could see the bodies that were stretched on the floor,
face down near the gate. All the bodies were bloated. Gun shot
injuries to the back of their heads were visible. Some of them were
wearing ACF t-shirts. We counted 15 bodies. Two others were on the

“We went inside the office which looked ransacked. There was one room
that was locked. We spent about 10 or 15 minutes there, took the
photographs and left. The shelling was still on. There was no police
station around and at that moment we were afraid because anything
might happen to us because we had this vital evidence. So we didn’t
approach any authorities at that time,” he added.

The team went on to inspect refugee camps in Muttur and then Kinniya
and returned to Trincomalee for the night. “We e-mailed the report and
the pictures to Colombo on that night itself. Once the details were
out, with photographs to prove it, we could ensure that the bodies
were retrieved and handed over to the families. If not there may have
been a possibility where the fate of these aid workers would still be
a mystery. Although we were the first to disclose this incident with
proof, there have been no personal threats so far,” he added.


Commissioner in the line of fire

Feathers were ruffled when the counsel for the army, Dayasri Gomin
called for Commissioner Dr. Devanesan Nesiah to step down, citing that
he was a “paid employee” of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
who had acted as a reporting agent and had represented the
organization at international fora. This issue arose after a group of
civil society organizations, including the CPA was given
representation status on the CoI cases.

“The rule that a person who has an interest in the matter should not
be in any way play the role of a judge disqualifies him. More serious
is the failure on the part of Dr. Nesiah to disclose his role and
failure to do so amounts to misconduct. Therefore he should not sit in
the commission,” Mr. Gomin asserted. “In public sittings the
likelihood of bias arises if the public gets the impression of a bias
due to the presence of a judge who may have an interest. If an order
is made by such a person the entire report can become flawed. That is
the danger,” he added.

Mr. Gomin used information available on the CPA website, like Dr.
Nesiah’s official CPA email address and reports to which he was a
co-signatory as exhibits to bolster his objection. However, as a CPA
spokesperson pointed out all that information was available on a
publicly accessible website and therefore allegations of
non-disclosure is dubious.

“Dr. Nesiah was only a consultant of CPA and not a member of the
director board and even other commissioners are attached to similar
organizations in similar capacities. The CoI is not a judicial setup
with parties. It is a quasi-judicial process with a fact finding
mandate,” the spokesperson added. Dr. Nesiahs’s résumé posted on the
CoI website also states that he is attached to the CPA as a consultant
from 2004 to this date. ________________________________

Does the minister know who the killers are?

All hell broke loose when a President’s Counsel made a “foot in mouth”
statement, which he later denied, claiming that an important cabinet
minister in a “confidential discussion” had allegedly revealed that he
was aware of the perpetrators of the ACF massacre. This astonishing
statement, blurted out while an aggrieved relative of a victim was
still in the witness box, created an uproar among the State Counsel
who called on Mr. Desmond Fernando (PC) to “gracefully volunteer” to
become a witness if he was privy to such critical information.

However, this matter hangs on the balance due to a technical glitch.

“Unfortunately the statement may not have been recorded because only
four microphones can be used at the same time. We will have to check
the official recordings later,” the CoI Chairman N. Udalagama said.
While some commissioners seem to have not heard the statement clearly,
it was evident that it had registered in the CoI Chairman’s ears when
he said, “He [Mr. Fernando] said that a particular person in authority
has claimed that he knows who the killers are.” [courtesy:]

22 comments March 28th, 2008

TNL Double Standards on Animal Slaughtering In Sri Lanka

By Latheef Farook

What on earth was the purpose of the TNL program on “animal slaughtering” on Wednesday 26 December 2007 night? This question becomes more relevant especially because it was televised at a time when the country is bleeding due to the devastating ethnic war which has brought nothing but misery to people from every community though politicians, their side kicks and other merchants of death flourish on this human misery.

Almost three decades of ethnic fighting has created hatred and discord among communities and has virtually turned this paradise isle into a hell hole. Sri Lanka today is ranked as one of the worst killing fields the world has known. Under the circumstance it is common knowledge that animal slaughtering, especially slaughtering cows, remains a very sensitive issue among certain sections of the Sinhalese Buddhist community. In this highly charged communal environment raising this issue is bound to generate hatred and exacerbate the divisions within communities.

Thus the inevitable question is why a television network would raise such an issue which could pit Sinhalese against Muslims. The need of the hour is for TV stations to use their powerful medium of communication to bring about peace and harmony in the country. Perhaps TNL could lead the way?

A Muslim was asked during this programme for his comments on animal slaughtering as if only they slaughter animals. No such question was posed to any non-Muslim who too slaughter not only cows but goats, sheep and pigs. Immediately after a Muslim explained on the phone what the Holy Quran stated about the treatment of animals slaughter came a gory video film showing the extremely cruel manner a cow was slaughtered.

Deliberately or otherwise this video clip, appeared to have been produced especially for the programme, indirectly implied that that this is the manner the Muslims slaughter animals and thus conveyed a distorted and dangerous image to the non-Muslim viewers.

Contrary to the cruel images depicted on TNL, Muslims do not slaughter animals in such a manner. Instead Islam has clearly and specifically stated the method to be adopted and the type of knives to be used in slaughtering animals causing the minimum possible pain. The severing of the carotid artery which the method involves causes the animal to die a rather painless death as this particular artery supplies blood to the brain and its severing causes a natural anesthesia. It has been proved time and again that the Islamic method of slaughter is the most humane method of slaughtering compared to other methods such as stun gun for cattle commonly followed in the so-called civilized west.

Also slaughtering animals for food is not something done by all and sundry as only Muslims who have been trained in the field and strictly abide by the rules laid down in Islam when taking the lives of animal for food, are permitted to carry out the slaughter.

Every time the topic of animal slaughtering crops up the spotlight is turned on the Muslims who are projected as villains as if the entire non Muslim population in the country and the world were harmless pure vegetarians. Here the issue is the mindset conditioned over centuries against Islam and Muslims.

There are around 55 Muslim countries in the world and all of them slaughter animals for the consumption of their people. No Muslim country slaughters animal as an industry for exports unlike the so-called civilized west that kills them for controlling market prices and for pleasure. Like Muslims Jews also slaughter animals for consumption.

The entire Christian world eats meat and some of these special meat items constitute an extremely indispensable part of their special traditional Christmas dish. Christian world starting from United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Holland, Scandinavia and other countries in Europe, from Australia to New Zealand slaughters millions of cows, goats, and pigs year in and year out for export and domestic consumption. To these countries meat industries and meat exports which provide jobs for millions constitute an extremely important part of their national economies involving billions in export earnings.

It is also well known practice in the U.S to cull millions of cattle, chicken or other livestock for the simple purpose of controlling market prices whenever there is over-production that does not suffice for market needs. These countries prefer to destroy their surplus animals rather than sell them for a lesser price. Further in countries like UK, we often hear of millions of cattle being culled simply because one or two cows contract the harmless hoof and mouth disease which could be treated by a simple medical solution. This needless killing is simply done for the purpose of restoring confidence in their meat industry.

Do the animal lovers in the Island know the type of methods used by these meat exporting countries to slaughter animals? The meat from these countries are prepared and packed in different forms and sold in almost every super market chain all over the world including Sri Lanka. Despite religious beliefs even local television networks display, in their colorful advertisements, a wide variety of tempting sausages and other items enjoyed by happy families.

One also comes across the practice of killing animals for pure pleasure such as bird shooting in the US, fox hunting in the UK and bull fighting in Spain . To this must be added the terrible experiments on animals that go on in many laboratories across the world. Such barbarities needless to say are unheard of in the Muslim world as Islam clearly prohibits the killing of animals except for food or in self-defense.

Did the TNL ever produce a program on this meat industry in the non Muslims countries? NO! Did any animal lover in this country object to the large scale slaughter of animals in these meat exporting countries. No! Did any of them write to these countries asking them not to slaughter but be kind to animals? No! Did any of them raise this issue with diplomatic missions of these countries? NO. In fact the Island’ s animal lovers have not even thought about it so far.

They restrict their compassion only to local animals and that too only to cows as if other animals such as goats and pigs were without life. Once again it is the conditioned mindset moulded against Muslims who are easy prey in the local media, especially in the absence of an organized Muslim media that might put across their views to educate the masses on the Muslim bashing that we see too often in the media.

Meanwhile starting from Burma, Thailand , Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam , South Korea, North Korea to Peoples Republic of China and Japan are all predominantly Buddhist countries. Are the people of these countries vegetarians? Instead millions of all kinds of animals, especially pigs, are slaughtered on a daily basis for the consumption of people there. In Thailand various types of animals are slaughtered and consumed with relish while people in some countries in the Far East eat the monkey brain as a fabulous delicacy as other vital parts of rare animals.

Here in Sri Lanka which is a multi national, multi religious, multi linguistic, multi racial, and multi cultural country despite the unrealistic claim of Jathika Hela Urumaya, a political outfit with a racist ideology which has all potentials to take the country back to the dark ages, to sole ownership, slaughtering cows has been an issue of concern. But this issue needs to be sorted out certainly not by politicians who ruined this country but by enlightened and not racist religious and civil society in a peaceful manner.

After all this is a human problem based on individual urge, liking and disliking. Irrespective of religious beliefs human beings in general eat meat, take liquor, smoke, and gamble, commit adultery, crime and the like. How can one legislate against these individual desires and pleasures?

In fact this is not the first time the TNL has produced such a program as this has been an on going issue for a long .Earlier they had televised programmes worse than the one shown recently depicting the torture and agony caused to the animal before it dies.

Did the TNL ever produce even a five minute documentary on the sufferings of Muslims, more than 70 percent of whom live below the poverty line, northern Muslims languishing for more than 17 years in refugee camps in and around Puttalam or the plight of Muthur Muslims who were made refugees in their own homes destroyed by the LTTE-Government aerial bombings?

One should not forget that we live at a time when the Muslims all over the world are demonized as terrorists harassed, persecuted, tortured and killed under a ferocious global campaign unleashed by the United States President George Bush together with Europe and Israel. Sri Lankan Muslims can ‘t be exceptions.

It is therefore not unreasonable when Muslims suspect that unnecessary programmes on animal slaughtering are nothing but an extension of the Jewish engineered Anglo – American media campaign against Islam and Muslims. The pressing need of the island today is to seek means to end the ethnic war and stop the slaughter of human beings before we think of animals. Ends

“Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, & that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah; that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety. This day have those who reject faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, & have chosen for you Islam as your religion. But if any is forced by hunger, with no inclination to transgression, Allah is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”

(Al-Qur ‘an, 5:3 (Al-Maeda [The Table, The Table Spread])

11 comments January 22nd, 2008

The Assassination of Thiagarajah Maheswaran

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Year 2008 dawned on a dreadful note for Tamils in Sri Lanka as one more democratically elected Parliamentarian was assassinated in broad daylight. United National Party (UNP) Colombo district MP Thiagarajah Maheswaran was shot dead at the Shree Ponnambalavaneswarar Sivan temple in Kotahena. 41 year old Maheswaran was to celebrate his 42nd birthday on Jan 10th.

In what was perhaps the first development of its kind, the assassin was shot and wounded by one of Maheswaran’s bodyguards. He was caught and hospitalised under heavy security. The assassin was initially admitted under the name of Vasanthan to bed number 13 in ward 72 of the National Hospital in Borella. The arrest and identity of the assassin is shrouded in secrecy and has assumed a mysterious aura.

Maheswaran left his residence at B32, 36th lane, Wellawatte in the morning of New Years day to worship at the Shree Ponnambalavaneswarar Sivan temple at Kotahena. The temple was constructed by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who was then representing the Educated Ceylonese Constituency of the Legislative Council.

The UNP Tamil MP was one of those Parliamentarians whose official security had been drastically reduced after the budget vote on Dec 14th. The vociferous Maheswaran had voted against the budget. He had also been sharply critical of the Government about the anti – Tamil acts done in Colombo under the cover of combatting terrorism.

The Colombo district MP’s bodyguards from the Ministerial Security division were cut down from eighteen to two. On Dec 19th Maheswaran had written to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse saying that he faced danger and urged that his security be restored to earlier levels. No action was taken.

Maheswaran had inducted some trusted Tamil youths to be his unofficial bodyguards. These youths did not carry firearms but generally surrounded Maheswaran when he moved about. In actual terms they provided body cover. Only L. Dharmasiri, the 38 year old Policeman assigned as his official bodyguard carried a gun. Maheswaran’s 4 year old daughter also accompanied her father to the temple.

Thiagarajah Maheswaran is a pious saivaite. At the Sivan temple he went through all rituals including the walk around the inner circle or “ulveethi”. He also conducted a special “archanai” or pooja. According to Up – Country Peoples Front Colombo municipal councillor VT Gurusamy he saw Maheswaran standing engrossed with devotional fervour near the “moolasthanam” or sanctum sanctorum , oblivious to his surroundings or people around him.

The former minister of Hindu affairs was going out with his “kalanji” coconut in one hand and clasping his daughter with the other, at about 9. 30 am , when the assassin made his move. He was standing on the steps outside the main entrance to the temple. The killer moved closer as Mahewaran emerged and opened fire. Maheswaran fell with four bullet wounds to his chest and head. The coconut turned red with his blood.

The official bodyguard Dharmasiri fired back at the assassin. Sticking to procedure he fired at his legs first to bring him down rather than kill him. The assassin however fired back at the bodyguard injuring him. It was then that Dharmasiri aimed at the assassin’s head but the bullet only nicked him.

The assassin then dropped down on all fours within the crowd and crawled into the temple. It was impossible to fire on a crawling man in a crowd without hitting other people. The assassin’s aim was to crawl through to the second side entrance to the left and escape. It is suspected that an accomplice with a vehicle was close by.

[Sri Lankan armed forces personnel take up position outside Ponnambalavaneswarar Temple AFP Photo: Sanka Vidanagama, via courtesy of Yahoo! News]

There were more than 600 devotees in and around the temple at the time of the shooting. There were uniformed Police personnel on duty at the temple. These cops acted fast and got the doors closed at both entrances. The bleeding assassin was trapped with other devotees inside the temple.

Once the shooting began there was pandemonium with hundreds of devotees running here and there. One of the temple priests who was walking out with Maheswaran whisked away the MP’s daughter to safety. Apart from Maheswaran , Dharmasiri and a few of his unofficial bodyguards, some other people were also injured.

Some of Maheswaran’s uninjured guards rushed with the injured persons to the National hospital. Other injured persons including the assassin were also brought there. Twelve people were admitted.They were Maheswaran, Mahindan,Dharmasiri, Madhurani, Vaani,Sarala,Balachandran,Akilash,Pushpavathy,Videshwaran,
Sivalingam and “Vasanthan” the assassin.

Chandrakumar Mahendran of Jaffna was pronounced dead shortly after admission. Doctors strove hard to save Maheswaran but the MP succumbed to injuries at 10. 35 am. Doctors at the hospital did surgery for six of the injured people. The condition of two is reportedly critical. Both Dharmasiri the bodyguard and Vasanthan the assassin are out of danger.

[Sri Lankan government investigators examine the scene of shooting, AP Photo: Eranga Jayawardena, via courtesy of Yahoo! News]

Although Dharmasiri had been unable to prevent Maheswaran’s death he had accomplished a feat of sorts by firing accurately at the assassin. Thanks to him and the swift action by Policemen on duty at the temple the assassin was caught. This was perhaps the first time that a cold – blooded assassin of a political leader was caught alive.

This “breakthrough” however became a controversial issue in a short time. Instead of trying to conduct a proper , impartial investigation and identifying the actual culprits , there began a dirty game in upper echelons of shifting blame. The main reason for this was the identity of the assassin and his links.

The man known as Vasanthan was apparently a native of Gurunagar formerly known as Karaiyoor. Gurunagar is a coastal area within the Jaffna municipality. During the eighties the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) had much influence there.

Vasanthan’s real name according to informed sources is Johnson Colin Valentine. He was of the Catholic faith and a resident at Beach road in Gurunagar. He had joined the EPRLF Varathar faction as a teen ager in the nineties of the last century. His nom de guerre then was “Vasanthan”. He had then functioned under Thambirajah Subathiran alias Robert who was killed by the tigers on June 15th 2002.

After Robert’s death Colin came to Colombo and aligned himself with another EPRLF leader Thirunavukkarasu Sreetharan alias Sugu briefly . Thereafter he had teamed up with the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Kathiravelu Devananda alias Douglas. Valentine was known as “Johnson Tholar” (comrade Johnson) and “Colin Tholar” (comrade Colin)in the EPDP. He was also referred to as “Vasanthan” and “Vincent”.

About five years ago Valentine moved “away” from the EPDP and was deployed as a military intelligence operative. Valentine was included in the security detail of Maheswaran for a short time when he was a minister in the Ranil Wickremasinghe Government.

Interestingly, Valentine became known more as Vasanthan then. Intriguingly, the native of Gurunagar was given a national identity card with a Karainagar address then. Incidently , Thiagarajah Maheswaran was from Karainagar.The injured bodyguard Dharmasiri identified the killer as a former bodyguard of Maheswaran

It is unclear as to what Valentine alias Vasanthan’s current status is. Though seen occasionally at EPDP offices there are doubts whether he remained a part of that outfit or the intelligence or both. In recent times he was known as Vasanthan rather than Colin or Johnson.

According to some reports he had continued with his assignment at the MSD but was in reality a military intelligence operative. There is also suspicion that he was involved with the abduction of Tamils for ransom racket.

There is also another theory that Vasanthan had been turned into a “double agent” by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE). The tigers are known to have infiltrated rival organizations like the EPDP deeply.

One method is to “win” over operatives attached to organizations like these. The LTTE has successfully “turned” even those working for state intelligence outfits. It is possible therefore that even Vasanthan may have shifted allegiance and worked clandestinely for the tigers.

Valentine alias Vasanthan had been staying at Wattala for the past ten months. When Police searched the premises they discovered some 9 mm bullets hidden up the ceiling. Police have also taken in ten persons for further questioning.

These include two youths staying at Valentine’s residence in Gurunagar. They were produced at before Jaffna district judge RT Wicknarajah and then brought to Colombo.

It is also learnt that Valentine alias Vasanthan has made a statement to the Police. He has reportedly admitted his guilt. At the same time he has reportedly divulged many details of why he assassinated Maheswaran and for whom he was working.

The LTTE is known to have infiltrated or” turned” some intelligence circles too. So Vasanthan may have been a double agent. An unconfirmed report states that his father had been at one time a LTTE vehicle driver.

Only an unbiassed independent investigation will reveal the whole truth but it appears that such a solid probe is unlikely. The honest , impartial sleuths in the Police force are under heavy pressure. One official confided that he was “disgusted” at what was happening.

What happened at the hospital after the assassin was identified is disturbing. There was a heavy “official” presence. In the first place he was brought to the hospital in a “covered” state. Some top security people ensured that the assassins face should not be seen by people or media.

This confirms suspicion that the assassin had some “intelligence” links. Otherwise there was no need to keep him under wraps. If the killer did not have “intelligence” connections the authorities would have gone on a publicity binge. It is not every day that an assassin of a political leader is apprehended with the smoking gun , literally and metaphorically.

Also the Rajapakse regime is being criticised severely for cutting down Maheswaran’s security. One way of damage control would have been to publicise the capture of the assassin in a big way. Instead officialdom is keeping it low – key. This leads to suspicion that some powerful people want to obscure or hide the truth.

The dilemma faced by the authorities is the “intelligence” link of the assassin. If he did not have those links it was very simple to have blamed the LTTE directly. But now there is a need to hide the intelligence link.

It has not been the practice of States to admit openly that someone was an “intelligence”operative. In this case there was also the fact that an intelligence operative was a double agent working for the LTTE. Thus the emphasis was on denying, obscuring or distorting the assassin’s links with the Intelligence rather than revealing full details.

There is also a deliberate campaign afoot to deflect all blame on the tigers. The motive behind this campaign seems to be that of denying or destroying all traces of Vasanthan’s connections with intelligence and instead portray him as a full – fledged member of the LTTE.

Vasanthan’s alleged links with the EPRLF, EPDP, MSD and “intelligence” are a source of embarassment to the power structure. It is preferable from the official perspective to wipe out previous links and depict him as a tiger assassin.

Maheswaran has had many problems with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Given the LTTE’s duplicitous tendencies and penchant for taking revenge years later the possibility of tigers being responsible cannot be ruled out.

Though LTTE credibility is very low in matters like these, the conduct of Govt spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella and IGP Victor Perera makes one feel sceptical about LTTE culpability.

The assassin’s gun was found at the temple premises. It is possible that he dropped it when trying to crawl out. According to Rambukwella it was of a “micro ” variety. These guns are only used by the LTTE he said and alleged that the tiger pistol squad may be responsible.

However according to unconfirmed reports the fingerprints found on the gun do not match those of the assassin

Later Mr. Rambukwella told the BBC “Sandeshaya” Sinhala service that the assassin had worked for Ministerial Security Division (MSD) and had been a bodyguard to Maheswaran and also Devananda….. . Here are relevant excerpts from the radio transcript -

Sandeshaya: Do you have any details of the disclosures made by the suspect arrested in connection with the assassination of T. Maheswaran?

Rambukwella: Yes, he has been temporarily living in Wattala. Eight rounds of live ammunition used for micro pistols were found

Sandeshaya: Is there any truth in reports that he was connected to a Government Minister?

Rambukwella: Yes, there is a report to that effect. He has been in the security detail of Maheswaran himself.

Sandeshaya: Before working for Maheswaran’s security, whom did he work for?

Rambukwella: He has been working in the Ministerial Security Division (MSD). I think he has been working for Minister Douglas Devananda. Most of the Tamil MPs use Tamil security guards.

Sandeshaya: That means he has been definitely working as a security officer in a Government security service?

Rambukwella: Yes, that is what has been disclosed during the investigations.

Sandeshaya: If that is the case, persons providing security could assassinate an opposition MP. There should be a special investigation about those providing security.

Rambukwella: Definitely. There is no doubt about it. There is a possibility that a spy for a group could infiltrate.

The EPDP leader Devananda angrily denied such charges when interviewed later by the BBC”Thamilzhosai” Tamil service.

Subsequently the EPDP official website stated that Cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella had expressed regret to Mr. Devananda over the remarks he made.

The EPDP also issued a statement which said that killers had rushed to “spread rumours like wildfire with the motive of tarnishing the EPDP and to impress on the general public that it was responsible for the murder of Mr. Maheswaran.”

The statement added: “People who are behind this vicious campaign must have a hand, directly or indirectly, in this murder. That is why these elements are spreading rumours to impress the general public before the assailant reveals the truth.”

The IGP’s behaviour was comical but reprehensible. Even as investigations were progressing IGP Victor Perera announced that the LTTE was responsible. By doing so he was setting out the limits within which his men have to conduct the probe.

Can the sleuths come out with contrary findings and embarass their boss? The UNP has very rightly condemned the IGP and want him summoned to Parliament for an explanation.

Later Senior Supdt of Police Anura Senanayake told a press conference that the LTTE was responsible. He said that further information would be released after investigations progressed.

Once again this reinforced suspicion that the Police probe was not “clean”. SSP Senanayake’s revelation seemed more an attempt to bolster his boss the IGP’s claim that the tigers were responsible.

If investigations were not over the prudent course was to keep “mum” and then come out with full details. Instead senior Police officials were saying the LTTE is responsible and that inquiries are not over.

The ham-handed approach of the authorities , the cover-up of the assassin’s links, and the unholy haste to blame the LTTE before the investigations were over has caused most people to “smell a rat”. Officialdom has botched up and the move is becoming counter-productive.

Powerful elements may want to downplay the intelligence link and make a scapegoat out of a tiger but in the minds of most people there seems little doubt about why Maheswaran was killed and who was responsible.

Many people feel that the EPDP was responsible. Despite the denials of Douglas Devananda, circumstantial evidence points otherwise.

Hailing from Karainagar, Maheswaran had been to his hometown in late December. This was mainly to participate in the “thiruvizhaa” festival of the Karainagar Sivan temple. The festival coincides with the “thiruvembaavai” season.

The Karainagar temple is a famous shrine and is described as the “Eelathu Chidamparam”. There is a famous Nadarajar (lord Siva) temple at Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu.After performing his religious duties at the festival Maheswaran also pulled the “Ther vadam” (chariot ropes)

During his stay Maheswaran met many residents of Jaffna. They told him harrowing tales of what was happening in Jaffna. The daily killings and disappearances going on there were vividly related. On an average six persons were being killed daily.

After returning to Colombo Maheswaran began telling people including friends in the media that the EPDP collaborating with “intelligence” was responsible for most of the incidents in Jaffna. He said that he had information about the EPDP killer squads operating on a rotational basis. Ten persons were taken to Jaffna every month . As one batch goes in the previous batch comes out Maheswaran alleged.

Maheswaran also alleged that there was a move to abduct him in Jaffna and that he avoided it cleverly. He said that he would expose the EPDP and its leader Devananda in Parliament on Jan 8th.

He would also prepare a detailed report about it and submit it to the envoys of India and Western nations in Colombo. Maheswaran also said that he would pressurise his party the UNP into conducting an active campaign on this issue.

On Dec 30th Maheswaran appeared on the popular “Minnal” talk show on Shakthi TV and aired some of these views. Responding to the host Sri Ranga’s questions , Maheswaran stated publicly that an “organization” was mainly responsible for the incidents in Jaffna and that he would expose it in Parliament on Jan 8th.

This apparently sent alarm bells ringing in certain quarters and Maheswaran was silenced within 48 hours.The EPDP website criticised Maheswaran and Sri Ranga.

The tying up of the TV talk show revelations as cause and the assassination as effect has led to widespread suspicion that the EPDP may have been responsible for the killing.

Valentine’s known links with the EPDP have strengthened such suspicion. Some ponder whether it was done in collaboration with the “intelligence” or whether the EPDP was acting on its own.

With the accusing finger pointing at him EPDP leader Devananda has vehemently and consistently denied responsibility. He in turn is accusing the tigers and pro – tiger elements of being responsible and also whipping up a deliberate campaign to malign him.

The LTTE has “officially” underplayed the killing though its supportive media organs have highlighted the killing on a large scale. The LTTE’s Pulidevan made a half – hearted statement. Clearly the LTTE is uncomfortable about making a martyr out of Maheswaran.

The tigers want to capitalise on the killing but do not want to glorify Maheswaran. This may be due to Maheswaran being a UNP member and also because of the controversial relationship he had with the LTTE.

There is also the possibility that the LTTE may be responsible for the killing. The Tigers tried to kill Maheswaran once before.

Though some people accuse Maheswaran of being a “kotiya” the reality was that he maintained an uneasy relationship with the tigers. The very act of shifting to Colombo from Jaffna was an act of defiance by Maheswaran. He was shot by underworld elements hired by the LTTE in 2004.

The theory that Maheswaran was killed because he threatened to expose the EPDP in the TV show is easily comprehensible and believable. But in fairness to the EPDP it seems too simplistic an explanation too.

Would the EPDP or state intelligence have bumped off Maheswaran within 48 hours of the TV show when they knew that they will be the obvious suspects?

Then again these elements could have been brazen enough to do so because they operate in a climate of impunity. Many people have gotten away with many things under this regime. Besides nobody expected the assassin to be caught.

On the other hand there is another theory that the LTTE for reasons of its own may have wanted to kill Maheswaran too. The “Minnal” show provided an opportunity where the tigers could kill Maheswaran and conveniently lay the blame on the EPDP.

Maheswaran’s implicit yet public reference to an “organization” and his threat that he would expose it in Parliament makes it easy to suspect the EPDP. The EPDP’s track record in human rights violations fuels the suspicion. It is a “known” factor.

Yet it must be acknowledged that the LTTE role in the Maheswaran affair is an “uknown” factor.One does not know what the exact nature of Maheswaran’s relationship with the LTTE was at the time of his death.

He was carrying on big business transporting food and goods to Jaffna by sea. His profits jumped up manifold after the Govt closed the A-9 highway. Maheswaran was one who exploited the situation and increased his shipping activity.

Despite criticising the Government publicly he maintained good relations with the President and his Brother Basil.When Maheswaran made a critical speech in Parliament Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was to refer to his good relationship with the President and the favours he extracted to promote his business ventures.

Maheswaran sails four vessels “Jenclipper”, “Uniglory”, “Binhtan” and “Bagawan” with a total tonnage of 6,170 carrying government and private cargo to the Jaffna peninsula.

He was planning to visit Germany in connection with purchasing a ship this week.

The LTTE was deprived of income as the revenue generated through taxes declined drastically after the A-9 was closed whereas Maheswaran’s income shot up rapidly as a result.

One does not know whether there was displeasure over this. It is possible that the LTTE may have asked Maheswaran for a greater share of the profits and was rebuffed.

He may also have been asked by the tigers to “do” something for them and had refused.

Former Batticaloa district MP Nimalanayagam Soundaranayagam was asked by the LTTE to take two suicide bombers to the Kotte Parliament. He refused and was killed.

Given the known “links” he had with the LTTE at that time many people including this writer thought the tigers had nothing to do with the killing. Later it transpired that then LTTE eastern regional commander “Col” Karuna ordered the killing.

Likewise one does not know whether such an incident happened in this case too.

There are also reports that Maheswaran had begun to dabble in arms and armaments purchases lately. He had formed a company under a “benami” front and was in the process of engaging retired defence personnel as consultants and procurers , it is said.

If this is true the LTTE would definitely have got irritated.

The situation is quite murky and is too early to reach a definite conclusion. There are many angles both visible and hidden to reckon with in this issue. Will the whole truth be ever revealed?

Both the EPDP and LTTE may plead innocence and blame the other party but the simple truth is that one or the other was responsible. Until the contents of Vasanthan’s “true confession” are known there is no hard evidence implicating either of them.

Even when details are revealed there will be much scepticism on account of the unprofessional statements made by Police officials and partisan accusations by Government politicians.

Maheswaran’s family however seems inclined to believe that the EPDP was implicated. Tamil public opinion at large shares this belief. The views expressed over “Minnal” show is seen as the cause for the killing.

Against that backdrop it is noteworthy that Colombo Additional Magistrate Ravindra Premaratna has directed the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) to take into consideration the facts revealed by Maheswaran in his last TV interview which included an alleged threat on his life, when conducting investigations into the killing of the parliamentarian .

According to media reports ,the CCD reported to court that they had arrested ten suspects in connection with the killing and the suspects were detained at the CCD on the order of the defence secretary. It added that the gun which was suspected to have been used in the shooting had blood stains around the trigger. Samples of those stains were sent for DNA analysis by Dr. Neil Fernandopulle of Pinten Institute at Kitulwatte Road, Borella.

The CCD also informed the magistrate that the productions in the case were kept at Colombo North Crimes Division laboratory and asked court to order the institute to retain the blood samples in safe custody.

Additional Magistrate Ravindra Premaratna also ordered some banks to provide details of the accounts of the first suspect to the CCD allowing an application made by the CCD in the court. He ordered the CCD to file a further report in court on January 10.

M.L.M. Ameen PC who watched the interests of the aggrieved party asked the magistrate to order the CCD to conduct investigations into certain matters revealed during the interview that the deceased MP had with Sri Ranga in Minnal TV programme. The counsel said that the deceased MP had disclosed certain facts about an alleged threat to his life to the TV commentator in that programme.

If the investigations were carried out based on that interview the court would be able to reveal indispensable facts about suspects and the killing he noted. He observed that certain high officers had acted irresponsibly from the inception of the investigation.

Their behaviour had damaged the independent investigations into the killing. Those officers never produced the suspect before the court or asked the magistrate to visit the suspect to record the suspect’s statements. He prayed court to consider the facts revealed in the interview as a voluntary statement made by the deceased.

According to media reports the Addl magistrate acceded to requests made by counsel.

The pertinent comments made by Maheswaran in the “Minnal” TV show are given below

“Five to six people are killed daily in the Jaffna peninsula. Many are abducted and go missing forever. This is done with the backing of a paramilitary group. At first they will send ten people from the south. After three to four months they will be replaced. Minister Douglas Devananda must take the responsibility for it”

“When I was in Jaffna a few days ago, I went to the Karainagar temple. EPDP members surrounded the temple. I have been shot at previously by EPDP groups in Nallur and Ilavalai. The Government has withdrawn my security. I had to seek help from private security firms. Under then Premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, I had 18 security personnel for seven and half years. At the last general election I escaped death by gunfire. It was due to Police reports that I was provided security. ”

The assassination has received much attention and the investigation is being viewed with widespread interest. If interested parties thwart or obstruct the course of justice there is likely to be widespread condemnation. Logically it is in the interests of the Government to ensure a free, fair and credible investigation.

Nevertheless the appalling record of this regime in probing human rights violations against Tamil civilians does not offer much hope. The Trincomalee student murders and Muthur ACF employee massacres being notoruous examples of official “apathy”.

There are also the cases of Tamil National Alliance MP’s Joseph Pararajasingham and Nadaraja Raviraj killed in Batticaloa and Colombo. Nothing worthwhile has materialised.

One difference here is that Maheswaran was a UNP Member. He was from the chief opposition party and not the TNA described derisively by Devananda as Tiger Nominated Agents.

From Ranil Wickremasinghe to SB Dissanayake the UNP has rallied strongly in condemning the killing and blaming the Government. It remains to be seen whether the UNP will sustain this pressure or drop it in the days to come.

One thing however is clear. Whoever is directly responsible for the assassination, it is the Government that bears ultimate responsible. It’s the Govt that is responsible for protecting citizens including legislators. In this case the cutting down of security for MP’s including Maheswaran is a serious act of omission.

The Government has to explain why Maheswaran’s security was whittled down from eighteen to two and why it was not restored in spite of his appeal.

It is cruelly ironic to note that the Government reduced Maheswaran’s security under the pretext that his” threat assessment” was low thereby implying that the LTTE did not pose a threat to him. After his murder sections of the Government are trying to point the finger at the LTTE.

Given the machinations of this regime and the utter contempt displayed towards the truth few people expect a genuine investigation to take place. There is also the evident self-interest of the apprehended assassin.

If a hypothetical question is posed as to how the assassin can save himself there can only be one answer. The assassin has to absolve the state and its minions like the EPDP and blame the LTTE. It is only then that he can wriggle out. Whether he was actually a tiger double agent or not his only way of “escape” is to confess

All evidence of Vasanthan’s links to the EPRLF, EPDP, MSD and intelligence must also be denied and destroyed

Even if all this is done and a grand confession of the assassin being an agent of the LTTE is publicised there could be few takers for it because of the way this Government has handled the issue.

There is a crisis of credibility.But then a crisis of credibility is not of any consequence for this regime.

[This is an updated version of an article appearing in 'The Nation' of Jan 6th, 2008]

DBS Jeyaraj can be contacted on:

Related: Maheswaran: Blend of Business Acumen and Political Savvy

47 comments January 5th, 2008

Ketheesh: Champion of Tamil Rights in United Lanka

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Country is going mad with venomous hatred! Highly educated professionals and intellectuals are at each others throats over the internet. The racist gobbledygook put out against each other by those on either side of the ethnic fence makes one want to puke. One is appalled and aghast at the depths of depravity to which members of two cultured races could descend to

Even as vocal warriors battle it out on their computers the real Mccoys are fighting it out on the battlefields of Muhamaalai, Mandaitheevu and Maavilaaru. Death, destruction and displacement is at its highest. The propaganda war is on at full scale with T. Ruth being killed again and again and again

Death has become a mere word. The number of deaths is a simple statistic.Life is “nasty, short and brutish”. Humanity is at its lowest ebb…”Oh to be far from the madding crowd and away from this ignoble strife”.

Even in such vile atmospheres where life and death are fast becoming meaningless a single man’s or woman’s death too cannot have any meaning. Yet there are people whose deaths diminish all of us. Their departure leaves us sad and shattered. The loss is not to the nearest and dearest alone but to all of humanity.

The death of Ketheeswaran Loganathan called generally as “Ketheesh” was one such instance. One more person capable of rising above hatred and insanity in present day Sri Lanka is no more. With his departure one more Tamil who wanted his people to live with equal rights in a united Lanka and champion that cause in the face of danger has been done away with. Only a few of us are left now.

Ketheeswaran or Ketheesh was of Jaffna origin (Thunnalai South) but born and bred in Colombo. He studied at St. Thomas’s College Mt. Lavinia and Loyola College, Madras before proceeding to the USA for higher studies. He was the scion of an elitist Tamil family.

His father was the legendary banker and economist Chelliah Loganathan. There was a time when Loganathan , General Manager of Bank of Ceylon was regarded as a powerful financier wielding much influence in Sri Lanka.The bank’s lending policies caused much controversy.Buddhika Kurukularatne in his eminently readable Sunday column refers to a description of Loganathan by the journalist par excellence Denzil Peiris. “Like a Sea Street chettiar, Mr. C. Loganathan sits in his York Street office with his greasy fingers on the national economy.”

Ketheesh born in 1952 was two years older than I. He was the youngest in the family. Chelliah and Thilakavathy Loganathan had six children. Ketheesh had three elder sisters Gowri Tharmaratnam, Vasuki Maheswaran and Lalitha Yogasundaram and two elder brothers Sathananthan and Sritharan..

His sister Gowri passed way recently. She was married to Tharmaratnam a top economist at the World Bank. Another sister Vasuki is married to Maheswaran a medical doctor in the US who I think is the brother of former Jaffna MP Yogeswaran. Ketheesh himself was married to Bhavani Kumarasamy who worked in the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) until recently and is presently attached to Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)

Ketheesh had pronounced left leanings. One of his father’s brothers Tharmakulasingham was a well – known Samasajist leaders of an earlier vintage. Tharmakulasingham who contested the Point Pedro Constituency in 1947 on the LSSP ticket was a very popular leftist who died at a very early age amid tragic circumstances. Many people feel that had Tharmakulasingham lived he would certainly have become a prominent leader of the left movement. In a way Ketheesh inherited this leftist legacy.

Ketheesh Loganathan, received a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Georgetown University in Washington , USA and a Masters in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies at Hague, Netherlands. He also worked on a masters degree at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex, UK.

Ketheesh belonged to a segment of Jaffna Tamil society that lived and studied outside Jaffna but retained a positive love and interest in the land of their ancestors. Life for this category would have been entirely different if there was no ethnic oppression in Sri Lanka. Even then it was possible to have gone abroad and lived a life of luxury and seclusion from Sri Lankan politics.

But some of these people did not do so. Instead they chose to engage in political struggle and worked for the emancipation of the Tamil people in a united Sri Lanka. They were able to see both sides of the question and bring a sense of balance and moderation to the prevailing discourse that was often rabid. The ability to see both sides and understand the other mans point of view is often a great blessing. But in contemporary Sri Lanka it was a curse. It often made you an outsider in both camps. Ketheesh belonged to this rare breed of persons.

At the time of his death Ketheesh was Deputy Secretary – General of the Secretariat for coordinating the peace process (SCOPP) and Secretary of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). This makes him appear as a pro – government “establishment” man. The eulogies heaped on him by the “Govt guys” reinforce this impression. This is perhaps the unkindest cut of all.

The life and times of Ketheeswaran Loganathan would demonstrate that he was at no time a toady of anyone least of all a Govt in power. He was a fiercely independent man of thought and action. Let there be no mistake Ketheesh was a Tamil Nationalist. Not of the variety that has descended into violence and barbarity but of the kind which believes in a negotiated settlement ensuring Tamil rights through federalism in a united Sri Lanka. This is a vanishing species but some of us are around still.

The CPA’s executive director Dr. Packiyasothy Saravanamuthu summed up Ketheesh aptly and succintly in a statement.-

“Kethesh Loganathan was a valued colleague, a former Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the first head of its Peace and Conflict Analysis Unit. He was a passionate advocate of human rights, an unflinching champion of the rights of the Tamil people and of an end to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka with democracy, justice and dignity for all.”

” Whilst Kethesh was an ardent and proud nationalist, he brought the same fervour, passion and commitment to the cause of unity in diversity, multi culturalism and a settlement of the ethnic conflict based on meaningful power sharing. He uncompromisingly believed that the liberation of a people could not be founded on fear, the celebration of death, the negation or even suspension of basic democratic values. This made him a stringent and fearless critic of the LTTE for their insistence on being the sole representatives of the Tamil people and for their reliance on terror, repression and violence.”

It would be a great injustice to Ketheesh’s memory if one were to view his life only through the present prism. His was a life that dedicated itself to service and sacrifice for the betterment of humanity. After returning from abroad he worked as a researcher at the Marga Institute (77 – 79) and Social Scientists Association (79 – 81). He worked on issues of development and under development.

It was then that his father now retired launched an enterprise aiming to generate funds and economically develop the badly neglected and deprived North – East. Possessing a romantic streak and a wistful nostalgia for an “imagined” Jaffna Ketheesh went to Jaffna and took charge of his father’s project. At the same time he co – founded another institution for North – Eastern development called DEREC ( Centre for Development Research, Education and Communication) in Jaffna in 1981.

It was during this stay in Jaffna that Ketheesh’s life was taken over by revolutionary politics.. October 1981 was the time of the First Congress of the newly formed Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). A close and trusted friend joined the EPRLF and convinced Ketheesh that he too must do so. So Ketheesh joined what was then a revolutionary political organization.

The 1983 July anti – Tamil pogrom changed life drastically for Tamils. Different people responded differently. Ketheesh went to Chennai and became a full time activist of the EPRLF. Having independent means he did not lead a commune or camp life like many of his other comrades. He stayed in a flat within walking distance of the EPRLF’s Eelam Peoples Information Centre (EPIC) at Choolaimedu and attended office dutifully.

It was during this period that Ketheesh forged a firm friendship with the lovable Pathmanabha alias Ranjan who was EPRLF Secretary – General at the time.Ketheesh and Varatharajapperumal were the EPRLF representatives at the famous Thimphu talks in 1985. He also represented the EPRLF in many negotiations with and without publicity.

Then came the Indo – Lanka accord of 1987. Ketheesh returned home but took no part in the pro – Indian EPRLF North – Eastern Administration. He went to Hague and continued his higher studies.Kertheesh also got affiliated to the “Conflict Resolution Programme” of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway and was awarded a two year research fellowship at the Agriculture University of Norway to complete a study on the “Plantation system in Sri Lanka and the search for sustainable development”.

After Padmanabha was killed by the LTTE in 1990 June Ketheesh’s role in the EPRLF began decreasing. Though he remained in the movement it was a case of being ” in but not of”. His relationship with the new leader Suresh Premachandran also deteriorated. Ketheesh continued to represent the EPRLF in public fora including the Mangala Moonesinghe select committee. Finally in 1994 Ketheesh formally quit the EPRLF but remained on friendly terms with many activists.

Re-entering Academia Ketheesh served as a research consultant at the Centre for Policy research and Analysis (CEPRA). He authored the book “Sri Lanka: Lost Opportunities” in 1996.

Ketheesh also took to journalism. He functioned as Consultant to the short – lived “Week- end Express” where he wrote a popular column “Truthfully speaking” under the pseudonym Sathya. He later wrote articles as “Sathya” for the Daily Mirror too. In 1998 he was awarded the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship and was enrolled for a year at the College of Journalism in Maryland University.

Thereafter Ketheesh joined the Centre for Policy Alternatives and was in charge of the peace and conflict analysis unit. He played an important role in forging the “roadmap to peace” blueprint with the objective of taking the Oslo – facilitated peace process forward.

Soon Ketheesh became critical of the direction the peace process was taking. He felt that the strategy of dealing with the LTTE alone was not a positive one. Instead Ketheesh felt that there should be an emphasis on human rights, pluralism and democracy for the Tamil people. Child conscription and exterminating of those with alternate political views by the tigers was particularly upsetting. Ketheesh became openly critical of the process and the conduct of the LTTE. This was not a popular position to take and soon Ketheesh was becoming increasingly isolated.

This also placed him under LTTE threat. Increasingly pressured, Ketheesh once consulted Lakshman Kadirgamar and obtained some security measures for his protection. Ketheesh quit the CPA early this year with the objective of taking up duties as research director at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS). But he changed his plan when Mahinda Rajapakse offered him the Deputy Secretary-General position at SCOPP. He took up duties on March 29th this year. In July he became Secretary of the APRC.

This was a difficult decision for Ketheesh and he did consult some friends before taking it. Personally I think it was a grave misjudgement on his part as I feel that Mahinda Rajapakse has a not so well hidden agenda for war rather than peace. The Peace Secretariat under PTB Kohona has become a propaganda tool for Sinhala supremacist ideology.

Yet Ketheesh took the plunge with two objectives. One he was naively optimistic of gradually influencing the regime positively. Two he felt someone like him should be embedded in the power structure that was virtually without any Tamil of significance in order to contain the anti-Tamil impulses.

Despite his background and good intentions Ketheesh received flak from the Sinhala hawks. Sinhala expatriates objected to his appointment overtly and branded him an “Eelamist” and “Kotiya”. The JVP and JHU worked against him covertly. The JVP paper “Lanka” had a nasty article about him on Aug 6th.

Meanwhile Ketheesh himself was becoming uncomfortable and frustrated in his new assignment. For one thing an undeclared war was being waged with the SCOPP cheering from the sidelines. The All Party Conference was becoming a time-buying charade without any meaningful direction.

More importantly the impunity with which human rights violations were being committed by the armed forces troubled him greatly. He began trying to collect as much information about these as possible. According to informed sources Ketheesh was greatly agitated about the massacre of 17 aid workers by the security forces in Muthur

Those who know Ketheesh well were of the opinion that it was only a matter of time before he quit the SCOPP and APRC. Being a man of principle and conscience Ketheesh could not have compromised with “evil” for long. Also he was not the kind of person to subordinate his personality to the whims and fancies of the powers that be.

Sadly “Yaman “the God of death visited Ketheesh first. It was on August 12th the first anniversary of Lakshman Kadirgamar’s death. A Police team in plain clothes regularly checked up on Ketheesh due to security reasons. This was a security measure arranged for by SCOPP I believe. On that fateful day some “new” faces appeared at his residence 1B Windsor Avenue off Vanderwert place, Dehiwela.

Instead of asking for “Mr. Loganathan”, as was usual, they asked for “Mr. Ketheeswaran”. Somewhat suspicious Kethees hesitated between front door and gate insisting on some identification. Instead the assassin fired a 9 mm. Five rounds were fired with three hitting him. He was taken to hospital but died upon admittance.

Given the murky conditions prevailing in Sri Lanka his killing was not an open and shut case. Both Mahinda Rajapakse and Palitha Kohona were quick to accuse the LTTE .None can rule the tigers out. The LTTE website “Nitharsanam” described Ketheeswaran as a traitor and “junior Kadirgamar” and threatened to expose Ketheesh’s “nefarious” activities. Nothing followed. Another website referred to him as an “ex-EPRLF” member forgetting that the EPRLF Suresh faction is now within tiger folds

Though Ketheesh had for long remained an LTTE critic and often stated his views openly the tigers had not targetted him. If the LTTE was now responsible why did the tigers do so? was the question on the Tamil grapevine. Though the killers spoke fluent Sinhala they could have been an underworld gang given a killing contract by the LTTE. If the LTTE was indeed responsible the only plausible reason seemed to be Ketheesh joining the SCOPP and possibly his role in tha APRC.

The CPA statement observes thus-

” Whilst the identity of his killers has not been established and no single organisation or actor has the monopoly of political killing in the current climate of division and violence in our country, the LTTE’s record of assassinations of political opponents and Kethesh’s public profile as one of their most trenchant critics, invariably marks them out as prime suspects. We call on the LTTE to refute this by unequivocally condemning his murder. We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct a speedy and impartial investigation into Kethesh’s murder and to ensure that the perpetrators are apprehended and brought to justice.”

So far the LTTE has “officially” ignored Ketheesh’s killing. There has been no statement denying responsibility. The Government is said to be investigating the murder but given past history there is little chance of a breakthrough. Of course many innocent Tamils will be detained and interrogated. Some Sinhala officials will become richer and release some of them. As time goes on Ketheesh Loganathan will become one more statistic but will often be cited as proof of LTTE wickedness.

C. Loganathan was a devotee of the Thirukketheeswaram temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Mannar district. That is why he named his youngest son Ketheeswaran. May the soul of Ketheesh break the cycle of rebirth and attain heavenly bliss at the feet of Lord Shiva.

[August 12th is the first death anniversary of Ketheswaran Loganathan. This article was written last year shortly after his death]

10 comments August 12th, 2007

Mahinda Rajapakse and human rights in Sri Lanka

…That illusion is now evaporating. It is becoming crystal clear that the Sri Lankan state has war on its agenda and not a just peace. Its score card in the deploying of disproportionate force, promoting state terror, disregard for civilian life and rights, large scale violation of human rights etc has demonstrated that the Rajapakse regime is becoming another Frankensteinian monster. Mahinda’s “Panchabalavegaya” of Gotabhaya Rajapakse as Defence secy, Sarath Fonseka as Army commander , Kotakadeniya as Defence adviser, PTB Kohona as Peace secretariat chief and Rambukwella as Defence spokesperson , is helping to expose the true nature of this regime.

Though state actors abide by “club” rules and stand together there comes a time when a member’s behaviour becomes intolerable. When a fellow member becomes too much of an embarassment. then other members need to take action. A powerful or influential Country like the USA, Britain, Israel or China can get way with anything (As is happening now) but a country on the fast track to becoming a “failed state” cannot do so. No Country that is dependent on external aid for sheer survival can hold its head high. When the chips are down there is nobody to bail it out.

The first cracks are appearing. Several organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, Refugee International and several UN agencies and officials have begun criticising Colombo. UN Secretary – General Kofi Annan, Indian PM Manmohan Singh , AI head Irene Khan etc have conveyed their concern directly to Rajapakse. There is growing pressure on Colombo to accommodate International monitoring of human rights in Sri Lanka.The EU which banned the LTTE has also tabled a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva. Ironically Sri Lanka is a member of the Council.

All these developments point to the fact that the International Community is realising fast that the human rights situation is rotten in the state of Sri Lanka. Even if some Countries for geo – strategic reasons support Sri Lanka the overwhelming tide of International public opinion can engulf this support in the future. Sri Lanka is not in the international dog house yet. But it may be there soon unless it addresses the problem of human rights urgently, genuinely and constructively.

[June 2007: President Mahinda Rajapaksa meets Norwegian International Development Minister and former special peace envoy Eric Solheim in Geneva Pic by Sudath Silva]

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Mahendra Percy Rajapakse now known as Mahinda Rajapakse has been a doughty defender of human rights in the past. Mahinda played a very important role in giving leadership to those who resisted the flagrant violations of human rights by the United National Party (UNP)regimes of Junius Richard Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa. Many of us recall the harsh experience he underwent while going to Geneva with dossiers to expose the UNP record in Human Rights (HR) at the UN.

Mahinda being a solid Southerner from “Bentara Gangata Egodaha” focussed mainly on the state of human rights in the Southern Province. There was nothing wrong in this as it was the South which suffered the most during the second insurgency years of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Mahinda and Mangala Samaraweera were instrumental in organizing and backing many mass movements and mass fronts against prevailing tyranny of the state then. Rajapakse established himself firmly in the South as an ardent champion of human rights.

Many years later Mahinda Rajapakse has ascended to the position of executive president. He became President due to a chauvinist Sinhala Buddhist campaign spearheaded by the JVP and Jathika Hela Urumaya(JHU) on the one hand and an enforced boycott in the Tamil areas by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the other .

Mahinda the one – time defender is now chief protector of human rights. He is now required to uphold them. Even after becoming President Mahinda has not forgotten to pay lip service to his progressive past. “Mahinda is a man of human rights” he reminds people.

[Poster in Colombo, during 2005 Presidential Election campaign]

Whenever people ranging from Catholic clergy to Tamil Parliamentarians raise human rights issues with their Executive President a smiling Mahinda puts them at ease reiterating that he is committed to human rights and that action will be taken. Depending upon the audience he would vary his responses. To some he would say there was a UNP conspiracy in the armed forces to denigrate him. To others he would talk of a JVP plot. Some would be told that no witnesses were forthcoming. Others would be told that there was an attempt to make him unpopular with Christians.

Whatever the variety of responses there was an underlying common thread. Mahinda was committed to human rights and would always uphold them. The man of the people with his “kurakkan Sataka” would look intensely into the eyes of his audience and assure them that necessary action would be taken. He would then flash that trademark , broad grin of his and put their minds at rest. As Browning’s Pippa sang “God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world”.

Sep 2006: President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the 61st session of the UN General Assembly in New York. AP [Courtesy:]

Mahinda was in his element as a “champion of human rights” at the recent UN sessions in New York too. Making his maiden appearance in the UN as Sri Lankan President Mahinda referred to his human rights past in his address.He told the UN 60th General Assembly delegates

“In 1970, when I was first elected to the Parliament of Sri Lanka, a paragraph in the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations gave substance and direction to my future political life.

“….to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”

Having been a human rights campaigner at the grass roots level throughout my political life, it was natural that my new government should be committed to carrying the message of democracy to all corners of our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious country. Democracy, equity and prosperity is our clarion call. In addition, my country has been influenced by the core Buddhist values of non-violence, loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and mindfulness. ”

President Rajapakse also stated ” Given my personal commitment to the promotion of human rights at both localand international level, the establishment of the Human Rights Council with enhanced status and capacity to promote and protect human rights worldwide, is a cause for delight. I am happy that Sri Lanka was elected to the Council in May this year. In honouring a pledge made at the Presidential election last year, we have already started work on crafting a Human Rights Charter in Sri Lanka. Consistent with our goal of safeguarding human rights, my government will establish an international panel to observe investigations into certain alleged human rights violations which my Government has already condemned.”

If mere words alone were the sole criteria to judge political leaders then most of them would pass with flying colours. In the final analysis it is deed and not word alone that counts. Performance is more important than promises.It was former US Attorney – General John Mitchell of Watergate fame who once said of his political ilk ” Look at what we do and not what we say”. It is against that backdrop of actual performance that Mahinda Rajapakse’s professed commitment towards human rights needs to be examined.

It is public knowledge that the HR situation in Sri Lanka has taken a nosedive during Rajapakse’s tenure. In fairness to the President it must be said that much of this in the initial stages was due to provocative acts by the LTTE. Tiger supremo Velupillai Pirapakaran delivered his Great Heroes Day speech ten days after the Presidential election last year. He praised Mahinda as a “pragmatist” and “realist” and then assured him that a period of time would be given Mahinda to prove his bona fides.. Rajapakse thanked Praba publicly.

Yet within weeks the assurance was honoured in the breach. Unprovoked and unjustified attacks were launched against the Police and armed forces in the North – East. The LTTE disclaimed responsibility for these attacks and said the people were responsible. It was widely reported that the LTTE sponsored Peoples militia was behind these attacks ranging from Claymore ambushes to pistol group assassinations. One reason for the LTTE launching these attacks may have been due to a perception that Rajapakse was going to adopt a hawkish policy. The appointment of people like Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Gothabhaya Rajapakse, Sarath Fonseka, HMGP Kotakadeniya etc to important posts may have conveyed the impression to the LTTE that Rajapakse was a hardliner.

As attacks increased a beleaguered Rajapakse asked the LTTE publicly not to drive him up against the wall. There was a limit to his patience he warned. The unsaid message in Walasmulla – Weeraketiya fashion was “Mama hondata hondai; narakata narakai”. (I am good to the good and bad to the bad) Elaborate plans to beef up the armed forces were made and rapidly implemented. The USA, China and Pakistan began lending support overtly and covertly.

More importantly the Government of Mahinda Rajapakse shed all inhibitions regarding human rights which earlier regimes had in relation to handling the ethnic crisis. The Sri Lankan state had ruthlessly suppressed two insurgencies in the South in 1971 and 1988 – 89. All laws became silent. In order to suppress the JVP rebellions the state and its agencies conducted a massive and cruel campaign of repression. The state succeeded in doing so but the biggest casualty was human rights.

Though the Sinhala dominated state has engaged in repressive activity vis a vis the Tamil liberation struggle it had never been prior to the Rajapakse regime been as brutal in the North – East as it was in the South. Though most Tamils have certainly been victimised by the state the consequences of the JVP revolt as undergone by deprived sections of Sinhala society were qualitatively worse and terrible.

Now this situation was being reversed and the anti – JVP response was to be adopted.. It was felt in the corridors of power that a hard and harsh response to the LTTE was needed. Incomplete and inaccurate understanding of the nature of the Tamil liberation struggle had made many Sinhala hardliners believe that the Tamil national question could be resolved through force. It was perceived solely as a “terrorist” and not political problem. If and when the LTTE was crushed any kind of settlement could be imposed on the Tamils in particular and the minorities in general it was felt.

This kind of political ideology – if one may call it that – had always existed in Sinhala political discourse but it was usually marginal and seldom entrenched in positions of power. Now for the first time proponents of a dangerous policy were in power. The cutting edge of this policy was militaristic domination.

Those who advocated a military solution to a largely political question had a common complaint. The armed forces were capable of destroying the LTTE but the Governments of the day were not allowing them to do so. Besides undue concern for civilan lives and property, human rights and international opinion was hampering military efforts it was felt.

What was required therefore was a full – fledged military effort to exterminate the LTTE. This meant not only overt but also covert warfare. The ‘war” had to be fought on many fronts. Civilian casualties should not be of any consequence. Aerial bombardment and artillery attacks were to be launched with scant regard for civilans. A dirty war was also necessary. Paramilitary groups aligned to the state had to be used to weed out tigers and perceived fellow travellers. The civilian population had to be terrorised and subjugated.

The LTTE had reached its present position of pre – eminence through terror tactics alone it was believed. So the state had to do the same it was felt. Fire was to be fought with fire.Eggs had to be broken if an omelette was to be made. Such deadly doctrines have been advocated before during the times of Jayewardene, Premadasa, Wijetunga and Kumaratunga. Despite their shortcomings none of these Presidents had been willing to go beyond a certain limit.. But with Mahinda the man of human rights it was different. The green light was given.

For the first time in decades of ethnic conflict the political executive and military hierarchy are of the same mind and perspective. There have a common goal. The President is willing to give a free hand to the security forces to do what they want as long as they complete the task. There is no check or balance by the civil administrationon on the military. There is no ethical dilemma about means and ends. The end justifies the means is the credo. There is a climate of impunity never ever seen before. There is little or no consideration at all for civilians and their human rights. The Country and world are seeing the results of this approach now.

Assassinations, abductions, killings, injuries, disappearances, torture, indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery attacks,displacement, curtailment of employment in areas like fishing, massive number of Internally displaced persons, denial of relief and rations to IDP’s, denial of accommodation and sanitary facilities to IDP’s, restriction of transport, diminished food distribution leading to famine like conditions, deprivation of medicine and infant food, disruption in education and employment, massive cordon and search operations, mass arrests and public humilation, harassment of media, systematic persecution of a particular ethnicity amounting to genocide etc is being perpetrated.

The Tamil people are being selectively and ruthlessly targetted. Priests, politicians, journalists, industrialists, businessmen, professionals, student activists, human rights workers, NGO employees etc are either disappearing or being killed. Tamil traders are being abducted, killed or released for ransom in the heart of Colombo itself. Disproportionate use with scant regard for civilian safety was adopted in aerial and artillery attacks. Though it was claimed that specific LTTE positions were targetted it is not entirely so in practice. Foreign NGO’s are not being allowed to go into affected Tamil areas where deaths, destruction and displacement has taken place.

Despite Mahinda’s pious assertions about being committed to human rights and justice no constructive action has been taken in any case brought to his notice. The Trincomalee beach murder of five students, Pungudutheevu rape killing of Dharshini, headless corpses in Avissawela, Uthayan newspaper attack, Nelliaddy murder, Puthur murder, Manthuvil disappearances, TRO employee disappearances in the East, Vankalai murder, Messacre in Peasalai Church, Muthur International aid worker killings, are but some of the instances yet awaiting justice. So too are the unsolved killings of former Amparai district MP Chandranehru Ariyanayagam, National list MP Joseph Pararajasingham, former Parliamentarian Sivamaharajah, disappearance of Catholic Priest Fr. Jim Brown etc. There are also the abductions and disappearances of Tamil businessmen .

[A goat wandering near the office of ACF, Muthur]

A relevant example illustrating the anti – people approach of the Rajapakse regime and its callous disregard for civilian life is the conduct of its Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols or deep penetration squads. When these licensed assassins sanctioned by the state infiltrated tiger territory and laid out their claymores during Kumaratunga’s tenure only leaders of the LTTE like Shankar, Nizam, Gangai Amaran etc were targetted. But after these operations were revived by Defence secretary Gotabhaiya Rajapakse Tamil civilians have been indisciminately victimised.

Rajapakse may wax eloquent about his human rights background but the existential reality is that the human rights situation is on the wane in Sri Lanka. Rajapakse may have appointed a minister to be in charge of human rights and Sri Lanka may be a member of the UN human rights council but Tamils in the Island are being deprived of their rights in a manner unsurpassed. Rajapakse may boast of a human rights charter in the making but when existing structures are not being utilised to uphold human rights it is a foregone conclusion that the envisaged charter would only be a worthless document.

It is an incontrovertible fact that unbridled state terror has escalated during Mahinda Rajapakse’s reign. A virtual carte blanche seems to have been given to the state’s security forces and allied elements to engage in human rights violations to protect the so called unity and territorial integrity of the Country. There is a climate of impunity prevailing that has not existed before. No act of omission or commission by the Police, security forces or their mercenary running dogs has been punished. On the other hand people who came forward to seek justice like Dr. Manoharan in Trincomalee have been harassed and intimidated.

One reason for the complex nature of the ethnic crisis today is the fact that its consequences have gone far beyond the original causes. Likewise whatever the rationale for Mahinda Rajapakse’s hawkish approach towards the Tamils the consequences on ground have gone far beyond any mitigating rationalisation. In trying to combat the terror tactics of the LTTE the state and its minions have resorted to counter – measures amounting to unadulterated state terror. Sadly the Tamil civilians due to no fault of their own are caught between two terrors.

The LTTE has to bear much of the blame for this deteriorating situation. The original “sin” of the LTTE was helping Rajapakse gain power through its enforced boycott. It then launched its peoples war.An attempt was made on the army commander’s life.The LTTE refused to stay the course in remaining at the negotiating table. Its conduct in Oslo was unpardonable.The tigers also aggravated the war situation by incidents like the Maavilaaru blockade, Muthur raid, Mandaitheevu raid, Muhamaalai offensive etc. By their actions the LTTE has provided Rajapakse an excuse to engage in repressive action.

The reality however is that the Tamil people and not the tigers are bearing the brunt of state terror. It is the people and not the LTTE who are suffering greatly.Besides the LTTE has received international condemnation for its conduct. Punitive measures have been enforced. 25 European Countries, the USA, Canada, India etc have banned them as a terrorist organization. The LTTE has been exposed internationally.

But the Rajapakse regime is yet to be exposed as an exponent of state terror. The dice is loaded in Colombo’s favour because most state actors have not been averse in using terror tactics at times. The established states will stick together and go lenient on a fellow state as opposed to a non – state actor. This “fraternal feeling” was to Rajapakse’s advantage. Also the LTTE was regarded as a notorious outfit. The International Community was pissed off at its behavious. It was also seen as an impediment to peace.

The Colombo government exploited the situation well. Its request that the international community should ban the LTTE for example was justified on the grounds that only such sanctions could make the tigers come to the negotiating table. Military actions were supposedly against LTTE targets only it was claimed. Initially many Countries and organizations remained inactive in the face of mounting state terror. This may have been due to a feeling that the tigers needed a hard knock to be made to see sense.This enabled Rajapakse to get away so far with what he was doing.

[President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking Al Jazeera, May 2007]

That illusion is now evaporating. It is becoming crystal clear that the Sri Lankan state has war on its agenda and not a just peace. Its score card in the deploying of disproportionate force, promoting state terror, disregard for civilian life and rights, large scale violation of human rights etc has demonstrated that the Rajapakse regime is becoming another Frankensteinian monster. Mahinda’s “Panchabalavegaya” of Gotabhaya Rajapakse as Defence secy, Sarath Fonseka as Army commander , Kotakadeniya as Defence adviser, PTB Kohona as Peace secretariat chief and Rambukwella as Defence spokesperson , is helping to expose the true nature of this regime.

Though state actors abide by “club” rules and stand together there comes a time when a member’s behaviour becomes intolerable. When a fellow member becomes too much of an embarassment. then other members need to take action. A powerful or influential Country like the USA, Britain, Israel or China can get way with anything (As is happening now) but a country on the fast track to becoming a “failed state” cannot do so. No Country that is dependent on external aid for sheer survival can hold its head high. When the chips are down there is nobody to bail it out.

The first cracks are appearing. Several organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, Refugee International and several UN agencies and officials have begun criticising Colombo. UN Secretary – General Kofi Annan, Indian PM Manmohan Singh , AI head Irene Khan etc have conveyed their concern directly to Rajapakse. There is growing pressure on Colombo to accommodate International monitoring of human rights in Sri Lanka.The EU which banned the LTTE has also tabled a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva. Ironically Sri Lanka is a member of the Council.

All these developments point to the fact that the International Community is realising fast that the human rights situation is rotten in the state of Sri Lanka. Even if some Countries for geo – strategic reasons support Sri Lanka the overwhelming tide of International public opinion can engulf this support in the future. Sri Lanka is not in the international dog house yet. But it may be there soon unless it addresses the problem of human rights urgently, genuinely and constructively.

This criticism of Colombo by the International Community does not mean that the LTTE will be let off the hook. The mere fact that the Tamils are suffering will not automatically translate into support for the LTTE. For the tigers to redeem themselves in the eyes of the International Community a thorough overhauling is needed in the politico – diplomatic sphere. The LTTE has to take heed of the advice and suggestions proffered by the International community and transform itself. That is the only way for tiger redemption as far as the IC is concerned.

Given the Rajapakse regimes commitment to a unitary state and its policy of escalating war under the pretext of “defensive” measures there seems little use in the tigers going to the negotiating table. But the LTTE cannot afford to do that. If the LTTE wants to expose the true nature of the Rajapakse regime it has to go in for talks and stay the course . It is only at the table that the LTTE can pull down the Government’s fig leaf. The inability of the tigers and their supporters to realise this simple truth and act accordingly is affecting the Tamil people drastically.

The fact that the LTTE was banned by the EU on the request of Sri Lanka was perceived by Colombo as being a windfall. It was true to some extent. But this is now proving to be counter productive. After having banned the LTTE in the interests of peace the EU is seeing all hopes of peace being shattered due to the Rajapakse regime’s gung ho attitude. Tamils are undergoing human rights violations on a massive scale due to state terror. The IC is belatedly recognizing that the Rajapakse regime cannot be treated on par with earlier governments.The International Community therefore is constrained to rein in Mahinda and ease the burden on the Tamil civilians.

Any resolution or statement on Sri Lanka are not likely to single out the Government alone. Both sides would be blamed or criticised and a sense of balance would prevail. Such is the art of diplomacy and international relations. Advice will be tendered and appeals made to both sides. Yet the fact that the sovereign, democratically elected Government of Mahinda Rajapakse is being equated with the tigers of Velupillai Pirapakaran could be an embarassing erosion of the regimes image. Democratic Governments have a greater obligation to abide by human rights standards than organizations branded as terrorist.

History records the cases of many leaders and statespersons who were at one time respected as freedom fighters, patriots and nation builders and who led their people to independence from Colonial rule. Yet after years of self – rule the image of these leaders become tarnished. They lose the respect and support of their people as well as the world. Kwame Nkhruma, Bung Soekarno, Robert Mugabe are but a few names that come to mind. Very often they try to rest on laurels attained during independence struggle to stave off rising discontent.

Mahinda Rajapakse is like that when speaking of his past as a champion of human rights. He is the President today and is required to uphold the human rights of all Sri Lankan citizens including Tamils. This is a responsibility he cannot shirk. The reality today is that the Tamils are undergoing human rights violations and violence on an unprecedented, massive scale. Much of this is due to state terror. Mahinda cannot talk about his past as a HR defender in the present situation. His duty is to uphold human rights for all of Sri Lanka. [This article first appeared on Oct 6th 2006]

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33 comments June 15th, 2007

Batticaloa Becoming a District of Displaced Tamils

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

There is a deliberate effort going on to minimise the internally displaced person figures in the Eastern district of Batticaloa. The clumsy attempt to juggle with numbers by the media center for national security is a pointer. Another indicator is the callously insensitive claim by Keheliya Rambukwella that only 52, 000 are displaced in Batticaloa.It was totally incorrect to say the least. It may be that the Government of Sri Lanka is trying to downplay the gravity of the crisis by downsizing IDP numbers. If so it is one more exercise in futility by this government.

The de- facto entity governing Batticaloa today is the Defence ministry. The de- jure civil administrative authority is the District Secretary or Government Agent. The district secretariat’s official figure for displaced in B’ caloa on Friday March 16th evening was 165, 485.. These people were from 43, 808 families. Of these 6, 512 people from 1, 921 families had been re- settled in Vaakarai within the B’caloa district between March 7th to 15th. Another 2, 664 from 835 families were re- settled in Muthur and Eechilampattru in Trincomalee district by March 15th. This left a balance of 156, 309 peole from 41, 052 families by the week’s end.

The various acts of aerial bombardment and artillery shelling last year had led to a slow trickle of displaced persons from regions dominated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil eelam (LTTE) to areas controlled by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL). This trickle became a flow during December 2006 and January 2007 when thousands of people from the militarily beleaguered Koraliapattru North (Vaakarai) division began fleeing to Govt areas. Among these were tens of thousand IDP”s from Trincomalee district who had sought refuge in Batticaloa North.

The IDP flow became a mini – flood in March when the armed forces launched “Operation Human shield”.The objective was to capture LTTE dominated areas of five AGA divisions. Army commander Sarath Fonseka has pledged that the Eastern province will be eradicated of the tigers by April new year. The latest offensive was seen as an integral part of an initiative to implement this pledge.

["I missed my son Rajendran (44), while leaving Vakarai. He is a mentally retarded person. I am worried about him, and don't know his whereabouts" says Sellaiah Ramupillai (72), who is a farmer from Kathiraveli - Photo HumanityAshore]

Some attempts by the soldiers and special task force personnel to advance on ground did not meet with expected success as the tigers offered stiff resistance. The brunt of the attack however was borne by the civilians. Barrages of artillery shells and MBRL rockets were fired. Intensive aerial bombardment was on. As a result of these atacks thousands of Tamil civilians left their homes and sought shelter and safety in GOSL areas. Though most people have left their homes the armed forces are yet to advance into this territory.

Substantial parts of five AGA or Pradeshiya divisions were under LTTE domination. They were Pattippalai (Kokkaticholai) Manmunai West (Vavunatheevu) , Poratheevupattru (Vellaveli), Eravoorpattru (Chenkalladdi) and Koralaipattru South (Kiran). Around 145, 000 people wee living in these five divisions. Of these about 128, 000 were living in LTTE dominated areas. Around 106, 000 of this number have registered themselves as IDP”s in GOSL controlled areas. Another 22, 000 are either living in their former areas or have not registered themselves as IDP”s. 98, 000 of these IDP”s were displaced in March this year.

The IDP’s living currently in B’caloa can be classified in two categories. One category concerns people from the Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts . The other is about those living in IDP camps or welfare centers and those living with friends or relatives.

21, 306 people from 5, 981 families from Trincomalee district are living in camps. 6, 729 people from 1, 683 families from Trinco are living with friends or relatives. 27, 005 people from 7. 664 families among the IDP”s in B’caloa are originally from Trincomalee district.

Among those from B’caloa district 62, 644 people from 16, 101 families are living in welfare center camps. 75, 806 from 20, 043 families are living with friends and relatives.Thus according to B’caloa dist secretariat figures of March 16th 138, 450 people from 36, 144 families from B’caloa district are registered as IDP”s.

A further classification could be that 81, 535 people from 21, 726 families are staying with friends and relatives while 83, 950 people from 22,088 families are staying at IDP camps. These categories consist of both Trinco and Batti district IDP”s. Proportionately more Trinco IDP’s are in camps while more B’caloa IDP’s are living with relatives and friends. There are 91 Welfare centers or IDP camps in Batticaloa district right now.

The displaced people are living in ten AGA divisions.Eravoorpsttru has the highest number with 40, 948 people from 10,974 families. Next comes Manmunai South and Eruvilpattru (Kaluwaanchikudi) with 35, 883 people from 8, 422 families.Manmunai North (Batticaloa town) ranks third with 33, 230 people from 9, 502 families. Manmunaipattru (Aaraiyampathy) has 24, 012 people from 6, 260 families.Koralaipattru (Vaalaichenai) has 12, 527 people from 3, 527 families. Koralaipattru south (Kiran) has 11, 888 peope from 3, 139 families.Koralaipattru North (Vaakarai) has 4, 278 people from 1, 282 families. Poratheevupattru (Vellavely) has 2, 384 people from 613 families.

[Photo: Yahoo! News]

There are three Muslim majority AGA divisions. Here the number is small. Kattankudi has 26 people from 6 families. Koralaipattru West has only 7 people from 4 family units. Koralaipatru Central has 302 people from 79 famiies. Most of these are Muslim refugees. They are from Muthur and a few villages north of Oddamavady. All of them are registered as IDP”s but staying with friends and relatives.

The break- down of registered IDP figures in B’caloa are not static. It is an evolving and changing situation. Therefore the numbers will fluctuate daily. Yet it is important to note that the actual number is at least double that of the defence ministry figure. It is almost three times the number stated by Keheliya Rambukwella. An estimated 22, 000 displaced have either not registered or living amidst hardship independently. 38 % of B’ caloa’s 422, 000 Tamils are displaced. The land of the singing fish is fast becoming a district of displaced Tamils.

The state machinery is woefully inadequate to cope with the crisis. Even at the time when the March influx began the administration had not catered to the earlier IDP’s from Trinco and Vaakarai properly. More than 50% of those refugees were living in tents. Then the new influx began. With nearly a 100, 000 IDP’s converging on GOSL areas of the littoral within days the administrative machinery just could not handle it. Even the NGO”s functioning amid many constraints are not able to help enough.

The blame rests entirely with the Govt in Colombo. This is a regime which began military offensives under the pretext of liberating people as human shields from the LTTE. The military campaign has been a massive show of firepower and airpower. Civilian habitats have been deliberately targetted with the avowed purpose of driving the people out.What has happened is that the so called “human shields” are not in the areas where they lived but the tigers who allegedly used them as shields remain.

What is going on now is merely a repetition of what went on in Sampoor, Muthur East, Eechilampattru and Koralaipattru North. Only the scale and scope is much greater. Under the flimsy pretext of “removing a LTTE threat” the Tamil people of the East are be9ing driven out of their historic habitat. They are being systematically deprived of their homes in their traditional homeland. The timing coincided with the harvest season. Everything was abandoned. Most dwellings have been destroyed or damaged. There are genocidal elements in the war being waged.

The Govt which claims it is freeing the Tamils from the LTTE’s clutches has shown no concern whatsoever for civilian plight. This is a time when enhanced finances have to be allocated to B’caloa district. Special arrangements should be made. More personnel and equipment. supplies. utensils etc are needed. Nothing has been done. The already staggering district administration simply does not have the resources to address the needs that have arisen in an extra- ordinary situation.

No comprehensive action plan has been drawn by Colombo when it should have fully anticipated massive upheaval. The treatment meted out to Tamil civilians contrasts sharply from how Sinhala civilian IDP”s were treated in Trincomalee. There are blatant double standards. The Tamil people of Batticaloa are regarded as children of a lesser God?

There are no proper facilities at IDP camps. There is no bread and therefore no breakfast. Lunch is invariably late and often undercooked. People line up for food in the blazing sun and it is pathetic to see them take food in plastic bags. Toilet facilities are not enough. Water is not adequately available. Drinking water is doled out once a day. There is little electricity available. Chimney lamps have been given without kerosene. There is not enough medicine, infant food or milk for children.

About 2, 000 people are housed in each school while 450 – 500 people are lodged in tents and sheds. Three to four families share a tent or shed. No special arrangements are available for nursing mothers, pregnat women or infants. Sick and the elderly too suffer. Diarrhoea, Eye disease and skin ailments are rampant. The situation is fertile for an epidemic outbreak. The weather is hot during day while the nights are cold with rain.

This is why many people have opted to live with friends and relatives. There too the situation is not rosy with many having to share meagre facilities. Many camp on compounds. Still they are relatively better off than those in IDP centers.

Most people fled their homes with only what they were wearing. Earlier the soldiers allowed people to return home and fetch things they needed. All re – entry has been banned from March 16th. All entry points in places like Black bridge, Ambilanthurai, Manmunai, Paddiruppu etc have been virtually sealed off. Many people wanted to go home and fetch documents like ID cards, certificates etc. Now they are unable to do so. People fear that their damaged houses will be looted as in the case of Sampooor and Vaakarai. It is alleged that the security personnel were responsible.

The IDP’ are destitute now but it must be remembered that they were not poor people. Most of them lived comfortably if not luxuriously. They have been rendred homeless now but they are not beggars. The emotional trauma undergone is terrible. Yet many officials and Social activists fail to realise this. They tend to regard them as people who have been poor all along. This is not so.

Batticaloa was once flourishing in agriculture. The East was the granary of Sri Lanka. Today war and deprivation has reduced it to poverty. Batticaloa people particularly those from the Paduvaankarai region were a hospitable community. All strangers and guests were made welcome and feasted with food. It is hear – wrenching to see such a simple, homely, hospitable people being reduced to living in refugee camps and lining up for rations and rice.

Related: More than One – Third of Tamils in B’Caloa Dist are Displaced

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March 20th, 2007

More than One – Third of Tamils in B’Caloa Dist are Displaced

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Batticaloa , the only Tamil majority district in the Eastern province is becoming a region of internally displaced persons. With the recent three – tiered military offensive by the army, special task force and air force, inflicting terrible destruction on civilian areas massive displacement is taking place. According to latest figures supplied by officials at Batticaloa district secretariat more than one – third of B’caloa’s Tamil population of 422, 674 are now displaced.

According to civil administration figures the number of IDP’s registered with the Govt was 156, 384 on Thursday March 15th. Of these 21,497 are from the Trincomalee district and 7,654 from the Koralaipattru north (Vaakarai) AGA division. The rest are from five AGA divisions dominated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The AGA divisions concerned are Poratheevupattru (Vellaveli) Pattippalai (Kokkaticholai) Manmunai West (Vavunatheevu)Koralaipattru West (Kiran) and Eravoorpattru (Chenkalladdy). According to revised figures from the B’caloa secretariat 145, 619 people from 32, 565 families were living in these areas. Though the greater part of these five divisions were under LTTE control significant parts , particularly in the littoral, were under Govt control.

More than 127, 000 displaced people from these five divisions are registered with the Dist secretariat as IDP’s. Tens of thousands were displaced in the latest military offensive codenamed “Operation human shield”.Many of the earlier IDP’s of registered IDP’s are staying independently with friends and relatives. The rest both “old and new” IDP’s are housed at 89 camps called welfare centers. In addition to these registered 156, 384 IDP’s an estimated 15, 000 plus are yet to be registered. People in this category are living either with relatives and friends or living under trees.

Vaakarai or Koralaipattru North division had 14, 301 IDP’s at one stage. About 6500 have been re- settled in haphazard fashion. Most IDP’s were reluctant to go but were compelled to do so by the authorities. If the displaced from six AGA divisions including Koralaipattru North are taken together the number of registered displaced persons in Batticaloa exceeds 140, 000. If the estimated unregistered 15, 000 IDP”s are added on the number reaches more than 155,000. This amounts to more than one – thirds of the total Tamil population (422, 674)in B’caloa.

The district administrative machinery is struggling to cope with this rapid increase in IDP’s. One method resorted to is to forcibly re- settle some of the IDP”s from Trincomalee district in their original villages. Their “vacancies” will be filled by the new B’caloa refugees it is envisaged. But most IDP’s are reluctant to move out in an uncertain climate and tensions are rising. One notable incident illustrates the situation vividly.

Displaced persons staying at five refugee camps in Batticaloa district were forcibly removed to Trincomalee district in a sudden “operation” masterminded by an Assistant Superintendent of Police around noon on Thursday March 15th. Though exact figures are not known NGO sources said that nearly a thousand people were taken against their will in thirty buses to Trincomalee district.

The Batticaloa district Government Agent or divisional secretaries were not informed of this action by the authorities concerned. An NGO official said that civil administration officials in B’caloa were totally in the dark when informed of the incident.

A Sinhala speaking ASP had come down from Trincomalee to supervise the entire forced re- location. He was acting on authority provided by the Trincomalee Government Agent who is a retired major – general of the Sri Lankan army.

According to informed sources 30 buses were used in the operation. Five camps for Internally displaced persons (IDP’s) staying at refugee camps known as welfare centers were the targets. The five camps were located at Savukkadi,Aiyankerni, Palaacholai, Kirimutti and Kiran in the Eravoorpattru (Chenkalladdy) and Koralaipattru West )Kiran) AGA or Pradeshiya divisions.

Six buses were parked near each IDP camp at five places. Police officers brought from Trincomalee along with Security personnel deployed in B’caloa district swooped down on the five camps suddenly and began forcibly removing people to the buses. While hundreds of people fled the camps to avoid being taken to the buses many others particularly those senior in age were “caught”.

People were forced to bring their meagre belongings along and packed into buses. The belongings were put in one bus while the human cargo was packed into the other five buses parked at each of the five camps. Some people were cooking at the time but had to leave food and utensils behind. Others had to leave their drying clothes which they had washed earlier.

It is also alleged that family units were ruptured as some children were away in temporary “school” and other members were away at the time or had fled.

In an operation conducted with military precision and brute force the roughly 25 – 35 people were herded into each of the 25 buses with Policemen guarding them. Their belongings “travelled” separately in five buses. The name of the ASP from Trincomalee who “commanded” the operation is not known.

All peeople forcibly removed were originally from nine Grama Sevakha or Village Services divisions in Muthur and Eechilampatru in Trinco dist. . The nine GS divisions were Mallikaitheevu,Periyavely, Pattithidal, Kiliveddy, Bharathypuram, Menkaamam, Kanguveli, Iruthayapuram and Paalathadicenai.

The people are being taken to a transit camp in Kiliveddy first. They will be re- settled in their own villages in due course.

With displacement on a massive scale being underway in B’ caloa district due to military action the Govt is now planning to re- locate IDP’s from Trincomalee dist to their own places and fill the “vacancies” with new B’caloa IDP”s.

While the Tamil inhabitants of certain places considered militarily “strategic” like Sampoor, Koonitheevu, Senaiyoor, Ilakkanthai, Kattaiparichaan, Ilankaithuraimuhathuvaaram, Nallur, Pattalipuram etc in Trinco are not being allowed to return the Govt is applying force to re- settle others from places .

The people however are unwilling to be re- settled as the security situation is fragile and large – scale hostilities could break out at any time. This could result in further displacement tey fear.

Another problem is that all infra – structure in Muthur and Eechilampattru divisions are destroyed. Most dwellings too are destroyed. Besides their belongings left behind have been looted. Also the re- located people are being forced to live amidst poor surroundings in makeshift shelters akin to an IDP camp.Most people feel it would be better to remain in B’caloa and re- locate only after a permanent peace is assured.

This is the reason for their reluctance to move out. The UNHCR has emphasised that no one should be forces to return against their will. But the Rajapakse regime well – known for flouting civilised norms is bent on removing this segment of the IDP”s while creating more IDP”s through shelling and bombing.

One reason for the Government’s strong show of force in re-locating IDP”s is the incident on March 12th. On that day 2803 people from 771 families from Trincomalee district were officially scheduled to be removed from the IDP camps in B’caloa. But when 35 buses moved in most people ran away and escaped forcible removal. Only 781 people from 228 families were taken away.

Authorities were miffed over this incident and Thursday’s operation was a sequel to the earlier one. Most people taken ere those who avoided re- location on March 12th.

Meanwhile three Ministers from the North – East , Riyaz Badiuddeen, Basheer Segu Dawood and Ameer Ali were attending a meeting at the Sithandy camp to discuss matters of IDP re- settlement. They were inaccessible to the media and it is not known whether they were aware of this forcible removal incident or not.

The UNHCR in a press release issued in Geneva drew attention to the emerging crisis.”The government, through local officials, has made an urgent appeal for immediate food assistance for at least the next four weeks. With existing displacement sites already overcrowded and continued difficulties in allocating land, we are concerned about the welfare of the displaced in the district” the release said.”As fighting continues, more people may be forced to flee, and we have asked the government to step up efforts to meet the needs of the displaced.”it added.

The UNHCR also referred to the pressure exerted on IDP’s to return home against their will. “At the same time, UNHCR and other agencies are monitoring the return of civilians from six divisions in Batticaloa to the Trincomalee district. The returns began yesterday.” the statement said.

“More than 300 people have already been transported to a transit centre in Killaveddi. The Government of Sri Lanka has assured us that all return movements will be voluntary.

However, interagency monitoring reports from Batticaloa indicate that heavy pressure has been applied on internally displaced people, IDPs, including local authority statements that assistance will be stopped if they stay in Batticaloa.

This pressure, coupled with security concerns in the sites for internally displaced people, has forced many IDPs to return to Trincomalee even though they have expressed serious reservations about the security situation in their areas of origin.

UNHCR is continuing to advocate for voluntary return, without undue pressure or duress. We have offered to accompany the process. UNHCR insists on removing the obstacles for return and we want to help prepare for conducive conditions for any return. ” the statement further said.

Another disturbing development was the alleged abduction of youths from IDP camps by the Breakaway LTTE faction headed by Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna.The Amnesty International issued a statement on March 13th over this issue. Relevant excerpts are given below -

“Armed groups, some identified as part of a breakaway group of Tamil Tigers known as the Karuna faction, are infiltrating camps for newly displaced people and abducting residents, according to sources known to Amnesty International.

Tens of thousands of people have been fleeing their homes after intense fighting in the eastern region of Batticaloa over the weekend, pushing the number of displaced people to well over 120,000.

“We are hearing reports of armed men, wearing the uniforms of the Karuna faction, roaming the camps and even distributing relief goods,” said Purna Sen, Asia Pacific Direct at Amnesty International. “The Karuna faction appears to operate throughout Batticaloa town with the complicity of the Sri Lankan authorities.”

The military action of the Karuna faction in the east has increased violence and displacement. Analysts observe that the Sri Lankan Army tolerates its military camps as the Karuna faction has assisted in the Sri Lankan military campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

“The people who have been forced to flee the fighting are in an extremely vulnerable position: they have left behind their livelihoods and their homes, they may not know the area and they are likely to be very scared. The government has a responsibility to ensure that camps are safe and civilian in nature — it is unacceptable for men with guns to be wandering around as if they’re in control.”

There have also been reports of armed men abducting young people from internally displaced people (IDP) camps. In one previously unreported incident on 9 March, a 15-year-old boy was approached by a white van as he waited for a bus at a temple near an IDP camp. Armed men tried to pull him into the van, but his struggling and screams attracted a crowd and the abductors fled. A witness said members of the Sri Lankan army watched the incident but did not step in to help the boy.

Food shortages and overcrowding in the camps for displaced people are another concern and Amnesty International is calling on the government to ensure it provides food, water, housing and medical care to all those who have been displaced by the fighting.

“As the fighting continues, we fear even more people will be forced to seek protection in the camps — and basic necessities like food and water will be stretched even further,” said Purna Sen. “The government must act now to ensure supplies can meet the increasing demand.”

Amnesty International is also concerned at reports of people who have been displaced being forced to resettle in the north of the country. Over the weekend displaced people were asked to leave Batticaloa to go to the north-eastern town of Muthur. Around 40 buses transported them away; some of the people apparently did not wish to go.

In a welcome move, the Sri Lankan government invited the UN Secretary General’s Representative on internally displaced people to visit at the opening of the UN Human Rights Council earlier this week. Given the humanitarian crisis, Amnesty International urges the government to allow the visit to take place as soon as possible.”.

Meanwhile the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator called on both sides in strife-torn Sri Lanka to allow humanitarian assistance to get through to those civilians trapped on the frontlines, while also highlighting the plight of over 130,000 people in the east of the island forced to flee their homes because of the recent upsurge in fighting.

“I am extremely concerned that tens of thousands of civilians have had to flee their homes once again in eastern Sri Lanka due to the new escalation in violence. I appeal to both parties in the conflict to respect the lives of the civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

“My main worry at the moment is for the civilians who have been unable to leave the conflict zones. The UN agencies are unable to operate in frontline areas and therefore cannot help the civilians living there,” he said. “All parties to the Sri Lanka conflict must grant access to humanitarian agencies so that they can help those trapped in the crossfire.”

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March 16th, 2007

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