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July 31, 2008

Significance of SAARC summit for the LTTE

By MSM Ayub

One can interpret the ceasefire offer of the LTTE as an expression of weakness in the face of the intense military operations , also it may be considered as a ploy to attract the international attention in the light of the forthcoming South Asian Association of Regional Corporation (SAARC) summit which is already in the limelight of the world politics for several reasons.

For the past two years since the battle for the control of Mavilaru anicut in the Eastern sector the LTTE has been facing more debacles than victories in the war front, except in Muhamalai, the northern most exit/entry point to the rebel held area where Tigers gained upper hand several times. However they had to abandon their strongholds in the East and in July last year the security forces gained full control of the entire Eastern Province.

Inserting a body blow to the LTTE politically the Supreme Court in October 2006 had ruled in a verdict given in a case initiated by the JVP that the Northern and Eastern Provinces be separated administratively. It was the Government that grabbed the credit of it by holding the election for the de-merged Eastern Province in May this year.

For the past few months the security forces inched forward in the Mannar sector too capturing historic Madhu area weeks ago and strategically vital Vidattaltivu, on July 16 where Tigers ran a major base for their naval arm, Sea Tigers. The ceasefire offer of the LTTE comes at a time when not only the preparations for the SAARC summit are in progress but also the security forces are marching northwards passing Illuppaikadavai and Nachchikuda, north of Vidattaltivu

The rapid progress in the military operations following the capture of Vadattaltivu Sea Tiger base, a thorn in the flesh of the Navy and the march forward by the troops towards Mallavi, a supply base for the Tiger heartland, Killinochchi must have sent shock waves through the rebel ranks. That is why some observers treat the ceasefire announcement by the LTTE as a manifestation of weakness on the part of the rebels. But the fact remains that it is too early to conclude that the LTTE is in a point where there is no option other than begging for a stoppage of military attacks. However they would surely welcome a breathing space.

The SAARC has eight member countries including recently joined Afghanistan. The Afghan President Hamid Kharzai who is considered to be one of the most threatened leaders by the “terrorism” in the world is  expected to attend to the summit scheduled to be held August 1, 2 and 3  in Sri Lanka.

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s participation too has been a talking point for the past several weeks and media discussed the extensive security measures that were said to be taken by the Indian Government in view of the LTTE activities and the intensified military operations in Sri Lanka.

Despite the repeated claims by the LTTE for the past several years that they do not wish to harm the interests of India and its leaders, Indian authorities do not seem to take any chances in respect of the threats by the outfit. They extended the ban on the Tigers for another two years in May this year and a crackdown against the organization was underway in the state of Tamilnadu before the recent outcry by some Tamilnadu politicians over the alleged shooting and attack on their fishermen in the Palk Strait by the Sri Lankan Navy. 

It was  said that several Indian warships would be deployed under these circumstances around Colombo harbour and the entire air space would be taken over by the Indian security establishments during the SAARC summit.This was later denied by both the Sri Lankan and Indian Governments.

The intense security preparedness by the Sri Lankan Government for the summit including the controversial eviction of people from some streets in Slave Island, advancing of August school holidays and declaration of public holidays during the summit was also an issue for the media. Therefore it is not surprising for an organization like LTTE to attempt to capitalize the media hype created by the security arrangements for the SAARC summit, by declaring a unilateral ceasefire. The statement does not speak of just the willingness of the LTTE to observe a ceasefire; rather it has taken the opportunity to accuse the Government for what they have called a “gradual destruction and oppression of the Tamil people” and “a monstrous war”. Instead of a gradual and logical flow into the facts critical of the Government the statement abruptly and in the very second sentence starts bashing the Government.

 It is clear that the security establishments of all guest countries of the SAARC might have been concerned about the security of their respective leaders, given the reports on the heightening war situation in the northern Sri Lanka and the track record of the Tigers. Therefore the ceasefire announcement by the LTTE might have been a consolation for the governments of those countries and would have definitely tempted their interest. 

In spite of their reluctance, if any, to appreciate the LTTE ceasefire offer as a genuine step towards peace, the governments of the guest countries surely might have satisfied with the announcement at least for the moment, until the conclusion of the summit and the return of their leaders to their respective countries. Some leaders of those countries might be hoping  that the Sri Lankan Government reciprocate to the Tiger offer .

Had the Tigers calculated the situation on this line of thinking, one of their motives might be to embarrass the Sri Lankan Government before the leaders of the guest countries to the SAARC summit.

Terrorism is one of the subject matters that  comes up at the SAARC forums since early eighties, and it is said to be one of the main items to be discussed at the current summit as well. Therefore LTTE’s ceasefire offer can be considered as a preemptive measure, apart from its attempt to capitalize the media hype. 

It is a point to ponder as to why the LTTE declared the ceasefire unilaterally instead of officially conveying first to the Government through the Norwegian facilitator.

 Velupillai Pirapaharan  is  not so childish as to think that the Sri Lankan Government would accept their ceasefire announcement and reciprocate in a manner that would lead to peace talks or at least for a permanent ceasefire in the present circumstances. That apparently is the reason for them to tie up the ceasefire offer with the SAARC and test the waters, and to announce it unilaterally instead of announcing it through Norway. .

On the other hand the long held position of the Sri Lankan Government with respect to the war and peace had been that the LTTE must be weakened militarily to persuade them to talk peace. But  the military operations to destroy the LTTE rather than to invite them for negotiations at a certain point seems to be the target of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. Although President Rajapaksa announced his government’s willingness to hold talks with the Tigers during his visit to Thiruppathi in South India this month, he insisted that the rebels lay down arms before such negotiations.

As President Rajapaksa has ruled out the possibility of a ceasefire or peace talks in the near future with his decommissioning demand, the political commissar of the LTTE Balasingham Nadesan too in an interview  early this month categorically ruled out the chances for the talks with the Government in the face of the Government’s ongoing military offensives. The Tiger spokesman for military matters Irasaiah Illanthiraian has rejected the South African and Icelandic offer days back to initiate peace talks between them and the Government.

It is apprehensible as to why the Government was so prompt to reject the Tiger ceasefire offer, in the light of the recent successes on the war front, but if the Government is genuine in its claim that it is keen to find a political solution to the ethnic problem, it has to talk to the LTTE at some point. But the more the Government troops advance into the Tiger held territory the more the keenness of the Government to find a peaceful solution would wear away. Therefore LTTE might have thought it fit to exert pressure on the Government from now on, through the international players, to enter into a ceasefire agreement.  

July 30, 2008

Neelan Tiruchelvam and the challenge before Sri Lanka

by Lynn Ockersz

Neelan Tiruchelvam is continuing to tremendously sway hearts and minds in Sri Lanka and the very widely attended ninth lecture delivered in his memory on July 27th at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo, by Prof. Gowher Rizvi, Director, Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, was ample proof of this.

[Neelan Tiruchelvam]

The lecture drew people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds, besides sections of the country’s literati.

It is indeed heartening to note that in these times which are challenging for those ardently advocating a just, negotiated solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, Neelan’s voice of moderation, reconciliation and dialogue, is continuing to be heeded and respected, although he is physically no more with us.

The spirit of Neelan Tiruchelvam is alive and well among us and this is exceedingly encouraging news.

Dr. Rizvi who spoke thought-provokingly and eloquently on the subject, ‘Democracy & Development – Restoring Social Justice at the Core of Good Governance’, while making the principal point that in the course of states forging ahead with the development process there can be no ‘trade-offs’ between development and democracy, was particularly emphatic that there is no getting away from the need for states to uphold and perpetuate human rights while working ahead in the direction of material equity for their peoples.

He rightly underscored that this would have been a point of profound importance for Neelan.

Needless to say, Neelan’s public career was dedicated to the cause of perpetuating human rights and social justice and in his advocacy of a negotiated solution to the Lankan conflict, he discerned an umbilical tie- up among human rights, social justice and peace.

This was what was most irksome to the forces of despotic terror and repression which saw an end to his life nine years ago and his message will continue to be anathema to those forces, wherever they may be operational, which believe that an end to Lanka’s conflict need not be dependent on the fostering and consolidation of a vibrant human rights regime and the establishment of social justice.

However, the establishment and perpetuation of equal rights continues to be a principal challenge before Sri Lanka. "Do to others as you would have them do to you", this is the chief challenge.

This is the road to a durable peace in Sri Lanka and as long as this vital need goes unmet it is difficult to visualize a stable Sri Lanka. Hopefully, as we commemorate the life and work of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam this truth about peace in Sri Lanka would be learnt by those who have it in their power to take Sri Lanka’s polity on a progressive, life-affirming and positive direction.

It is gratifying to note that ‘Black July ‘83’ is not going unheeded by the conscience-stricken in Sri Lanka. Views and opinions, generally condemnatory of the ignominious event, are flooding the media and this is something progressive opinion could be happy about, but ‘diagnoses’, analyses and prescriptions for peace have been abounding in popular discourse and in the confabulations of the literati, for well over two decades.

It is now well known how peace could be brought by peaceful means. All that is called for is concrete implementation of some of these ‘peace proposals’, if the state is serious about delivering a negotiated peace expeditiously.

There is, for example, the year 2000 draft constitution which Neelan helped craft before his passing away. This could still serve as a basis for a negotiated solution and even the APRC could use it as a resource in its agonizingly long deliberations.

Why are these veritable short cuts to a just solution not being explored? The inference is inescapable that the state is not keen on evolving a solution expeditiously.

It is possible that some important sections in the South are finding the prospect of a military solution far too alluring to give serious thought to a political solution. Besides, there may be sections which want to bring which they regard as new conceptual inputs into the political process, which they consider as not having received adequate attention so far.

Whatever the case may be, there is no ignoring the fact that whatever may be the outcome in the battle field, a solution to the ethnic conflict as such could be found only at the negotiating table. The Lankan state and other stakeholders would sooner rather than later be compelled to recognize this truth.

The conflict is basically of a political nature and only a political solution would help find a durable solution to the conflict. Neelan acted on this insight and we are indebted to him for persisting with this policy position in the face of numerous discouragements.

Meanwhile, if the state and other important stakeholders are sincere in their pronouncements that ethnic harmony is what they desire they need to take on the relatively unexacting task of installing confidence-building measures among the ethnic and cultural groups of Sri Lanka. They need to implement measures that could promote harmony and peaceful living among our communities.

Why does not the state, for example, unequivocally ban racism in all its forms? Why is not the legal machinery in place to outlaw religious and racial hatred? These are merely two fronts on which the state could be proactively engaged.

It needs to be noted that decades into ‘political independence’ such relatively unexacting measures are yet to be even contemplated by the state. How much importance could then be attached to pious proclamations regarding peaceful co-existence among our communities?

Winning the War, winning the peace

by Dayan Jayatilleka

"The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew, cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down” - Barack Obama , Berlin , July 24

[Barack Obama addresses a crowd of over 200,000 people in Tiergarten, Berlin]

We must not settle for a draw in a game we can win and are winning. As we draw closer to victory, those who wish to deny it to us will intensify their efforts.Let us do everything that can help us win the war, and desist from anything that may prevent or divert us. We also need a vision for winning the peace. Our vision for winning the peace will play a part in helping or hindering the winning of the war. Our postwar program will affect the outcome of the war, not least by influencing the behavior of external powers (one of which actively saved Prabhakaran in 1987).

Victory is imperative and yet not inevitable. It is more than possible; it is probable. Yet, the war is not won as long as Prabhakaran is alive. As long as he is alive, he can recruit and continue to fight. People will follow him. A guerrilla war waged under Prabhakaran’s leadership is a rather different prospect from one waged by a post-Prabhakaran LTTE. From the outset of his struggle-- whether one dates it back to the 1970s or the early ’80s-- right up to 1990, Prabhakaran proved a maestro of guerrilla war, doing what was thought impossible in a relatively limited area of a small island His performance against the IPKF was as a classic guerrilla fighter, and his tactics since, even when waging semi-conventional war, have never lost the unorthodox guerrilla style. As long as he is alive, the dream of Tamil Eelam, a separate country carved out from ours -- the only one we will ever have -- will never die. That dream, our nightmare, will begin to die only when he is no more. It will remain only in the cyberspace fantasies of the Tamil Diaspora, a computer game.

For now there must only be one objective in view: the military defeat and destruction of the Tigers. Moderate devolution helps and does not hinder the war effort because it brings India over to our side or at least keeps it benignly neutral. There are two forces who do not want closer relations between India and Sri Lanka : the LTTE and pro-Tiger elements in Tamil Nadu such as Mr. Vaiko on the one hand, and sundry Sinhala chauvinists and xenophobes on the other. The latter do the job of the former.

The Movement for Devolution

A UN Under Secretary-General from a country which is among Sri Lanka ’s staunchest friends, gave me some good advice (prompted by warm recollections of my father): draw the line, defend your core interests, make no concessions on them; but do make concessions short of those core interests so that you give your friends something to defend you with.

Our core interest is to win the war. It is one thing to resist external pressure from whichever quarter far or near, that wishes us to stop the war or retard its pace or restrict its objectives to something short of victory. That sort of pressure impinges directly on our core security interests, and must be resisted by any means necessary. However, signals that are short of that, which have nothing or little to do with the war, must be treated with sensitivity and accommodated to the fullest degree possible.

Moderate, realistic devolution is the classic case in point. Strategic wisdom has it that he who seeks to defend everything, defends nothing. Those who oppose everything and everyone gain nothing and jeopardize everything. Those who seek to obstruct moderate devolution will almost certainly help obstruct victory in the war.

This is why the launch of the Movement for Devolution, a pro-devolution caucus of Government Ministers—Rajitha Senaratne, Douglas Devananda, Tissa Vitharana, DEW Gunasekara, Dilan Perera—who support the war, the President and devolution, is to be greatly welcomed. Devolution is too important to be left to appeasers and NGOs, while the war is too important to be left to interpretation by chauvinists.

Power sharing and Nation building

While Tamil separatism must be rolled back and overcome, Sinhala and Tamil nationalism have to be contained if one is to build a Sri Lankan national identity and consciousness. They can be contained only by being accommodated to some degree. Tamil nationalism can be contained only by a sufficiency of devolved power and resources. We must share power with one another so as to build a nation with and for us all.

It is a myth that devolution is advocated only by India and/or the West. When Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar sent a delegation to Pakistan in 2005 as a guest of the (Defense-funded) Institute of Strategic Studies of Dr Shireen Mazari, one of the questions we were asked by an intelligent young Minister of State for Foreign Affairs was why Sri Lanka did not learn from Pakistan ’s federal model. That is not to say that we must be blind to its faults, but we must understand that it is not only Tamil Nadu, or the Tamil Diaspora influenced West, or the Christian churches or the INGOs, that wish us to share power with and grant adequate political space to the Tamil people.

No devolution or too little, and communities will break away. Too much devolution and they will do the same. The degree of devolution at the periphery depends on the character of the mainstream. If one implements a strictly secular Republicanism as does France, and one is a French citizen with equal rights irrespective of ethnicity, then the need for substantive devolution at the periphery is virtually non-existent (though Corsica would doubtless disagree). However, if a society insists that the culture, language and civilization of its majority must have some built-in preference, then it is unrealistic to expect that those who do not belong to that culture but are inhabitants of the country would feel themselves fully integrated and un-alienated citizens. Full integration can only take place on the basis of full equality, and a citizenship that is blind to ethnic origin, religion and language. If the State and citizenship are not blind or even-handed but biased, then it is unavoidable that there will be demands by minorities for their own political space at the periphery.

Wild illogic asks the question as to why Sri Lanka should devolve when Prabhakaran is not asking for devolution. Others equally irrationally speculate that Prabhakaran really wants devolution as an escape hatch. Worst of all some actually hold both – mutually exclusive and contradictory – views. The evidence of decades is plain. If Prabhakaran were willing to accept devolution even when he was militarily disadvantaged, he would not have waged war against the IPKF. The other argument, that devolution is unnecessary because Prabhakaran does not want it, is a model of utter irrelevance. When there is a general strike, one grants a realistic wage increase not because the most radical “wildcat” strikers want it or would settle for it but because the vast majority of rank and file workers and moderate trade unions would settle for it, thereby undercutting the extremists. When the strike is reduced to a hard core of extremists, it can be brought quickly to a close. So it is with separatist struggle and devolution.

To win the war, our successful military track has to be paralleled by a political one which proceeds with the same purposiveness and at the same speed. If our neighbors and the world think that a military victory for the Sri Lankan state is tantamount to a Sinhala /Sinhala Buddhist victory over the Tamils/minorities, we may be denied that victory by external economic and coercive pressure, as we once were twenty years ago. A moderate, rational political program containing a progressive vision for Sri Lanka ’s post-war future is a necessary component for bringing this war to a successful close; for winning this war.

Don’t Lose the Peace

Xenophobia, cultural or otherwise, is profoundly counter-productive for winning the war as well as the peace. Scholarly and scientific research has shown that creativity and innovation in all fields takes place not so much from within the bowels of homogeneous and unchanging cultures but precisely where cultures interface, interact, exchange and cross-fertilize. Sir Arthur C Clarke correctly observed that Sri Lanka contains the greatest cultural diversity in the most compressed space, which is a source of conflict but potentially also of great creativity. Unless we embrace pluralism, learn to celebrate the treasure that is our own diversity, and tap into it as an energy source for advance, we shall certainly be unable compete regionally or globally. Worst of all we shall not be using all our cultural capacities, making the best of our endowments, making the best of ourselves.

The best performing of our youngsters, the brightest minds coming out of our universities with First classes, are migrating. Unless we can retain them by creating an environment in which the intelligent discerning internationally aware individual can flourish, we may win the war but lose the capacity to re-build, regenerate. Post war Sri Lanka must not be like pre-war Sri Lanka , because that order was so flawed as to contain the seeds of war. As we reconstruct we must restructure, transform, learning from past mistakes.

Similarly, post war Sri Lanka must be unlike wartime Sri Lanka . If ideologies of resentment and closure prevail over those of conciliation and openness, we shall be unable to manage the problem of the hemorrhage of quality human resources, which in turn will decide whether we shall develop or decline as a country.

It will serve little purpose if we win the war and lose the peace. For those who think that Sri Lanka can win the war on the basis of a program and vision of inequity between peoples, of enforced cultural homogeneity in a heterogeneous society; for those who believe that Sri Lanka can return to its pre-war order or build an unfair unequal post-war one; for those who assume that closed minds and cultural exclusivity can sustain our country in the 21st century, I have little time and no more arguments but only two words, which must be marked well: Barack Obama.

The American Candidate: Barack in Berlin

Barack Obama left the USA for the Middle East and Europe as a candidate described as African-American but in Europe he was re-defined and reborn as what he is: the American candidate. Leonard Cohen’s song says “First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin”. Obama seems to be reversing that trajectory of triumph. Let him speak for himself, in his own words -- highly acclaimed as statesmanlike -- delivered (without a note) to the two hundred thousand strong crowd in Berlin ’s Tiergarten on July 24th:

“…Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen – a proud citizen of the United States , and a fellow citizen of the world.

“…I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city. The journey that led me here is improbable. My mother was born in the heartland of America , but my father grew up herding goats in Kenya . His father – my grandfather – was a cook, a domestic servant to the British…”

“…The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”

“…Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us – what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America’s shores – is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.”

Obama points the way for Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. For the Tamils, the relevance and example should be clear: abandon projects of separatist walling-off, integrate into the mainstream, fight against discrimination and for equal rights, regard oneself as a Sri Lankan and compete as one. The African–Americans experienced slavery and segregation and still encounter racism, but Barack Obama’s example is to transcend that experience, which was historically far worse than anything suffered by Tamils. His is the model of our martyred Lakshman Kadirgamar (whose oration for devolution in the Parliamentary debate on the August 2000 Draft Constitution is cunningly ignored by Sinhalese chauvinists). It can come to the forefront only when Kadirgamar’s assassins, the Tigers, are defeated.

What is the lesson and example for the Sinhalese? Barack Obama, perhaps the most intellectually gifted politician in today’s world and potentially a philosopher-president in the Platonic sense, ushers in a new model of cultural globalization and globalized culture of and for the 21st century. He is the modern, Multiethnic, Multi-Cultural Man, emerging from the melting pot meritocracy that is America . However, this is not an exclusively American Dream. It is not essentially different from the multiracialism of Cuba ’s Fidel Castro and South Africa ’s Nelson Mandela, or that of Jawaharlal Nehru, without whose inclusive, pluralist, secular, rational, modern leadership vision for an ancient, culturally rich society, India would not be the Asian success story and the 21st century miracle it has become.

July 28, 2008

Some Thoughts on LTTE's Military Response

By Col R Hariharan

During the last one week, Sri Lanka army has kept up its momentum of advance. According to defence sources, the troops of 57 Division are on the periphery of line Tunukkai-Mallavi, west of A9 highway. We can expect them to secure the line from Vellankulam on the coast to Mallavi during the course of the week The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)'s failed attempt to dislodge the security forces in area South of  Vavunikulam tank by last Wednesday is significant. Vavunikulam is astride the Vellankulam-Mallavi-Mankulam road axis and provides a take off point to build up the threat to Mankulam on A9. Even if the LTTE had succeeded, at best it would have bought a few more days of respite. However, the fact is that the LTTE was beaten back at Vavunikulam with a body count of 29 LTTE dead.

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The LTTE counter attack probably did not have either the force levels required to stall the advancing troops or the fire power to unnerve them. The overwhelming size of the security forces offensive has cast the odds heavily against the LTTE. By present reckoning the LTTE at present can respond only fight defensive battles to save its shrinking territorial assets rather than mount a forceful offensive.

The LTTE has to halt the troops in their tracks in a series of delaying actions, or build a major offensive to cut the advancing military's long line of communication at a place of its choosing. So can the LTTE do it? And if so, where will it do? These are questions which Sri Lankan operational planners must be looking at. It seems from the Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka's statement that he expects the LTTE leaders to be huddled in their Vanni bunkers in a bid to save themselves when the LTTE Heroes Day comes in November 2008. He probably implied that the security forces would secure the territory west of A9 road by then. The build up of a three-division offensive on a broad front extending the whole of Mullaitivu district from Vellankulam on the west to Welioya on the east could aim at making a sweep from west to east to make the line Pooneryn-Kilinochchi untenable for the LTTE to hold in the coming month. However this military conjecture is only one of wide options open to the security forces now.

[Colonel Hariharan, at a symposium in Colombo, Aug 2007]

The LTTE appears to be responding in the way it knows best. Strategically, make a play internationally with an eye on drawing the overseas Tamil support, kindle Tamil Nadu's latent sympathetic embers, and step up killings and mayhem around Colombo and the heartlands of Sri Lanka. On the tactical front its actions are hazy and uncertain.

The LTTE's damatic announcement on July 21 to "observe a unilateral ceasefire that is devoid of military actions during the period of the SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] conference from 26th July to 4th August and give our cooperation for the success of the conference" is undoubtedly part of this strategy to buy time and aspire for a sympathetic audience when international attention focuses on the 15th SAARC summit conference is held in Colombo.

Apparently the LTTE gesture was laudable and would be welcomed by the people of Vanni who have been suffering immensely in the conflict. Tactically it would be unacceptable to the security forces when their offensive had made substantial progress and pose a real threat to the LTTE stronghold at Pooneryn/ Kilinochchi in the near future. A ceasefire even for 10 days would break the momentum of Sri Lankan advance. That would provide a vital breathing space for the LTTE forces now under tremendous pressure to recuperate their losses, tighten up defences and be prepared to respond to the security forces better. So it came as no surprise that the Sri Lanka government rejected the LTTE's unilateral ceasefire announcement.

In any case past experience of the LTTE misusing such ceasefire periods does not endear anyone fighting it to accept such offers. (Even Indian army experience of such 'LTTE ceasefire' was similar). When the LTTE was fighting the earlier episode of the Eelam War, it declared one such unilateral ceasefire on December 24, 2000 that continued up to April 2001. Even then the Sri Lanka government was cautious in its response, despite international efforts to initiate mediation. Barely three months later, in July 2001 came the daring LTTE Black Tiger raid on Katunayake airport crippling the civilian airlines and destroying substantial air force assets shocking the whole nation. Armies the world over go by lessons of war learned with their own blood and sweat. And Sri Lanka is no exception.

As far as the international audience is concerned, the number of ears sympathetic to the LTTE is dwindling. The global attitude to terrorism has changed. For all intents and purposes many nations consider the LTTE a terrorist organisation regardless of semantic arguments. Its international credibility is perhaps at the lowest now thanks to the nerve wracking experience of nations in handling terrorists of various kinds. Even those nations that do not call or consider the LTTE a terrorist body are cautious about coming out in support of the LTTE as they used to do in the 90s. So in reality the LTTE probably had no great expectations of any positive international response to its announcement.

The LTTE's strategic campaign among expatriates works best on an audience prone to be sympathetic to its cause. To augment its support base the LTTE will have to win over those who respond to the cause of Tamil autonomy but find the LTTE style of working abhorrent. This is what the LTTE is attempting among the Tamil expatriates at the large Pongu Thamizh public gatherings marshalled in key European capitals with strategically positioned LTTE flags and Prabhakaran portraits to catch the visual media. To make this strategy work the LTTE will have to do more than use its muscle power it had exercised among the expatriates all these years.

The LTTE's autocratic style has limited political appeal for expatriates who are enjoying the fruits freedom in democratic societies where they live. However, all these years they were impressed with its innovative conventional and unconventional operational skill. However, that fundamental military credibility on which the LTTE's reputation is built has now been shaken in the Eelam War-4. So the LTTE has to prove its military muscle in the war; and so far this is being weakened further with every success of the security

The best option for the LTTE is to look for an external power to bale it out of the war mess. In the past India, which has been sympathetic to the cause of Sri Lanka Tamil autonomy, did intervene in their favour till the LTTE shot itself in the foot when its assassin exploded the suicide bomb to kill Rajiv Gandhi. There were reports of India planning to induct substantial strength of Indian forces for the security of its Prime Minister during the SAARC conference. Immediately, the anti Indian lobby in Sri Lanka became vocal in their objection. Though the LTTE did not do so, it must have been really worried because Indian military intrevention for whatever apparent reason was the last thing it would like. So the LTTE's unilateral ceasefire announcement was also probably prompted by this desire ease India's apprehensions.

The ceasefire was also timed to coincide with the increasing incidents of Indian fishermen coming under the attack of Sri Lanka navy reported in Tamil Nadu. Such reports are stirring up the sentiments of Tamil population in India. When public sentiments are roused the technicalities of Tamil Nadu fishermen poaching in Sri Lanka waters or smuggling essential goods for the LTTE in the war zone are not considered germane to the larger interests of Tamils. So the LTTE stands to gain as long as this issue is on the boil. And as the battle progresses, we can expect the LTTE to offer more incentives for Tamil Nadu fishermen to lure them to smuggle supplies vital to survive and fight. With the security forces dominating the Mannar coast more and more such efforts could spark more flashpoints of attack on fishermen. How the Tamil Nadu government responds to such incidents is going to become crucial in the coming weeks.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi extended the whole hearted support of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) to the ruling coalition in Delhi when the recent vote of confidence for the Manmohan Singh government came up in Indian parliament. Having proved his credentials as a dependable ally, with the parliamentary polls coming up after four months the DMK leader can be expected to retain his strong links with the Congress party to fight his bệte noire Miss J Jayalalitha of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK). As the elections get closer, he will have to reiterate his credentials as a leader of the Tamils sympathetic to Sri Lanka Tamil cause. So the LTTE will have a difficult task to do the extra mile to enrol even his covert support unless it looks like the winning side in the war.

So the LTTE's war is looking loaded against it both strategically, and tactically. Can Prabhakaran pull the rabbit out of his hat to turn the war? And it is a tough take for anyone because that is a 64 dollar question.

Related Article: Part I ~ War after the fall of Vidattalthivu

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail: colhari@yahoo.com)

July 27, 2008

The Longest War: Sri Lanka’s Identity Conflicts & Conflicted Identities

by Dayan Jayatilleka

This month, July, the 25th anniversary of July 83, has quite appropriately seen significant commentary in the press over the interrelated themes of the war, its character or its perceived character, and contending interpretations of Sri Lankan identity.

[Photo Exhibition by Anoma Rajakarauna, one of many events marking 25th anniversary of July 83]

In 2001, in an essay entitled "The Sources of Intractability", published in Ethnic Studies Report, the journal of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) I wrote of the Sri Lankan conflict that "It is not an ethnic conflict and it is. It is an ethnic conflict and it is not...It is not an ethnic conflict in the sense that it is no longer primarily one. Nineteen fifty eight was an ethnic conflict … But it is no longer 1958 and that is not the main thing that is happening. What it is, is war."

The un-dialectical mind would be unable to grasp that formulation.

Identities are formed by statics and dynamics: who we are is constituted by where we are, where we are coming from and what we have done over time.

We live on an island, on the doorstep of a large landmass. The Southern two thirds of the island are populated by those who speak one language, the northern third by those who speak another. The preponderant language of the South is not spoken by any collectivity anywhere else, not in the adjacent landmass, not anywhere on the planet. It is unique to this island. However, the language of the Northern part has many million speakers elsewhere, across the narrow straits, in the adjacent landmass, and elsewhere on the planet. The island has yet another distinguishing feature. Most in the South adhere to a religion which originated in the adjacent landmass but was displaced from it to find a home in the island to the South and lands to the east. Within this too, that denomination of the religion that has spread the widest, to the Far East , is different from the more orthodox version practiced on the island.

Religion therefore reinforces language as a marker of distinctive identity. Islands, like only children, seem to cherish that which distinguishes them from the surrounding or adjacent mass. Thus it is with England in relation to Europe, Ireland in relation to England , and Cuba in relation to the USA .

Those are the structural facts which have constituted our identities, but there is a dynamic as well. Collective identities are constituted also by dialectics, a clash, a struggle, battles, in short, wars. Collective identities in Sri Lanka are no different.

It would be dishonest, not least to one self, not to admit that a pattern, perhaps the dominant motif, exists in this country’s long history-- that of military contestation between the North and the South. Sometimes this has been a struggle with the near North -- that is the North of the island. At other times it has been a struggle against incursions from the far North, namely the South of the Indian subcontinent. This struggle has often had either as overlay or underlay a battle between two collectivities: Sinhala and Tamil. Now one may debate whether those were nations, nationalities, or tribes, but the truth is that nations evolve by stages and not ex nihilo, out of nothing. These battles were between embryonic nations. Whatever they were, our identities have been formed by that history.

The island’s written history, or rather, the history of the island written from the perspective of the Sinhalese, is a meta-narrative of a bi-polar existential conflict and the Sinhala identity is constituted in greater or lesser degree, by that meta-narrative, itself a Romance, a love story of a language, a religion and an island.

The lad Dutugemunu’s bedtime lament is a brilliant summation of the existential and geo-strategic situation of the Sinhalese: hemmed in between a hostile power centre in the North and the sea at their back, lacking defense in depth and therefore unable to co-exist with a rival power centre on this small island.

The Eelam war in all its stages is in part, a reactivation of this long conflict. It is not a permanent conflict but it is a recurrent one, arguably cyclical, and when it recurs, it constitutes a challenge before the generations alive at the time. It is the challenge of resistance and re-unification. Not every generation has the misfortune to face that challenge, but when it happens it is but a burden that has been carried before by one’s ancestors. It is the fate of being Sinhalese. It comes literally with the territory.

Anyone who doubts this has only to read the propaganda that comes out of any and all pro-Tiger, pro-separatist media, from newspapers in Kilinochchi to Pongu Thamil leaflets in Europe and any website run by the Diaspora. It’s all about Thamil and the Sinhalese. A case in point is the Pongu Thamil leaflet for the Berne, Switzerland demonstration on June 5, 2008 – Black Tiger day disguised as Pongu Tamil—says "let the Sinhalese kneel before the rising Tamils".

Given all this, anyone who thinks that the motivation of a largely peasant army waging a war to territorially reunify a land, a country, a motherland, can be devoid of ethno nationalism, or ethno religious/ethno linguistic nationalism, is being naively utopian. In the aftermath of a phase of appeasement and humiliation (Ranil’s CFA, CBK’s PTOMS), in an era of the collapse of secular identities and "the return of history", it is unrealistic to expect the predominance of Enlightenment ideology.

The long continuity of this conflict is not a construct of Sinhala chauvinists. It has been identified by Samuel P Huntington, who in his The Clash of Civilizations places it in his category of "fault line wars", wars at the fault lines of civilizations.

The two World Wars were in a sense, a continuation of the power struggle (certainly between Russia and Germany ) that had troubled Europe for decades, and the Sino-Soviet split was sourced at least in part in centuries old contradictions. Yet the main aspect of the Second World War was the new phenomenon, that of fascism. Both the Arab – Israeli conflict and the "global war on terror" are not devoid of echoes of the ancient and the medieval pasts respectively, and yet they are, in the main, modern and contemporary conflicts.

Similarly, long continuity is only one aspect of this Eelam war. The other aspect is its modernity, it contemporaneity, which resides in the fascist and terrorist character of Prabhakaran, who is no just king as Elara was.

One must be tough-minded enough to recognize this. Where then does the problem arise? Where does this realistic recognition of the enduring power of ethno-nationalism and "the clash of peoples" (to use the phraseology of Prof Jerry Z Muller of the Catholic University of America) become narrow chauvinism? As in every other case, when it is taken to excess.

Excess is manifested in exclusivity, narrowness, discrimination, hegemonism and racism. For a Sinhalese or Tamil, their respective identity is their core or foundational identity, but if it becomes their sole and complete identity, then they lapse into narrow nationalism. We are Sinhala or Tamil but we are also much else and much more: Sri Lankans - which must not be a synonym for Sinhalese – South Asians, Asians, and perhaps most importantly, human beings. Ethnicity must not diminish or supersede our humanity.

Our cultural being must not be exclusively Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim. That identity is our foundation but our dwelling cannot comprise only of a foundation. It must be constructed of the best in all cultures and civilizations, East and West, ancient and modern. While we can and must be proud of our achievements, culture and history, it is counter-productively self-limiting to consider our ethnicity or culture as intrinsically, axiomatically superior to all others. To do so is also racist. Such a sense of superiority is unshared, unsubstantiated and unprovable, leaving us sounding faintly ridiculous.

Abandoning English, a world language and the preponderant one, displacing it with Sinhala only, rather than supplementing it with Sinhala and Tamil, has eroded the quality of our human resources and competitiveness in all fields globally as well as regionally. Neither literary classics nor new knowledge is readily translated into a language spoken by fewer than twenty million people on one small island, and the numbers of qualified translators, who by definition must at least be bilingual, is declining. India and China never made that mistake. Algeria and Vietnam which threw out French colonialism by armed force, retained French as a language. A forensic scientist who fought in the Algerian resistance and rose to be head of the WHO explained to me last week that his comrades Ben Bella, Boumedienne, Bouteflika and the other leaders of the national liberation struggle regarded the French language as something they would determinedly retain as "the booty of victory in the war against French colonialism". We Sri Lankans who did not kick British colonialism out by liberation struggle, went on to kick the English language out instead - a case of throwing the baby out with, or in place of, the bathwater.

It is damaging to cling to some static or pure notion of Sinhala-ness or Tamil-ness. Notions of purity are known to be a quintessential element of fascism. Who after all, can decide on what is authentically Sinhala or Tamil? Cultures change, evolve over time, and at any time, consist of diverse elements. An ideology which holds that only Sinhala Buddhists are authentically Sinhalese, or that Sinhala Buddhists are more Sinhala than others, is exclusivist. Where does it stop anyway? What of notions of caste hierarchy? Are so-called lower castes somehow lesser in their Sinhalaness? Are "upcountry" Sinhalese purer Sinhalese than "low country" ones? Are rural or provincial Sinhalese more Sinhala than urban or coastal ones? The last great rebellion of the Sinhalese against Western imperialism, 160 years ago this month, was led by Puran Appu, a Sinhalese from the " maritime provinces " and a non-dominant caste.

Any notion that Sinhalese must have more rights because they are Sinhalese (and the majority), any notion that Tamils are entitled to fewer rights, or are less entitled to rights because they are a minority, is a deviation from the universal principle of equal rights and merit, and is discriminatory.

There is no homogenous, monolithic sense of identity, not even of ethnic identity. Tamil ethnic identity today, has to take into account resurgent or newly assertive local identities (the East). Different strata, different generations, have different sense of identity and everything evolves over time, with some elements evolving slower than others.

Identity is formed of objective, material conditions, but it is a profoundly subjective, emotional phenomenon, deeply rooted in the psyche. However, not everything in the world is subjective, and ones own subjectivity often encounters the reality of others subjectivities. So it with identity. Any Tamil who thinks that a separate state is possible on this small island or that a minority compact of pro-Western neocolonial elements can durably dominate the country, has to come up against the material fact that the Sinhalese are an overwhelming majority and that the Sri Lankan armed forces have a population base which is infinitely greater than their foe. Any Sinhalese who thinks that they can ride roughshod over the Tamils without sharing this common island home, providing adequately autonomous political and cultural space for all, will have to reckon with the material facts of the Tamil vote in Sri Lanka’s highly competitive democratic politics, the existence of 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu with the importance that confers on them within the regional superpower India, the influence of the Tamil Diaspora in the West, and above all the global consensus and consciousness which expects universal standards of equality, fair-play and justice for all communities in Sri Lanka.

[These views are the writer’s personal ones]

July 26, 2008

All spruced up...

By Namini Wijedasa

Tch. Can’t go anywhere in Colombo these days for the smell of wet paint. And God forbid that you should lean against anything. Every lamppost, garbage can, hosepipe and pebble from here to the South Pole is painted for the SAARC summit.

[pic by Ishara S. Kodikara, Yahoo! News]

Colombo has never looked so good. With six days to go before SAARC, everyone is painting everything. We hope Manmohan Singh notices this as he spins quickly over Colombo in his Indian chopper.

With the limitless budget we have allocated for the summit, we could maybe pay someone to sit by his side and point things out: “You are now flying over the recently sanitized section and you are unlikely to be taken over any other parts. That road had giant craters only last week but we filled up all the holes for SAARC. The drain to your left was a disaster but we fixed it in just two days. That canal to your left was a putrid mess three weeks ago but look at it now! And please note that we have trimmed every tree from here to the BMICH... though you probably can’t see it from up here.”


[pic by Luc Mandret

Or, perhaps we can hoist signboards onto city rooftops: “PAINTED FOR SAARC”. Not that anybody is complaining. Colombo desperately needed a facelift. And if it took a SAARC conference to achieve this, hell, Sri Lanka should host one every year! We certainly seem to have the money for it.


In the meantime, we do hope that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has the good sense to keep Keheliya Rambukwella away from any important dignitaries because there’s no knowing what will fly out of his mouth next. Some of it might not be good for the country.

Take this white vans business, for instance. White vans are turning up at people’s houses and taking them away. This being a serious problem, one would have expected the defence spokesman of the Rajapaksa regime - which, tragically, Rambukwella is - to produce well-thought-out replies to any questions journalists may pose on the matter.

But well-thought-out replies are clearly not part of his job specification. (Or they are... but he can’t manage them). Responding to a question asked by a journalist on the abductions carried out by white vans, Rambukwella intelligently replied that the only way to resolve this issue is to “stop importing white vans from Japan since 90% of the vans imported to Sri Lanka are white-coloured”. Genius, no?

This is probably tantamount to saying we don’t like idiot ministers from Kandy so we should level Kandy to the ground. Or that Mahinda is an inefficient president so we should dump all the Mahindas in the sea. Or that Ranil is an awful opposition leader so we should dump all the Ranils in the sea. Or that we have a problem with the sewage system so we should do away with toilets. You know...

On another level, though, thank heavens for the Rambukwella types. There is so little to laugh about in Sri Lanka today that a clown like him is a most welcome respite. [lakbimanews.lk]

July 25, 2008

The Colombo SAARC summit: Big India and her small neighbours

by Rajan Philips

Founded by Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1985, and joined by Afghanistan in 2007, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation should by now have become not only a force among the global trading blocs but also a supranational plane for political and economic cooperation for the member states. SAARC has the population, the essential institutional framework at the national level with the exception of Afghanistan, and enviable location on the Indian Ocean that is rapidly replacing the Atlantic and the Pacific as the main global highway of trade and prosperity. But SAARC has been a disappointing behemoth, undercooked and underachieving.

When the SAARC leaders gather in Colombo for their 15th summit this week, they will not have much to review by way of collective achievements or much to consider as goals and targets for the future. Although the theme for the summit is reported to be “Partnership for our people” no great groundwork seems to have been done on the theme in preparation for the summit. It will not be the people who will be on their minds, but the political predicaments that they and their governments are facing in their respective countries.

The Indian Prime Minister has just survived a chaotic confidence vote in the Lok Sabha over India’s unnecessarily controversial nuclear deal with the US. Making much dogmatic ado for nothing about the nuclear deal, the CPM-led Left Parties have withdrawn their 4-year long support for the governing Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and further fractured the political party formation at the Centre. Although the government remains in power for now, its prospects for the elections due next year are anything but certain. The outcome of the elections might well be a Lok Sabha hung between the Congress, BJP and the emerging Left-Mayawati groups. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have all of this on his mind and he might use the Colombo visit more as a get-away from the machinations of New Delhi than as an occasion for contributing anything meaningful to SAARC.

The Indian preoccupation at the Colombo summit is about visitors’ security and not about trade or policy, and the one-sided ceasefire announcement by the LTTE is not going to change anything. As for trade and policy, Indian foreign ministry officials appear to have been giving more importance to their free trade talks with ASEAN officials in Singapore last week. India is all set to enter into a free trade agreement with the ASEAN group of countries that has become a successful trading bloc while being less than half the size of SAARC in total population. Given half a chance every SAARC country would like to join ASEAN while retaining nominal membership in SAARC as a token to its geographic location.

Keys and impediments to SAARC’s progress

The ASEAN countries have a more graded pattern in terms of size, political stability and economic development in comparison to SAARC countries. The older members of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Brunei blend with the newer members including the rapidly developing Vietnam and Laos, and the still struggling Cambodia and Myanmar. SAARC countries despite their overarching cultural similarities vary significantly from one another in terms of size, stability and economic development.

[Civil Societies in South Asian Region held people's parade and summit in Colombo recently-Pic:Equal Ground]

Although dwarfed by the enormity of India’s 1.1 billion people, Pakistan and Bangladesh are not small countries by other comparisons. At 164 million and 159 million respectively, they are the sixth and seventh largest countries in the world. All three account for 95% of the total population of the SAARC member countries, with the remaining five countries making up the balance 5%. At 1.5 billion, the eight South Asian countries account for 22% of the world’s population and 38% of Asia’s population. Excluding China’s 1.3 billion people, the South Asian countries have more population than all the other Asian countries together.

India stands apart from the rest not only on account of its size but also in terms of national consolidation, a consistently constitutional polity, and the strong foundation for economic take-off. The effects of the partition of British India would seem to have been grossly uneven with India assimilating most of the benefits while Pakistan and its offshoot Bangladesh ended up with all the negatives. Afghanistan is in a state disrepair of its own, and Nepal is navigating its transition from old monarchy to neo-Maoism. Bhutan and Maldives are quiet and soporific while Sri Lanka, once a model both as a colony and for its smooth passage to independence, is showing its creative capacity not to prosper but to self-destruct.

The commonplace explanation for SAARC’s ineffectiveness and underachievement is the nature of the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that the two countries have been consistently focused on improving their relationships over the last two decades after the meaningless tit-for-tat nuclear weapons testing in 1998 and the brief standoff in Kashmir around the same time. Since February 2004, the two governments have been holding “composite dialogues” involving foreign ministry officials to address a number of bilateral issues. The fifth dialogue in that series was concluded last week in Islamabad, despite earlier fears that the July 7 bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul might scupper the talks.

The talks touched on a number of issues including terrorism, water-related disputes, Kashmir, economic cooperation, confidence building measures (CBMs) such as cross-border truck and bus operation services and drug trafficking, as well as friendly exchanges in several other fields. India has been expending resources on similar initiatives - Entrepreneurial Development Centres, English Language Training Centres, providing training for ASEAN diplomats etc. - to promote friendly relationships among ASEAN countries. The key to moving SAARC forward is for India to enthusiastically promote and for others to willingly cooperate on such initiatives on a programmatic basis at the multilateral level within SAARC.

The real stumbling block to moving SAARC forward is not so much the nature of the relationship between India and Pakistan but the global projection of the hangover from their old rivalry. They continue to rival over the relationship each has with the US, China, Europe and even Sri Lanka. India gets upset when Pakistan provides weapons and military assistance to the Sri Lankan government to fight the LTTE. Pakistan plays a contradictory role in Afghanistan – with sections of Pakistan’s establishment and society opposing the Taliban in Afghanistan and other sections supporting the Taliban – and this has immediate ramifications for its relationship with India, not to mention the implications for the government in Afghanistan.

India is already concerned about the US military aid to Pakistan to fight the Taliban being used in procuring weapons to enhance Pakistan’s military balance with India rather than to engage the Taliban in Afghanistan. This week’s decision of the Bush Administration to use $230m of the US $300m military funding to Pakistan to upgrade its ageing F-16 fighter jets is not going to please India at all. Washington’s decision has been linked to the visit there next week by the new Pakistani Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani. At the same time, in Colombo, President Musharaff will have to use his charm to distract the Indians from Washington’s gift of fighter jets to Pakistan.
It would be counterproductive for India and Pakistan to pursue “composite dialogue” with each other on the one hand, and persist in conflicting international relationships with other countries at the same time. The composite dialogue represents the way to the future and reflects not only the interests of economic elites in both countries but also the desire of a majority of Indians and Pakistanis. The conflicting international relationship, on the other hand, is a legacy from the past and serves the interests of fundamentalists and extremists in both countries. SAARC could be the framework for fighting fundamentalism and extremism in all member countries and in the process could serve its historic purpose of promoting the common interests of all South Asians regardless of the bilateral relationships between their governments.

Remembering the riots that triggered 25 years of conflict

For a quarter of a century, Selvadurai Sornalingam has treasured a faded, yellowing document. "It is a reminder of my honeymoon," he told IRIN, only half-jokingly.

He received the document when he registered at a welfare centre established in an airport hanger south of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, during the fourth week of July 1983, when deadly anti-Tamil riots spread through the Sri Lankan capital and into outlying neighbourhoods.

The Sornalingams on their wedding day, 15 July 1983, in northern Jaffna. A week later they were caught in the worst riots in Sri Lanka after independence and two weeks later were living in a welfare centre

Part of the minority Tamil community, Sornalingam and his wife of seven days arrived in Colombo from Jaffna, 400km to the north, on 23 July, just a day before the riots broke out. Only a week later, they found themselves seeking safety at the welfare centre. When they filled out the registration card, it was the first time the couple signed as "Mr and Mrs".

"There were around 15,000 Tamils, as well as some Muslims and Sinhalese, mostly married to Tamils in the camp - people from all walks of life," Sornalingam recalled. "Professional government servants, women, children, rich and poor, young and old and the infirm - they were all there."

Attack leads to riots

The riots were triggered by the killing of 13 government soldiers in Jaffna city on the night of 23 July 1983. The ambush was carried out by what was at the time a relatively small, armed group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who wanted an autonomous region for Tamils in the north and east. The incident was the most deadly ever carried out by the LTTE against government security forces up until then.

By the time the civil unrest throughout the country subsided a week later, more than 800 people, Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim, had been killed, according to government figures, though others have put it much higher.

The Sornalingams escaped with their lives, thanks to their Sinhalese landlord, who resisted a Sinhalese mob that was targeting Tamils.

More than 300,000 people, mostly Tamils, were displaced. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils sought refuge in South India and other countries.

The rest is history: military analysts, including the former spokesman for the Sri Lankan military, the late Major-General Sarath Munasinghe, said that after the 1983 riots the Tamil militant groups based in the north and east received ever-increasing support, including fresh recruits and funding, toward their objective of establishing an autonomous region.

An Anglican priest takes part in a commemorative event including Tamils and Sinhalese to mark the 25th anniversary of the riots in Colombo on 23 July 2008. The writing on the posters says "Safeguard minority rights"

Worsening humanitarian crisis

Humanitarian workers feel the 1983 riots changed the political and military landscape irreversibly. Jeevan Thiyagaraja, executive director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) (http://www.humanitarian-srilanka.org), a national umbrella body of international and national humanitarian agencies, told IRIN: "The country has not yet looked back from the path of violence."

"Areas affected by conflict as we know now were not a phenomenon then. July 1983 ultimately created such a theatre of conflict with territorial and geographical representation," said Thiyagaraja.

In the ensuing 25 years, the conflict evolved into a full-blown war, with more than 70,000 people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, their homes and livelihoods destroyed. And it continues.

The Inter Agency Standing Committee (ISAC) completed a review of the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) for 2008 on 21 July, which states that 25 years after the initial conflict the needs remained immense: US$195 million was needed for humanitarian and early recovery programmes in the north and the east of the country, with only $64 million yet received.

Civilians living under trees

Hundreds of thousands more people have been displaced by recent fighting and the latest IASC situation report reveals that some civilians who were fleeing the recent fighting in the northwestern Mannar region were living under trees due to lack of access to assistance from UN agencies and other humanitarian groups. "According to field reports, displaced persons are sheltering under trees with limited access to basic facilities," ISAC said in a report released on 19 July.

The report also said the fighting had forced 30 schools, a hospital and storage facilities used by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to be relocated to safer areas.

CHA head Thiyagaraja believes the riots of 1983 played an integral part in worsening the bloodshed and humanitarian suffering. "One cannot be certain, but the intensity, fracturing and destruction to life and limb may not have got such justification if not for July 1983."

Sornalingam agrees that life has never been the same since that fateful week. "Every day has felt as if I am in a battlefield, every day you just keep remembering it."

[A Report by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-IRIN]

LTTE's ceasefire: Public relations or more?

By B. Raman 

On July 22, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam announced that it would observe a unilateral ceasefire coinciding with the forthcoming summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation in Colombo from July 26 to August 4. It projected the proposed ceasefire as a goodwill gesture to extend its support to the "countries of our region, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives."

However, the announcement added the following warning: "At the same time, if the occupying Sinhala forces, disrespecting our goodwill gesture of our people and our nation, carry out any offensive, our movement will be forced to take defensive actions."

The government-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation quoted Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as dismissing the LTTE announcement in the following words: "The government of Sri Lanka is not prepared for ceasefire with the LTTE. The ceasefire announcement is a ploy by the LTTE when it is being militarily weakened in the war front, to strengthen it militarily under the guise of holding negotiations. There is no need for the government to enter into a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE."

The announcement has come at a time when the LTTE has been facing considerable pressure partly due to the sustained war of attrition imposed on it in its stronghold in the Northern Province by the Sri Lankan armed forces and partly due to the action taken by many countries to stop the clandestine flow of funds and arms and ammunition to the LTTE.

The LTTE has sought to project its announcement in the context of the forthcoming SAARC summit in order to allay any fears in the minds of the leaders of the member-countries regarding possible security threats before and during the summit. The message indirectly sought to be conveyed to them is that they are welcome to come to Colombo for the summit without fearing any security threats from the LTTE.

At present, this seems to be essentially a public relations exercise by the LTTE in the hope of thereby creating a positive image of itself in the minds of the participating leaders. It does not seem to have any long-term significance in the context of the continuing fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. It is a short pause in fighting to be observed by the LTTE, provided the armed forces do not attack it.

The Sri Lankan government is justified in suspecting that this ceasefire may also be meant to enable the LTTE to re-group its cadres if the ceasefire offer is reciprocated by the government so that when the fighting is resumed after the SAARC summit, it would be in a better position to defend itself. Its reluctance, if not refusal, to reciprocate is understandable.

Can the cease-fire offer be much more than a public relations exercise in the form of a face-saving exercise to seek through the intervention of sympathetic Western powers such as Norway the extension of the ceasefire by both sides even after the SAARC summit is over in the hope of using it for fresh efforts for a resumption of a political dialogue?

If that turns out to be the gameplan of the LTTE, that would be an indication that the LTTE's fighting capabilities have been sufficiently damaged by the Sri Lankan armed forces and that it has started looking for a way out to achieve a stoppage of the fighting without giving an impression of wanting to do so.

A clearer indication would come if there is pressure on the Sri Lankan government from the Western countries to reciprocate the LTTE's announcement of a ceasefire during the SAARC summit and to extend it further even after the summit is over.

The advantage of the ground situation is presently in favour of the armed forces and they are unlikely to throw of this advantage by succumbing to any Western pressure on the subject. [SAAG]

July 22, 2008

Escape to freedom

Survivors of Sri Lanka's infamous Black July riots 25 years ago recall the terror -- and their relief to find a haven in Canada

By Sharon Lem

It's been a long journey for Suntharamoorthy Umasuthan.

He never thought when he was living in an overcrowded refugee camp 25 years ago that he would one day be living with his family in Canada in what he viewed as the promised land, let alone be working as a chartered accountant for Revenue Canada.

For Umasuthan, hiding in banana bushes during the Black July savagery of 1983 saved his life. His escape was due to his quick-thinking and his determination to survive.

Twenty five years ago this month a reign of terror unleashed by the Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka upon the Tamil minority left up to an estimated 3,000 dead and hundreds of homes, factories and businesses destroyed.

The repercussions would be global, with Canada at the forefront in accepting a mass exodus of Sri Lankan refugees and immigrants.

The horrors of Black July led to a thriving Sri Lankan community in Canada as more than 113,000 visas were issued from 1983 to 2008, according to Immigration Canada.

Nationally, there are an estimated 250,000 Canadians of Sri Lankan descent. About 200,000 live in the GTA.

On July 24, 1983, Umasuthan was told to leave his office at an accounting firm in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo. He walked 5 km home because he was scared to take the bus.

"They can identify you as a Tamil from the way you talk. The accent is distinct from Sinhalese. As I walked home I saw shops being looted and burned," said Umasuthan, 52.

When he arrived at his rental home, the owners had fled. He and three friends stayed in the house. By 2:30 p.m. flames and smoke were obscuring the blue sky.

Umasuthan was terrified: "We had no problems with Sinhalese people. The mobs which came to Colombo were brought in from rural areas and hired on purpose to attack Tamils. The government army didn't participate, but they could have easily stopped them.

"Mobs came from outside the city with electoral lists to identify Tamil homes. We planned an escape route in case we got attacked," he said.

"Around 2 a.m. a mob of 25 jumped the gate and broke down the front door. We went out the back and jumped the fence into the banana trees. We hid there. We could hear them smashing things inside the house, but we didn't dare move. If they had searched in the backyard bushes, we would have been dead."

Thieves broke down the doors and stole TV sets, speakers, radios, cameras, even Umasuthan's wristwatch.


With only the clothes on his back, Umasuthan ended up at an overcrowded refugee camp of 3,000 people set up at a school. There was little food and no washrooms.

Luckily for him, a Sinhalese friend, who was a partner at the accounting firm where he worked, later found Umasuthan at the refugee camp and offered to send him on a month-long contract to a Dubai accounting firm.

"He took me in his car, bought all the things I needed for the trip and put me on a plane a week later," Umasuthan recalled.

"The mood of the our people was so terrible. We wanted to have our own country. I probably would have joined the Tiger movement if I hadn't escaped to Dubai," he said.

"I'm not angry with the Sinhalese people. It's the government that wanted power and the government misused its power to get more power. The government figured if there is civil war, then people won't worry about the economy of the country and it was easy for them to create race problems."

After his month in Dubai, he worked in Zambia for two years. In 1986 he returned to Sri Lanka to start his own accounting firm but became fed up with Sri Lanka and immigrated to Canada in 1988.

He found a job within two weeks.

Umasuthan has built a comfortable life for his family in Toronto. He is married and has a 22-year-old daughter who just graduated from university with a science degree.


"Canada has given me and my family a lot. Canada is a country where you have freedom of choice, freedom of movement and freedom of speech. We enjoy it because we were suppressed by all these things back in Sri Lanka. A lot of Canadians take that for granted and because I was affected by not having that, I enjoy it and appreciate Canada for it," Umasuthan said.

"I didn't have a clue about Canada before I came here. I was expecting a peaceful and beautiful life and truly that is what I got."

- - -

The memories of Black July still haunt many Tamil Canadians.

"We're thankful that Canada opened its doors to give us fresh hope and a new life and a new beginning," David Poopalapillai of the Canadian Tamil Congress said.

The events leading up to Black July started after the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) guerrilla rebels -- who have fought to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils in Sri Lanka -- ambushed and killed 13 state government soldiers on July 22, 1983 -- the day before Black July riots began.

In retaliation, on July 23 Tamil families were attacked at home and work. With voter lists in hand, rioters systematically looted and burned down hundreds of Tamil homes.

"Black July was one of the worst periods for Tamils. Living as a Tamil with dignity was impossible," says sociology professor Rudhramoorthy Cheran of the University of Windsor.

Decades later, the wounds run deep for many Tamils. And ethnic strife that started in Sri Lanka has spilled onto Canadian shores, creating controversy and conflict.

Thousands of Canadian Tamils gathered at a ral -ly in Ottawa earlier this month to protest a decision by the federal government to outlaw a Toronto-based Tamil non-profit group under the anti-terrorism act.

The government alleges money raised in Canada is sent to fund the Tamil Tigers. Some Tamil Canadians vow to fight the ban in court.

Still, if Black July could be seen to have a silver lining, then it is Tamil immigration here, creating a diverse, richly textured society, says Cheran. "It has been very good to have Tamils in Canada."

"Canada was good enough to open its borders immediately and 32,000 Sri Lankans arrived in Montreal from July to September in 1983," said University of Toronto professor Dr. Joseph Chandrakanthan. "They immigrated well into mainstream Canadian life and in every part of socio-economic life they've excelled."

- - -

Balasubramaniam Mahendran escaped Black July, thanks to a lot of luck and the kindness of Sinhalese friends.

On July 24, 1986, Mahendran, now 52, rode his motorbike to work, just like every other day.

"As I got closer to work, I saw smoke outside the building and in the sky," he recalled in an interview with the Sun.

"That's when I heard the news of riots going on. We were asked to go home. I lived 20 km away, so I asked a Sinhalese friend to come with me on my motor bike," said the soft-spoken Mahendran.

"When we reached the city, we saw big mobs of 100 people with sticks and knives and then I jumped onto the side of the lane and dropped the bike and ran," Mahendran said.

"My friend picked up the bike and followed me to the lane and we took another road to my father's workplace."

"By the time we got home, they had already looted our house. They destroyed all of our stuff. Everything we owned was burned, including my father's car," he said.

Mahendran and his family made it safely to a refugee camp, where they stayed in limbo. Eventually they moved to a small house near his father's work. His dad died of a liver disease later that year and the family struggled to survive.

Emigrating to a new country and a new culture wasn't easy at first either. Mahendran worked as a gas attendant and security guard and took odd jobs to eke out a living until he earned his certified general accounting designation.


"It was really tough making ends meet, so I worked long hours at odd jobs when I first got to Canada. Now I own my own home and we have a great life," Mahendran said.

"Canada is a good country. I couldn't stay back home. Every night was a nightmare. The things I saw with my eyes was such a bad experience. I don't think I can ever visit there again. I can't face it. We were running for our lives. I was lucky to have escaped, but I'm very sad that I was born in that country and I couldn't have peace and harmony while living there," he said.

Mahendran now works as an accountant in Toronto and lives with his wife Nilani, 50, their son Pradap, 20, and daughter Nimisha, 16.

"Canada is a great country that has given us an opportunity to come here and be away from those problems.

"Tamils were deprived of a lot of rights in Sri Lanka. What we have here in Canada is freedom of rights and safety which Tamils don't have in Sri Lanka. For this, I am so happy to be Canadian."

- - -

Former textile technologist Peri Casinathen still has nightmares and carries emotional scars from Black July.

The 63-year-old was living and working in the free-trade zone outside Colombo when a friend called to tell him about the killing of 13 government soldiers by the Tamil Tigers.

"I knew things were heating up and something bad was going to happen. A friend called me and said LTTE Tamil Tigers had blown up 13 soldiers and that I'd better get back to Colombo because I lived in a isolated area," Casinathan recalled.

He found his parents' home looted. Cousins' and friends' homes were burned to the ground.

"My family was safe, but the killings were horrible. I'll never forget what I saw," Casinathen said shaking his head.

"When I arrived at work, I saw my managing director (an Italian) and his face was as white as a sheet and he was not able to speak. His driver told me that they saw bodies on the road and shops burning on the drive in," he said.

"When my wife and I came home, members of the Sri Lankan air force came to our house and instructed us to leave, otherwise we were told we would be dealt with."

Casinathen and his family escaped to a friend's home.

His twin girls, Tharani and Dharshini, who were 3 years old at the time, were sent outside the house to play since the twins had learned to speak Sinhalese from their nannies.

The neighbours were told Ca sinathen and his family were Colombo Chetties (half Sinhalese, half Tamil).


"I went back to my parents' home and it looked as if a cyclone had blown through it. The entire house was destroyed. I found my college graduation certificate on the ground covered with footprints," Casinathen said, adding he showed that diploma to Immigration Canada when he was interviewed as a refugee claimant in 1984.

"We are the lucky ones. We left the shores of Sri Lanka, but the trauma has not left us," he said. "The trauma my wife and I went through cannot be forgotten. It caused permanent scars in our minds that will not be erased. ...

"Compared to the people who lost their lives, what we lost is nothing. Looking back at the events, it is a miracle we are alive," Casinathen said.

"If I had stayed in Sri Lanka, I would have died. I don't like to keep my mouth shut. In Sri Lanka, I used to write to the newspapers and openly call for separatism," he said.

Casinathen said Canada has been a good country to build a life with his wife, Rushila, and his daughters. Their son Dharshan, 20, was born in Canada.

"Canada has been our safe haven and we are thankful for everything we have," he said, adding daughter Tharani is getting married this summer. [courtesy: Sun Media]

National Guilt and Expiation: What happened at the end of July 1983?

By Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe

Former Anglican Bishop of Kurunegala, Lakshman Wickremesinghe issued this message after the July violence of 1983. He passed away shortly afterwards thereby making this his last message. We reproduce it here as it is of poignant relevance at this time. Bishop Lakshman as he was popularly known is the paternal uncle of Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the maternal uncle of Rajiva Wijesinghe , secretary , ministry of human rights:

There are theories and there are facts. Theories vary. Some say that the originators were left-wing groups aided by foreign powers. Others say that the originators were thugs and private hirelings of powerful politicians connected with the Government. Still others say that both these groups were involved for different motives. This is not the place to discuss these rival theories. The facts however cannot be denied. Thousand of Tamils, old and young, and even little children were assaulted; robbed, killed, bereaved and made refugees. They saw their homes, possessions, vehicles, shops and factories plundered, burnt or destroyed. Thse people were humiliated, made to live in fear and rendered helpless. Business premises run by Tamils or Indians were selected and burnt. The homes and possessions of Tamils in the professions and government services were also selected and destroyed.

On two occasions Tamils were selected and killed in Welikade prison. Such selectiveness indicated a prepared plan of action. It is not that poor Tamils were also not killed or made refugees. They were. It is simply that in their case the mobs did not reveal a method in their madness. But there was more. A large number of people lost their employment as a result of destruction, and these included not only Tamils but Sinhalese and others. Even some kovils, churches and vicarages were not spared. As a result of all this, economic development and foreign exchange suffered an immense loss. Public services were disrupted. Our image abroad was damaged.

The people responsible for all this violence and destruction and suffering were mostly Sinhalese. The fact that Jaela, Wattala, Kotahena, Kelaniya and the Galkissa-Wellawatte areas were places where mob-rule was evident, points to some Christians being involved. Those Sinhalese responsible were not confined to Buddhists. People other than Sinhalese may also have been part of certain mobs on the rampage. And according to available evidence, the police and armed forces were seen in different places to be either inactive spectators or active supporters of these mobs who attacked the lives and properties of Tamils.

Was all this justified or not in the circumstances?

There are those who say that this massive Sinhala retaliation on Tamils in the southern parts of Sri Lanka was justified. They say that the killing of at least 83 persons, including the 13 soldiers on 23rd July, the attacks on police stations, damage by bombs on an aircraft, a passenger train, and government institutions, bank robberies and acts of arson on public property in the North, were such crimes as to deserve the revenge exacted by the Sinhalese. They add that Tamils in the South of Sri Lanka did not for the most part condemn these acts by the armed groups. But those who say this forget three facts:

First, retaliation for these actions was being taken by the police and armed forces in Jaffna district, Trincomalee and Vavuniya through the killing of many more than 83 persons, damage to private property, arson, looting, assault on civilians, destroying of public property such as the Jaffna Public Library in 1981, and the torture of detenus in police stations and army camps. Secondly, indigenous Tamils who lived in the South of the Island had already faced arson, looting, and death and become refugees in 1977. Thirdly, the Tamils who faced such retaliation in 1977, 1981 and 1983 included Tamils of Indian origin, who had no part in the attacks made by the armed groups in the North. In view of these facts, to say that the retaliation in July was justified is to advocate tribal vengeance. In fact the verse in the Old Testament which says 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' was a reminder that the Jews should not engage in tribal vengeance. A tribe should not destroy the whole of another tribe for the crimes of one of its members. Jesus in the New Testament pointed out that this ancient Jewish law was a moral standard that was no longer justified.

This shows that those who say that the massive Sinhala retaliation on Tamils living in the South was justified have a lower standard of morality than the ancient Jews. Their conscience is distorted. We must rise above such tribal morality.

There are others who say that the personal suffering and murder which took place in July may not be justified. But they feel deep down in their hearts that the enforced departure of indigenous Tamils from the professions, government services, universities and schools and of Tamils of Indian origin from retail trade and other occupations in South Sri Lanka was justified. They have questions of conscience about the methods adopted, but not about the final result. Because they feel that the undue advantage which the indigenous Tamils had in relation to their percentage of the population, and which the Tamils of Indian origin had in the internal trade1 especially within the Sinhala areas, were not justified, they are not willing to condemn the methods adopted to get rid of them. They had compassion and were helpful in many instances. But they did not feel a sense of moral outrage.

There are those who say that the personal suffering and murder which took place in July may not be justified. But they feel deep down in their hearts that the enforced departure of indigenous Tamils from the professions, government services, universities and schools and of Tamils of Indian origin from retail trade and other occupations in South Sri Lanka was justified. They have questions of conscience about the methods adopted, but not about the final result. Because they feel that the undue advantage which the indigenous Tamils had in relation to their percentage of the population, and which the Tamils of Indian origin had in the internal trade especially within the Sinhala areas, were not justified, they are not willing to condemn the methods adopted to get rid of them. They had compassion and were helpful in many instances. But they did not feel a sense of moral outrage.

I would like these people to reflect on three questions:

First, were these undue advantages solely the result of what happened in the colonial period, and to mutual help among themselves at the expense of the Sinhalese? Did not the middle class Tamil move southwards and abroad because Jaffna district did not provide enough avenues for prosperity through economic enterprise, as South Ceylon provided for the emerging Sinhala middle-class? Did not the quality of hard work, thrift and ability help the Tamils to prosper where they came to work and reside?

Secondly, who enabled them to remain in the Sinhala areas? Did not the successive Sinhala political leaders make use of the skills of the indigenous Tamils to implement their programmes? Did not the traders of Indian origin have easy credit facilities with people in India, which enabled them to provide certain goods speedily and efficiently? Did not Sinhala politicians and officials permit them to remain also because of the presents they took from these traders?

Thirdly, can the final result of removing those with undue advantages through methods that are not condemned, be restricted to the Tamils? In Kandyan areas, people from the low country have undue advantages in the professions, government services, universities, leading schools and in the trade. The Muslims have such undue advantages in the trade sector. Are these undue advantages due solely to what happened in the colonial period and to the mutual help at the expenses of the Kandyans? Did not the qualities of enterprise, hard work and ability enable them to prosper in these areas? Do these undue advantages justify the final result of securing their enforced departure, if the Kandyan Sinhalese were to adopt the same method as were adopted in July 1983 towards the Tamils?

Another question follows. Certain families in our rural areas have such advantages as undue ownership of land, access to the best schools and to the best occupations, which the poorer people in these areas do not have. Are such advantages due solely to what happened in the colonial period and to mutual help at the expense of poorer people? Did not the qualities of hard work, thrift and ability enable them to prosper as these areas were developed? Do these undue advantages justify the final result of securing their displacement, if the poorer people adopt the methods used towards the Tamils in July 1983? Did not the insurrection led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in 1971 have this result in view? So, let those who justify the final result of what happened in July 1983 to the Tamils in South Sri Lanka consider further the implications of their moral standards. To restrict what they justify, when it happens to the Tamils, is to hold double standards. This is hypocrisy. To think in this way at all is really to hold the moral standard that the end justifies the means. None of the great religions we profess upholds this morality.

There are still others who justify the role of several of the police and armed forces, during this massive retaliation in July 1983. Some people say that these security forces did nothing to stop the violent mobs or encouraged them, because they were angry that their own personnel had been killed by armed groups in the North. Such solidarity with those killed or resentment against the killers in the North does not justify what they did or failed to do in the South. The security forces are trained and armed to eliminate armed groups. They are paid to protect the lives and properties of civilians, and to maintain law and order. Their inefficiency in being unable to eliminate armed gangs of Tamils in one part of the Island does not justify the revenge taken on innocent Tamils in the other part of the Island. This is not the kind of behavior that can be justified on moral grounds. Then other people say that the security forces could not be expected to harm or kill Sinhalese people to save Tamils. But, in fact, I saw some security forces do so though not the police. They did their duty in enforcing law and order against mobs on the rampage. To give reasons why this was not done in 1983 is to provide psychological explanations.

Finally, there are still others who say that there were several instances where the police and armed forces simply could not disperse the mobs. This was because they were too few in numbers in some places, not properly concentrated in the right areas, and in some instances they were faced with young students placed in front of the advancing mobs. Or else some had lost their morale owing to the success of the armed groups in the North. We can sympathize with some of the police and armed forces who were faced with such situations. These reasons may be explanation for inefficiency, for which such persons may not be responsible. They do not justify failure to protect the lives and properties of defenseless people. This must not prevent us, however from expressing our deep gratitude to those in the police and armed forces who did their duty, in spite of risk, and division within their own ranks.

The arguments that have been stated so far point to one basic moral fact. It is that the massive retaliation mainly by the Sinhalese against defenceless Tamils in July 1983 cannot be justified on moral grounds. We must admit this and acknowledge our shame. And we must do so for the right reasons. It is not enough to be ashamed for the reason that inhuman passions enslaved a section of the Sinhalese for a short period. Nor must we be ashamed because our sense of moral outrage will improve our image abroad. We must be ashamed because what took place was a moral crime. We are ashamed as Sinhalese for the moral crime other Sinhalese committed.

We must not only acknowledge our shame. We must also make our apology to those Tamils who were unjustified victims of this massive retaliation. An apology must be made for three reasons:

First, as Sinhalese we share in the total life of our people. We share in all that is good and great in our Sinhala heritage. These good and great aspects were due to the lives and achievements of only a section of the Sinhala people. But as members of the whole group we claim what one section did as belonging to us all. We share in the joy and the responsibility of their lives and labors. That is why in this diocese we acknowledge and rejoice in all that is good and great not only in our Sinhala heritage, but also in Sinhala-Buddhism. We have absorbed all this into the life and mission of this diocese, except that we have basis in Jesus Christ. In the same way, when a section of the Sinhalese does what is morally wrong or bad, we share in it. As members of the whole group we claim that what one section did belongs to us all. We share in the evil they have done.

Secondly, it is a mark of moral maturity to acknowledge a moral crime on behalf of those closely knit to us, who do not realize that they have done so. And an apology is made on their behalf. Parents do so on behalf of children. Others do so on behalf of relatives and friends. There is solidarity of family, of kinship, of friendship, in things both right and wrong. Gandhiji used to acknowledge the moral crimes of those who engaged in violence. He fasted in order that they would come to the point of acknowledging the evil they had done and change their ways.

Thirdly, there is the example of Jesus in the midst of brutality and suffering. He shared in the guilt of all those who were involved in the moral crime of bringing about his unjust death, because he shared in our humanity, he apologized for all those who did not know the moral evil they were doing. His compassion acknowledged both shame and guilt. He apologized so that He might begin the process of setting right what was wrong in a broken relationship. It was between Jesus and those who had done wrong to him. It was also between God, whose will Jesus had done, and all those who thereby had done wrong against God. In setting right their wrong done to Jesus, he would also set right the wrong they had done to their Heavenly Father. As He apologized, He also prayed that all would come to recognize the wrong they had done, duly apologize and change their ways.

It is only by such a kind of apology that we shall also recover our proper moral and religious values. Then, we can begin the process of setting right what went wrong in our relationship with the Tamils.

A section of the Sinhalese must acknowledge the wrong done to those Tamils who were innocent victims. And they must do so with compassion for their fellow Sinhalese who did the wrong, and for those who do not want to admit that a wrong was done. Christians will know that in setting right a broken relationship with those Tamils who suffered unjustly, they would be setting right a broken relationship with God, who is the Heavenly Father of us all. At the same time, they must pray that those who did the wrong, and those who are unable as yet to admit the wrong done by others, will come to a new level of moral insight. The tragedy is that it is becoming harder, in 1983, for Sinhala Christians to acknowledge that what was done is a moral crime than in 1958. Our moral sense in this matter is getting dull. We must ask that the Holy Spirit may enlighten our consciences.

It may be that this process of setting right the moral wrong that was done, by a section of the Sinhalese, may evoke a softening of attitudes among a section of the Tamils. To so admit the wrong, to make the apology and to change past attitudes, may awaken a new moral sense among a section of the Tamils. They may come to acknowledge the moral wrong of condoning violence, especially the seeking of revenge among their own people. The main point however that is the true basis of reconciliation is admission of wrong done and an appeal for forgiveness. When forgiveness is given or a mutual apology is evoked, reconciliation begins to take effect, slowly but surely. Hardened attitudes begin to change.

July 21, 2008

Challenges facing the church today

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo, was chosen by the Archbuihop of Canterbury to deliver the sermon at the opening Eucharist of the Lambeth Conference of all Anglican Bishops world-wide held once in ten years. It is being held this year at the University of Kent at Canterbury. The following is the text of his sermon delivered at the Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday 20th July 2008:


We gather in this impressive, awesome, magnificent cathedral this morning as representatives of several nations, several cultures, several tongues. And certainly as representatives of several Christian denominations, and other living faiths.

This is a joyful and a sacred moment, and I would like to suggest that we keep a pause in our worship to express our gratitude and our thanks to God for all those responsible for shaping our Anglican identity, for nourishing our spirituality, and for helping in the formation of our common life through the centuries and in so many parts of the world.

The text that I have for our reflection on this occasion is the ninth verse of the twelfth chapter of St Paul's second letter to the Corinthians - a familiar text for all of us: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Paul is here both confessing and proclaiming the paradox of grace in the Christian Gospel. It is, as we increasingly recognise and acknowledge our vulnerability in our journey of discipleship in Christ and with Christ, that we receive grace to be, and to become, faithful disciples. And I want you to hold on to this text because it is the idea that will undergird our thinking through the rest of this reflection. The recognition of our vulnerability is what makes growth possible in Christian discipleship.

There are two realities that encompass us as we meet as a world family of the Anglican Communion. And I would like to draw your attention to both these realities, without which our conference and our forward journey will become meaningless.

The first is that our world is a torn and divided world. Bishops are expected to bring their dioceses with them to the Lambeth Conference, and Bishops whose dioceses strive to be faithful by the challenges that come to us from God's world will inevitably bring along with their diocese the pain and the struggles, the injustice, the evil, the hostility that men and women encounter in today's world. It is indeed a true saying that God gives the Church an agenda out of the crises of the world. And so my dear sisters and brothers in Christ, the Anglican Communion must always give the highest priority to our invitation from Christ to participate with Christ in transforming God's world. To bring healing, peace, justice, reconciliation, abundant life, where there is oppression, where there is hostility, where there is strife, and division. This concept of the world in pain must, through this conference and after the conference, receive the energy and spirituality of our Church. No other priority can contend for that place. God has called us and placed us in God's world so that we might participate with him in bringing this transformation.

The second reality is the reality that we are a wounded community. Some of us are not here, and that is an indication that all is not well. Certainly the crisis is complex. It is not a crisis that can be resolved instantly.

The journey ahead is a long arduous one - a journey that will demand our prayers, our faithfulness, our mutual trust in each other, and of course our trust in God who makes reconciliation possible.

I would like to draw your attention to the parable that was read as the Gospel: the words of the master were wise words. Let them grow together.

There can and there must be no uprooting, simply because if we attempt this game of uprooting the unrighteous then, my dear sisters and brothers, none of us will remain. We are all a mix of the wheat and the weeds. The wisdom of these words suggest that we stay together because we draw from a common soil, a common tradition, a common heritage. We are what we are regardless of our differences, because of our common life together and our origins. Transformation comes in this interaction, and transformation must come from within.

In Jaffna, the northernmost part of the Diocese of Colombo, a church is being converted into a centre for conflict analysis and peace – Christ Church, Jaffna. The church has been renovated after several bouts of bombing and shelling. Something is emerging: a mandate and an agenda for peace and reconciliation in this place, but we have decided that we will retain the marks and the scars of war on the walls of this church. Transformation comes from within. The old gradually converts as men and women pray and talk and dialogue, and even disagree as we must, but call to mind repeatedly that disciples of Jesus stay together and journey together.

There are three challenges that I like to leave for us as we address the objectives of this Lambeth Conference:- to strengthen our Anglican identity, and to enable bishops to be leaders in God's mission. Here are three thoughts that could contribute both to identity and mission.

The first is: our communion must return to the discipline and the practice of self-scrutiny. We have a rich tradition that supports this discipline - the retreat, the quiet time, contemplation, meditation, spiritual counsellors, all of which enhance this practice and discipline of men and women coming to God in stillness to evaluate and examine their lives:- the parable of the plank and the speck of dust. Christ calls us to be hard on ourselves and Christ calls us to consider him only as our measure and our standard. So we stand and evaluate our lives in relation to the fullness and the abundance of life in Jesus. And then when lapses and shortcomings are detected we work with the Spirit to overcome, to grow, to become beautiful and faithful in the eyes of Christ. Mind you, the standard is always Christ.

It's not that bishop who is giving you trouble. It's not that archdeacon whose theology always irritates you (and there are a few around like that). Self-scrutiny is possible in the Christian journey as we stand naked before Jesus the Christ.

The second challenge that I'd like to leave with you, is one that we need to resuscitate and declare again and again, and that is the challenge of unity in diversity. As I look around and see you, I see this wonderful unity in diversity. Shortly, when the sacrament is administered, lips from numerous countries, numerous nationalities, numerous cultures will touch the same cup. We are united in spite of the fact that we are different, because in Christ we are equal. There's enough to go around if none will be greedy.

Here my dear sisters and brothers is an insight of what the Church is called to be: an inclusive communion, where there is space equally for everyone and anyone, regardless of colour, gender, ability, sexual orientation. Unity in diversity is a cherished Anglican tradition – a spirituality if you like, which we must reinforce in all humility for the sake of Christ and Christ's Gospel.

The third challenge that I have for you is that of the prophetic voice. Very often people say: "all this talk of reconciliation is not complete unless we address and deal with the injustice of the world." And so the Anglican Communion must articulate this prophetic voice regardless of where we serve in the world. Now as many of you will be aware, the prophetic voice has two strands, and it is imperative that these strands are held together. The first is the prophetic voice is a voice for the voiceless. There are those who for political reasons, cultural reasons, economic reasons, military reasons, cannot speak for themselves, or if they do, they do so at tremendous risk. And so the Anglican Communion must speak on their behalf - whether it is the crisis in Sri Lanka, whether it is the crisis in Zimbabwe, or Sudan, or Afghanistan or Iraq.

The voiceless must be given a voice through the leadership of the Anglican Communion. The second strand that goes with a voice for the voiceless, is the calling into accountability of those who abuse power: authoritarian regimes who oppress and suppress the people. The prophetic voice will ask poignant, relevant questions: "why", and sometimes, "how dare you?"

Two other comments about the prophetic tradition - in a sense the prophetic voice is monotonous. It's the same thing as long as the problem remains. And so, you don't need to worry if you're not saying anything new. Relentless monotony. And the second feature is that there is no self-interest in the prophetic tradition. We speak for justice and order in God's world, and we speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.

I want to conclude by quoting one of my favourite Archbishops - Archbishop William Temple, who once said: "The Church is the one institution that does not live for itself." My dear sisters and brothers, as we move from this wonderful retreat, through this beautiful eucharist into our conference, let us hold on these words. For here is the crux of Anglican identity, and here is the crux of Anglican spirituality. We do not live for ourselves, and all our energy, all our gifts are directed to abundant life for the other.

25 Years later: The haunting spectre of 1983

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The last week of July this year would mark the 25th anniversary of one of the darkest chapters in the history of our island nation. It was the week when a racist rabble encouraged by those in power went against a helpless minority living within Sinhala majority regions of Sri Lanka. It was a shameful episode that created immense problems and caused great harm to the country’s image. Twenty five years have passed but the country is yet to recover from that fateful July.

Read the article in full, from the pages of Montage Magazine, July issue [PDF File]

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DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at: djeyaraj2005@yahoo.com


Montage on the web: Montagelanka.com

War after the fall of Vidattalthivu

By Col R Hariharan (Retd.)

Keeping up the momentum of their offensive, Sri Lanka army's 58 Division and Commando troops advanced another 10 km to the north to capture Illuppakkadavai on Sunday July 20, 2008 close on the heels of their success in capturing the Sea Tiger base of Vidattalthivu on the Mannar coast on July 16, 2008. According to Defence sources, the Commandos pursued and attacked the cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fleeing  Iluppakkadavai, three km to the north on the A32 Mannar- Pooneryn road.

The rapid progress of the Mannar offensive and its quick successes send clear signals of the intention of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa to fight the LTTE unto finish despite his recent statement in India about his readiness to talk to the LTTE. At best the statement was a palliative to mollify ruffled sentiments in India where the LTTE enjoys a love-hate relationship in Tamil Nadu. (And the scale still appears to be weighted against 'love'.)

The military victories should enable the President, who had been beleaguered by issues of high inflation, food shortages and financial tight squeeze due to war expenditure, to more confidently host the forthcoming summit of South Asian nations at the 15th SAARC meet in Colombo.  The demonstrated military strength of a leader always sends a stronger message than words. In his case it would show his determination to pursue military objective first, regardless of the subterranean rumblings about it among the international community.

The capture of Vidattalthivu and Iluppakadavai are hard earned victories that have come about not a day soon. Though Adampan was captured on May 8 after prolonged efforts to penetrate its satellite defences, obviously it was the breakthrough at Periyamadhu on the
eastern side that had enabled the security forces to speed up their offensive. The fact the offensive troops have kept up their momentum to secure Iluppakadavain, a well established LTTE location, in four days shows that the army is overcoming its past weakness of slowing down after every success.

Apparently the operational plans now had been reworked and better orchestrated than the half-hearted efforts that got bogged down for quite sometime around the Giant's Tank on the flank of Adampan last year.

Though 200 cadres of the LTTE managed to pull out of the Vidattalthivu base before the security forces took it over, the operation was a difficult one as it involved reducing well fortified defences built around the base with a network of defensive positions on three sides providing depth to it. This was the reason why its capture took so long as it involved reducing the satellite defensive positions on the south and east.  No doubt the injection of additional troops of the newly raised 61 Division and the linking up of 57 and 58 Divisions had boosted the chances of success in the Vidattalthivu-Iluppakadavai offensive.

With these successes, not only the LTTE's clandestine logistic umbilical chord from Tamil Nadu coast is cut, but the manoeuvring space of the LTTE to switch troops from east to west and ability to coordinate operations on more than one front are also reduced. As against this, the security forces have now gained a decisive advantage with the linking up of forces operating on a wide front from the key road junction at Iluppakadavi to areas west of Mankulam on the A9 highway.

After the fall of Iluppakkadavai, the Nachchikuda LTTE base located 17 km further to the north becomes an important objective in the security forces offensive towards Pooneryn. Sea Tiger operations from Nachchikuda in tandem with Vidattalthivu had been a thorn in the flesh of Sri Lanka navy. The shallow waters of Vidattalthivu and the hundreds of Indian fishing boats in the vicinity had enabled the Sea Tiger boats to carry out sneak operations with little interference.

As the Sea Tigers would be handicapped after the fall of Vidattalthivu, the navy should be able to control if not totally curtail sea movement across Palk Bay and Nachikuda either towards island territories off Jaffna or to the Tamil Nadu coast. It would also help the navy in providing better support to its outposts and detachments operating along the coast from the Mannar salient to Delft island.

 The land offensive building up against Nachchikuda might well turn out to be a combined army-navy operation. The offensive patrolling operations of coastal patrol vessels of the navy reported in the seas around Vidattalthivu and Nachchikuda on July 20 indicate the likelihood of greater naval involvement in operations against Nachchikuda and more importantly in Pooneryn later.
However, before Nachchikuda is taken the security forces will have to secure and consolidate their hold on line Vellankulam-Tunukkai-Malavi on the road branching off from A32 to Mankulam. (This would probably involve further advance on a broad front for about 4km.) In the present operational situation, the Mankulam-Vellankulam axis to the east of A32 provides perhaps the best opportunity for the LTTE to launch a counterattack to dislodge the security forces as they are stretched now with the rapid advance. So we can expect the 57 Division sector to the west of A9 road become active in the coming week.

The A32 provides an alternate route to Jaffna from Pooneryn across the Jaffna Bay.  Pooneryn's location on the western flank of A9 road can bring the war closer to Kilinochchi.  Even if Pooneryn is not captured, the successes of the security forces on A32 road have increased their options to further progress their offensive because they will be operating on a wide front with a choice of multiple thrust lines with the advantage of secure flanks.

In spite of the quick successes, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka, the Army Commander is understandably cautious about the course of operations in the future. This is evident from the interview he had given to the Sunday Observer on July 20. His guarded approach had enabled him to carefully plan and conduct his operations probably at a time of his choosing.  So he usually avoids coming up with rash promises on operations unlike some politicians.  Perhaps he remembers that nearly a decade ago when the LTTE was not  having so of much fire power, it had upstaged the Sri Lanka security forces in the same sector though they had scored initial successes. It is interesting to see despite the official claims of killing 9000 LTTE cadres in Eelam War-4 he still credits the LTTE with a strength of 5000, which appears to be a realistic assessment. This strength includes hardened elements as well as raw inexperienced and ill trained hands. How they fare against the armed forces will be seen in the coming weeks.

["Sri Lanka: War after the fall of Vidattalthivu– Part 2" to follow will include the LTTE's options and Indian reaction to the ongoing war.]

July 19, 2008

Impunity, a debilitating fixture in state culture

25 years after Welikada massacre

by Rajan Hoole

Colombo’s Welikada high security prison was the scene of two massacres of Tamil political prisoners during the communal violence of July 1983, first after lunch on July 25 claiming 35 prisoners and second, about 4.00 PM on the July 27 claiming a further 18. On both occasions Secretary of Justice Mervyn Wijesinghe asked Colombo Magistrate Keerthi Srilal Wijewardene to hold inquests with the assistance of Tilak Marapone and C.R. de Silva (the present AG) from the Attorney General’s Department. No culprits were identified and the case was hushed up.

[Welikda Prison-www.prisons.gov.lk]

The massacres made life a living hell also for those on the spot, who driven by moral aversion tried unsuccessfully stop them, but were not even allowed to clear their names.

The inquest

One of them, Superintendent of Prisons (SP) Alexis Leo de Silva, upon hearing the alarm on the 25th, rushed into the mob in the Chapel Section with ASPs Amarasinghe and Munaweera, followed by Deputy Commissioner (DC) Cutty Jansz, but to little avail. Leo felt very angry that the army unit at the prison headed by Lt. Mahinda Hathurusinghe, 4th Artillery, did nothing to stop the murder, and later also blocked emergency hospitalization of injured survivors. A lieutenant would hardly have dared to override DC Jansz and doomed the survivors, without prompting from Army HQ. While some prison staff protected Tamils, others, including a jailor, attacked the survivors in the compound.

At the inquest on the 26th, Leo wanted to place the truth on record. Magistrate Wijewardene left out chunks of his testimony. Leo’s son Lalanath de Silva recently told us, “An AG’s department counsel called my father outside the room where the inquest was being held and attempted to persuade my father to go along - pleading that the truth would place Sri Lanka in a very adverse position internationally.” At one point the Magistrate became so angry that he refused to take down Leo’s testimony.

The Police under Detective Superintendent Hyde Silva questioned the survivors on the 26th following the Magistrate’s order. To Suriya Wickremasinghe of the Civil Rights Movement belongs the credit for painstakingly seeking out survivors of the massacres, interviewing them and keeping the issue alive. She told us that survivor Manikkadasan in his statement to the Police, blamed two jailors of active complicity. A thin jailor warned him that mention of names might lead to similar jeopardy from inmates.


Suriya believes that the second massacre owed to earlier survivors being also eyewitnesses. On the 27th Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne of Army Engineers commanded the platoon outside the prison. Hearing a commotion where the survivors had been re-housed, Nuvolari radioed the Duty Officer (DO) at Army HQ. He told the Junior DO who answered that he wanted authority to go into prison and disperse the mob. The Junior DO gave him a telephone number and asked him to phone the DO (a colonel). Nuvolari used the coin phone at the entrance to ring the number at Army HQ. The DO told him to stick to standing orders and stay outside prison, or would face court-martial if he went in. Nuvolari asked for the Army Commander. He was refused, being told the Commander was with President Jayewardene, and relief was being sent to deal with the problem. (Cutty Jansz had also phoned Army HQ.)

The relief, commandos under Major Sunil Peiris, promptly went in and saved 19 of the 37 prisoners. Nuvolari felt the deaths to be sheer murder, which his platoon could have prevented if not constrained by HQ. At the second inquest, the AG’s men, Marapone and de Silva, were keenly selective. Leo who was in prison the whole day, had at the first forebodings asked DC Jansz to expedite the removal of the survivors to safety. As if by design, the attack began when he went for a late snack in lieu of lunch, causing him to rush back. Neither he nor his ASPs were called upon to testify at the inquest.

The AG’s men and Magistrate tried to frame a jailbreak attempt that supposedly left inadequate resources to prevent the massacre. The AG’s men and Army’s lawyers importuned Lt. Seneviratne to tell the inquest that he was outside the prison controlling a jailbreak. He refused. The world had crashed around the 22-year-old sportsman from Trinity College who joined the Army with high hopes. Major Sunil Peiris stepped in saying not to harass Nuvolari and if he won’t, he won’t, and if their object was having someone from the Army testify, he would.

To a leading question, Major Peiris answered with professional precision, “I did not notice any prisoners attempting to break out. Therefore I gathered that the attempted mass jail break had been contained before our arrival!” Undeterred by Peiris’ refusal to perjure, the Magistrate summed up, “...prompt and efficient steps taken by the special unit of the Army under witness Major Peiris had effectively prevented the jail break ... and helped quell the mob which might otherwise have caused [even greater death].”

Taming scandals and condemning posterity

In July 2001, President Kumaratunge appointed the Presidential ‘Truth’ Commission on Ethnic Violence headed by former Chief Justice Suppiah Sharvananda, with S.S. Sahabandu and M.M. Zuhair. Suriya Wickremasinghe had repeatedly been thwarted in her efforts to obtain from the Police, testimony they received from the survivors of the first massacre. The Commission, which relied heavily on Suriya’s work, could have followed this up to further its investigations, but did not.

Tamil survivors named to us Jailor Rogers Jayasekere, Jailor Samitha Rathgama and Location Officer Palitha as the protagonists on the ground. Senior prison officials have indirectly affirmed Jayasekere’s culpability. His family were strong UNP supporter from President Jayewardene’s old Kelaniya electorate, shared in 1983 by Ranil Wickremasinghe and Cyril Mathew. Rumours charged that gangsters under Gonawala Sunil of Kelaniya UNP fame were brought into prison to assist the second massacre.

Vehicle check

Nuvolari Seneviratne’s testimony bears relevance here. His soldiers at the entrance checked the vehicles going into the prison to ensure they were the government’s. Jail guards just inside the entrance did the identity checks. The soldiers at the entrance told Nuvolari that some of the official vehicles entering took underworld figures, but exited without them. Asked who the underworld figures were, Seneviratne replied, “I did not see them myself and there is no way my men would have known them. But the jail guards knew them as persons in and out of jail. They told my men.”

During the second massacre, Journalist Aruna Kulatunga wrote recently, he saw airline hijacker Sepala Ekanayake coming out of the prison gates screaming “kohomada ape wede” (How is our job?), felled by a thundering blow from Major Sunil Peiris. Peiris had told me something more, that Sepala was carrying a severed human head.

Senior prison staff dismissed this as fantasy. I published it in my book Arrogance of Power, since I knew Peiris. I had checked back with Peiris, who, a little hurt, explained, ‘You know your Bible? It was like John the Baptist’s head on a charger’. It happened before Peiris saw the scene of crime. Peiris’ action makes sense only if Sepala’s utterance, reported also by Kulatunga, drew his attention to something revolting. Peiris’ testimony at the inquest speaks for truthfulness and accuracy that are hallmarks of a good officer. Nuvolari’s refusal to perjure again stands his testimony in good stead.

About when Peiris’ party arrived, Nuvolari’s men drew his attention to a fresh hole in the prison wall near the cricket ground. Upon inspection he saw an Air Force truck standing by. No words were exchanged. The Army’s legal unit also removed Nuvolari’s standing orders and the logbook with records of vehicles entering. On 27th, the Tamil detainees fought back, some attackers were mauled and soldiers shot some, but there is no account of casualties. SP Leo de Silva felt impelled by his honour to place the truth on record. His later investigations were stalled by an order from Commissioner Delgoda. Then Justice Minister Nissanka Wijeratne threw Leo out of service at the age of 56 by refusing a routine extension. The total cover up and a diversity of coherent testimony pointing to the nefarious deployment of broader resources, gives surely the lie to representing the massacres as an outburst of subaltern patriotism. No perpetrators were named and Sepala walks free. Is it not because they have beans to spill?

Whether or not directly intended, what our commissions and AG’s Dept. achieve is to protect the State’s inbuilt abuses that have gone over tolerable limits. The blame for its repeated crimes is invariably shuffled off to subaltern sectors. The routine official prevarication also leads to Sinhalese seeing the ethnic problem as Tamils making mountains of molehills, and the solution as being to knock them about, pat them on the head and give them sweets to suck.

[Dr. Rajasunderam, Mr. Kuttimani and Mr. Thangathurai were among the 52 Tamil political prisoners]

Regrettably, few Sinhalese would be shocked that Attorney General C.R. de Silva guides important commission proceedings such as the ACF investigation. He, or Marapone, tried to stop Leo de Silva 25 years ago, pleading that ‘the truth would place Sri Lanka in an adverse position internationally’. Lanka would have redeemed itself had all such crimes been faced squarely long ago, rather than make fixers of truth a permanent feature of the State. On a further point, the prison murders of rising Tamil leaders Dr. Rajasundaram, Kuttimani and Thangathurai led to the fracture of the original Tamil youth leadership and the rise of Prabhakaran. That is another intricate story.

The infamous white van: A symbol of shame

By Dr. Baptist Croos F.S.C.

The colour white generally stands for purity, truth, innocence and cleanliness, virtues we proudly cherish; virtues that are pivotal for our well being.

Unfortunately, with the subtle deployment of the infamous white van, this time-honoured traditional notion, so sagaciously handed down to us by our venerable forefathers, has been shattered in our resplendent island where white stands for duplicity, treachery, trauma, suspicion, fear and death! Inexplicably we have tarnished the beauty and desecrated the sacredness of the very essence of white. Unscrupulous authorities who master-mind and perpetrate this crime are still at large, to the utter bewilderment of the law-abiding and peace-loving citizens of this country. This is an embarrassing and indelible blotch in our security system. To have permitted such a despicable and heinous spectacle to go unhampered during the last couple of years by the guardians of law, is a big shame!

For the last twenty-five years check-posts have mushroomed throughout the length and breadth of the island. At every nook and corner we find security men and women armed to the teeth. With such forbidding omnipresence, how come this infamous white van has not been spotted, checked, the driver and the occupants questioned? The kidnappers go scot free! Very often these kidnappings take place in broad daylight when people are milling around markets and town centres.

What prevents the security men and women who are dotted along the way to thwart such an obnoxious menace?

Those who are entrusted with the security of our sacred nation must be persons of high calibre, class and character; must be forthright and fearless in exercising their duties. Colossal sums of money are spent on getting them trained, maintained and ensured of all facilities. At the end of it all, if they prove very inefficient and untrustworthy providing a lack-lustre and shabby performance, what’s the earthly use of wasting the tax-payers’ hard-earned money on them?

It is an undeniable fact that the security personnel have endured manifold hardships and made tremendous sacrifices in wresting the major part of the country from the stranglehold of terrorism. While the majority is staunchly loyal to their duties, others are very slovenly and their lousy attitude negates the mighty efforts of the former and makes an awkward dent in their integrity.

Periodical and serious review of the quality of our security system would be wholly beneficial. Steadfastly faithful and duty-conscious officers should be handsomely rewarded and the recalcitrant brought to book. Comparatively the western and southern parts of Sri Lanka have taken giant strides as far as progress is concerned. This forward march must not be halted abruptly by human rights violations, such as the abduction of innocent civilians in that infamous white van or any other vehicle for that matter. Why resort to unlawful arrests, when normal procedures are easily available through a court order

Sri Lanka is a free democratic country. There are courts of law to deal with indiscipline and misbehaviour. If a person is apparently guilty, by all means he should be arrested with due warrants, according to law and tried in an official court. The security men and women are on government’s payroll.

These days a lot of ideas are forthrightly expressed about this infamous white van. I do hope that stringent measures will be taken by the law enforcers to avoid repetitions of such ugly incidents; these third-grade tactics that bring immense discredit to our beloved country and not try to white-wash the whole horrible episode or colour-wash the white van.

Law-abiding citizens possessing a valid NIC desist going out even for a stroll in the evening for fear of being kidnapped. They are afraid to tell the truth. Fear psychosis has gripped the country. Journalists woefully hesitate to report such incidents correctly. They are mercilessly assaulted or done to death. The entire nation will prosper and flourish, if truth is allowed to triumph. Holy Scripture says, “Truth will make you free!”

Attack on free expression

By Kshama Ranawana

An on-line poll by the Asian Tribune asks “Should the Sri Lanka Government appoint a Press Commission, with full powers to probe the media?

And, I’d rather ask, should the people appoint a commission to probe all the attacks, physical and verbal that have been carried out against the Sri Lankan media, with impunity, in the recent years?

Never before has the local media been subjected to such horrendous crimes as has been in the past two years. Appeals and protests against these despicable acts have fallen on deaf ears. If the perpetrators of these attacks have any respect for the committee they would desist from continuing in their anti-media campaign. But of course that seems to be only a fantasy. Days after a state media published a vicious lie about the Sri Lanka Press Institute, claiming it had sent ‘Tamil tigers’ masquerading as journalists for training abroad, its Acting Manager, Advocacy and Media Freedom and his friend, political officer of the British High Commission were brutally assaulted.

Soon after the attack, reports stated that a senior politician had claimed the attacks were meant to tarnish the image of the government. Now, when have we heard that before? It would seem that Sri Lankans have mastered the art of blaming anyone but themselves each time an irresponsible act takes place, be it against the media, an ethnic or religious community.

Let’s just take the assault on the SLPI which is located close to a senior cabinet Minister’s private residence. It is inconceivable then that the area is not awash with plainclothes security personnel at least. The attack itself took place opposite the Information Department which is right next to an army detachment at Polhengoda. And if the attackers were emboldened enough to assault the victims in glaring view of government authority, we need to question the suitability of those in charge of law and order.

Dotted as it is with security checkpoints, how does the state reconcile the fact that these marauders roam the city streets armed with poles and dubious vehicle licence plates? Perhaps my understanding of the workings of those checkpoints is incorrect. Perhaps they have been put in place only to ensure that LTTE cadres or those suspected of being their supporters are netted in. Remember the two Red Cross workers who were abducted at the Fort railway station and whose bodies were found close to Ratnapura?

And then of course there is the now popular theme that has been bandied around for the thousandth time. All those who shout themselves hoarse for human rights and free expression, are all on the payroll of the LTTE, or funded by the west and therefore have vested interests. Well, this might be a tad bit foolish of me to ask, who funds the Peace Secretariat, and where do the funds for all those development projects come from? The Treasury? Should not the same yardstick be applied to those as well?

Journalists are now being accused of planning the attacks themselves, so they could seek asylum in western countries. Yes, that’s right, break my bones pals, so I could be disabled for life and ensure a free ticket out of the country! Those who genuinely desire to leave Sri Lanka can apply to emigrate, study or work abroad. They do not have to go to the extent of losing their lives to bid adieu to their homeland. But, then, is it not a fact that those very same people who cast these aspersions are those who have citizenship in the so called developed countries and could skip away the minute things get too rough for them?

Stating distorted reportage as the cause, the UNP, according to a Sunday newspaper plans to ban state media from its private events. Similar tactics as the government one could say, since the latter has no tolerance of war related reportage unless sanctioned by them. The press can be gagged and human rights defenders cowed down, but the facts will speak for themselves. A study of media intimidation, in the past couple of years shows a steady increase. Be it killings, threats or assaults, incidents recorded in 2005 were around 24 and the numbers have increased to 34 in 2006, 64 in 2007 and to 52 in the six months of the current year.

July 18, 2008

Sri Lanka's east in shadow of war

By Swaminathan Natarajan
BBC Tamil service, eastern Sri Lanka

Buildings destroyed by fighting
Villages across the east were destroyed in the fighting

A year after troops overpowered Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels in Sri Lanka's eastern province and took control of the area, normality has yet to return.

The government called the victory the "dawn of the east" and held a nationwide celebration on 19 July 2007, days after the last rebel stronghold fell.

It announced a host of development measures, and in May this year provincial elections were held for the first time.

A leader of a breakaway group from the rebels was appointed chief minister after helping fight against the LTTE.


But a year on, troops are still just as visible in major cities, towns and even in villages in the east.

Military checkpoints and stop and search operations are aimed at preventing "infiltration" by the Tamil Tigers - locals say such massive troop deployments in civilian areas increase their feeling of insecurity.

All those who got training from the LTTE went with them to northern areas. Yet the military views all Tamils with suspicion," says one resident of Batticaloa.

In some places the military are camped on private property. The army insist they pay compensation for using the land, but those affected say that is not the case.

Locals say many people have been randomly picked up for interrogation, on suspicion of having links with the Tamil Tigers.

Most are released after a day or two but some end up in prison.

"They arrested my son on suspicion that he might have received armed training from the LTTE. He has been in prison for the past seven months," says one man in the village of Echilampattu in Batticaloa district.

"All my efforts to bring him out have failed."


Analysts believe the LTTE's intelligence wing and other elements continue to operate in the east - officials say that is why security needs to be so tight.

Since last summer violence has continued.


The chief secretary of the eastern province was assassinated last July and this May a naval transport ship was sunk in Trincomalee harbour, hours before the start of voting.

Tamil political parties backed by the LTTE boycotted the election.

The military's victory was achieved after months of heavy fighting resulting in huge human cost.

In many cases entire villages were abandoned. More than 200,000 people became internally displaced refugees.

According to the government, about 110,000 people have been resettled in Batticaloa district. Nearly 12,000 others are still waiting.

In the district of Trincomalee the picture is similar.

Internally displaced people living in the refugee camps say they lack basic facilities like toilets and clean drinking water.

Those who have been resettled say they have still to receive support from the government.

Most villagers in resettled areas now live without electricity. Many school buildings damaged or destroyed in the war are yet to be rebuilt.

In many places students sit under temporary shelters made asbestos.

"These sheets increase the intensity of the heat. As a result the students suffer from a number of health problems," one headmaster told the BBC.


Damage to property has been immense.

Many houses have been partly or totally damaged by different kinds of bombs, shells and bullets.

Refugees displaced by the conflict in a camp in east Sri Lanka
Thousands still remain in refugee camps in eastern Sri Lanka

Kavita Malar, a young mother who lives with her daughter, received a house worth 300,000 Sri Lankan rupees (about $2,900) as compensation after the 2004 tsunami.

It was badly damaged in the fighting, with some holes created by shells big enough to allow a dog to pass through.

"This house is not stable. Whenever there are strong winds I leave my house and go to my father's house which is nearby," she says.

"I am scared the house may crumble - I am living with fear."

According to the chief minister of the eastern province, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanth (better known as Pillaiyan), 130,000 houses are totally or partly damaged.

He says the government has plans to repair and rebuild all these houses and to complete the rehabilitation work in the next 18 months.

The government is giving 325,000 rupees (about $3,000) to rebuild completely ruined houses.

But there is a widespread perception that not many in need actually receive this financial help.

Sri Lanka's disaster and resettlement minister, Abdul Risath Bathiyutheen, told the BBC that $80m from the World Bank and $40m from the European Union had been used to build houses in areas affected by war.

He added that talks were continuing to secure a further $43m from the World Bank. Yet he is not sure how many houses are being built.

"There are a number of ministries and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) doing this work. So it is not possible to give an exact figure."

A senior official from a local NGO says continuing insecurity is the major obstacle in the development process.

"Fear of return of war prevails among the aid donors and it is preventing the flow of funds for large housing construction plans," he says.

Hearts and minds

Apart from housing, fishing was also badly hit.

Villages dotting the eastern coast were battered by the tsunami in December 2004 and most of the relief work since then has been undone by the war.

Kantaiya Padmanahban is a fisherman from Vaharai in Batticaloa district whose mother died during the tsunami.

He was given a new boat by an NGO but war erupted when he was rebuilding his life. He abandoned the boat and ran away.

When he came back after a year in various refugee camps, his home was damaged and his boat was completely destroyed.

"A shell might have fallen on top of it - a direct hit might have destroyed my boat. They have not given me any compensation to buy a new boat, nets etc, I have no work to do," he says.

In some places the government has built roads and hospitals. But the operation to win hearts and minds, it seems, has a long way to go. [courtesy:BBC.co.uk]

July 17, 2008

July: Life after 25 years

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Anoma Rajakaruna shares her photos of people in black and white. Anoma has captured many expressions and many environments. Every photograph speaks differently. As a film-maker, photographer and poet ,Anoma has well captured the many moods of men, women and children around the Island. The exhibition is divided as My story, her story, his story and their stories comprising 34 photographs.

Anoma Rajakaruna’s exhibition of photographs was inaugurated on July 16th 2008 at Alliance Francaise in Colombo by the Ambassador for France in Sri Lanka and Maldives Michel Lummaux. The exhibition will remain open to the public from July 18th-24th  2008 , and the exhibition will be held at Alliance Francaise in Kandy from August 8th-14th 2008.

My Story

As a child I walked down the main street of my home town Panadura,

In Southern Sri Lanka, with my mother.

We walked the familiar route doing so many things together,

Going to the railway station to catch a train, going to the fisheries harbour to buy fish,

Going to the weekly fair to get seasonal fruits,

Going to the beach on Sundays to make sand castles,

Going to the library to return a book,

Going shopping to buy a new pair of shoes or

Going to the temple at the end of the street to meet a Buddhist monk, who is a scholar.

On these walks we would drop in at the corner shop or the adjoining pharmacy to say hello to some of our friends.

I remember, Uncle Joe from the pharmacy and a few others from the nearby shops with whom we communicated in a mixture of languages: Sinhalese, a little bit of Tamil and English.

We belonged to different ethnic groups and spoke different languages.

Yet we were friends.

Then a day dawned in July 1983, which changed this familiar routine and landscape completely.

I was in school.

The Hindu temple across the road went up in flames.

Thereafter every building owned by a Tamil in town was caught up in black smoke and red flames.

My teenage self was surrounded by smoke, flames, charred door frames and lifeless half burnt houses.

Days, weeks, months and years passed thereafter.

There was no trace of Uncle Joe and his friends.

The landscape of main street in Panadura had changed.

I grew up.

I met new friends. They were Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Malays.

I started traveling. I went to places away from home all across Sri Lanka.

One day, I met a woman in Polonnaruwa who lost all her seven sons.

Two years after that, I met a sculptor in Nikaweratiya. He sculptured statues of Buddha.

I met a woman in Madhu who lost the place she called home 16 times and now lives out of suitcase.

I met people who didn’t have a place called home.

I met people who didn’t like to talk about their original homes because it brought back sad memories.

I met children who were born in temporary shelters.

Some of them have lived in such “temporary” places for a very long time.

Most of them were Tamils.

I have listened to their stories and to many other similar stories.

I have documented their lives during the last 17 years.

It’s 25 years after July 1983.

It’s time for me to share their stores with you.

I never met Uncle Joe again.

“July: Life after 25 years” is my search for him and others who were swept away from their homes and families into strange and often threatening and terrifying new environments and social contexts.

It is also my way of honouring the courage of all these women, men and children who have dared to rebuild their lives in Sri Lanka.

25 oil lamps were lit to commemorate the Black July.

These pots have an ethnicity too.
The clay pots are used by Sinhala people.
The brass pots are used by Tamil people.
They are known as “Sinhala” pots and “Tamil” pots.
Women who fetch water for their families from both communities come together with their pots at the common wells in many villages on the borders of the conflict zone.
They not only share water, they share life too. [humanityashore.org] ~ dushi.pillai@gmail.com

July 16, 2008

A Political Solution and Conduits for Racism

by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

The myth about bringing the two main parties together

Over the last year, I have been struck by the number of times I have been told that a political solution to our problems is not possible unless the two main parties get together. This argument is based on the historical record, inasmuch as two serious attempts at compromise, involving Regional Councils in the late fifties and then District Councils in the late sixties, were stymied because of forceful opposition by the main opposition party. Had the opposition in either case agreed to the compromise, it is held, our problems would have been solved.

There are two rejoinders to that. The first is that, even if support from the opposition would have been a sufficient condition, that does not make it a necessary condition. The second is, was it opposition from an opposition party, or something else, that destroyed the third attempt at compromise, the District Development Councils Bill of 1981?

My argument is that a little learning, combined with platitudes, can be extremely misleading. The point is that the District Development Councils Bill was actually passed, because the government had a more than sufficient majority. The main opposition, the SLFP, opposed it and boycotted the election, but the JVP, by then the leading left force in the country, accepted this attempt at devolution and contested the election and did reasonably well for a party engaging in electoral politics for the first time.

The destruction of the 1981 District Development Councils system

It was not the JVP in opposition in the District Development Councils, nor opposition from the SLFP in parliament, that destroyed the whole concept. It was first the mockery made of the election in Jaffna by the UNP itself, in sending up Cyril Mathew in a leadership role in the campaign. Under his watch the Jaffna MP was nearly killed and the Jaffna Public Library was set on fire. The TULF, which had contested the election in contravention of a call for boycott by the Tigers, was immeasurably weakened, and thereafter did not find it easy to defy the Tigers.

As significantly, the District Development Councils simply could not function effectively. They were starved of resources by the central government, and the District Minister, appointed from outside, a strange provision that the TULF nevertheless agreed to live with, could do nothing. The particular individual involved for Jaffna, the Dambadeniya MP U B Wijekoon, is supposed to have done his best, but his first loyalty was to the government, not the elected District Council on whose behalf he was meant to act. Unable to demand resources, he took on a passive role, and in the end the DDCs were seen as a joke.
In short, it was nothing to do with the opposition that that particular initiative failed, it was entirely because of a lack of will on the part of the government. And, employing Occam’s Razor, which is a little known entity in Sri Lanka, we find that that precisely was the reason the previous efforts also failed. But in all cases we should also consider the background to that lack of will, why leaders who proposed measures could not take them through.

It was not, we should note, that all previous leaders were hypocritical, as J R Jayewardene certainly was. He had the majority needed to do his will, and he did it in every other particular, ranging from packing the Supreme Court to postponing elections to awarding contracts to his relations to destroying the foreign service by appointing friends and relations to all levels of jobs. No one protested, certainly not the chattering classes, who thought the Grand Old Man could do no wrong.

The inbuilt racism of the Jayewardene wing of the UNP

Why then did he not forge ahead with the political measures necessary to resolve the ethnic problem, a problem he was in a sense responsible for creating through his first initiatives as a State Councillor in the forties? The answer quite simply is that he was the leader of the chauvinist wing of the UNP, what might be termed the Kelaniya Branch that had forced Sir John Kotelawala to retract his promise of making both Sinhala and Tamil official languages. It is totally forgotten now that, though it was Bandaranaike who introduced the Sinhala Only Bill, the 1956 election was called early by the UNP precisely to seek a mandate to introduce Sinhala Only, as per the resolution taken at its Kelaniya session in January 1956.

So it was Jayewardene then who, in accordance with his commitment to Sinhala Only, organized the march to Kandy to protest against the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact. Bandaranaike overcame that protest, with S D Bandaranaike laying himself across the road, so invitingly as it was put, an invitation that Jayewardene and his goons did not dare to accept.

Why then did Bandaranaike, having achieved that victory over Jayewardene, also retreat? The answer lies in the opposition within his party, led by Vimala Wijewardene, wife of Jayewardene’s uncle, close associate of the Kelaniya Buddhist tradition of the time (though that at least has changed) which ended up plotting Bandaranaike’s assassination. This group proved powerful enough to have Philip Gunawardena expelled, to prevent what they saw as socialist excesses. This group, in short, were the champions of capitalist nationalism, a mantle Ranil Wickremesinghe was to take on a quarter of a century later when he claimed, in a ghastly glossing over of the horrors of July 1983, that ‘the tragedy that had now struck the non-Sinhala trader due to the machinations of an extreme political party as a result of their factories and business places being burnt down, was nothing compared to the tragedy imposed on the Sinhala entrepreneur by the Bandaranaikes since 1956….. Every step of their nationalization crippled the Sinhala entrepreneur. First came the nationalization of transport, then insurance, lands, housing and finally book publication and the newspapers, which were all areas virtually monopolised  by Sinhalese.

The areas then by non-Sinhalese went unscathed. The non–Sinhalese entrepreneur thrived not through any contriving on his part but because of government policies at that time.’

Opposition to Bandaranaike in 1958 and to Senanayake in 1968

Bandaranaike was, understandably if not excusably, nervous. He presided in any case over a fractious coalition and in the end, faced by demonstrations so ably organized by the Kelaniya wing, encompassing both its UNP and its SLFP components, he panicked. Long forgotten now are the pressures against him, which were fuelled also, as Dayan Jayatilleke has reminded us, by the proponents of that wing within Lake House, then an immeasurably powerful and politically committed media organization. Given Tarzie Vittachi’s liberal credentials, I had forgotten that the more influential organs in that period were the Sinhala papers. I am not sure that Dr Jayatilleka is right in claiming that the chauvinist campaign was led by a Wijewardene, but given the predilections of, if not Vimala then her husband, author of ‘Revolt in the Temple’, and the close knit nature of the family, one can see that they would have been a potent conduit for racist poison. Dayan Jayatilleka does exempt Esmond Wickremesinghe from any guilt. I believe he was right, but as the man in charge at the time, until his brother-in-law Ranjith was of an age to take up his birthright, he cannot escape responsibility.
Ten years later the boot was on the other foot, in that Dudley Senanayake, back at the helm of the UNP, had reached agreement with the FP led by Mr Chelvanayakam, with the Tamil Congress led by G G Ponnambalam in acquiescence. Wisdom now has it that the District Councils Bill had to be abandoned because of the opposition led by the SLFP, supported then by the leading left parties at the time, a shameful reversal that I am sure they continue to regret. Indeed Mrs Bandaranaike herself should have known better, given what her husband had tried to do, and how he had been stopped.

However, it was not that opposition that finally convinced Mr Senanayake that he could not go ahead. It was the opposition in his own party, led by Cyril Mathew, another Kelaniya stalwart. And, though Mr Senanayake dismissed Mr Mathew from his party post, he knew that behind him were other forces.

The Kelaniya Troika and its influence

These included not only J R Jayewardene, but also Esmond Wickremesinghe. The two of them, together with Mr Mathew, saw themselves as the troika that had built up the party following its stunning defeat at the polls in 1956. Their technique had been, not to reverse the decisions of the Kelaniya sessions and try to win back the Tamil vote that had abandoned them with such disastrous consequences at the 1956 election (to the benefit of the left parties), but to continue on racist lines, as exemplified by opposition to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact.

And so in 1968 Dudley Senanayake was also nervous. He was convinced anyway that there was a conspiracy to topple him, a conviction fuelled by some loose talk that Mr Wickremesinghe had indulged in while abroad, which when reported prompted the Prime Minister to have the CID follow both J R Jayewardene and Mr Wickremesinghe. This may have seemed paranoid at the time, but on hindsight it is possible that Jayewardene’s ambitions were even then unrestrained, and that Mr Mathew’s antics may have seemed to him the key to popular support. Certainly, before the July 1983 outbreak, Mr Wickremesinghe used to talk of Mr Mathew as a possible successor to Mr Jayewardene, and believed that his chauvinist approach gave him a popularity that put him ahead of the others in the rivalry with Prime Minister Premadasa that was perhaps the dominant factor in Kelaniya wing thinking at the time.

So in 1968, while carefully watching his back, Dudley Senanayake abrogated his pact with Mr Chelvanayakam. Once again, it was held, the two parties had failed to come together, and that proved the need for this if there were to be a durable solution. But as I have pointed out, 1981 showed that a solution was possible without the major opposition party being involved, with the then prevailing goodwill between UNP and JVP bringing the latter too on board.

The Wickremesinghe response to President Kumaratunga’s initiatives

And the nineties showed that even when the two parties came together, nothing would emerge. On two occasions Mrs Kumaratunga thought she had UNP support for constitutional reform, and on two occasions she was let down, on the second she thought in spite of a firm commitment. Of course, on both occasions other reasons were adduced, relating to adjustments she had made with regard to her own powers. But, while these could and should have been resolved after discussion, the point is that the UNP itself attacked the proposals on racist grounds. The argument that this was not in accord with the thinking of its leader is nonsensical, for anyone who knows the way the Party is run.

My argument then is that a strong willed government does not need to ensure the opposition is on board to promote political reforms to solve the ethnic problem.

All it needs is parliamentary support, and the will to use existing powers to the maximum to activate and institutionalize the necessary reforms. All this will be impossible if there is an opposition that will agitate against such action forcefully – which means forcefully enough to rattle forces within the government that may panic and therefore reduce the effectiveness and perhaps even the life of the government.

Contrariwise, I would also argue that attempting to get the opposition on board, when it is the UNP in thrall to its Kelaniya wing, is a waste of time. As noted there is an inbuilt chauvinism in that party, a chauvinism that, combined with nationalistic capitalism – with no sensitivity to social problems and the need for equity – would be fatal in today’s world. Sadly, that chauvinism is combined with a chicanery that is willing, through both propaganda and financial inducements, to work together with any force that will help it to undermine an elected government. Thus we saw how bribery together with some principles brought down Mrs Bandaranaike in 1964, and how bribery, together with astonishing inefficiency which provoked many capable people into revolt, brought down Mrs Kumaratunga’s government in 2001. In dealing with such forces, the government does have to be careful, which is why it would have made no sense to push forward with reforms for which it might not find a parliamentary majority, let alone the two thirds that might be needed for some measures. And the extent to which the UNP under its current leadership would go, exemplified in the attempt at association with the JVP in the recent strike, suggests that any and everything would be used to undermine the elected government.

Current reasons for optimism

All this may sound very pessimistic. But the point is that the situation has changed now, and it is clear that the Kelaniya forces, together with their potential allies, are no longer in a position to agitate against positive government initiatives. Fortunately for progressive forces, and in particular those forces in the UNP who represent a more enlightened tradition, the current leadership has been both arbitrary and extreme in its authoritarianism, to an extent that it can no longer be effective. Of course a mistake by the government might give Ranil Wickremesinghe a new life, as was done for instance when in all good faith the government signed an MoU in 2006. Fortunately Mr Wickremesinghe over-reached himself as usual and, in trying to get rid of his Deputy Leader to consolidate his own hold, he precipitated a revolt that strengthened the government. This allowed it to move forcefully to regain the East without being characterized as chauvinist or being driven into dependence on chauvinist forces.
It is perhaps in recognition of current weakness that Mr Wickremesinghe has now sought new allies, the wonderfully incompatible pairing of Gen Janaka Perera and the JVP. The failure of the strike last Thursday makes it clear that the second option is not going to be even as fruitful as the UNP cultivation of K M P Rajaratne (leader of another JVP, but an overtly racist party) in 1964. And unless there is an unexpected setback, it is not likely that Gen Perera will provide the miracle that Mr Wickremesinghe needs. Indeed, it is clear he has already begun thinking on more familiar lines, in putting forward an actor with very different attractions to lead his team in Sabaragamuwa.

In short, if a cooperating opposition is a sufficient condition for reform, another is an opposition that is dysfunctional. The SLFP no longer has a chauvinist wing that will revolt against its leadership as Vimala Wijewardene might have done in 1958. And, though the opposition mutters darkly about the JHU and the MEP, the government has shown that measures to promote rights and empowerment for minorities within the context of a united country will not entail opposition. There is no problem whatsoever about those parties being pro-Sinhala (for much needs to be done for deprived Sinhala majority regions too) provided they are not anti-Tamil or anti-Muslim – and, though elements supporting them may not understand the distinction, since the leadership does there should be no difficulty about the government taking firm action to stop any intimidation. That is essential, and quite possible without fear of being weakened, in a context in which there is no danger at all of the current opposition, whether led by the UNP or the JVP, mounting any threatening chauvinistic campaign, whatever their earlier predilections might have been.

It is clear then that now is a good time for the government to proceed. It is not only good, it is essential, since one of the necessary conditions for dealing with terrorism is showing that it is possible to eliminate through democratic pluralism the root causes of support for terrorist action on the part of basically decent people. More concerted action on language, the recruitment of Tamils to the public and security services, infrastructural and economic development in the East, elections to local government bodies and the Provincial Council in the East, the Task Force in the North, are all excellent starts, but more, to institutionalize the concept and impact of power sharing, is desirable. There is no better time to move than when the country at large has confidence in a government that has achieved so much in terms of security as well as equity in the face of considerable odds.

[Rajiva Wijesinha, Senior Professor of Languages at Sabaragamuwa University, is the Secretary
General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). He obtained his first
degree in classics from University College, Oxford, and went on to do a doctorate in English at
Corpus Christi College, where he held the E K Chambers Studentship. He is the author of several
books including: Declining Sri Lanka: Terrorism and Ethnic Violence as the legacy of
J R Jayewardene, 1906-1996, Cambridge University Press Delhi, July 2007.]


July 15, 2008

The baseless hype about Prabha and his One-Four base

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

When a newspaper reported erroneously that Mark Twain had passed away the famous American humourist responded by writing that “reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated”.

Mark Twain.jpg
[Mark Twain - November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910]

If the one – four base of Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabakharan possessed the ability to respond to recent media reports about its anticipated demise, it is very likely that the “1 – 4 “ too would have echoed Twain , saying the reports were “greatly exaggerated”.

The recent past has seen much media attention being focused on the purported Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) base located in the dense jungles of Mullaitheevu district codenamed “one – four base”.

Multiple media reports have been bombarding us with various details about this infamous base.

We have been told that the 1 – 4 base is where LTTE chief Prabakharan is currently holed up; it is a stationary base constructed during the Indian peace keeping Force period;1 – 4 base got its name because it comprises 14 military camps.

This information is partly correct and partly incorrect thus presenting a garbled, confused picture.

In the frenzied glee surrounding Prabakharan’s imminent capture or downfall a salient factor has been lost sight of.

Will any wanted person supposedly staying at a particular place continue to remain at the same venue after it has been publicly identified and a proclamation to the effect that “ we are coming to get you” has been made?

It need not be the LTTE leader but even a notorious denizen of the underworld.
Will such a person remain in his hiding place after it has been explicitly identified and intention declared that he would be apprehended soon ?.

If anyone imagines that Velupillai Prabakharan will stay put where ever he is for the security forces to come and nab him that can only be dubbed as wishful thinking.

That apart , there seems to be a misconception about the 0ne – four base and its origins. It is misconstrued that it was set ip as a static, permanent one.

This simply is not true.

Historically the one – four base is the one where Prabakharan was.Whichever “base” Prabakharan resided , albeit temporarily , was called the one – four.

The Indian epic “Ramayana” chronicles an incident where Sita Devi the consort of Lord Rama entreats her husband that she too be allowed to accompany him into the wilderness as decreed by his father Dasaratha.

When she is asked to stay in the capital city Ayodhya , Sita Devi replies that to her Ayodhya is where Rama is.

This saying has gone down famously and is often quoted.

Likewise in the annals of the LTTE the one – four base has been the one where “Thalaiver” Praba was.

If Ayodhya is where Rama was then One – four is where Prabha was.
A brief glimpse into LTTE history is necessary to understand how the one – four base concept evolved.

The LTTE is basically a guerrilla movement. It may have acquired certain characteristics of a conventional militia but it is in essence a guerrilla movement.

Among the hallmarks of a guerrilla movement are mobility and evasiveness.

In the early days of the LTTE when it did not control much territory the tigers did not confine themselves to a specific place for long.

They shifted venue frequently.

Thus their locations were not identified geographically.

Instead the camps had codenames and code signs and were known by those.

Thus a camp could move from place to place but be known by the same codename.

Such code names and code signs were essential for wireless communication.

Of all the Tamil militant movements the LTTE was the one which developed wireless communication to a very high level.

This “communication” advantage was used effectively not only to combat the Sri Lankan security forces but also in fratricidal warfare with other Tamil groups like the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). LTTE leader Prabakharan was living in Tamil Nadu in the mid – eighties of the 20th century.. His deputies like Pandithar, Rajesh, Mahathaya, Santhosham, Kittu etc were based in North – Eastern Sri Lanka , carrying out his orders.

Once again communication was of paramount importance in the interaction between the leader in India and his regional commanders in Sri Lanka.

In the early stages each regional and sub – regional base was identified by the nom de guerre of the chief wireless operator.

As time went on this procedure was changed and the main regional bases and sub – regional satellite bases were given specific codenames.

In the LTTE scheme of things Jaffna was given pride of place. Jaffna was numero uno. So it got to be codenamed one.

Wanni took second place and was Two. Other regions followed in similar fashion.

After the death of Pandithar in Jan 1985 , Kitu took over as Jaffna regional commander.

Kittu demarcated Jaffna nto three sectors and appointed sub – regional commanders.

The three sectors were Valigamam, Vadamaratchy and Thenmaratchy respectively.

The Valigamam sector headquarters under Johnny was One – one base; the Vadamaratchy sector headquarters under Soosai was One – two base; the Thenmaratchy sector headquarters under Curdles was One – three base.

Jan 5th 1987 marked a turning point in LTTE history as Velupillai Prabakharan gave Indian authorities the slip and returned clandestinely to Sri Lanka. Since Jaffna was in a semi – liberated state then the LTTE leader stayed in the peninsula moving from place to place frequently.

The communication code assigned to the LTTE leader was one – four because “one – one”, “one – two”, and “one – three” were assigned to the three sectors.

Whichever place the LTTE leader stayed was called one – four base. It was not a static base but something akin to a “floating “ one.

Whether Prabakharan stayed in Ariyalai, Madduvil, Udupiddy or Kokuvil , his specific location in that place was referred to as “one – four” as long as he stayed there.

Ayodhya to Sita was where Rama was. Likewise one – four to the LTTE was where Prabakharan was.

Security wise this arrangement was excellent because the specific locality of where ever the LTTE leader was currently staying was known only to a trusted few. Security personnel intercepting wireless communications would also not know where the One – four base was situated geographically.

This was how the “one – four” originated and became identified with LTTE leader Prabakharan.

The advent of the Indian army in 1987 and subsequent fighting made all plans and procedures of the LTTE go awry.

The LTTE leader and many of his followers re- located to the Northern mainland known as the Wanni.

[Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya, with the IPKF]

With the 132,000 Indian troops entrenching themselves in all areas of the North – East the LTTE in the Wanni was compelled to take cover in the thick jungles or the sparsely populated hamlets adjacent to forests.
After moving from place to place the LTTE leader obtained safety and sanctuary in the Mullaitheevu district jungles bordering those of the Manal aaru/Weli – Oya region.

The earlier code sign for Prabakharan ‘s base was retained in the Wanni too. Wherever he set up base that location was called One – four.

[Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu]

Prabakharan’s personal code sign for wireless communication was Hotel Alpha. Mahathaya’s was Mike Alpha. Kittu’s was Kilo Delta.

The Wanni then was a stronghold of LTTE deputy – leader and Wanni region commander Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya.

It was due to Mahathaya’s aid and assistance that Prabakharan was able to procure refuge and secure safety in the Wanni.

The ingenuity and industry of the LTTE was powerfully demonstrated when tiger cadres constructed a network of tunnels and underground bunkers in the jungles of Nithihaikulam

It is this place that Adele Balasingham describes vividly in her book” The Will to Freedom”.

The base complex in Nithihaikulam was called One – four because Velupillai Prabakharan was resident there at that point of time.

In 1988 the Indian army in a jungle - sweeping operation raided Nithihaikulam and overran the base – complex there.

Prabakharan and cadre had fled the place earlier. It is said that Prabakharan had a narrow escape then as he was forced to take cover for some time in a clump of bushes barely 150 yards away from Indian troops.

In any event the Indian army would not have been able to capture Prabakharan alive as he had given precise instructions to his cadres then about what to do in such an eventuality.

The LTTE leader had a team of 40 bodyguards accompanying him everywhere during that turbulent period of time.

If Prabakharan was injured seriously his bodyguards were instructed to kill him to avoid getting captured alive.

If he was surrounded and capture was imminent then the LTTE leader would have consumed cyanide.

Prabakharan had also given clear instructions about what was to be done after his death.

One of the bodyguards was carrying a can of kerosene with him.

His instructions were to pour the kerosene on Prabakharan’s corpse and set it aflame. Prabakharan was determined to prevent his body being paraded around as a trophy by the Indian army. When the base at Nithihaikulam was raided the Indian media naturally made much of the incident. Pictures of the base with its labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers were widely distributed.

This writer was then shown some pictures by Dr.Subramaniam Jaishankar ,former political counsellor at the Indian High Commission and recalls those impressive images.

Since the Nithihaikulam base was referred to as One – four at the time it was overrun by the Indian army that specific location became identified as 1 – 4.

The full glare of publicity that the incident received had an erroneous yet indelible impact on popular psyche.

Thereafter it became “gospel truth” that the one – four base was permanently situated in Nithihailulam. That impression lingers on still.

Meanwhile Prabakharan survived the IPKF ordeal and the Indian army returned to India and a few months later war erupted between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the tigers.

The LTTE was now in control of the greater part of the Northern Province.

Prabakharan himself moved back to the peninsula from the mainland.

It is learnt that Prabakharan stayed in a number of places in Jaffna during the 1990 – 1995 period. It is said that he shifted frequently to a number of safe houses in the Chundikuli- Eechamoddai- Ariyalai – Colombothurai area then

Wherever he was staying that place was called one – four base.

“Operation Riviresa” in 1995 – 96 saw the LTTE withdrawing from the Peninsula into the Wanni again.
Prabakharan too relocated to the mainland with his family.

When the LTTE relocated to the Wanni during the Indian army period the tigers had to seek safety and security in the jungle areas as the IPKF was stationed in most towns and key junctions and roads.

But this was not the case in the nineties of the previous century as the LTTE was in control of most villages and towns in the Wanni then. Thus there was no need to locate themselves in the jungle areas as in the past.

This did not mean that that the LTTE did not construct military installations in the jungle areas. But the tigers were not confined to jungle bases in large numbers.

The tiger leader Prabakharan did not return to the jungles of Nithihaikulam and set up the One – four base there.

Instead he was living in different places in and around Kilinochchi , Mallavi,Thunukkai, Viswamadhu, Katsilaimadhu , Oddusuddan and Puthukudiyiruppu.

According to informed Tamil sources the “One – four” code sign was used by Prabakharan till about mid – 1999. Thereafter it was changed to something else almost on the eve of “Oyatha Alaigal” series of operations.

Subsequently massive changes were made in many spheres after the “Col” Karuna revolt in 2004.
Almost every code sign, codenames and the communication codes themselves were changed as it was assumed that Karuna would leak information to Colombo.

But Prabakharan had earlier reduced his wireless communication drastically during the Operation Jayasikurui period.

With the security forces monitoring and intercepting LTTE communications through superior technical equipment Prabakharan was not taking any chances.

Almost all communication between Prabakharan and his field commanders during the Jaya sikuri fighting was by word of mouth.

In most instances it was former political commissar Brig. Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan who functioned as “courier” between the frontlines and the generalissimo.

After President Mahinda Rajapakse’s ascension the fighting has intensified and escalated.

Once again Prabakharan has changed all codes, code signs and codenames for security reasons. Even modes of communication have been altered. The LTTE leader faces two dangers from the security forces in his citadel. One is an assassination attempt by special forces termed as deep penetration units by the LTTE. The death of military intelligence chief “Col” Charles is an indicator of this type of danger.

The other risk is de – capitation through aerial bombardment. The death of political commissar Thamilselvan is the best example of this potential danger.

Prabakharan himself has had two narrow escapes from aerial bombardment.

The first was on November 28th 2007 when the place he was staying at Jeyanthi Nagar in Kilinochchi was bombed.
A section of the bunker caved in and Prabakharan sustained minor injuries on his shoulder and back.

This was exclusively reported in the December 16th 2007 issue of our sister paper “The Nation”.

The second narrow shave was on January 23rd 2008. The air force bombed the LTTE underground hospital known as “X – Ray base” in Ambagamam near Iranaimadhu.

An intelligence report had been received that the LTTE leader was there. But the elusive Prabakharan had moved out barely an hour before the attack.

Though Prabakharan escaped both the aerial bombardments the LTTE was rattled because both incidents were near misses.

The LTTE suspected information was being conveyed to Colombo by fifth columnists.

Many tiger cadres were suspected and intensive probes were conducted.

A large number of LTTE men were detained and interrogated by Pottu Amman’s operatives.


Chief among them was Pulithevan the head of the LTTE’s peace secretariat.

It was suspected that Pulithevan had been “turned” by Sri Lankan intelligence when he made several trips to Colombo during the peace process discussions.

Subsequently Pulithevan was exonerated of all charges and has been restored to grace.

Pulithevan made a public appearance on July 14th in Kilinochchi when he participated at a LTTE function to honour field photographers videoing the fighting in Mannar.

Pulithevan lit the lamp and garlanded a picture of former Jaffna commander “Col” Kittu. It was Kittu who pioneered the practice of videoing combat at the frontlines. Taking no chances about security the LTTE radically transformed its behavioural pattern of senior leaders. This was particularly so in the cases of Prabakharan and intelligence chief Pottu Amman.

[Prabakharan and Pottu Amman, on July 5, 2008: pic: puthinam.com]

The past months have seen both adopting a low – key profile avoiding travel or public appearances as far as possible.

Fearing electronic surveliiance through sophisticated equipment there is minimal communication to and from the safehouses lodging Prabakharan.

In keeping with his earlier practice the LTTE supremo moves from place to place each day and avoids sleeping at the same place on successive nights.

The old reference to One – four base has gone out of vogue. The new codes, code signs and codenames are zealously guarded secrets.

It is against this backdrop that a publicity blitz is now on about the One – four base and probable capture of Prabakharan.

The Mullaitheevu district areas of Nithihaikulam, Aandankulam, Semmalai, Alampil, Kumulamunai etc which border the Manal Aaru/Weli Oya region are all of strategis importance to the tigers.

There is no doubt that a number of key LTTE military installations are prevalent there.
If and when the security forces advance deep into tiger territory in Mullaitheevu they will certainly come across these camps and bases.

Some of them will no doubt be of immense military value.

A pointer to the future in this regard was the capture of Michael Base located to the north of Aandaankulam.

It was a two – tiered underground base with well – furnished rooms, water supply and toilet /drainage etc.

Many similar LTTE camps may fall in the days to come.

It would however be a grave blunder to assume that all these camps form part of the old One – four base complex.

Some may be constructed or re-constructed on sites where bases existed earlier. This does not mean they are part of the non – existent One – four base complex.

These are installations to be treated on their own , individual merits rather than being labelled 1 – 4.
The claim that One – four base derived its name due to the existence of 14 related camps is a figment of fertile imagination.

Moreover it would be a monumental mistake to presume that Velupillai Prabakharan would be awaiting advancing soldiers at Nithihaikulam where he stayed in the eighties of the last century when his abode was codenamed “one – Four”

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at: djeyaraj2005@yahoo.com

July 12, 2008

Conventional and unconventional wars: The end of one and beginning of the other

by Rajan Philips

Sri Lanka’s supposedly most successful Army Commander has spoken. According to General Sarath Fonseka, the Tigers are finished as a conventional army, if not already, certainly by next year. He has also added the caveat that the LTTE will not be totally eliminated and that as an insurgent force it could go on forever, fuelled by Tamil nationalism and bankrolled by Tamil expatriates. As military declarations go, this one was rather cautious and guarded, quite unlike the “Mission Accomplished” bravado that President Bush mouthed off on the Iraq war and has been egg-faced ever since.

Even so, the cautious optimism of Sarath Fonseka is being questioned by objective observers – from the London Economist to Jane’s Defense Weekly (written by Iqbal Athas who appears to have been forced into mute mode in Colombo) among others. The difference between conventional and unconventional modes of war, according to Colonel Hariharan of Chennai, is that firepower is concentrated in the former while in the latter it is unleashed in “penny packets”. It should be obvious to any observer and all sufferers of Eelam wars over the last thirty years that the penny packets of violence have inflicted far greater havoc on our civilian populations and physical resources than the unleashing of concentrated firepower in territorial battlegrounds.

So there are question to be asked of those who make decisions to wage war and who support the war. What has been the net gain to the country in allegedly attenuating the LTTE as a conventional force while admitting that it will continue as unconventional insurgency forever? Are we marking the end of one mode of war while acknowledging the new beginning of an older mode? Are we resigned to being stuck in this vicious circle of wars, or are we mature enough as a people and a country to look for and find a political breakthrough?


[Colonel Hariharan, at a symposium in Colombo, Aug 2007] 

Colonel Hariharan, a retired Indian officer who served in the IPKF and now writes highly credible military and political analysis of Sri Lankan affairs, has traced the sources of the LTTE’s conventional and unconventional warfare capabilities. The conventional capability is, says Hariharan, “an acquired skill egged on and abetted by skewed Sri Lankan political priorities and decisions.” The roots and sustenance of the unconventional warfare, on the other hand, are Tamil political grievances.

One dimensional presidency

It is fair to say that the LTTE’s conventional capability came about in spite of India and not because of India, the result of the most skewed of all Sri Lankan political decisions that got rid of the IPKF and frustrated the 13th Amendment. Although Hariharan avoids saying it, India certainly did have more than a hand in the development of the unconventional capability of not just the LTTE but every Tamil militant group that spawned during the 1980s. Arguably, India’s hand in that development was a botched forerunner to the currently controversial R2P paradigm.

Arguably as well, the LTTE’s conventional capability has been overplayed for opposite reasons both by LTTE supporters and their southern detractors. The former, the more loquacious of them, have apparently proclaimed that the matter of Eelam will be decided on the battlefield by the conventional armies of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. This assertion is now being used to justify the war efforts of Sri Lanka’s “militarily most successful President.” There could not be a more inadvertent indictment of President Rajapakse by one of his more glamorous beneficiaries – as a one dimensional President! The Economist has no need to be circumspect and has dubbed Rajapakse – ‘the war President.’     

The notion of conventional force and possession of territory was used by the LTTE to pretend that it had arrived at the makings of a separate Tamil state and to insist on military parity with the Sri Lankan state. The army’s claim that the LTTE’s conventional capability has been destroyed will be used by the government to pretend that the unitary state has been protected and to insist that there will be no military parity with LTTE as a basis for future negotiations. 

General Fonseka’s has gone a lot further and suggested that the LTTE’s conventional capability had to be defeated because the goal of the LTTE is not just to create Tamil Eelam in a part of Sri Lanka but to capture all of Sri Lanka. He apparently vowed: “we will not allow that at any cost, we will fight them.” The truth of the matter is that the LTTE has not been able to make sustainable gains through conventional battles to support anything more than a pretension of a separate sate. Even the occasionally dramatic LTTE battlefield victories have not been cumulatively consequential towards creating Tamil Eelam, let alone capturing the whole of Sri Lanka.

The General and the President appear to have a specific southern political reason to showcase their conventional warfare success. And that is to vindicate everything that they have done in the last three years to negate all the positive efforts of the last twenty (post-13th Amendment) years to address the Tamil and Muslim nationalist grievances. Just as President Premadasa tried to show that he had stood up to India unlike his more socially privileged predecessor (President Jayewardene), President Rajapakse appears to be showing that he is boldly calling the LTTE’s bluff while his Colombo-centric detractors (Kumaratunga and Wickremasinghe) were directly or indirectly appeasing the LTTE. 

The upshots of the Premadasa / Rajapakse detours are also equally damning. President Premadasa’s actions contributed to LTTE graduating from an insurgent force to adopting the trappings of a conventional army. The war efforts of President Rajapakse may or may not have put the conventional genie of the LTTE in the bottle, but its unconventional genie, by General Fonseka’s own admission, will haunt Sri Lanka forever.

The only way out of this vicious circle is to stop pretending that Eelam is a serious option and that the unitary constitution is the only basis for a political solution. Equally, it is necessary to start realizing that the matter of Eelam will not be decided in the conventional battlefield or on the basis of military parity, but by enshrining political parity in a new constitutional arrangement and thereby rendering Eelam a redundant demand except for purposes of Tamil nationalist symbolism. This is the crux of our national problem.

[James Martin Pacelli McGuinness]

And it can be resolved, as Martin McGuinness, the former IRA man turned Northern Ireland politician, said recently, “only at the negotiating table”. He went on to say: "Both the government and the Tamil Tigers believe that they can have more victories over each other possibly in advance of peace negotiations. I have to say, I think both the government and the Tamil Tigers are foolish if they believe that."

July 11, 2008

LTTE Fishing in Tamil Nadu Waters

By Col R Hariharan (Retd.)

The political chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) B Nadesan has been vocal in talking to the media ever since the election in the eastern province concluded. In these "medialogues" the LTTE's concern on the political and military developments taking place in Sri Lanka was evident. The successful implementation of the 13th amendment in the eastern province would pave way for restoration of peace and security there. And that would be political loss of face for the LTTE. (Fortunately for the LTTE, this does not appear to be happening with the required alacrity.)

In the two successive interviews in Indian media (to the populist Chennai Tamil weekly Kumudam and the other to the Times Now TV) Nadesan has touched upon developments in the India-Sri Lanka relations and in Tamil Nadu 'Eelam' politics. The reasons for this sudden LTTE interest in India and Tamil Nadu are not hard to understand.

The low profile visit of a high level Indian delegation that included the National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan to Colombo last June gave rise to a lot of speculative stories. The visit ostensibly to discuss security and other issues connected with the forthcoming SAARC conference spawned stories of induction Indian troops and gun ships to Colombo for 'security cover.' The unconfirmed report ruffled the dovecotes (or is it hawk perch?) of anti-India lobby in Colombo, with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) joining in to raise the decibel of protest against any such move.

To the LTTE, now beleaguered in the ever decreasing constricted domain in the north, the entry of Indian troops into Sri Lanka under any excuse would be bad news. The 'follow up visit' of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Delhi taking place now must have further added to LTTE's worry about India.

With a regime not friendly to the LTTE in power in Delhi, the LTTE had not been keen on India's intervention. That stand still appears to remain unchanged. In a Daily Mirror interview on June 12, 2008 Nadesan parried a pointed question on LTTE's stand on India playing a role as peace facilitator and spoke about India giving consistent support to the Norwegian facilitated peace process. He was only reiterating what other leaders of the LTTE had said in the past on the subject.

On the other hand, the LTTE appears to be evolving a strategy to kindle the interest of the people of Tamil Nadu in the Eelam war which had been lukewarm at best. With the parliamentary polls around the corner in India, in LTTE assessment probably this was the right time to revive the subject in Tamil.  LTTE's idea was to enrolling the support of the people of Tamil Nadu to bring about a change in Indian policy on Tamil struggle (read LTTE). The LTTE ideologue V Balakumaran was the first to speak on this subject in recent times. In an Australian Tamil radio interview last month, Balakumaran while hoping India would change "its current policy towards us one day," said "we believe firmly, our strong cultural ties to our brothers and sisters in India will help their policy makers to select a just and fair path towards our people."

That inevitably brings the question of attitude of Tamil Nadu leaders towards the LTTE. The political fate of Tamil Nadu is decided by veteran leader of Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) M Karunanidhi now in power and J Jayalalitha, the supreme leader of the rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIDMK) sitting in opposition. Karunanidhi had been distancing himself from the LTTE after it was involved in killing Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian Prime Minister, near Chennai in 1991. It was probably his way of absolving his past espousal of the LTTE cause even as Indian troops were fighting them. But Rajiv killing ended in DMK electoral rout and the LTTE became an untouchable.

The LTTE appears to be making a studied appeal to M Karunandhi to come to the help Eelam Tamils (read LTTE) now suffering in the Sri Lanka war. In the Kumudam interview, Nadesan was all praise for Karunanidhi. Describing him as a person "with love for Tamil language and a man with full of Tamil sentiments," he said he had a deep interest in the Eelam Tamil affairs. "As blood is thicker than water, seeing the despicable situation of Tamils in Eelam, he remains emotively firm [on this issue]. We fervently hope that the Kalaignar's personal emotions of would turn into the emotions of the great organization DMK and along with the other political parties in Tamil Nadu."

Nadesan further added that it was a mistake to say that Karunandihi was running an administration very strict on the LTTE because of the Central Government pressure. It seems the LTTE was prepared to grin and bear the past as far as Karunandihi was concerned.  Nadesan made this clear when he said "Whatever said and done, it is not a wrong idea for us to expect that the Kalaingnar should consider beyond the borders of India's national as well as regional political confines, but it is important that he should come forward to help the liberation of the Eelam Tamils."

The LTTE probably does not want any other adverse issue related to the LTTE be raked up at this stage in Tamil Nadu. The most adverse issue is LTTE's assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. It is an indelible black mark on LTTE however much the LTTE acolytes may speak of hidden hands and plots. The issue suddenly came to the limelight a few months back when Mrs Priyanka Vadra, the daughter of Rajiv Gandhi had a low profile meeting with Nalini Murugan, who is completing a life term of imprisonment in Vellore prison for her role in the Rajiv Gandhi's murder. Her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at the intervention of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the ruling Congress party president.  Nalini has appealed for release from prison as she has completed 14
years of imprisonment.

Priyanka-Nalini meeting brought out the feeling of contrition in Nalini for her role in the black deed. According to media reports at that time, Nalini felt as if "all my sins have been washed off by Priyanka's visit... I feel she has pardoned me by calling on me at the prison... I am indebted to her all my life." This is hardly the image of an avenging killer fighting for the cause of Eelam.  So when the TV interviewer raised the issue of Nalini's release, Nadesan said the release would 'recognise' the legitimate aspirations of Tamil people. "We firmly believe holistic changes will take place and Indian government will recognize the legitimate aspirations of Tamil people and their freedom struggle," he added.

The legitimate aspirations of Tamils are well recognised both in India and Tamil Nadu. It does not require the release of a person convicted of complicity in murdering an Indian leader who had great sympathy for the Tamil cause. And his memories still occupy a special place in Tamil Nadu. Nalini's release would only churn up more dirt on LTTE's deeds in Tamil Nadu which are already causing concern to law enforcing machinery.

In any case the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has his cup full even without taking up the Eelam cause at the behest of the LTTE. The survival of the present ruling coalition in Delhi, where he wields a lot of influence, is at stake. There are reports of back end proxy skirmishes between his two sons to seek a place in the sun in the pecking order of succession. The rising prices of essentials are hitting the roof top after the petrol prices were hiked. And he will have to work out a fresh strategy for the parliamentary election to hold on to his coalition flock, after the Patali Makkal Katchi (PMK) a minor coalition partner broke away.

The AIADMK under Jayalalitha is flexing its biceps to take on the DMK in the parliamentary poll.  If the Eelam issue is taken up by the DMK leader, the AIADMK chief well known for her anti-LTTE stance will strike back.

Past elections had shown that the time for the Eelam cause as a "vote catcher" in Tamil Nadu was over. The LTTE would do well to rethink its Tamil Nadu strategy. It should study and understand Balakumaran's advice in his radio interview. He said, "while support of the international community is necessary for achieving the goal of liberation, Tamil people should clearly understand that policies of the International community towards different nationalist struggles are often inconsistent and motivated by self-interest." So probably the LTTE has to plough its own furrow now, because support from India and Tamil Nadu will require a total change of its act.

July 07, 2008

In Pictures: CountrywideTelegram campaign against media suppression

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Sri Lankan journalists, rights group activists and members of the civil society are seen sending telegrams at the Central Mail Exchange in Colombo,to the President urging for the protection of the journalists, while wearing a black face mask saying "Stop Media Suppression" in all three languages. The countrywide telegram campaign against media suppression was organised by the Sri Lanka Working Journalists on July 7th 2008

Journalists and rights group activists at the Central Mail Exchange

Journalists are filling forms to send telegrams

The Treasurer of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Vinitha M.Gamage reads through her telegram message

The Islandwide telegram campaign was held in other area,except Jaffna and Vanni according to the President of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Sanath Balasuriya


Future of Karuna, The Reluctant Rebel

by Col R Hariharan (Retd.)

Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, better known  as Karuna Amman, the dreaded leader of Batticaloa during his days in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), must be a chastened man as he was flown into Colombo escorted by British security men on July 3, 2008. His return to Sri Lanka brings to a close the episode of his ill fated trip to the UK under a false identity that saw him sentenced to imprisonment by a London court in January 2008.

[File pic: Karuna seated at the meeting venue in his left Supreme Commander Pillaiyan and in his right Senior Commander Jeyam TamilGuardian]

But Karuna appears to have  embarked upon another uneasy episode ? his future prospects in what is purported to be the 'liberated' eastern province, where his former  aide S. Chandrakanthan is ruling the roost as the chief minister of the Eastern Provincial Council.

Life had never been smooth for Karuna ever since he broke away from the LTTE in March 2004. Firstly, he had to marshal the LTTE cadres who had followed him to safety and organise them into a political body. At the same time they had to retain their weapons to survive the wrath of LTTE. He formed the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) as a political party of sorts, though he appeared unclear to take it further ahead. At the same time he had to go underground to survive the LTTE supari (contract) on his head. In the course of the survival struggle, the LTTE killed many of close followers including his brother Reggie.

He had to wage another struggle for survival when both the major parties - the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) ? wanted to disown him when the LTTE accused them of duplicity for engineering Karuna's defection. Only the security forces stood by Karuna and he had no choice but to survive at the pleasure of Military Intelligence and the army. Politically, there was a lot of suspicion about his role. Initially he gained some credit by sending back a large number of young cadres recruited by him during the LTTE days from the east to their homes.

Later Karuna and his followers were accused of being involved in kidnappings and killings, and the clamour for disarming his troops became louder. Luckily for him, in 2005   the TMVP became valuable allies when the army launched its operations in the east. At the same time, there was a deliberate attempt to ensure that Karuna does not become too big for his boots. As the security forces progressively captured more and more territory in the east, the contribution of the TMVP cadres to the military successes was either played down or ignored.

International NGOs had orchestrated a campaign to take Karuna and his cadres to task on charges of kidnappings, recruitment of children and other human rights violations. They accused of the collusion of the government with the TMVP in such acts and this became a major source of embarrassment to the government. When the issue was repeatedly taken up by the EU members, and at the UN, the government probably thought it was time to jettison Karuna to ward off complaints of inaction on humanitarian violations.  The decision to promote the TMVP minus Karuna as a political entity and ally of the ruling coalition was probably taken at that point of time.

Karuna's reluctance to play a major political role probably came in handy to pick up his prot駩 S. Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan) to stage a palace coup of sorts to take over the TMVP. Apparently Karuna was packed off to the UK under a cover identity on a diplomatic passport to keep the government association with him off the limelight.  Though this effort appears to have only succeeded in buying time, it did take the heat off both the government and the TMVP. It enabled the TMVP to gain recognition as a political entity to contest the eastern provincial council elections. The success of the ruling alliance with the TMVP as a major partner in the EPC elections that followed is history.

In this entire tale of intrigues, killings, violence, backroom deals and politicking, a few things stand out:

? Reluctance of Karuna to play a major role in Tamil politics unlike Chandrakanthan (who has less experience both as a militant and as a leader of the same calibre as Karuna). Karuna's reluctance might be rooted in his pessimism about the future of both the current Colombo dispensation and the LTTE's survival as a strong entity. So he might wait and watch for the outcome of the war to make up his mind on his future role.

? His desire to be with his family in London appears to have made his heart overrule the head when he decided to go to the UK incognito. The unhappy experience of his visit probably has burnt the boats for his future visits to the UK (though stranger things have happened in international diplomacy). So this latent desire to be with his family might dictate his future course of action to seek a safe third country refuge.

? Karuna's utility for the TMVP and its UPFA ally remains only if he keeps a low profile. To this end Karuna's benign presence as a figurehead of the TMVP could be a possible way out for the time being. Chandrakanthan in his comments after Karuna's return has indicated that he would not be averse to defer to Karuna's "continued leadership." Probably this arrangement would suit Karuna also  at present.

? Though sections of Sinhala and Muslim polity (and laughably, even the Tamil National Alliance) would like to get at Karuna for his past involvement in the LTTE massacres of the innocent in the east, it is doubtful whether the state would take any action.  Such precipitate action now could send wrong signals to other former LTTE cadres, including Pillaiyan, who are now cooperating with the ruling coalition. So we may expect the government to take no follow up action  on the calls from the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch on this count. Such action could also trigger calls for similar action against the security forces personnel involved in humanitarian violations. That could be too embarrassing for the government as it would like to avoid any move to upset the upbeat mood of the armed forces right now.

Way back on November 11, 2004 in an article titled "Karuna in a no win situation" (available at SAAG ), this author while examining the problems of Karuna's emergence as a political leader, had said: "It is not easy for militant leaders like Prabhakaran and Karuna to transform themselves into political leaders; this is a major reason why peace is eluding in Sri Lanka. Running a political party needs a political vision just as conducting a military operation requires military strategy and a physical goal. Political leadership needs situational leadership skills such as flexibility in approach, ability to mould themselves to people and places, accepting diversity, and excellent communication skills that appeal to both the common man and the intellectual. So it is not always true that military leaders make good political leaders. Prabhakaran has the frontline support of political leaders like Anton Balasingham and Tamilselvan who can interface with not only other national leaders but also with international personalities. Karuna has to establish his credibility in this regard if he has to make headway and find acceptance as a political leader, not only with the Tamil people of the East but also with other political leaders of Sri Lanka, particularly in the UNP and SLFP alliance and its partners. As of now he appears to be lacking in this ability."

Karuna's subdued political role so far appears to justify the above assessment. Can he break out of this mould?   The answer to the question probably lies with Karuna, because he only can decide what he wants to be. At present he does not appear to have made up his mind. A few external change agents could nudge him in this process. These include drastic reduction in the LTTE's overall military capability (or on the flip side, scaling up of the LTTE activity in the east of which there are some stray indications), and the continued usefulness of the Chandrakanthan-led TMVP  to President Rajapaksa's political scheme of things. Such developments would increase Karuna's value as a leader in the east. Needless to say, for all this Karuna has to survive the machinations of LTTE's elephantine memory.

July 05, 2008

The Great Sri Lankan Conspiracy Theory

Something amiss with human rights

by Namini Wijedasa

When four criminals ambush a car in broad daylight near the Polhengoda army camp, brutally assault two innocent men with heavy wooden poles - and get away, never to be caught - you know something is amiss with human rights in this country.

When 649 people disappear without a trace between September 1, 2006 and March 15, 2008 - you know something is amiss with human rights in this country. When murder and assassination are as common as they are - and justice as rare as it is - you know something is amiss with human rights in this country.

When it becomes more common than not to be tortured in police stations - you know something is amiss with human rights in this country. When they keep telling you to keep your trap shut about military matters because they are fighting a war - and then expect you to keep your trap shut about everything - you know something is amiss with human rights in this country.

When politicians who rose to power using human rights as a tool start foaming at the mouth when talking about human rights today - you know something is amiss with human rights in this country.

It was before sunset on Monday evening that Namal Perera and Mahendra Ratnaweera were assaulted remorselessly by four men with heavy wooden poles. The four men tailed them in a white van, intercepted them at a busy junction and beat them up. It was that easy. (And to think that, as children, we were made to kneel in the playground for lesser crimes than these).

Namal is the acting manager of media advocacy and media freedom of the Sri Lanka Press Institute while Mahendra is the political officer of the British High Commission. The SLPI and the Newspaper Publishers Society subsequently announced a reward of Rs. 5 million for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those who assaulted Namal Perera.

Last month, it was Keith Noyahr, the associate editor of The Nation. This month, it’s Namal. Countless other journalists, mainly Tamil, have been killed - many of them by the LTTE. Numerous others have been assaulted, threatened and intimidated. Some fear for the lives of their families and children. Others have stopped writing.

Law a farce

Heck, do Sri Lankans no longer use legal methods to deal with people they don’t like? Is the law a farce in this peace loving, tolerant, Sinhala Buddhist nation?

New Bridge at Arugam Bay - Funded by US AID - [Pic by Tharique Azeez]

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as one might have expected, quickly took recourse in the Great Sri Lankan Conspiracy Theory. Speaking at the inauguration of the Arugam Bay bridge on Wednesday, Rajapaksa said the latest attacks were part of a “conspiracy to discredit the government”. Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa parroted him, saying this was “another deliberate act of a well organized group intent on bringing the government and the country into disrepute”.

If this was a deliberate act carried out by a well organised group, surely the Rajapaksa administration can detect the perpetrators? Organised crime is by far the easiest form of crime to detect. Organised gangs that engage in organised misdeeds over a considerable period of time leave tracks. Rajapaksa and his men have been alleging conspiracies against the government for months. If they can’t apprehend a silly, two-bit organised gang that conspicuously thrashes well known people in close proximity to army camps... in broad daylight... they should be given a hiding and sent home.

Set up a ministry

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa might consider setting up a ministry of conspiracy theory - or at least appointing a couple of advisors. He only has 109 ministers and 100 advisors. What’s a few more?

To digress completely, this guy came on state telly the other day (Mahipala Herath, he was called) talking utter garbage. And everyone clapped.

Minutes after filing UPFA nominations for the provincial polls on Friday, the former chief minister of the Sabaragamuwa province stood importantly outside the Kegalle district secretariat, dressed from head to toe in blue. And he blathered: “We are contesting these elections because we have seen the sadness, pain and tears of the Sabaragamuwa people and we want to save their poor, unfortunate souls.” So, everyone around him put their hands together and cheered. In fact, they only just stopped short of dancing. Sigh.

Logically, nobody has any reason to believe a word this Herath says. But nobody is logical around here. They are as mindless as they come. Chances are that Herath will be chief minister again. And he will continue to do nothing. And we will continue to clap. Clap, clap, clap. [lakbimanews.lk]

July 03, 2008

Tamil Journalists meet President on safety concerns

Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) members met with President Mahinda Rajapakse today and handed over a letter seeking his intervention in relation to several matters of hardships faced by journalists, particularly Tamil journalists in Sri Lanka today, Jul 3.

The full text of the letter is as follows:


Firstly, we the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity, in spite of your very busy schedule, to meet with you.

We the SLTMA seek your urgent intervention in relation to the hardships and difficulties faced by Journalists, especially Tamil journalists in Sri Lanka today.

Founded in 1997, the SLTMA is a non-political, professional based union for Tamil journalists, with a membership of approximately 300 members across the country. This organization aims to protect and improve the working conditions for its members as well as others involved in print and electronic media.

It is apparent that the pressures and the interferences on the media have increased in Sri Lanka. Particularly, in the war torn areas of the North and East and Colombo, many journalists have stopped reporting and dozens of them have fled the country due to increasing fear of their safety. This factor causes a negative effect on journalistic integrity, in which the truth becomes a casualty, and therefore critical journalism is hindered.

Generally, the Tamil journalists have been a target; however threats, murders, abductions and assaults are not confined only to Tamil journalists.

There are several instances of journalists being killed, arrested, attacked, abducted and receiving death threats. No investigation has been completed on the journalists killed in the last 10 years and perpetrators have never been brought to justice.

We are very concerned about the prolonged detention of the Sunday Times Columnist and news website editor of outreachsl.com, J.S. Tissainayagam, and printer and manager of the outreachsl.com Jaseharan and his partner Valarmathi, since 7th March 2008 without being charged. Hence, we earnestly request you to look into this matter immediately, and take appropriate action according to procedures.

The deteriorating situation of the freedom of expression, negatively impacts on the independent sources of information, resulting in damaging the free flow of information.

We humbly request your good self to intervene immediately, in to the destructive situation of the media, and take constructive measures to prevent these incidents, and we also very much appreciate the appointment of a Ministerial Committee on Journalist’s grievances and the SLTMA believes that this Committee will do its best to address the problems faced by the journalists in Sri Lanka.

We also regret to bring to your kind attention that we have not received any reply to the request made by the five media organizations to meet your Excellency to discuss the problems faced by the journalists.

The SLTMA takes this opportunity once again to request you to take notice to the request made by the five media organizations on the 6th of September 2007 on the proposed National Media Policy. (Please see the Annexure). We would like to urge you to immediately implement the recommendations made in the proposal, which will create a proper environment so that a free, responsible and vibrant media that will serve the people will flourish in Sri Lanka.

We the SLTMA firmly believe that your Excellency will take immediate care of these concerns.

Thanking you

Yours truly

R. Bharati R. Sivarajah

President Secretary
Statement by Nine Media Organizations on the proposed National Media Policy

We, the undersigned Organizations, welcome the government’s recently announced initiative to establish the enabling structures and a culture for media freedom and social responsibility.
It is our collective opinion that the responsibility of the State is to ensure an environment where the freedom of expression is guaranteed. In order to achieve this we feel it is the duty of the State to create the proper legal framework that guarantees these rights and also safeguards the people’s right to information.1
For its part, the Media should be bound by Codes of Practice which will ensure ethical and professional conduct of all media practitioners. These Codes are best formulated and agreed upon by Media Practitioners themselves. Regional and International experience has taught us that these Codes are best practiced when they are self-regulated.

Attempts by governments to impose ethical guidelines on the media in a democratic State go against international practice and the very spirit of the freedom of expression. We, the undersigned will strongly oppose such attempts to bring in guidelines which are backed by punitive laws, under any pretext.

This is also the time to reiterate that we oppose the imposition of strictures on the media through the Regulation Emergency (Prevention and Prohibition of Terrorism and specified Terrorist Activities) Regulations No. 07 issued on the 6th of December 2006.

In the past decade or so there has been an impressive body of work done in Sri Lanka recommending positive changes to the overall media landscape. We call upon the government to refer to recommendations contained in these reports.

Some of the documents containing these recommendations are as follows:

1.The R.K.W. Gunasekara report on media law reform in Sri Lanka (1995)

2.The Sidath Sri Nandalochana Committee on broad basing ANCL

3.The Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility of 1998 signed by the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka and the Free Media Movement.

4.The media charter of 2005 of SLWJA, FMM. FMETU, SLTMA. SLMMF.

Therefore, we propose to the government that it should immediately implement the following to create the proper environment so that a free, responsible and vibrant media that will serve the people will flourish in Sri Lanka:

1.Enact the proposed Right to Information Bill which has been approved by Cabinet and drafted in consultation with the Media.

2.Amend the existing laws to transform the state owned electronic media: Rupavahini, SLBC, ITN and Lakhanda into genuinely independent Public Service Broadcasters

3.Broad base the ownership of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd., in accordance with the spirit with which it was vested in the State and ensures its editorial independence.

4.Revive the All Party Lakshman Kadirgamar Parliamentary Select Committee with a view to bringing in a Contempt of Court Act on the lines of a similar Law in the UK and India.

5.Amend the Parliamentary (Powers and Privileges) Act as asked for in the Colombo Declaration.

Free Media Movement
The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka
The Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association
Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum
Federation of Media Employees Trade Union
Tamil Media Alliance
SAFMA Sri Lanka Chapter
Sri Lanka Press Institute

6th September 2007

July 02, 2008

Sri Lanka Government Illegally Holding Civilians Fleeing Fighting in the North

The Sri Lankan government should end the arbitrary detention of more than 400 civilians displaced by recent fighting at a newly established camp in northern Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said today.

End Internment of Displaced Persons

Since March 2008, the government of Sri Lanka has detained civilians fleeing areas controlled by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at a so-called welfare center in Kalimoddai, Mannar district. The Sri Lankan armed forces have imposed severe restrictions on freedom of movement, instituting a daily pass system that limits to 30 the number of people who can leave the camp each day, and only if a family member remains behind to guarantee the detainees return in the evening. No court has authorized their detention and no charges have been filed against any of the camp’s occupants, in violation of international human rights law.  
“The Sri Lankan government shouldn’t treat civilians as criminals just because they’re fleeing a conflict area,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Valid security concerns should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, not with wholesale restrictions on freedom of movement.”  
Sri Lankan authorities maintain that detention at the camp is a security measure to protect displaced persons from possible LTTE reprisals. While the government has an obligation to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs), it cannot do so at the expense of their lawful rights to liberty and freedom of movement, Human Rights Watch said. The security rationale is also undermined by the government’s practice in the last two months of also detaining at the Kalimoddai center at least 10 refugees who have returned from India. The Sri Lankan army has publicly indicated that Kalimoddai is just the first of more proposed sites in Vavuniya district to detain persons fleeing fighting in the LTTE-held Vanni.  
On May 10 and 11, local authorities conducted a survey in Kalimoddai camp to assess the wishes of displaced persons on their preferred place of residence. Out of the then camp population of 257, only five families indicated a wish to remain in Kalimoddai. The large majority indicated that they wished to leave and had alternative places to stay, including with nearby host families. To date, unconfirmed information indicates only 28 people have been released.  
International human rights law and international humanitarian law during internal armed conflicts prohibit arbitrary detention and unnecessary restrictions on freedom of movement.  
In his May 21 report to the UN Human Rights Council on his December 2007 visit to Sri Lanka, Walter Kälin, the United Nations secretary-general’s representative on IDPs, emphasized that IDPs in Sri Lanka remained “entitled to all guarantees of international human rights and international humanitarian law subscribed to by the State.” He noted that “while the need to address security may be a component of the plan [to receive IDPs], it should be humanitarian and civilian in nature. In particular, IDPs’ freedom of movement must be respected, and IDPs may not be confined to a camp.”  
The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, an authoritative framework for the protection of IDPs, provides that, consistent with the right to liberty, internally displaced persons “shall not be interned in or confined to a camp.” The principles recognize that “exceptional circumstances” may permit confinement only for so long as it is “absolutely necessary,” but the Sri Lankan government has not demonstrated that such circumstances exist.  
Intensified military operations in 2008 against LTTE-controlled areas in the north have significantly increased displacement of the civilian population. Virtually all those displaced are of Tamil ethnicity. During the course of the two-decade-long armed conflict with the LTTE, Sri Lankan authorities have frequently restricted the movement of ethnic Tamils, especially Tamil displaced persons.  
In addition to concerns about those who fled to government-controlled areas, many of the displaced who remain in LTTE areas are in need of humanitarian assistance. The Sri Lankan government has severely restricted humanitarian access to LTTE-controlled areas, leaving an estimated 107,000 displaced persons with inadequate relief, including water and sanitation facilities. Meanwhile, the LTTE continues to prevent civilians from leaving areas under its control, thereby impeding their ability to seek safety in other parts of the country.  
“Both the LTTE and the government have a poor record of providing aid to populations at risk,” said Adams. “Ensuring that humanitarian organizations have access to those affected by the fighting should be a priority concern, not an afterthought.”


[Human Rights Watch research determined that the Sri Lankan government is responsible for widespread abductions and “disappearances” that are a national crisis-HRW Video, Released March 2008]

July 01, 2008

ICRC deplores loss of civilian life

Recent months have seen further attacks targeting civilians in different parts of Sri Lanka. Over the past three months, at least 80 civilians have lost their lives in indiscriminate attacks on public transport and crowded public places.

Tensions linked to provincial elections have also exacerbated the situation in the east of the country, where election-related violence has left several dead, including nine people who were killed in a bomb blast in Ampara on 9 May.

Meanwhile, the ICRC has continued to receive numerous allegations that civilians have been directly targeted and have been the victims of killings, beatings, arrests and disappearances. The organization has reminded the parties to the conflict that international humanitarian law prohibits attack on civilians and that they are obliged to take all feasible measures to protect civilians from the effects of the conflict at all times.

"We deplore the loss of any civilian life," said Toon Vandenhove, head of the ICRC's delegation in Colombo. "Once again we appeal to those responsible for the recent attacks to respect civilian life at all times."

A staff member of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS), the ICRC’s counterpart in Sri Lanka, was also among those recently killed. “The death of our Red Cross colleague brings home to us the grief caused to so many people by the increasing violence," said Jagath Abeysinghe, the president of the SLRCS.

Over the nearly two decades that the ICRC has been working in Sri Lanka, the organization has repeatedly felt compelled to voice its concern over the lack of respect for even the most basic rules of international humanitarian law and the resulting toll on the civilian population. The ICRC regularly raises these concerns in confidential reports to the parties to the conflict.

“We urge those involved in the fighting to distinguish at all times between civilians and those people taking direct part in hostilities," said Ramin Mahnad, the ICRC's legal adviser in Colombo. "We also urge them to protect all persons who are not – or are no longer – directly participating in the hostilities. The rules of IHL protecting civilians in non-international armed conflict are very clear, and the parties must reinforce their capacity to ensure that those rules are complied with."

Protecting civilians and persons arrested and detained in connection with the conflict

The ICRC has continued to monitor other violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country and to discuss them with the parties to the conflict.

With cooperation from both government officials and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the ICRC has visited a growing number of people arrested in connection with the armed conflict. The aim of these visits is to monitor treatment and conditions of detention.

During the month of May, ICRC delegates carried out 85 visits to 59 different places of detention, during which they met over 750 security detainees. The one-on-one visits between individual detainees and ICRC delegates took place in areas under control of the government.

During the same period, ICRC delegates met in private with five security detainees, who had been detained by the LTTE in the Vanni. The detainees were provided with recreational items, clothing and toiletries.

In addition, the families of more than 300 detainees received financial assistance to visit their loved ones in various places of detention, while over 30 released detainees received funds with which to return home on public transport.

Serving as a neutral intermediary at Omanthai crossing point

Acting as a neutral intermediary, ICRC staff are present at Omanthai crossing point six days per week, helping ensure the smooth flow of civilians and vehicles between government-controlled and LTTE-held areas. In May, the ICRC facilitated the crossing of more than 32,000 civilians and over 3,800 vehicles in both directions. These numbers included 210 ambulances and over 1,100 patients.

Over the first five months of the year, the ICRC also facilitated the transfer of the human remains of 205 fallen fighters from both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. In the month of May alone, the organization facilitated transfer between the parties of the bodies of 51 fallen fighters. In its capacity as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC takes their remains through the crossing point at Omanthai once both sides have agreed to the transfer. The ICRC has equipped and upgraded the cold-storage facilities in the hospital mortuaries in Vavuniya and Anuradhapura to help preserve the bodies pending their transfer. Work is under way to upgrade the cold-storage facility at Padaviya hospital.

Restoring family links

Together with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, the ICRC helps families separated by the conflict keep in touch through the exchange of Red Cross messages, which enable relatives to share personal news with each other. During the month of May, the ICRC collected more than 400 messages and delivered close to 290.

Sri Lanka Red Cross Society assistance for displaced flood victims

With support from Red Cross Societies from other countries and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the SLRCS provided emergency relief for thousands of people who were displaced by heavy monsoon flooding at the end of May. More than 16,000 cooked meals were served and over 2,000 bottles of drinking water were distributed to families in the districts of Colombo, Galle, Kalutara and Gampaha.

The Sri Lanka Red Cross also distributed 300 hygiene kits, 200 sleeping mats, 300 emergency household items and dry rations to 200 families. Red Cross volunteers administered first aid to people injured in the flooding and helped evacuate residents from inundated areas using canoes. The Sri Lanka Red Cross plans to distribute more cooked food, drinking water and dry rations in the coming days as well as to provide temporary shelter, sanitary facilities and medical care.

In May, the ICRC also:

improved access to health care

At the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation, over 100 patients received artificial limbs, walking aids or wheelchairs.

  • More than 90 patients requiring specialized medical care, accompanied by 65 caregivers, were transported on ICRC-chartered flights between Jaffna and Colombo in both directions. Around 30 doctors took these flights, either accompanying patients or to fulfil official duties. The ICRC also flew in medicine, including life-saving vaccines, for health-care facilities run by the Ministry of Health.

assisted displaced people and returnees

  • Batticaloa district: The ICRC supplied more than 2,800 internally displaced people and 1,700 returnees with personal hygiene and baby-care items. More than 300 adult and baby mosquito nets were distributed, along with 20 canoes to help fishermen restore their livelihoods.
  • Trincomalee district: More than 4,000 returnees received hygiene and baby items.
  • Kilinochchi district: Around 1,500 displaced people received hygiene and baby-care kits. About 130 household kits (including kitchen equipment, sleeping mats, bed sheets and mosquito nets) were distributed. In addition, 100 returnees received fishing nets and ropes.
  • Vavuniya district: The ICRC distributed over 27,000 kilos of seed paddy to more than 600 families in nearly 40 villages.
  • Jaffna district: Around 125 host families were given hygiene and baby-care items.

improved living conditions and access to water

  • Batticaloa district : Close to 100 sets of shelter material were distributed among the returnees in Kithul and Chenkalady West. A water tank was installed at Karadiyanaru hospital.
  • The ICRC also built, repaired or upgraded latrines and wells in Ampara, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts.
  • Shelter materials, including timber construction frames, were distributed to displaced people and returnees in Trincomalee and Kilinochchi/Mullaittivu districts, while nine wells were repaired or cleaned in Manthai West and Matitimepattu divisions. An extension of the water-supply system was completed for the new ward in Naddankandal hospital in Manthai East.
  • Vavuniya and Mannar districts: The ICRC distributed about 30 family shelters and provided garbage disposal and sanitary facilities for the displaced people living at the Kalimoddai site.

enhanced respect for international humanitarian law

  • In a bid to increase the understanding of – and the respect for – international humanitarian law, the ICRC conducted more than 20 information sessions about IHL and the ICRC’s work to around 1,200 people, including civilians, members of Tamil People Liberation Tigers (TMVP) and government security forces.
  • provided support for the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society
  • The ICRC continued working to enhance the ability of the Sri Lanka Red Cross to maintain family links and spread awareness of the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
For further information, please contact:
Carla Haddad, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2405 or +41 79 217 3226
Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel: + 94 11 250 33 46 or + 94 773 158 44