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August 30, 2008

Army breaks through Tiger defences in three key areas

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Sri Lankan armed forces fighting on multiple fronts made three significant breakthroughs on Wednesday August 27th and Thursday August 28th  in the key areas of  Aalankulam, Palamottai and Ulaathuveli.

These breakthroughs came in the wake of earlier successes over the past two weeks where the armed forces took places like Mulangaavil, Uyilankulam,Kalvilaan, Thunukkai and the southern and south – western environs of Thannimurippukulam.

 

[map: courtesy of nation.lk]

From a military – strategic perspective the “prize” of great value was the key area of  Vavuniya north consisting of places like Navvi , Kunchukulam , Navatkulam and Palamottai.

As stated in these columns earlier the Paali Aaru river has assumed geo-strategic importance in the  on going fighting between the armed forces and tigers with many of the confrontations taking place along the river basin area.

A virtual “arc” to the south of Paali Aaru ,extending from Sinnavalayankattu in the west to Vilakkuvaithakulam in the east  has been the theatre of conflict in these parts of Vavuniya  north.It is  simply referred to  as the Palamottai front in military parlance because that village  has been the sheet anchor of tiger defences.

Nowadays  Palamottai’s claim to fame is based on its militaristic  utility

The first breakthrough in this battle zone  was achieved on May 23rd this year when the 57 division commanded by Maj – Gen Jagath Dias took  part of Moondrumurippu to the north – west of Palamottai.

Meanwhile there were tactical changes by the armed forces. The 57 division began shifting focus towards the Thunukkai and Maanthai east  Assistant Government Agent divisions of Mullaitheevu district. Both these are situated to the west of the A – 9.

Later it was deployed in the Mannar- Vavuniya border areas.

Task Force – 2 faced up to this  formidable challenge from July 1st  onwards. Thereafter intensive and protracted fighting  commenced almost on a daily basis.A significant  breakthrough came  on July 11th when  troops of the 57 and Task Force – 2 in a co-ordinated operation smashed tiger defences.

There was also aerial bombardment and artillery shelling.

Thus these matters  became almost a matter of routine and the battles along the Palamottai front turned gradually into a “forgotten” war.The strategic value of this fighting was not appreciated by the general public.

Later the tigers supplemented these cadres with a contingent led by “Col” Lawrence. These cadres were re – deployed from the Muhamaalai front in the Jaffna peninsula.

Lawrence’s induction raised the stakes at Palamottai but the fighting went on and gradually the armed forces began gaining the upper hand.

After intense fighting including  combat at close quarters the armed forces shattered tiger defences at  two points and began advancing on the  right and left flanks of Palamottai.

The tigers however have  forded the Paali Aaru and are setting up new defences on the northern side of the river.

It is expected that soldiers from 56 division will take over these defences and release Task Force – 2 for more offensive action.

It remains to be seen whether the LTTE can organize  swift counter – attacks to dislodge the  soldiers before they can entrench themselves.

Earlier LTTE defences at Palamottai were sustained through a makeshift supply route  along the Vannivvilaankulam – Moondrumurippu road. From Moondrumurippu another link road was used to reach Palamottai.

This column had opined earlier that the 57 division fighting in the Vavunikulam – Mallavi – Thunukkai region would  be able to interdict supplies to the LTTE Palamottai front either  by  crossing the Vavunikulam reservoir and seizing Paalaipaani or by advancing up to Vannivilaankulam itself.This  column felt that  crippling the LTTE on the Palamottai front was possible only if the Vannivilaankulam – Moondrumurippu  - Palamottai supply route was severed.

But if  the tigers want to  resist for  long then regular supplies are essential. For this the LTTE has to use the Moondrumurippu route for  some distance and then seek out jungle tracks for an alternative route.

Thus the tigers  have to seek out another alternative. It may now have to provide supplies through the A – 9 highway something which the LTTE has avoided as far as possible earlier.

As for the armed forces the immediate priority would  be  to link up with the A – 9 highway as soon as possible. A minor road from Palamottai area  cuts into the A – 9 at a point between Puliyankulam and Omanthai.

If and when the armed forces  do link up with the A – 9  north of Omanthai they would have established an intricate road network connecting the A – 32 or Mannar – Pooneryn road along the North – western coast to  the A – 9 in Central Wanni.

This would  enable  the armed forces  to exercise effective control over extensive  tracts of land  in a quadrangle  boxed on four sides by  four roadways. To the South would be the Mannar – Vavuniya road; In the west the Mannar – Pooneryn road; in the east  the Jaffna – Kandy road and  to  the north would be the A – 32 to  A – 9 roadlink.

Once Palamottai areas are consolidated and the A – 9 is linked up it does not require much grey matter to predict that the army would rapidly advance along the axis of the A – 9 highway.

If and when Mankulam is reached the 57 division currently holding much of  the Vellankulam – Mankulam road would be able to link up on the A – 9.

The  possible take- over of Puliyankulam by the armed forces could also enhance offensive capability. The forces could use the Puliyankulam- Mullaitheevu road as an axis and strike out into areas east of the A – 9.

Apart from the offensive aspect there is also the defensive. With the armed forces rapidly moving  north – westwards  and northwards  the right flank is increasingly expanding and therefore  becoming increasingly exposed.

Since most army advances are on the west of the A – 9 and the LTTE controls  much of the A-9 highway the chances of infiltration and counter – strikes from the rear cannot be ruled out.

This explanation does not correspond to battlefield actualities but theoretically such LTTE rearguard action is certainly possible as long as current status quo prevails in the ground situation.

If these are the  military  benefits derived through the fall of Palamottai on August 28th  another significant event  on the same day took place on the Mullaitheevu east coast.

Troops have practically cleared all areas coming under the Manal Aaru/Weli Oya region and have entered areas of Mullaitheevu district.The recent past has seen the 59 gaining ground in the hinterland and reaching the general area of Nithigaikulam where LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabakaran was holed up for long periods during the Indian army conflict.

The more  important military advancement along the littoral was on Thursday August 28th. It was a combined Army – Navy operation.

With this shell barrage support,  soldiers of the 59 division  moved  east about two km to towards the coast and then advanced further north up to the south of Nayaru lagoon.

This area about 4 km long and 2 km wide is called Ulaathuveli in Tamil. The literal meaning is the “ open space for sauntering”

If the army aided by the navy and possibly the air force  moves forward along the coast as well as   maintaining a parallel track by gaining ground in the interior the LTTE would be hard pressed to prevent such forward movement.

There is also the probability of the 59 division  linking up with the 56 division  at Nedunkerny if troops  move eastwards from the A – 9 at some stage in the future.

This was by the 57 division commanded by Maj – Gen Jagath Dias. The 57 succeeded in  smashing LTTE defences in an area called Aalankulam on Wednesday thereby linking up three separate areas and merging them together.

The 58 division or Task Force – 1  commanded by Brigadier Shavendra de Silva has made rapid progress along the axis of A – 32 or Mannar – Pooneryn road. The 58 has progressed beyond Mannar district and has entered the Kilinochchi district littoral.

These simple yet effective manoeuvres worked well for the armed forces in taking Vidathaltheevu, Moondrampitty and Vellankulam in Mannar district.

The 58 division took the coastal area of Kallikudah and then paused on the south of the  large ,agrarian village Mulangaavil.

Incidently Mulangaavil  had  a large agricultural scheme for educated youths  set up during the United Front government of 1970 – 77.

Mulangaavil also has a large stadium and great heroes (Maaverrar)cemetery.

There is a 3 km long by – road going westwards from the A – 32 that leads to Naachikudaah.

The 58 has stayed put on the doorstep of Naachikudaah without trying to venture further westwards or northwards  for the time being.

The 58 division moved  eastwards  deep into the hinterland heading for Vannerikulam which is almost parallel to Naachikudaah.

While the 58  adopts this tactic the 57 division too has deviated successfully from orthodox military procedure.

Kalvilaan had been a  tough nut to crack ever since 600 cadres belonging to an elite special forces fighting formation  of the LTTE was inducted into the area under Lt. Col Vithees.

Vithees,  the right hand man of the LTTE’s northern commander “Col” Theepan was a battle – hardened veteran and was  assigned to disrupt the 57 division’s military manoeuvres.

Vikkees whose real name was  Sathasivam Sathanandan was born on May 8th 1971. A native of Vavuniya, Vikkees joined the LTTE in 1991 .

Vikkees  was reputed for his skill in  planning and fighting defensive battles. His performance in various battles in Muhamaalai and during “operation Jayasikurui” were noteworthy and  so had been specially selected to “defend” Kalvilaan, Thunukkai and Mallavi.

Thereafter the LTTE launched six counter – strikes to re-take Kalvilaaan but failed.

At a given point of time the army advanced from three directions towards Thunukkai.

On August 22nd the 57 division succeeded in taking Thunukkai. A few hours later the tigers abandoned Uyilankulam which was also taken by the forces on the same day.

Troops of the 57 were  already  stationed at two points close  to Mallavi. One detachment had proceeded along the Paandiyankulam – Mallavi road axis and was positioned in  Karumpullian to the south of Paali aaru.

While these positions remained static despite mild  frontline fluctuation troops had also attempted another tactic to take Mallavi.

Thereafter it turns  northwards  at a place called Ottaruthakulam and goes through Vadakaadu to Vannivilaankulam and thereafter Mankulam.

In this situation  the expected course after  seizing Thunukkai would have been  for the armed forces to head for Mallavi. But the 57 adopting unconventional tactics sprung a surprise on the LTTE.

Thunukkai is a place where five  roads and dirt tracks converge. The tigers had a notorious detention cum torture camp there about a decade ago.

If an intensive search is conducted in the vicinity the probability of mass graves being unearthed would be very high .Once again   tiger inhumanity to fellow Tamils would be spotlighted .

Thus the 57 division has reached the closest point to Kilinochchi during this military campaign.

Meanwhile the LTTE forced to abandon Thunukkai re- grouped and consolidated defences at Aalankulam  about 3 km to the north – east of Thunukkai. 57 division troops however continued to battle the tigers at Aalankulam.

With territorial non – contiguity removed all three places are being amalgamated into a massive defence complex.

The army has set its sights on a number of places like Mallavi, Vannivilaankulam, Mankulam, Vannerikulam, Naachikudaah, Nedunkerny, Puliyankulam, Pallavarayankaddu, Poonagari, Kumulamunai, Alampil, Semmalai etc on either side of the A – 9.

Given its overwhelming superiority over the tigers in manpower, firepower and armoured mobility and the manner in which  it has outmanouevred the LTTE it is a case of Advantage Army in the Wanni right now.

Usually guerrillas pick the time and place to launch attacks. But in the Wanni the army has the LTTE on the defensive by diversifying  targets and determining the time of attack.

It appears that the position would remain so for quite a while until and unless the tigers  change military  strategy and  strike back decisively.

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

August 29, 2008

LTTE's Air Raid on Trincomalee and the Offensive Operations

by Col R Hariharan

The night raid by two light aircraft of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) air wing on the Trincomalee naval base on August 26, 2008 may be termed as moderately successful. The two aircraft were similar to the ZLIN piston-engined ones that had raided Katunayake air base on March 27, 2007 and in the subsequent attacks on Palali air base on April 24, 2007 and the Anuradhapura air field on October 22, 2007. As in all the four air raids earlier they evaded both the ground fire and the chase by Sri Lanka air force fighters to return safely to their home base.

There had been discrepancies in the reports on the raid both in the number of casualties and on how the LTTE raid was conducted out. Broadly the raid went somewhat like this. Around 9 PM the LTTE aircraft flew in undetected and managed to sneak into the air space of the high security zone of the naval complex housing the Eastern Naval Headquarters and the Trincomalee dockyard. After dodging the anti aircraft gunfire when they were detected, one aircraft managed to drop two improvised bombs. Though the Eastern Naval Headquarters was not struck, at least four sailors were killed when one of the bombs struck a sailors' billet. Ten to 20 persons (depending upon the source of the report) were reported injured. It seems the intruding aircraft were detected a little late to engage them by fighters. Evading the anti aircraft fire   the LTTE aircraft flew off after the strike on the sailors' barracks. As in the earlier cases, one bomb did not explode. In retaliation the air force fighters took off to hunt the raiders but could not succeed in doing so. After that the air force bombed Iranamadu air strip and its assets.

Though the defence spokesman called it an abortive raid, it was not wholly so. The LTTE raiders succeeded at least partially in fulfilling their mission. And they managed to inflict casualty on the security forces while escaping unscathed. Two inquiries are being held
apparently to find out how the LTTE planes managed to infiltrate through the air defence network without detection and carried out the raid.

Though the raid did not create the panic reaction among the public seen last year after the Katunayake raid, it will surely give a psychological lift up to the sagging morale of the LTTE's support network both at home and abroad. So far they had to console themselves
only with the rhetoric of the political commissar Nadesan on the impending LTTE response to the successful Sri Lankan offensive going on now for two years. The raid will also come as a shot in the arm for LTTE's defenders in frontlines who had been having a tough time for the last few months as the offensive gathered momentum. A far as the Sri Lanka public is concerned they appear to be taking it in the stride as one of the necessary evils of pursuing the military option. Thus the LTTE air raids appear to have lost their public threat potential enhanced by the very audacity of their ability to carry out such a raid well away from the LTTE home grounds in Wanni.

Otherwise, the air raid would be classified as a small scale raid daringly carried out. But in comparison with the scale of the happenings in the battlefronts of the north, the air raid does not have the potential to cause significant impact on the ongoing operations. Except for tasking a special commando force to seek and destroy the LTTE's secret hangars in Wanni as the operation progresses, no other special action would probably be taken at the
battlefront. 

The LTTE operational planners probably know this limitation. The pressure on them must be mounting as the security forces advance had been causing exodus of civilians in thousands from battle zones. So they probably carried out the air raid for want of any other manageable operational task that could create some impact immediately.

At the same time, operationally the raid gives some interesting insights:

    * The ability of the LTTE air wing to penetrate the airspace in high security zones remains undiminished, despite the counter measures taken so far. As discussed in my earlier articles on the subject, light aircraft with small radar signatures, flying below the horizon can escape early radar detection. This is more so if they follow a flight path hugging the coastline contours to escape early detection.

    * To overcome this weakness the anti aircraft defence network should include integrated ground observer posts along likely air ingress routes. This is a very time tested civil defence method against air raids in vogue for over seventy years! However, to be successful it needs committed people with well rehearsed procedure for identification and reporting.

    * On detection, the anti aircraft guns need to put maximum number of shots in the air in the fastest time to get a hit. In a night raid visual firing is fraught with serious limitations as the city lights in the horizon confuse the vision. This will again require a lot of practice firing.

    * In the past also the fighters had never been able to chase and kill the raiding aircraft. This is not surprising. Rarely will the fighters be able to respond in time unless they are positioned in operational readiness platforms (ORP) on the runway at the airfield. The mute point is, do such occasional raids by light aircraft merit tedious ORP status involving expensive hi-tech fighters designed for not only air combat but also ground support operations in counter insurgency? Only the security chiefs can answer this question.

    * It is surprising that despite the large number of modern surveillance and early warning devices available to monitor the intruding aircraft from take off to reaching target area, the LTTE pilots had always managed to prevent detection till the last moment when they gain height. Perhaps the security forces would do well to study the successful tactics of these "amateur fighter pilots" a little more seriously to eliminate the air threat.

    * There has been high rate of failure of the improvised bombs of the LTTE. This would show the LTTE has not been able to refine both the aerodynamics of the bomb design and the use of appropriate fuses to reduce the strike failure rate.

I would only reiterate that such air raids of limited fire power are more effective only when carried out in tandem with ground operation. This was proved in Anuradhapura air base raid last year. The chances of the LTTE carrying out such a coordinated ground-air raid is more likely now than ever before, given the growing tail of administrative echelons of the advancing forces on long lines of communication from Kandy upwards. Looking at the well planned operations so far, the security forces would have already catered for such a possibility in their contingency plans. [saag.org]

(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)


August 26, 2008

Mano Ganesan Carried Message From Chandrika To Prabakaran In 2005 About Offering Asylum To “Col” Karuna

Western Peoples Front leader and Colombo district Parliamentarian Mano Ganesan was sent as a special emissary to the Wanni  by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2005 to convey a message to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran .

The message related to a possible offer of Asylum being granted to former  LTTE  eastern commander “Col” karuna by the Kumaratunga regime and a request to Prabakaran that he should not let that possibility affect the prevailing peace process.

These facts were revealed by Mano Ganesan during the course of a six hour statement made to the Terrorist Investigation Division(TID).

 

[Mano Ganesan MP-file pic] 

The WPF released a press release  about the statement made by Mano Ganesan to the TID. The communiqué is reproduced in full:

Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) questioned  Civil Monitoring Commission Convener and Western Peoples Front Leader Mano Ganesan for six hours from 11am on Tuesday. The questions were based on his peace delegation visits to Killinochchi during the CFA period in 2002 and 2004. The TID sleuths wanted to know if Mano had developed any special relationships with LTTE  during the those visits. Mano Ganesan’s office has released following statement in this regard.
 
Western Peoples Front Leader Mano Ganesan accepted the written request extended to him by the Director of TID. This is in accordance with our policy of supporting the maintenance of Law and Order and cooperating with the legal system. Ganesan asked the Director of TID that he be provided with a translator at the time of inquest.
 
Mano Ganesan said he had given a statement to TID¢s OIC-CI Prasanna de Alwis and SI Abdeen of TID/Unit II. The statement had following contents.
 
Mano Ganesan said he visited Killinochchi during peace process period. It was legal and accepted during that time. All discussions were based on political solution within a united Sri Lankan state. It was not only him but ministers of the present government Arumugan Thondaman and P. Chandrasekaran visited Kilinochchi.  Many other government ministers and officials too visited Kilinochchi. Every time Ganesan went to Kilinochchi for discussions, the then prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and UNP¢s deputy leader Karu Jayasooriya were informed. The last time he went to Kilinochchi was in year 2005. It was the time when Eastern Tiger commander Karuna Amman had rifted from LTTE. Mano Ganesan  carried a peace message to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran from then president Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga on Karuna Amman in 2005. President Chandrika had said that she would offer asylum to Karuna Amman, if Karuna appeals for it. It may happen. But if that happens it should not be considered as an act against the peace process. Ganesan said that he carried this message of Chandrika to Praba. Upon return from Kilinochchi, he met Chandrika and conveyed LTTE leader Prabakaran¢s response to her. At this meeting at Presidential palace in Colombo Fort, minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna was present.
 
Ganesan had vehemently refused any special relationship with LTTE and any link with any arrested terrorist suspects. In view of the question on so called ¡special relationship¢, Ganesan said he had no such relationships with LTTE. But many were under such wrong belief. During the close up to last presidential elections, late minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and present presidential advisor Basil Rajapakse MP visited his home requesting Ganesan to help them to develop a special link with LTTE. It was to organize an electoral boycott in the north and eastern province during the presidential elections in November 2005. They came with such wrong impression on him. But Ganesan rejected such request on the grounds that he had no such special relationship with the LTTE to help Jeyaraj and Basil for an election boycott in the north and east.
 
The statement further said that In the recent past opposition parliamentarians Jayalath Jayawardena of UNP, Vijitha Herath and Ramalingam Chandrasekar of JVP  were subjected to inquiries at TID. Many terrorist linked accusations were made inside and outside parliament against many government politicians including of the last presidential election boycott issue. But no police investigations were made against any government politicians named. Ganesan¢s comments in total were typed included in his statement to the TID and he placed his signature on it. Mano Ganesan was accompanied to the TID by parliamentarians Jayalath Jayawardena, Johnston Fernando and his Attorney-at-Law Asthika Devendra.

CPJ: "Publishing a magazine should not constitute an offence"

Statement by Committee to Protect Journalists 

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Colombo high court’s indictment of journalist J.S. Tissainayagam today on terrorism charges for articles he published in 2006.

Sri Lanka’s Terrorist Investigation Division arrested Tissainayagam, the editor of news Web site OutreachSL, and five of his colleagues within a few days in March 2008. Three of the group were released later that month, according to the Sri Lankan Free Media Movement. Tissainayagam and two others, OutreachSL manager N. Jasiharan and his wife, remain in custody without charge. It is not clear if Jasiharan and his wife have also been indicted.

 

[J.S. Tissainayagam, an ethnic Tamil senior journalist and columnist (L), walks handcuffed as prison officers escort him to the High Court in Colombo August 25, 2008-pic: Reuters Alertnet, Buddhika Weerasinghe]

Today’s charges against Tissainayagam cite a magazine, North Eastern Monthly, which the journalist edited in 2006, according to his lawyer, M.A. Sumanthiran, who spoke with CPJ by telephone this morning. Two charges relate to articles Tissainayagam wrote for the magazine. The journalist’s lawyer told CPJ that the government said the articles incited communal disharmony, an offence under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. A third charge says he furthered an act of terrorism by collecting money from NGOs to publish the magazine, he told CPJ.

Tissainayagam, an ethnic Tamil, is also a columnist for the Sri Lankan weekly The Sunday Times.

Free Media Movement spokesman Sunanda Deshapriya told CPJ that North Eastern Magazine was a known as a pro-Tamil English-language publication that was not considered pro- Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, he said. It closed down over a year ago.

“We condemn J.S. Tissainayagam’s long detention and harsh charges for publishing a magazine, which should not constitute an offence,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia Program Coordinator. “This is the latest step by the Sri Lankan government to intimidate journalists who write about security issues.”

Tissainayagam pleaded not guilty today because he does not believe he committed a criminal act, Sumanthiran told CPJ. He was denied bail and will go to trial on September 18, the lawyer said.

Rajiva Wijesinha, Sri Lanka’s secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, denied to Human Rights Watch on August 12 that Tissainayagam had been detained for criticizing the government. “Some of their publications were designed to embarrass the Sri Lankan government through false accusations,” Wijesinha said of Tissainayagam and “his business associates,” according to the text of the letter, which is published on the Web site of the Sri Lankan permanent mission to the UN in Geneva. He does not name the business associates in the letter.

Tissainayagam’s Sunday Times column, written from a Tamil viewpoint, frequently tackled issues sensitive to the Sri Lankan government, including security issues. One of his final columns before his arrest was titled “Child soldiers: What the govt. report did not report.”

August 25, 2008

Education of thousands disrupted by fighting

Report by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN):

The national authorities, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), and local authorities in Sri Lanka's northern districts are pooling resources to enable thousands of displaced students to continue their education despite disruption by the conflict.

[Many students were only able to take their exams at temporary centres. Teachers need to be redeployed to where they are most needed; damaged schools need to be repaired; and students need to be given books and stationerypic: Amantha Perera]

Clashes between Sri Lankan government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have escalated recently in the four northern districts of Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mulaitivu, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, including thousands of students, some of whom were preparing to take their government exams this month.

Twelve thousand students were among those who have been displaced by recent fighting in Mannar and Vavuniya districts alone, the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) said in a situation report on 18 August.

"UNICEF reports 7,500 children in Madhu education zone, and 4,500 children from Vavuniya north zone, have been displaced," the report said. "Educational materials have been lost due to multiple displacements and the quantity of materials is insufficient for the upcoming term."

 
[Thousands of young students in Sri Lanka’s war-torn north have been displaced; UNICEF has helped them continue their studies]

Temporary learning places

UNICEF officials in the capital, Colombo, told IRIN that the agency had been working with government authorities to ensure the displaced students could continue their education.

"In 2008, 35 temporary learning spaces have been constructed for displaced schools in Vavuniya and Mannar [districts]," James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson in Sri Lanka, told IRIN. "Support provided also includes provision of student kits, teacher kits, blackboards, recreational kits and tarpaulins."

Large-scale displacements were recorded after 20 July in the northern regions of Mannar District and at least 12,000 families relocated closer to Kilinochchi town, 300km from Colombo and under the control of the Tamil Tigers. In August, two important public exams were successfully held - the Year Five scholarship exam and the national university entrance exam.

"Many students who faced a lack of shelter were not in a sound position to prepare for their exams, others were unable to attend," Elder said. "However, the Ministry of Education mobilised resources and ensured most children could sit exams in alternative centres."

Exam centres relocated

Several examination centres that were close to areas of fighting had to be relocated to Kilinochchi for the safety of the students, government officials said.

According to the government agent in Kilinochchi, Nagalingam Vedanayagam, 350 students sitting for the Year Five exam, and an additional 70 who were sitting for the university entrance exam, were among those who had fled the fighting in late July.

Arrangements had initially been made for these students to sit for the exams at government schools, close to Kilinochchi. "The students ended up taking the exams at Kilinochchi Central College," Vedanayagam told IRIN.

The government agent told IRIN that at least 22 schools in Kilinochchi District were being used to provide shelter for the displaced. "When the new term starts in September, we will have more issues to deal with."

UNICEF spokesperson Elder told IRIN that plans were in hand to enable displaced children to continue their education, and for training to continue for teachers.

The next stage, said the UNICEF spokesperson, is to redeploy teachers to where they are needed, prepare schools that are not damaged so they can host students who have been displaced by the conflict, and distribute vitally needed books and stationery.

August 24, 2008

Foreign Minister Bogollagama’s antics and escapades

By Namini Wijedasa
 
(Month after month, Rohitha Bogollagama continues to astound the country with his free-wheeling attitude towards public finance and his blatant abuse of the foreign ministry portfolio for the good of his own.

Since the ministry of foreign affairs fell onto his lap on 28 January 2007, very much like manna from heaven, Bogollagama has been engaged in antics that have made Bozo the Clown look normal in diplomatic circles.

Here we document some of the humorous - and not so humorous escapades of the high-spending minister (not in chronological order). Some of them are from his ministry of enterprise development days. Apologies for the many omissions as we have only so much space.)

Bogollagama makes no excuses for brazen nepotism. In fact, he makes a hobby of it. As recently as June, his sister-in-law Jayathri Ranjani Samarakone was named as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Singapore.

His brother-in-law, Palitha Ganegoda, was posted to New Delhi and recently promoted to the post of deputy high commissioner. That’s not all - Bogollagama’s daughter is now reportedly attending medical college in New Delhi while staying for free at the official residence of the deputy high commissioner. Coincidence?

Bogollagama’s intended son-in-law, the twenty-something Aminda Rodrigo, was posted as second secretary to Washington last year.

Perhaps to make it much easier for him to spend official money on her travel, Bogollagama made his wife, Deepthi, his private secretary.

When President Rajapaksa went on a state visit to Japan, Bogollagama reportedly insisted on taking his “personal assistants” - wife and son.

Bogollagama repeatedly shepherds his elder son, Lakshitha, into official meetings that the mere offspring of ministers have no business attending. He has continued to do this throughout his tenure as foreign minister. Lakshitha is often seen in the corridors of the foreign ministry, in parliament and by his father’s side on international travel.

During a 2007 visit to New Delhi, where his father attended the SAARC Council of Ministers, Lakshitha even issued a press release on behalf of the foreign ministry. It was an unprecedented act.

More recently, daughter Dilshani is also being herded into official discussions. Bogollagama took her to a special meeting of SAARC foreign ministers in Colombo on 31 July 2008. The meeting had been out of bounds even for ambassadors and high commissioners of the region. Dilshani and Lakshitha were listed as delegates of Sri Lanka.

In response to a query by LAKBIMAnEWS, the foreign ministry revealed in December last year that Bogollagama had far exceeded his 2007 travel budget by more than Rs 10 million. The estimate for 2007 was Rs 31,200,000 but Rs 41,568,000 had been spent by November 30. He had been foreign minister for just eight months. Bogollagama’s travel budget for 2008 has been increased to more than Rs 41 million.

Attempts to get details of Bogollagama’s latest travel - and other - expenditure proved futile as these are supposedly “confidential” files. However, the costs of supporting the minister are said to be “astronomical”.

Bogollagama is commonly known to draw lavishly from the budgets of Sri Lanka’s overseas missions for his expenses while on international travel. After he leaves those countries, the missions tie themselves in knots trying to get these enormous expenses reimbursed by the foreign ministry.

Since he became foreign ministry, Bogollagama has made it his business to fly to every little corner of the world - whether or not it serves a national purpose. More often than not, he lands in Sri Lanka during the morning and catches another flight out at night. He is deemed by many in diplomatic circles to be on a ‘wata wandanawa’.

Last week, Bogollagama was curiously in Iceland (accompanied by his wife). He stopped in Frankfurt on the way back, which makes it three times that the man has been to Germany. He has also been to Italy twice, France, Canada, Belgium, the UK more than five times, Kuwait, Jordan, Iran, Morocco, Libya, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Uganda, Malaysia, Singapore (many times), Philippines, Japan, China (twice), South Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, India (many times), twice to Pakistan, three times to Maldives, twice to Bangladesh, several times to the US, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan and other countries that we can’t immediately name.

During a visit to Washington DC, Bogollagama’s hotel bill came to nearly US$60,000. “He stayed at the Ritz Carlton,” a source said by telephone. “Some of his family members were there, too, and the bill was paid by our embassy in Washington.”

When they were at the Ritz Carlton in New York two years ago, Bogollagama and his wife had a loud argument in the dead of night in the corridors of the hotel. He was on the same floor as Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was in New York to address the UN General Assembly.

Bogollagama accompanied President Rajapaksa to London for a two-day mini summit of the Commonwealth heads of government.

He soon became an object of gossip when he tried to jump into a photograph that Rajapaksa and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown were posing for following a bilateral discussion at Number 10, Downing Street. At a dinner in London, a tale bearer told Rajapaksa: “Sir, the Sri Lanka high commissiner’s official vehicle is a Jaguar but it’s not being used by her. It’s being sued by the foreign minister’s daughter who lives in London.”

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, last year Sri Lanka exposed an embarrassing lack of coordination and political cohesion in the international arena when Bogollagama supported the suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth - only to be publicly contradicted by President Rajapaksa the next day.

At one cabinet meeting, the question of where the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial statue should be installed arose. The foreign ministry has been given the task of finding a suitable permanent address for the statue. Bogollagama was absent.

President Rajapaksa asked Deputy Minister Hussein Bhaila where the statue would eventually be erected. Bhaila said he could not tell as Bogollagama was not in Sri Lanka. “It will take another ten years for him to get back,” Rajapaksa had reportedly said, angrily. “As acting minister, you must make a decision. If you can’t take decisions in such a manner, I will have to appoint somebody else to your place.”

During a recent breakfast meeting with President Rajapaksa, a senior retired diplomat asked him a question that haunts many - “Why are you tolerating Minister Bogallagama?” “Aiyo, ey miniha pissek ney!” came the answer.

Canvassing for Sri Lanka’s re-election to the UN Human Rights Council, Bogollagama went hunting for votes at the UN in New York. He met the Palestinian representative and requested that he votes for Sri Lanka. Bogollagama goofed - because Palestine is only an observer and not a full fledged member state.

Just before he visited the US State Department in Washington DC, Bogollagama claimed he was “very familiar” with the State Department because he had once worked there. “Some of us thought that maybe he was a one time CIA agent!” joked a Sri Lankan from Washington. The real story is that the US Embassy had hired on a short term contract to provide legal advice to the embassy when it signed some sort of contract with the Sri Lanka Government.

Consequently, Bogollagama had a short stint with the US Information Services which has an office in the State Department. He was based in Washington DC briefly. So much for being “very familiar” with the US State Department!

After the recent SAARC summit in Colombo, Bogollagama delivered a glowing speech in Parliament thanking all and sundry for the success of the event. (No surprise that it was a success, considering that his ministry had extracted Rs 2.8 billion from national coffers to meet expenditure related to the summit).

That evening, he returned to the foreign ministry where an officer showed him a statement of thanks issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The statement did not contain a word about the foreign ministry and, horror of horrors, did not even mention Bogollagama! Visibly upset, he immediately telephoned Gamini Senarath, the president’s coordinating secretary, and had a word. Not long after, a letter came from the president’s office. In two or three lines, it thanked the foreign minister and his officers for a job well done.

While President Rajapaksa hosted an official SAARC dinner at Rs 4,000 per head, Bogollagama went the whole hog and ordered lobster, tangy truffle remoulade and caramalized aubergine cream for Rs 10,000 per head for his official SAARC dinner.

Last year, an irritated President Rajapaksa overruled a posting made by Bogollagama and decided to retain K J Weerasinghe, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brussels, till the end of his term. Chitranganee Wagiswara, a senior career service diplomat who is Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Paris, was also abruptly summoned back to Colombo by Bogollagama. It is learnt that she annoyed the petulant Bogollagama by querying some of the hefty bills he had left behind after a visit to Paris. Her return, too, was stalled on Rajapaksa’s instructions. Wagiswara had led Sri Lanka’s successful campaign for re-election to the Executive Board of UNESCO.

Bogollagama reportedly made it impossible for senior retired diplomat C D Casie Chetty to function as executive director of the Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies. He left in disgust.

It is reported that Bogollagama uses the premises of the Kadirgamar Institute in Horton Place as he would his own home (when in Sri Lanka, that is). A newspaper once reported that his security guards close down the institute and chase away people when Bogollagama arrives at the scene. One morning, members of the government’s advisory board of the Sethu Samudram project - including two secretaries of ministries - arrived at the Institute for a meeting but were shut out by Bogollagama’s guards as he was breakfasting there. Some left in disgut while the others parked at a distance and waited till the minister left around 11 am - followed by the catering truck of a five-star hotel.

As enterprise development minister, Bogollagama took a delegation to London for a meeting of the Commonwealth Business Council. He also took his wife Deepthi, son Lakshitha and daughter Dilshani. Their names were included as members of the delegation. Expenses were borne by the government.

Also as enterprise development minister, Bogollagama took his wife and children to Geneva (for peace talks with the LTTE) even after President Mahinda Rajapaksa instructed the delegation that family members must stay behind. The Bogollagama family stayed at the Geneva Hilton when everyone else was put up at the Chateau de Bossey where talks were being held. Once again, questions were raised over his expenditure but no action was taken.

When Bogollagama’s son met with a nasty accident in the US some years ago (when he was still in the UNP), he sought the assistance of the Sri Lanka embassy in Washington DC which helped him to get money from the President’s Fund to pay the son’s massive medical bill. [courtesy:lakbimanews.lk]

August 23, 2008

Impending military victory, pending political questions

by Rajan Philips

This is supposed to be the year of victory over the Tigers. Prime Minister Wickramanayake even predicted that the Sri Lankan troops will be in Kilinochchi before Sabragamua and North Central Provinces go to polls on Saturday. Regardless of when the troops will reach Kilinochchi, most observers seem to agree that the LTTE is not going to hold out much longer in its Vanni stronghold. The natural question is what is going to happen after that. In fact, there is more than one question and a military victory may not answer any of them.

[Sri Lanka Army, in Vanni, Aug 2008]

Will the government troops totally eradicate the LTTE? Can they achieve this goal even if they want to, for as General Sarath Fonseka has publicly stated the LTTE will remain as a guerrilla force even after a military defeat so long as Tamil nationalism is alive and kicking? What will the government do to deal with Tamil nationalism? Will it sincerely, honestly, flexibly and fully implement the Thirteenth Amendment? Anything less will not cut mustard as a political solution worth the name. Anything more will be asking for the moon from the present government.

Or, will the government, given its current war mindset, decide to leave things as they are? That would be fine by those who are seeking only private gain at the expense of public good. The government might avoid doing anything more with the unlucky Thirteenth Amendment, just as it is ignoring what should be a luckier (by Chinese numerals) Seventeenth Amendment? The war mindset, it needs to be said, is only the newest manifestation of the old communalism that used to consume almost all of the non-Left Sinhalese leaders in the past. In that mindset, whatever its manifestation, there is no room for accepting Tamils and Muslims as equal citizens. Thankfully, this view is rejected by many Sinhalese leaders now, both Left and Right, within as well as outside the government. Tragically, however, the apex of power and decision making in this government is labouring under the old communal sway.

[LTTE cadre in Palamoddai-pic:Pathivu]

What of Tamil nationalism? Will it change course after what has been the LTTE experience, which appears to be turning into a debacle? Or, will it chart a different, unconventional fighting path? Many seem to think that Tamil nationalism cannot be snuffed out by military means alone, and that without a political solution it will re-emerge as a new avatar. The trouble with Tamil nationalism is that for all its defensive and justificatory claims, it has not been able to achieve any of its declared goals – fifty-fifty, federalism and Eelam. A new avatar will not fare any better unless the two so called nationalisms – Sinhalese and Tamil – redefine their relationship based on unifying premises and common objectives.

It will not be too uncharitable to call the two nationalisms as ersatz, or imitation, if not wannabe, nationalisms that have begotten each other and cannot be without each other. TULF leader Amirthalingam used to say that “it is majority communalism that begets minority communalism”. It is so with its more sophisticated avatar called nationalism. Insofar as Sinhalese nationalism is sustained to the exclusion of the rights of Tamils, Muslims and Hill Country Tamils, their resentments will manifest in one form or another and will be a drag on all Sri Lankans. None will gain and everyone will lose.

This has been the story so far - to wit, the disfranchisement of the Hill Country Tamils, state-sponsored colonisation of the East, imposition of one official language, state take-over of denominational schools, standardization of university admissions, the burning of libraries and churches, murder in the Batticaloa Cathedral, kidnapping and killing of people for ransom etc. If the same story continues, nothing will change and the army’s anticipated victory would also be in vain.

The Question

All of this takes me back to my starting question: what will the government do politically after the anticipated military victory? Broad as it may seem, the question is very narrow and limited to our fundamental national problem involving the State and the different peoples of the island – the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims. The government has a full slate of other questions along with an empty slate of achievements on – the economy, inflation, the precarious situation of the textile industry, law and order taken over by thugs and rascals, corruption at the low, high and highest levels, pre-election violence in the peaceful South, open war on media workers and so on and so on. But on the main national problem, what is the government going to do? That is the question.

It is still not late, nor is it too early, for President Mahinda Rajapakse to come right out and make a statesmanlike statement as to what he plans to do on the National Problem after a military victory. A well placed member of Colombo’s chattering classes once told me that it would be too much to expect a statesmanlike position from this President. I am inclined to be more charitable. He has at least on two occasions in the recent past taken unstatesmanlike positions on the National Problem – first, when he directed the SLFP to declare that the District and not the Province should be the unit of devolution and, second, when he announced that he was constrained to act primarily on behalf of the section of the Sinhalese who voted for him. Just last week, he vowed to continue the military offensive until both Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu are captured, and warned against Sri Lanka being forced to dance to the tune of Western governments.

I am not hoping or praying for Rajapakse to reverse these positions and show magnanimity in the event of a military victory. All I am saying is that he could reverse himself and, if he wants to leave a positively lasting impact on the country, he should. ‘Transformation’, if not Reformation, was what many of us thought would happen to the LTTE if we had persisted with the ceasefire and restarted the peace process. We should give the same latitude to this President and his government, even though signals emanating from within the government and pro-government circles are far from encouraging.

The reported formation of a Thirteenth Amendment group within the government to canvass for its full implementation only affirms the government’s lack of enthusiasm for the Amendment, or for finding a satisfactory political solution. I am not disparaging the sincerity and honesty of the Sinhalese politicians in this group, who are all good men, although the less said of the Tamil politicians involved in this the better. No group of Sinhalese good men and Tamil political toads will be necessary if the President comes out of his communal shell and declares that he will implement the Thirteenth Amendment in full - to the letter of the law and the spirit of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement.

This will require some transformation on his part for in his nearly three years as President he has done everything to undermine not only the Thirteenth Amendment but also every other initiative that was attempted after 1994, many of them generated by his own Party. He even scuttled his own initiative, the long dead but yet to be cremated All Party Representatives Committee. The clever man he is, Rajapakse has let others do the talking to impress everyone, especially New Delhi, that his government is fully committed to implementing the Thirteenth Amendment, albeit separately in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. So along with the question what the government is going to do, we may ask a more direct question: when will the President say what he and his government are going to do?


August 20, 2008

Northern Front: Retreating Tigers and Advancing Army

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

"If he (enemy) is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them."

"Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."
-Sun Tzu in “The Art of War”.

In what appears to be a co-incidence the military fortunes of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been declining on the Northern battlefront ever since our Lady of the Rosary was relocated from her traditional abode at Maruthamadhu (Madhu).

[Madhu Church, file pic by Mahesh]

The sacred statue was taken amid controversial circumstances to St. Xaviers church at Thevayanpitty in April this year. A few days later on April 15th the armed forces took control of Madhu and its environs.

Thereafter the armed forces were on the ascendant in the theatre of war in the north. The prolonged military stalemate was broken as the army began advancing and the tigers started retreating.

With the army moving in on Vellaankulam the northernmost town in Mannar district along the coastal Mannar – Pooneryn road or A – 32 highway adjacent Thevaayanpitty became vulnerable.

This in turn resulted in the sacred statue being brought in July to the Bishops house in Mannar town.


View Larger Map

Our Lady of Madhu was expected to return to her rightful residence by August.

Meanwhile there is euphoria in the Colombo corridors of power about an overwhelming victory over the LTTE being imminent.
The recent series of military successes has reinforced the feeling that the writing is on the wall for the tigers.

The Rajapakse regime shifted focus towards launching ground – based offensives against the LTTE in the north after the tigers were evicted from the East in 2007.
After months of protracted warfare in which military gains and losses see- sawed it appeared that a military stale mate was setting in.

Recent military developments have broken that stalemate and reversed the situation. It appears that the armed forces like the tortoise in the fable are proceeding slowly and steadily towards their goals.

The armed forces at one stage had two short – term and two long term goals in the North Western battle arena.

In the short term the goals were Adampan and Madhu. The long term objective was Vidathaltheevu along the Mannar littoral and full control of the A – 32 or Mannar – Pooneryn road.
The initial breakthrough was in March – April this year when the armed forces moved in three directions taking Uyilankulam, Sinna and Periyapandivirichaan and strategic areas of the Kattukkaraikulam or Giants tank basin.

This created a situation where the task of retaining Madhu was made a formidable one for the LTTE.

Attempting to retain Madhu also meant an escalation of military activity that could cause great damage to the revered Catholic Church and its environs.

Against that backdrop the LTTE withdrew from Madhu after ensuring that the Our Lady of Refuge statue was removed to Thevaayanpitty.

Though the decision to do so was made by Mannar Catholic Bishop Most Rev. Rayappu Joseph and it was members of the clergy who carried out the mission LTTE “facilitation” was involved in the re-location.

It was after the departure of Our Lady of Madhu that the armed forces took over Madhu.

From that point onwards there was remarkable improvement in the progress of the military on the battlefront.

While the superstitious and spiritually inclined may be tempted to see divine intervention as the cause there is also a more practical explanation for this favourable fluctuation.

The location of Madhu with its proximity to two key junctions provided the armed forces with geo – strategic advantage. The armed forces began exploiting this advantage.

Besides the fall of Madhu provided a morale booster that was reflected widely along the frontlines.

The first major advance was when the armed forces took over the Giants tank or Yodha Ela basin and environs by April end.
The second week of May saw Adampan fall.
Thereafter key areas like Palampity, Periyamadhu, Nedunkandal etc began falling at regular intervals. Ultimately around 120 sq miles of territory consisting of prime agricultural land known as the “rice bowl of Mannar “ was taken over in its entirety.
The last tiger bastion in this respect was the 300 metre long 30 x40 bunker with a 7 ft high earth bund at Nedunkandal.

Now the scene was set for the march on Vidathaltheevu. The Vidathaltheevu promontory was about two km away from the Pallamadhu junction on A – 32.

Vidathal is a thorny scrub (mimosa cinerea) found in many areas of the North – East. Vidathaltheevu means Island of Vidathal though it is only a promontory.

It has a natural harbour but marine access from the gulf of Mannar was made possible only through the construction of the Arnolda canal in the forties of the last century.

In recent times Vidathaltheevu had become the major sea tiger base along the north – western coast.

The tigers had set up an 8 km long defence line stretching from the banks of Naayaaru via Naayaatruveli to Piraamanaalankulam.

This LTTE line was a difficult obstacle to surmount and it appeared that the armed forces could be bogged down for quite a while.

While the 7,000 strong 58 division engaged the LTTE along multiple fronts in Mannar the newly raised 61 or Task Force – 2 comprising 3,000 elite troops was also shifted from Manal Aaru/Weli Oya to Mannar.

This induction along with a change of strategy began paying dividends. Troops moved clandestinely through jungle areas in a northward direction from points along Palampitty and Periyamadhu along the Iranai iluppaikulam – Pallamadhu road.

They succeeded in reaching Sirattykulam on the border of Thunukkai AGA division. Though located in the North – western sector Thunukkai forms part of the Mullaitheevu district.

After reaching Sirattykulam the troops changed direction and moved westwards from the east. They reached a comparatively unknown yet key location called Kooraai.

Kooraai was an irrigation settlement begun in the eighties of the 20th century. The work was not completed and the anecut construction of Koorai tank was abandoned.
Only some irrigation dept buildings and around 40 – 50 families remain to tell the tale of what could have been a flourishing settlement.

Once the armed forces reached Koorai they used it as a launching pad to mount two forward movements further to the west towards the A – 32 or Mannar – Pooneryn road.

One column moved through Aathimottai and interdicted the A – 32 at Kalliaddy. The other column moved along Koyilkulam and Puthukulam and breached the A – 32 at Pallivaasalpitty. A third column broke out from Periyamadhu and reached Pallamadhu junction.

This tripartite thrust saw the LTTE being checkmated. The tigers were now boxed in at Vidathaltheevu notwithstanding their elaborate defences further to the South of Vidathal. The army was actually about 2 – 3 km ahead of Vidathaltheevu on the A – 32.

The tigers had no choice other than to withdraw from Vidathaltheevu by sea. This they did and when the armed forces moved in neither tigers nor their boats were there.

The next big town along the A – 32 was Iluppaikadavai where the LTTE had a large base housing elements of the Charles Anthony regiment. The tigers began withdrawing from Iluppaikadavai simultaneously.

Thus the armed forces continued their victorious thrust further north along the A – 32 and took Iluppaikadavai also. By the last week of July the armed forces had reached a point close to Moondrampitty along the Mannar – Pooneryn road.

The last big town on the A – 32 that falls under Mannar district is Vellankulam. Thereafter it is Kilinochchi district where the first big town is Mulangaavil.

The river Paali Aaru reaches the sea near Vellankulam. It appears that the LTTE is getting ready for the long haul at Paali aaru – Vellankulam. Bunkers and trenches are being constructed and fortified.

Meanwhile there is an impression in the South that all sea movement along the North – Western coast has been stopped for the LTTE after the fall of Vidathaltheevu. This is incorrect.

While the loss of Vidathaltheevu would be keenly felt by the tigers sea movement along the North – western coast has certainly not been circumscribed.
There are coastal points like Naachikudaah, Pallikudaah, Valapaadu and Peimunai along the Kilinochchi district coast that can be utilised by the LTTE.
Increased sea tiger movement in the seas between Thalaimannar and Neduntheevu (Delft) in recent times indicate that LTTE marine movement is undergoing a sea change.

Since the LTTE needs north – western sea access to maintain contact with the Indian coast the tigers would most probably resist army advances further along the A – 32 fiercely.

While the bulk of LTTE sea supply is on the east coast between Challai and Alampil , India remains a chief source of supply of fuel, medicine, dry rations and metal for the LTTE.

Thus it is of paramount importance that the LTTE preserves and protects at least part of the 77 km long Mannar – Pooneryn road. Currently about half the A – 32 highway is under Government control.

Against this backdrop the tigers will try and make a last ditch stand at Vellankulam – Paali Aaru to prevent further advances of the army along the North –Western coast into Kilinochchi district.

There is also another reason for the LTTE to fight it out ferociously at Vellankulam.
This is because of a road from Vellankulam to Maankulam along the Kandy – Jaffna road or A – 9 highway.

Situated along this road are the important and relatively thickly populated towns of Thunukkaai and Mallaavi. Holding off the army at Vellankulam could deter the armed forces from gaining control of one end of this minor yet geo- strategically vital road.
Even if the LTTE is able to contain the army at Vellankulam the threat to Mallavi and Thunukkai is by no means diminished.

This is because the armed forces have made significant strides on related fronts.

Forces stationed to the north of Nattaankandal have proceeded towards Thunukkaai through a place called Ottankulam.
The last week of July saw the army being engaged in combat with the LTTE at Kalvilaan about 3km away from Thunukkaai.

Likewise forces stationed near Panankaamam havein a surprise move proceeded through Paandiyankulam and reached the South of Vavunikulam.
Panankaamam which is about 7 km away from Vavunikulam was the fiefdom ruled by the Wanni chieftain Pandara Vannian or Wanni Bandara who defied the British at the historic battle of Katsilaimadhu.

The latter part of July saw the armed forces and tigers embroiled in intense conflict around the Vavunikulam tank.

If the armed forces are able to move via the tank bund area to Paalaipaani or Kidaaipidithakulam then it would be possible to interdict the LTTE supply route along Vannivilaankulam - Moondrumurippu.

This in turn would affect tiger logistics drastically on the one hand while enhancing modes of supply for the army among various points in that sector.

In addition the fall of Vavunikulam would also result in the armed forces being only about 4 – 5 km away from Mallavi. Thus it would be possible to reach Mankulam via Mallavi if Vavunikulam falls.

Apart from the fighting in this sector there is also fighting in the Paalamottai – Navvi areas of Vavuniya district and also in the Manal Aaru/Weli – Oya region.

In Weli – Oya the armed forces have moved forward about 8 – 10 km to the north on four points namely, Paalaamai Odai/Kiri Ibban wewa, Aandaankulam, Janakapura and Kokkuthoduwaai.

This has brought the armed forces about 4 miles to the south of Kumulamunai. Given the streak of successes enjoyed by the army in recent times there is the distinct possibility of advancing along the coast right up to Mullaitheevu town and harbour.

The armed forces have also caused the LTTE to vacate its chief forward base called Munnagam. Two other abandoned tiger bases – Michael and Suganthan - have also been discovered.

According to some estimates the armed forces have captured about 900 sq km area of LTTE controlled territory in the districts of Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitheevu.

This has resulted in a propaganda change.

Earlier when a military stalemate prevailed it was emphasised that the armed forces were not trying to acquire real estate and that the main goal was to kill as many tigers as possible.

In support of this assertion detailed accounts of LTTE casualties were regularly released though these were at variance with tiger figures.

Once the armed forces began advancing deep into tiger territory the focus changed. Nowadays much is being made of the tiger territory being “liberated” by the armed forces.

Naturally the government is making much political capital out of the successful campaign conducted by the armed forces.

There is an orchestrated propaganda effort that has brought about great expectations in the public mood.

There is euphoria that the tigers are on the run and that the LTTE is collapsing like a pack of cards.

The liberation of Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu and parts of the Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna districts under LTTE do not seem a remote possibility in the popular psyche any more.

The seeming inability of the tigers in stopping the military juggernaut adds credence to the belief that the beginning of the LTTE’s end is underway.

However dominant public perception fails to take note of a crucial factor that has often been asserted by this writer in these columns.
“The tigers may be down but they are certainly not out”.

While the armed forces are certainly on the ascendant and could ultimately come out on top through superior manpower, firepower, armoured power, airpower and sea power, the LTTE cannot be written off as a spent force prematurely.

As mentioned in these columns earlier the LTTE set up three broad defence rings in the northern territory it controlled.

The first was around all area dominated by the tigers.
The second was around all areas to the east of the A – 9 highway.
The third was around a swathe of strategically important areas in Mullaitheevu including a coastal strip.

Most of the fighting so far has been in and around the first ring of defence.
Apart from hostilities in the Manal aaru/ Weli – Oya region there has been no fighting in the comparatively important regions to the east of the A – 9.

The armed forces have certainly progressed in the fighting in regions to the west of the A – 9. Yet the fighting is neither conclusive or decisive.
Also despite several attempts the army has been unable to break LTTE lines set up to the south of Muhamaalai in the Jaffna peninsula.

Besides the fighting has been protracted and bitter. Although the LTTE has come off second best in these clashes there are three salient ponts to be noted.

Firstly the tigers have not lost much of their military assets in spite of the reversals and withdrawals. Retreating tigers have transported most of their vehicles, boats, artillery and armaments to safer locations.

Secondly the tigers have deployed only about a 40 % of their cadres in the fighting so far. The bulk of these have been new recruits and raw conscripts. The ratio of senior to junior cadres in the fighting has been roughly 25% to 75%

Thirdly the cream of the LTTE like its special forces, the leopard commando unit, the elite brigades of the Charles Anthony regiment etc have not been utilised extensively.

Thus it could be surmised that despite the losses suffered the LTTE continues to retain the bulk of its military assets , experienced cadre and elite fighting formations.

In that context the LTTE remains a potent and powerful force still.

What is of crucial importance is the fact that the LTTE has been fighting a defensive war so far.

It is a moot point as to when and if the LTTE would change track and go on the offensive.

It may be that the armed forces by applying constant military pressure are constricting the LTTE’s ability to launch a counter strike or counter offensive.

It may also be that the tiger leader Velupillai Prabakharan is working to his own agenda and is biding his time before striking out.

The acid test will be when the LTTE does strike out.

It is only then that the question of whether the LTTE is a spent force or not would be decided effectively.

The tiger will not eat grass even if it is hungry.

The tiger crouches only to pounce.

These are proverbs in Tamil about the four – legged feline.

This proverbial wisdom applies in a politico – military sense to the two – legged tigers also.

Meanwhile the time for a tiger pounce draws near.

All things being constant it is only a matter of time before the armed forces would reach Pooneryn or the A – 9 road.
If that happens the war would be carried right into the tiger heartland . It would also mean restriction of supplies and greater vulnerability for the tiger hierarchy.

Cruel military logic suggests that the LTTE would launch pre- emptive strikes before that.
Instead of waiting for war to come to him Prabakharan is very likely to take the fight to the enemy.

It could be a counter offensive like “Oyatha Alaigal” or ceaseless waves in 1999 -2000.

It could also mean extending the war through dubious means to the South.

What happens if these things do happen?

Would the armed forces be able to counter these challenges and defeat the LTTE?
Would the tigers be able to inflict extensive damage and reverse the situation?

Only time will tell!

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

This article was written on July 28th 2008 and appeared in August 15, 2008 issue of Montage Sri Lanka Magazine.

Indictment of Tissainayagam An Assault on Press Freedom in Sri Lanka

Statement by International Federation of Journalists

[J.S. Tissainayagam, at Colombo Courts in June 2008]

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed that Sri Lankan authorities are taking the unprecedented step of applying the country's draconian anti-terrorism law to seek to condemn senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam for pursuing his profession.

After being held for five months without charge, Tissainayagam has been formally indicted by the High Court of Sri Lanka under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) (1979), according to the Free Media Movement, an IFJ affiliate.

The indictment reportedly refers to the printing, publishing and distribution of the North Eastern Monthly between June 1, 2006, and June 1, 2007; alleged offences to do with bringing the Government into disrepute; and the violation of 2006 Emergency Regulations with regard to allegations of aiding and abetting terrorist organisations through raising money for the magazine.
In the almost 30 years since the PTA was adopted as a "temporary" measure, no individual journalist or media entity has been charged under the PTA.

In a country where journalism and journalists already face extreme threats and pressures to self-censor, the indictment is an unprecedented effort by the state to stifle press freedom.

"The decision by Sri Lankan authorities to charge a journalist on the allegation that his professional work is an act of terrorism is an extreme effort by Sri Lanka's Government to shut down independent journalism and voices," IFJ Asia-Pacific said. The FMM said that the 2006 Emergency Regulations contravene fundamental rights guaranteed under Sri Lanka's Constitution and international law. "With the indictment of Mr Tissainayagam this week on what is factually an extremely weak foundation, our worst fears with regard to the dangers of such authoritarian and unconscionable legislation have been confirmed," it said. Tissainayagam was arrested on March 7 after checking with police on the welfare of N. Jesiharan, the owner of E-Kwality Printing Press, and Jesiharan's partner, Valamarthi, who were arrested previously and continue to be held by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID).

Tissainayagam was then held for five months without charge under the custody of the TID. At the time of his arrest he was the editor of newly founded website www.outreachsl.com. Four Outreach colleagues were also arrested about the same time but were released soon after. The IFJ joins the FMM in unequivocally condemning the PTA and Emergency Regulations framework as oppressive, imprecise, susceptible to unchallengeable government manipulation and inconsistent with international standards governing the balance between legitimate national security considerations and freedom of expression.

The IFJ and the FMM call on the international community to defend press freedom in Sri Lanka by denouncing the PTA and the indictment against Tissainayagam.


August 19, 2008

Tens of thousands at risk in Sri Lanka as fighting escalates

Statement by Amnesty International

The Sri Lankan military and the opposing Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are putting tens of thousands of displaced civilians at risk as fighting continues in the Wanni area of northern Sri Lanka.

Displaced mother washing her baby in Sri Lanka


Displaced Sri Lankans travelling with their belongings

Children outside a temporary shelter in Sri Lanka


Temporary shelter for displaced people in Sri Lanka

Woman outside temporary shelter in Sri Lanka

Displaced Sri Lankans cooking under a tree

A major concern, as the situation worsens, is that there is little reliable information available from the ground, as journalists are restricted from reporting in the area. Both sides consistently contradict each other. This is why international independent monitors are urgently needed on the ground to assess the situation.

There is no safe haven for the thousands of families trying to escape the aerial bombardment and shelling of Sri Lankan forces as they push towards the town of Kilinochchi. Since May, government aerial bombardment and artillery shelling has forced more than 70,000 people to flee their homes, primarily in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitvu districts.

In the LTTE-controlled areas of the Wanni, the Tigers have hindered thousands of families from moving to safer places by imposing a strict pass system. Some individuals have been forced to stay behind as guarantors, to ensure the return of other family members.

"These people are running out of places to go and basic necessities," said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher. “The Tigers are keeping them in harm’s way and the government is not doing enough to ensure they receive essential assistance.”

Amnesty International has received reports that the government is keeping those who have been able to leave LTTE-controlled areas in temporary shelters that often operate as de facto detention centres.

Witnesses from Kalimoddai camp in Mannar district told the organization that more than 200 families who are held there cannot exit the camp for any reason (except to go to school) without obtaining a pass from the government's security forces.

Despite calls for the displaced to be allowed to move via humanitarian corridors to safer areas where they can receive essential aid and assistance, they are in fact being used as a buffer between the two opposing forces.

Sri Lankan media reported Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, Commander of the Army, ordering his troops in the Wanni area to seal any routes out of the area in order to stop LTTE infiltration. Sealing the border will also prevent civilians from fleeing the conflict zones.

"Both sides to this long conflict have again shown that they will jeopardize the lives of thousands of ordinary people in the pursuit of military objectives,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty’s Sri Lanka researcher. “In the absence of independent international monitors, Sri Lankan civilians lack protection and remain at the mercy of two forces with long records of abuse."

The government has given reassurances at the weekend that they will open three safe corridors and that, for the moment, the government is facilitating humanitarian assistance through Omanthai checkpoint ­- the crossing point between government-controlled territory and the area held by the LTTE. This aid is desperately needed but humanitarian agencies operating in the area have voiced serious concerns that if the conflict continues displaced civilians will face greater hardship.

Amnesty International has established that around a third of the displaced families were forced to live in the open air with no shelter. Many could not receive food, tarpaulin for temporary shelters and fuel because of a lack of access to LTTE-controlled areas and restrictions on goods going through Omanthai.  The lack of adequate privacy for women and girls has led to an increase in reports of sexual and gender-based violence.

The displacement of civilians increased dramatically in July, with 14,000 new families made homeless. As of 7 August, government figures indicate that the overall number of displaced people is between 150,000 and 160,000.

August 18, 2008

What is the future of Sri Lanka?

By Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole

This is the full text of a speech delivered on Aug 17th 2008 at a seminar organized by the Canadians for peace in Toronto.It was chaired by Mr. Ratnam Ganesh:

Chairman Sir, Mr. John Argue of AI, Ladies and Gentlemen: Good evening.

Thank you, Canadians for Peace and sponsors for the kind invitation to speak this evening. When the invitation came from Chelian, I recalled the advice of one of my old batch mates who had been my room-mate when we were undergraduates. He said to me "Do you think we do not know all that you talk about publicly. The only thing you accomplish is bringing your family and yourself into trouble. It is better to look after your family and be safe." What he meant is that any reasonable peace loving Tamil who gives voice to his views is slandered, vilified and demonized by the Tamil right. Mr. V. Anandasangaree, Ketheesh Loganathan, and Neelan Tiruchelvam have suffered this fate. Likewise, on the Sinhalese side we see the same thing happening to Elmore Perera, Rohan Edirisinghe, Jayadeva Uyangoda and Jehan Perera. Their stories will tell us what happens to those who refuse to conform with the right.

My room-mate might well be accurate – that most Tamils know what is wrong but keep quiet because of safety issues. But then, as we remain quiet, there is a presumption that we all agree with what is happening. Our silence leads to the presumption of our assent; of our consent. As I was wondering, calls from my friend Janaki Balakrishnan and my relative Ellalan Rajasingham clinched the matter. I agreed and here I am.

According to the letter I got from Chelian, there is a four-fold purpose to this meeting:

1. Condemning the planned bombings in southern Sri Lanka targeting innocent people.

2. Condemning the killings of innocent people in Sri Lanka and the deprivation of their rights by the Sri Lankan Government.

3. Urging a well-deserved, respectable and reasonable political solution to the Muslim people of Sri Lanka. And

4. In order to stop all murders, kidnappings, human rights violations and the ongoing atrocious war completely, urging that all minorities of Sri Lanka should be offered a respectable, reasonable political solution.

I cannot agree more and would add a fifth: The political murders of people like Ketheesh Loganathan, Neelan Tiruchelevan and the 2 to 3 persons who are bumped off every day in the North-East ought to cease.

I am all for peace. Indeed who is not except for arms dealers and those seeking political asylum? To some, peace lies only in victory. So let us be sure about what I mean by peace. I am for a peaceful situation where every Sri Lankan is free to seek his freedom, well-being and development while respecting the rights of others to the same.

To be sure, peace is not antithetical to separation. It is possible to have separate geographical units where the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims pursue their own well-being without clashing with the other communities.

Chairman Sir, it is a great pity that there is no Sinhalese or Muslim person here with us among the speakers today. To bring peace to Sri Lanka, a lot needs to be done. There are things to be done by Muslims; things to be done by Tamils; and most importantly, things to be done by the Sinhalese – for in Sri Lanka's uneven polity, it is you, the Sinhalese, who hold the keys to power and therefore the keys to a solution. I dare say that if the Sinhalese polity – we Tamils are not part of it – wishes to, peace can be restored right away through a just settlement. Simply implement the thirteenth amendment and the reasonable use of Tamil law, and the cry for Eelam will for the large part vanish. Does anyone here argue that we Tamils made a grave error in sabotaging the Indo-Lanka Accord and that if we had accepted it, we will not be in this sorry plight today?

What the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils ought to do, must come from within to be effective. In the absence of Sinhalese and Muslim speakers today, I do not wish to be telling them what they ought to do. For it would seem provocative, if not condemnatory. It must be left for another day, another meeting, where there are Sinhalese and Muslim speakers. It is after all, pretty obvious to any outside observer that a just settlement is easily accomplished through devolution. It is clear to me that some form of separation is the only answer. We Tamils and Sinhalese – and Muslims too – are fighting over – fighting for – the same things. We need our own territories where we can decide our matters by ourselves. Such territorial division is good for all of us, be it through federalism or outright separation.

But such separation is obviously not going to be given by the Sinhalese as is obvious from the sorry state of the All Party Representative Committee and its ever "soon-to-be-released" recommendations. And indeed the Tigers are incapable of winning Eelam through military might. So as things are, unless something gives, we Tamils are due for some kind of homogenization, not separation of any sort.

I propose to use the few minutes allocated to me here today to address the matter from a Tamil perspective. I speak as a Tamil. Let there be no doubt that there are good peace-loving Sinhalese just as there are good peace-loving Tamils and peace-loving Muslims. Some of them are here today. But like us peace-loving Tamils, most peace-loving Sinhalese and Muslims are also quiet so as not to get into trouble. Of what good are we when we take no risks for what we believe in? This is why the Sinhalese right and the Tamil right – despite the verbiage of socialism and democracy that both pretend to – have been able to hijack our peoples and be able to claim to speak for us all.

I worked for 10 years in Sri Lanka before I had to flee for dear life in fear of Tamil guns. Indeed one morning when I came to my office after a lecture, a CID officer was waiting for me. He identified himself as part of a team that tracks the Sihala Urumaya. He cautioned me that their information from Urumaya meetings was that I was a target. He gave me numbers to call in case I saw anything unusual. So I had good Sinhalese friends and good Sinhalese indeed there are. But of what good are good people when they are powerless against evil? In those 10 years I saw no change of heart. I saw hatred from those in power – be they Tamil or Sinhalese, be they armed or holding administrative positions. Of what good are the majority when they are silent? The same goes for the Tamil majority too.

The Sinhalese ruling clique's mood is to crush the LTTE. Then, upon crushing the LTTE, they say, that all will be right and we Tamils will enjoy democracy. The kind of democracy we will enjoy can be seen in what is happening in the East – more colonization, new Buddhist temples sprouting up everywhere, vote-rigging, more Sinhalesization, etc. When I was on the UGC, there was a proposal to have a massive infusion of money into South Eastern University [sic.]. Billions of rupees were to be poured in. It is officially a national university but understood to be a Muslim university. The suggestion for the expansion came from the ministry. But we of the UGC had to initiate it officially. We enthusiastically supported it. We believed that aid to develop one of the least developed parts of Sri Lanka was a great idea and that economic activity would grow around the university. We proposed the plan. But today, after the liberation of the East, the report is that the new class would consist almost 40% of Sinhalese. Another proposal would merge the Tamil Eastern University with South Eastern University. Why? It is no accident that our UGC began a medical faculty for Eastern University and those seats are a prize. Parallel to these goings-on, Muslim home-guards who worked for the so-called liberation of the East have been assaulted and disarmed now that their usefulness is over and they could become an obstacle to Sinhalesization.

In this gloomy scenario it is tempting for us Tamils to opt for complete separation – Eelam – as the easy way out. But it is not that simple. Can we Tamils really achieve Eelam? I do not think so for three major reasons.

1) Reason 1, we Tamils have lost the moral high ground and with it the world's sympathies. In 1983 we were the abused people. We evoked sympathy. Since then we are also known for the massacre of civilians such as at Anuradhapura, Temple of the Tooth, Gonagala, and so on. We also have engaged in genocide by evicting Muslims from our midst in the North and slaughtering Muslims at prayer in Katankudi and massacring Muslim villagers including babies. We Tamils are believed to be among the leading drugs smugglers and credit card fraudsters of the world. We rig elections and are so fascist that no Tamil has the democratic right to disagree with our leadership. Our cry for freedom rings hollow. Who would want to support such a community? How can
Eelam be established if there is no country prepared to recognize it?

2) Reason 2, because of our terror tactics such as our massacres and bombs in buses and public places, we have acquired the reputation of terrorists. On hearing that we are Tamil, my wife's professor remarked "Ah so you are the naughty ones!" What shame! In the Post 9/11 period, we who employ terrorist techniques are simply persona non grata in much of the world.

Permit me a slight diversion at this point. I grew up in an Anglican vicarage and have been privy to things of a human nature that many of you are not. When I was in grade 4 or 5 – I cannot remember exactly – a woman member of our parish came distraught and crying early one morning in disheveled night clothes. She charged that she had been beaten up by her husband. A few minutes later her husband came bicycling to our house, the vicarage. Very angry with his wife, he demanded of my father, "Father, if a wife will not obey, what is there to do except beat her?" I do not know what happened after that as my father took them both into his room for good advice and prayers I suppose.

But this I remember – that he so intensely believed in his logic and I laughed at the man in my mind and still do although he was so sure of himself. Many of us Tamils are just like that man. We argue that when the Sinhalese drop bombs on us, our children, our schools and our churches and temples, we are justified in placing bombs in their buses. We are adamantly sure of how right we are. Likewise the Sinhalese seem to think that when we Tamils will not obey, the only solution is to bomb us into submission. Like that husband, we are so sure of that logic. What we sadly do not know is that the whole world outside is disconnected from our thinking and laughs at us.

To those who are still not convinced, I refer you to the paper by Ivan Arreguin-Toft, Research Fellow in the International Security Program at Harvard. He has shown that war crime doesn't pay: barbarism increases the costs and risks of military operations, and poisons chances for peaceful post-war occupation and development.

Let there be no mistake. Our attitude, our barbarism, will lead to the annihilation of many and probably the total destruction of Tamils as a people in Sri Lanka. The logic of numbers, resources, time and power is on the Sinhalese side.

Let me also be clear that bombing the LTTE into extinction is no solution either. The LTTE may be obliterated but without a political solution the reasons that caused the LTTE will still be there and give rise to another version of the LTTE. Indeed, a government that claims to bomb us to save us from the LTTE and give us democracy, cannot bomb the very people it claims to want to save into refugee camps, if not into total annihilation. Further, to Tamil dissidents who have been hunted by the LTTE, I say this: The right to life of everyone has to be respected including the right to life of LTTE members, not just our rights, the rights of those targeted by the LTTE. Moreover, many in the LTTE, though misguided, are genuinely for the cause of freedom. The solution is in their rehabilitation from their destructive zeal.

Remember especially that we who cry foul when children and even adults are forced to bear arms for the LTTE, cannot in the same breath rejoice when they are annihilated. An estimate has it that 30% of forced conscripts are already dead.

3) Returning to the reasons why Eelam is not possible, reason 3, is that after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, India is totally opposed to any Tamil state. Even Tamil Nadu seems disinterested. Mr. Muthuvel Karunanithy, the Chief Minister, composed his ode to the late Thamilchlevan and made many of us think that he is going to support Eelam again. But I have it on reliable authority that after composing that poem, he had told a Tamil lobbyist that his priority is to get development for Tamil Nadu from the Centre without dissipating his influence arguing with the Centre for Tamil rights in Sri Lanka.

There are lesser reasons why Eelam is not possible. I need not enumerate or go into them here. The point I wish to make is what was taught to me in my Economics course as an undergraduate – the Theorem of the Second Best. We were taught this theorem by Tilak Ratnakara of the LSE. By the way, his economics made good sense but not his anti federal diversions during his lectures. This theorem states that where the best is not attainable, spend your finances and energies usefully by working for the second best. To explain in simple terms, a poor homeless man from Sri Lanka may think that a palace in Beverly Hills is the best. It is an impossible dream. If the poor man waits until he has saved enough to build that palace, he would still be working for that at the end of his life without a roof over his head. But if he dreams of what can be achieved, say a simple decent house in Sri Lanka, and works towards that, there is much better hope that he can achieve it and it is likely that he will spend the last years of his life in that house in some comfort. In this context of the achievable, a decent house in Sri Lanka becomes the best. For this reason alone I am all for a negotiated federal set-up. Then there are other reasons too that would make what is the second best to the Eelamist really the best:

1) Eelam can come only through war and war means many deaths

2) A federal deal avoids the trauma that would be caused to mixed populations in border areas and allows Tamils who prefer living in the South to choose to do so and vice versa. This is of immense importance to Estate Tamils. If we are truly for Tamil freedom, we must give choices to our people.

3) A federal deal would avoid the ruination of Tamils living in the South, especially the many Tamils who have investments in the South. Eelam means that the multimillions in new flats in Colombo might have to be sold in fire sales as happened after the 1983 riots which probably in monetary terms were of higher value than the properties that were destroyed.

4) A negotiated federal settlement would give us Tamils most of what we want.

5) A settlement keeps open the possibility of mutually beneficial engagement with the Sinhalese.

6) A settlement avoids the continuing climate of war, associated with separation, as a result of a long border.

Surely many of us know that these things are necessary corollaries of Eelam. To right thinking people – especially Tamils in Sri Lanka – these are really important things to think about. Any Tamil who says these are but trivial excuses against Eelam, I dare say, is an expatriate who has nothing to lose, has all his properties in Toronto, New York, London, Sydney and places, and wants to act out his dream of being a little "Kattai Pomman." To those who do not know, Kattai Pomman was a Tamil bandit (or kollaikaaran in Tamil reports) in India who defied the British by not paying taxes and was celebrated as a hero-king of the Pandiyan dynasty in a movie where Sivaji Ganeshan played Veera Pandiya Kattai Pomman.

Let us then agree on a negotiated federal set up as the best solution. But then is that going to happen? Given the present mood of the Sinhalese and their confidence they can defeat the LTTE and given the historical legacy of reneged deals, I can hear some of you of saying, "A negotiated federal arrangement is also an impossible thing."

You may well be right. I see no mood among the Sinhalese to cede anything to us. After all, what has the dilatory APRC offered us? Good Sinhalese there are, but they are irrelevant in the present political order. These good people today are overwhelmed by the forces that march inexorably to crush the Tamil people into submission. In the process of being politely mindful of the sensibilities of good Sinhalese, we sometimes fail to see the enormity, the evil, of the Sri Lankan state.

Should we then look for a third scenario? Alas, the only third best thing that I see is our losing the war and being assimilated. But thank God for small mercies, assimilation preserves lives. After all, the right to life is higher than the right to language and culture and must be respected as such. It is important not to lose sight of this reality and be carried away by heroic words.

Veerapandiya Kattaipomman said "Thooku Medai, Panju Meththai" – that is, the hangman's gallows are like a comfortable cotton mattress. We do not even know if he really said that but that is what Sivaji Ganeshan says in the movie as Veerapandiya Kattaipomman. We in Sri Lanka then, carried away by his bravado shortly after the movie was screened in Jaffna, chanted "Thooku Medai, Panju Meththai" during the Satyagraha protests in 1961 and ran away as soon as the Sinhalese police rained their blows on us. Similarly in 1976 our late leader Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanaygam moved the Vaddukoddai resolution for Eelam. Words that our leaders meant as a negotiating position were believed by the youth. We got carried away by our words. On top of all this, Mr. V. Pirabakaran has said that even if one person survives the ongoing war for that person's eyes to see Eelam, then the war and all the attendant sacrifices would have been worth it.

Let us not be carried away by words like these meant for political speeches. I would rather live than die for one person to see Eelam. After all, the right to life is far higher than the right to culture. It is the highest of the human rights given in any of the instruments. Let us not fool ourselves – we would all choose to live rather than die for earthly things. With life, we can at least have hope to live life the way we want to live it. For those of us who like to live the way we choose, be it as a Tamil Hindu or Christian or as a Muslim, death as a choice is unacceptable.

So in summary, Eelam through war is an impossible goal. Federalism through negotiations seems extremely unlikely given Sinhalese intransigence and a seeming self-perceived God-given right to rule over Tamils. And the third choice is to be assimilated – a horrible choice for any Tamil who values and wants his cultural rights and wishes to live peacefully in Sri Lanka as a Tamil.

In my mind it is clear that all peace loving Sri Lankans ought to work for the second best, the negotiated federal settlement. In the current set up, as remarked earlier, it is not going to come of its own. The government by bombing us to save us has lost its right to rule us. So also the LTTE for robbing us of all freedoms while claiming to fight for our freedoms. Our activities must therefore be directed towards peace through federalism through third parties with power.

Speaking for myself, the only way in which I see that happening, is through foreign mediation. The international community must force a settlement upon the Sri Lankan government. I see three things as necessary for that to happen and without these there will be a serious impediment to any foreign mediation. First, we Tamils need to renounce our violent and undemocratic ways of the past and present, and demonstrate that when we talk of freedom, we really mean it and would give our fellow Tamil citizens the freedom to make choices, including choosing our representatives. We need to renounce terrorism and assassinations. When Tamil leaders refuse to give freedom to Tamils, what indeed is the basis for asking for freedom for ourselves within the Sri Lankan polity?

The second thing that ought to happen concerns India. As long as a Tamil government (whether federal or separate) means an LTTE government, there is no way in which India will countenance it. And without India's blessings, no other member of the international community would want to become a player in Sri Lankan affairs. For India is far more important to the West than the Sinhalese or the Tamils or the Muslims of Sri Lanka. Our leaders like Mr. R. Sambanthan, Mr. Mavai Senathirajah and Mr. S. Sivajilingam, all three good men who at one time demonstrated stern hearts and a strong love for their people, are today unable to speak of one half of the atrocities that we Tamil people face. It is because they live in fear. I am however aware that they make their views known as best as they can in the Vanni. They will need to lead again if we are ever to overcome this problem of Indian refusal to deal with us when we are represented by the LTTE. As the only leaders with the ability to have a conversation with the LTTE, they have much to offer in gently displacing the LTTE or persuading them to reconcile with India. I hope that when the need arises they will act with the courage they are capable of.

If India can be brought around through Tamils eating humble pie and turning a new leaf, India can be a force for the good of the Sinhalese and the Tamils. India can guarantee a settlement. A guarantor with strength and the willingness to use that strength is a must. In the days of our gentlemen leaders like SJV Chelvanayagam, the Sinhalese cheated many times – the BC Pact, the DC Bill, etc. But today, we Tamils also cheat – recall that according to the Scandinavian monitors of the 2002 cease-fire, it is the Tamil side that cheated most. Things are not so one-sided as we Tamils make out. Recall that in 2000 Chandrika presented a settlement which was an important step towards federalism. With support from Tamils there was a good chance of pushing it through. Although privately TULF politicians from Joseph Pararajasingam to R. Sambanthan wanted it to go through they did not dare to support it because of the LTTE threat. Mr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and Mr. A. Thangathurai who worked for it were murdered. Recall also that we almost had federalism under the Oslo Accord and then the LTTE stopped talking. Three years ago the government was prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate the LTTE despite growing Sinhalese fears, but the LTTE was not interested in getting anything for the people, and only in preparing for war. Even as the LTTE was attending peace talks, I am personally aware that they were publicly promising the final war in public speeches in Jaffna.

So even the Sinhalese can justly say that the Tamil side sabotages peace and cheats. We Tamils, with a self-serving mind-set, believe that we are always right and the Sinhalese are always wrong. The fact is that we both have sabotaged peace. So a strong guarantor is a must to make any agreement stick. Other countries of the international community such as Canada, the EU and Japan, can play a role in overcoming Sinhalese fears over India siding with the Tamils. India, with a natural interest in the security of the region, can invest troops in a realistic way to guarantee peace and deter anyone who dares cheat. And Indian trade along with deals with other members of the international community can develop all the federal states in a negotiated set-up with the associated trade benefits to India too.

And the third thing that ought to happen for international mediation is that the expatriate Tamil role must be based on what is good for the Tamils in Sri Lanka and not based on expatriate ego trips that make us living abroad feel-good as little Kattai Pommans. In the past expatriate Tamil meddling has been confined to funding, to angry speeches about the Sinhalese, and to vilifying through slander in their websites those Tamils in Sri Lanka who offer any alternative leadership. But just this July 24, a major departure was when Tamils joined Burmese dissidents and demonstrated against Sri Lanka and China in commemoration of the 1983 riots. Naturally the leaders of the Ilankai Tamil Sangam, cautious of the recent arrests of Tamils for promoting terrorism, carefully kept out of it. These people who commit our brethren in Sri Lanka to war and death, will not even put out their own names in public! They were fronted by an organization called PEARL by their children. PEARL stands for "People for Equality and Relief in Lanka". These children are often uncomfortable with children brought up in Sri Lanka. Do they have empathy? Do they really recognize the powers they are dealing with and the calamities that can be visited on our people by angering China? Demonstrating against Sri Lanka is one thing but China? Enough damage has already been done by angering India over the Rajiv Gandhi matter. We do not need more enemies. I put it to you that their demonstration did not benefit our brethren in Sri Lanka one iota. It might, however, have helped to build up some résumés for those at PEARL. The test for anything we do here must be this: Does it help our people at home?

Speaking strictly for myself, I find being in an Indian orbit preferable to annihilation during an unwinnable war or assimilation following inevitable defeat. After all, India's is a stable democracy with genuine elections with no rigging in the form of preventing people from voting and stuffing ballot boxes. Hers is an independent judiciary where the Chief Justice does not serve at the pleasure of the President to stave off impeachment. Her civil service is professional and independent. So even if a crazy fellow wants to do something bad to us when we are under Indian rule, it would be well nigh impossible. I think even the Sinhalese would be better off under India than under Sri Lanka's terribly flawed democracy.

However, there have been some troubling signs of Indian capital moving in to exploit the deprivation of Tamil rights. The people of Sampoor were shelled out by the government which declared it a "High Security Zone" and India is now building a coal power station there. It is good for us to have healthier ties with India on equitable terms but not on terms where Indian capital would act with less restraint than at home and our people are even more at the receiving end. To address this we need a new Tamil leadership with credibility through even handedness that can influence India positively. We need leaders India can talk to.

After this history no one is ready to listen to us Tamils and we as Tamils are not sure what we want. Adding to the tragedy, the expatriate Tamils had an important voice. Those who were clear that the LTTE cannot work for a solution were silenced. Through the 1990sTamil lobbies were backed by LTTE supporters and persons of no little influence like C.J. Eliezer and a host of university academics, doctors and leading professionals. These people were blindly one-sided and did not want to see that good politics, successful politics, needs the accommodation of the needs and fears of the Sinhalese and Muslims. Instead they gave excuses for anything we did including the massacres and expulsion of Muslims. In time influential foreigners started seeing us as liars, terrorists or the political equivalent of a mad religious sect. Now their influence – our influence as Tamils – is negative as seen by many of these people having fallen silent.

How then do we reassert ourselves to invite foreign intervention without the negative effects of free capital? Was not all this enthusiasm a great waste? We could have achieved much more if we had built up a credible Tamil voice that could challenge the government and restrain the excesses of the LTTE. Now as the LTTE seems weak, the voices critical of the LTTE are louder. Unfortunately many of them through their bitter experience want the LTTE finished off and are not concerned about what happens to the people. We can never tolerate civilians being bombed and shelled indiscriminately and confined to abject conditions in refugee camps with no schooling for the children. No government would have dared to do this to the Sinhalese. Nor could we tolerate the LTTE using the people held as prisoners under it to forcibly fight the brunt of its war or the government indulging in systematic targeted killings. What the Tamil expatriates need now is to build up a credible voice. Is it too much to ask people to think back on the mistakes made all these years? Not only are those supporting the LTTE guilty of sectarianism, but so also those who rightly saw where the LTTE was taking the people and yet remained silent. We have unwanted divisions, which is understandable. But do we also need scurrilous guerrilla attacks on our web sites? If we are to do any good to the people at home, we need to start acting responsibly.

This brings me to the question posed in the flier for this meeting: "What is the future for Sri Lanka?" I think there are presently only 2 possibilities. Either we Tamils lose out and in the long term are assimilated; or alternatively we turn our backs on our fascist past, and woo the International Community, particularly India, into imposing a just settlement. I pray it is the latter and not the former.

(Prof. S. RATNAJEEVAN H. HOOLE holds D.Sc. (Eng.) London, Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University, M.Sc. with a Mark of Distinction from London offered jointly through Imperial College and Queen Mary College, and B.Sc. Eng. Hons. from the University of Sri Lanka, Katubedde Campus. Dr. Hoole is the Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka while seconded from his position as Senior Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. On special leave, he is presently a Fellow of the Scholar Rescue Fund, Institute of International Education, UN Plaza, New York and a Visiting Professor at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA.)


War, Peace & Relations Across Palk Straits

By Col. R. Hariharan (retd)

The Eelam War is entering the messy phase. During the last two weeks, in Mannar sector the security forces have progressed up to Mulankavil (southeast of Nachikuda on the Mannar coast) on A32 road to Pooneryn. They are leaning on lineTunukkai-Mallavi, West of Mankulam on A9 highway increasing the threat to Pooneryn and Kilinochchi defences of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This should put the LTTE in a dilemma as the security forces have two options to strike, along A32 to Pooneryn with holding operations along Tunukkai-Uyilankulam/ Mallavi, or progress in the other way round to threaten Kilinochchi. Both are viable as they have another task force guarding their eastern flank of 57 Division operating closer to A9.


 

[Sri Lanka Army, in Wanni-pic:SLA]

On the Welioya sector, though 59 Division has managed to capture Andankulam base its progress into the Tiger heartland north and west of Mullaitivu could get sticky due to the terrain that eats up troops.

These operations have amply demonstrated how the security forces are overcoming their weaknesses on three difficult aspects; higher coordination of war involving multiple formations, effective use of commandos in tandem with conventional operations, and retaining military initiative at all times.

On the negative side, as the security forces progress further into the LTTE areas, the lines of communication become stretched, they would become vulnerable to determined LTTE interdiction or even blocks. Much would depend upon Prabhakaran's ability to motivate the cadres and the ability of the security forces not be destabilised by such operations. One can expect the security forces to have contingency plan for such a development.

 

[Col. R. Hariharan, at a symposium in Colombo, Aug 2007]

Whether one believes in the huge number of casualties of the put out daily by the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence or not, the writing on the wall would be clear to the insurgent group. Time is running out for it to hold on to its conventional capability. In war, time is the only resource available equally to both the victor and the vanquished. If at all the LTTE has to do anything to stem the tide of the security force eating into its vitals, it has to do it now. Overall, on both sectors the progress is going to be messy and slower, with the monsoon also making life more difficult for both the forces.

The non-military issue that could upset the security forces advance is the flow of refugees going out of control when they move in to the more inhabited areas closer to Kilinochchi, Mankulam and Pooneryn. The security forces had managed to avoid this so far in the Mannar sector by patiently investing or by passing small towns (as seen in Adampan operations). That might not be possible unless they streamline a policy on handling the large outflow of population expected to spill over on axes of advance when the operations are joined in. There will also be the huge burden of logistics to control and care for the civilians. These are the known fall outs of war that cannot be wished away. (That is what makes war a non-option.)

Relations across the Palk Strait

A few days back when India's National Security Advisor MK Narayanan told The Straits Times interviewer that the Sri Lankan government should get the Tamil population on their side to succeed there was a mild flutter in Colombo. In the midst of a winning war, brand marketed as the Liberation of the People, Narayanan's remark "The (Sri Lanka Army) has made a lot of progress in the last few weeks. But even if they win the battle I am not sure they will win the war. I think they haven't got the Tamil population on their side," probably grated the official stand of Colombo on the war.

He did not underestimate Colombo's reaction to his statement. "I know the Sri Lankan government will be unhappy (at this advice) but we are not interested in preaching to them and that is the best advice they could get. India can give this advice better than the Norwegians or any other country. These are people that we know, we understand. Do they want a situation like many countries have faced?" he added.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa had his own view on the subject. Speaking to The Times, London three days later, he said peace in Sri Lanka would return only if Tamil rebels were destroyed completely. "You can't just push them into the jungles and wait. You have to search for them and completely eradicate them. Only then can peace come," he explained further.

The two statements indicate the differing perceptions of India and Sri Lanka on the war going on against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka.

India had been consistent on three issues in its cyclical interest, involvement, and intervention in Sri Lanka Tamil issue. They are, no support to independent Tamil Eelam, support for Sri Lanka's sovereignty, and the devolution of powers to Sri Lanka Tamils as the key to solve the Tamil issue. MK Narayanan's statement basically conforms to this pattern, though with a little generosity his wording might be called plain speaking. Even the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "stuck to the traditional Indian stand that Sri Lanka should work out a formula which allows for maximum devolution of power to the ethnic Tamils in the north of the island country," during his recent visit to Colombo to attend the SAARC s summit, as a news report from Colombo stated.

Most of the Sri Lanka watchers (including this author) would agree with the National Security Advisor's assessment of the Sri Lanka situation: "What the Sri Lankans are not factoring in is the great deal of sullenness in the Tamil man. There are accusations of profiling even in Colombo. Our argument is: unless you give Tamils a feeling they have the right to their own destiny in many matters you will not succeed. LTTE's capacity to carry out terrorist attacks is not diminished. What we are telling them is, get the Tamils on your side by greater devolution of power. For them to be part of Sri Lankan state, they need the huge Tamil minority on their side."

In essence, Narayanan's statement does not question the legitimacy of Sri Lanka's war against the LTTE, but the overall objective of the war. President Rajapaksa's government has repeatedly given an impression that once the LTTE is vanquished it would be all smooth sailing with the Tamil population automatically joining the democratic mainstream. The Sri Lanka Defence Secretary's statement quoted earlier reinforces this impression yet again. It appears to identify the LTTE as the problem, rather than as the manifestation of the problem. And that is the difference between the perceptions of India and Sri Lanka.

A second aspect is the popular aspiration for peace. Surveys indicate increasing public support for war in Sri Lanka. But this increased support has two elements: battles are being won, and people are nursing increased expectations of permanent peace at the end of the war. End objective of war makes a lot of difference to people's expectations. Peoples' expectations of permanent peace are unlikely to be met unless there is a matching process of devolution of powers to the Tamils. This simple truth appears to have been wished away in Sri Lanka at present. The holding of elections for the eastern provincial council offered a very good opportunity to the government to demonstrate its faith in devolving limited powers envisaged in the 13th amendment. Unfortunately, even that has not been done so far, and the process still remains a promise in print only.

Presence of a small number of highly motivated terrorists can cause havoc to the normal life of the people as amply demonstrated by the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists in India for sometime now. A small number of them managed to carry serial blasts in a number of cities across the country despite the police and security apparatus of over 12 states coming into play. This should hold an abject lesson for Sri Lanka. If the LTTE is routed and driven out of areas under its control (as total 'elimination' of any insurgent force might take years), a large segment of it will take to terrorist attacks across the country.

This is a clear if we look at the long history of the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka. To convert the entire history of Tamil struggle into a simple equation of war against the LTTE might win some votes in Southern Sri Lanka, but it would not eliminate the Tamil political and militancy problems, though they may not continue in the same form or content as at present.

Notwithstanding these differences in perceptions on the Tamil issue, India and Sri Lanka appear to have a clear understanding of the political compulsions behind their conduct. This has helped them to focus on the positives and not to overplay the differences. This is evident from Gotabaya Rajapaksa's comments given in another interview to an Indian news agency on Narayanan's statement.

Rather than criticising Narayanan, he lamented about Sri Lanka's limitations in convincing others about its intentions. "The only area where we have failed is to show our genuineness, to convince the outsiders, about our sincerity in resolving the problem. In action we have proved it. Unfortunately, we are not good at propaganda. If Tamils indeed are not with us, then it is our weakness." This statement appears to have chosen to ignore the whole point mad by MK Narayanan. It was much more than propaganda, it was about belief. The defence secretary's statement may be called over simplification of not only a complex issue.

The Sri Lanka government is fully aware that it needs Indian government's support even to complete its current military mission. India is extending vital support for the war effort by continuing with tough security measures in Tamil Nadu where a number of LTTE supply modules continue to be busted. This should indicate to Colombo that regardless of nuances of rhetoric, India's policy has been consistent. The defence secretary also acknowledged this with the words that Narayanan "only put in different words what our President has been saying, that we need to defeat terrorism but the (ethnic) problem needs to be resolved (politically)." The Defence Secretary took consolation in two positive aspects he saw in Narayanan's statement: he had said the military was winning, and he did not say that Sri Lank should talk to the LTTE.

This convergence and confusion in view points of India and Sri Lanka will continue till the President is dependent upon right wing Sinhala support. This section of Sinhala polity has survived by building up the so called "Dravidastan" bogey of Tamil Nadu together with the LTTE gobbling up parts of Sri Lanka. The thought of Dravidastan has been shunted to historical irrelevance in Tamil Nadu, which has become a vital development engine in the national mainstream. And the faster the President gets rid of this right wing dependency the better it would be for his government, the people of Sri Lanka, and for India-Sri Lanka relations.

(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)

August 16, 2008

I.D.P.'s in North face humanitarian catastrophe

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

“Humanitarian catastrophe” was the description given by the so-called international media when the Caucasian conflict began displacing people.

Initially it was a humanitarian catastrophe only to Russian and other pro-Moscow media when 34,000 people became Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) due to Georgia’s military adventure.

Thereafter, when Moscow commenced military action and the IDP numbers touched six digits, the US and other Western media began focusing on what they termed as a humanitarian catastrophe.

There was a time (of idealist hope) when we of the developing world tried hard to establish a new information order as a forerunner to a new economic order. All hopes turned into dupes and the envisaged new ‘orders’ remain mirages.

Thus the Caucasian conflict with its underlying ramifications hogs the spotlight in a West-dominated, US-Euro centric media sphere.

 

[A steady stream of people were fleeing the conflict zone. Russian authorities estimated that 34,000 refugees had crossed the border ~ Zurab Kurtsikidze/European Pressphoto Agency]

Deafening silence

The IDP phenomenon in the Caucasus region receives much attention while equally or worse situations elsewhere in the world are virtually ignored, a case in point being the IDP crisis unfolding in the northern mainland of Sri Lanka known as the Wanni.

More than 150,000 people have been displaced, nearly half this number in the month of July alone. Yet there is scant mention of this ongoing tragedy in the global media. No reference to a “humanitarian catastrophe” here.
We in Sri Lanka have been afflicted with this IDP tragedy for decades due to the ongoing war between the Sri Lankan Government armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Currently this brutal war is being waged in the Wanni. The arena of conflict is the territory that was/is under LTTE control.
The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is determined to defeat and dislodge the LTTE from areas dominated by it. The Tigers are equally determined to defend these areas and are resisting defiantly.

Positional warfare is all about acquiring and retaining territory. Thus, media attention is focused on areas won and areas lost.
This excessive focus on military manoeuvres has resulted in the plight of the civilians being ignored, overlooked or marginalised.
Mainstream historical accounts regale us about who won or lost and how battles were fought but are silent on the experiences undergone by ordinary people during times of war.

Of course, there are attempts now to rectify this situation by those who subscribe to a subaltern perspective of history. Still it is to literature that we must turn to if we want to know and understand what happened to the civilian population in the past when war was conducted in the name of “state, nation and religion.”

 

[IDPs fleeing war in Wanni]

Civilian predicament

There is an African saying about how grasshoppers get crushed even when elephants frolic about in the grass making love. If tiny insects are killed during times of elephantine love-making, then what is their position when pachyderms make war?
Likewise, what is the position of the ‘small people’ when mighty military machines clash? This is what is happening in the Wanni now.

At one level the armed forces advance triumphantly with the LTTE retreating ignominiously. On another level there is a corresponding mass-movement of displaced civilians. There are both ecstasy and agony!
If the military triumph ascends upward to an ecstatic zenith, the civilian predicament descends downward to a nadir of agony.
The armed forces are making rapid strides on the west of the A9 Highway or Kandy-Jaffna Road. Advances are also being made in the east of the A9 in the Manal Aaru / Weli Oya sector.

The area of control enjoyed by the LTTE is steadily shrinking in size. Militarily this is a welcome development to Colombo. But there is another side to this. The ‘captive’ civilian population is also getting ‘boxed in’ with the LTTE.
In a situation where the LTTE is inextricably intertwined with the civilian population like ‘fish in an ocean,’ the chances of civilians suffering collateral damage are very high.

The Tigers, on the other hand, are not known to be overly protective of civilians. While claiming to fight on their behalf, the LTTE has often callously exposed civilians to danger.
These incidents are then highlighted to seek sympathy from the Tamil diaspora and also for propaganda purposes against the government.

The government in turn adopts a two-fold approach. It accuses the LTTE of using civilians as a human shield. At times the government also denies these charges and points the finger at the LTTE saying this is part of Tiger misinformation and disinformation.
In recent times the government’s response to problems faced by civilians is conditioned by a strong attitude of hostility.

[Displaced tot-pic: tro kilinochchi]

Intolerance

The government opines that it is marching to victory over the LTTE. It suspects that there are forces planning to stop that march by pinpointing the civilian plight. So it is rather intolerant about representations made on behalf of civilians.
Attempts are being made to ‘pooh-pooh’ reports about the civilian predicament and describe efforts in that direction as Tiger propaganda. This, however, cannot obliterate the fact that civilians are getting displaced in large numbers and that an IDP crisis is unfolding in the Wanni.

With large regions of the Wanni being in perpetual flux, reliable, up-to-date IDP statistics are hard to come by. The UNCR website, for instance, has not updated figures after June 30.
Under these circumstances, the relatively latest and comparatively reliable figures are those released by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Sri Lanka Country Team (a collective of humanitarian organisations active in Sri Lanka).

In its latest situation report (No. 138) for the period July 31 to August 7, the IASC states that there are 112,019 IDPs from 27,562 families in Kilinochchi District; 31,080 persons from 8,917 families in Mullaitivu District; 8,054 persons from 2,696 families in Mannar District; 18,403 IDPs from 5,199 families in Vavuniya District; and 20, 736 persons from 6,129 families in Jaffna District.

Of these, the Jaffna District IDPs and the bulk of Mannar-Vavuniya District IDPs are in government-controlled areas.
There is, however, a distinct attribute peculiar perhaps to those living in the Wanni. According to NGO personnel with work experience in the Wanni, almost all the people there have at some time or the other been displaced from their homes.

Many have been displaced on more than one occasion. Even those who have been residing in their own homes have been temporarily displaced at times. Likewise, many people who have lived in places for years as permanent residents were at one time IDPs.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that all civilians in LTTE-controlled Wanni have been IDPs at some time or the other.
There is also the fact that thousands of people displaced by war and the tsunami were classified as IDPs prior to the current upheaval. Thus we have a situation of ‘old’ and ‘new’ IDPs in the Wanni.

Another sad aspect about recent dispersals is that several places regarded as havens of stability in the past are being affected. Iluppaikkadavai, Vellankulam, Mulangaavil, Thunukkaai, Mallavi, Kanakarayankulam, Mullaitivu, etc., were places providing refuge to thousands of IDP families. Now the people from these places are also on the move.

 

[Sep 2007: Internally Displaced Persons at Mullikulam at Murungan Maha Vidyalayam, Mannar district]

Situation report

The IASC situation report figures are only an indicator of the magnitude of the crisis. There has been much displacement after August 7 and it is an ongoing phenomenon. Furthermore, the exact figures of all IDPs are yet to be finalised or confirmed. It takes weeks sometimes for the ‘system’ to compile exact figures.

Besides, IDP movement is also extremely fluid depending upon threat perception and comfort levels of affected persons. The only silver lining in this dark cloud scenario seems to be the fact that most people had had enough time to move out from their homes.
As a result, many people were able to take away their important belongings as well as livestock and pets. This is a boon that has been denied to many IDPs in the past.

Still, the mass upheaval and inability of the authorities to address IDP needs quickly has deprived many of adequate shelter. Thousands are living in the open after constructing makeshift shelters.
Many converge near waterways and waterholes depending upon natural water for their needs. Firewood is collected from jungles and woods. Toilets are absent and cadjan fenced pits are used by women and the open spaces by men and children.

The problem about permanent housing and shelter is that no one is sure whether their current abodes are stable or safe. With the Army on the move and frontlines shifting rapidly, there is every chance that the people will be displaced again and again.
There is also the imperative need to provide dry rations and essentials to these IDPs. A substantial portion of these people were already classified as IDPs and were receiving aid. This distribution is now ruptured and needs to be restored to former levels as soon as possible. This does not mean that the aid received was ample or substantial.

IDPs are broadly divided into three categories and receive three types of relief assistance. One is provided by the Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES); the other is provided by the World Food Programme (WFP), and the third are recipients of Samurdhi aid. The IDPs of the Wanni do not receive Samurdhi aid.
All people classified as having been displaced before August 2006 receive CGES assistance. All people displaced after August 2006 receive WFP aid. The IDP recipients are not given cash but only rations.

Assistance

The assistance provided by the government through CGES is woefully inadequate when compared to that given through WFP. The CGES provides assistance on a per capita basis. There is a ceiling of five for a family.
Thus, a family of five on CGES assistance will get items worth Rs. 1,260 for a month. These include 10 kilogrammes of rice, six kilogrammes of flour, four kilogrammes of sugar, four boxes of matches, five toothpowder packets and five toffees.

The WFP assistance, on the other hand, is much better than what the CGES provides, though leaving much to be desired.
WFP assistance provided to each individual for a month is valued at Rs. 1,265. The dry rations given for an individual on a monthly basis are 5.6 kilogrammes rice, 5.6 kilogrammes flour, 0.56 kilogrammes sugar, 1.68 kilogrammes lentils and 0.56 litres coconut oil.

It is patently clear that an unjust anomaly exists even in the disbursement of inadequate assistance by the CGES and WFP. While the CGES gives only Rs. 1,260 worth of dry rations for a family of five per month (nothing beyond), the WFP provides an individual with Rs. 1,260 worth of items per month.
There is an urgent necessity to increase the quantum of aid provided by the CGES or bring all IDPs under the assistance of the WFP.

The government machinery in the Wanni is hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with humanitarian crises like the current upheaval. This was demonstrated during the tsunami.

One reason for this inadequacy is due to systematic neglect and step-motherly treatment by Colombo. These government departments have not been given adequate money or materials or equipment to handle such crises.
While many Tamils would point to these as further proof of how Tamil areas have been deliberately given step-motherly treatment, the government could justify its position on the basis that the LTTE would utilise enhanced facilities for their own use and not for the people’s benefit.

 

[A family clearing the jungle near Kilinochchi, to build temporary shelter-pic: tro Kilinochchi]

Challenge facing NGOs

Against this backdrop, the challenge facing various aid organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) is the logistical difficulty of supplying essentials to the IDPs without delay.
What is happening is that international organisations and NGOs are finding it difficult to cater to IDP needs adequately and speedily because of governmental restrictions.

They are unable to provide food, medicine, temporary shelter, cooking utensils, sanitary, toilet and water facilities because of limited access. The halving of fuel requirements for NGOs in the Wanni by the government is cited as an example of such restrictions.

The government suspects that the LTTE gets a lot of help from some NGOs and fears that excess supply or unlimited access to the NGOs would only help the LTTE.
In fairness to the government, its misgiving about NGOs collaborating with the LTTE is not entirely unfounded. The government on more than one occasion has revealed details about how some NGO assets and materials have been utilised by the LTTE.

Nevertheless, it is the considered opinion of this column that the government must not place obstacles in the way of humanitarian organisations attempting to help the needy displaced.

The rights of the people cannot be subordinated to those of military necessity. The ‘sins’ of a few cannot be used as an excuse to penalise all NGOs and by extension the IDPs.
It is of the utmost importance that the government removes restrictions and enables humanitarian organisations to have adequate access (with perhaps greater vigilance) to the IDPs as quickly as possible.

Unless this is done, a gigantic crisis amounting to a humanitarian catastrophe could be in the making in the Wanni. The government may find it in the unenviable position of winning a militaristic battle and losing a humanitarian war.

The government must be aware that it is adopting a contradictory and possibly conflicting approach towards the civilian population in the Wanni.
The government rationale for the current military offensive is that of liberating the Tamil civilians from the tyrannical yoke of the LTTE. The government position is that these civilians are an integral part of Sri Lanka and that its war against the LTTE is its own, internal matter.

But the problems caused by the military drive and restrictions placed on humanitarian organisations to help civilian victims run contrary to professed claims. The Tamil civilians are not being treated in practice as citizens of this country but as denizens of an alien, hostile nation.
Therein lies the contradiction between professed objective and practical implementation as far as Colombo is concerned.

Terrible oppression

Kilinochchi’s conduct towards the Tamil civilians has been callous and reprehensible.
The LTTE also claims to be waging war to liberate the Tamil people from Sinhala oppression. But in practice the Tigers have imposed terrible oppression on the Tamil people in the Wanni.
Today the LTTE project of Tamil Eelam is in shambles and the Tamil people are facing a humanitarian catastrophe. The least that the Tigers could do is to let the suffering Tamil people depart to safer areas.

Instead, what the LTTE has been doing is to direct and drive the people further into the interior of Tiger-controlled areas. This process began when the LTTE forced the IDPs housed at Madhu Church premises to move out.
Thereafter, the LTTE made sure that dispersals caused by military escalation did not result in displaced civilians moving into government-controlled areas. They were compelled to move further into LTTE areas; the notable exception being the people of Musali Division and some areas of Naanaattaan and Manthai West in Mannar District.

Presently the IDPs are moving into areas like Akkaraayan, Vannerikulam and Vannivilaankulam on the west of the A9 and to areas between Oddusuddan, Mulliyawalai and Puthukudiyiruppu, far away from government lines of control. This indicates that the LTTE intends using these helpless IDPs as some form of a human shield.
If sufficient pressure is mounted on Colombo by the Western nations and India to desist from endangering the civilians, then there is a remote possibility that a cessation of hostilities could be brought about.

This could help the tigers to freeze military positions at the current level and retain some territory. Having obtained a respite, the LTTE would be able to recoup losses and formulate fresh plans.
The government, however, is determined to pursue war relentlessly. The pursuit of war with the prospect of crushing the LTTE is the sustaining basis of this regime.
The conventional belief is that this single-minded motivation of the Rajapaksa regime is what sets it apart from previous regimes. Any perceived slowdown, therefore, could affect the very basis of its existence.

Civilian casualties

Thus, the government could disregard the ‘human shield’ deterrent and forge ahead with its military push. In that eventuality, there would be some civilian casualties and the LTTE would capitalise on that by deriving propaganda mileage.
It must be noted that civilian casualties have indeed been comparatively few in the fighting so far. Some civilians have been killed and some injured through aerial bombardment and artillery shelling.
The most notable among those sustaining injuries were Imelda Sukumar, the Mullaitivu District Government Agent and the spouse of Mullaitivu District Medical Officer Dr. M. Shanmugarajah.

The important thing is that there are practically no civilian casualties when troops advance into territory conquered after intense fighting. This is what happened in October 1987 during ‘Operation Pawan,’ when the Indian Army moved into Jaffna town.
This aspect of the fighting has not been lost sight of. Several cabinet ministers from Rohitha Bogollagama to Keheliya Rambukwella have proudly referred to the absence of civilian casualties when the armed forces capture territory.

This absence of civilian casualties is due to the absence of civilians themselves when the Army moves forward. Indirect notice of the Army’s intentions is given by aerial bombardment and artillery shelling of a particular target region.
The agitated civilians then move out of the area. The LTTE ensures that they move deep into Tiger territory. So the target area is virtually empty when the Army moves in. This strategy was practised successfully in the east. It is now being followed with some modification in the north.

However, the LTTE tactic of herding displaced civilians into particular regions and preventing them from moving out would be an impediment to military strategy. Since the LTTE would be enmeshed with the civilians and situate military installations amidst civilian dwellings, the security forces would face a catch 22 dilemma.
If they relax momentum on account of civilians and ease up on military pressure, the LTTE would be let off the hook. If, on the other hand, the armed forces bomb and shell regardless of the human shield, there could be massive loss of civilian life and limb.

 

[Boy in hammock-pic: tro kilinochchi]

Tamil Nadu tinderbox

This in turn would result in fostering a negative image of the armed forces and also could cause other effects. The tinderbox that is Tamil Nadu could be ignited at election time, leading to unintended and unforeseeable consequences.
There may also be another dangerous reason for current LTTE behaviour. This column has consistently maintained that the LTTE is not a spent force and that the Tigers though ‘down’ are certainly not ‘out.’

It appears that the LTTE, after offering stiff resistance, is slowly withdrawing from areas to the west of the A9. The Tigers are forcing the people also to move into areas east of the A9. This would result in areas to the west of the A9 being totally bereft of Tamils both civilians and Tigers.

The north western sector of the Wanni would be populated solely by ‘Sinhala’ members of the armed forces. This would render them militarily vulnerable. They would be spread thin over a wide area, making them easy targets.
A variation of the earlier ‘Oyatha Alaigal’ or ‘Ceaseless Waves’ Operation could be on the cards. More importantly, the LTTE could unleash an ‘unknown’ calamity on the forces concentrated in that sector.

The LTTE is yet to expose its full arsenal and the explosive potential in Prabhakaran’s possession could be formidable. The LTTE’s nascent Air Wing is now dormant. Again, its potential has not been fully realised. The Air Tiger capacity for wreaking destruction remains unknown and unrealised.
There is also the danger of chemical warfare. Former LTTE Eastern Commander “Col.” Karuna has warned of such a possibility. Karuna understands the mindset of Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman well. His pronouncements cannot and must not be dismissed lightly.

If only ‘Sinhala’ soldiers are physically present between the A9 and the sea on the north west, the environment could be conducive for chemical warfare depending on the direction of the wind.
Of course, the LTTE would be the world’s ‘pariah’ and international repercussions could be terrible. There could be a massacre of Tamils in the south. But these would be of little consequence to Prabhakaran in matters of literal and metaphorical life and death. Besides, at the end of this human carnage and catastrophe, de facto partition may materialise.
These are but possibilities in the realm of speculation. Such fears may be proved liars. The only reality at present is the war that envelopes the Wanni and aggravates civilian predicament.

Guiding principles

The UNHCR formulated some guiding principles to be followed in the case of IDPs. Though not legally binding, these 30 principles set out clearly the rights of affected IDPs and the obligations of host entities towards them.
They are too numerous and detailed to elaborate in a newspaper article but anyone reading them would discover that they are not being adopted as far as the Wanni displaced are concerned.

Both the government and LTTE, through acts of omission and commission, are flouting them flagrantly; some by the government, some by the LTTE and some by both. The end result is that of the IDPs being victimised further.
With escalating and intensifying fighting, there is no doubt that the conflict would get dirty, bloody and brutal in the near future. In that context, the humanitarian crisis of displaced persons could evolve into a humanitarian tragedy. What, then, is the alternative?

Given the prevailing politico-military realities, one cannot see Colombo calling off the war or even declaring a temporary ceasefire unless there is overwhelming external pressure or if a debilitating military blow is delivered internally.
Under these circumstances, the only humanitarian option seems to be that of creating an opportunity for the helpless IDP population to leave the theatre of war and seek refuge in government controlled areas.

Already more than 500 such persons have risked Tiger wrath and left LTTE areas clandestinely to seek safety in government controlled areas. Such people have been housed in two camps set up in Kalimottai and Sirukandal in mainland Mannar.
These people have been restricted right of movement and are kept in conditions amounting to detention. The government has been criticised by human rights organisations on this count.

What is essential therefore is to let IDPs from the Wanni safely reach government areas and then house them with dignity and decency. Many NGO personnel this column spoke to were confident that basic comfort and amenities could be provided to IDPs within two weeks of arrival.

They cite the eastern precedent of Vakarai and Paduvaankarai, where nearly 200, 000 IDPs were catered to within two to three weeks of arrival in government-controlled areas. In Batticaloa the LTTE allowed civilians to leave after the Tigers themselves decided to withdraw and relocate to the north. But in the north this is unlikely as the LTTE has nowhere to go.

[Displaced Families-tro Kilinochchi]

Last bastion

The Wanni is the rear base and last bastion of the Tigers. Therefore, the LTTE is most likely to hold on to the civilians as some form of a human shield. In spite of this, the demand must be made of the LTTE that it should let the civilian population go if the people desire so.

Just as the government cannot deprive its civilian population of its rights and shirk its obligations towards the people on account of military exigencies, the Tigers too cannot oppress the Tamil civilian population for its own military imperatives.
There may be several Tamil civilians in the Wanni who would not want to seek refuge in government-controlled areas. These may be families of Tiger cadres and leaders, families of LTTE ‘martyrs’ and those who worked at LTTE institutions.

But there is also a very large segment that would prefer to leave the Wanni for reasons of safety and to get basic rights such as food, water, sleep and basic amenities. Such people should be allowed to leave the Wanni voluntarily by the LTTE.
The services of the ICRC and UNHCR should be enlisted and a human corridor set up for suffering IDPs to leave the Wanni. Partial and/or temporary ceasefires should be declared, observed and respected by both sides to facilitate such IDP movement.

The role of India and the international community is of crucial importance in this humanitarian enterprise. The conspicuous silence of the international community and India over civilian predicament is both appalling and perplexing.
There is, however, a crying need for these actors to take the initiative in this regard. Only then can a humanitarian corridor be created and opportunity provided for IDPs to get out of the Wanni.

If such an opening for IDP movement out of LTTE-controlled Wanni is not created, the consequences could be horrible. With civilians getting crammed into limited and rapidly shrinking space on the one hand and an increasingly aggressive Army on the other, a tragic humanitarian catastrophe may be unavoidable.

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

August 14, 2008

LTTE, government endangering lives of tens of thousands of newly displaced around Wanni

Thousands of families who fled the recent fighting between Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must be allowed to move to safer areas and to receive necessary humanitarian assistance, Amnesty International said today.

displaced families

[Displaced families]

"These people are running out of places to go and basic necessities,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher. “The Tigers are keeping them in harm’s way and the government is not doing enough to ensure they receive essential assistance."

Government aerial bombardment and artillery shelling since May has forced more than 70,000 people to flee their homes, primarily in Kilinochchi and Mulaitivu districts.

Amnesty International has established that around a third of these families are living in the open air with no shelter. Many cannot receive food, tarpaulin for temporary shelters and fuel because of a lack of access into LTTE-controlled areas and restrictions on goods going through Omanthai - the crossing point between government-controll ed territory and that held by the LTTE. Some families have been forced to move several times.

In the LTTE-controlled Wanni area, the Tigers have hindered thousands of families from moving to safer places by imposing a strict pass system and, in some instances, forcing some family members to stay behind to ensure the return of the rest of the family. These measures seem designed in part to use civilians as a buffer against government forces -- a serious violation of international humanitarian law. The LTTE has also engaged in forced recruitment.

Lack of cement to build adequate toilets and washrooms has forced people to use open bathing facilities. The lack of adequate privacy for women and girls has led to a notable increase in reports of sexual and gender based violence.

Amnesty International has also received reports that the government is housing those who have been able to leave LTTE areas in temporary shelters that often operate as de facto detention centres. Witnesses from Kalimoddai camp in Mannar district told Amnesty International that more than 200 families who are held there cannot exit the camp for any reason (except to go to school) without obtaining a pass from the government’s security forces.

“Both sides to this long conflict have again shown that they will jeopardize the lives of thousands of ordinary people in the pursuit of military objectives,” said Yolanda Foster. “In the absence of independent international monitors, Sri Lankan civilians lack protection and remain at the mercy of two forces with long records of abuse.”

Background

The Sri Lankan military has launched a major offensive to reclaim areas of the north and east previously controlled by the LTTE. Families have been multiply displaced. According to UNHCR, as of 30 June, there are some 467,000 individuals displaced by conflict in Sri Lanka’s north and east. This figure includes an estimated 194,900 persons who were displaced after fighting intensified in April 2006.

The Assassination of ministers Kadirgamar and Fernandopulle

by B. Anton Jeyanathan

Of the assassination of politicians during the past years, the killings of two cabinet ministers Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, two outstanding speakers, both clever lawyers, both valiant defenders of the policies of the Present Government, are an irreparable loss to our nation.

The intention of writing this article is not to criticise any particular individual or organisation but to high light the failure and the lapses of those entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the two ministers. Any VIP who requires protection is virtually handed over to the protective security team to ensure that the VIP is protected from assault, kidnapping and assassination.

The protective security team consists of the Personal security officer . (PSO), Ring round or Close protection team, Advance security team, Spotters, counter surveillance team , back up armed squad, security teams at office and residence, sweeping team and any other additional unit necessary to ensure adequate and complete protection to the VIP, throughout the day and night.

It is not the number of personnel or the number of armed commandos that matters. Protection of a VIP is not a routine exercise, not a crowd control task, but a serious task that requires alertness, commitment, intelligence and physical fitness. The (PSO) who is selected should be chosen on suitability and should not be selected at the personal request of the VIP, as some one fitting the description of "Ape Minihek". The primary task of the (PSO) is to guard the physical body of the VIP, from any physical attack or attack by fire arm, supported by the Ring round team. Literally and in reality he has to be ready to protect the VIP risking his own life. Instances of many Personal security officers and other body guards being killed along with those whom they were protecting due to assassinations are a plenty.

Let me recall the manner in which Mr. KADIRGAMAR was assassinated. Most of us have seen the film "Day of the Jackal". These types of films and many other documentary films are screened at training sessions for the officers engaged in protective security. Video recordings of real incidents of attacks and assassinations of VIPs, recorded by various agencies are regularly shown to educate those engaged in protective security to learn the various and innovative methods and ruses used by the assassins to get at their targets and to take counter measures that need be taken to thwart any attempts by the agents of the enemies. Did not the assassin learn from this film how to get at the target?.

Why is it that the (PSO) the protective team, and the team providing security at his house at Buller’s lane fail miserably to study the possible methods that could be used to get at the minister who was used to a routine of taking a swim and thus unwittingly offering himself as a target.

An elementary and logical precaution was to keep all "High rise" buildings around the residence under constant surveillance, to observe any suspicious movements. From what was reported, the window of the upper floor of the building, opens directly towards the swimming pool, of the residence of the late Minister.

The team of assassins is said to have conducted reconnaissance for a number of days, holed up in the upper floor, through this window, before they hit the target and escaped from the scene. It was an open target practice invitation even to an amateur gunman to get at the target without any hindrance. If there was intelligent foresight, this particular floor and the window area necessarily should have been the prime point of constant surveillance by the protective team.

If they had been more alert, this particular floor and the window could have been used by the protective team to be an observation post had they approached the chief occupant who was a son of a retired senior Police officer, he would have willingly allowed this particular floor for the use of the protection team.

There are few more "High rise" buildings abounding the residence from where there was a clear view of the swimming pool and the garden of the residence of the Minister. Were these buildings kept under constant watch? Were the occupants of these high rise buildings spoken to obtain their assistance to keep strangers from gaining access to these buildings? Members of the staff of a foreign mission residing in a house overlooking the residence of the late Minister are said to have declared that none of them were spoken to by the local law enforcement authorities to obtain their support or assistance to ensure that no outside elements infiltrated the enclave.

It was reported in the press that some arrests were made by the Police of some youths taking photographs or video recording the vicinity of the residence of the minister few days before the day of the assassination. Did the security detail of the Minister probe in detail the background of the persons arrested, did they have a view of the photographs and the video recordings taken into custody? Intelligence was available that the Minister was on the top of the "Hit" list. The security detail should have been ever vigilant to foil or prevent any attempts on the life of the Minister. If any one of them had the wisdom to look towards the surrounding "High rise" buildings, in particular the upper floor of the building at the corner, which had an unobstructed, clear view, from the window, he would have seen suspicious movements on the other side of the window, Especially on the fateful day that particular building and the window should have been closely watched during the time the Minister was in the open It was a costly lapse which gave the killers a free hand to get at their target and flee from the scene without being apprehended.

Let me now focus on the assassination of Hon. Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. Here too the assassin or the suicide bomber was able to mingle with the crowd, come behind the Minister and kill him and many others. Press reports have already appeared indicating that the accountable agencies have started passing the buck. The organisers of the marathon run, the local Police officers, the security detail of the minister, the Police department and even the Minister had been blamed, for their failures and lapses in not taking adequate precautionary security measures.

Whenever a local political organiser or any organisers of sports or public functions organise meetings or functions, where a VIP has been extended an invitation to attend the function, it is mandatory that they must liaise with the local Police, before finalising the date, venue, time etc.

The Officer In Charge (OIC) of the local Police has to authorise the holding of the function, having checked the list of invitees or speakers, the, location where the meeting is to be held, the security threat the traffic control, crowd control and other relevant matters to ensure that the meeting, function and the sports event is conducted without any security and traffic snags. When it is confirmed that a politician VIP is billed to grace the occasion, the Officer In Charge (OIC) of the local Police, where the event is to be held, shall dictate the rules and conditions to the local organisers as to the location of the meeting, the security measures, and other details to ensure the protection of the VIP, and the participants.

To achieve success in preventing any harm to the VIP and others and any untoward incident, a co-ordinated plan should have been prepared and implemented.

A co-ordinating committee should have been set up comprising the local Police chief, the representatives from the organisers of the event, the Ministers Security Division (MSD), and the security unit of the Minister. It need not be emphasised that the Intelligence Service Division regularly updates and co-ordinates with the (MSD), on the level of threat and the intelligence gathered on any assassin who has been assigned to target the minister.

The venue should have been inspected well ahead, especially the previous night, swept and security cleared, and taken charge by placing guards at all entry points to prevent uninvited and unauthorised persons sneaking into the venue during the night. From what was observed from the video clippings and press photographs, it could be seen that the event was controlled and directed by the organisers of the marathon and not by any law enforcement officers, and that there was no apparent access and crowd control measures implemented by any agencies, but it was a free for all entry into the venue.

It has been confirmed that the Minister had arrived at the venue at the stipulated time but had gone away as the organisers were not ready to start the marathon. There had been a gap of about one to two hours before he came back. Was the place secured during this period of time, was entry to the venue restricted or were all persons physically checked before they were allowed entry into the venue? Whether it was a festive period or not, were adequate men deployed both in uniform and in mufti?. From what has been learnt from a high Police officer, there has been no co-ordination of the security arrangements between the relevant agencies and the most important Police officer, the Divisional Senior Superintendent was not adequately and properly kept informed of the details of the visit of the late Minister.

The Personal Security Officer (PSO) of the Minister should have built up complete confidence of the Minister, and earned implicit trust, where he was in a position to discuss all invitations extended to the minister, decide on the importance of accepting the invitation, based on the security of the minister, the risk, and to persuade the minister either to accept or decline the invitation. Ministers are invited by all and sundry to attend insignificant and unimportant events and functions. One cannot completely isolate the people’s representative to shun all public functions due to security reasons, however one has to strike a balance between personal security and pleasing the supporters.

The (PSO) by building up personal confidence and trust can insist that the Minister not to attend this event where there was no security at all. The venue was open not enclosed, there was no access control, it was in an open arena, allowing free entry into the venue. There were no preventive measures implemented or put into operation prior to and during the event to eliminate the risk of a suicide bomber getting closer to the Minister.

Suicide bombers are the deadliest killers, against whom there are no known safeguards if they come within striking distance of the target. However, many attempts have been thwarted by alert security personnel by preventing the bomber from approaching the target. Such preventive measures have resulted in the bomber being frustrated and blowing himself or herself up without achieving the assigned task of striking the target.

Officers who are trained and selected to be part of the protection team of a VIP have to be given regular "In House" training, and before they are inducted into the actual performance of duties they should be given specialised training.

In both assassinations there had been divided responsibility, where no one particular individual or agency taking the responsibility of being the sole person in authority. Many agencies are brought in to co-ordinate the implementation of the security plan, however one agency or designated head of the security detail should have taken command and control, to provide maximum security to the VIP, at his residence, his office, and wherever he traveled.

From what has been gathered from security personnel, the responsibility of providing security to the late Mr. KADIRGAMAR was divided between the Police and the Army, and there was no single officer co-ordinating the duties of the Police and the Army. Even in the case of the late Mr. Fernandopulle, many agencies were involved, in the organisation of the event and providing security at the venue. Here too it was evident, that in spite of the high security threat to the Minister, the law enforcement officers, and the protective security detail were not in control of the venue, but the organisers were observed engaging in crowd control and directing the Minister around the venue.

There has to be co-ordination between the relevant agencies, but the responsibility should not and cannot be divided. The co-ordination has to be under one head who should be responsible for the task assigned. The person entrusted with the responsibility should ensure that all other agencies involved with the security arrangement shall come under his command. Under the present security situation, all VVIPs are targets. Protecting them from assassins is an enormous task, which is risky and challenging.

It is very essential that a genuine effort is made after any such disaster to learn from the mistakes, which allowed the enemy to succeed, and to take meaningful and positive remedial steps to plug all the loopholes.

(The writer is a former senior Police officer and diplomat)

August 13, 2008

Desperate plight of Tamil civilians

By Ethirajan Anbarasan
BBC News

The claims and counter claims by Sri Lanka's warring parties in the current fighting have overshadowed civilian suffering and misery in the northern region.

Displaced Tamil in Vavuniya
Many Tamil civilians are trapped between the warring sides

Trapped between the advancing Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tiger rebels, who are fiercely resisting the offensive, thousands of Tamils living inside rebel-held territory have been made homeless and are wandering from place to place in search of safe havens.

No-one knows exactly how many civilians have been displaced since the fighting began last year, but it is estimated that more than 150,000 people are depending on the government and aid agencies for food and shelter in the north.

The UN refugee agency - UNHCR - last week warned that thousands of displaced people are in danger because of dwindling emergency aid stocks in the north.

Displaced Tamil women
Aid workers fear human suffering could intensify

The agency estimates that more than 60,000 people were displaced in July alone as a result of intense battles between the army and the rebels.

According to the UNHCR, supplies of food, shelter materials, water and fuel for transportation of civilians are running "dangerously low" for those attempting to escape the crossfire.

Stiff resistance

It is clear that the army has made significant gains in the last few months.

The Mannar district has now come under the control of the security forces and the rebels are in danger of losing strategically important naval bases and towns in other districts as well.

Unless there is a military debacle, it is possible that the government troops will gradually claw their way into the key rebel-held town of Kilinochchi sooner or later.

The strategy of the armed forces is clear. Heavy artillery shelling, prior to an operation, drives away the civilians and then they make their advance.

The silence of the international community... is disturbing
Sri Lankan analyst DBS Jeyaraj

They have also opened many battle fronts to spread out the rebel fighters. Naturally, their air power and numerical superiority give them a clear edge.

However, despite recent losses the Tamil Tigers still hold considerable fighting ability to launch surprise counter attacks.

Contrary to some military claims, their core fighting formations are said to be still intact and they can easily adapt themselves to protracted guerrilla warfare.

That's why the Sri Lankan forces want to go after the Tamil Tigers instead of capturing only the territory.

"You can't just push them into the jungles and wait. You have to search for them and completely eradicate them. Only then peace can come," the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse, told a British newspaper recently.

Obviously, this would leave many Tamils in rebel-controlled areas in further danger.

"The rebel military installations and civilian areas are mixed. If the army advances further and confines the rebels into a smaller region then civilian vulnerability will increase," says Sri Lankan analyst DBS Jeyaraj.

Civilian plight

The other option for the trapped civilians would be to leave the rebel-held areas.

Tracctor carruing furniture of displaced people
Many people end up constantly on the move to escape the fighting

But there are hardly any avenues. The key roads are blocked due to the conflict and passages through interior roads are dangerous due to possible roadside bombs and landmines. Also, it is not clear whether the rebels would allow them to leave.

With children, women, cattle and some belongings, people are moving from one area to another in large numbers, as there are no safe havens or established refugee camps.

Likewise there are no toilets or bathing facilities and people sleep in the open despite the sweltering heat and mosquitoes.

The efforts by humanitarian agencies to deliver more aid are hindered by strict restrictions on the transport of goods into the region.

But the government says enough supplies are being sent to the rebel-controlled territory.

"There are no restrictions and there is no shortage. We send food and other essentials as per the request of the senior government official in those areas," says Sri Lankan army spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara.

No international support

No one knows when or how the conflict will end. But Tamils feel that the international community could have done more to help them.

"The silence of the international community, especially by neighbouring India, over the displacement and suffering of Tamils is disturbing," says Mr Jeyaraj.

With no sign of a let up in the fighting, aid workers and Tamils fear that human suffering is set to increase in northern Sri Lanka. [courtesy: bbc.co.uk]

Tamil Translation of this article: தமிழ் பொது மக்களின் பரிதாப அவலம்

August 12, 2008

China’s Influence in India’s Neighbourhood

by Col.R.Hariharan

"China is using the space provided by India’s reluctance to sell weapons to Sri Lanka for political reasons to increase its influence in Sri Lanka’s strategic spectrum. So the possibility of the Hambantota project ending up as a remake of the Gwadar episode in Pakistan is very much there".

Extracts of the paper presented by Col.R.Hariharan, at the India-Taiwan interaction, jointly organised by the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry-Tamil Nadu Chapter at Chennai on August 1, 2008:

China is aiming to quadruple its per capita GDP to $ 3200 by 2020 from $ 800 per capita attained in 2000. This would imply an average annual economic growth of 7.2% till 2020. In order to attain this, China will have to keep meeting the enormous appetite of its manufacturing economy for raw material and energy resources. On the other hand, it has to open up new markets for Chinese products while keeping the competitive economies of Asia and Americas at bay. Though this might be viewed as an exercise in international trade, it has to be driven by international relations backed by strategic defence capability.

Conscious of these imperatives, China’s international relations are developing on twin tracks: gaining sources of raw material across the globe, and increasing its strategic power projection. It is on a fast track development of missile capability and submarine fleet. According to some analysts China would be able to match the defence capability to of the U.S. by 2050. This is evident from the progress of the military modernisation programme of China which is making forays into space warfare, enhancing nuclear deterrence, naval expansion and acquiring rapid reaction and deployment capability.

China’s single minded pursuit for accessing resources has increased its visibility in Asia, Africa and South America. This has also made China support some of the most notorious regimes shunned by the rest of the world including Myanmar, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. At the same time it has embarked upon strategic infrastructure development in friendly countries that would improve China’s strategic reach.

[Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa meets with Chinese workers at the Hambantota Port Development Project site. (Picture by Sudath Silva)]

This is reflected in China’s growing influence in South Asia where its presence is being firmed up in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and possibly in Nepal at a future date. This has been a cause of security concern not only for India but also for the U.S.

China’s interest in South Asia

South Asia’s geographic location, midway between the oil rich Middle East and the South East Asian regions, lends it strategic importance. South Asia borders most of China’s sensitive southern boundary. This gives China the strategic option of opening direct access through South Asia to the international sea lanes of Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean region has always been the scene of power play between Russia, the US and the West, and the theocratic Islamic states because 75 % of global merchant shipping passes through it.

In recent times, South Asia has also become a source of inspiration for Jihadi terrorism and separatism in China. Western parts of South Asia bordering China had been the fountainhead of Jihadi terrorism inspiring fellow Muslims across the borders in Xinjiang province. Similarly, the presence of large number of Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal with strong anti-Chinese sentiments had always been a source of potential trouble for China.

On the other hand South Asia holds a number of attractions for China. The region has a growing economy of over 1.5 billion people in different stages of economic and social development. Its huge, young population represent an enormous and untapped market for Chinese goods. Major political, economic and social problems within and between South Asian nations offer fertile ground for increasing China’s influence through political, military and economic means. The region has considerable natural resources including coal, iron ore, natural gas and oil waiting to be fully exploited.

The India factor

In developing its relations with South Asian nations China has to contend with Indian sensitivities. India borders seven of the eight South Asian nations and dwarfs them both geographically and population wise. This makes it easy for India to physically influence, if not intervene, its neighbouring countries. India’s huge population forms the bulk of South Asia’s teeming millions. Historically, strong Indian influence has been permeating the social, cultural and religious life of its neighbours. As a result India wields a strong political clout unmatched by any other county in this region.

India nearly a decade long economic boom ago is pushing it into the realms of becoming a global economic power by 2050. India’s technology training institutions, churning out large number of engineers and professionals, are making India a reservoir of qualified technology professionals. This has also enabled India to become a world leader in software development. India’s traditional entrepreneurial skill, coupled with sizeable natural resources, gives it a strong economic clout in the region. As India’s share of global trade increases, Indian industrial houses are nursing ambitions to become global players. India is also striving to expand its manufacturing base. It is also in the quest for oil and gas resources all over the world, though on a much smaller scale than China.

The Indian growth model, despite operating within the constraints of being the largest functional democracy in the world, offers a strong contrast to the Chinese single-party model of monolithic development. India’s democratic polity has given it political stability unmatched by most of the other South Asian nations. Its large and modern armed forces serve as guardians of democracy. This is in stark contrast to some other countries of the region i.e., Pakistan and Bangladesh where armed forces had usurped power and throttled democracy.

The failure of India and China to amicably resolve rival territorial claims along the largely unmarked boundary following China’s occupation of large chunks of territory in Aksai Chin and other border areas resulted in the two countries going to war in 1962. The 1962 war had kindled strong suspicion in India about China’s strategic intentions in the region. It had also generated anti-Chinese feeling in India that persists to this day. Despite many rounds of talks between the two countries, the border dispute remains unresolved and continues to cramp the free articulation of Sino-Indian relations.

A major irritant for China in India is the presence of the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama and his followers in exile, who are the visible face of Tibetan freedom. The presence of a large Tibetan refugee population in India clamouring for Tibetan independence is major cause of security concern for China. The Tibetan issue continues to be another rider in the development of smooth relations between India and China.

In recent years China’s has been viewing with growing concern India’s emergence as a dominant regional military power with nuclear weapon and missile capability. Its large armed forces are being modernised and the Indian navy is on way to acquire blue water capability. The progressive growth of India-US security synergies, adding strength to the strategic security reach of both the powers, has further fuelled China’s security concerns.

These strategic factors coupled with the growing economic muscle have made India a potential challenger to the growth of China’s influence on the South Asian turf. In tandem with the U.S., India could also become a formidable contender for power in other parts of the world in the coming years.

At the same time, India also holds some positive attractions for China. Its growing economy and very large middle class provide an attractive consumer market for Chinese goods. For the resource hungry China, India’s large coal, manganese and iron ore reserves are useful. India also finds doing business with China an attractive proposition and India-China two-way trade had been booming despite the frosty relations. It is set to reach $ 25 billion by 2010.

China’s South Asia strategy

The Chinese have tried to maintain cordial and correct relations with India despite frequent reiteration of their territorial claims. China has also been expanding the areas of cooperation with India on issues affecting the interest of both the countries. A small beginning has been made in conducting joint training exercise between two armies of the two countries. This strategy has enabled China to keep India’ concerns at bay, even as it increased its influence in India’s neighbourhood. Though the shadow of India continues to loom large over its neighbours, China has succeeded in improving bilateral relations with each one of them.

The very size of India and its seemingly all pervading soft power kindle a sense of disquiet if not fear among some of India’s neighbours. This ‘Indian bogey’ is also used as a pet ploy in the political gamesmanship of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Though India had taken remedial measures, for historical reasons the ‘bogey’ is likely to continue to hobble Indian articulation in the region. China appears to have leveraged itself as the answer to ward off the Indian enigma in these countries.

For instance, Pakistan and Bangladesh have inherited a historical sense of insecurity about India after Pakistan was created in 1947. This provided a convenient foothold for China to step in. India’s economic domination of its neighbours has invariably resulted in lopsided trade imbalance tilted in India’s favour. Building better trade relations with China offers a way for them to balance this tilt. There is widespread fear of Indian cultural melange submerging the national and ethnic identity of some of the small neighbours. These fears are compounded by the physical threat posed by India’s large armed forces.. In the case of Nepal and Sri Lanka this fear is latent though they have enjoyed friendly ties with India most of the time.

China appears to have prioritised its relationship with Pakistan and Bangladesh occupying the top slot. These two nations have built symbiotic relations with China over the years resulting in the creation of infrastructural and military assets that would come in handy for China, when required. They are followed by Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Maldives in the Chinese order of priority.

Development of China-Afghanistan relations is hobbled by two factors: China’s multi-faceted relationship with Pakistan, and Kabul’s close relationship with India. Afghanistan has always enjoyed a cordial relationship with India, except perhaps during the period of Taliban rule. Their relationship is driven by historicity as much as their strategic synergies where they see Pakistan ranged against them. India’s liberal development aid to the Karzai government and the involvement of Indian development task force in executing vital infrastructure projects in Afghanistan underline the strong bonds being built between them. Moreover, Afghanistan’s survival preoccupation while combating Jihadi terrorism and the all pervasive American presence there has left limited space for China to develop better relationship.

But despite this setting, Afghanistan remains a vital part of China’s energy infrastructure linking China with Pakistan, Iran and the oil rich Central Asian nations. So it came as no surprise when China secured in May 2008 the $3.5 billion Aynak copper field project in the remote Logar Province, making it the largest foreign direct investment project in the Afghan history. The Aynak copper field probably contains ore worth up to $88 billion. Significantly, the Chinese bid included the cost of building a 400 MW coal based power plant and a railway line from western China through Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Pakistan. China’s readiness to make such a large investment in a troubled region underscores its strategic significance for her, apart from its value in developing Western China.

Bhutan has always enjoyed cordial relations with India. China has territorial claims in Bhutan which would probably be settled only when India and China resolve their border dispute. This ‘India factor’ and Bhutan’s strong religious and cultural affinity with Tibet appear to be in the way of China’s efforts to enhance its influence. However, in the coming years this could change when Bhutan from royalty ushers in multiparty democracy.

China’s effort to increase its influence has three facets – economic, military, and political. The emphasis and combinations vary from country to country conditioned by situational priorities. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh are visible examples of China building a win-win relationship using political, economic and military leverages.

The economic aspects include extending loans on low interest and commercial terms, aid, project financing, infrastructure financing etc. Chinese aided projects invariably have visible national impact. Some of these projects include the Gwadar port complex in Pakistan and the proposed port project at Hambantota in Sri Lanka, and the construction of six vital bridges across major rivers in Bangladesh.

Most of these projects have the potential to add to China’s strategic access and mobility in the region. For example the new extension of the Xinjiang railway up to Kashgar about 500 kilometers (via the Karakoram highway) from the China-Pakistan border is complimentary to the project to widen the Karakoram highway. It is significant that China is also involved in the construction of a rail line to link Gwadar with Pakistan-Iran railway line. Similarly, the extension of railway line in Tibet from Lhasa to Indian border region has strategic connotations to the Chinese assistance in developing lateral communications in Bangladesh.

China’s military initiatives in the region are quite a few. Briefly, it comes in three forms: weapons sale, military training, and providing access to weapon technology. Of course military relationship between Pakistan and China goes much beyond these limitations and include sharing of nuclear and missile technology. These are well documented. China used Pakistan’s urge to develop nuclear capability to build enormous strategic bonds that have grown over the years.

India’s military intervention was the key factor that enabled Bangladesh gain independence in 1971. When Bangladeshis were fighting for independence China had supported Pakistan. But it had no hesitation in changing its stance when the independent Bangladesh came into being. When a military coup overthrew the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s regime, China got cosy with the military dictatorship. With the Bangladesh armed forces equipped now mostly with weapons and armament of Chinese origin, China is firmly established in the country’s strategic security initiatives.

As a result India finds it difficult to involve Bangladesh even in projects that are useful to both the countries and the region. Large scale Indian investments in Bangladesh have been discouraged while China has been awarded a project connected with the development of Chittagong port. The key to China’s success in Bangladesh is the fear of Indian domination (‘hegemony’ to use the ideologically correct term).

We see this happening all over in Sri Lanka. China is using the space provided by India’s reluctance to sell weapons to Sri Lanka for political reasons to increase its influence in Sri Lanka’s strategic spectrum. So the possibility of the Hambantota project ending up as a remake of the Gwadar episode in Pakistan is very much there.

China’s strategy in Nepal has probably been reworked to handle the Maoist dominated democratic regime now in power. China had supported King Gyanendra of Nepal when he was fighting the Maoists. When the Maoists overthrew him, China changed sides overnight. It increased the aid to the Maoist regime by 50 percent to 120 million Yuan over the 80 million Yuan given to the Gyanendra regime. The democratic regime’s readiness to suppress the peaceful protest of Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu recently when the Olympic flame was brought in showed its readiness to please the Chinese. If China’s influence expands rapidly in Nepal, it holds serious portends for New Delhi’s strategic security calculations. .

Having gained a strong foothold in India’s neighbourhood, China is poised to increase its strategic clout enormously in this region. This is likely to haunt India’s strategic security planners in the coming years.

(The writer,Col. R Hariharan, is a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail:colhari@yahoo.com)

August 11, 2008

1983 July Anti – Tamil Violence – State Terrorism

by Izeth Hussain

In 1958, ten years after Independence, Sri Lankans of my generation were shocked by the anti-Tamil riots. We had complacently assumed that that was the sort of thing that was endemic in India but could never take place in Sri Lanka. Thereafter we came to a proper appreciation of what those riots were really about. They were an episode in the inevitable assertion of the dominant position of the island’s Sinhala Buddhist majority. We then assumed, again with complacency, that once that dominant position had been asserted and ethnic imbalances resulting from colonialism had been corrected, we would reach a new equilibrium and the dominant Sinhala Buddhist majority, or the Sinhalese majority, would give fair and equal treatment to the minorities. That kind of equilibrium has been reached in a great many multi-ethnic countries. Why not, after all, in Sri Lanka as well?

It became apparent under the 1970 Government that the ethnic imbalances of the colonial period had been corrected, and that it would be absurd to suppose that any of the minorities were still in a privileged position. Sri Lanka was clearly established – at least in the eyes of the minorities - as the Sihadipa, the land of the Sinhalese, and the Dhammadipa, the land where the Dhamma reigned supreme, with the Sinhalese Buddhists as the chosen people carrying a sacred trust to preserve Theravada Buddhism in all its pristine purity. But the ethnic minorities, as well as the Christian Sinhalese, saw themselves as being reduced to the position of second class citizens. Clearly the paradigm of a new equilibrium, of an ethnic majority asserting its dominant position and thereafter giving fair and equal treatment to the minorities, was not working.

[Pictorial: ‘Honouring the courage of all who have dared to rebuild’]

Many of us, certainly including myself, supposed that what had gone wrong was that the drive to assert the legitimate position of the Sinhala Buddhists had acquired a momentum of its own and gone too far, resulting in a new disequilibrium replacing the old colonial one, instead of a new equilibrium. We supposed further that it was only a matter of time before the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist trend would be reversed. Most Sri Lankans saw that as about to happen when the 1977 UNP Government assumed office. What followed totally contradicted our expectations. Within weeks there were anti-Tamil riots – there had been none since 1958; army operations in Jaffna in the latter half of 1979 seriously alienated the Tamils; in 1981 the DDC elections were rigged and the Jaffna Library was burned, outraging the entire civilized world; and anti-Tamil racism rose to its genocidal apogee in 1983.

25 years after the 1958 riots it came to be broadly accepted that the ethnic problem could not be solved through a Western liberal democratic model, with the dominant ethnic majority giving the minorities reasonably fair and equal treatment. It became part of our conventional wisdom that a solution would be possible only through a broad measure of devolution, perhaps under a system comparable to the one prevailing in India. Now, 25 years after 1983, the consensus about a possible solution through devolution is fast disappearing. It has come to be widely recognized that the LTTE wants nothing less than a de facto Eelam, for instance through a loose confederal arrangement, an expectation on which no sane government in Colombo can be expected to deliver. On the Sinhalese side the prospects for working out an internationally acceptable devolution package seemed very favorable indeed during the 1994 to 2000 period. The CBK Government proposed a devolution package going beyond what was given under the Indian Constitution. That was acceptable to the UNP opposition, and it certainly would have been acceptable to the Sinhalese people. But suddenly, after further developments, the UNP cut and ran. The ugly truth therefore is that the LTTE does not want a solution through devolution, while the Sinhalese side has never ever offered a credible devolution package.

If no solution is possible through the Westminster model, nor through devolution, what options are left? War, protracted war, with guerilla warfare following on the end of the conventional war as suggested by the Army Commander, is the only one available at the moment. The Western powers who have been badgering us about negotiations can now stop doing so, and go away ruefully shaking their heads while recollecting choice bits of wisdom from their chintanaya. For instance they could invoke that great engraving of Goya – who never swallowed the optimism of the Enlightenment ideology – showing two men clubbing each other to death while both were sinking to their deaths in a bog.

Once the relevant segments of the international community recognize that it is futile to expect a negotiated solution in the foreseeable future, several outcomes could become possible. India as the regional great power could come to feel free to impose a solution. Prabhakaran may die, and a political solution could become a realistic prospect. And so on. I will not here engage in a futurological exercise to make guesses about other possible outcomes, except that I must declare that it seems to me certain that the configuration of the final solution that will emerge will be shaped by the gun and nothing else. What seems certain at the present juncture, however, is that a protracted war could spell dangers for Sri Lanka and therefore we should try to work out ways of getting out of this imbroglio, instead of emulating those two men in the Goya engraving. For this purpose we need new approaches to the ethnic problem, new ways of understanding it which could enable us to get a better grip on it, what is called a new paradigm. What can we learn for this purpose from the 1983 riots?

In the recent spate of articles on the subject one leitmotif kept on recurring, one grand narrative was implicit. It was that those so-called riots were in reality a pogrom, a meticulously organized affair behind which were very powerful political personages, a pogrom carried out by chosen thugs with very little popular participation, while in fact the majority of the Sinhalese people refused to participate in the pogrom, and many of them went out of the way to help Tamils sometimes at considerable risk to themselves. It was a perception that prevailed among all our ethnic groups in the immediate aftermath of the 1983 riots, and it has persisted for twenty five years and held sway to this day. It could be a simplification, but there is an essential truth to it.

Abroad too the true nature of what had occurred was quickly recognized. Gnana Moonesinghe in an article in the Island of July 27 quoted the following from Paul Sieghart, Chairman of the British International Commission of Jurists: "Clearly this was not a spontaneous upsurge of hatred among the Sinhalese people. It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with a concerted plan, conceived and organized well in advance."
The so-called riots of 1983 were clearly a case of State terrorism, but there has been a curious resistance to acknowledging them as such, even though the incriminating facts are hardly ever disputed. As far as I am aware I was the first Sri Lankan to argue the case about the 1983 State terrorism, as a speaker at a meeting of the YMCA Forum sometime around 1993. I followed that up with an article in the Lanka Guardian. I wrote another article on the subject in 1998, which was published in the Daily News together with a commendatory editorial. A surprising development took place some years later. At a meeting held by the Liberal Party, chaired by Rajiva Wijesinha, the question of holding an inquiry on State involvement in the 1983 riots came up. All the minority members present were unanimously in favour of such an inquiry, while all the Sinhalese – with the notable exception of Wijesinha – were adamantly opposed to it. Those Sinhalese included some notable left-wing and Marxist intellectuals.

That adamant opposition was all the more surprising as the case for holding an inquiry into possible state involvement should have been self-evident. The basic case I used to argue was as follows: There were no ethnic riots at all for the nineteen year period between 1958 and 1977, clearly signifying that the Sinhalese people had nothing like an impulse to have a go at the Tamils. The so-called ethnic riots of 1977 were very clearly a pogrom, with no popular participation at all unlike the 1958 riots. That pogrom was really the first salvo in the State terrorism that raged until 1983. There was no popular participation either in the army operations in Jaffna in the latter half of 1979, or in the abortion of the 1981 DDC elections and the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. As for 1983, there was the very widespread perception about the involvement of the State. The refusal to countenance even an inquiry suggests that there is something deeply wrong with at least a segment of our Left movement. I will not here explore the possible reasons, except to say that our Left has also indulged in identity politics just like our two major parties. Suffice it to emphasize here that at the people’s level there has been a widespread perception of State involvement in the 1983 riots, and at elite levels a refusal to face up to that fact.

However quite suddenly, and also quite surprisingly as there had been no clamour for it from the NGOs or any other segment of the public, President Kumaratunga instituted the Presidential Truth Commission on Ethnic Violence (1981 – 1984) in July 2001 under the Chairmanship of former Chief Justice S. Sharvananda. It was something that she should have done in 1994. By 2001 we had got accustomed to the idea that the perpetrators of horrors against the Sri Lankan people from 1977 to 1994 would never be brought to book. Retrospectively it seems that what is now called the culture of impunity had already been instituted under the 1994 Government. So, the institution of the Truth Commission seemed a welcome new departure.

But the indications were clear enough that it was not meant to be taken too seriously, and that it was really meant to serve a cosmetic purpose. The time frame of 1981 to 1984 was absurd as the State terrorism clearly began in 1977. However, the Commissioners ignored that time frame and went into the antecedents leading up to 1981. They were required to submit their Report in January 2002 – that is, in no more than just six months. The Report was in fact submitted in September 2002. It noted that the South African Truth Commission had a staff of 750 to assist it, the media gave it wide coverage, and there was something like national participation in what was seen as a process of reconciliation by establishing the truth. There was hardly any of that here. The Report emphasized the need to set up new Commissions to continue the work of establishing the truth as part of a continuing process of reconciliation and nation-building. There has been none of that, and all that has happened is that President Kumaratunga issued a perfunctory apology over 1983. Clearly at the level of the State also there has been a resistance to establishing the full truth about what happened in 1983.

However, the Commission did bring out details that point directly and unambiguously to State involvement at the highest level in the 1983 pogrom. The Report quoted President Jayawardena as having told the Daily Telegraph of London (12th July, 1983), "But on terrorist issues, these we are going to deal with ourselves without any quarter being given." The Report states that "significantly" that and other statements made to that newspaper were given coverage on SLBC radio. It continues that "another act of significance" took place on July 18 – days before the pogrom began on July 23 – when regulations enabling the police to dispose of dead bodies without judicial inquiry, already applicable in the Northern Province, were extended to the rest of the island even though there were no disturbed conditions outside the North to warrant it. At that point the Report again quotes from the Daily Telegraph interview, "No need for any debate, arguments or counterarguments. Firm action will be taken shortly to uproot terrorism." The Report further states that the killing of the thirteen soldiers on July 23 was followed by the reprisal killings by the armed forces of 51Tamils in the North, on which there was a total media blackout. It was argued before the Commission that had the reprisal killings been publicized the conflagration that followed would very likely have been avoided.

I will not go into further details to show up the State’s culpability over 1983 as it seems so obvious. Instead I will make some necessary clarifications. It might seem that by focusing on terrorism at the level of the State I am loosing sight of the obvious fact that ethnic problems such as the one we have in Sri Lanka have behind them both racism at the level of the State and racism at the level of the people. Certainly the Sinhalese people cannot be devoid of racism, no more than most other ethnic groups which can be expected to produce their quota of racists. That racism can rise to a high level of intensity as I believe it did in 1958, and be at low intensity as I believe it was in 1977. The explanation for the difference is that in 1958 the Tamils were still seen as posing a serious threat to the legitimate dominant position of the Sinhalese majority, whereas there was no such threat perception in 1977. It is significant that apparently there was widespread popular participation in the 1983 riots only on Black Friday, following on President Jayawardena’s criminally incendiary broadcast. The explanation, I believe, was the threat perception set off by the story that the Tigers had come into Colombo.

The important point, however, is that even high intensity racism among the people does not necessarily result in violence against a minority. When rioting goes on unchecked for days, and has an obviously and meticulously organized character, we can be certain that the State allows it or backs it, or as seems practically certain in the case of 1983 the State is at the bottom of it all. Kumari Jayawardena wrote in connection with possible reasons for the 1983 riots, "In this context it is therefore not the urban poor and ‘lumpen’ sections of the city population who cause the riots; they are merely the temporary ‘beneficiaries’ of unrest. They use the rare opportunity to come out on to the streets, to break all the norms of bourgeois society in respect of law and order, to rule the roost for a day or two, vent their anger against the ‘haves’ and help themselves to the property of others. This phenomenon occurs with increasing frequency in South Asia, where there are glaring contrasts between rich and poor. The deprived sections, given a license to plunder by the racist propagandists, make full use of such occasions to attack whichever minority group has been targeted as the enemy – whether it be Muslims or Sikhs, as in India or Tamils or Muslims, as in Sri Lanka." – from Ethnicity and Sinhala Consciousness, included in July ’83 and After (ICES).

I will now conclude with some brief observations on what we might learn from the 1983 riots for the purpose of reaching out to new paradigms that could enable a better grip on our ethnic problem. There was certainly some degree of discontinuity between the State and the power elites backing it which were responsible for what amounted to genocidal State terrorism on the one hand, and on the other the Sinhalese people as a whole who showed no enthusiasm for it, except perhaps for a few brief hours in limited areas on Black Friday. It was the repetition of a pattern established decades ago at the time of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact – showing a degree of discontinuity between the State and power elites on one side and the Sinhalese people on the other.
Both SWRD and Dudley Senanayake were democratic leaders at a time when our political culture was unambiguously and vigorously democratic, and both were leaders of mass-based political parties which had all the means to test the opinion of the Sinhalese masses. It is reasonable to think therefore that both leaders believed that their proposed pacts with Chelvanayagam would have the backing of the mass of the Sinhalese people. The opposition was from segments in the State, and the power elite – members of which backed the SWRD assassination. The nation-wide tsunami of grief that followed showed that the mooted pact with Chelvanayagam had not diminished his mass appeal in any way.

All that happened between 1977 and 1983 to further wreck our ethnic relations also showed a degree of discontinuity between the State/ power elite and the Sinhalese people. Particularly significant is what happened between 1994 and 2000 when President Kumaratunga offered devolution packages, one of which at least went beyond the devolution available under the Indian Constitution and even got the support of the UNP opposition. There were no howls of outrage and mass protests from the Sinhalese people. Her efforts were finally sabotaged at the power elite level by the same UNP opposition. It is worth mentioning also that the two parties known for their extremism on the ethnic problem, the JVP and the JHU, today have negligible support among the Sinhalese people.
The paradigm briefly sketched out above needs to be refined and developed, which cannot be done in this article. In terms of this paradigm the ethnic problem could have been solved decades ago if there had been pressure on successive governments from the people’s level, specifically through a dynamic civil society. Alas, there has been nothing of the sort in Sri Lanka. What of the present situation? There is no alternative to continuing with the war, and the peace that will follow – perhaps with new constitutional arrangements – will depend on the military outcome. We have to bear two propositions in mind. 1) Power flows through the barrel of a gun. 2) So do Constitutions.

Underlying our ethnic problem is a disastrous failure in nation-building. The process of nation-building in multi-ethnic societies requires above all that minorities are made to feel that they are given fair and equal treatment, even though the majority ethnic group may have a dominant position. Alternatively there will be no sense of the unity that makes a nation in a worthwhile sense. We must remember that there is an ongoing process of erosion of state sovereignty on a global scale, and lack of unity in Sri Lanka could make it vulnerable to the outside world, perhaps even to satellisation. To evade that kind of fate what is required in terms of our paradigm is a change in the mind-set of the Sinhalese State/power elite, and that may never come about without adequate pressure from the people

Second Death Anniversary: Kethesh Loganathan - A committed, engaged individual

By Dayan Jayatilleke

1956, half a century ago, the year I was born, was a strangely seminal year: it was the year that Fidel and Che landed on the shores of Cuba, the year of the Suez crisis, of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist party and de-Stalinisation; it was the year of Elvis Presley and rock-and-roll.

It was also the year that Alan Ginsberg published his poem 'Howl', which began unforgettably: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked".

Looking back on my country in my times, the indelible impression is of seeing the best minds of my generation murdered by those once thought to belong to the same side; believers in the same ideas and project; comrades even. A collective Abel slain by a collective Cain.

Kethesh Loganathan was one of those 'best minds'. He was above all else a committed, engaged intellectual.

[First death anniversary of Late Kethesh Loganathan was commemorated on Aug 12, 2007]

He was indubitably one of the sharpest analytical intellects, one of the finest Sri Lankan minds of his day.

He and I had a generation, social background, ideological formation and historical-political experience in common.

Kethesh Loganathan, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Rajini Thiranagama, Lakhman Kadirgamar. Brilliant minds, interesting, attractive and even compelling personalities, with diverse choices and trajectories, and yet, a common fate: murdered by the Tigers. These names and many more, are a rollcall of the Tamil tragedy and larger Sri Lankan lament.

Kethesh belonged to the Sri Lankan and larger South Asian Who's who: C. Loganathan's son (or simply "Loganathan's son" in Colombo ). An alumnus of Georgetown and Sussex , he could have wound up a member of the Asian-American elite, but he chose another path, or another path chose him:

That of Marxism. Within that Marxism, he could have been an academic, teaching in a Western university or heading a policy studies think-tank. Indeed he worked at MARGA and then took over his father's institute in Jaffna .

If world history, that of the twentieth century, marked by the magnetism of socialism and Communism, shaped part of Kethesh's destiny, the contemporary history of the country and society he was born into, determined the rest of his life: July '83 and the Tamil struggle.

What decided his death was a third factor and fact; the evolution of that struggle, the obduracy of the Sinhala state and society, the character of Tamil society and the nature of the LTTE.

This is summed up and prefigured in a paragraph from an article written by Kethesh; a paragraph which contains the very crux of his thinking on the Sri Lankan conflict, in an article which was transparently self revelatory.

Kethesh's core idea contained here is the message he leaves us all- from the Sri Lankan state to civil society; from the Lankan left to the Tamil Diaspora, from his Indian friends to the Western DPL and donor community:

'This absence of "enlightened self-interest" in my opinion, although now largely rectified in relation to Indo-Lanka relations but not necessarily irreversible, continues to dog the Colombo political establishment on other matters relating to the peace process, and has provided the LTTE its very mode of existence.

The confusion between engagement and appeasement of the LTTE is a case in point. Another is the failure to forge a southern consensus on the Ethnic Question based on self-rule and shared-rule.' (Kethesh Loganathan, 'Mervyn's Insights were Foresights', Sunday Observer, June 19th 2005).

Kethesh agrees with Mervyn de Silva's identification of the wellspring of our problem as the absence of enlightened self-interest on the part of the governing classes or ruling elite, and goes onto develop the analysis.

He lists four huge follies on the part of state and society, which have resulted in the current catastrophe and provide, as he says the LTTE's very mode of existence'. These are:

'The absence of enlightened self interest' The mismanagement of Indo-Lankan relations. The practice of appeasing the LTTE and mistaking it for engagement and the absence of a solution - and a Southern consensus on a solution - to the ethnic question based on a combination of self rule and shared rule.

In other words the LTTE's conditions of existence are not supplied by the LTTE itself but by others, including those who claim to oppose separatism and terrorism. There are two types of people and policies which furnish the Tigers with their mode of existence;

Policies of appeasement in the name of engagement, conflict management and resolution, and policies which obstruct power sharing, self rule, the very recognition of the existence of an Ethnic Question, and thereby the most constructive relations with our strong neighbor, India .

Let there be no mistake: Kethesh didn't die because he turned Marxist or didn't take his place in the Tamil elite, or joined the EPRLF, or left in frustration the smarmy civil society outfit he worked for, or because he worked for the Government as deputy of the Peace secretariat.

Neelan Tiruchelvam did none of these things and indeed was the opposite of Kethesh and Rajini Thiranagama:

He stayed with the programme, in the mainstream, a pacifist intellectual who was the epitome of liberalism and civility. And he was blown up by an LTTE suicide bomber within sight of his civilised institutional space.

Neelan, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Kethesh: Harvard, Oxford , Georgetown . What gems of the small Sri Lankan Tamil community! What priceless resources for their society and South Asia !

They went their different ways and died violently, assassinated in the same town, by the same organisation, the Tigers, led by the same man, Velupillai Prabhakaran. That Prabhakaran chose to snuff out lives as precious as these, that the LTTE's struggle could regard these individuals as traitors to their community, tells us as much about Prabhakaran, the Tigers and Tamil Eelam, as the fact that individuals so gifted, courageous and committed chose to oppose, dissent or stand apart from the LTTE, tells us about them. These are the real heroes of our time.

How does a mature democracy like Sri Lanka breed such fanaticism? Nothing exemplifies the very essence of the LTTE, more than murder at its hands of those who in any other place, would have been its members, supporters or sympathisers, just as nothing exemplifies the essential nature of the JVP better than the list of those Sinhala leftists who died at its hands in '86-89, and who in any other struggle would have been the natural supporters of the radical left.

In both cases, the deviation from the norm of behavior of liberation movements world-wide is the pathway to understanding the nature of these movements.

In the Sunday Observer article cited above, Kethesh described himself as an internationalist.

Both the LTTE and the JVP killed precisely the internationalists, the anti-racist progressives on both sides; those who stood for 'self rule and shared rule' as a solution to the Ethnic Question.

From Vijaya Kumaratunga to K. Pathmanabha, from Nandana Marasinghe to Neelan Tiruchelvam, from Daya Pathirana to Rajini Thiranagama - over the last two decades the fanatics and fundamentalists on both sides snuffed out the most engaged and engaging, the best, of our people.

The practices of these movements illustrate their policies, and the practices and policies taken together indicate the worldview, the ethics, morals, and values, of these entities. The reality that reveals itself is not of liberation, but of fanaticism, savagery, barbarism.

(These are the personal views of the writer)

August 10, 2008

TMVP must retain arms until LTTE is eliminated

By S.L. Gunasekara

Once upon a time, not so many years ago, Muralitharan Vinayagamoorthy alias Karuna was not only a  self confessed member of the LTTE and the undisputed leader of that gang of terrorists in the East, but also their principal `killing machine’ who led most of their major campaigns to the great detriment of our Republic. That, however was only until the 2nd/3rd March 2004 when he, together with his followers who included Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, [the present elected Chief Minister of the Eastern Province] broke away from the LTTE because of the discrimination constantly practiced by Prabhakaran against the Eastern Tamils in favour of the Northern Tamils, and became the sworn enemy of his former comrades in treason and genocide.

 

[Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, at recent Chief Ministers Conference] 

Karuna having been the undisputed leader of the LTTE terrorists in the East, he, together with those under his command must necessarily take responsibility for  the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the LTTE in that Province which, by comparison,  make the two horrible crimes presently being investigated by the Commission of Inquiry, namely, the murders of 5 youth in Trincomalee and 17 in Muttur,  fade into relative insignificance.

These crimes committed in the East include the murders of about 678 helpless Sinhalese and Muslim policemen who had laid down arms and surrendered to the LTTE at Thirukkovil, Batticaloa and Trincomalee; the murders of about 140 devout Muslims praying in the Meera Jumma and Husseiniya Mosques at Kathankudy; 127 Muslim civilians while sleeping in their homes at Saddam Hussein Village, Poovaikadu  and Kalavaichanai at Eravur; 30 Pupil Buddhist Monks and 4 civilian laymen while traveling in a Bus at Arantalawa; 62 Muslim civilians at Nintavur and 40 at Akkarapattu, 57 Sinhalese civilians while sleeping in their huts at Gonagala, another 25 at Bogamuyaya and another 42 Sinhalese at  Galwaraya [also called Kallarawa]; and 25 Sinhalese civilian bus travelers at Pottuvil and another 25 at Pulmoddai. Apart from these ghastly murders they committed countless murders of members of the three services.

Despite the indescribably horrendous nature of these crimes and their total repugnance to all known concepts of “International Humanitarian Law”, no  foreign countries or so called `Peace Activists’ saw fit to demand that Karuna and his followers [now Karuna, Pillaiyan and their followers] be disarmed. No purported shock and horror even remotely resembling that displayed by them in respect of the above-mentioned Trincomalee and Muttur Murders were displayed by them in respect of these crimes of mind-boggling proportions.

Today, things are different. Since breaking ranks with the LTTE, the followers of Karuna/Pillaiyan [called the TMVP for convenience] do not engage in genocidal attacks on Sinhalese or Muslims; they do not murder members of our Armed Forces or Police. However, they have turned their guns on  the excrescence called the LTTE, and it is alleged [probably with considerable truth] that they continue to extort money from, abduct and kidnap civilians as they did while they were part and parcel of the LTTE.

It was only after these TMVP cadres ceased their genocidal attacks on civilians and on our Armed Forces and Police, and turned their guns on the LTTE, that various foreigners, so called `Peace Activists’ and even the UNP demanded that they be disarmed !! To this cacophony of treacherous voices was added that of the LTTE with a similar demand!What is even more significant is that  none of the self appointed guardians of International Humanitarian Law whether local or foreign ever demanded the disarming of the LTTE though they continue to launch genocidal attacks on Sinhalese and Muslim civilians; murder our troops;  train youth of both genders to commit suicide by strapping  explosives to their persons and exploding them so as to murder selected persons and any others who happen to be in the vicinity; and not only abduct and kidnap civilians but also use kidnapped children and other children duped into joining them as cannon fodder, thereby destroying future generations and the continued existence of the Tamil race in Sri Lanka.

It would thus appear that these purported `do gooders’:

-have no objection to the LTTE remaining armed and see no reason why they should be disarmed;

-had no objection to Karuna and his followers being armed and saw no reason why they should be disarmed so long as they were part and parcel of the LTTE and committed mass murders, extortion, kidnapping and abduction at the behest of the LTTE;

-but see every reason why Karuna and his followers [now the TMVP] should be disarmed because they have stopped committing such crimes on behalf of the LTTE and have turned their guns on the LTTE and hence contributed to the restoration of peace !

The reader will, no doubt, draw his own conclusions from these indisputable facts.

Notwithstanding what I have said above, I do not, for a moment contend that the TMVP should be permitted to remain armed as a permanent measure. The Rule of Law, the maintenance of which is a sine qua non for good governance demands loud and clear that only the armed forces and the police force of the state should bear arms.

In an `ideal situation’, both the LTTE and the TMVP should have been disarmed. The situation that prevails, however, is anything but ideal. The Republic is, on the one hand engaged in a `battle to the finish’ with the LTTE and, has, on the other hand to contend with the presence in the Eastern Province and parts of the North Central Province, of the  illegally armed TMVP.

The TMVP, however, has proven its hostility to the LTTE [I will not go so far as to say loyalty to the Republic] by turning its guns on the LTTE, and assisting our Forces to cleanse the East of the polluting presence of the LTTE. Its current activities too do not, at least at present, indicate that it poses or will pose a threat to the Republic as the LTTE does, and has always done. In these circumstances, reason and commonsense demand that our forces should complete the job at hand, namely, annihilating the LTTE with all its resources without diluting that effort by diverting any of its resources to disarming the TMVP – for if they do not complete that `job at hand’, the damage to the Republic and the avoidable  loss of life, limb and property will be incalculable.

The TMVP itself claims a purported `right’ to remain armed on the basis that they need arms to protect themselves against the LTTE. The  periodic murders of members of the TMVP by the LTTE add credence, though not legality to that claim. The TMVP has also, at various times undertaken to surrender arms once the LTTE is defeated and disarmed. Thus, after the defeat of the LTTE, the TMVP will have no ground or basis whatsoever, on which to claim a right to carry arms, and if they do not surrender them, our forces which will then not have to contend with the LTTE would be totally justified in disarming the TMVP – indeed it would be their duty to do so.

Of all the medley of anti-national voices  demanding the disarming of the TMVP, the strangest is that of the UNP – for it was the UNP which, by the disastrous Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE agreed to disarm all Tamil `paramilitary groups’ – [i.e. those former terrorist groups who were then fighting the LTTE] and permitted the LTTE to continue to possess arms ammunition, explosives and military equipment to their hearts content. In doing so, the UNP committed the manifest outrage of agreeing to disarm our `friends’ while permitting the enemy to remain armed. Many of our `friends’ who were so disarmed paid with their lives for that act of perfidy of the UNP.

In committing this act of perfidy, the UNP was only being `consistent’ in their `policy’ of pandering to the LTTE. Can we ever forget the disastrous period  of President Premadasa’s purported `peace talks’ with the LTTE in 1990 ? Then, the LTTE was given a licence to remain armed, re-arm [indeed the Premadasa Government gifted arms to the LTTE with the tax-payers’ money as the Wickremesinghe Government gifted them with sophisticated Radio Transmitting Equipment] to kill, kidnap and abduct whom they liked and to extort money from helpless citizens to replenish  their `war chest’ with absolute `impunity. At the same time, that Government engaged in a relentless military campaign together with various `para-military’ groups such as PRAA, to annihilate the JVP and murdered any Sinhalese youth found in possession of even a locally manufactured fire-arm [a `Galkatas’] while the LTTE terrorists were permitted to carry and even use automatics !!!

No doubt, two `wrongs’ do not make a `right’. However, the `wrong’ of not disarming the TMVP is in no way comparable to the those treacherous `wrongs’ committed by the Premadasa and Wickremesinghe Governments. The TMVP does not appear to pose or to be likely to pose a threat to the Republic, while the LTTE always posed and continues to pose such a threat.

 Permitting the TMVP to remain armed is a practical necessity in order to eliminate the LTTE while permitting the LTTE to remain armed only strengthened the LTTE and increased the threat to the Republic.

How, in these circumstances does the UNP have the gall to demand the disarming of the TMVP? Has it forgotten its recent malodorous past so soon  ? Or is it so totally without shame as to make a `street-walker’ seem a `vestal virgin’ ?

August 09, 2008

My plea to the LTTE leadership

by Dr K Chandradeva

I am not a politician nor do I belong to any political/militant organisation.  I was deeply disturbed and disappointed with the strategy of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and wrote the following article (see the link below) about two and a half years ago.

In this article, I:

 •             Pointed out that the LTTE had optimally achieved its military objectives with the signing of the Norwegian mediated Cease Fire Agreement (CFA)

             Warned that returning to war is unsustainable and self-destructive

             Urged the LTTE to embark on political initiatives to win the hearts and minds of the international community (IC), people of Sri Lanka and particularly India

             Urged the LTTE to resolve the case of Rajiv Gandhi (RG)

             Proposed a mechanism to take arms out of the equation in this conflict

I took this initiative, despite intimidation and threats, to protect the precious lives of the grass root cadres and civilians from dying in vain, but nothing appeared to fall in the ears of the LTTE leadership.

During the current war:

             According to some independent analysts over 5000 LTTE cadres and many senior members have martyred

             LTTE has lost over 50% of its territory

             Hundreds of Tamil civilians have been kidnapped and massacred 

             During the last CFA more countries had banned the LTTE than at any other time

             Over 250,000 refugees are languishing in the Northeast.   

             Severe malnutrition and school drop-out rates among the Tamil children in the Northeast are becoming alarmingly high

What have we learned?

             The political/military might of the LTTE alone will not bring about a political solution

             The GOSL will never offer a viable political solution in good faith in the prevailing environment

             Therefore only diplomatic pressure from the IC can force the GOSL to yield a political solution

             However, if India is not actively involved in the peace process the IC will only remain as sympathetic spectators

             Therefore, we should do everything we can to persuade India to get involved; without the Indian participation the war will go on for ever. A significant portion of Sinhalese also prefer active participation of India in the peace process

             Only a political solution to this conflict can bring peace, pride and prosperity to the entire island  

This is where Amirthalingam’s strategy ought to be revisited. He worked tirelessly to bring about a political solution to the Sri Lankan conflict. Over three decades ago he became convinced that Indian participation is vital to solve the ethnic crisis. This has been clearly demonstrated by the fact that Mahinda Rajapakse has taken the cover of Indian mediated 13a as a solution to the conflict, about 21 years after its inception. Amirthalingam made India to understand and accept that the GOSL would never offer a respectable political solution without diplomatic intervention by India and international community. He was also successful in convincing India that the Tamil national question ought to be resolved on the basis of self-rule in the traditional Tamil-speaking homeland. Above all he won the trust of India as a decent representative of the Tamil speaking people. Though some brutal killers have taken away the live of Amirthalingam, his vision still lives on – only India can bring this carnage to an end.

Since the assassination of RG, the LTTE was banned in India and as a result of this Indian officials are not in a position to have contacts with the LTTE from the legal point of view. Evidently the GOSL is ruthlessly exploiting this scenario and has brought carnage and destruction to the NE. We are now in a dangerous political and military stalemate and the civilian casualties, both fatal and non-fatal, are mounting.

Those who expect India to play an active role in the peace process need to understand that legal restrictions that limit Indian participation ought to be dealt with. This is where the LTTE leadership needs to shoulder the responsibility and behave like a decent and progressive force. The LTTE leadership must resolve the case of RG to the satisfaction of the Government of India and the family of RG. If that means the wanted people in RG's case will have to give themselves up to the Indian authorities - so be it. It is up to the wanted people to allow the course of justice to prevail and prove their innocence if they feel they are not guilty.  On the contrary, absconding and hiding from the course of justice will never solve our problem. Having betrayed by both the LTTE and GOSL, we must give a face to India to come back and help us to resolve this bloody conflict

In the name of decency the LTTE leadership should resolve this case or the LTTE will have to remain as untouchables not only in India but also among the international community. Unless the LTTE leadership recognises this hard fact many, many LTTE cadres will have to make supreme sacrifices in addition to over 25,000 cadres who already done so.      

Of course, what I urge is a huge step or one might say it is an unthinkable sacrifice. I wish to say to these people that supreme sacrifices are the pillars of the LTTE. Over 25,000 fighters so far have made supreme sacrifice for our freedom but this campaign should not get bogged down because of a huge error of judgement that was committed by a handful of leaders of the LTTE.

Whilst we are campaigning for justice for brutal crimes that have been inflicted on our people by the GOSL we cannot or should not be seen to be obstructing the course of justice in another brutal crime that took away the live of one of the most popular leaders of India.  

Solving RG’s case in good faith will certainly enhance the respect for the LTTE; this will undoubtedly radically change the Indian foreign policy towards the SL conflict.        

Recent opinion poll in a popular Tamil magazine – Ananda Vikadan – , conducted among 4,195 of its readers, found that 55.40%  supported Thamileelam as a solution to the conflict; 43.02% wanted LTTE leader arrested in relation to the assassination of RG. The message from Tamil Nadu to the LTTE leadership could not have been clearer.

Will the LTTE leadership shoulder the responsibility and behave in a way to stop the carnage and destruction in our homeland?

My previous article (click the following link):

http://federalidea.com/focus/archives/category/federalidea/by-dr-kc-chandradeva/

A Year of Anniversaries: From Puran Appu to the Hartal

by Dayan Jayatilleka

This is a year beaded as a necklace with anniversaries. Some are past us, some ahead. Some are international, the others national. Some are of heroism, others of tragedy and darkness. All are significant. All teach us something, provide occasions for reflection.

Internationally it was the 40th commemoration of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the student uprisings of May 1968 most significantly in Paris, the 80th birth anniversary of Ernesto Che Guevara, and the 55th anniversary of the Moncada uprising which initiated the Cuban revolutionary process.

Nationally, it is the 60th anniversary year of Sri Lanka ’s Independence and the 50th and 25th anniversary year of two large blots on that existence as an independent country: 1958 and 1983.

This year also contains triple anniversaries of heroic uprisings of our people: the anti-colonial armed rebellions of 1818 and 1848 and the 55th anniversary of the Hartal of August 1953.

The anniversaries of the 1818 and 1848 anti-colonial uprisings are best commemorated by re-kindling the spirit of Keppitipola and Puran Appu, sustaining the ongoing military drive for the country’s reunification, taking it to the next level while remembering the atrocities committed against us by imperialism which in its contemporary form, impinges upon our attempt to reunite our motherland.

Though less sustained and widespread than the Rebellion of 1818, that of 1848 warrants greater retrospection.  Imagine the spirit of those who rose up in rebellion against the world’s mightiest military power, which thirty years before, had mercilessly suppressed the uprising of 1818? Coming from the urban-coastal area, Puran Appu had seen British colonial power at its most concentrated, and yet he was undaunted. To quell the 1848 rebellion British reinforcements were brought in from India, and Governor Torrington confirmed in an official letter (archived at Durham university) that Puran Appu was correct when he claimed that had his mother given birth to a dozen men like him there would not have been a single White man remaining in the Kandyan provinces. The Governor writes that “we should have surely lost the country for a while”. 

A Century of Pacification: 1848-1948

The sources of Sri Lanka ’s tragic contemporary history are located in the events commemorated by two of these anniversaries: the 1848 rebellion and the execution of Puran Appu, and the Hartal or popular uprising of 1953.

The first reason is the absence of a follow up to the 1848 uprising. Throughout the world, failed uprisings generated still others, fueled by the heroism of their forerunner and memories passed down by survivors, oral history and written chronicles, to the younger generations.  This did not happen in the case of Puran Appu who had been able to transcend the upcountry/low country, urban-rural and more significantly the caste divide in an anti-colonial armed rebellion. It is possible that class and caste prejudice had much to do with the inaudibility of the echo of that rebellion. However it does not explain why a new generation of anti-imperialists, the late emerging Sri Lankan left movement, did not actively rekindle his memory and that of the 1848 rebellion.

A reverse class prejudice could be one reason. The dominant nucleus of the Lankan Left had a narrow notion of class struggle under colonialism and Puran Appu did not fit the bill of a proletarian. This tells us more about the Left than it does about Puran Appu, because the Cuban revolutionaries always saluted their rebellious patriotic predecessors, whatever the class origins of the latter. In 1968, with the Cuban revolution at its most radically Communist, Fidel Castro described theirs as the end product of “a hundred years of struggle”. Piloting his project of “a 21st century Socialism”, Venezuela ’s President Chavez designates his revolution and his republic “Bolivarian”, in honor of Simon Bolivar the Liberator, who died in 1830. The Ceylonese Marxists sought to do no such thing, make no such connection, no return to roots in rebellion.

The hundred years since the 1848 armed rebellion and Puran Appu were not followed by a replay or rectified version, but by an essentially pacifistic though verbally violent, parochial, divisive, religio-cultural revivalism. It was paralleled by an utterly gradualist legislative–reformism, followed by a quaint Leftism, rhetorically impassioned but cut–off from the great river of Asian Marxist militancy represented by Ho Chi Minh, Mao Ze Dong, Zhou en Lai and the Indian Communists.

The Scenario Sixty Years Ago

It is against this backdrop of forces that we gained Independence sixty years ago. It is faddish to regard our first post independence administration as something of a golden age, when our citizens inhabited a Garden of Eden from which the fall from grace occurred with Bandaranaike and 1956. The briefest glance at the record shows this to be a hollow view.

That first administration had so slim an electoral base, that had it not been for the sectarianism of the Trotskyite left, a different, progressive government could have been easily formed. Never had the Left performed better than at the 1947 election, and at the now famous Yamuna discussions, efforts were made to unite the various tendencies of the Left with the independent nationalists, which could have resulted in a progressive coalition government. Dr Colvin R de Silva denounced the effort as one that would give birth to a “three headed donkey”. The same Left was to enter coalitions with the fully formed SLFP, constituting a bloc in which its influence was far less than it would have been in 1947. One hesitates to think of the kind of animal symbol that could do justice to those subsequent coalitions.

The first post independence UNP administration was not only possessed of a slender popular base, its disenfranchisement of the Hill Country Tamils also provoked the strategic political schism that has persisted until this day: the breakaway of SJV Chelvanayagam and the launching of the Tamil Federalist project. The dream of a united, broadly inclusive national identity was betrayed almost a decade before SWRD Bandaranaike and 1956.

If one had to identify the Original Sin, I would say it was the decision to split the Ceylon National Congress (CNC) and form the United National Party (UNP) instead.

August 1953: Hartal

Between Independence sixty years ago, and the policy of Sinhala Only of 56, came the popular uprising, the Hartal of August 1953, the 55th anniversary of which falls on August 12-13th.  It is the abortion by the Left leadership of the Hartal that led to the particular form of the 1956 outcome.

The Hartal was called by the Left to protest the savage cutback in food subsidy by the second UNP administration of the post Independence period. The cutbacks themselves revealed the utter social insensitivity of the post colonial power–bloc as represented by the UNP. It would have been an impossible task to build a nation on so narrow a social base.

A snapshot of August 1953 shows a coming together of social and political forces of a width that was never to be repeated. Organized urban workers and poor people, men and women, Sinhalese and Tamils, Left parties, Hill-country Tamil plantation workers and Federalists, all participated. The fledgling SLFP, while not an official participant, supported the Hartal, and SWRD Bandaranaike presided over the Hartal rally at Galle Face Green. Thus, the anti-UNP, anti-comprador alliance in struggle gave pride of place to the convergence of the working people of South and North, with the nascent national bourgeoisie represented by the SLFP playing only an auxiliary role. A scant three years later, these roles were to be reversed and national bourgeois leadership was established over the anti-UNP struggle, with all else that came with the narrowing of ideological and programmatic realms-- including “Sinhala Only”.    

This reversal of roles was the by product of the abandonment of the Hartal by those who summoned it, namely the parties of the Left. The people responded magnificently to the Hartal call, with women baking hoppers on rail tracks to stop trains. The government cracked down harshly with Police shootings accounting for several fatalities. The people stood firm and the government was evacuated to a US ship waiting offshore—as sound evidence as any of the impossibility of nation building by a wholly non-national, pro-imperialist comprador administration.

The Lankan Left

It is at this moment of opportunity that the Ceylonese Left revealed its authentic character, and the country’s history began shifting onto an alternative track. Only a fortnight apart in exactly the same year, an uprising had taken place in another tropical island across the world. That was the Moncada attack of July 26th 1953 (about which I have written in these pages on Saturday July 26, 2008). True, the despotic character of the Cuban regime necessitated an armed uprising, as the Ceylonese situation did not. However, the failed Moncada uprising led to victorious final outcome years later, as the successful Ceylonese “Hartal” would not. This paradox is explicable by the wholly divergent attitudes displayed by Fidel Castro on the one hand and the Lankan Left leaders on the other. As striking a contrast in the spirit of rebellion is provided by the events on the island of Ceylon itself, during the same months July–August roughly a century before, when the armed Sinhala rebels led by Puran Appu stormed and overran the British fortress at Matale.  

In an almost unprecedented act in the history of the global left in the face of the virtual abdication by a capitalist government and a power vacuum, the left leaders called off the Hartal, and went onto promise in Parliament (the Hansard of the day provides the proof) that there would not be a repetition. That promise, made to the bourgeoisie, is one that the Left would keep. No one can fault the Left for not seizing power, but what is aberrant from the perspective of comparative international politics are its two consecutive choices: firstly, not to continue the Hartal, pushing its success further, exploring its limits, aiming for the most progressive possible outcome, and secondly, not to make its post-Hartal political project one of a united front of all forces which had participated in or supported the popular upsurge (this would have meant the SLFP, the CWC and the Federal party, but under Left hegemony). 

With this avenue being blocked by the Left leaders, the national and social struggle found an alternative leadership, pathway and program, that of the national bourgeois SLFP, parliamentary elections and Sinhala Only.

That too was not inevitable. A document available in the superb archives of the ILO here in Geneva reports the Parliamentary proceedings in Ceylon in 1954, the year after the Hartal, in which the Government reiterates its commitment to the full transition within eight years to Sinhala and Tamil as the languages of public administration. So Sinhala Only was not the only way to dislodge the hegemony of English. The process of transition was already underway and to a fairer, more inclusive solution. Also unfounded is the received wisdom that the SLFP simply had to agree to the slogan of Sinhala Only so as to defeat the UNP at the ’56 election. The Hartal of 1953 had already broken the back of the UNP and its post-’53 leadership was even more alienated from the national aspirations than its predecessor. In the very next year, 1955, the slogan of Sinhala Only was raised by the more parochial civil society lobbies, and adopted by the SLFP in a change of policy stance. At its founding in 1951 and in its first General election manifesto in 1952 the SLFP had stood for “Swabasha as national languages”, meaning Sinhala and Tamil, not Sinhala Only. This was the stand of the SLFP that supported the Hartal. But a national bourgeois party was naturally more susceptible to the pressure of the provincial petty bourgeoisie. Thus instead of the broad, multi ethnic popular bloc led by the working people of the Hartal of 1953, came the Pancha Maha Balavegaya of 1956, with the workers and peasants bringing up the rear, and that too in reverse order (“govi-kamkaru”).

A Left Lost in Translation

The dominant trend of old Lankan Left was to give birth to a younger generation that was an even greater oddity than itself, in that its leaders returned from the West of the late ’60s in which Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Ze Dong were the heroes (as they were for radicalized students worldwide), and made the strange choice to follow instead the nondescript British Trotskyites Ted Grant and Gerry Healey.

A far more serious Left, which related itself to the tradition of armed resistance in Sinhala history, was born with Rohana Wijeweera and the JVP and manifested in the April 1971 Insurrection. Nonetheless this was a Left diminished and distorted by its “lateness”; a post-Sinhala Only Left and therefore a mono-ethnic Sinhala Only Left, which neither sought nor saw common cause with the strong anti-caste struggle led by the Jaffna branch of the Maoist Communist party. The JVP’s second edition in the 1980s would be even worse, a sociopathic post-Standardization Left.

The tragic contemporary history of Sri Lanka was determined at least in part by the Hartal, its freezing and abandonment fifty five years ago, resulting in the current polarization between the non-national/anti-national on the one hand (the “peace” lobby of UNP Right and soft Left) and the narrow ethno-religious national (“patriots” of populist Left and radical religious Right) on the other. The Lankan Left leadership of that time did not see itself as the inheritor and continuator of the rebellion of 1848, the 160th anniversary of which we should be celebrating. The Left leaders lacked anything like the spirit of risk and resistance of that insurrection and its leader, the great rebel Puran Appu, who was executed by the British Empire on August 8th, 160 years ago. Despite the affront of arrogant social apartheid that continued throughout the period of British imperial domination of Ceylon , nobody picked up his rifle.

(These are the personal views of the writer)

August 08, 2008

Access to newly displaced "critical"


Photo: Brennon Jones/IRIN
Concerns are rising over maintaining access to IDPs and continuing food and other aid supplies in some areas
Access to thousands of civilians who have fled fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tigers in the northwestern Mannar District between June and July was critical to prevent further hardship, according to UN officials.

About 12,000 familes have fled the fighting and moved farther north, closer to the town of Kilinochchi, under the control of the Tigers 300km north of Colombo, Gordon Weiss, UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.

"So far access to these IDPs has remained satisfactory ," he said. "But it is critical that we maintain these access levels to keep supplies moving. The situation in the areas is very fluid and UN supplies to these people are vital."

The World Food Programme (WFP) has already increased its caseload to supply the newly displaced and Weiss said there were at least 145,000 IDPs, including the newly displaced, in areas under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka's north, the Vanni.

"Over the past week, WFP transported 130MT of dhal and 10MT of vegetable oil from Vavuniya for its ongoing dry ration distribution in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts [under Tiger control]," the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) stated in a situation report released on 4 August.

"The general security situation in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts remains tense and unpredictable due to ongoing military operations and exchange of mortar/artillery shelling around the northern and southern Forward Defence Line areas, claymore mine attacks and air attacks deep inside the Vanni area," the report stated.

Tense environment

Most of the newly displaced fled the fighting in the northern areas of Mannar District to Kilinochchi in mid-July, according to IASC updates.

"These supplies [into Tiger-held areas] are vital if these civilians are to avoid further hardships," Thomas Saudranayagam, the Catholic Bishop of the northern town of Jaffna, 400km north of Colombo, told IRIN.


Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN
About 12,000 families are among the newly displaced near Kilinochchi
"Because of the security situation it is sometimes difficult for government agencies to maintain supplies and they need all the assistance [they can get]," he said. The government also released Rs2 million (US$20,000) to officials in the affected districts to meet the immediate needs of the newly displaced.

No access

Weiss said there were an unknown number of civilians still trapped in areas of fighting in the southwestern parts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts and around 800 people had reached government-controlled areas by travelling south of the fighting. "We don't have access to these people still in the areas of the fighting and we don't have exact figures."

He told IRIN it was not clear what motivated the civilians to move farther north into Tiger-held areas and there was no indication whether they would begin to move south and cross into government-controlled areas where access to UN and other humanitarian agencies would be relatively easier.

Saudranayagam said that given the unpredictable security situation in areas under the Tigers, if the displaced could move back into their own villages, now under government control, their safety and supplies could be far better guaranteed.

"If we can provide a corridor for these people to move back into their villages or to areas south of the fighting it would make supplying [them with aid] easier. The rains will also come in the next two months and the situation could get bad."

If the civilians are to move into government areas, they would have to travel through the Omanthai crossover point that connects Tiger with government areas in the south, about 60km south of Kilinochchi where they remain now.

Sri Lankan military officials told IRIN the Omanthai crossover point was functioning smoothly. "They [the IDPs] can come to government areas if they want to through Omanthai," military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara told IRIN.

Report by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

August 05, 2008

Appreciation: In memory of my father

by Rohini Hensman

The twenty-fifth anniversary of Back July 1983 is an appropriate time to remember my father, C.R. (‘Dick’) Hensman, who died peacefully on 9 July 2008. At that time, under the pseudonym L. Piyadasa, he wrote a book – Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After (published by Marram Books in 1984) – which documented and analysed the events not only of that fateful day but also of the periods preceding and following it. This was one of the first publications to expose the shocking evidence of government sponsorship of the violence, and involvement of people at the highest levels of power in what would today be classified as crimes against humanity.

The analysis was continued in a sequel, Sri Lanka: The Unfinished Quest for Peace, (Marram Books, 1987), published following the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987. What was striking was that it attributed the violence not to widespread inter-ethnic hatred but to the drifting of the Sri Lankan state towards fascism. It was made very clear in both books that the solution was not a separate Tamil Eelam, which would inevitably suffer from the same authoritarian and exclusivist politics as the proposed Sinhala Buddhist state, but a Sri Lanka where people from all ethnic and religious communities could live in any part of the island in security, dignity and peace. His message remains as relevant today as it was then.

Recently there has been a tendency for authoritarian regimes in the Third World to represent themselves as somehow fighting against imperialism by resisting pressure from First World countries to respect human rights. The rank hypocrisy of this claim is exposed by my father’s writings. Much of his earlier work, and especially his books China: Yellow Peril?Red Hope? (SCM Press, 1968), From Gandhi to Guevara: The Polemics of Revolt (Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1969), Sun Yat-sen (SCM Press 1971), and Rich against Poor: The Reality of Aid (Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1971) had a strong anti-imperialist focus. He identified whole-heartedly with the struggles of Third World peoples against both old-style European colonialism and the more recent US imperialism, and had a wide knowledge of liberation movements in all their diversity. Yet his critique of political leaders in Sri Lanka and other developing countries who robbed and oppressed their own people was equally trenchant.

In later life, his aversion to all forms of injustice and cruelty made him a natural ally of all those battling against the exclusion and oppression of women, children and gay people. His concern for social justice as well as his interest in environmental issues found expression in his more philosophical and theological works, Agenda for the Poor: Claiming Their Inheritance, (Centre for Society and Religion, 1990), New Beginnings: the Ordering and Designing of the Realm of Freedom, (Third World Perspectives, 1992) and The Remaking of Humanity (Christhava Sahithya Samithi, 2000).

His personal life embodied the same principles. My mother supported him in all his endeavours, accompanying him back and forth across thousands of miles, and taking on the role of the steady breadwinner so that he could have the opportunity to freelance. All too many men take that kind of devotion from their spouses for granted, and never dream of reciprocating in any way, but not my father. For some years past, as my mother’s health deteriorated, he spent more and more of his declining strength caring for her, and he continued right to the very end. His devotion to her, and love for his other close relations and friends, were as important to his identity as his more public achievements.

Among the many people sending in tributes to my father, several refer to the enormous influence he had on them, and I suppose I belong to that category too. He introduced me to revolutionary politics as well as liberation theology at an early age, and his vision of global justice has inspired me all my life. In the last few weeks of his life, he said more than once that he considered my work to be a continuation of his own, and it makes me feel very proud indeed to think that some part of him lives on in me.

Frontline positions shift rapidly in Northern theatre of war

D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Significant strides made by the armed forces on the one hand and consequential withdrawals (strategic or otherwise) by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the other, have caused rapid shifts in the frontline positions of both sides in the northern theatre of conflict.

While the armed forces are gaining the upper hand on the northern battlefront ,the LTTE remains defiant and unpredictable.

Despite the euphoria among sections in the South about a total tiger defeat being imminent, the LTTE it must be emphasised, is not yet a spent force yet..

There is much fight and resilience left in the LTTE and the coming weeks may demonstrate that the tigers though “ down” were never “out”.

Whatever the future may hold there is no denying that as far as on going positional warfare is concerned, it is a case of “advantage Army” and that the LTTE is being relentlessly forced to fall back from previously held positions.

[near Kanakarayankulam]

The escalation of military activity has resulted in massive human displacement and humanitarian despair. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has shot up to unprecedented levels.

[Civilians moving out, near Kanakarayankulam]

With people displacing from large villages and towns like Ilupaikadavai, Vellangkulam, Mulangkavil, Thunukkai, Mallavi, Vannivillangkulam, Vavunikkulam, Kanakarayankulam and Mangulam etc., a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in the Vanni.

According to latest UN reports more than 57,000 were displaced in the month of July alone.

[Near Kanakarayankulam]

Regardless of civilian sufferings the military juggernaut rolls relentlessly forward.

The most symbolic and strategic advance by the armed forces was made in the north- western district of Mannar.

When hostilities began escalating in July last year the armed forces held only the Island of Mannar and a “lil” bit of real estate in the Mannar mainland.

Continuous yet intermittent clashes in Mannar saw the armed forces moving forward slowly and steadily. The speed increased after the fall of Madhu in mid – April this year.

Thereafter the military drive gathered momentum .

On August 2nd the armed forces announced that Vellankulam the northernmost town in Mannar district was taken.

The fall of Vellankuam meant that the entire Mannar district was now under the Government’s writ.

Since Vellankulam was virtually the LTTE’s last bastion in Mannar , the tigers had dug in getting ready for the long haul in preventing troop advancement along the Mannar – Pooneryn road known as A – 32 highway.

The river Paali aaru that originates in the Omanthai – Puliyankulam region of Vavuniya district flows north – west and ultimately reaches the sea between Moondraam Pitty and Vellankulam on the Mannar coast.

The tigers had set up their defences along the Paali Aaru from the Mannar coast right up to Kalvilaankulam on the Vellankulam – Thunukkai – Mankulam road.

The 58 division or task force one commanded by Brig. Shavendra de Silva mounted a multi pronged assault on tiger defences south of Vellankulam.

The assault was a combination of forward movement by general infantry, mechanized infantry, incursions by special force commando teams and supported by armour, artillery and aerial firepower.

Apart from utilising its superior military capability to its advantage the 58 division also engaged in military tactics which out – manouevred the LTTE just like what happened in the earlier fight for Vidathaltheevu.

Troops from 10 Ceylon Light Infantry and 4 Gajaba of 58 division proceeded towards Vellankulam hugging the coast and launched a frontal assault on LTTE positions in Vellankulam – Paali aauru.

Meanwhile troops of 12 Gajaba regiment ventured eastwards into the interior, crossed the Paali aaru and engaged the tigers at Kalivilaan which is about 3 km away from Thunukkai. Troops withdrew after prolonged fighting for two days.

The early hours of Thursday July 31st saw small commando units attached to commando regiment 2 infiltrating through LTTE lines in the jungles between Vellankulam and Kalvilankulam.

They were followed by some other units from 58 – 3 brigade. Thereafter troops from 12 Gajaba regiment commenced a frontal attack on tiger defences located between Vellankulam and Kalvilan at a place called Thehilamaavil.

It appeared that the tigers were caught between both columns of soldiers. The defences were shattered and breached. 12 Gajaba soldiers then moved forward and by morning on Friday August 1st had entered Kilinochchi district.

While Vellankulam is the northernmost town in Mannar , the first big town in adjacent Kilinochchi district is Mulangaavil. This is about 3 – 4 miles to the north of Vellankulam.
What soldiers of 58 division did was to go around Vellankulam through the jungle hinterland and then move westwards to the littoral. Thus Vellankulam was now encircled though LTTE defences to its south were active still.
The entry by soldiers into areas technically coming under Kilinochchi district was given much prominenc in the mainstream media.

There was however a major faux pas by a reputed international news agency that confused Kilinochchi district and Kilinochchi town.The agency report caused a flutter when it said that the army had entered the rebel capital K’nochchi.

With Vellankulam being encircled it was only a matter of time before the LTTE was expected to withdraw from their positions.
Moving southwards troops entered Vellankulam from the north on Aug 1st and an announcement was made on Aug 2nd that Vellankulam was taken which in turn meant that the entire Mannar district was under army control.

However domination of Vellankulam has not led to an absence of fighting in the area.

Since LTTE defences from Vellankulam – Paali Aaru – Kalvilan have not completely crumpled and because tigers are located in areas in and around Mulangaavil to the north fighting continues.

The Government’s official websites that announced the capture of Vellankulam also continue to provide details of several skirmishes between the army and LTTE in the “general area” of Vellankulam.

In a separate development the navy launched a raid on a makeshift LTTE camp on the twin Islands off Mannar coast known as “Iranai theevu”. “Iranai” in Tamil means twin.
The navy’s rapid action boats squadron (RABS) and Special Boats squadron (SBS) were engaged in this operation. The navy also conducted a search operation in two other Islands off Mannar coast called Erumaitheevu and Kakkai theevu.

It remains to be seen whether the armed forces will proceed further north along the Kilinochchi district’s western coast or consolidate their hold on the Vellankulam region first.

If troops do move northwards fighting could escalate in Kilinochchi district areas in and around Mulangaavil, Kariyaalai and Naagapaduwaan.

The LTTE has several sea tiger bases along the Kilinochchi coast like Naachikudaah, Nochimunai, Pallikudaah, Valaippaadu , Peimunai and Nagathevanthurai.

Since control over stretches of this coast is essential for the LTTE to maintain maritime contact with India, the tigers can be expected to defend positions strongly.

The armed forces however could adopt the same successful tactic employed to capture Vidathaltheevu and Vellankulam.

This is to bypass the areas and move into the hinterland and then move towards the littoral and encircle the target location.

Since there is thick jungle (nearly ten miles to the east) in the hinterland of the A – 32 highway there is much opportunity for the army to adopt the successful tactic.

After the capture of Mannar district the stated objective of the 58 division is control and consolidation of the A - 32 highway from Mannar to Pooneryn.

The armed forces have another 23 miles to cover in order to reach Poonagary or Pooneryn where the old Dutch fort and Jetty are situated.

Then the north – bound road turns eastwards for another six miles to reach the Sangupiddy jetty.

It is here that the A – 32 “formally”ends.

A ferry from Sanguopiddy to Keratheevu would take one across to the Jaffna Peninsula. Of course if the proposed Mahadeva causeway project is completed then there is no need of the ferry.

If this is the position regarding the left flank in forward movement by the armed forces there is much fighting in the strategically important areas lying between the A – 32 in the west and the A – 9 or Jaffna – Kandy road towards the east.

An important yet minor road, two towns, a river and one major tank together are the key points of this intense fighting.

First the road. There is a road that proceeds to the east from Vellankulam. It goes east through places like Thunukkai and Mallavi.

After passing Aninjiankulam it reaches Ottaruthakulam from where it takes a north – eastern direction.

Thereafter it passes through Vannivilaankulam and reaches Mankulam on the A – 9 highway.

The two towns are Thunukkai and Mallavi coming under the same Assistant Government Agent division.

This AGA division was earlier part of the Kilinochchi district but now forms part of Mullaitheevu district.

Thuukkai and Mallavi are comparatively big towns with large segments of population. They also have several administrative structures of the LTTE.

The river is Paali Aaru which originates from the Omanthai region and reaches the sea at Vellankulam. Currently many LTTE combat positions are located on both sides of the Paali river.

The Paali Aaru cuts across Vavunikkulam which is the tank in question.
According to historical belief there existed a small anecut in Vavunikulam that was supposedly constructed during King Ellalan (Elara)’s era.

A modern anecut was constructed in the same place in the fifties of the last century leading to the enhancement and expansion of the present Vavunikulam tank.

Incidently the five major irrigation tanks in the Wanni northern mainland are Iranaimadhukulam, Kattukkaraikulam, Vavunikulam, Muthaiyankattu and Thannimurippukulam.

Of these the 2nd largest Kattukkarai (Giants tank) is under Government control. The 3rd largest Vavunikulam is also very much under army control. 5th largest Thannimurippu is also on the verge of being taken by the army. Only the largest Iranaimadhu and 4th largest Muthiyankattu are under full LTTE control.
The water level in Paali Aaru to the north of Vavunikulam is comparatively low because much of the water is retained in the Vavunikukulam reservoir.

Thus the LTTE has established many position on the banks of both sides of the Paali from Vavunikulam to Vellankulam.

Despite the seemingly impregnable LTTE defences, recent developments saw the armed forces scoring significant successes through remarkable military manoeuvres.

The 57 division led by Major – General Jagath Dias is responsible for the breakthrough on these fronts.

July 24th saw the 57 – 1 brigade turn the tables on the LTTE through a “stealth” operation.

Troops moved from positions in the Nattankandal area and reached a place called Paandiyankulam.

Soldiers then crossed the Paali aaru river near Paandiyankulam and made their way through shrub jungle and reached some paddy fields.

Moving across these fields the troops reached Paali nagar a township named after the river.

In a related move another military column moved clandestinely from Paali Aaru through shrub jungle in an area where another river known as Uppanaaru meets Paali Aaru .

Troops then reached Sivapuram where the LTTE had a camp near the Sivan temple. The tigers were taken by surprise and routed.

Troops then moved further and took the general area of another place called Kidaaipidithakulam where excess water from Vavunikulam tank is diverted.

This enabled the armed forces to establish control of the Vavunikulam tank’s southern end.

The tigers it appeared were completely flummoxed as they did not expect the armed forces to follow such devious routes. Earlier the use of such tactics had been the exclusive preserve of the LTTE.

The LTTE rallied and launched counter – attacks that was repulsed. Nearly a 100 tigers were killed in the clashes. These included two of Lt. Col rank.

Thereafter there was heavy exchange of artillery and mortar fire between both sides across the Vavunikulam reservoir.
Graduallly the army by moving along the bunds and also crossing through shallow waters established full control of the greater part of Vavunikukalm and its environs.

In another forward movement through jungle areas of the Madhu sanctuary , troops took Panankamam the seat of Vanni vhieftain Pandara Vanniyan or Wanni Bandara.

Pandara Wanniyan who ruled the Wanni fiefdom of Adangapatrru was kept on defying the British and was ultimately defeated at the historic battle of Katsilaimadhu by “Col” Drieberg.

From Panankamam troops struck out towards Thunukkai and reached a place called Ottankulam. Thus Thunukkai is now targeted by two columns.

One is at Kalvilan about 2 – 3 miles to the west of Thunukkai on the Vellankulam road.
The other is at Ottankulam about two miles to the south of Thuukkai on the Panankamam road.

LTTE positions are to the south of the black bridge (Karutha Paalam) at Ottankulam and to the west of Kalvilan. Both positions are along the shores of Paali aaru.

The armed forces have also made three limited offensives to reach the strategically important Mallavi town.

One advance from Paandiyankulam has reached a place called Karumpulliyan to the south of Paali aaru. Tiger positions are on the opposite side.

Another advance from Vavunikulam towards Mallavi has reached a place called Karuppikulam near the “silkworm junction” (Pattu poochi santhi) near Mallavi . The LTTE positions are behind the first canal of Vavunikulam tank.

A third offensive targeting Mallavi was launched from Paalai Adi in the Vavunikulam general area on Aug 1st. This was repulsed after bitter fighting in which an army vehicle was seized by the LTTE.

It is a case of being “so near yet so far” for the armed forces as their positions are only within 2 – 4 miles of Thunukkai and Mallavi.

If this is the situation as far as the 57 division is concerned intense fighting is also going on in Vavuniya north , the right flank .

There task force two is engaged in continuous fighting with the LTTE in the Navvi – Paalamottai – Vilakkuvaithakulam region.

The tigers are sustained through supply routes along the road extending from Vannivilankulam to Moondrumurippu.

If the armed forces are able to interdict this supply route then the tigers fighting on the Paalamottai front will have to withdraw.

This would enable the armed forces to take over the vast Vavuniya north territory.

This would include Puliyankulam from where troops could also move along the Mullaitheevu road via Nainamadhu and take Nedunkerni. Likewise areas along the A – 9 up to Kanakarayankulam could also be taken.

For all this interdiction of supplies is a pre-requisite.The 57 division at Vavunikulam seems best equipped to interdict this route.

In the long term troops could move through the jungles of Aninjayakulam and Ottaruthakulam and reach Vannivilankulam thereby cutting off the supply route at its source.
The other option in the short – term is for troops to move across from Vavunikulam and interdict the Vannivilankulam – Moondrumurippu road at a place called Paalaipaani.

Apart from the fighting going on to the west of the A – 9 there is also conflict to the east of the A – 9 in the Manal aaru /Weli – Oya region.

There the 59 division under Brig. Nandana Tudawatte has advanced about 10 miles through forest areas and reached areas about 4 miles to the south of Kumulamunai.

These advances encompass the Nithigaikulam region where LTTE leader Prabakharan was holed up during the Indian army period.

Troops have also reached the Thannimurippukulam tank area but are yet to establish control.

Troops have generally moved out from positions to the north of Anaivilunthan Aaru/Athawetunawewa, Mankindimalai, Paalaamai Odai/Kiriibban wewa, Kokkuthoduwai and Aandankulam.

The army succeeded in driving away the LTTE from its key forward defence base known as “Munnagam”.

Thereafter troops have also seized abandoned LTTE bases codenamed after tiger leaders like “ Michael” “Kamal” and “Suganthan”.

There are also artillery exchanges in the Jaffna peninsula in the Muhamaalai region.

The armed forces line of control extends from Kilaly in the west through Eluthumadduvaal to Nagar Kovil in the east. The 53 and 55 divisions are stationed here.

The LTTE’s northern commander “Col” Theepan was supervising defences in the peninsula earlier. But with the army entering Kilinochchi district, Theepan is now focusing on the fighting there.

Though the armed forces are on the ascendancy it would be a grave error to assume that the LTTE is defeated or demoralised.
LTTE leader Prabakharan being a master strategist is capable of springing a surprise in the near future.

In a situation where military positions keep on see – sawing the only certainty is the fact that there would be terrible levels of fighting in the coming weeks.

Related article: Army gaining advantage as fighting rages in the North

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

Military and the Mess Up in Media Relations

by Col R Hariharan (retd.)

"The Sirasa TV crew who went to cover the opening of the second flyover in Kelaniya met with hostility from the bodyguards of Minister Mervyn Silva. An eye witness at the scene claimed that the minister had inquired whether a Sirasa TV crew was present and upon identification had ordered his guards to forcibly remove the video tapes from the camera." News item in a Colombo daily August 5, 2008.

The above news item is the latest episode in the Sri Lanka Government's mess up of media relations during the last two years. Government representatives have generally been defensive if not out rightly hostile in responding to media's quest for information. Most of the media criticism relate to issues of governance, corruption, nepotism, misuse of office, violation of human rights, use of violence and intimidation against dissent etc.

Sri Lanka Journalists' for Democracy

[The War on Journalists Stopped- a full page advertisement appeared on several Sri Lanka newspapers of August 3rd 2008. The advertisement was sponsored by Sri Lanka Journalists' for Democracy-pic:HA-flickr]

Only a few relate to the armed forces and conduct of military operations. Normally, these issues would be discussed in parliament. But that avenue had not been effective as the government appears to have increasingly adopted "direct action" as the method to handle criticism. Media representatives writing critically of the government in particular have been victims of violent attacks, intimidation, threats and calumny.

The regime's attitude towards media freedom has drawn a lot of unsavoury international criticism. It is no consolation to scribes that similar trends have been noticed now and then in other countries of South Asia as well.

The successful operations of security forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have contributed to the continuing popularity of President Mahinda Rajapaksa among the masses. The security forces, particularly the army, unlike any other arm of the government have been paying a high price for their success. Despite this, the security forces had drawn some flack in defence columns of a few newspapers not only on the conduct of operations but also on issues of nepotism, corruption, and misinformation.

This has not gone well with the security forces as seen in Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka's recent interview to a Colombo Sunday newspaper. Here are some excerpts from this candid interview particularly on media and media freedom:

Question: What is the role you expect the media to play during the time of war?

Answer: War or no war, the media should write in the interest of the country and not to please their favourites. The media is supposed to play a neutral role to educate people. They are not supposed to create situations where they groom people and make heroes out of them. I do not think that certain media in this country is doing their duty with a sense of responsibility.

We know that they are being bribed, given 'drinks,' treated in restaurants and they have their own vested interests. And is it ethical them to go for agendas misleading people?

These so called media guys are not responsible to the people and they are not entitled to such media freedom. Media freedom is there for you to do the right thing and to be fair by everybody. Nobody has given freedom for anybody to drive their own agendas. We know very well about those media people who take bribes, write and voice their opinion for some personal gains. So, especially the media people should behave well and set an example to others. To me, those who stage protests with unshaven beards, long hairs and wearing costumes like in fancy dress competitions are not scribes who are clamouring for media freedom but a gang of thugs.

The General's outburst is symptomatic of how armies generally react to media criticism. This state of affairs is not only in Sri Lanka, but in most of the other countries in a similar situation. His views will strike a sympathetic chord among many of his counterparts in other countries, though they might not air them in public. This is because governments and armed forces have not yet come to terms with the 21st century phenomenon of citizen's right to information.

Basically, both the military and media represent committed people who believe in their cause the armies assume they are custodians of national security, while the media feel they are the guardians of freedom of expression. There is an element of truth in both claims. When both of them interact, inherent contradiction in their coexistence comes to the fore. This has to do with their mindsets. I can claim to have some insights into their mindsets because I have worked both as a journalist and a career military officer by choice.

The uniformed forces, particularly the army, have a macho image of themselves. This comes due to their leadership, training, discipline, and organized way of doing things known popularly as regimentation. On the other hand, media lacks uniformity; to them discipline relates only to deadlines or catching live news. If the military prides itself in smart turnout, many members of the media have a studied shabbiness about them. (I think Gen Fonseka was not far off the mark on this. I have always wondered why media persons cannot groom themselves better!).

Unlike military men, media operators belong to the freewheeling, iconoclastic, and often abrasive, collection of many kinds who would rather question than accept what is told to them. If secrecy and security are watchwords of military, scoops and sting operations are the tools of trade of media. Armed forces have a great faith in the use of force to settle issues, just as the media puts its faith in their own words of wisdom and world view. The army men do not hesitate to use fisticuffs, and the media are not averse to use the poison pen.

To top it all, both the military and media are treated as holy cows of society. Both are patronised by politicians and political parties to articulate power in different ways. So they do not have the resilience to weather criticism unlike the thick skinned political class. Wars are power projections of the rulers and so both the armed forces and the media become part of political polemics between the ruling and the opposition parties. Politicians always use the success and failures of the conduct of war as a stick to drum up support or opposition to the regime in power. And the media comes in handy for such campaigns.

If the military is frozen in the 20th century mindset of inherent righteousness of their actions, the media riding the 21st century war of TRP rating and circulation sensationalise any news item including military matters. In this setting, when media critically reports military operations, the military men feel the media is judgemental, disregarding the ordeal of fire undergone by the soldiers. It is true that generally the media's level of military knowledge is low, just as the military's knowledge of media is poor. So when media carries a half baked report, the military suspects the intention behind it.

The accountability of the media is to the public and not to the government. Thus it is qualitatively different from the accountability of the armed forces. So the armed forces cannot expect the media to be more accountable than the ordinary citizen who wants to know what is happening at the war front. This is the harsh truth of modern media.

In counter insurgency wars every soldier or militant killed or wounded affects the lives of scores of others not involved in the war. So whatever is the result of military operation, some section of the population or media will blame the armed forces. The armed forces have to understand this and adapt their style to provide more information.

The armed forces have no choice but to enlist the support of media as a change agent for influencing public opinion in counter insurgency war. Military has to learn to handle media criticism. Generally the security forces' complaints about media fall under three categories ? misinformation, lack of accountability, and compromise of security.

These can be overcome by having a media friendly style. Facilitating information gathering, rather than providing canned information bytes, and providing knowledge inputs produces a friendlier media. Building a media friendly attitude among forces during peace times will pay better dividends in times of war.

Greater transparency on issues of military administration not only builds public credibility but also tones up discipline of armed forces and improves their morale. And that should be the ultimate aim of armed forces - to build a better force regardless of what media feels.

(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)

August 02, 2008

Tamil Nadu Survey finds support for Tamil Eelam and LTTE but also for arresting its leader

The politics of the Tamil affairs in neighbouring Sri Lanka has always been a lightning rod in Tamil Nadu. It raises support and various sentiments across many spectrums of society.

Particularly, support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been controversial at best, since the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Nevertheless the general view has been that vast support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam stems only among a group of minor politicians of the Southern Indian State.

But a just-released survey by Ananda Vikatan, The popular Tamil weekly magazine of Tamil Nadu shows a small yet surprising comfortable majority (54.25 percent) of people in Tamil Nadu supporting the LTTE, while only 17.4 percent oppose it. 28.34 percent said they supported LTTE before the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Ananda Vikatan commenced publishing in 1928 and it is an influential publishing powerhouse in Tamil Nadu today.

The weekly magazine has published the results of the survey on the August 8 issue.

The results of the survey is reported today in the website of the premier Tamil Daily of Sri Lanka, Virakesari.

The Survey also finds:

I. Tamil Eelam as a solution supported by 55.4%, Not needed 9.91% and for federal solution 34.63%

II. On LTTE ban, to continue 27.43%, lift the ban 47.65% also 24.91% wants to wait and see.

III. LTTE leader Pirapaharan, as accused in the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi: 43.02% says LTTE leader should be arrested, 40.07% says he could be pardoned and 16.90% said did not commit the crime.

IV. On the measures for India to take regarding Sri Lanka, 62.59% said intervention a must to seek solution while 24.81 % said intervention needed only if the situation gets too severe. 12.58% of the respondents wanted India to stay out of the Sri Lanka situation.

V. On the matter of Katchatheevu, suddenly in the forefront of affairs across the Palk Straits, 65.76% said India must retake control and 27.96% said at least rights to go to the island must be fully restored. 6.26% said the matter needs no attention now.

The details of the opinion poll appeared in Ananda Vikatan as reported in TamilNet:

1.On their stand on LTTE...
  Votes Percentage
Always support 2,276 54.25
Always against 730 17.40
Supported before the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi 1,189 28.34
2. On forming an independent Thamizh Eezham...
  Votes Percentage
Correct solution 2,326 55.44
Not necessary 416 9.91
Self rule for Tamils should be sufficient 1,453 34.63
3.On the Indian government ban on LTTE...
  Votes Percentage
Correct stand 1,151 27.43
The ban should be removed 1,999 47.65
Should wait and see 1,045 24.91
4.On the Tamil Nadu leaders’ (Vaiko, Ramadoss, Thirumalavan, Nedumaran) support for LTTE...
  Votes Percentage
Correct stand 2,071 49.36
Dangerous policy 571 13.61
It's for other agenda 1,553 37.02
5.On LTTE leader Pirapaharan who is accused of involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi...
  Votes Percentage
Should be arrested 1,805 43.02
Is innocent 709 16.90
Should be forgiven 1,681 40.07
6.On what should be done by India in the Sri Lankan crisis...
  Votes Percentage
India should not get involved 528 12.58
India should involve to find a solution 2,626 62.59
India should only get involved if the conflict gets out of control 1,041 24.81
7.On LTTE assassinating Tamil politicians of dissenting views...
  Votes Percentage
Cannot be accepted at all 1,810 43.14
Inevitable approach 1,089 25.95
Do not understand the circumstances there 1,296 30.89
8.On LTTE growing to possess a standing army, navy and air force...
  Votes Percentage
A matter to be proud of 1,940 46.24
A danger to India 780 18.59
Neither of the above 1,475 35.16
9.On ruling DMK’s (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) stand on LTTE...
  Votes Percentage
DMK should take a harder stand against LTTE 953 22.71
DMK should support LTTE without worrying about being in power 1,992 47.48
DMK may continue its current policy of apathy. 1,250 29.79
10. On Nalini’s (convicted in Rajiv Gandhi assassination) continued imprisonment even after completion of sentence...
  Votes Percentage
Nalini should be released 1,747 41.64
She may be released and kept under supervision 1,579 37.64
Her imprisonment should continue 869 20.71
11. On the islet of Kachchatheevu...
  Votes Percentage
India should retrieve Kachchatheevu from Sri Lanka 2,759 65.76
India may give up Kachchatheevu 263 6.26
India should at least have assert to the rights of Indians getting access to Kachchatheevu. 1173 27.96
12. On the issue of Indian fishermen, getting killed by the Sri Lankan navy...
  Votes Percentage
India should respond with military force 1,244 29.65
India should resolve the issue through negotiations 1,464 34.89
India should severely reprimand Sri Lanka in the international arena 1,487 35.44

Army gaining advantage as fighting rages in the North

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Medical personnel travelling last week from Government controlled Vavuniya to the hospital in Tiger controlled Puliyankulam were surprised to find the town deserted and hospital closed.

It was then that they came to know of the latest orders issued by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to the helpless civilian population under their control in the Northern mainland known as Wanni.

All civilians living between Puliyankulam and Kanakarayankulam along the Jaffna – Kandy road known as A – 9 highway had been instructed by the LTTE to leave their dwellings and re-locate to areas between Oddusuddan and Puthukkudiyiruppu in the Mullaitheevu district.

Civilians living between government controlled Omanthai and Puliyankulam along the A – 9 highway had already been ordered to leave some months ago when hostilities escalated in the Vavuniya north region.

Now people living further up on the A – 8 had also been ordered to evacuate.

People living between Kanakarayankulam and Mankulam were also told by the tigers to be prepared to move out from their homes at very short notice.

Fearing the worst many people living in and around Mankulam had voluntarily commenced moving last week.

Rapid Advances

This latest civilian displacement was mainly due to rapid advances made by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the North.

It was a case of “Advantage Army” as a militarily out- manoeuvred LTTE began withdrawing from entrenched positions,

As far as the trapped civilians were concerned there was no possibility of their defying the LTTE diktat “en masse “ and so would have pathetically obeyed.

Nevertheless it would have been obvious to most civilians that the LTTE orders were a manifestation of weakness and not an indicator of strength.

The tigers were forcing people to move out because they knew they could not hold the army at bay.
Recent escalation in the fighting had brought the LTTE controlled areas of Vellankulam, Thunukkai, Mallavi, Vavunikkulam into the arena of conflict. People from these areas had started relocating to other areas.

Now in an anticipatory move the LTTE was ordering civilians along the A – ( highway also to move out.

Protracted Fighting

Protracted fighting in areas to the west of the A – 9 in the Vavuniya and Mannar districts had seen the LTTE fighting fiercely to retain their positions.

Yet the past months witnessed the armed forces gaining the upper hand in a slow but relentless push for military supremacy against the LTTE.

Notwithstanding their dogged determination the tenacious tigers were no match for the armed forces and their superior manpower, firepower, armour power and airpower.

This superiority however should not detract from the fact that the armed forces have also displayed high morale and vigorous determination in persisting with their military objectives.

Military Action

Military action in the northern mainland began in earnest in July last year.

At that time the forward defence lines of the armed forces in Mannar and Vavuniya districts were along the Vavuniya – Parayanalankulam road known as A – 30 and the Medawachiya – Mannar road known as A – 14.

Moreover some army positions were sandwiched between LTTE controlled areas in the South and north of Mannar district.

Currently the armed forces in Mannar and Vavuniya have advanced at least 60 – 65 km to the north of their original FDL positions last year. In addition they have also taken Mannar South from Arippu to Mullikulam.

If the name of the game is acquisition of real estate then it is estimated that the armed forces have wrested back at least 1300 sq km in extent from tiger control in the Wanni.

Though military positions are constantly fluctuating present estimates show that the armed forces control more than 90 % of Mannar district, 60 % of Vavuniya district and about 15 % of Mullaitheevu district.

The initial breakthrough came on Sep 2nd 2007 when the armed forces in a three – pronged operation took over the entire Musali AGA division south of the Aruvi aaru in Mannar.

Short - term objectives

Thereafter the short term objectives were Marudhamadhu known as Madhu and Adampan. The tigers proffered stiff resistance and fought back ferociously.
There was heavy fighting around Giants Tank known as Kattukkaraikulam in Tamil and Yodha Ella in Sinhala.

The fall of Madhu became inevitable when the armed forces took Periyathambanai, Sinna and Periya pandivirichaan etc and moved on three sides within 2 k m of the sacred Catholic church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary .

The LTTE vacated the area and the armed forces moved into Madhu on April 15th this year. Two weeks later the armed forces took over the Giants tank and its environs in their entirety.
May 9th saw Adampan fall. Thereafter it was a series of successes for the armed forces as the tigers began vacating their positions in key areas like Palampitty, Periyamadhu, Nedunkandal etc.

The first week of July saw the armed forces gain full control of about 120 sq miles of paddy fields in the hinterland of Mannar. This region was known as the “rice bowl of Mannar”.

Long - term objectives

Now the stage was set a military campaign to gain full control of the key Mannar – Pooneryn road known as A – 32 highway.

The two long - term objectives of the army were to destroy the sea tiger bases in the coastal areas of Vidathaltheevu and Naachikudaa and to establish full control of the littoral along Mannar - Pooneryn road.
If and when the armed forces managed to eradicate LTTE sea power off the shores of Mannar district and take over the Mannar - Pooneryn road and littoral areas several advantages would be gained.
Firstly the maritime supply route from Tamil Nadu could be restricted if not stopped altogether.. Presently the LTTE gets most of its fuel, medicine , dry ration food and materials like metal for explosive devices etc from India.

Secondly it would be possible to establish a land - based route to Jaffna peninsula. Transport could be along the Mannar - Pooneryn road and from there by the short - distance ferry between Sangupiddy and Keratheevu.
Thirdly Government writ over the Mannar littoral would facilitate off - shore exploration for oil in the Mannar gulf basin.
Fourthly taking control of Pooneryn can eliminate the threat to Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE artillery battery located in the Kalmunai - Nagathevanthurai areas of Pooneryn. The tigers are able to target even the Palaly base from Pooneryn.

Fifthly the armed forces can use Pooneryn as a launching pad for further ground movements into tiger territory. If troops move east and reach Paranthan they have three further options.

1)Move further east by south - east along the axis of Paranthan - Mullaitheevu road;

2)move up north towards Elephant Pass;

3) move down south towards Kilinochchi.

Vidathaltheevu base

It is against the backdrop of these strategic objectives that the march on Vidathaltheevu gathered momentum.

[Sri Lanka Army during Vidathaltheevu opeartion-pic:menik]

The Vidathaltheevu promontory was about two km away from the Pallamadhu junction on A – 32.

Vidathal is a thorny scrub (mimosa cinerea)found in many areas of the North – East. Vidathaltheevu means Island of Vidathal in Tamil

The Naayaaru river cutting across Naayaatruveli reaches the sea near Vidathaltheevu. The sea water level off Vidathaltheevu rises and falls with the tide.

The boats berthed in the water at dawn could lie in the sand at dusk . This ebbing sea is called “Vatruperukkukadal” in Tamil.

Vidathaltheevu has a natural harbour but marine access from the gulf of Mannar was made possible only through the construction of the Arnolda canal in the forties of the last century.

In recent times Vidathaltheevu had become the major sea tiger base along the north – western coast.

The tigers had set up an 8 km long defence line stretching from the banks of Naayaaru via Naayaatruveli to Piraamanaalankulam.

This LTTE line was a difficult obstacle to surmount and it appeared that the armed forces could be bogged down for quite a while.

Different Approach

It was at this juncture that the armed forces adopted a refreshingly new approach.
Instead of relying on their overwhelming military superiority alone the armed forces began displaying superior military tactics.

This remarkable change began paying dividends.

Troops moved clandestinely through jungle areas in a northward direction from points in Palampitty and Periyamadhu , both situated along the Iranai iluppaikulam – Pallamadhu road.

They succeeded in reaching Sirattykulam on the border of Thunukkai AGA division. Though located in the North – western sector Thunukkai forms part of the Mullaitheevu district.

After reaching Sirattykulam the troops changed direction and moved westwards from the east. They reached a comparatively unknown yet key location called Kooraai.

Kooraai was an irrigation settlement begun in the eighties of the 20th century. The work was not completed and the anecut construction of Koorai tank was abandoned.
Only some irrigation dept buildings and around 40 – 50 families remain to tell the tale of what could have been a flourishing settlement.

Tripartite thrust

Once the armed forces reached Koorai they used it as a launching pad to mount two forward movements further to the west towards the A – 32 or Mannar – Pooneryn road.

One column moved through Aathimottai and interdicted the A – 32 at Kalliaddy.
The other column moved along Koyilkulam and Puthukulam and breached the A – 32 at Pallivaasalpitty.
A third column broke out from Periyamadhu and reached Pallamadhu junction by moving east..

This tripartite thrust saw the LTTE being checkmated.

Forging ahead on A-32

The tigers were now boxed in at Vidathaltheevu notwithstanding their elaborate defences further to the South of Vidathal.

The army was actually about 2 – 3 km ahead of Vidathaltheevu on the A – 32.

The tigers had no choice other than to withdraw from Vidathaltheevu by sea. This they did and when the armed forces moved in neither tigers nor their boats were there.

The next big town along the A – 32 was Iluppaikadavai where the LTTE had a large base housing elements of the Charles Anthony regiment. The tigers began withdrawing from Iluppaikadavai at the same time they were moving out of V’theevu..

Thus the armed forces continued their victorious thrust further north along the A – 32 and took Iluppaikadavai also.
Thereafter they advanced further up and crossed the Parangi aaru river.
By the last week of July the armed forces had taken Moondrampitty along the Mannar – Pooneryn road.


View Larger Map

Vellankulam

The last big town on the A – 32 that falls under Mannar district is Vellankulam. Thereafter it is Kilinochchi district where the first big town is Mulangaavil.

The river Paali Aaru reaches the sea near Vellankulam.

It appears that the LTTE is ready for the long haul at Paali aaru – Vellankulam. Bunkers and trenches are being constructed and fortified.

The army is now confronting the LTTE at Vellankulam. Artillery shelling and aerial bombardment on Vellankulam has begun.

Though the LTTE is putting up a massive defence at Vellankulam on the A – 32 the armed forces could do a “Vidathaltheevu” and outmanoeuvre the tigers.
The forces could proceed North after taking Thunukkai and encircle Vellankulam without trying to break the defences to its south similar to that of the Vidathaltheevu operation.

While fighting continued in and around Vellankulam there were reports that the army had circumvented LTTE defences and were encircling the area from three directions.
If these reports are correct the army has technically entered Kilinochchi district. The fall of Vellankulam too would be inevitable.

Our Lady of Madhu

The fight for Vellankulam resulted in an interesting development.

When the armed forces began closing in on Madhu during April the Catholic clergy hierarchy in Mannar had taken away the sacred statue of Our Lady of Madhu to another place for safety.

This relocation of the blessed Mary statue was facilitated by the LTTE.

The statue was housed temporarily at the St. Xaviers church at Thevaayanpitty popularly known as Thevanpitty.
Thevanpitty is situated on a small road leading to the coast from Vellankulam.

With Vellankulam being targeted and shells falling on Thevanpitty the sacred statue became vulnerable.
So the “displaced” statue was brought back to the Bishop’s House in Mannar town.
Last Tuesday the Security Forces Commander in Wanni, Major General Jagath Dias officially invited Mannar Bishop most Rev.Rayappu Joseph to take over the Madhu shrine which had been repaired under the supervision of the Army .
The holy statue is likely to be enshrined in the Church again within the next few days in order to have the annual feast in mid-August with the participation of Catholic devotees from all four corners of the country.

LTTE Access to India

Meanwhile there is an impression in the South that all sea movement along the North – Western coast has been stopped for the LTTE after the fall of Vidathaltheevu. This is not correct..

While the loss of Vidathaltheevu would be keenly felt by the tigers ,sea movement along the North – western coast has certainly not been circumscribed.
There are coastal points like Naachikudaah, Pallikudaah, Valapaadu and Peimunai along the Kilinochchi district coast that are being utilised by the LTTE.
Increased sea tiger movement in the seas between Thalaimannar and Neduntheevu (Delft) in recent times indicate that LTTE marine movement is undergoing a sea change.

Since the LTTE needs north – western sea access to maintain contact with the Indian coast the tigers would most probably resist army advances further along the A – 32 fiercely.

While the bulk of LTTE sea supply is on the east coast between Challai and Alampil , India remains a chief source of supply of fuel, medicine, dry rations and metal for the LTTE.

Thus it is of paramount importance that the LTTE preserves and protects at least part of the 77 km long Mannar – Pooneryn road. Currently about half the A – 32 highway is under Government control.

Against this backdrop the tigers will try and defend Vellankulam – Paali Aaru and other points on the A – 32 to prevent further advances of the army along the North –Western coast into Kilinochchi district.

Thunukkai

There is also another reason for the LTTE to fight it out ferociously at Vellankulam.
This is because of a road from Vellankulam that leads to Maankulam along the Kandy – Jaffna road or A – 9 highway.

Situated along this road are the important and relatively thickly populated towns of Thunukkaai and Mallaavi.

Holding off the army at Vellankulam could deter the armed forces from gaining control of one end of this minor yet geo- strategically vital road.

Even if the LTTE is able to contain the army at Vellankulam the threat to Mallavi and Thunukkai is by no means diminished.

This is because the armed forces have made significant strides on other related fronts.

In a limited replay of the Vidathaltheevu campaign the armed forces out manoeuvred the LTTE by getting off the beaten track and striking unexpectedly behind enemy lines.

Forces stationed to the north of Nattaankandal proceeded towards Thunukkaai through a place called Ottankulam.
The last week of July saw the army engaged in combat with the LTTE at Kalvilaankulam about 3km away from Thunukkaai.

Vavunikulam

Likewise forces stationed near Panankaamam in a surprise move proceeded through Paandiyankulam and reached the South of Vavunikulam.

[LTTE near Vavunikulam, Aug 1, 2008]

Panankaamam which is about 7 km away from Vavunikulam was the fiefdom ruled by the Wanni chieftain Pandara Vannian or Wanni Bandara who defied the British at the historic battle of Katsilaimadhu.

The latter part of July saw the armed forces and tigers embroiled in intense conflict around the Vavunikulam tank and its bunds

If the armed forces are able to move via the tank bund area to Paalaipaani or Kidaaipidithakulam then it would be possible to interdict the LTTE supply route along Vannivilaankulam - Moondrumurippu.

Palamottai

This in turn would affect tiger logistics drastically on the one hand while enhancing modes of supply for the army among various points in that sector.

Currently there is intense fighting in Vavuniya north areas like Navvi, Paalamottai, Vilakkuvaithakulam etc.

Supplies to the LTTE are brought along the Vannivilaankulam – Moondrumurippu road to sustain cadres fighting on the Paalamottai front.

If these supplies are interdicted then the LTTE has no choice other than to withdraw.

This “collapse” would result in the armed forces taking over Puliyankulam easily and then move along the Mullaitheevu road via Nainamadhu and occupy Nedunkerni .
Troops could also move up north along the A – 9 to Kanakarayankulam and Mankulam.

Mallavi

In addition the fall of Vavunikulam would also result in the armed forces being only about 4 – 5 km away from Mallavi.
Thus it would be possible to reach Mankulam via Mallavi if Vavunikulam falls.
If the fighting in Vavunikulam, Thunukkai , Mallavi proves successful the armed forces would most likely reach the A – 9 and take key spots like Mankulam, Puliyankulam, Kanakarayankulam etc.

The fighting in Vavunikulam has been intense with both sides incurring heavy casualties. The LTTE lost more than a 100 cadres including two of Lt. Col rank in the first two days of fighting.

Subsequently the tigers thwarted advancing troops through a counterstrike that killed more than 30 soldiers and injured over 60.. The tigers also seized a military vehicle.

Reaching A-9 Highway

The recent successes by the armed forces reinforce the assessment that the fall of Vavunikulam, Mallavi, Thunukkai etc are imminent. This could lead to the army entering the A – 9 area.

The LTTE decision to move civilians along the A – 9 further into the interior demonstrates that the tigers are not confident of preventing further advances by the army.

In such an eventuality it would only be a matter of time before the A – 9 highway from Vavuniya to Kilinochchi is under army control.

If the armed forces take the Mannar – Pooneryn road and then move east to Paranthan the LTTE at Elephant pass would be beleaguered.

In that case the tigers may have to vacate even Elephant pass or be caught there like an arecanut in a nutcracker.

If all these things happen the armed forces could accomplish the rare feat of regaining the A – 9 highway from LTTE clutches.
It would be difficult to specify an accurate timetable but there is the imperative of weather.

Once the monsoon rains commence in October conditions would be difficult for military movement. All rivers will be in spate and floods could occur.
Therefore the tentative deadline for full control of the A – 9 highway and areas to its west could be the ides of October.

LTTE: Down but not out

Thereafter the fighting could rage in the areas to the east of the A – 9. The LTTE it must be said are down but certainly not out.

There is also the suspicion that the tigers could launch a counter- strike against the rapidly advancing army.
The flip side to the military advantage gained is increased vulnerability. The armed forces have gained too much territory too soon and are yet to consolidate their hold.

With the army spreading thin they could be potential targets of tigers moving in clandestinely through jungle routes.

The creditable performance of the army in the fighting in the North – Western sector is due to the 58, 57 divisions and task force two.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse

Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse flew to the frontlines of Mannar and Vavuniya on July 31st to meet the ground and field commanders of all three outfits. He congratulated those responsible for their praiseworthy performance.

The defence secretary also touched on an aspect of the conflict that is often ignored, overlooked or underemphasised.

This is the predicament of civilians displaced by the fighting.

The primary focus is usually on the fluctuating military fortunes of those engaged in armed confrontation.

The unfolding humanitarian tragedy of mass scale displacement is forgotten.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse drew the attention of military top brass to displaced civilian plight.

He urged that every assistance be rendered to these hapless people to reach the comparative safety of government controlled territory.

[Fleeing Vellankulam]

Humanitarian Tragedy

It is estimated that about 250,000 to 300,000 civilians live in LTTE controlled territory in the north.
Around 120, 000 people have been displaced in the past year of fighting. More than 50,000 were displaced in the month of July alone.

Given the fact that there is another segment of people displaced through earlier wars and by the Tsunami the total number of IDP’s in the Wanni at present is estimated at 170,000 to 175,000.

Most of the recently displaced were those living in areas regarded as “secure” for many years.

Places like Vellankulam, Iluppaikadavai, Thunukkai, Vavunikulam, Mallavi, Mankulam etc have been places housing thousands of previously displaced persons. Now all are affected and dispersing.

Non – Governmental Organization personnel with working experience in the Wanni opine that large numbers of the people there would like to relocate to the relatively safer and comfortable areas under Government control.

The steady trickle of people braving LTTE wrath and crossing over clandestinely by boat to Mannar Island indicates the desperate mood of the civilian population.

Restricted IDP movement

But the LTTE seems adamant in preventing such an outflow. The recent orders given to the people along A – 9 suggests that the LTTE would not want civilians to move into government areas.

Instead they want these people to move further into the interior of LTTE controlled areas. Apart from the lack of proper facilities and inadequacy of the authorities to cater to the needs of these IDP’s there is ever present danger.

Aerial bombardment and artillery shelling makes these people extremely vulnerable to physical danger.

Harsh policies adopted by the government in the name of security have limited the scale and scope of external assistance by NGO’s.

The local administrative machinery is hopelessly ill – equipped to handle the ever – increasing numbes of internally displaced.

The only humanitarian way out for these people is to let them relocate to Government controlled areas.

If and when that happens the NGO’s with their ample resources could move in and attend to the influx of IDP’s.

This is what happened in Batticaloa when more than 200,000 were displaced.

Tamil Rehabilitation Organization

The LTTE backed Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) has begun a fund – raising drive in the west for Mannar – Vavuniya IDP’s.

It is a moot point as to whether the TRO could utilise these funds without delay for those affected as access to the Wanni is limited due to Government directives.

The TRO itself has issued statements lamenting the increase in IDP’s and the inability to attend to their needs because of government regulationsl.

How then can the funds being raised abroad by the TRO be utilised for these IDP’s without delay?
The easy way out would be for the LTTE to relax its controls and allow “exit” to those who want to move out to government areas.

The total lack of care and concern showed by this government to those civilians living in the arena of war is indeed something which deserves severe condemnation.

Likewise the callous conduct of the LTTE towards displaced Tamil civilians is also reprehensible.
IDP’s are entitled to the right of movement. They should be allowed to move to areas of safety if they want to do so.

While the government heaps terrible consequences on civilians in the name of security the LTTE adds to their woes in the name of liberation. The IDP’s are caught in the middle.

UNHCR Principles

The UNHCR drafted guiding principles regarding IDP’s emphasise that the displaced be allowed freedom of movement. Principles 14 and 15 are particularly explicit on this aspect.

The TRO very rightly points out that the government is restricting access to IDP’s thereby violating the letter and spirit of the UNHCR principles.

By the same token the LTTE is also violating the spirit and letter of UNHCR principles by restricting movement of IDP’s.

The TRO being exclusively focused on Tamil IDP’s should persuade the LTTE to revise its stance and allow Wanni civilians the same freedom of movement that was allowed the IDP’s of Paduvaankarai in Batticaloa.

[Civilians moving out from Moonraampiddi, Paaliyaaru, Kaneasapuram, and Theavanpiddi areas-pic:TamilNet]

Let my people go

“Let my people go” – according to the book of Exodus in The Bible - was the poignant request made by Moses to the Egyptian Pharoa.

That was a demand made to a despotic, alien ruler by the representative of an oppressed people.

Today the same cry “Let my people Go” can be articulated on behalf of the Wanni IDP’s to the LTTE hierarchy.

Sadly the LTTE and the Wanni civilians are all of the same ethnicity. Ironically the LTTE claims to be fighting for the Tamil cause.

Unlike the biblical Moses who pleaded with the alien Pharaoh to allow his people to go those advocating the humanitarian cause of Tamil IDP’s in the Wanni have to ask “our Boys” to permit “our people” to go.

This then is the difference that illustrates the terrible tragedy that has befallen the Tamils.

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

August 01, 2008

Assassination of Alfred Durayappah

by Tissa Devendra

1975 was my fifth year as Government Agent of Trincomalee District. I now counted twenty-two years in nine District Kachcheries and looked forward, at long last, to working in a Department or Ministry in Colombo. A call from on high dashed my hopes.

[Alfred Durayappah]

I was instructed to assume duties as G.A. Jaffna, which position had fallen vacant with the transfer of Wimal Amerasekera. I expressed my thanks at the confidence reposed in me but pleaded that , after decades in the provinces, my family needed relocation in Colombo. A compromise was worked out.

I was to be G.A.Jaffna in addition to my substantive position as G.A.Trincomalee – until a suitable candidate was found to administer Jaffna. Administratively and logistically it was a unique and challenging position and would have been impossible but for the domestic flights of Air Ceylon.

Monday mornings I left Ratmalana Airport for China Bay and spent two days attending to work in Trincomalee Kachcheri. Wednesday I flew to Jaffna for three days of files, meetings and inspections. Saturday saw me winging to Colombo for a brief week-end with my family, who had already moved there. And back to Trinco on Monday for my administrative merry-go-round. I was, inevitably, dubbed "the flying G.A." – the only one, I believe, in the history of district administration.

The 'Old Parlk', 'Delft' and 'Kondavil'

As this is not an Administrative Report I will not give an account of my work in the Jaffna Kachcheri except to say that I have never ,ever, worked with a team of officers so dedicated, efficient and most cordial . I was greatly moved when, recently, I saw on TV a meeting held in the G.A’s room with a board carrying the names of all his predecessors, including mine – in spite of my all-too-brief stewardship of the district.

The G.A’s Residency was a rambling old place in poor repair, reminiscent of the Bates house in Hitchcock’s "Psycho". I slept there in solitude, undisturbed by ghostly footsteps on the creaking staircase. My children enjoyed its eerie atmosphere on their rare visits, as they did the sprawling unkempt garden, called the Old Park, with its baobab tree and sinister mossy green pool.

The high water mark of their visit was accompanying me on my voyage of inspection to Delft. In the absence of any other motor vehicle, the island’s sole CTB bus was requistioned to take us from one end of the island to the other to see the poor scraggy surviving ponies of Nolan’s herd. The local school was having its Sports Meet that day.

The news had spread that "his honour the G.A and his good lady" were on the island. It was too good an opportunity to miss and the Headmaster grabbed the chance. He pleaded with the "good lady " to grace the occasion as Chief Guest. She tried to wriggle out of it as she was casually dressed. But they pooh-poohed her excuses and conducted her to the palmyrah thatched pavilion to be ogled at by the school kids as they lined up to collect their prizes. It was a day to remember .

We also did not forget to visit the home, in Kondavil, of the parents of our dear friend Lt.Commander Bala Mahadeva and his wife Padma. We had spent a memorable holiday with them a few years earlier and savoured the simple delights of village life and Jaffna cuisine.

Dining with Alfred

Alfred Duraiappah, the Mayor of Jaffna, was a most unusual man. Most, if not all, the Members of Parliament representing Jaffna District were Tamil extremists, unwaveringly hostile to the SLFP government led by Mrs. Bandaranaike which they accused of Sinhala hegemonism. Alfred D swam against this tide.

He was a savvy local politician who had won the hearts and minds of the underclass, who constituted the majority of urban voters. He convinced them that the way to win rights and privileges was not by hostile confrontation but by conciliation and compromise. He therefore joined the SLFP and was a close ally of Mrs.B’s right-hand man Felix Dias Bandaranaike. Thanks to Alfred, Jaffna town – the crown jewel of the District was an SLFP island in an otherwise politically hostile sea. All the more reason for the government to build him up.

One quiet evening Alfred phoned me to invite me for dinner at home. "I know you are alone at the Residency. Let’s meet over dinner and get to know each other. Felix has spoken to me about you." I was not allergic to politicians, as such, and had most cordial relations with Trinco’s MPs. Alfred interested me as a shrewd and unusual politician it would be useful to know to get a sense of political undercurrents. I accepted the invitation.

My host was at home alone and nattily dressed. He apologised for his wife’s absence. She was a doctor working in Brunei. "Felix told me about you. Weren’t you at school and University together ?"I admitted that this was so, He had done his homework alright. He bore the brunt of our conversation as he was keen to brief me, as thoroughly as possible, on the political situation in Jaffna and of his vision for the development of that city linked seamlessly with "the South".

Dining arrangements were rather unusual. The manservant served me an exemplary Jaffna meal which my host refrained from eating until he was brought a sealed container of special food. I was puzzled as he was too young to be having dietary restrictions. Alfred sensed my curiosity and explained that this was a precaution against being poisoned by his political enemies who would not stop at anything.

"You remember the cinema you visited the other day ?’[So he had monitored my movements !] "I was there myself a few months ago and was walking up to the car park when my car was blown up. I escaped.My daily prayers had helped me.The extremists hate and fear me as a politician who believes in unity between Tamils and Sinhalese people."

Booby-trapped cars , in my experience, then existed only in Mickey Spillane novels. As yet, blissfully unaware of the dark depths of extremist violence, I wondered whether Alfred was mildly paranoid ."Did you see that statue of a tough looking youth with a hand to his mouth ? No, he was not yodelling like Tarzan.That’s the villain who booby-trapped my car. When he was to be captured by the Police he swallowed cyanide. These shameless MPs call him a hero and put up a statue. Is it to this hero worship of murderers that our MPs want to lead the poor Tamil people? My vision is different".

I had a lot to mull over when I left him that night. I recalled the briefing given me by Superintendent of Police Mithra Ariyasinghe where he spoke of violent youths, on the fringes of ostensibly democratic Tamil parties, stocking arms and ammunition for sabotage and murder. It seemed as far-fetched when A.S.P Bibile briefed me in Matara in 1971 of Sinhala youth training in jungle warfare. Both were prophetic. It was an uneasy night.

A sort of Departure....

To my great relief, Lal Wijayapala had been selected to succeed me in Jaffna and I was free of the burden [that Prabhakaran would long for] – of governing both the North and East. It was mid July 1975 when I bade a somewhat regretful farewell to my friends and colleagues in Jaffna who rallied round with many dinners and fulsome speeches.

I was back in Trinco, looking forward to long familiar tasks when my peace of mind was shattered by a person-to-person call from the Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike herself. "Tissa, I have very bad news. Alfred was shot dead this morning. You must go back immediately to Jaffna and make all arrangements for his funeral. I will be coming myself, with many Cabinet Ministers." She was a real hands-on leader. I flew back almost immediately and resumed the authority I had just relinquished.

No sooner had I landed than I went to the hospital to pay my respects to the slain leader, whom I had just begun to know and admire. It was heart-breaking to see the cold bullet- riddled body of the man who had such a vision for his people.

I was duly briefed as to the manner of his killing. For a man who believed he was a killer’s target, Alfred was tragically lax in never varying his ‘pooja’ routine. Though Christian in background, his religious/superstitious practices were [as in the case of most politicians] truly pantheistic. Every Saturday morning he paid his ‘poojas’ at the Vishnu Kovil at Punnali. This Saturday was to be his last. On the temple steps he had his "appointment in Samara". Death met him in the person of the young killer who shot him dead with a pistol and sped away on his bicycle. Nobody dared stop him.

Superintendent of Police Mithra Ariyasinghe and his men lost no time in hunting for the likely assassins. They soon discovered that their prime suspect, a teen-age thug named Prabhakaran, son of my one-time Land Clerk the sober, vegetarian Velupillai] had already fled by boat to Tamil Nadu. We held a briefing at Police H.Q with I.G.P Ana Seneviratne, but no immediate breakthrough seemed to be in sight and we concentrated on ensuring the security of the Prime Minister and attendant VIPs at the funeral ceremony.

The last hurrah

Never had , and never would, Jaffna witness such a constellation of the good and great, the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, other Mayors, diplomats and many others. A huge concourse of Alfred’s faithful ‘underclass’ thronged the Stadium he built. I believe I made the initial speech extolling the man I had known all too briefly and then introduced the Prime Minister who spoke feelingly of Alfred whom she had hoped would usher in close links between the Tamil and Sinhala people. Many more orations were made before Alfred was finally laid to rest to the lamentations of his humble supporters.

Also laid to rest was the flame of communal harmony that Alfred had done so much to keep alight. A tide of blood began to overwhelm Jaffna.

Duty done, I flew back to then peaceful Trincomalee, greatly saddened by a premonition of gathering storm clouds of atavistic hate let loose by this assassination.