Archive for February 16th, 2008
“Ne’er a peevish Boy , would break ;
The Bowl from which he drank in joy;
And He that with his hand the Vessel made
Will surely not in after Wrath destroy”
- Omar Khayyam (Rubaiyat translated by Edward Fitzgerald)
Usually this column devotes itself to issues related to politics, political violence, terrorism, ethnic conflict, war, peace process, power sharing etc. This column departs from this practice this week to focus on an Institution that has been in the news for the past few weeks – The International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)in Colombo.
At the outset I wish to emphasise that I am both biased and unbiased on this subject.Having been associated with the ICES in the past , I have nothing but appreciative regard and affectionate goodwill towards it.
I owe a lot to the ICES and remain grateful and loyal. Therefore I am firmly biased in favour of the ICES as an institution.I am very much concerned that the ICES is currently enveloped in a tragic crisis.
However I must assert that I am unbiased as far as the personalities involved in the ICES crisis are concerned. Most of the people entwined in this sad , internal strife are known to me. Many are my friends though I have not been touch with some for a while. There are a few with whom I am unfamiliar.
I have spent several days now writing and telephoning the people connected to this crisis in a bid to make sense of the whole thing. Reading and listening to different accounts, I am yet to make up my mind on some matters.
There are some with whom I am yet to make contact. Until this is done I do not want to arrive at any firm conclusion. So I am unbiassed so far about the personalities involved and about apportioning blame individually by name.
However there have been some media reports where people connected to the ICES have given interviews. Some letters and even internal e-mails have been published.
These provide a rough idea of what has happened and what is going on. On the basis of these reports it is clear that some form of internal differences are at the root of the crisis.
I had heard of these developments before but thought these were inevitable hiccups in a period of transition. I never thought it would reach this stage.
[Dr. Rama Mani]
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy had been with the ICES from the beginning. She goes off to the UN as under secretary – general and Dr. Rama Mani a non – Sri Lankan without close links to the ICES in the past, takes over.
It is indeed a problem when Dr. Coomaraswamy who has been an institution within the ICES institution leaves. In such cases people feel the void cannot be filled easily.
It is also a tricky situation when insiders are given the hope that they can fill the void and rank outsiders are brought in. There is bound to be friction and misgivings. But one would have expected the ICES to overcome these trials of transition. Sadly it did not.
One is unsure of what exactly the specific causes of friction were. It is also unclear as to what the remedies prescribed to resolve contentious issues were . The overall consequences however have been tremendous.
Whatever the causes . the one definite consequence in all this is the immense harm done to the ICES as an institution. While some persons acting perhaps with the best of intentions sling mud at each other the institutional image of the ICES sinks deeper and deeper into mud.
Immeasurable and probably irredeemable harm is being done to the ICES as an institution. It does not matter as to who “wins” or “loses” in this essentially fratricidal clash.
Any “victory” can only be Pyrrhic! The fruits of success will be rotten and unfit for consumption.The ultimate loser will be the ICES.
I do not want to write in detail at this time about the genesis of this fratricidal clash and the intimate details of how it is being played out.
I am very unhappy about this whole ICES issue receiving such wide and negative publicity. As a journalist I cannot be opposed in principle to the concept of media disclosures .
Nevertheless I must say that all this media publicity is not in the best interests of the ICES.
Washing all this dirty linen in public is affecting the institution. I do wish the people concerned had not resorted to this course .
Whatever the validity of their grievances, I do feel some restraint could have been adopted instead of publicising a private and internal issue of the ICES.
While refraining from going into the knitty – gritty aspects of the ICES crisis at this juncture , I want to dwell on certain larger and troubling issues. Before doing so I want to refer briefly to what I think is the core of this unfortunate crisis.
What has happened in a nutshell is that an essentially internal dispute of succession, transition and administration has spilled over into the public domain.
Unfortunately the public domain is being pervaded by national security consciousness bordering on paranoia. There is a national security state in formation today.
A dominant viewpoint influencing this paranoid state of affairs is the opinion that a global conspiracy was afoot to divide the Country.
Most foreign – funded NGO’s working for peace, reconciliation and state re-structuring were seen as the cutting edges of this conspiracy.
Nowadays there is a sense of triumphalism in the air. A total victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is being anticipated.
There is whipped up hysteria that international elements are conspiring to prevent such a victory and rescue the LTTE from destruction.
Moreover there is much misunderstanding and mis – interpretation over the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. It is perceived as an infringement of national sovereignty.
The conspiracy theorists also hold that sinister plans are being designed where UN forces will invade Sri Lanka under cover of “R2P” and usher in a separate state.
These suspicions and fears can be understood but not accepted. Much of this hyper – frenzy is founded on ignorance and wilful distortion.
This whole thing about R2P and conflicting perceptions surrounding it is an issue that warrants in -depth study. This column intends doing so on another occasion.
As of now, the paranoid mis – perception surrounding the “R2P” concept has made the ICES extremely vulnerable.
The fact that its past and present executive directors are members of the advisory board of the newly set up New York based Global Centre for the Responsibility to protect has added grist to the rumour mill.
Compounding the matter further are the ethnicity and gender factors.
Both Dr.Radhika Coomaraswamy and Dr.Rama Mani are Tamils by ethnicity. While Dr.Coomaraswamy is Sri Lankan Dr. Mani is from Tamil Nadu but a French national now. As Tamils, it is easy to vilify them and attribute anti – national motives.
Their gender also makes them more vulnerable. Reading much of the sexist attacks against both one cannot but wonder about what their detractors would have done if the past and present ICES executive directors were males?
The state owned “Daily News” carries an article where derogatory references are made to Dr. Coomaraswamy’s “pottu”! This is both ethnic hatred and gender bias.
On the other hand references are often made to Dr. Mani’s physical beauty. One website run by state intelligence has affixed Dr. Mani’s face on to the body of an exotic dancer with explicit remarks of a sexual nature.
This evokes memories of similar events in the not so remote past when India was the whipping boy of our pseudo – nationalists.
Laxmi Puri was the Information secretary at the Indian High Commission from 1984 to 88. She was a beautiful woman too.
In those days there was no internet but the media was full of innuendo and dirty remarks about Laxmi trying to push the Indian agenda through her wiles and charms. There were scurrilous leaflets also.
Puri was depicted as a modern Mata Hari! A handsome cabinet minister who played a big role in promoting better relations with India , was often referred to as her “victim”.
Once again in the case of Dr.Rama Mani the same pattern is visible. Only Dr. Mani is not seen as an Indian agent (aren’t we all bhai – bhai with “loku Aiya” now) but a tool of western “imperialism”.
She is the evil enchantress trying to lead the invading UN armies into Sri Lanka under the “R2P” banner.
This patently, blatantly distorted image would have been a source of mirth but for the fact that it has been taken seriously at a very higher level.
The controller of Immigration and Emigration canceled her visa and ordered that she leave the Country by Feb 7th. This was on the basis of an intelligence agency report. It would be interesting to find out whose input went into the so called intelligence report.
Attempts to raid her house were stalled due to an intervention by the Indian High Commission. There were also plans to humiliate her by forcibly removing her from Sri Lanka if she overstayed.
She left on the 7th itself with her 12 year old son to the Air port in a French embassy vehicle. A French diplomast accompanied her to the Air port.
There was a Kafkaesque element in this sordid drama. The manner in which this woman who left a $ 153,000 dollar annual salaried job and came over to Colombo as ICES director for much reduced remuneration was treated is nothing but crudely unjust and shabbily callous.
I do intend writing more in detail about the Rama Mani affair at a later date. But for now I wish to state the whole exercise was due to the politicisation of a private, institutional matter that was wrongly and maliciously made into an issue purportedly impacting in an adverse manner upon the sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
In this respect one feels that the entire incident as well as the related anti – ICES campaign smacks of what seems to be a personal vendetta. But a dangerous precedent has been set where the concept of national security has been resorted to and misused /abused to settle personal scores.
Instead of being at the forefront in opposing the state’s “intrusion” into certain spheres, efforts have been made by sections of the liberal “intelligentsia” to co-opt “officialdom” under the pretext of national security to harass, intimidate,vilify and drive away somebody who was seen as an obstacle.
There has been for long attempts by powerful elements to suppress dissent and enforce a uniformity of thought on others.Terror tactics and character assassinations are a familiar ruse used in this regard.
Among those resisting such moves have been intellectuals, scholars, human rights activists and humanitarian liberals. These form a sensitive and sensible community.The ICES forms part of such a community.
Sadly there is visible here a failure on the part of some to abide by the values and ideals they have subscribed to over the past years.
Those concerned about the rise of Xenophobic tendencies and a Sri Lankan form of “intellectual Mccarthyism” cannot but be troubled by recent events concerning the ICES .
What is most disappointing and depressing is the fact that some kindred souls seem to have gone over to the “enemy” for personal reasons. This is a painful experience.
Referring to an old fable one read as a schoolboy will not be irrelevant here. This is the story of the trees and the wood – cutter
. When the wood – cutter came to the forest with only the blade of the axe in his hand the old , experienced trees remained ool but the young inexperienced trees panicked. The wood – cutter went away without inflicting damage.
On the following day he returned after having fixed a wooden handle to the axe – blade. The young trees remembering the previous day’s happening were not worried. But the old trees were agitated.
They told the young trees “yesterday the wood – cutter could do nothing because none of us were with him. Today he can harm us because one of us (the wooden handle) is with him”.
This then is the lesson to be learnt. In the on going tussle between the exponents of authoritarian tyranny and the champions of individual liberty, the ICES community has been on the side of the latter.
Tragically some members of one side seem to have colluded with the other side today. The wood – cutter has been empowered to wreak havoc!
This does not mean that the other side has warmed up to the dissidents. No sir ! not at all! The other side may exploit divisions on this side to do more damage but it will not clasp the turncoats to their bosom. Traitors are utilised but not embraced.
A recent article by a well – known critic of the ICES illustrates this situation vividly. The article refers to the conflict within the ICES and correctly describes it as a family feud.
The article simply laughs at this spectacle with amusement and does not take sides. It perceives both factions as virtual tweedledum and tweedledee.
This is the harsh truth that seems to have eluded some members of the ICES family. Even if you squabble and cross over to the other side to gather extra – strength, the traditional opponents recognize the “conflict” for what it is.
It is no clash of policy or principle but that of personalities in a family feud.Thus the ranks of Tuscany do not cheer but jeer!
The ICES is in the throes of a crisis. It is one within and without. The internal “malcontents ” have re-inforced the external opponents. A pattern is discernible.
Initially there is a media campaign to blacken the ICES name and image. Those in a leadership position are targeted by sections of the media. National security related conspiracy tales are spread
Then the state steps in. On the strength of a dubious intelligence report Dr. Mani’s visa is revoked by immigration authorities and a “quit Sri Lanka” order imposed. There is no due process. She tries to appeal.
Then the national Socialists step in. Wimal Weerawansa raises the issue in Parliament and uses Parliament as a forum to attack Dr. Mani and Dr. Coomaraswamy and the ICES. The Prime Minister re-iterates that Dr. Mani’s visa will not be extended. She leaves.
But then the ICES is summoned by the Parliamentary Select Committees probing NGO’s. On February 21st the ICES will be presenting itself. Most probably the ICES will be represented by Sri Lanka’s eminent historian Dr.Kingsley de Silva and one of its distinguished civil servants Mr. Bradman Weerakoon.
It is an open secret that the PSC headed by the JVP’s Vijitha Herat has been extremely harsh towards NGO’s and have grilled representatives extensively. All sorts of details including statements of accounts dating decades back are demanded.
Against this backdrop the ICES is very likely to be put on the hot seat by the PSC. Judging by the on going efforts by some elements to co-opt state institutions in their vendetta against ICES officials there is suspicion that some “inside” ammunition will be supplied to the inquisition to fire at the ICES.The wood – cutter has the wooden handle.
The “trial” conducted through sections of the media may place the ICES in the dock. Despite media assertions to the contrary the institution is above board and cannot be impeached on questions of impropriety or integrity. It will most probably weather out this storm.
At what cost? remains the question. The negative publicity and recent goings on are demoralising. Funding is likely to be affected in the long run. Many of the staff and reserachers disillusioned by the divisions within are likely to move elsewhere. Given the witch hunt against Dr. Rama Mani few non – nationals of high calibre are likely to take up the challenge afresh.
Against this backdrop the ICES is likely to suffer a lean period. The organization will cease to function in Colombo only if it is formally banned. But it can certainly malfunction if it does not have adequate resources or talented personnel.
Moreover there is also the danger that sinister forces could “take over” the institution . This could result in a transformation of all what the ICES has stood for all these years.
There is no denying that the ICES is a successful institution. It owns the property on which it stands. It has a large, independent financial endowment. It has one of the finest libraries.
The ICES has from the time of its first staff researcher Nirmala Salgado produced an impressive body of work that has enriched the world of knowledge.
Though based in Sri Lanka it is an “international” institution and enjoys much prestige and respect in academic and research circles.
It is certainly a fact that the ICES was undergoing a “liquidity” problem in recent times. This was mainly due to the transitional phase. But to the credit of Dr. Rama Mani , the problem had been resolved and adequate funding obtained.
She was on the verge of finalising the new funding arrangements when she was victimised so horribly by sections of the ICES, media and finally the state.
Still the ICES remains the jewel of the NGO crown in Sri Lanka. This makes it the object of both envy and resentment. On the one hand there are elements who covet control of the ICES. On the other there are forces who wish to destroy the ICES as an example.
Ironically, those who want to capture the ICES are collaborating with those who want to undermine it. They think the external input is necessary to combat the internal competitors. The end however could be something entirely unforeseeable.
As I stated earlier most of the people involved in this crisis are known to me personally and many are my friends. I cannot but recall with wistful nostalgia the happy times from 1985 – 1988 at the ICES.
It was virtually a second home to me. I learnt a lot and was exposed to the finest minds both nationally and internationally through the ICES. The frank and open exchange of differing views amicably and politely made a huge impact on me. To use two cliches the “ICES broadened my horizons” and “shaped my attitudes”.
[International Center for Ethnic Studies, @ 2 Kynsey Terrace-Pic by MiFolliott]
The ICES then was located in the ground floor of No 8 Kynsey terrace. It re- located later to the spacious premises of No 2 Kynsey terrace. Though living in Canada I always read about events at the ICES and yearn for the long awaited journey back to Ithaca.
Thinking of the ICES revives sad memories of its co – founder and the man responsible for linking me up with the ICES. Dr.Neelan Tiruchelvam’s soul must indeed be troubled at what is happening in the ICES today.
The ICES was co – founded by Prof. Kingsley de Silva and Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam. Both of them were members of the Commission on Devolution appointed by JR Jayewardena in 1979. Victor Tennekoon was the head.
During sittings both discovered that there was paucity of research material on ethnic oriented issues. This led to their establishing an institute devoted to ethnic studies.
The ICES was founded in 1982 with two distinct offices established in Kandy and Colombo. These two offices have a common Article of Association, Board of Directors, and Chairman.
Prof.Kingsley de Silva was and remains its chairman. Dr.Neelan Tiruchelvam was the Director. Dr.Stanley Samarasinghe was associate director Kandy and Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy associate director Colombo.
After Dr. Tiruchelvam’s assassination by the tigers Dr. Coomaraswamy became Executive Director Colombo and Dr. Samarasinghe ED in Kandy.
What was remarkable about both this partnership and division of labour was the “differences” between Kandy and Colombo.
Prof. de Silva was a biographer of JR Jayewardena and close to the UNP. Dr. Tiruchelvam was a TULF member and MP. Later Dr. Tiruchelvam was considered to be close to Chandrika Kumaratunga.
In spite of this both Kandy and Colombo got on amicably. Both Prof . Kingsley and Dr. Neelan did not let their politics invade the ICES. The duo was a model of unity in diversity.
Kandy ICES focussed more on issues related to history, economics and geography. Colombo ICES concentrated more on Law, Anthropology and Gender studies.It also played a role in the Literary, Arts and cinema fields.
ICES functions as an international centre of excellence located in the global south to conduct research and develop policies and mechanisms to address issues of ethnicity, pluralism, and the prevention and management of conflict.
It has historically played two roles, one of research and the other of policy and advocacy.
Following extensive academic, legal and political involvement in the constitutional reform process and policy formulation in Sri Lanka, and strong advocacy in the areas of gender and human and minority rights, ICES has been well established among the international community for its capacity to generate high quality research which is politically relevant nationally, regionally and globally.
It has always provided space for and encouraged creative expression as a vehicle for political and social change.
Its mission statement pledges to deepen the understanding of ethnicity, identity politics and conflict, and to foster conditions for an inclusive, just and peaceful society nationally, regionally and globally, through research, publication, dialogue, creative expression and knowledge transfer.
ICES has always been more than just a research institution. It has functioned as a space where individuals with diverse positions and points of view have been able to co-exist and engage in debate without acrimony.
To me , the ICES ethos and spirit was that of pluralism and tolerance. This was the vision of Neelan. The greatest casualty in the recent crisis is the fracturing of this vision, ethos and spirit
All what the ICES stood for in the past crumbled when individuals belonging to the “ICES family” aired their quarrels in public and sought state intervention overtly and covertly.The Lakshmana Rekha was crossed.
Today the ICES is being portrayed and depicted as an insidious and conspiratorial institution. Unfortunately the ” revelations” made by insiders have also contributed to this.
The truth however is starkly different. The ICES has from the time of its inception played a very positive role. It continues to do so notwithstanding the current crisis.
When writing positively about the ICES one is painfully aware that the dice is loaded against such assertions. The goals, objectives and activities of the ICES can be perceived negatively because of the current political climate.
Indeed that is what is happening today.Reality is often different from perception . But we live in a time where mis-perception is substituted for reality.
There are silver linings too.One factor overlooked in this dispute among ICES Titans is the mindset of the staffers at the ICES.
From all what I heard and read the ICES staff in Colombo has stood firmly behind Dr. Rama Mani in this crisis. They released a public statement to the media and exerted pressure to have her re-instated.
Dr. Rama Mani’s “deportation” was something beyond their control but the staff members came out in full to give her a send – off.
Subsequently they have raised strong objections to the provisional administrative arrangements at the ICES and called for the removal of some “lokkas”. There are “rumblings of discontent” within the Kandy ICES too
The ICES has over the years built up a community of loyalists, friends, admirers and well – wishers. This global fraternity is shocked and saddened at what is going on now. Many remain silent but are extremely concerned about the future of the ICES.
I, too belong to this group.
[@ ICES, 2 Kynsey Terrace Office-Pic by MiFolliott]
I know that I am voicing the sentiments of this silent majority when I wish the ICES well at this time of trouble and extend my unstinted support and express my whole-hearted solidarity to the Kynsey terrace Institution that I hold in high esteem.
February 16th, 2008
If Philip Upali Wijewardena was among the living he would have reached the biblical life span of three score and ten today (Feb 17th).
Alas, this was not to be as he disappeared twenty-five years ago just four days before his forty-fifth birthday.
This article is written as tribute to the man in this eventful week of significant anniversaries.
Legally Upali Wijewardena is presumed dead though his body was never found. He was travelling in his own lear jet from Malaysia to Sri Lanka when the plane disappeared.
The disappearance continues to linger in the collective memory of the nation as an unresolved myatery. There are people who ask me even now “I say what really happened to Upali? Dont know, no?”
Upali Wijewardena was a man who achieved much in the short period of his life. He was perhaps Sri Lanka’s first indigenous tycoon who captured the imagination of the masses.
Despite his privileged background Upali was basically a self – made man who reached the pinnacle through his own efforts.
The Nation at large recognized this and was proud of him. Though he hardly ever visited Jaffna the people of the peninsula appreciated him greatly. They admired his commercial success.
Needless to say the South was proud of Upali too.The flamboyant business magnate was to many a symbol of success and a role model to be emulated.
The name Upali Wijewardena became familiar to the Country in the early seventies. Yet it was in the late seventies that he was really well – known .
This was when he assumed duties as Director – General of Sri Lanka’s first “Free Trade Zone” the popular name for the Greater Colombo Economic Commission. The GCEC has transformed into BOI nowadays.
I first came to know Upali Wijewardena personally after he became head of the GCEC. I was then a journalist on the Tamil daily “Virakesari”. run by express newspapers ceylon Ltd.
Our chairman then was the well – known industrialist AYS Gnanam. When the GCEC was formed AYS Gnanam was made a deputy – director general by President Junius Richard Jayewardena.
Chairman Gnanam apparently did not inform his newspaper company of the appointment. When news of the GCEC appeared in other papers the “Virakesari” had “missed” it.
When the GCEC held its first press conference at the Upali group premises on Bloemendhal road I was assigned to cover it. I was also asked by my editors to get an exclusive interview with Upali Wijewardena..
When I approached Upali for the interview he agreed immediately.
When I went to see him the following day his greeting was “So you missed the story about your chairman being in the GCEC and now you are trying to make amends by doing a belated write – up”
He then guffawed heartily! I warmed to him immediately.
He was a wonderful subject to interview. He answered each question informatively and at times wittily. He did not bullshit!Pelee Muhandhiram who disaapeared along with Upali was present throughout as a silent observer.
The interview turned out well and my editors were pleased. Upali got it translated and was happy too. Thereafter I was assigned the GCEC as one of my regular beats.
The GCEC was something new and controversial. The “Shannon” experiment was catching on in many parts of the world. The leftists were firmly opposed to the concept.
The idea of providing massive tax concessions and financial incentives to foreign “capitalists” to come and invest in Sri Lanka was a novel project at that time.
One of the attractions was our skilled yet cheap labour. “Exploitation” thundered the left. JR’s famous comment “Let the robber barons come” did not help either.
The fact that a well known “dhanapathi” was heading the GCEC aided the “vahamanse sahodharayo” to attack the project.
It was a difficult time for the pioneering venture. Looking back I think Upali was the ideal man for the job at that time. The GCEC went about its task methodically and diligently.
The much travelled Upali undertook many foreign trips to promote the FTZ. On one such occasion he was in Singapore. At a press conference Upali was asked about the Tamil minority being discriminated against in Sri Lanka.Upali responded to it in his inimitable style.
“Gentlemen” he said “Seated on my right is deputy – director general Raju Coomaraswamy; on my left is Treasury secretary Chandi Chanmugam. Further down is our High Commissioner to Singapore C. Gunasingham.. I am the minority here”Everyone laughed. That was Upali!
It was my duty then to record its progress regularly in the columns of the “Virakesari”. Because of the Gnanam connection the GCEC received top billing in the paper.
I interacted a lot with Upali while covering the GCEC. When working for a Tamil newspaper I have come across many Sinhala persons who simply did not care a hoot about the Tamil media.
I have also come across many Sinhalese who were extremely concerned about what appeared in the Tamil newspapers.Upali Wijewardena belonged to the latter group.
I met him on more than one occasion then.Also he was always ready to answer my questions whenever I telephoned him. Sometimes I pestered him but he didn’t seem to mind.
I remember once Mrs. Wijewardena gently admonishing me on the phone “He is a busy man you know and you shouldn’t disturb him like this”.
Little did I realise then that one day I would be working on Upali Wijewardena’s newspaper “The Island”and that someday Mrs. Wijewardena would become my chairperson
The opposition papers used to regularly publish negative stories about the GCEC. I remember one particular news item in the Communits party’s “Forward”. I asked him some questions based on the news item.
He started chuckling and said ” You have read the “Forward”. Sheepishly I said “Yes”. He then proceeded to answer. This demonstrated that Upali was keeping abreast of all the media reports on the GCEC.
Though he could not read Tamil he got his Tamil employees at Upali group to inform him of what was appearing in the “Virakesari”. Thus he was happy with my work and perhaps due to that made himself easily accessible.
As I stated before the GCEC was a novel project and there no Lanka based precedents to go by in writing about it. Still I managed to write regularly on various aspects concerning the GCEC.
There was very little about the GCEC in the Tamil language then.
But the GCEC became a question at the GCE Advanced level Economics paper. I was immensely gratified when many teachers and students from Tamil schools wrote to me and the paper saying that they had only relied on the “Virakesari” for the exams.
Incidents like those makes journalists feel that they are doing something worthwhile instead of writing about third – grade persons masquerading as political leaders.
Vijitha Yapa who later became the pioneering editor of “The Island” was media liaison officer at the GCEC. Ranjan Perera was Upali’s secretary.He was very helpful. As most journalists know the secretaries can cut you off literally and metaphorically.
One of the biggest criticisms against the GCEC then was that our workers were being exploited by the global capitalists. Being somewhat left of centre in my political beliefs during the days of my youth, I felt this was perfectly valid.
My perspective changed when I interviewed many of the girls employed at the FTZ. Though factory workers many of them were well educated in the Sinhala medium and politically conscious. But they were realists.
One of them observed pithily in Sinhala that she knew she was getting only half a plate. If she agitated for a full plate then she may lose even this half – plate and go hungry.Their families depended on them.
For some reason Upali used to talk freely on many matters with me. Perhaps he was at ease with me a young journalist on a Tamil newspaper.
There was much speculation then in the media about his political ambition. I thought then that he would focus on Kelaniya but I was surprised when he said “No the South”.
It was then that I came to know of his Southern roots from his mother’s side and the Sarath Wijesinghe relationship. Later he earmarked the Kamburupitiya electoral division and began nursing it.
When I was working on the “Virakesari” I once asked Upali how he would resolve the ethnic crisis if he became Sri Lanka’s head. Of course the problem was not as bad it is today.
He thought a while and said that all people should be able to study and communicate with the Government in their own language, Official administration to be done in all three languages and no person to be discriminated on grounds of race or religion.
Subsequently I left the “Virakesari” and joined “The Island” . Upali had nothing to do with my entry into English journalism. My joining “The Island” was due to Ajith Samaranayake, Ravindran Casinader, Gamini Weerakoon and Vijitha Yapa.
Upali did not interfere with recruitment of personnel for the editorial.I also never approached him.
My interaction with Upali ceased after I became his employee. . I ran across “Mr. Wijewardena” a few times. We simply smiled. He seldom visited the editorial then.
I remember Upali speaking to me only once after I started working at “The Island”. This was about my column.
At the Island I was put on the “Tamil” round by Vijitha Yapa.After a trip to Jaffna I began a series of articles for “Sunday Island”.
Vijitha Yapa then made it a permanent column. That was the “Behind the Cadjan curtain” column. It was quite popular then.
VIjitha Yapa;s instructions to me about the column was simple. “Remember that you are writing for a pre- dominantly Sinhala readership in English” he said. “Explain the problems of the Tamils to them. Think of it as building a bridge between the communities”, Vijitha Yapa said then.
One day I saw Upali at a distance. He was about to get into the car.Pelee Muhandhiram beckoned to me. When I went near Upali praised my column and said that he liked it. “Keep it up” he said. That was all.
Naturally I was thrilled.A few months later came their fateful “end”
“The Island” burst upon the media scene then like a burst of fresh air. Upali had undertaken a market survey which indicated there was no room for a new English paper.
But Upali being Upali he simply went ahead. It was indeed a great challenge then working for the paper
The new kid on the block achieved tremendous success within a short time. Two older kids on the block went out of business gradually.
The paper’s plus point in one respect was the colour and modern printing technology.
On another level it was due to its editorial and news content.
The paper covered events fearlessly and provided space to all points of view. One of its strong points then was its coverage of the ethnic crisis.
This was both good journalism and good business. In this the paper reflected the world view of both Upali Wijewardena and Vijitha Yapa
“The Island ” was a runaway success in Jaffna then. One reason was that the Late City Edition was put on Upali Airlines and sent to Jaffna. The “Colombo” edition was available in Jaffna by noon.
I recall then Jaffna Government Agent Devanesan Nesiah telling me happily ” Thanks to the Island we are able to read the latest sports news without delay”.
The main reason for the paper’s editorial success was the free hand given to Vijitha Yapa. This was possible then only because Upali owned the paper. A lesser man would have interfered unnecessarily.
In those days there was only one sacred cow – Upali’s uncle President JR Jayewardena.. All others were fair game. Open season was declared on Upali’s political rivals Ranasinghe Premadasa and Ronnie de Mel.
It was said that Ronnie de Mel felt Upali was eyeing the Finance minister portfolio. Premadasa thought he was trying to supplant him as Prime Minister.
This was a time when Upali was building a circle of supporters in the ranks of the UNP. But when “The Island” began its fearless journalism many shenanigans were exposed. Several of these stories were about Upali’s supporters.
Since the journalists were not told to lay off we went about our reporting without fear or favour. Those affected complained to Upali. But to Upali’s credit he never instructed the editorial “hands off”!.
One exciting night was when Upali himself became a “reporter” for “The Island”. One day President Jayewardena had taken an important decision about deciding on the criteria for staging by – elections.
Urged by the editor , we the reporters , contacted all our sources to find out the details. We failed.
A desperate Vijitha Yapa appealed to Upali Wijewardena. It was night time.
Still the Upali newspapers chairman went to see his uncle the President. He got the information from the horse’s mouth about the formula to be adopted for by – elections. It was a scoop.
Upali was pleased with himself and joked with the editor that his reporters were useless because the chairman had to personally get the story.
At the initial stages Upali himself wrote the popular A’Pura Diaries. Being a Wijewardena, printing ink ran in his veins.
The incredible achievement of the newspaper was symptomatic of the man’s golden touch. Whatever venture he launched became a roaring success within a short time.
Philip Upali ,born on Feb 17th in 1938 was the son of Don Walter and Anula Kalyanawathie Wijewardena.
He studied initially at Ladies College and then Royal College where he captained the cricket second eleven.
He then went on to England and graduated from Cambridge.
Upon his return Upali began working at Lever Brothers as a management trainee. He quit in disgust when his expatriate boss accused him unfairly of lies and deception over preparing a report.
Upali started out on his own with 15,000 rupees as capital and an old house as his only business asset.
That was the time of a state controlled economy but incentives were provided in some areas including confectioneries. Upali ventured into what was called derisively as “seenibola” industry. He began manufacturing candy and toffee.
One man who stood by him in those days was R. Murugaiah an up-country Tamil. It is said that the name “Delta” was adopted for Upali’s sweets because Murugaiah was born on Delta group estate. Murugaiyah was responsible for marketing the products then.
Years later Upali was to quip publicly “behind every successful man there is a woman but behind every successful Sinhala businessman there is a Tamil” and pointed to Murugaiah walking behind him.
Embarking on a career as industrialist Upali never looked back. The confectioneries developed and soon he acquired “Kandos” chocolates from his maternal uncle Sarath Wijjesinghe.
Then came consumer produts like “Sikuru” and “crystal” soap.Upali also pioneeered the assembling of radios, clocks and TV’s under the “UNIC” brand name
He also went into automobiles . The UMC Mazda and Upali Fiat were assemebled here in Homagama.
In those days the import duty for cars was 300 % but only 100% for motor spares.
Upali brought in automobile parts as motor spares with lesser duty and then assembled them into vehicles. He avoided paying extra duty and remained competitive as a result of this stratagem.
Later in a media interview he was asked about this. Upali replied that he wandered to the edge of legal limits but never crossed them.
Upali also went into aviation and began local helicopter and airplane services.I was present when the Jaffna – Colombo flight commenced.
President Jayewardena and several senior cabinet ministers were present. Jayewardena’s affection towards Wijewardena was clearly visible.
Upali also bought up estates in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. He also had many business concerns in Singapore and Malaysia.
The “Kandos man” was hugely popular in Singapore.During Upali’s heyday more than 33,000 people were employed in his worldwide enterprises.
Upali was married on 7th November 1975 to Lakmini, daughter of Dr and Mrs Seevali Ratwatte.
Dr. Seevali being Mrs. Bandaranaike’s brother and Upali being JR’s nephew the marriage was seen then as a dynastic union.
They had no children.But Upali had two nieces and six nephews through his two sisters Anoka Wijeysundara and Kalyani Attygallle
He had a wide range of interests including race horses, pedigreed dogs and motor racing. His horses ran at Aston and Derby winning laurels. Lester Piggot rode some of his winners.
His ribbon winning canines were Labradors and retrievers.
As a young man Upali raced his mother’s “Opel Kapitan” at the Katukurunde Races in early 60s.
Later he imported an “M.G.A. Sports Twin Cam”, which he raced at the Mahagastota Hill Climb.
His also bought a “Mitsubishi Lancer” to be raced at the Nuwara Eliya Road Races and Mahagastota Hill Climb in 1980.
Upali had a luxury S-Class Mercedes Benz 126 from Malaysia. This was the first car of this type in Sri Lanka.
There were also his private Lear jet and helicopter.
He would conduct a business meeting in the afternoon in Colombo, helicopter to Nuwara – Eliya in the evening for golf and return to Colombo again for dinner.
He would fly in his own plane to England to engage in the sport of Kings. Upali had a permanent suite in a prestigious London Hotel.
Upali maintained a flamboyant lifestyle that his countrymen relished. The people were proud that one of their countrymen had really made it and was on par with the best “suddhas”.
When Upali disappeared the nation was shocked. For many months people believed that he would return dramatically. There were also many rumours of a “kehelwatte” plot and also of an international conspiracy.
A song composed in his honour was a popular favourite then. Its chorus was “Upalee Wijewardena, Upalee Wijewardena”.
Finally the Country realised that Upali was not going to return and was gone for ever. Perhaps he is in the locker of Davy Jones!
The mystery however remains still. The Upali Wijewardena mystique will continue to linger in the popular imagination for many more years.
It was my good fortune to have interacted with him as a journalist and also break into English jounalism through the newspaper he founded.
He was an impressive personality and unforgettable character.
February 16th, 2008
It was Tuesday February 12th. An explosion occurred shortly after 10. 30 pm in Tantheem Kafer Souseh , a suburban area of Damascus in Syria. It was a prosperous neighbourhood with an Iranian school and Police station in the vicinity.
A car parked near the Iranian school was the target of the explosion. The black sports utility vehicle. was blown up as a bomb was detonated from underneath. The S.U.V was badly damaged in the attack .
“Like a shredded metal can,” according to Housham Nasaiseh, 19, who worked in a sweets shop nearby and who arrived at the scene a few minutes after the explosion. About ten to fifteen other vehicles were damaged.
The police were removing a body from the vehicle when he arrived, Nasaiseh told newspapers.. Within an hour, the shattered vehicle had been towed away. By morning the scene had been cleared, and the only signs of the attack were a black mark on the ground and scars on the sidewalk and nearby buildings
It was in the early hours of Wednesday Feb 13th morning that the identity of the man killed in the attack was known. It was Haji Imad Fayez Mugniyah , a top Commander of the Lebanon – Syria based Hezbolla organization. He was also linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
A television station run by Hezbollah, Al Manar, hailed Mr. Mugniyah as a hero. “With pride and honor we announce that a great jihadi leader has joined the procession of martyrs in the Islamic resistance,” said a statement read on the station. “The martyr was killed at the hands of the Israeli Zionists.”
According to news reports Israel officially distanced itself from the killing and, without specifically naming Mr. Mugniyah, said that it was looking into the attack in Syria.
But some former Israeli security officials did not hide their satisfaction at Mr. Mugniyah’s assassination. Danny Yatom, a Labor Party lawmaker and a former chief of the Mossad intelligence agency, called Mr. Mugniyah’s death “a great achievement for the free world in its fight on terror.”
In a statement, the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said, “Israel rejects the attempt by terrorist elements to ascribe to it any involvement whatsoever in this incident.”
Gideon Ezra, a minister from Israel’s governing Kadima Party and a former deputy chief of the Shin Bet internal intelligence agency, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that many countries had an interest in killing Mr. Mugniyah but that “Israel, too, was hurt by him, more than other countries in recent years.”
Mr. Ezra said, “Of course I don’t know who killed him, but whoever did should be congratulated.”
There was satisfaction in Washington too. “The world is a better place without this man in it,” said the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack.
There was reason for Mccormack’s observation because until Osama Bin Laden “exploded” on the scene on Sep 11th 2001 It was Mugniyah who was considered the most wanted “terrorist” by the US.
If Carlos was better known as “The Jackal” Mugniyah was referred to as “The Fox”. A reward of US $ 25 million dollars was announced for the head of “The Fox”.
Several US and Canadian newspapers outlined the alleged offences and crimes perpetrated by Mugniyah.
Mugniyah, who was also known as Hajj Rudwan, was one of the world’s most wanted men. American prosecutors charged him in the hijacking of the T.W.A. jetliner in 1985, during which a United States Navy diver, Robert D. Stethem, was shot dead and dumped onto the tarmac of Beirut’s airport.
He was also accused of arranging shipments of arms from Iran to Palestinian groups. American officials say Mugniyah was behind the 1983 bombing of the Marine compound in Beirut, in which 241 service members were killed. A car bomb at the American Embassy there in the same year killed 63 people, including 17 Americans.
The United States also asserts that he was behind the torture and killing of William Buckley, the C.I.A. station chief in Beirut, in 1984; the kidnapping and killing of Lt. Col. William R. Higgins of the Marines, who was on peacekeeping duty in Lebanon in 1988; and in his capacity as leader of the Islamic Jihad Organization, the seizure of a number of Western hostages in Beirut during the 1980s.
Israel accused him of helping to plan the 1992 bombing of its embassy in Buenos Aires, in which 29 people were killed, and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in the city, in which 85 people died.
The embassy bombing in Beirut was a particularly sharp blow to the United States because a regional meeting of C.I.A operatives was under way and crucial personnel were killed.
Media reports said that, although Mugniyah had not been accused of planning new attacks in more than a decade, American officials referred to him and his Hezbollah peers as the “A” team of international terrorism because of their cold professionalism and secrecy.
Widely believed to have undergone plastic surgery to avoid detection, . Mugniyah had not been seen in public for years and was thought to have moved between Iran, Syria and Lebanon at various times. Before 2001, he had been involved in more terrorist attacks against Americans than any other person, newspapers said in reference to $25 million American bounty on his head.
Who was “The Fox” what was his background? What is his life story?
I draw extensively from a paper written by Carl Anthony Wege in 2006. It is titled “Iran’s terrorist asset: A history of Imad Mugniyah”. Here are summarised extracts -
“During the last quarter century, it was Haji Imad Fayez Mugniyah that helped to guide Hezbollah’s covert operations and who served as an operative for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Born in Tayr Dibbuth near Tyre in southern Lebanon on July 12, 1962, he was the oldest of four siblings from the extended family of Sheikh Muhammed Jawad Mugniyah, a prominent Lebanese cleric of the Musawi clan.
During Imad’s childhood, his family moved to the Bir al-Abed section of Beirut and he was barely a teenager of 13 years when Lebanon’s civil war broke out in 1975.. The crucible of the war transformed Imad Mugniyah into an effective terrorist. He apparently joined Fatah in 1975 (where he served until 1982) and shortly thereafter was recruited by Fatah’s Force 17.
Due to his young age, the opportunities in Force 17 were necessarily limited but it was probably around this time that Mugniyah had his initial exposure to bomb construction through his later brother-in-law, Mustafa Badr al-Din. Mugniyah and his brothers Faud Mugniyah and Jihad Mugniyah all stayed behind after the PLO evacuation of Beirut following the Israeli invasion of 1982.
Thereafter, Shiite militants from Islamic Amal, Lebanon’s Daw’ah and the Association of Muslim Ulema in Lebanon formed the Hezbollah organization under the auspices of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Shiite clans such as the Hamiya, Musawi, Aqeel, Shahadehs and Ezzedeen facilitated the Guards’ incorporation into Lebanon’s Islamist movement . Imad Mugniyah’s familial relationship with Shiekh Muhammad Jawad Mugniyah cemented his religious ties within the Musawi clan and to the larger Shiite community.
This, combined with his experience in Fatah, facilitated his entry into the new Hezbollah organization where he was responsible for the personal security of Hezbollah spiritual leader Sheikh Fadlallah in Beirut. Mugniyah may have first become acquainted with Fadlallah through hearing his sermons at Beirut’s Bir al-Abed Mosque located in the district of Beirut where Mugniyah grew up.
In 1983, Imad Mugniyah married his cousin, Sa’ada Badr al-Din, and had two children during that decade. The children were Fatima Mugniyah, born in August 1984, and Mustafa Mugniyah, born in January 1987. In September 1991, Mugniyah’s wife and children were moved to Tehran for security reasons.
Mustafa Mugniyah, Imad’s son, is now coming to an age where various intelligence services will have an interest in him, but currently there is little concerning him in open literature.
Imad Mugniyah’s most important patrons were found in the al-Quds Force, a special operations unit part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and various elements of Iran’s intelligence organs. The direct operational link between Mugniyah and the Revolutionary Guards is likely through the Protection and Intelligence Department supporting the al-Quds headquarters facilitating external operations
Mugniyah was involved in operational supervision of multiple Hezbollah terrorist activities throughout the 1980s . In the aftermath of the 1985 TWA 847 hijacking, he left the security of Fadlallah to his brother Jihad Mugniyah and moved into the Hezbollah Security Apparatus It was this entity that initiated the hostage taking and other operations under Hezbollah auspices using the name Islamic Jihad (al-Jihad al-Islami) throughout the mid-1980s.
Mugniyah was personally absent from Lebanon during the later part of 1987 when he was in northern Iran. He went to Qum in January 1988 and returned to Lebanon in 1990. Mugniyah became progressively more distant from day-to-day Hezbollah operations and more closely associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The relationship between Imad Mugniyah and the Revolutionary Guards was one of mutual exploitation. Mugniyah acted as a Guards asset by filling an important niche in many operational environments furthering Iranian foreign policy goals.
Conversely, Mugniyah had a great patron in the Guards with the infrastructure and resources of a state to facilitate Mugniyah as a notable in his own right both in Hezbollah and within the Musawi clan. This enabled Mugniyah to create his own client and patronage networks as a terrorist facilitating his operational capabilities.
By the early 1990s, Iran’s foreign operations extended to Sudan where Mugniyah was said to have been introduced to Osama bin Laden in 1993 . Throughout the 1990s, Mugniyah apparently worked to establish Hezbollah support cells everywhere from North Carolina to Latin America to Africa.
Mugniyah’s current age and value as an operational asset for the Revolutionary Guards preclude his direct involvement in risky operations. The kidnap operation against Israeli Defense Force soldiers that ignited the recent Israeli-Lebanon war, for example, was unlikely to have merited his participation. If he was involved, his actual role would have likely been mentoring the commanders who did carry out the operation.
With the dawn of the new century, Mugniyah acquired some maturity as a terrorist archetype. His elevation to such maturity is witnessed by his accompanying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Damascus to meet with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad earlier this year to discuss security issues for both states .
Yet details and particulars about his personal life are scant, and reports lacking public documentation concerning him are plentiful . Although the passage of time may degrade Mugniyah’s ability to directly engage in operations, his longevity has created in him a sense of strategic vision.
Demonstrating Mugniyah’s operational maturity, Hamid Zakiri, a defector from the Guards’ al-Quds Force, argued that Mugniyah himself facilitated the escape of senior al-Qaeda personnel to Iran after September 11.
This included some of Osama bin Laden’s close family members. Zakiri also alleged that Mugniyah took an active role in organizing Shiite resistance in southern Iraq .
The resiliency of Hezbollah in its conflict with Israel shattered the strong confidence in Israeli arms and is becoming a source for inspiration and tactical doctrine among Islamists. The unexpected ability of Hezbollah to withstand a rather concerted Israeli effort to rout the organization and pacify southern Lebanon was built in part by Imad Mugniyah.
According to media reports Mugniyah had eluded capture, because other nations in the region showed little interest in joining the hunt for him. For example, American officials discovered in 1995 that . Mugniyah was on a commercial flight that was supposed to stop in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi officials refused to allow the plane to land, frustrating the attempt to arrest him.
In recent years, American officials sometimes received information on his whereabouts in Beirut. But according to several former American officials, the United States did not act on such tips, apparently out of caution about conducting a dangerous operation to capture Mr. Mugniyah in Beirut.
The C.I.A long considered Mugniyah’s organization more dangerous than Al Qaeda, largely because his group was backed by Iran, even as Al Qaeda began to attack American targets in the late 1990s.
Some reports said that American intelligence officials believed that Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad Organization, working with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, had a list of American facilities around the world they were prepared to strike whenever they received orders from Tehran.
But those attacks never materialized, and many American officials became perplexed in recent years over whether Iran had decided not to use terrorism as a weapon against the United States, at least outside the war zone in Iraq. As a result, it is unclear how big a threat Mugniyah posed, at least directly to the United States.
Mugniyah, a Shiite allied with Iran, and . bin Laden, a Sunni from Saudi Arabia, would not seem to have been natural allies, yet there is evidence of contacts between them. They held at least one meeting in the 1990s, possibly to discuss a terrorist relationship, according to statements made in federal court by a former close aide to bin Laden.
Mugniyah’s funeral was held on Thursday Feb 14th.
Accusing Israel of killing one of his top commanders, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah the leader of Hezbollah, has threatened to intensify his group’s conflict with Israel and to retaliate against Israeli targets anywhere in the world said media reports.
Sheik Nasrallah, who has been in hiding since 2006 because of Israeli assassination threats, spoke to thousands of mourners via a televised image.
A band played the Hezbollah anthem, then the Lebanese national anthem. After prayers a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was read out by Tehran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.Then Nasrallah appeared on the screen, bringing the audience to its feet. Many wept.
At crucial moments during the speech, audience members pumped fists in the air and chanted “Labayka, Nasrallah!” — roughly, “Nasrallah, we are ready to fulfill your commands.” Outside the hall, loud bursts of celebratory machine-gun fire echoed in the streets.
Nasrallah during his belligerent speech . called the killing of Mugniyah a “big mistake” that would be avenged. “The blood of Imad Mugniyah will eliminate them,” he said, referring to the Israelis.
According to analysts, If Hezbollah were to strike at Israel outside the borders of the two countries, it would be a sharp departure from the group’s current policy.
Ironically, the last time it did so was in the mid-1990s, when Mugniyah was accused of planning bombings of Israeli targets in Argentina.
February 16th, 2008
Amnesty International today called on the Sri Lanka government to make human rights the priority by allowing the organisation into the country to make an impartial assessment of its and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) human rights record, following accusations from Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella that the organisation was biased against the government.
[Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International]
“Amnesty International’s role is to monitor and report on human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict. The organisation has repeatedly requested that the government should facilitate this role by allowing us access to the country,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Amnesty International also rejected claims by the Defence spokesman that it had failed “to utter a single word’ against recent bomb attacks. In the last month alone the organisation made several statements condemning the targeting of civilians including one on 4th February 2008 entitled: Sri Lanka: Right to life of civilians disregarded as conflict intensifies.
“The situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated and both the government and the LTTE stand accused of serious human rights abuses. All parties should immediately stop targeting civilians and uphold their commitments to international human rights law,” she said.
The rule of law continues to be undermined and the culture of impunity persists. The government must make protection of human rights the top priority. Instead, human rights defenders have also been increasingly attacked or threatened. At such a time attacking the messenger distracts from the overriding responsibility for serious action to address the problem.
February 16th, 2008