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January 31, 2009

Nagesh: Comedy King of Tamil Cinema

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

"Naghaichchuvai Mannan" (King of Comedy) Nagesh passed away in Chennai today (Jan 31st 2009).While eating breakfast he got chest pain and was taken to hospital where he breathed his last. Nagesh was 75.

[Nagesh 1933-2009]

He was the undisputed king of comedians in Tamil cinema from the early sixties to mid-seventies of the previous century. After a "lull" the versatile actor re-entered Tamil cinema in a new "avatar" playing character and villain roles. Even during his stint as comedian, Nagesh acted in quite a few lead roles too. [Click here to read the article in full ~ in dbsjeyaraj.com]

Winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil people in the North

by Shanie

The war, in its current phase, is nearing its end. There was never any doubt that the security forces, with their superior manpower, superior arms and control over the skies and sea, would in the end prevail over the LTTE in conventional operations. But the question was as to the extent of lives that would be lost, totally or partially, in regaining the territory under the control of the insurgents.

Many in civil society, including religious leaders, had urged a softer approach with an occasional temporary truce. That was in the hope that such an approach would result in less trauma for those affected, both combatants and civilians caught-up in the crossfire and their families, and less loss of military, LTTE and civilian lives. The end result of this soft approach, even though it would have taken longer to achieve, would have been the same. But the defence establishment preferred a hard line approach, pushing for victory over the LTTE in the shortest possible time, irrespective of the increased trauma and casualties that such a strategy would have entailed.

The bulk of the LTTE’s fighting cadres are now holed up in and around Puthukudiyiruppu. But with them are also an estimated 230 to 250 thousand civilians. The Government has announced a ‘safety zone’ into which these civilians can move. It makes sense for these civilians to move into such a safety zone and there can be little doubt that the majority of them would prefer to do so. But the LTTE’s strategy, as expected, is to keep them as human shields. If all the civilians move out, their cadres would be sitting ducks to the fire power of the security forces. So the civilians are forced to remain in the cross-fire. But it is the duty of the Government to be mindful of the helplessness of these civilians. Subjecting them to artillery fire or preventing food from reaching them should not be employed as a strategy to force the civilians to flee at immense risk to their lives. It is within the capacity of the security forces, at least at this stage, to change strategy to ensure civilian safety. After all, they have the LTTE almost surrounded and there is no possibility at this stage of the LTTE regrouping and re-arming itself. Instead of working to political imperatives and election deadlines, it will be in the long-term interests of our country and our people if the security forces now show total commitment to the welfare and safety of the trapped Tamil civilians, a commitment that the LTTE has hardly ever shown. Such a commitment by the government will not be lost on the Tamil civilians.

The future for the people of the North – and the East, despite claims of its ‘liberation’ – is a matter of concern to the country. The LTTE has been a monolithic outfit, totally under the control and direction of one leader. History has shown that any non-democratic organization will quickly collapse in the absence of its authoritarian leader. That surely will be the fate of the LTTE if its leader is captured or killed. If however he is able to go (or has gone) underground and continue leading the LTTE, then the outfit will go back to what it was in its early years and operate as a guerrilla force. It is difficult to predict if they will be a more deadly as guerrilla outfit, rather than as conventional insurgents.

But even as a guerrilla outfit, the LTTE’s effectiveness would be nullified if the Government commits itself to winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil people in the North, a commitment which they have not shown during the past three years. Replacing the LTTE with another armed group is not the way to go about providing democracy to the people of the North. The Government should have by now learnt the lessons of that policy in the East, where the LTTE has now re-emerged and is now making its militant presence felt. The Government dismisses the Tamil National Alliance as a proxy of the LTTE and has not even invited the TNA to make a contribution to the deliberations of the All Party Conference or the APRC. The irrelevance of the APRC today is of course not due to the absence of the TNA, but allowing only the armed groups to represent the Tamils was a disastrous decision. The TNA remains the only democratically elected representative of the Tamil people and by ignoring them the government has shown that it prefers to do business with armed clones of the LTTE rather than with elected representatives. After all, the TNA received over 90% of the votes in the Jaffna District.

After the assassinations of the early leadership of the TNA (and the earlier TULF), over the last ten years the TNA has lost leaders with a broad vision like Neelan Tiruchelvam, Joseph Pararajasingham and Nadarajah Raviraj to the assassin’s bullet and Veerasingham Anandasangari to intra-party politics. Only R Sambandan remains. He may be surrounded by hawks and chauvinists, but he is a person respected by the Tamil people and the government would have done well to recognise him with respect as an elected leader of the Tamil people.

The fear of the Tamil and Muslim people in the North and East is of continuing to live under discrimination and authoritarianism, even after driving out the LTTE from controlling any part pf the country. The government has shown no inclination so far to implementing the provisions of the 13th Amendment in its entirety, leave alone bringing any new meaningful devolution proposals. Armed groups still go round abducting, killing, robbing and harassing people in the ‘cleared areas’ of the North and East. And there are credible reports of planned colonisation of Muslim and Tamil lands by Sinhala settlers, implemented by chauvinist and fascist groups who are part of the government. That was the same disastrous policy followed in the nineteen seventies and eighties that gave birth to the LTTE. President Rajapaksa will understand the truth of the well–known saying of George Santayana about the danger of repeating the mistakes of history. Those who cannot remember the past, wrote Santayana, are condemned to repeat it. That is, those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, are destined to repeat the same mistakes.

To win over the local civilian population to the cause of peace and democracy, it is not enough to make pronouncements to that effect. In addition to the implementation of political devolution proposals in terms of the Constitution, there will be a need for a strong civilian administration. Such an administration should be manned by strong independent professionals. Even in a non post-war situation, politicians and military officers do not usually make good administrators. There have been exceptions no doubt. In the Uva, we have an ex-politician who is keeping the provincial politicians on their toes, irrespective of party politics. In the East, in an earlier era, we had an ex-military officer who provided an impartial administration. But in the current situation, we need independent Tamil or Muslim professionals who will be able to provide leadership to the people without having to be confined to their offices surrounded by security. We need professionals who will be above politics, above partisanship and who will be able to stand up both against political meddling as well as against armed groups of all types. Only such an administration can prevent militancy from raising its head once again and crucially win the hearts and minds of the civilians, who have undergone decades of harassment from various quarters.

A military presence will still be necessary but it will have to be a not-so-visible one. After years of fighting an ethnic insurgency, mindsets of the security forces will be difficult to change. A re-orientation programme will be necessary to effect a change. But there will be chauvinists and fascists who will not want that mindset to change. How the governments handles this will be crucial to the development of democracy and good governance in the region. It can be questioned how a government that has failed to build up democratic freedoms and adherence to the rule of law in the rest of the country can do in the new situation in the North.

The only hope is that political expediency will be less of a factor in the North. But we are doomed if the government succumbs to political expediency and installs an armed group there.

(This article is from the column NOTEBOOK OF A NOBODY published in The Island)

January 30, 2009

17 Killed and 39 Injured in Bombing of Church Premises at Suthanthirapuram

Despite denials by Sri Lankan government ministers and officials that innocent civilians are being killed and injured in the aerial bombardment and artillery shelling by the armed forces in the Wanni , there is mounting evidence to the contrary. In a horrible incident on January 28th the Church premises of the American Ceylon Mission at Suthanthirapuram was bombed. 17 persons were killed and 39 including Rev. Anandarajan were injured. We reproduce here a letter sent by Rev. S. Jeyanesan of the ACM.

Further to my mail about the Wanni deteriorating situation, I am sad to inform you that one of our Church of the American Ceylon Mission Minister, the Rev. S. I. Anantharajah, Parish Priest of Murukandy and the manager of the Murukandy Girls' Home and the Day Care Center was injured as a result of aerial bombardment yesterday 28-1-2009 at Suthanthirapuram Church premises.

Along with him, 39 people were injured, among them 3 of our Orphanage Children. We also heard 17 people were killed in our compound the same day.

A month ago Rev. Anantharaja moved from Murukandy with his family, children of the Murukandy Girls' Home and the parishners of his Church to our Kilinochchi Church compound. Then he and the other pastors, considering the worsening situation in Kilinochchi, decided to move further interior and went to Vivsamadu Church Premises.

A month ago Rev. Anantharaja moved from Murukandy with his family, children of the Murukandy Girls' Home and the parishners of his Church to our Kilinochchi Church compound. Then he and the other pastors, considering the worsening situation in Kilinochchi, decided to move further interior and went to Vivsamadu Church Premises.

When I visited Visvamadu in December 2008, there were about 3000 people in the premises. Later I heard that number increased to 7000, including all our CACM ministers, Anglican Priests, Methodist Pastors, Catholic Priests and the orphan children of Karunanilayam, Navajeevanam and Shalom Nagar.

I was informed a week ago by the Rev. P. N. Anukoolan, the Area Minister in Wanni, that it has become impossible and dangerous to stay at Visvamadu. I advised them to leave all their belongings and to move out to Suthanthirapuram, which was considered safe zone.

At that time the Government also announced Suthanthirapuran as a neutral zone. I wonder how an aerial bombardment could happen at a Government declared neutral zone. I do not know how many people were there when the incident took place.

Communications are completely cutoff.

We also receive reports that hundreds and hundreds of injured people are there without any medical care.

Even at this juncture I reiterate that an immediate cease fire and cessation of hostilities is absolutely essential and urgent. Please do pray for the situation and do whatever possible.

With peace and prayers,

Yours very sincerely,

Rev. Dr. S. Jeyanesan
January 29, 2009

From Sri Lanka to Darfur:Funeral Procession of Massacred Innocents

by Bernard Kouchner

'Modern" war disgusts us in the tragic consequences it has for civilians.

How could we not be horrified at the sight of bodies, atrociously maimed or burned; the bodies of women, men and children lying in the smoking ruins of their homes, in hospitals unable to cope that have become simply places to die, absent sufficient drugs and equipment?

Unfortunately, such atrocities are to be seen in many places around the world, usually with relative indifference - the paradoxical outcome of the way in which the media have made violence an everyday event.

Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Darfur, Gaza: this depressing litany of conflicts with their multitude of innocent civilian victims swept away by the storms of war must not however leave us indifferent.

The international community - and in particular France and the European Union, for which human rights are a core value, the very foundation of their sense of identity - cannot stand silently by in the face of such a situation.

In a period of armed conflict there is in fact a body of rules and principles that all parties to the conflict must obey: international humanitarian law.

That body of law, which has been largely built up since World War II, derives mainly from the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols.

While the International Committee of the Red Cross is the statutory guardian of those standards, all states parties to the conventions must not only obey them but also ensure that they are obeyed by the parties in an armed conflict.

What that means is that the international community has a special responsibility in ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law.

Indeed, one of the essential principles of international humanitarian law is that a distinction must be made at all times and in all circumstances between combatants and non-combatants, along with its corollary: a distinction between military targets and civilian targets, the latter to be protected. There are few conflicts in which that principle is fully respected.

In northeastern Sri Lanka, 230,000 civilians have been caught up in the fighting. The Tamil Tigers are accused by all NGOs of refusing to allow civilians to flee the war zone.

During the Israeli offensive in Gaza, there were several strikes in areas apparently devoid of any identifiable military target, and in particular that of Dec. 27, which hit the Gaza Training College, and the series of bombardments on Jan. 6 aimed at schools run by UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees).

Hamas also is responsible for violations of international humanitarian law, in part by firing rockets which were not aimed at military targets, but clearly intended to terrorize civilians in southern Israel.

Moreover, both Israel and Hamas have used weapons that have indiscriminate effects, since aerial bombing and mortar fire were not used in such a manner as to spare civilians. Yet the prohibition of the use of weapons with indiscriminate effects is another key principle of international humanitarian law.

The tragedy to which we have been witness in recent weeks is unfortunately not an isolated instance. Far too many armed conflicts ravage other parts of the world, from Sri Lanka to Darfur, from Somalia to Iraq, each with its funeral procession of massacred innocents. In each case the parties commit grave breaches of international humanitarian law, and in some cases mass atrocities punishable by international criminal justice.

Access is impeded to humanitarian aid and aid workers, plunging civilians into total destitution and depriving them of the most basic medical treatment. Children, some less than 10 years old, are enlisted as soldiers as well as sex slaves.

In various conflicts, rape is increasingly being used in a systematic, planned and large-scale manner; in short, it is used as a genuine weapon of war, whether in the Kivus or in Sudan, with almost total impunity. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a woman is raped every 30 minutes; 30,000 were raped in the Kivus in the first half of 2007.

In the face of situations in which civilians are deliberately targeted, the maintenance and the restoration of peace are constant challenges.

France is engaged in numerous peacekeeping operations under UN mandates. The purpose of several of them - first and foremost the European Union operation in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic - is to provide protection to innocent civilians.

Such protection must involve first and foremost a guarantee of adherence to the principles of international humanitarian law in armed conflict and the inclusion of the issues surrounding the protection of civilians in mandates for peacekeeping operations.

I am convinced that compliance with international humanitarian law must be made the subject of depoliticized discussions at the United Nations, since such compliance is the duty of all, irrespective of the legitimacy of the military action undertaken by a specific state or armed group.

That is why I have asked France's permanent representative to the United Nations in New York to mobilize our partners on this matter. An initial meeting will be held in the coming days with a view to organizing a debate in the weeks to come.

What is at stake here is the credibility of the United Nations, and of the Security Council in particular, as the guardian of international peace and security.

(Bernard Kouchner, a co-founder of Medicine Sans Frontiers (MSF) is the foreign minister of France.This article appeared in International Herald Tribune of Jan 28th 2009)

January 29, 2009

MIA says Tamil Civilian and Tamil Tiger are like a square and a circle

MIAPBS0129.jpgOscar and Grammy award nominated singer Maya "MIA" Arulpragasam interviewed by Tavis Smiley of PBS:

Tavis: M.I.A. is a talented singer-songwriter and hip-hop artist who has the rare honor of being nominated -- get this -- for an Oscar and a Grammy in the same year. She's featured on the soundtrack of one of the year's biggest films, "Slumdog Millionaire," and is up for record of the year for her song "Paper Planes." Here is some of the video for "Paper Planes.

Tavis: So we'll deal with the obvious first -- somebody's having a baby.

M.I.A.: It's M.I.A. and the baby here. (Laughter.)

Tavis: Somebody's having a -- the baby ain't M.I.A., I can see that.

M.I.A.: I know, it's very there.

Tavis: Yeah, there he is. The funny thing -- maybe funny's the wrong word; I found it interesting -- so you're nominated for a Grammy and I'm told the baby is due on Grammy night?

M.I.A.: Mm-hmm. So if I turn up --

Tavis: M.I.A. is a talented singer-songwriter and hip-hop artist who has the rare honor of being nominated -- get this -- for an Oscar and a Grammy in the same year. She's featured on the soundtrack of one of the year's biggest films, "Slumdog Millionaire," and is up for record of the year for her song "Paper Planes." Here is some of the video for "Paper Planes.

Tavis: So we'll deal with the obvious first -- somebody's having a baby.

M.I.A.: It's M.I.A. and the baby here. (Laughter.)

Tavis: Somebody's having a -- the baby ain't M.I.A., I can see that.

M.I.A.: I know, it's very there.

Tavis: Yeah, there he is. The funny thing -- maybe funny's the wrong word; I found it interesting -- so you're nominated for a Grammy and I'm told the baby is due on Grammy night?

M.I.A.: Mm-hmm. So if I turn up --

Tavis: How'd you work that out?

M.I.A.: -- I have to turn up in my hospital gown on a stretcher, (laughter) and they already have, like, a helicopter organized for my fast exit plan.

Tavis: So did you plan it this way, to have the baby on the Grammy day?

M.I.A.: No, not at all. I didn't even know I was going to get nominated, and then they nominated me for a Brit as well, in England, and it was just like everything happened in the same week. But yeah, it's just -- it's insane.

Tavis: I asked M.I.A. when she walked out, we were just talking off camera, and I said, "So where's home for you these days? Where do you live?" She says, "I live in New York." So I was asking her when she was headed back to New York. She said, "Oh, no, I can't fly now, I'm stuck in L.A." So we know where the baby's going to be born, because you're not getting on a plane to go back to New York for a few days.

M.I.A.: No, and the Grammys are here anyway, so it just worked out. Like, as soon as I came they were, like, "You can't fly," and then I found out that I was nominated. And that's kind of why they invited me to go on the show to do the Grammys and perform there. They say anything could trigger off labor, so.

Tavis: Not now -- not for the next nine minutes, please.

M.I.A.: I know, I know. But I think, like, singing with Jay-Z and Lil Wayne and Kanye and --

Tavis: Yeah, that could make anything happen.

M.I.A.: -- T.I. could, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah, that could make -- with them Negros, anything could happen.

M.I.A.: Exactly. (Laughter.)

Tavis: So just not for the next nine minutes. What do you make of all of this? This is, like, rare.

M.I.A.: This is a good luck baby for me, and all the events, the way it's been happening, the way I've been sort of seeing it, is that being the only Tamil in the Western media, I have a really great opportunity to sort of bring forward what's going on in Sri Lanka. Like my success, it just seems to parallel the situation in Sri Lanka -- the more successful I'm getting, the dire the situation in Sri Lanka's getting.

And there's a genocide going on, and it's kind of -- it's ironic that I am the only Tamil, and I've turned into the only voice for the Tamil people, the 20 percent minority in my country. And yeah, it's weird that I'm being given the opportunity.

Tavis: This platform.

M.I.A.: Yeah, a platform.

Tavis: Since you've been given the platform, take it for just a second. For those who may not be familiar with Sri Lanka and the Tamil people, tell me the top line of who the Tamil people are, what's happening in Sri Lanka, now that you have this platform to talk about it.

M.I.A.: Well, Sri Lanka is an island off the coast of India. There's two ethnicities there; one the Sinhalese, which is the majority and the government, and the minority, who are the Tamils. That's where I'm from. And my lifetime sort of began there, I spent 10 years, and I was there during when the war started and fled as a refugee to England.

And basically since I fled till now, it's -- there's been a systematic genocide which has quiet thing because no one knows where Sri Lanka is. And now it's just escalated to the point there's 350,000 people who are stuck in a battle zone and can't get out, and aid's banned and humanitarian organizations are banned, journalists are banned from telling the story.

It's just, like, one-sided, 100 percent, and I think it's just escalated because Obama was coming into power, because only under sort of Bush's presidency that you could get away with doing as much as that.

Tavis: When you say there's genocide happening there, what's your sense for why a story of genocide isn't being covered more in the media? Why don't we know more about this?

M.I.A.: You don't know more about it because due to the propaganda -- when you think Tamil, you automatically thing tiger, and that is completely disproportionate. So human beings around the world have to be taught to go Tamil equals Tamil civilians first, and the Tamil Tiger is a separate thing. And both of those groups are different. It's like a square and a circle.

And the thing is there's only 4,000 Tamil Tiger soldiers in Sri Lanka, and if you want, you could just sneeze and wipe them out in a day. They're not that sophisticated with their weaponry and stuff like that -- the Sri Lankan government, which is a million soldiers big, can handle that.

But using those people, we're managing to wipe out the whole Tamil population, the civilians, and that is why you don't hear about it, because the propaganda in the media, because if you're a terrorist organization, you don't have the right to speak, that is passed on to the Tamil civilians. The Tamil civilians don't have the right to speak or right to live, they don't have any liberties.

So that's been the key thing, that when you think al Qaeda, you're not thinking Afghanistan. That if you want to go and fight and kill al Qaeda, then you can, but you can't wipe out Afghanistan. And that's what's happening in Sri Lanka, and I think it's really important for America to understand that, because they set the precedent on how you fight terrorism around the world.

And it's really important that just that sort of throwaway comment, "Oh, Tamil, she must be a Tamil Tiger," actually, the repercussions of that is killing people back home.

Tavis: And offensive, I would assume.

M.I.A.: Yeah, definitely.

Tavis: I'm glad we had a chance to talk about that. I learn something on this show every day, so I thank you for indulging my questions about that. You mentioned -- we were talking about your country you mentioned that you sort of grew up there and you were there for at least 10 years. There were some other years when you weren't there, and I was reading about your background -- you've lived, like, a lot of places. How has that impacted your music, your sound, your style, the fact that you --

M.I.A.: Well, I've lived in India, too, and --

Tavis: Right. And London, and --

M.I.A.: Yeah. I've just always traveled because that's what you do when you're a refugee, and I think it's just impacted me because I'm not judgmental, and I like to hear things from the horse's mouth and I use my own brain to make judgments about what the truth is and what isn't, and I know it from my own experiences what that is.

And I think it's always been that's the thing about my music. Like, I wanted to become a musician and help, like, some sort of change, or stand up for what I believe in, or use music for what it's supposed to be for. And so it wasn't really about getting fame and success and becoming a celebrity and selling records, it was more about bringing together an opinion or a point of view of the other that doesn't usually get heard in the mainstream.

Tavis: You know there are a lot of artists who shy away from that; they don't want to bring their truth, whatever that is, into their music. They just want to entertain people.

M.I.A.: I know, but music was also used for social change. It's not a bad word. And I think we just kind of shy away from it because the pressure of being successful and the pressure of being sexy and standing up for nothing is just so big, you know what I mean? (Laughter.)

Tavis: Yeah, I like that.

M.I.A.: Yeah, so I think that is -- you have to be pretty tough to, like, fight that, and the fact that I kind of had the experiences that I had made me so tough and thick-skinned that it didn't matter what anyone put onto me, but it was more about the people that I was representing.

Tavis: Tell me about the song for which you were nominated for this Academy Award.

[M.I.A shares her feelings about her Oscar-nominated song from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack-click for full interview]

M.I.A.: It's kind of stirred up some emotions. I feel like people either love me or hate me, which is good, because that was the point of what I do. The point of M.I.A. is to be -- it's either to be loved or hated. At least you evoke that much of a strong opinion about music.

And "Paper Planes" I think is one of those songs that did that, and people couldn't work it out, and I think it was subversive for some people and it was too obvious for other people. Everyone constantly asks me what it's about, and like, "Are you a terrorist?" And it's like, "No," that has nothing to do with it.

And it could be about gun corporations selling guns and making billions of dollars, or it could be about immigrants coming over and being the scary other that's going to take everyone's jobs. And I kind of want to leave it ambiguous for my fans.

Tavis: Well, you picked the right soundtrack to be on.

M.I.A.: Yes.

Tavis: This movie is huge -- 10 nominations.

M.I.A.: Yeah, Danny emailed me. I was in -- I hadn't -- I wasn't really aware of it, but he went to India and then after he filmed the film he emailed me and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. And I love Danny Boyle. "Trainspotting" is one of my films that I would take to my grave.

And yeah, he basically gave me the opportunity to work on it, and the way I saw it when he showed me "Paper Planes" in the movie, it just looked like the most expensive, well-directed video I could have had for my song. (Laughter.)

So I was, like, "Yeah, great," and it made me cry, actually, when I saw it, because it was just really true and amazing.

Tavis: My time with you is up. Will you indulge me just one time? I want to hear you say your full name. Just say it for me one time, your full name.

M.I.A.: It's Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam.

Tavis: I just wanted to hear that. That's all. (Laughter.) I knew I never could. I'll just call her M.I.A.

M.I.A.: It's a Tamil thing.

Tavis: Yeah, it's a Tamil thing. I'll just call her M.I.A. She's nominated for Grammys, Academy Award, baby due on Grammy night -- what a year it is turning out to be for M.I.A. Congratulations on this and all of this, and I'm glad to have you on.

M.I.A.: Thanks.

Tavis: It's my pleasure.

Two of a Kind:Lasantha Wickrematunge and Vijaya Kumaratunga

By Dr. Carlo Fonseka

The premeditated murder in cold blood of the lawyer-politician-journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge in broad daylight, on a highway, in a high security zone is a matter about which I find it impossible to remain silent. If I remember rightly, it was Martin Luther King Jr. who memorably said that our lives begin to end on the day we become silent about things that matter. I count many friends among journalists and when no less than 15 members of their profession have been killed in recent times for plying their pens according to their best lights; my conscience tells me that it is ignoble to remain silent.

I did not know Lasantha personally but I have spoken to him a couple of times on the phone. In 2004 my longtime friend Mahinda Rajapakse asked me whether I would care to write an article to commemorate the 37th death anniversary of his father D.A. Rajapakse. I readily agreed and wrote an article titled “The Rajapakses of Ruhuna” and gave it to him. I expected it to be published in a Lake House newspaper, but it appeared as a beautifully illustrated spread in The Sunday Leader of 21 November 2004. Never before had an article of mine been so conspicuously displayed in a newspaper. So I phoned Lasantha and thanked him though I knew he hadn’t done it for my sake.

Last year I phoned him to complain bitterly that The Sunday Leader did not give me a fair and equal opportunity to refute my dear friend Gamini Weerakoon who writes a regular column in The Sunday Leader. Gamini never tires of pooh-poohing the efforts of The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) to prevent children from acquiring the smoking and drinking habit by imitating their celluloid heroes on television. Laws have been passed to obliterate such smoking and drinking scenes on television. More than once Gamini criticized and tried to ridicule this policy in his column. Three times the Editor of The Sunday Leader refused to publish my refutation of Gamini’s ill informed conjectural criticisms. Gamini has said that Lasantha greatly respected him because he was his father’s buddy. Perhaps he could not tolerate anybody challenging Mr. Weerakoon – as Lasantha unfailingly called him – in his paper.

Whatever the reason, I felt very angry with him and strongly disliked the stance he took on this matter. Nevertheless, I did not question then, and do not question now, an Editor’s freedom to publish only what he likes in his newspaper and face the legal consequences, if any. It was as an undergraduate that I first read Bertrand Russell’s essay called “What Is Freedom?” Two lines from it remain etched in my old brain: “To tolerate what you like is easy. It is the toleration of what you dislike that characterizes the liberal attitude”.

From that digression necessary to keep things in perspective, I must return to Lasantha who has now achieved iconic status in the wide world of journalism. In retrospect he was a bit like a hero in a Greek tragedy who poised himself against the gods and, even with the knowledge of the futility of the struggle, pressed on until he met his inevitable fate. Lasantha Wickrematunge proved himself to be the most courageous journalist of our time in our thrice-blessed land. One might say that muck-raking was his specialty. He seemed to revel in it. If something particularly nasty about anybody had to be written, no one could do it better than Lasantha.

It was breathtaking to see how hazardously close he could sail to the wind of the libel laws. He went for the jugulars of the high and mighty, caring not a jot even for what Shakespeare’s Othello called, “pride, pomp and circumstances of glorious war”. For a deeply committed Christian he was occasionally extraordinarily uncharitable and rarely even malicious in his flashes of catty wit. Amazingly, in some 15 years of merciless excoriation of assorted people, not once was this pitiless critic who cared naught for the feelings of his targets, successfully prosecuted.

He was murdered on the 8th of January. An editorial poignantly titled “And then they came for me” appeared in his paper three days later while Lasantha was still lying in his unburied coffin. Implicitly he had himself written it in grim anticipation of his impending liquidation. The eternal sceptic in me would sooner believe on the testimony of others that a monkey sang our national anthem than believe that Lasantha had written that editorial for instant replay after his extermination. Is it possible, probable or plausible that he wrote it?

Plausible would be my choice of option. So plausible in fact that the editorial was like a thunderbolt that ripped open our society to demonstrate that the exercise of the freedom of expression could be lethal in our society. The world press zeroed in on the editorial and it quickly became the most quoted piece of editorial comment in living memory. It is an indictment of the government of Mahinda Rajapakse. This distresses me because I too contributed my enthusiastic mite to bring it to power. Thereafter, in these troubled times, I have given this government the benefit of every doubt.

Addressing Mahinda Rajapakse directly the editorial categorically declares that “we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name”. This seems to make Mahinda Rajapakse at once guiltless of Lasantha’s blood but somehow responsible for his death as the principal repository of collective responsibility. The pity of it is that this seriously imperils the good name of an amiable President at the pinnacle of his popularity and glory.

Unarguably Lasantha was the most courageous journalist this country has known. Really courageous men are rare. I have been privileged to know intimately one such. He was Vijaya Kumaratunga. Like the rest of us he wasn’t a perfect human being. Like all of us he had his faults. But unlike the vast majority of us, he was phenomenally courageous and brave and self-sacrificing. Lasantha in his life and death proved to be no less courageous and brave and self-sacrificing than Vijaya Kumaratunga.

He too had a strong wish to live in order to try and remold our country nearer to his heart’s desire. He too demonstrated a readiness to die in the struggle to remold it. He said that he was impelled to write what he wrote by the call of conscience. What Ernest Hemmingway once said applies equally to both of them. “If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them to break them; so, of course, it kills them.”

National Govt needed for peace through power-sharing plan

By H. L. Seneviratne

maga hondata tibe nam - yanta dasat pene nam
kima badivala yanne - man mulavu ekek se

(If the path is clear and you’ve got eyes to see it, why go in jungles like one who has lost his way.) — Pandit Koggala Dhammatilaka

We as a nation are once more face to face with a choice of paths, the path of reason which will lead us to happiness and prosperity, and the path of delusion which will lead us to misery. We have been at crossroads before, and in our in recent history, it is the path of delusion rather than the path of reason that we have chosen. Nothing however can be gained from complaining about past decisions. The pragmatic and healthy step to is to learn from our mistakes and make the right decision now, and lead ourselves and our children to a happy future.

One of the greatest drawbacks that we as a nation have suffered since we gained independence is the inability of the nationalist sentiment to move beyond bitterness at being colonized. Now and again, nationalist sentiment had surged, on provocations often trivial, and prevented the exercise of sober judgment, and blocked the path of reason. Needless to say it is too bad that we were colonized, but that is past, and is a fact of history. Besides, it is not the fault of our conquerors that we were underlings, of our own making, by means of our petty divisions and betraying our sovereign. If we now do not get our house in order, we have no one to blame but ourselves, and this time around, consequences of faulty action are going to be more regrettable than so far.

With the military successes over the LTTE we are now at a point of surge in nationalist sentiment. This carries with it a fund of public support that can be expended wisely or unwisely. The wise approach is to use it for purposes of establishing a lasting peace, which is only possible through a fair and reasonable arrangement for power sharing. The pressures will be too powerful to obstruct that path, because the unappeased nationalist sentiment, awash in victory, wants its pound of flesh in the form of majority supremacy. And for the leadership, the temptation of that path will be too great as it will assure a new lease of office and power. In the long run however such a step will be suicidal for both the leadership and the nation. It will plunge the nation in protracted instability and unrest, and economic collapse. It will set us on an irreversible path to a Zimbabwe.

It is our bitter and divisive political culture that has so far prevented a reasonable arrangement for power sharing. We know well that when the government in power came up with a plan for devolution, the opposition derailed it, and the same government derailed it in turn when it assumed the role of the opposition, both parties taking turns to appease extremist sentiment. While this seesawing was going on, the nationalist forces were quietly but steadily at work, and gaining strength, and they are now fast eating into the political mainstream. The logical conclusion of this is plainly obvious.

This fateful process can only be arrested if reasonable men and women do what they surely can towards forging a national consensus. In the circumstances we are in, such a consensus alone will lead to happiness and fulfillment for all citizens. The indispensable basis for happiness and fulfillment is economic prosperity, which is possible only through political stability and social harmony. Neither is present today, and if we are to survive as a nation we have no choice but to lose no time in seeking them.

It is therefore necessary for us to forge a national consensus with the resolve that we collectively, all of us, irrespective of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and ideological differences, work together to bring about the basics necessary for political stability and social harmony.

We must further realize that, at this time, a national consensus is best forged and expressed in the formation of a national government for a specified period of time. We must, within that time, resolutely lay the foundation of a stable polity and a strong economy. Once that is done and a measure of social harmony and economic prosperity established, party politics, conceivably of a species more civil than to-day’s, can resume. This I believe is not only an effective formula, but the sole path available to us to avoid precipitation into a Hobbesian or lokaanta war of each against all.

The priorities of such a national consensus and a resulting national government are obvious. The first is restoring peace through a plan of power sharing, and the implementation of the 17th amendment. It is encouraging that appointments to the Constitutional Court are being made. A national consensus and a national government can achieve marvels in a relatively short period of time.

Let me conclude by quoting the Bard:

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows, and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat;

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

African National Congress urges ceasefire in Sri Lanka

Full Text of ANC Press Release:

ANC0129TC.gifThe African National Congress (ANC) expresses its very serious concern at the unfolding humanitarian crisis that is emerging on the Island of Sri Lanka.

The United Nations and International Red Cross Committee has reported that over 300 000 civilians of Tamil origin are caught in the crossfire in the war that is currently raging in Sri Lanka between the fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who have retreated into the jungles of The Vanni in the north of the Island

This liberation war between the Tamil Tigers for self determination and the Sri Lankan Government has been going on for well over 27 years and has resulted in the deaths of hundreds and thousands of civilians from both sides of the conflict and much destruction in the country.

The continued conflict in Sri Lanka has been cited on the "human rights watch" international monitoring mechanisms as a conflict now reaching genocidal proportions.

The ANC urges all parties in the conflict, both the LTTE and the Sri lankan Government to call a halt, immediately institute a ceasefire and allow humanitarian aid to be brought to civilians caught in the conflict who are in dire need of assistance. The ANC calls on all political players to immediately return to the negotiating table and resume a peaceful process of finding a lasting political solution to the conflict.

Issued by:
Carl Niehaus
National Spokesperson

Enquiries:
Carl Niehaus 072 343 4007
Brian Sokutu 071 671 6919

ANC: South Africa's National Liberation Movement

UN human rights chief deplores deteriorating situation for civilians in Sri Lanka

GENEVA -- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Thursday she was deeply concerned by reports of the rapidly deteriorating conditions facing a quarter of a million civilians trapped in the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka, and of alleged human rights abuses and a significant number of civilian casualties, as well as the huge displacement. Pillay also expressed concern at the highly restricted access to the Vanni region for aid agencies and impartial outside observers, including journalists and human rights monitors.

NPTC0129.jpg“The perilous situation of civilians after many months of fighting, multiple displacements and heavy rains and flooding is extremely worrying,” Pillay said. “The lack of access for independent monitors, humanitarian workers and the media only adds to concerns that the situation may be even worse than we realize,” she added.

The High Commissioner cited reports of forced recruitment, including of children, as well as the use of civilians as human shields by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). She also condemned the fact that safe zones promised by the Government have subsequently been subjected to bombardment leading to civilian casualties.

“People trying to flee the conflict areas are reported to have either been prevented from doing so, or to have been arbitrarily detained in special centres,” she said. “It seems there may have been very grave breaches of human rights by both sides in the conflict, and it is imperative that we find out more about what exactly has been going on. It is also urgent that civilians in the north can find safe shelter, away from the fighting.”

Pillay noted that along with the Secretary-General and other heads of UN agencies, she had already expressed her concerns directly to the Government of Sri Lanka. “We are all seriously alarmed by the situation,” she said, “as are many of the NGOs and other organizations operating in Sri Lanka.”

Pillay said the conflict had reached a critical stage: “While the Government has made military gains on one hand, the rule of law has been undermined on the other. The killing of the prominent newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge earlier this month was the latest blow to the free expression of dissent in Sri Lanka. The searing article he wrote prophesying his own murder is an extraordinary indictment of a system corrupted by more than two decades of bloody internal conflict.”

The High Commissioner observed there had not been any successful investigations or prosecutions of political killings, disappearances and other violations committed in recent years.

“It is the Government's duty to provide safety to all Sri Lanka's citizens, whatever their ethnic origin or political views,” Pillay said. “That means not only protecting civilians during military operations in the north, but also ensuring space for journalists and human rights defenders to seek out the truth and expose abuses.”

Pillay added that “a strenuous effort needs to be made to tackle the core problems that have fuelled this conflict for a quarter of a century, in order to bring peace and prosperity and restore fundamental rights and freedoms for all Sri Lankans in all parts of the country.”

Prabhakaran Living in a world of illusion Like Hitler in the Final Days

By B. Raman

An organisation headed by a leader, who understands only terrorism, is unlikely to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the international community. Prabakaran is a liability for the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Tamils in the post-9/11 world. The time has come for the LTTE leaders and the Sri Lankan Tamils---including their overseas diaspora--- to do an introspection on their future course of action. If they have to preserve the gains made by thousands of their cadres since 1983, they have to find a new leadership. Prabakaran is no longer the man of the future. He is passe. He has become a liability for the Tamil cause. The sooner the Sri Lankan Tamils realise it, the better for them."

Extract from my article of January 22,2007, titled LTTE Avoids Battle of attrition in the East

The reports regarding the desperate plight of about 1,50,000 Sri Lankan Tamils caught up between an advancing Sri Lankan Army and a retreating Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Wanni area of northern Sri Lanka are confusing.

Many have reportedly died and many, including many children, have been injured in the exchange of artillery fire between the two sides. In a situation like this, it is impossible to establish whose artillery killed whom. All one can say is that innocent civilians are paying a heavy price for the heavy exchange of artillery.

The Sri Lankan Army is disinclined to agree to a ceasefire to let the civilians be evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) lest the LTTE take advantage of it to regroup. The LTTE is disinclined to let the civilians move to the safety zones set up by the Government lest this facilitate the advance of the Army.

The international community, including the Government of India, are unable to effectively bring pressure on both sides to help out the civilians. The Sri Lankan Army has estimated that it is only a few weeks away from totally eliminating the capability of the LTTE for conventional fighting and it is determined to achieve that objective even at the risk of some collateral damage to the civilians. The LTTE is afraid that if it lets the civilians go, it will have a face-to-face confrontation with the Army in which it is unlikely to do well.

Prabakaran, who is believed to be still commanding the retreating LTTE fighters, does not seem to realise that the chances of the LTTE staging a spectacular come-back as it did in the 1990s and recaptured Kilinochchi and Mulaithivu are remote. The loss of control over territory in the Northern Province is not so devastaing for him as the loss of control over the Tamil population in the Eastern Province.


In the past, many of the conventional fighters of the LTTE came from the Eastern Province and many of the terrorists from the Northern Province. It is no longer possible for him to get new recruits from the Eastern Province. The recent fighting in the North has indicated that the LTTE's shortages in arm and ammunition and explosives are much more serious than originally estimated. With the rapidly decreasing possibility of finding replacement of human and material resources, his chances of staging a come-back conventionally are much less than what they were in the 1990s.

The terrorist wing of the LTTE also seems to be facing severe problems due to a shortage of explosive material, a drop in volunteers for suicide terrorism and the lack of time and space in the midst of a furious conventional war to motivate and train new volunteers and mount operations.

The use of the civilians to avert an impending final defeat on the ground should be condemned by all the political parties in Tamil Nadu, by the Government of India and the international community. Prabakaran has been living in a world of illusions just as Hitler was in the final days of the defeat of the Nazi Army before he and his mistress committed suicide in a Berlin bunker to avoid being captured by the advancing Soviet Army. Till he decided to kill himself, Hitler was fondly hoping that a reversal of fortunes was still possible.So too, Prabakaran seems to be having a fond hope that he and his men can stage a come-back even at this stage.

It is time for the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora to assert itself and call upon the LTTE cadres to overthrow Prabakaran and other leaders, arrest them, hand them over to the Sri Lankan authorities and proclaim a unilateral ceasefire. It is time for the diaspora to come to terms with the reality and act before more civilians are killed.If they fail to do so and continue to encourage Prabakaran in his irrational illusions, history will judge them harshly.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

‘We must love all Tamils the way we love Muralitharan’

by Hemantha Warnakulasuriya

Muttiah Muralitharan claimed his 500th ODI wicket, just two less than Wasim Akram. The whole of Pakistan and those in the Gaddafi Stadium cheered loud when Muralitharan achieved the feat of being the second bowler in the world to have grabbed 500 ODI wickets. All over Pakistan photographs of a smiling Muralitharan were published and someone even asked him whether he would be going for the 600th wicket.

In Sri Lanka, after President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the most loved hero and others are from a different playing field. They are all cricketers. I believe Sanath Jayasuriya is the hero of millions and Muralitharan would come very close to him. When Muralitharan delivers the ball, all Sri Lankans believe that it is a dangerous weapon and would destroy the opponent’s wicket. So we love Muralitharan.

As we inch forward in eliminating terrorism from our motherland, we have another mission to accomplish and that is to love all Tamils like we love Muralitharan. This is the only way we can thwart racial bigots from preventing a substantial devolution package being approved in Parliament. The wish of President Rajapaksa is clear: "First, we must eliminate terrorism; secondly, we must eliminate the causes of terrorism". I believe that the second task is as important as the first: we must make all Tamils feel that they are partners in the engine of growth; we must make all Tamils feel that they are not being discriminated against by what happened during the last 30 years.

President Rajapaksa is one of the most anti-racial persons I have known since his days at Law College. Some of his best friends are Tamils and he is genuinely interested in helping them with their grievances. The majority must feel that without a joint effort of all races we can never become a fully developed state. Take Malaysia and Singapore as examples; the contribution that the Tamils made for their economic development is great. We must believe that the defeat of terrorism is the defeat of racialism.

The whole of Sri Lanka wants Muralitharan to play as long as possible to grab 600 ODI wickets. We pray for him that he will have the strength and the capacity to grab 1000 test wickets. We must also pray that we will embrace all Tamils with open arms, even the former LTTEers, so that we can show the world that our country is unique, being the first country to defeat terrorism and ensure peace, tranquillity and security to all for the well-being of the nation.

( Well -known lawyer Hemantha Warnakulasuriya is Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Italy)

Post Mullaitheevu: Tigers have plan A, Plan B and Plan C

By Dayan Jayatilleka

The trick is to grasp the main needs of the present while being able to see into the future, with its problems and prospects, while being aware that the choices we make today, in the here and now, will determine the shape of tomorrow.

First things first: the Tigers have been almost completely overthrown and almost totally defeated, but not yet and not quite. The task is to stay focused and finish the job, resisting all external pressures from whichever quarter however exalted or powerful.

If the foot-soldiers of an army survive but not its General staff, it is almost impossible for it to continue to fight, but as long as a leader and his General staff survive, they can raise an army. Antonio Gramsci reminded us of this, with Napoleon Bonaparte as the classic example.

Velupillai Prabhakaran and his commanders are still alive, and as long as they remain so, they pose a deadly threat to the Sri Lankan state. The war can be said to have been won only when they are eliminated. That remains the task at hand.

The Tigers have a Plan A, B and C. Plan A is to generate an international outcry which, together with Tamil Nadu pressure, will force a halt or slowdown of Sri Lankan armed forces operations, even if it does not result in their best-case scenario of a ceasefire and negotiations. The ludicrous but intentionally diversionary parallels with civilians in Gaza are best countered by reminding audiences that the Sri Lankan state is not preventing civilians from escaping the conflict zones, unlike the Israeli state which kept and keeps Gaza “an iron cage” or “open prison camp”, with its exits -- barring the one controlled by Egypt -- sealed off.Plan B is a sustained slow-burn guerrilla struggle in the Mullaitivu jungles, combined with terrorism in the urban centers. That is the Taliban strategy. This has dubious prospects given that the Sri Lankan armed forces won’t take their eye off the ball as did the Americans, and in any case, there are no Tora Bora mountains and a porous land border for the Tigers to escape into and across.  
 
Plan C, that of escape and re-entry, is best set out by the late Sri Lankanologist Prof Urmila Phadnis’ student Sudha Ramachandran writing in the Asian Times Online (Jan 27):  ‘Pro-LTTE sections of the Tamil Diaspora are in favor of Prabhakaran moving overseas, so that he can revive the LTTE from outside the island and "then strike at the Sri Lankan government at a time of his choosing to free the Sri Lankan Tamil people again". It is expatriate Tamils who funded the LTTE's war for the past several decades, fueling Prabhakaran's dreams of setting up an independent Tamil Eelam and ignoring his at-times brutal rule over the Tamils. And it is this community that he can count on now to provide him with sanctuary overseas’.
Sudha Ramachandran’s essay also hints, albeit unintentionally, at the downside of handing Prabhakaran over to any other country’s jurisdiction in the unlikely event of capture: “…Prabhakaran has been captured alive before. That was in Chennai (then Madras) in 1982, when he, along with a leader of a rival militant group, was arrested for exchanging fire on a busy street. The Sri Lankan government pressed India for his extradition and India agreed. But then things changed. Mass rallies organized by P Nedumaran, a Tamil nationalist who continues to be Prabhakaran's most loyal supporter in India, opposed the deportation to Sri Lanka on the grounds that the two would be tortured there. The pressure worked. India said Prabhakaran would be tried here and stayed the deportation. He never was tried. Prabhakaran was granted bail, which he eventually jumped and went on to wage a deadly separatist war against the Sri Lankan state.”There is only one way to pre-empt these fallback options of the Tigers and their supporters, namely to crush all LTTE resistance, extirpate the LTTE’s leadership and annihilate its fighting cadre in the ongoing campaign in Mullaitivu and whatever un-liberated residue of Kilinochchi. There are those such as the highly regarded General Kalkat who commanded the IPKF, who give credence to the guerrilla option. Talking to him, Kallol Battacherjee of The Week (India, Feb 1, 2009) retraces the important history of the decisive days in the IPKF-LTTE confrontation:“Velupillai Prabhakaran was no mouse in October 1988. …The IPKF captured the land routes of the Tigers. Then they took Wanni, Jaffna and Kilinochchi. At Nitikaikulam, they cornered Prabhakaran. Sensing his end was near he turned tail and escaped through a 7km tunnel into a forest near Mullaiteevu. The Indian soldiers had it easy till then. But what followed was decisive, and still shapes India's response to the Sri Lankan conflict. "The LTTE surprised the IPKF by booby trapping the forest near Mullaiteevu; they knew the terrain like the back of their palm and put up fierce resistance," said IPKF commander Gen. (rtd) A.S. Kalkat. The Indian attack plan was to drive the Tigers from the forest, but Kalkat found that the forest was the Tigers' best ally.” What is Lt. Gen. Kalkat’s conclusion? "It is perhaps one of the most dangerous forests in the world and till the Sinhalese forces defeat the LTTE there, they cannot be called real victors," Kalkat said. For him, the Sri Lankan campaign of 2008-09 is a copy of his campaign of the late 1980s. "The ultimate battle of the Sri Lankan army against the LTTE is yet to be fought".This much is true, but the conclusion he derives or seems to derive, that the outcome is still wide open and victory is uncertain for the Sri Lankan forces, is unwarranted. It is unwarranted because Gen Kalkat tells the truth about Nithikaikulam and the IPKF experience, but not the whole truth. I know, because General Kalkat used to report up the chain of command to general Suneet Francis Rodriguez, the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army who was in overall command of the IPKF operation, and while the Nithikaikulam battle was on, EPRLF founder-leader K. Padmanabha, Suresh Premachandran (deputy leader) and I were in General Rodriguez’ office, with its maps and scale models of the terrain. I was, of course, using an assumed identity.The top brass was gung-ho. The IPKF Para commandos were going in after Prabhakaran, braving the booby traps and the claymores, and may well have got him -- except that politics intervened. As several top Indian personalities including Shri JN Dixit have disclosed, at the same time the IPKF jawans and the Para commandos were risking their life and limb, the RAW was in negotiation with the LTTE’s representative in Madras, Kittu. Those talks seemingly bore fruit, if fruit it was, in the form of a package deal which permitted the LTTE to keep a specified number (300, if I remember rightly) of automatic weapons including M 16s for the personal protection of the leadership, while it came into the mainstream of the Accord. It is possible that Kittu negotiated in good faith, not knowing the real thinking of Prabhakaran who kept his cards very close to his chest. It is also likely that the RAW negotiator (in charge of the Sri Lanka operation and named as such by Lalith Athulathmadali) was already in the LTTE’s pocket or was in the process of being ‘turned’ by the Tigers—something that was suspected only after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination a few years later, though it should have been suspected after EPRLF leader Padmanabha’s murder in Chennai in 1990, the year before Rajiv was killed by the same LTTE cell.RAW chief Anand Verma took the Kittu deal to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and won over some top officials eager to secure the Tamil Nadu vote. Not everyone was that gullible in New Delhi and with the decision making circle divided and in deliberation, a compromise was struck: General Kalkat was asked to draw up encirclement – in the event, involving 5,000 troops. This delay in pressing home the advantage with the elite Para Commandos permitted Prabhakaran to escape, dig in and turn the tables eventually on the IPKF. This he did, not merely militarily but politically and psychologically. JR Jayewardene was still Sri Lanka’s President at the time. Mr. Verma even flew to Colombo to persuade President Jayewardene to endorse a ceasefire with the LTTE but failed in his effort, with JRJ insisting on the total decommissioning of weapons.Even if the Ravana-esque villain of the Indian re-telling of the IPKF tale, namely Ranasinghe Premadasa, had not been born, the IPKF would have been pulled out, because that was a solemn campaign pledge made, in order to win Tamil Nadu, by VP Singh, who triumphed at the general election. This is why the IPKF analogy does not hold, though the Tamil Diaspora and Indian analysts may find some comfort in the thought that Prabhakaran will do to the Sri Lankan armed forces what he did to the IPKF from his redoubt in the Mullaitivu jungles. The IPKF was not motivated, there was political dissent in its rear, the institutions of the state were at variance, the standard armament of the infantryman was the ridiculous SLR (the FN rifle) pitted against the Tigers’ Kalashnikovs and M-16s (mostly purchased with RAW funds or procured through its channels, bypassing the procurement red tape which ensnared the IPKF), and there was hardly any use of tactical airpower—except on October 10th 1987, in Chavakachcheri, courtesy of the Sri Lankan side, a strike that injured Prabhakaran.Of central importance is also the main goal and objective of military strategy. The IPKF had a wholly erroneous goal of pushing the Tigers to the negotiating table. It wasn’t even sure if killing Prabhakaran should be an objective, and it certainly wasn’t one held to consistently. In a brilliant piece of deception, the LTTE fed the RAW who fed the IPKF the nonsense that LTTE deputy Gopalaswamy Mahendraraja alias Mahattaya was a deadlier foe; more anti-Indian because he was allegedly “Naxalite influenced”, and should be eliminated so his baleful influence on Prabhakaran was ended. Rajiv Gandhi was victim of this utterly erroneous reading. By contrast, this time the Sri Lankan government and state have political clarity and a unified will to win. This time, a gutsy Deputy Minister of Defense isn’t having to fight a war while recruitment is drying up due to a unilateral antiwar campaign (“Sudu Nelum”- White Lotus) spearheaded by  a fellow Cabinet Minister. This time the Sri Lankan armed forces have a clear objective: the elimination of the LTTE as a fighting force. This is as it should be, for General Vo Nguyen Giap has said that the goal of all military strategy should be the annihilation of the living forces of the enemy. The IPKF ignored this dictum.The Sri Lankan armed forces have none of the disadvantages and delusions the IPKF labored under. Therefore Prabhakaran cannot perform the same miracle of survival and recovery that he performed against the IPKF. There is something to be wary of though. As the latest issue of Security Index, the premier Russia journal on international security, co-published by the Centre for Policy Studies, Moscow and the Centre Russe d’etudes Politiques, Geneva, says: “America’s serious mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan were not so much military as political, made well after the main stage of the military operation was over.” (Yuri Fedorov, ‘Black August or The Return of History’, Security Index, Winter 2008/9, p.95)This then is the category of mistakes Sri Lanka must avoid, and be conscious of as the victorious end of the war draws closer like the red sail of an incoming ship on the horizon, to use Mao’s metaphor. These were the mistakes of the Bush administration, and with our own version of the Republican neoconservatives, cultural warriors and religious right-wingers who determined and distorted US perspectives forcing a deviation from Realism, it is the kind of mistake we could easily make. Unlike the USA we will have no Barack Obama to redeem us from their consequences.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer)

 

 

 

 

 

Winning the war and losing the future for the Sinhala South

By Kusal Perera

"Wars, conflict, it's all a business.
One murder makes a villain.
Millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify." - Charlie Chaplin

It's all now a talk of living in a country free of "terrorism". The Separatist Tigers are almost eliminated. Driven to the forests of Mullaitivu and restricted to lick their wounds, till they are completely annihilated as promised by the Defence head. Ruthless and merciless as no other armed organization on this planet earth, the LTTE had to be cornered, tamed and eliminated politically, long before. That not done in a pragmatic manner, we are told "a full scale war" is the only option "within our unitary State". The hard and rigid position of claiming a non-compromising unitary State in a Sinhala dominated country, perhaps left no other option but a war for the majority psyche that believes it owns this plot of marooned land.

Yet, at what cost ? In rupees and cents, the total is huge. It was 130 billion rupees in 2007 plus a supplementary budget that enhanced the defence allocation by another 15 per cent, half way through the year. In 2008 it was 166 billion plus another supplementary budget allocation of 28 billion, making it a staggering 194 billion rupees for the war, with 177 billion budgeted for 2009, for now. Cost of war is not only the allocated annual defence budgets. It is also the cost of rebuilding and replacing the massive destruction caused to buildings, roads, bridges, rail tracks, electricity pylons and other infrastructure, after the war. How many billions more would we need for that ? That in rupees or dollars is not the total lost in this war. Add the productive cost of a society, how ever meagre that may be, that was and is being lost over the years due to war.

A very educated professional considered a friend by me, told me, "War has its own cost any where. It takes lives and there is no point in counting them. Its so in Iraq . Its so in Gaza ." Whilst Iraq and Gaza does not justify a weeping and bleeding Vanni, but only makes it two plus one in human tragedy, he and his family are fortunately living in a very secure urban residency in Colombo, 450 km away from all the innocent people who speak a different language to his, who are dying, left destitute and in hunger and pain. With broken and shattered families, politically and ideologically distanced from the Sinhala polity. That cost of war tragedy has no assessment in rupees and cents in a modern civilised world.

Is that all ? No. Count the number of Sinhala youth who are permanently limping around you. Those who have their adult life maimed. Count the number of young widows who are staring blank into the future, with a fatherless infant on her lap. Count the little children who are often used as "exhibits", standing in rows for politicians to grin at them, the children of "war heroes". Make a note of all those teenage village girls who frequent the Anuradhapura town for a living, waiting to be picked up by vacationing young soldiers. They are looked after by organised mafia and the underworld is infested with army deserters in large numbers. Some allegedly used by powerful politicians.

Is that all ? Sorry. There are more. More that goes unaccounted and unaudited socially. The Sinhala society that supports the full scale war has also come under a sledge hammer of a rigidly regimented defence establishment that by now has become an indispensable factor in political decision making. The organised social fabric that defines and decides democratic functioning of the society is shredded. The media had been openly coerced into compromising and to live as told, through threats direct and indirect. With gunmen on motor bikes and white vans. The Sinhala society accepts with glee, the political explanations wrapped in military priorities doled out by this defence establishment in defending all that suppression and also how the democratic structures should behave in its day to day life. The judiciary has been ignored by the Executive to maintain its own indemnified power. The political regime uses all those regimentations in society to live an unchallenged, unquestioned life seeped in corruption, nepotism and political arrogance. Protests are allowed at the expense of protest leaders running the risk of meeting masked armed men on motor bikes and white vans there after, who would never be tracked down. Any dissent in society, any deviation in perceptions thus comes under brutal suppression.

The Sinhala society has been herded into this subordination and this subjugation on the twin slogan of "patriotism against Tiger terrorists" and "supporting the war heroes". What has now emerged is a totalitarian regime on the strength of crushing the LTTE terrorism and accepted and given the honour to be just that by a citizenry that for now wish to live with that euphoria. Like it or not, that's where we have come to in accepting a full scale war against Tiger terrorism and that's from where we would have to wake up, to see what the future holds for us amongst all this debris and human carnage left.

Right now, it's India and the international community that talk loud. The international community that lived to see a bloody human tragedy evolve, issuing diplomatically phrased statements blaming all sides and asking for respect of international law protecting civilian life, from a government they themselves accused of impunity in violating basic human rights, has now hurried to assess the possible rehabilitation of the devastated areas. Yasushi Akashi was around and in Trincomalee, meeting the Eastern Province Chief Minister too, in his 17th visit as a peace envoy to talk about humanity and development, even before the SL military entered Mullaitivu.

India that blundered at a heavy cost trying idiotically to manipulate in teaching the Jayawardne government a lesson by training and teething the armed groups, rushed Pranab Mukherjee, acting PM and Minister for External Affairs, to Colombo when the government was being accused in Tamil Nadu of targeting thousands of displaced and stranded civilians trapped in cross fire, with government forces pushing hard towards Mullaitivu. Indian strategy was always clear with Delhi only worried of Pakistani presence. Given the annihilation of LTTE and Prabhakaran, the armed menace they nurtured and promoted for a long time, Delhi would try to placate Tamil sentiment to the extent it would not embarrass the Rajapaksa government.

What more would you expect from a selfish world ? Till the next phase of armed Tamil politics gather its own strength and justification to fight on for yet to be honoured dignity as equal citizens in a shared country, the Rajapaksa government and its extensions would be showered with soft loans and grants for "rehabilitation and reconstruction of devastated life". It would now have the right to continue as it did through war. The carpet of savage suppression doesn't have to be rolled back. The South agreed to have it spread out all these years. Why roll it back now ? All indications are, that "patriotically bloodied" repressive carpet would now be legalised and strengthened for political arrogance to walk on. All indications are, with such change, the military would continue in politics. "Winning the war does not mean I have finished my job." said the Army Commander to the Daily Mirror a fortnight ago. "I have other work. I have to strengthen the army." he said.

It’s a big price the South would have ended up paying to live without Tamil separatism. Without a decent and a sane Opposition that does not know it's in the Opposition to challenge an overstepping government. It's the price of living without its own democratic life for the South.

Bob Dylan's definition of "peace" - the moment when you reload your riffle

Beyond Sri Lanka’s ‘War on Terror"

by Darini Rajasingham Senanayake

It looks like one of the more winnable conflicts in an age of the global ‘war on terror’. The Sri Lankan government appears to be on the brink of announcing victory in its drawn-out battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The armed separatist group, listed as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups, has fought successive Sri Lankan governments for over a quarter of a century in the guise of liberating the island’s Tamil community from a state that has increasingly marginalised linguistic and religious minorities. However, the question remains as to whether the victory would be pyrrhic when finally manifest, consolidated on irreparable damage to the county’s increasingly fragile democratic institutions and centuries-old multicultural, multi-religious and hybrid social fabric.

Several conflicts have been assimilated to the global ‘war on terror’ in the aftermath of 9/11 and the United States-led global ‘war on terror’ that casts a long shadow in South Asia. In 2006, the conflict in Sri Lanka was officially renamed a ‘war on terror’ after a highly internationalised Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement collapsed. Prior to that, the past quarter of a century of violence punctuated by three abortive peace processes, was known as an ‘ethnic conflict’ or a ‘liberation struggle’, depending on the perspective. The current government has worked hard to portray its battle against the LTTE, now in its final stages, as a ‘war on terror’. This time the top priority is to recapture the island’s northeastern territories controlled by the LTTE’s quasi-state, and the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who is also wanted by India for assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

One is familiar with the adage ‘one man’s terrorist is another’s liberation fighter’, a phrase that was common in many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America during the era of post-colonial struggles for self-determination and independence from European empires. The Sri Lankan government also terms the current bid a ‘humanitarian war’ to liberate innocent Tamil civilians from the grip of an organisation that has held people as a buffer and human shield to deflect the onslaught of the military and air force. On the other hand, the LTTE claims that it is seeking to liberate Tamil-speaking people from the abuse and humiliation meted out by the post-colonial state dominated by the majority Sinhala community. There is good evidence to suggest that minority communities in Sri Lanka have had a raw deal in the form of discriminatory policies on language, education, land settlement and development. There have also been episodic riots and pogroms against minority Tamils and Muslims since independence in 1948.

Clearly the conflict in the island is complex and it is necessary to look beyond the blame game between the two principle protagonists and the gloss of the ‘war on terror’ to seek sustainable solutions. After all, sustainable peace would need to be based on an analysis and address of the root causes of conflict. In the case of ethno-nationalist guerrilla movements such as the LTTE, once a group loses territory, it may melt into the people and return years or decades later to fight, if the root causes of the conflict are not addressed. Several long-term, low-intensity conflicts that predate the global ‘war on terror’ in South Asia make this apparent.

Democracy as Collateral Damage

At independence from Britain in 1948, the prognosis both for democratic governance and development in the island nation then called Ceylon was generally rated excellent. Sri Lanka was considered a ‘model democracy’ with an established record of peaceful co-existence between diverse ethnic and religious communities until the armed violence erupted in the early 1908s. Its social indicators (literacy, health and education), were the envy of much of the developing world in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, and they remain the best in South Asia.

Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen was fond of referring to Sri Lanka and its particular development model and trajectory as an ‘outlier’ because of high levels of social development despite relatively low per capita income. Later it was expected that the island, given its size and ethno-religious mix, would develop like Singapore rather than Malaysia which was seen to have an uneasy ethnic peace [1]. Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore was indeed the role model for the J. R Jayawardena regime in the late 1970s and 1980s. However, somewhere along the way, the country’s politicians and policy-makers seemed to lose the plot and were subsequently ambushed by the LTTE, which in its early days was funded by India’s intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), during the period of proxy wars of the Cold War. Although the LTTE was started locally in the late 1970s to secure the rights of a minority marginalised by the state, it subsequently morphed into one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist groups.

After the ethnic riots of 1983 which may be better described as a pogrom, the LTTE grew exponentially. A quarter of a century of violence killed over 70,000 people, mainly in the north and east of the country, and displaced between 5-10 percent of the island’s 20 million people. The LTTE forcibly evicted the Muslim minority population from the northern Jaffna Peninsular in 1990, claiming they were a security threat to the Tamil homeland. A significant number of Tamils displaced in the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have formed a powerful disapora in North America, Europe, Australia and parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia, and from afar, they have contributed to sustain family members and communities as well as subsidise the conflict in their homeland. It was largely with the funds generated from the diaspora that the LTTE was able to run a de facto state for almost a decade in the northern and eastern parts of the country. However, its territory has been slowly but surely retaken by the ongoing military offensive of the government to ‘liberate’ the Tamil people.

It was against this backdrop that the first week of 2009 saw the fall of the capital of the LTTE’s de facto state in the north of the country. A few days later, troops gained control of the Elephant Pass base and the A-9, the main trunk road that links the southern capital, Colombo, to Jaffna, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka Tamils. Celebrations were held throughout the country while government institutions hoisted the national flag. The capture of the LTTE’s capital was termed ‘an incomparable victory’ and the President used the rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’: “What our heroic troops have achieved is not only the capture of the great fortress of the LTTE, but a major victory in the world’s battle against terrorism”.

For 23 years, parts of the A-9 highway had been controlled and sealed off by the LTTE. The securing of the highway means that travel between Jaffna and Colombo would no longer need to be by sea or air and would bring down the cost of living in the Jaffna peninsular. The Sri Lankan government also plans to roll out reconstruction and development plans for Kilinochchi, now a ghost town vacated by civilians fleeing the military onslaught and air force bombing campaign to dislodge the LTTE from bunkers dug deep in the earth. Simultaneously, the first two weeks of 2009 saw a dramatic rise in refugees arriving in South India. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only humanitarian organisation operational in the conflict areas, 200,000 people have been displaced.

It is axiomatic that, as externalised threats are perceived and nations go to war, civil liberties and rights in the domestic sphere are eroded. This phenomenon was observed by Max Weber, a founding father of the discipline of sociology. Within days of the celebrations following the capture of LTTE’s de facto capital, one of the island’s leading journalists, Lasantha Wickrematunge, Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader newspaper, a liberal anti-establishment paper known for exposing corruption and nepotism in the state apparatus, was assassinated in broad daylight in Colombo.

At his funeral, where thousands gathered, an effigy of the Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was burnt. The slain journalist’s funeral was attended by political leaders, media representatives, civil society organisations and senior foreign diplomats in Colombo. The slain journalist, who was also a lawyer, had penned his own obituary three day’s before his assassination: “And then they came for me”, naming in all but words his killers. His final editorial published posthumously which has come to be known as the ‘letter from the grave’ constitutes a powerful indictment on the regime that would be hard to shake off in a country where astrology, the symbolic and uncanny, carries significant weight in politics. Minimally, the state is accused of promoting a ‘culture of impunity’ that has rendered Sri Lanka ‘one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists’ according to the organisation, ‘Reporters without Borders’.In the past two years, at least eight journalists have been killed in the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

As the war (including an information war) has escalated, the phenomenon of extra-judicial killings has risen. Wickramatunge’s assassination was in the wake of a series of killings and intimidation of journalists and lawyers, and attacks on independent media institutions in the south. A few weeks earlier, the largest independent television station in the capital, MTV, criticised by segments of the state of being unpatriotic, was attacked by a masked gunman in a city teaming with security forces. A few months earlier, the house of a leading lawyer and head of Transparency International, Sri Lanka, who had appeared in several fundamental rights cases, was struck by grenades. In August 2008, Sri Lanka lost its seat in the United Nation’s Human Rights Council and has since turned down several requests of the United Nations Human Rights Commission to set up an observer mission to monitor the situation in the country.

Needed: An Exit from Violence

Implicit in renaming the conflict in Sri Lanka a ‘war on terror” is the suggestion that the current war is a ‘just war’, which has elicited considerable support from members of the international community engaged in the global war on terror. The challenge of war, be it a ‘just war’, ‘humanitarian war’, a ‘war on terror’ or even an oxymoronic ‘war for peace’ is to avoid destruction of the lives, institutions, values and ideals sought to be liberated or protected. The LTTE, which began as a movement for the rights of a minority community against state discrimination, over time morphed into a self-sustaining war machine that has sapped the strength of the very community it sought to protect. During the decades of conflict, there have been several rounds of negotiation with the assistance of the international community. However, the LTTE has failed to grasp the opportunity to negotiate peace for the war wary and depleted population that it seeks to ‘liberate’.

The armed group has been, for some time now, fighting a war of diminishing returns. The globally networked organisation, which draws support from a significant diaspora in North America, Europe and Asia, has been banned in many countries. Likewise, successive regimes in Sri Lanka have periodically used an emergent ‘war economy’ to benefit from violence, while extended periods of Emergency Rule has seen the attenuation of the rule of law, while a growing culture of impunity has stymied investigation of grave human rights violations, corruption, and rent-seeking behaviour by state actors, non-state actors and paramilitaries. Hence the conflict has been also referred to as a ‘dirty war’.

Over the two and a half decades of conflict, a variety of politicians, members of the defence industry and paramilitary groups had acquired illegal personal profit and political power as the economy periodically morphed into a ‘war economy’. Sri Lanka seems to be in the midst of one such cycle. At the same time, the regime may be increasingly dependent on the use of majoritarian nationalism and the militarisation for survival, given the soaring cost of living with one of the highest inflation rates in South Asia. Sri Lanka has the largest defence budget in South Asia in percentage terms. At the November 2008 budget, President Rajapaksa, who is also the Minister of Finance and whose brother is the Minister of Defence, promised to raise defence spending by seven percent to a record US$1.6 billion in 2009, according to figures presented to the Parliament.

In his inauguration speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”. Naming a complex conflict such as Sri Lanka’s ‘war on terror’ may be counterproductive. Indeed as John Sidel, a specialist on Indonesia noted in his book, “Riots, Pogroms, Jihad”, that since 9/11 an industry of terrorism experts has reframed diverse types and forms of complex political conflict in South Asia and Southeast Asia. To call Sri Lanka’s complex conflict simply a ‘terrorist war’ or an ‘ethnic conflict’ is to get history and indeed geography wrong. For it is necessary to talk of state terrorism in the same breath, as the LTTE is no doubt vicious terrorism which has included violence against the very community it seeks to liberate, including the assassination of those who do not agree with it, recruitment of women and child soldiers, and perfecting the suicide bomb.

There is little doubt that the LTTE engages in terrorist acts and combating it requires special measures. However, renaming Sri Lanka’s complex conflict a ‘war on terror’ may leave little space for the reasoned analysis required to understand and address the root causes of the conflict so as to ensure a lasting political solution that would underwrite sustainable peace. The quarter of a century-long conflict in the country cannot be solved by military means alone. It would require a political solution that ensures power-sharing with the minorities in the north and east. Otherwise the LTTE would very likely regroup and return to fight another day, as has occurred in the past. However, because the current regime in Colombo has key nationalist parties as its allies, it seems unlikely that it would be able to deliver a genuine power sharing package at this point in time. The All Party Representatives Committee, convened almost three years ago to formulate a political solution, has yet to deliver a solution acceptable to all Sri Lankans, particularly the island’s minority communities.

Epilogue

Arguably, it was in recognition of the collateral damage that the global ‘war on terror’ inflicted on democratic rights, values and the rule of law that United States President Barack Obama, in his inauguration speech, signalled a change in strategy and method to deal with threats to peace, “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake”. The global ‘war on terror’ may no longer be expedient for states that are required to address complex domestic identity conflicts through genuine power sharing agreements.

References

Horowitz, Donald, 1989, “Incentives and Behaviour in the Ethnic Politics of Sri Lanka and Malaysia”, Third World Quarterly October, 1989.

Sen, Amartya, 1993, “Capability and Well being” in The Quality of Life. Amartya Sen and Nussbaum, Martha C. eds. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Sidel, John, 2007, “Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia”. Cornell University Press.

January 28, 2009

Amnesty charges Govt and LTTE of violating laws of war

Reports emerging from Sri Lanka suggest that government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are violating the laws of war by targeting civilians and preventing them from escaping to safety.

Amnesty International has received information that the LTTE has, in at least one instance, prevented injured civilians from moving to safer areas or accessing medical care, an act that could constitute a war crime.

“Recent fighting has placed more than a quarter of a million civilians at great risk. People displaced by the conflict are experiencing acute shortages of humanitarian aid, especially food, shelter and medical care. There has been no food convoy in the area since 16 January,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher.

The Government of Sri Lanka is carrying out military operations in areas with a civilian population. The aerial and artillery bombardment has reportedly led to civilian deaths, injuries, the destruction of property and mass displacement.

Sri Lankan government forces have pushed the Tamil Tigers out of all major urban areas they had held for nearly a decade and into a small pocket of land. More than 300,000 civilians who have fled the oncoming government troops are also trapped in this small area. They have been displaced multiple times and are increasingly vulnerable as fighting moves closer.

Hundreds of people have been killed or injured and such medical care as has been available is threatened due to danger to the few health workers and damage to hospitals.

The government had declared “safe zones” to allow civilians to seek shelter, but information made available to Amnesty International indicates that several civilians in the so-called safe zone have been killed or sustained injuries as a result of artillery bombardment.

A doctor working in a hospital in a “safe zone” says that about 1,000 shells fell around the hospital.

A convoy of 24 vehicles, arranged by the Red Cross and the UN to transport up to 300 wounded people, including 50 children, was stopped from leaving the area by the LTTE.

The UN says it will attempt to help evacuate the wounded for a second time, if permission is granted by LTTE and if a lull in the fighting permits. They hope to cross the frontline at midday Thursday.

Targeting civilians and carrying out indiscriminate attacks by any party to the conflict violates international humanitarian law.

“The immediate priority is medical attention for the seriously wounded. The Tamil Tigers must let injured civilians go” says Yolanda Foster, “Preventing civilians from accessing medical care constitutes a war crime.”

Govt just cant blame everything on the LTTE says HRW

(New York) - The Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should take immediate steps to allow thousands of civilians trapped in a shrinking conflict zone safe passage and to ensure that they receive desperately needed humanitarian aid, Human Rights Watch said today. Intense fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the separatist LTTE has caught an estimated 250,000 civilians in deadly crossfire, and in the past week civilian casualties have risen dramatically.

"The situation for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable civilians trapped in the Vanni war zone is becoming increasingly dangerous," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Both the government and the LTTE need to take urgent action to prevent large-scale civilian deaths."

The LTTE has long prevented civilians under its control from fleeing to government-held areas. As the LTTE has retreated into its stronghold in the northern Vanni area since the start of a Sri Lankan army offensive in October 2008, the rebel group has forced civilians deeper into territory they control. An estimated 300 local staff members of the United Nations and international humanitarian organizations are trapped in the Vanni because the LTTE refuses to allow them to leave for safe areas. Altogether, an estimated 250,000 civilians are now trapped in the small part of Mullaittivu district that remains under LTTE control.

The Sri Lankan government has contributed to the risk to civilians by detaining those who have managed to flee LTTE areas, including whole families, in militarized detention camps, denying them freedom of movement.

"Civilians are scrambling for shelter in an area that is under heavy artillery fire, including many children, wounded, and elderly who need urgent assistance," said Adams. "The UN and concerned governments should press Sri Lanka to take all necessary steps to spare civilians from harm."

Over the last week, reports of high civilian casualties from the fighting have been reported by the few doctors in Mullaittivu district. The Sri Lankan army says it created a "safety zone" for civilians inside the war zone, but there are credible reports that shelling has occurred inside this zone.

According to the United Nations, a compound sheltering UN national staff inside the safety zone was shelled on January 24 and 25, killing at least nine civilians and wounding more than 20. On January 26, another artillery attack narrowly missed UN local staff working in the safety zone, but reportedly caused dozens of civilian deaths. In a January 27 statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed concern that "[h]undreds of patients need emergency treatment and evacuation to Vavuniya Hospital in the government-controlled area." Because of government restrictions on the movement of journalists and human rights monitors, Human Rights Watch could not independently verify this information.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara told the media that "There were no civilians killed," and added: "We are targeting the LTTE. We are not targeting any civilians, so there can't be any civilians killed." Human Rights Watch said that the Sri Lankan military's blanket rejection of any civilian deaths in the latest fighting raised serious concerns about its genuine willingness to minimize future civilian casualties.

The government-ordered September 2008 withdrawal of all UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations (with the exception of the ICRC and Caritas) from the Vanni plunged the region into a serious humanitarian crisis, with acute shortages of food, shelter, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies. The humanitarian crisis was documented by Human Rights Watch in its December 2008 report, "Besieged, Displaced, and Detained." A companion report, "Trapped and Mistreated," focused on LTTE abuses against the civilian population in the Vanni.

"The government's near-total news blackout from the war zone prevents Sri Lankans and the rest of the world from knowing the full extent of the humanitarian crisis in the Vanni," said Adams. "The government can't just blame everything on the LTTE and wash its hands of responsibility for protecting civilians."

The conflict in Sri Lanka is governed by international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch has long urged both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to abide by the laws of war, including taking all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians during military operations and ensuring that civilians have access to humanitarian assistance.

Hard to Achieve Peace When 'They Just Want the Tamils... Wiped Out'

by Stephanie Nolen

Reaching a political solution to conflict in Sri Lanka seems next to impossible

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — Sri Lanka's National Peace Council has long had two goals: first, a negotiated end to the country's 25-year-old civil war, and second, a political solution based on federalism.

"I suppose the first goal is gone," Jehan Perera, the council chair, remarked with a bit of dry despair a few days ago.

There seems to be little hope for a negotiated settlement, as the Sri Lankan armed forces claim to be within days of taking complete control of the island country, ending the rule in the north of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

So what of the peace council's second goal: a political solution to the conflict that would incorporate both the demands of the Sinhalese majority as well as the minority Tamil population, long the victims of legally sanctioned discrimination?

Dr. Perera is an optimist and hopes the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa - who with his brother Gothabaya, the Defence Secretary, launched this crushing strike at the Tigers 18 months ago - can be magnanimous in victory.

"The hope lies in the fact that the President was in the past a human-rights campaigner, when he was in the opposition," Dr. Perera said.

"Because he has been fighting a war he had to have the Sinhalese extremists with him, but once he wins the war he won't need them. Maybe then the President will surround himself with different advisers. That's what we have to hope, that when the situation on the ground changes that our leaders will change accordingly."

Yet it seems unlikely that President Rajapaksa has any plans to negotiate. His stated goal is to eliminate "any trace" of the Tigers. And two weeks ago, his government "proscribed" the Tigers, making it illegal to talk to them.

Nor is it clear whom the President could have negotiated with, in any case: The Tigers, in their iron reign over the area they called a homeland, moved with cold precision against anyone else who tried to speak for Tamils.

"The Tigers wiped out genuine leaders of the Tamil people - now they have neither guns nor political leaders of any eminence," observed Dr. Perera, who is Sinhalese. "For peace to be just, it has to be negotiated between equals" but such a dialogue is now impossible, he said.

Many Tamils agree that their community is woefully without a representative. "We have never had good leaders," said Ram Ranmohan, a Tamil businessman in the eastern city of Trincomalee who is a respected community elder and advocate of a non-violent resolution to the conflict. "But then, we have had no place for good leaders."

A Norwegian-led peace process that had in the past led to ceasefires and some confidence-building measures has been moribund since President Rajapaksa, seemingly intent on solidifying his own political fortunes, and utterly indifferent to calls for a negotiated settlement, launched his multipronged military offensive in 2006.

Few observers of that peace process believe the Tigers participated in those talks with any sincerity: Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran would seem either to have had a misguided belief his movement could win a military victory or because of his egomaniacal desire to rule even his small fiefdom at the expense of pursuing a greater peace that would erode his power.

President Rajapaksa has promised Tamils their "peace and freedom" will follow the end of the LTTE, a pledge met with considerable skepticism by international observers here. "This government says all the right things but they speak with forked tongues," said a Western diplomat who is not authorized to speak on the record. "They just want the Tamils crushed and wiped out."

The diplomat suggested that traditionally Tamil areas would likely continue to be under heavy military occupation, while a few showpiece development initiatives are undertaken.

Mr. Ranmohan said that Tamils are worn down by the fighting and living under both regimes - either Tiger or Sinhalese-majority government - and have little energy left for anything but survival. "Probably we will be like your ... Indians, pushed into a reservation," he said. "It's going to be a terrible ending and the scar will be there for generations."

Dr. Perera, however, clings to the hope that the country now has, at the very least, the opportunity for change. "Maybe on the positive side, the problem that has blocked progress in Sri Lanka for 30 years - at least that is over and the stalemate is broken and there is possibility of progress. The focus will move from the military and open up space for political issues," he said.

"When war diminishes, people will once again demand freedom and the space to articulate their views."

'How can people say this is peace?'

by Stephanie Nolen

Eastern Sri Lanka chafes under the oppressive rule of a government that says it is committed to democracy

TRINCOMALEE, SRI LANKA — In the local office of Sri Lanka's national Human Rights Commission here in this eastern seaside town, they have statistics: Ninety-eight people were abducted in this area last year, snatched off the streets by the infamous white vans with no licence plates that are used by government security agencies. Eighty-five other Tamils simply disappeared. At the commission they have case files and police reports.

But none of the staff will talk about them. "We are helpless," one staff member said apologetically, ushering a visiting journalist out of the office. "We would like to help the people but we have to be afraid for our lives, too."

And who do they fear at this government office?

The government.

Eastern Sri Lanka offers insight into what the north of the country - the area that until weeks ago was held by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - will soon look like. The Tigers have lost all but a tiny portion of their territory to a punishing air and ground assault by government forces, launched by a president determined to end the country's 25-year-old civil war to win elections in April. He promises peace and development for the civilians of the north, where long-time oppression of the minority Tamils by the Sinhalese-dominated government helped to create a powerful secessionist movement.

Until 2006, this swath of the east was also held by the LTTE. But infighting within the Tigers, which Canada and many other nations list as a terrorist organization, led to a split and the rebels of the east soon allied themselves with the government.

Today the government holds up Eastern Province as a model of its magnanimity, pointing out that elections were held there shortly after its military control was established, and that a Tamil party headed by ex-rebels won the region.

"The President has shown his commitment to honourable peace in Eastern Province; those people were given the chance to elect their own people. They know they are being represented, not neglected," said Lakshman Hulugalle, spokesman for the Ministry of Defence.

But international observers said the poll was marred by rigging, violence and intimidation, and the provincial government is dominated by ex-fighters from the breakaway Tamil faction who have little support from the population, which resented the rebels' often oppressive rule. Indeed the Chief Minister of the province is Sivanesathurai Santhirakanthan, better known by his nom de guerre Pillayan, which he acquired when he joined the Tigers as a 14-year-old fighter. Today he is ostensibly the most powerful man in the province, a claim he rejects with a small, tight smile.

"The government is eliminating terrorism, offering a political solution, and that is how I have been elected Chief Minister," he began in a recent interview in his office, then added, "I have become a chief minister but I have not received powers from Colombo. For the past six months Colombo says, 'This is not the right time to devolve powers.' They say they will give them in time."

Most local and international observers - even Mr. Hulugalle of the Defence Ministry - predict that when the LTTE loses control of all its territory in the north it will launch an underground, Iraq-style insurgency. The Tigers have since the first days of their fight used suicide attacks on civilians, including those at prayer in places of worship, as one of their standard tactics.

"The LTTE will go to the jungle as resistance, and even if there are a few hundred of them, the government has to maintain a military presence in the north; their residual force will require suspicion of all Tamils," said Jehan Perera, head of the National Peace Council. "The situation is likely to be the same or much worse than in the east - the soldiers, the questioning of people, the difficulty of getting private business to invest there."

And the peace of the victors will be a cold one for the Tamils, he predicted. "They say they will be doing infrastructure, building roads and that kind of thing, but it will all be done by the central government, and this conflict grew in the first place from the view the central government is Sinhalese and doesn't take their interest into account," he said.

Thus the streets of Trincomalee, banded every 150 metres or so with checkpoints where Tamils are grilled about who they are and where they are going and whether they can prove they do not support the LTTE, offer a grim vision of what the north will soon be like.

"What democracy do we have today?" asked the president of a respected local development organization, too afraid to be quoted by name. "We cannot meet, we cannot talk, even if someone sees us now, the security will come and ask what we are discussing. Every time you leave your house it's like you are going to court to face charges."

Sure, he said, the government has built a few roads (using Sinhalese-owned contractors and only Sinhalese labourers), and yes, he got to vote, for the first time in decades. But that is cold comfort, he said. "You can put a parrot in a nice cage and feed it nice food like apples but it's still a caged bird."

Pillayan, the Chief Minister, knows people are frustrated, and said that the situation will change. "The central government gave assurance that the 13th amendment [to the constitution, which promises power-sharing with the Tamils and other minorities] and even more will be there," he said. "We still have hope."

Yet as frightening as the disappearances, and perhaps more likely to cause further conflict over time, is the government's unabashed campaign of "Sinhalization." Historic sites commemorating ancient Tamil kingdoms have, in the months since the government took control of the area, suddenly become memorials to Sinhalese kingdoms. Some Tamils stopped at checkpoints can no longer give the names of their home villages, because those places have new Sinhala names, local and international human-rights monitors say.

The government recently announced that the fishermen of Trincomalee were back to catching their prefighting hauls of fish, but neglected to mention that it continues to deny all but a handful of Tamil fishermen the right to put to sea (citing the security risk that they might ferry supplies to the Tigers) and has instead brought in Sinhalese fishermen from the south, to whom it affords much more freedom.

"All the land seized as a 'high security zone' in the 2006 fighting is still in the hands of the military, and you have tens of thousands of people stuck in resettlement camps where they aren't allowed to fish and don't have land to farm and have a miserable existence," said one United Nations employee who was not authorized to discuss the situation on the record.

UN agencies, which are feeding civilians on both sides of the conflict and supporting a host of development projects across the country, as well as other aid agencies, are routinely denounced in the state-controlled Sri Lankan media as overt partisans and backers of the LTTE, a fact that both hinders their work and has the effect of blunting their criticism.

There is an additional layer of tension in the east because the LTTE is still present here, albeit underground - a situation that will be doubly true in the north. The rebels continue to pressure the Tamil population to provide funding and other support for the nationalist cause, and attempt to enforce vote boycotts and other obstacles to peaceful political participation.

In the anxious offices of the Human Rights Commission, investigators are regularly reminded by their government masters that official policy is: All is well in the east. And they despair. "How can people live like this?" a staff member asked. "How can people say this is peace?" [courtesy: the globe and mail]

In Pictures: Vanni humanitarian crisis

The office of the Regional Director of Health Services in Kilinochchi said in a communiqué today Jan 28th: “Disaster situation is at peak. Civilians are running to find safest place. Staying at Bunkers is the maximum safety. But unfortunately heavy rains flooded the bunkers. Deaths and injuries are common among IDPs living places. Many feel they should not be the next victims. People are hopeless on outside help. They are praying for better life”

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[Injured mother]

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[Civilian casualties]

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[Civilian casualties]

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[Civilian casualties]

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[Civilian casualties]

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[Civilian casualties]

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[Civilian casualties]
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[Civilian casualties]

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[IDPs at Hospital Premises]

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[Injured child]

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[Udayarkaddu hospital under shell attack]

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[Udayarkaddu hospital under shell attack]

[Pictures by: RDHS]

January 27, 2009

Sri Lanka: Major humanitarian crisis unfolding

Colombo / Geneva (ICRC) - Hundreds of people have been killed and scores of wounded are overwhelming understaffed and ill-equipped medical facilities in Sri Lanka's northern Vanni region, following intensified fighting between the Sri Lanka Security Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded. The violence is preventing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from operating in the region," said Jacques de Maio, ICRC head of operations for South Asia in Geneva.

The terrified population is in need of protection, medical care and basic assistance, according to the ICRC.

An estimated 250,000 people are trapped in a 250 square-kilometre area which has come under intense fighting. They have no safe area to take shelter and are unable to flee.

"When the dust settles, we may see countless victims and a terrible humanitarian situation, unless civilians are protected and international humanitarian law is respected in all circumstances," said Mr de Maio. "It's high time to take decisive action and stop further bloodshed because time is running out."

The ICRC urgently appeals to both sides to allow and facilitate the safe and voluntary movement of civilians out of the combat zone.

The ICRC is determined to stay as long as possible in the Vanni, but the parties must respect its presence and its work. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to enter the Vanni and aid workers and their premises must be protected from shelling and looting, as required by international humanitarian law.

Both sides are strongly urged to spare the lives of those not, or no longer, taking direct part in the fighting. Hundreds of patients need emergency treatment and evacuation to Vavuniya Hospital in the government-controlled area.

In response to the crisis, the ICRC is stepping up its support for Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital in the Vanni. The ICRC, which is the only international aid agency to have remained permanently in the Vanni over the past four months with the agreement of both sides, continues to work alongside the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society helping those in need.

For further information, please contact:

Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26
Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel +94 11 250 33 46 or +94 773 1588 44

ICRC News Release Jan 27, 2009

Killing of Civilians:Hands of Both Govt and LTTE are Tainted

By Col R Hariharan

The security forces have captured Mullaitivu, the last bastion of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This is comes as the icing on the cake of their achievements in the war against one of the toughest insurgent forces in the world, which has no hesitation in using terror tactics. However, the security forces have to address an issue that is disturbing not only to NGOs and UN humanitarian agencies but to many others who are no sympathisers of the LTTE.

In the last few days almost all international news agencies have reported the death of a number of civilians in Sri Lankan air strikes and artillery shelling carried out repeatedly to soften up the LTTE defences in support of the advancing security forces. A report of the Associated Press quoted Sri Lankan health officials saying that at lest 30 civilians were killed in a single day on January 20 due to shelling on a school and a hospital in the newly declared safety zone. The fact that the TamilNet, the pro LTTE website, had been reporting such deaths of civilians almost every day does not minimise the gravity of these incidents. Hundreds of civilians have died in such firing; even Indian newsmen who had been to Mullaittivu have confirmed it. One Indian reporter has spoken of heaps of dead bodies lying outside the makeshift hospital in Mullaittivu.

The death and injury among civilian population used as the human shield of the LTTE is caused when the security forces use artillery fire and air strikes to neutralise the LTTE pockets embedded in the midst of civilians. So it cannot be condoned as inevitable "collateral damage" of war. Such reports are even more serious if death and destruction of civilians come from an area that is supposed to be "safety zone". So it is not surprising that the issue has drawn strong criticism worldwide.

Deaths of civilians and displacement of population from their habitations are perhaps the two most certain events in any war. When a society unleashes war as a solution, such happenings are to be expected. And war is also the biggest violation of citizens' basic right to life and property. The expectation of privation is no consolation to the hapless population struggling just to survive between the foes. So what both the government and the LTTE do to mitigate their suffering is as important as winning or losing in battlefields.

It is in the nature of air strikes and artillery bombardment to cause death and destruction in areas around the target. Even with all the technology for precision strikes, both air and artillery fire has inherent probability error in hitting the target area. In fact even the most accurate artillery gun has to correct its fire for every target with a couple of salvos before it opens its barrage on the target. This is done to minimise error of shells not hitting the target. Such an area would extend to a radius of at least 100 yards around the target. That is how the damages from 'collateral' causes occur. As it is inherent in the use of artillery fire to call it collateral is absurd. The use of artillery fire and air strikes in civilian areas regardless of compulsions is to be condemned strongly because it is so inhuman.

Unfortunately bombs and bullets do not discriminate between soldiers and "human shields" or hapless civilians trying flee the battlefield. In times of war, displaced population have neither the resources nor energy to take protective measures taken by the troops. Women and children form bulk of such civilian casualties because they cannot run as fast as men to safety.

The security forces are repeatedly told to exercise caution while using their fire power. War is not a cricket match; it is each man fighting not only to save himself, but to kill the enemy to fulfil his commander's mission. That is why soldiers are trained to become part of a gigantic killing machine that armies are. Their principles of war tell them to use superior force with preponderance of fire power while maintaining their objective. Under such compulsions of war, expecting the security forces to enforce a zero civilian casualty policy is extremely difficult if not impossible. So it is for other government agencies to take measures to ameliorate the fall out of battles on civil population well in advance and train them on how to save themselves.

In this regard the hands of both the government and the LTTE are tainted. The security forces have stepped up the use of artillery including multi barrel rocket fire and air power even as the LTTE areas are shrinking every day increasing the density of civilians per square kilometre. And the role of the LTTE is despicable and heartless. Even the UN has critically commented on the LTTE's cynical strategy of not allowing civilian population to get out of the battle zone, even though it knows that it is not going to defend the area unto death of the last of its cadres.

The government run by an elected body of people's representatives cannot absolve its responsibility in this respect by blaming the LTTE. As an organised government its norms are clearly defined and public accountability is an essential part of it. It is expected to perform better than the LTTE which has no pretension of such niceties and has only its leader Prabhakaran's edicts as norms of functioning.

Media is the conscience keeper of society. When the government fails to operate according to the norms of governance, it is the duty of media to report it. This is more so in times of war, when people accept the curbing some of their fundamental freedoms in the national interest. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan media feels increasingly insecure when they face violence and intimidation directly or indirectly from elements of government or suspected to have close connections with it.

President Rajapaksa had been enjoying better press than his predecessors and most of the other politicians. In spite of this, his repeated reassurances on media freedom have not made much headway because other limbs of the government continue add a new episode to media confrontation almost daily. What is surprising is the government attitude to the media trying to report on the war, when only government is the "authorised source" of information. The latest in the government's firing line was the BBC Sandeshaya for quoting the civilian casualty figures given by a representative of Mullaittivu hospital in its report. Media men dig for news from any available source when they are denied independent access to the happenings. This is what is happening

Victory in war is a heady thing. It can cloud government's perspectives on fundamental issues of governance. Victories in battlefields would not mean much in the long run if people do not feel secure and trust the government. The opposition Janatha Vimuthi Peramuna leader put it aptly: "These war victories can be meaningful to the people only when democracy is restored." Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is giving the impression that this is not happening.

After Mullaitheevu: Fate of Prabhakaran and Future of LTTE

By Col R Hariharan

The capture of Mullaitivu, the last big town under the control of the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in a way came about as abruptly as Kilinochchi on January 25. But 59 Division of the Sri Lanka security forces which captured Mullaitivu had to fight its way through in some of the worst terrain against well fortified defensive positions. The fall of Mullaittivu was not unexpected. In fact in my article in the Hindu last week, I had said, "With such a large force confronting them, the LTTE cadres defending Mullathivu are facing a situation that is not dissimilar to what they faced during their defence of Kilinochchi, which crumbled after the government forces broke through the perimeter defences. Mullathivu might face the same fate with the final assault going through as a walk-in into a ghost town."

Only this time around, the approaches to Mullaitivu pulled some surprises with the strong resistance east of Dharmapuram up to Viswamadu-Viswamadukulam. Security forces had reported blasting of the Kalmadukulam tank by the LTTE and flooding the Dharmapuram, Ramanathapuram, and Viswamadu areas to stall the advance f the security forces. According to the media, occupying an area of five square km this tank was the second largest in the north.

However, the LTTE cadres in defending area between Puthukkudiyiruppu and to its south and west have little chance of holding on with approximately five divisions converging on it from three directions. 55 Division advancing along Nagarkovil-Chundikulam axis in the north captured Chundikulam crossing the lagoon of the same name. It plans to link up with 59 Division in Mullaitivu which would close the last bit of free access to the sea between Mullaitivu and Chundikulam to the LTTE.

The chief of LTTE Velupillai Prabhakaran has become elusive even as a lot of hype was built up by the security forces about his presence in Mullaitivu area. As the Sri Lanka expects to rout the LTTE completely by March 2009, Prbhakaran's whereabouts become crucial after Mullaittivu's capture. The LTTE has been silent on speculations about its supreme leader, having lost its tenor due to the fading fortunes of war.

The Sri Lankan army commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka has claimed that 95 percent of the LTTE is "finished." Territorially speaking he is probably correct. But I am sure the security forces know that would not be the "real" 95 percent of the LTTE unless most of the cadres are killed or caught and the weapon inventories of the LTTE are accounted for. They also would acknowledge Prabhakaran has to exit the Sri Lanka scene for "finishing" the LTTE finally.

His continued leadership is vital for rebuilding the LTTE to survive another day. He has been the guiding spirit of the LTTE in war and peace all these years and many of the followers would not know what do without his command. More than that, he has not allowed the rise of any other leader to the stature of being his successor. As the LTTE revolves around Prabhakaran his death or apprehension could fold up the LTTE. His fate is also interlinked with the fortunes of his acolytes and fellow travellers both at home and abroad, particularly in Tamil Nadu.

Just before Mullaittivu fell, there had been widespread speculation in Sri Lanka media that he might have gone to Kerala or Tamil Nadu or even Penang State in Malaysia. All the three regions, where pockets of LTTE sympathisers exist, are not in the good books of Sri Lanka. However, at present these stories appear to be more fiction than factual.

With these stories, the Sri Lanka intelligence agencies probably hoped to demoralise the LTTE cadres defending Mullaitivu.

The LTTE cadres at the battle front are out of touch with Prabhakaran. This is not surprising as Prabhakaran normally does not join frontline battles though he keeps close touch with operations. The Tiger leader is also known to change his location frequently even in normal times. These are sensible survival precautions of a paranoid leader who has made too many enemies. And that is how he has survived. The Prabhakaran mystique is built as much on his low visibility and as the high secrecy of his location.

But where is Prabhakaran? Despite inspired stories about his departure to India, Malaysia or elsewhere, he runs the risk of being arrested in most of the 37 countries the have banned the LTTE in some form or other. Only Myanmar, Thailand and Kampuchea could become destinations of a fleeing LTTE leader. Of course, South Africa and Eritrea are touted as two other possibilities. But both are too far and travel would be too risky for the LTTE leader. The LTTE had a history of striking deals with corrupt elements of Myanmar military regime. But its socially downtrodden Tamil ethnic population has little influence and the military regime might sacrifice Prabhakran in adversity. Kampuchea where the LTTE had been buying his arms and Thailand where the LTTE has some clout with powerful Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates appear to be the only possibilities.

But own assessment is that given his doggedness built around the goal of achieving Tamil Eelam, Prabhakaran might not quit Sri Lanka to the comfort of Sri Lanka government. Tamil Nadu and Kerala coasts are the easiest to reach. Tamil Nadu in particular is an attractive destination for Prabhakaran because LTTE has built support assets there. However, it could be extremely risky also. Prabhakaran may welcome Indian coast for the limited use as a transit point before sneaking out to one of the western countries where death sentence does not exist and such leaders do get accommodated. After all Britain still has given refuge to one of the most wanted Chechen terrorist leaders. So Tamil Nadu and Kerala would do well to be on guard as Sri Lankan boats getting abandoned on India coasts have been repeatedly reported since last December.

January 26, 2009

Torn apart by unrest, Tamil family longs for freedom

by Stephanie Nolen

Vavuniya, Sri Lanka: When he saw the pair of young women walking up to his front door, Anthony T knew his family had not escaped.

Months before, he had at last succeeded in scraping together loans for $50,000 (U.S.) and paid a smuggler to get his son to Canada as a refugee claimant. He got his oldest daughter into pre-college bioscience studies. He thought, then, that his children might be spared.

But 18 months ago, recruiters for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam came to the home of Mr. T, 57, a coconut and rice farmer whose identity has been confirmed by The Globe and Mail but will not be published due to concerns for the safety of his family.

The young women spoke at length to Mr. T and his family about the Vietnam war. "They told us it was a long war that no one thought the Vietnamese could win, but that they endured and it was a people's war and they won in the end," Mr. T recalled a few days ago with a small, painful smile.

He had managed to send his son out beyond their reach but now the Tigers wanted one of his daughters. "I never thought they would come for her."

During the past 18 months, the government has used a massive military offensive to squeeze the LTTE in all directions, and yesterday announced that the army had seized the northern town of Mullaitivu, the rebels' last stronghold - although no journalists are allowed in the area to try to confirm this.

"The Sri Lankan army captured the Mullaittivu bastion completely today," Lieutenant-General Sarath Fonseka, the army commander, said last night in a speech after LTTE fighters had been driven out of the town earlier in the day.

The guerrillas have come back from near-obliteration before, but this time it seems likely that their control over the north is ended.

The end didn't come soon enough for Mr. T's daughter. The recruiters came back to their home, in a village 12 kilometres from Mullaitivu, three more times. His daughters were terrified, he said, and didn't want to go; their parents were equally afraid. So the Tigers turned up the pressure, taking Mr. T himself away for "questioning." They only held him for a day, he said, but their message had been effectively delivered: when he arrived back home, it was to find his three daughters arguing over whom should go, so that their father would not face incarceration or worse. They decided in the end to send the eldest, who was then nearly 18, because her educational background might get her a job as a medic, and perhaps some security away from the front lines.

So she went, just as the Sri Lankan government intensified ground and air attacks on the area where the LTTE had long run a sort of autonomous semi-state. And so began Mr. T's days of worry, an anxiety that has sharpened to corrosive fear as the Tigers lost their capital, Kilinochchi, three weeks ago, and then, day by day, were pushed back up against the sea. "It's all I think about, all I can ever think about," he said.

Mr. T, a quiet, grey-haired man wearing a pale blue sarong, relayed all this in Vavuniya, the "exchange point" where some civilians are allowed to pass between army and Tiger territory. He came down a few days before, bringing a nephew in urgent need of medical treatment; as the oldest family member, he was the least likely to incur the suspicion, and possible detention, by the Sri Lankan government when he crossed out of rebel territory.

Since he arrived, he has learned his family has been almost constantly on the run, driven from one area to another by aerial bombing and by the Tigers.

The practice has been condemned by the United Nations, which estimates that as many as 300,000 civilians have been trapped now between the opposing forces. "Pretty soon there will be nowhere to go but into the sea," Mr. T said quietly.

The LTTE has been fighting since the mid-1970s for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, which continues to be oppressed by the Sinhalese majority that dominates the national government.

The Tigers have been listed as a terrorist organization by countries, including Canada, because of their use of suicide attacks on civilians, and have long been condemned by human-rights organizations for their forcible recruitment of soldiers, including a great many children.

He has lost all hope that the LTTE will maintain their "independent homeland" in the north, and in some ways, he won't miss them, dragging off people's children and constantly demanding "donations" for the cause, as soon as he had saved a few rupees.

Yet at the same time he fears the repression that will come with living in a militarized north under government control. "Intelligence has a list of whose family is in the LTTE," he said. "If we cross over here, we will be under surveillance and persecuted."

All the options are bad, he said simply. "There is no saviour, neither the LTTE nor the government." But neither side cares how he and people in his village feel, he added.

"It doesn't matter who we are living under, it has to be without violence. We are not troublemakers. We want to live in peace, independence and dignity. We want the same facilities and rights that people enjoy in the rest of the country: education, jobs and access to land. If we have this, then there won't be any problem."

Now he waits in Vavuniya, desperate to go home, or as close to it as he can manage, in case his daughter is either released by the Tigers, or manages to slip away.

"Maybe, maybe, I will be able to get to her and somehow I can get her away. We can all get away." [courtesy: The Globe and Mail]

January 25, 2009

How many more?

By Kshama Ranawana

Lasantha Wickramatunge is dead. A strident voice brutally stilled. Hot on the heels of his assassination an attempt was made on the life of yet another veteran journalist, Upali Tennekone, the Editor of the sinhala weekly, Rivira.

Lasantha’s killing has unleashed a storm of protests –unprecedented even, with condemnation coming from all quarters- human rights bodies to the US State Department.

Judging by the vast crowds that attended his funeral on Monday, January 12th, and the demonstrations that ensued, it seems that his assassination jolted the conscience of a cross-section of society. Rather reminiscent of another abduction and killing eighteen years ago, that of journalist and actor Richard de Zoysa. He was killed during yet another intolerant regime, and when State forces were battling both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. Journalist Sivaram’s killing too evoked anger and despair. Neither of those killings however, sparked such an outcry as Lasantha’s did.

The gradual erosion of fundamental rights began with the enshrinement of constitutional changes introduced in the early 1970’s. Yet, Sri Lankan’s have, for the most part shrugged their shoulders and got on with their lives. “If it does not affect me, it does not matter” seems to be the creed that many live by.

Richards killing gave birth to groups such as the Mothers Front and the Free Media Movement; associations which are constantly attacked by those who support corrupt leaders. The brave few, who carry on regardless and call for negotiated solutions and turn the spotlight on the breakdown of law and corrupt deals, are branded unpatriotic.
That is a label pinned on any person or organization (NGO’s in particular) that dares speak on issues other than applauding the war on terror. Such attacks, have oft’ times been led by those who fancy themselves as “professional journalists!”

Richard and Lasantha shared many similarities; they hailed from privileged backgrounds, hobnobbed with the nation’s elite and were English language journalists known both locally and internationally.

Yet, scores of other less known journalists, media rights activists and those affiliated with the profession have been killed, abducted, assaulted and harassed. Just days before Lasantha was killed the MTV/MBC networks was set on fire, as was the Leader Groups press in November 2007. Not even newspaper distributors have been spared. A majority of the incidents took place in the north and the east, and spread southwards as military successes increased. More than fifty such incidents have been recorded both in 2006 and 2007.

Non-media persons too have paid the price for their efforts of safeguarding the rights of civilians and minorities. All of these incidents have been recorded, protested and mourned by a handful of human rights defenders.

The use of violence and censorship to keep the truth from being told is indeed the tools of the cowardly; who live with the mistaken belief that wiping out the “trouble makers” would silence all dissent.

How many more Lasantha’s, Richarads, Keith’s, Namal’s, Raviraj’s, Maheswarans and Tisanayagam’s and Upali’s must it take for Sri Lankan society to awake from its slumber? We’ve stood by and watched while those who hold the reigns of power destroy a once peaceful society. It is time that genuine patriots support the few who are unafraid to call for reform. It is still not too late to work together to ensure that every Sri Lankan feels at home, and make our country the vibrant democracy it used to be.

“No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion and all-round hell- raising remain the true duty of patriots”. -Barbara Ehrenreich, professional pot-stirrer

January 24, 2009

Caught between the Tigers and the tanks

by Stephanie Nolen

VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka — Every day, the women get up in the cool of early morning and walk a few kilometres north to the heavily fortified checkpoint that stands between them and their families. And every day a kindly staffer from the International Committee of the Red Cross tells them that they still cannot cross.

So they turn away from the barbed wire and stacks of sandbags and camouflage and walk back into town, where they squat in the shade of the main government office, waiting for the road home to open — and knowing it won't, until home has changed so much that they will scarcely recognize it.

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[A medical staff wheel an ethnic minority Tamil child patient, who was injured by heavy combat between Tamil tigers and government military in the Tamil rebel territory, at a hospital in Vavuniya, about 260 kilometres (160 miles) north of Colombo January 22, 2009. - Reuters-via Yahoo! News]

These women (along with their children and a few old men) come from a war zone — a region of Sri Lanka called Vanni, where until a few weeks ago the vicious Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) maintained a de facto independent state Now, a punishing air, sea and land campaign by the Sri Lankan military has driven the Tigers into a tiny corner of the north, their backs against the bright blue sea.

In their retreat, the rebels have taken with them most of the civilians who lived under their control — an estimated 300,000 people.

One of the world's longest-running conflicts, the 25-year-old civil war in Sri Lanka, seems to be entering its final phase of conventional warfare.

The Red Cross says an unknown number of civilians have been killed and injured since President Mahinda Rajapaksa set out in 2006 to crush the LTTE — which most Western countries, including Canada, consider a terrorist organization, best known internationally for carrying out grisly suicide attacks on civilians.

The rebels now hold an area no bigger than 30-by-30-kilometres, around the northern city of Mullaitivu. They have been pinned down before and fought their way back to power, but most observers think this is probably their end as a controlling force.

However, this war, which has already cost the lives of at least 70,000 people, seems certain to get much bloodier before it ends, as the cornered Tigers dig in and prepare to unleash their considerable arsenal.

The United Nations has issued repeated calls for the Tigers to release civilians and for the government to treat them well. The assumption is that all the civilians in the north would flee if they could.

A few have managed to get out, and these people stand on one side of the checkpoint, awaiting a long and unpleasant "security screening" by government soldiers hunting for any sign they have links with the Tigers. Those who pass muster — and most men 14 to 45 years old don't even bother to try — are waved through and taken to a refugee camp, where they will live behind thick coils of razor wire, forbidden to leave.

But no one here is talking about the other line in Vavuniya, the one five times as long — the line of people desperate to go back the other way. No one admits what it says about the chances for real peace in Sri Lanka that so many people see more hope for their families in a war zone than in the calm of the government-held side.

But the Tamil women here have no trouble explaining it. Each has come across in the past few days or weeks to seek medical treatment or write exams, as part of a system of exchanges between LTTE and government territory that, surprisingly, kept functioning through the worst of the war until now.

"I'd rather go back and die with my family than be here alone," says Kala, a 29-year-old schoolteacher (like many others here, she is afraid to be quoted with her full name). Kala's family has been displaced at least three times so far in the fighting; in the five days since she left to bring an aunt to the hospital here, their village has been shelled and her family is on the run again.

"I had a phone call from my three-year-old daughter screaming, 'Mommy, come home,'" Kala says, tears on her cheeks. "We are trapped between the government forces and the LTTE. We are trapped between both sides with no idea what to do."

The LTTE won't allow whole families to flee south, but even if it did, Kala says she would be petrified that her husband would disappear after the crossing. Young Tamil men are frequently detained on suspicion by the armed forces — by law, they can hold a person 18 months without charge; in practice, confinement can last much longer.

"If I am there, I can guard him," she says. "When they come with their questions — 'Who are you?' 'What are you doing?' — I can say, 'This is my husband. This is my daughter's father, leave him.'"

COLONIAL LEGACY

Sri Lanka's conflict has its roots in historic tensions between the majority Sinhalese population, who are mainly Buddhists, and the minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindu — tensions deliberately exacerbated by the British colonial administration in a divide-and-rule strategy that lasted until independence in 1948.

In the 1950s, to cement its power, the Sinhalese-dominated government began a series of overtly chauvinistic actions such as making Sinhala the only official language, giving special status to Buddhism and passing a law that said Tamil students required higher marks to enter university than Sinhalese students did.

There were communal riots — which international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, describe as state-sponsored — in which tens of thousands of Tamils were killed or lost property. The then-president called the killers "heroes of the Sinhalese people."

There was a corresponding rise in Tamil nationalism, and in the 1970s the LTTE, having killed off Tamil leaders who favoured a non-violent push for federalism, emerged as the dominant force demanding an independent Tamil nation in the north and east of the country.

The ensuing conflict was largely ignored by the outside world until the 1980s, when the Tigers unleashed fleets of suicide attackers, whose most famous victim was Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi — killed by a young female LTTE fighter who bent to touch his feet in a gesture of veneration before triggering the explosives beneath her sari.

The LTTE did not limit itself to political or military targets: It blew up buses full of poor rural people and slaughtered worshippers at one of the holiest shrines of Buddhism.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of the 70,000-plus casualties of the war have been Tamil civilians, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. Nearly half the Tamil population has fled, the bulk of them to Canada, which has the largest population of Sri Lankans outside the country — at least 300,000, two-thirds of them in the Toronto area.

Periodic peace efforts, spearheaded by Norway, have yielded little. Most observers agree that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was never serious about negotiations. Both sides violated ceasefires. The last one broke down with the launch of this military campaign.

The government has promised that after its military victory, it will begin intense reconstruction and development efforts in the north to demonstrate to Tamils that they will be equal citizens. "The President has promised a just and honourable peace," says Lakshman Hulugalle, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defence.

Earlier this month, however, the government "proscribed" the LTTE, making it illegal to talk to the organization and closing the door on any negotiated settlement.

BATTLING ACCOUNTS

It is impossible to obtain precise information about what is happening in the north, which the government has completely sealed to both Sri Lankan and foreign journalists. Both sides blatantly manipulate the information they release.

"We have zero damage to civilians and the minimum to our forces," says Mr. Hulugalle. "The downfall of LTTE terrorism is very near." Official reports say the Tigers are now pinned by the army on three sides and blockaded by the navy from an exit by sea.

On their websites, though, the Tigers insist they have not lost territory but rather strategically withdrawn to position themselves better for a fight; that they have killed thousands of government troops; and that the armed forces' air and artillery strikes have left hundreds of Tamil civilians dead.

United Nations officials say privately that the Sri Lankan military has indeed taken thousands of casualties. And while the government insists that no more than 1,000 or perhaps 2,000 Tiger fighters remain, senior staff with aid agencies and diplomatic missions (not permitted to speak on the record) say that the real figure may be as high as 40,000 of the most seasoned rebels and that the Tigers have brought their weaponry from across the northern territory with them into Mullaitivu.

There is feverish speculation on the whereabouts of Mr. Prabhakaran, the shadowy Tiger leader. Some say he has left the country, after sending out his family — his sister, for example, lives in Toronto. But most people here believe that he is still on the island and that he will fight to the end with his much-vaunted cyanide capsule worn around his neck to make sure he is not taken alive.

"He says he will fight to his last breath for us," says one older man in Vavuniya who is in his fifth day of waiting for the border to open. Then he adds, with a sardonic smile: "Whether we like it or not."

Meanwhile, an unknown number of people is stuck in the middle of the increasingly fierce fighting. How many, again, depends on whom you ask: The government says 100,000 at most. The Red Cross says perhaps 200,000. But it's at least 300,000, according to United Nations staff working on the ground in the north with the few agencies that are sporadically bringing in humanitarian supplies.

"We have been able to get basic supplies to them, but they don't have what they need," says Neil Buhne, a Canadian who is the top UN official in Sri Lanka.

"Many have moved 10 times, sometimes more, and they're very scared, scared of everything, as any population in this situation would be. It's important that every effort be made to protect them — that they be allowed to come out if they want to, or stay if they want to stay."

The government says the Tigers are holding the civilians in the north, using them as human shields and not letting them flee. The LTTE uses a cold, calculated system of "bail" for any Tamil who wants to leave its area — the person must "post" a relative or close friend, who will be taken for manual labour or to fight if the person does not return in a specified time.

The practice has been widely condemned by human-rights organizations, but the people waiting in Vavuniya simply see it as part of life.

Kala's brother-in-law offered to be her bail; she does not know where he has been since their village was bombed, but she has no doubt the Tigers will find him if she doesn't come back.

Yet bail is not the only explanation for why, even in the thick of war, she and many others still wait and want to go home.

"We want to die together," says Nandini, 27 and in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy that brought her over the line of control for tests.

She has chafed against the restrictions of LTTE rule most of her adult life, but she is desperate to get home — even though bombers have come low over her village, 10 kilometres from Mullaitivu, for weeks. "Either we live together or die together."

INSURGENCY IN WAITING

Army commanders say it is a matter of days or weeks at most until they control the whole north; diplomatic and aid workers say it could take several months.

But there is agreement that the all-out military strategy embraced by Mr. Rajapaksa and his brother, Secretary of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (a former software engineer in California's Silicon Valley), has been a military success.

The campaign has combined heavy air attacks with multi-pronged advances by army brigades.

The forces have reclaimed an area called Elephant Pass, which links the peninsula of Jaffna in the north to the main island. But their most conspicuous success was the capture on Jan. 2 of Kilinochchi, which the Tigers for years called the capital of their independent homeland, with a parallel civil administration including customs and taxation offices and banks.

The news was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Colombo, the national capital. But the noise of celebratory firecrackers was, within hours, dwarfed by the explosions of two Tiger suicide attacks that left several military officers dead.

There is a sense here that any declaration of victory by the government would be hollow, as the Tigers will switch to a different sort of war, using the shelter of the dense jungles of the north and a community still hungry for freedom to wage an Iraqi-style insurgency.

"There will be for the next couple of years bombs coming up — they will be able to do it, but they won't control areas," says Mr. Hulugalle, the defence spokesman. "It's very difficult to crush it 100 per cent, we accept that. The war will be over, but terrorism will be there."

As a result, he says, the government will be obliged to maintain its vast network of checkpoints and other "security measures" loathed by the Tamil population, which include sealing off prime land, restricting civilian movement and barring fishermen from going to sea.

The new phase of the conflict could be just as grim as the last, in its effects on the civilian population and on the prospects for development in Sri Lanka.

"As the government congratulates itself on its glorious military victories, the old proverb applies: They have won the battle, but they haven't won the war," says one Western diplomat.

CORRUPTION AND IMPUNITY

Tamils and other opponents of the government who look around the country today will probably take little comfort in the promise of a just peace.

The east — which came under government control in 2006, after the No. 2 Tiger leader split off with several thousand fighters and allied with Colombo — remains heavily militarized and is actively being "Sinhalized," with areas losing their Tamil names and Hindu shrines being converted to Buddhist worship sites.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago in the capital, the country's leading anti-corruption journalist was assassinated by gunmen on motorbikes, a crime the government limply condemned. International observers put the blame squarely on state intelligence agencies.

"They whacked the most influential editor of a newspaper in the country in broad daylight, with real military precision," the Western diplomat says. "It's the work of armed groups funded by the intelligence agencies and reporting to the Secretary of Defence — that's the prevailing point of view.

"There is a complete culture of impunity here. There is a perception that the government can do whatever they want — and they can."

That leaves the civilians of the north facing two equally odious choices.

"Helpless Tamils are pressured by both sides," says a weary government employee in Vavuniya who is charged with looking after the civilians who cross from the north. He is Tamil himself.

"People find it very difficult to live in a war zone with bombing and shelling, and they would leave if they could. Then the government says it wants to safeguard them and then puts them in a jail.

"People only want freedom. But we don't have that anywhere," he says, then adds ironically: "I blame Tamils for being born Tamils — that's who I blame in the end." [courtesy: The Globe and Mail]

Stephanie Nolen is a Globe and Mail correspondent based in New Delhi.

January 23, 2009

Sri Lanka can build peace only with new spirit of the Obama Age

by Dayan Jayatilleka

So the darkest hour was indeed just before the dawn – however dark the hour and however faint the dawn. I refer to the torment of the Gazans which was brought to a halt in time for the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America.

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It is a new dawn for the United States , and also, though not as brightly and unambiguously, for the world. It is a new dawn for the people of the USA , after a long struggle against slavery, segregation, racism and racial discrimination, and more recently the economic philosophy of free market fundamentalism. It is a new dawn for the United States as a country. It has set an example by electing an outstanding personality, by revealing and restoring its better self, by showing itself to be a progressive society and by choosing someone who is committed to correcting the country’s course. Already it is looked up to again, and by its new combination of reason and resolve, is on its way to reasserting its global role by acclaim as much as by assertiveness.

Barack Obama sets us an example of enlightened patriotism, of which there is far too little in many societies including our own. Far too many of us are either blindly uncritical patriots or are so aware of our country’s weaknesses and crimes that we have renounced all patriotism if we ever had it. Obama’s patriotism like that of Martin Luther King is one which is acutely aware of his country’s weakness and the stains on its history but is as aware of its strengths and potentialities, and convinced that these strengths outweigh or can be made to outweigh its weaknesses, restoring to it its proper role in the world. As he writes in his second book, his heart “is bursting with love” for his country. Obama grew up acutely aware of the prejudices in mainstream society, but unlike many academics and educated professionals in Sri Lanka who are disdainful of the masses, he can discern the best qualities of the many; he appreciates and loves the people.

President Obama’s patriotism sets us an example in its multiculturalism. In Sri Lanka patriotism is held to be the preserve of the cultural majority. Somehow, only the Sinhala Buddhists are thought to be authentically patriotic or nationalist. Patriotism is identified with the notion of purity, while admixture, hybridism, cross fertilization is not seen as a source of richness but of bastardization and “mongrelization” (“thuppahi”). The nation is supposed to be constructed around the Sinhala Buddhist cultural core, the dominance of which the minorities must accept and buy into. The minorities, or should I say the minoritarians, for their part mirror an inversion of this view and do not fully subscribe to a Sri Lankan patriotism or sign up for Sri Lanka’s struggle against its enemies.

Barack Obama’s patriotism is very different. To America ’s enemies he had a tough message: “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred... for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you”. His commitment to his country’s military was manifest in his remarks later that night at the Commander-in Chief’s ball, when he said that of all his tasks he had no greater honor than to serve as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This is far cry from the Chamberlain–like appeasement policies of the Sri Lankan Opposition and the pacifism of its civil society auxiliaries.

However, Obama’s patriotic resolve is different in character, from the aggressive patriotism that dominates Sri Lankan society. In his speech on Martin Luther King’s birthday, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on the very eve of his presidential inauguration, President –elect Obama repeated the nature of his belief and the foundation of his hope:

“It is the same thing that gave me hope from the day we began this campaign for the presidency nearly two years ago; a belief that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together - Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; Latino, Asian, and Native American; black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not - then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process. This is what I believed, but you made this belief real.”

Though 76.5% of the adult population of the United States defines itself as Christian, in his Inaugural Address President Obama reiterated to huge applause, and identified as wellspring of America’s success, that:

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself…”

If as they say the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, this is not only truest of the founding fathers, but is true also in reverse, in that the virtues of the founding fathers are harvested by the children. Barack Obama and Martin Luther King were able to build upon the heritage of the Founding Fathers, working the contradiction that lay at the seams of the social contract: the belief that all men were created equal, and the fact many of the founding fathers were slave owners, and the republic coexisted with slavery. None of us can choose our fathers. Barack Obama is lucky that he is the political descendant of the Founding Fathers who were steeped in the ideals of the Enlightenment. This is not a matter of West vs. East. Indian politicians and intellectuals can also reach back to the enlightened ideals of the founding fathers, Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar, and draw inspiration from the Nehruvian choices of secularism and quasi-federalism, as well as the Indian Constitution.

We Sri Lankans have no such heritage of a founding document that we can return to and draw upon, to correct our course. Yet, we do have something going for us which we can draw upon. We did get something right, and more correct than better endowed others. As veteran New York Times journalist turned scholar, Barbara Crossette, writing in The Nation earlier this month (Jan 6) wrote, “ Sri Lanka … was once the region's most progressive and democratic country… A reasonably egalitarian society with human development measures that still exceed India's--in better health care, near-universal education and literacy, protected rights for women and numerous other factors…”

We can return to what we were, enhance what is good about what we are, if only we are capable of two things: bringing this war to a swift, decisive and victorious conclusion, and rebuilding our society in a manner that preserves the best of our modern heritage, while eliminating those factors that brought this quarter century of bloody war upon us, distorting our profile and undermining those very achievements. For a society to sustain itself as progressive it has to be inclusionary not only of the poor and young of the majority ethnic group, but of all its constituent ethnic and religious communities.

Let there be no ambiguity. The LTTE has been the main obstacle to any progress and the main cause of our degeneration. The open economy of JR Jayewardene, the “growth with equity” multicultural model of Premadasa, the Blairite Third Way of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the free-market fundamentalism of the Tiger-friendly Ranil Wickremesinghe, all unraveled because of the war, and if someone is tempted to pin the entire or main blame on Sinhala chauvinism, it has to be recalled that the LTTE repeatedly returned to war despite the availability of serious reformist options such as the Indo-Lanka Accord, which the Tigers spurned and went on to murder the author-architect of.

The United States has emerged from the gloom, a few months before Sri Lanka has a chance of doing so. Sri Lanka ’s emergence from the tunnel of a bitter war will be closer to that of America ’s victories in its numerous wars than to the Obama victory. However, the Obama win is relevant to Sri Lanka in more than one way. We shall be closing out the war and building the peace in a new world-historical situation; not one characterized by the Bush administration’s ideology of the “global war on terror” (GWOT) with its Manichean worldview. With the failure of the policy of GWOT, there is a new paradigm that is taking wing. President Obama has made it plain that he disagrees completely with the argument that security requires the abandonment or suspension of the ideals of democratic societies such as the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms.

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake...Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy”.

What do we do after we have won the war? The Bush administration made the mistake of not planning for what came after the military defeat of Saddam Hussein. We must think ahead. But we must also think correctly, in an enlightened and realistic manner. Do we follow the example of the victorious powers after World War 1, whose shortsighted and vengeful policies at the Treaty of Versailles resulted in the growth of Nazism among the defeated and humiliated Germans and led to a second more terrible World War? Or do we follow the example of the Allies after World War 11, whose generosity towards the defeated laid the foundations for the Western alliance and global prosperity? Or let us look at examples closer in time, and place. Do we attempt to imitate the Israelis and practice a policy of occupation, settlements and discrimination, triggering endless cycles of conflict, or do we follow the no less tough-minded but much smarter Russian leaders, who having had to smash the Chechen terrorist insurgency with untrammeled force, have since ensured a high degree of stability by devolving power to their Chechen ally the tough young Ramzan Kadyrov, and transferring enough economic autonomy to guarantee a surge of prosperity in Grozhny?

Already opinions are heard in favor of the most unenlightened of postwar options. These are recipes for continued tragedy, especially with Tamil Nadu at our back, Indian elections on the horizon and the Tamil Diaspora plugged into polities from the USA to South Africa , from Malaysia to Mauritius.

As President Obama said of cynics in his inaugural speech, so too of chauvinists -- majority and minority -- in Sri Lanka : what they “fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them”, globally. With the Obama victory, the current generation in United States is about to fulfill its highest potential. With the coming victory over the Tigers, Sri Lanka can do so too, provided we turn our backs on the local equivalent of the brand of patriotism and values of the outgoing Bush administration while heeding instead the call of Barack Obama. Sri Lanka , emerging from war, can build the peace only with the new spirit of the Obama age beneath its wings.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer)

Wanni war and the tragic plight of trapped civilians

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Wise King Solomon when faced with the task of determining maternity of an infant had an innovative solution. He announced that the baby would be cut in half and given to both women claiming it.

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While the false claimant agreed, the actual mother was not ready to let her child die . She asked Solomon to hand over the infant to the other woman rather than let the child die. [click here to read the article in full ~ in DailyMirror.lk]

January 22, 2009

Defeating terrorism must not be at cost of civilian killings - MIA

by Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam

While there is no room in the world for terrorist organizations, their defeat cannot come at the expense of thousands of innocent civilian lives.

The greatest failing of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” is not its inability to meet its prime objectives (e.g. capturing Osama Bin Laden, eradicating the threat of WMDS in Iraq, and removing Al Qaeda from Afghanistan). Rather, it is that America has given credibility to the act and the notion of pursuing terrorists at all costs.

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[M.I.A. at the Siren Music Festival in July 2007]

The Bush administration has decided to ignore the very tenets of democracy (the U.S. constitution, Geneva convention, among others) in pursuit of winning the “war on terror.” In doing so, it sent a very clear message to the rest of the world: all bets are off where terrorism is involved.

Today, we can clearly see the ripple effect. In Sri Lanka, my home country, the Colombo government has massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians in order to eliminate the threat posed by a small yet defiant group widely known as the Tamil Tigers (also known as the LTTE or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). Make no mistake, the LTTE have engaged in reprehensible terrorist activities that have needlessly taken the lives of both civilians and heads of state. The LTTE’s use of child soldiers and suicide bombers is unconscionable, and has rightly been condemned by the international community. But now the eyeglass must turn to the Colombo government as the conflict enters its 25th year. The war has resulted in what many humanitarian groups are now calling genocide. And sadly, for the Tamil people, time is running out.

Just last month, the New York-based Genocide Prevention Project released a report that listed Sri Lanka among the top eight “red alert” countries currently experiencing genocide conflicts. And Human Rights Watch estimates that between 230,000 to 300,000 Tamil people have been trapped in the Vanni conflict zone by the government, denied food and basic living essentials.

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that no one knows how severe the crisis is because the Sri Lankan government has barred foreign media from reporting on the subject and severely limited the presence of humanitarian organizations. And worse, as demonstrated by the recent murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, a Sri Lankan journalist critical of the war against the LTTE, those that question the government are putting their lives in jeopardy.

Yet other than the UN’s slap-on-the-wrist gesture of stripping Sri Lanka of its seat on the Human Rights Council in May of 2008, the World has remained silent about this emerging humanitarian crisis. What is even more disconcerting is that the global mainstream media has largely ignored the Tamil civilian causalities, and has actually praised the Sri Lankan government for “running an effective military campaign.” Additionally, somewhere along the way the media has managed to portray every Tamil as a Tamil Tiger, including myself.

Fortunately, this month brings a close to the Bush administration and its war on terror at all costs. President Barack Obama announced that he will issue an executive order on his first week in office to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility – which has long become a symbol of the administration’s indifference to how it wins this war. But for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, there is little hope that the Colombo government will change its policies.

We must be clear: acts of terrorism are deplorable and cannot be tolerated by any government, but to actively seek out the killing of innocent civilians, under the guise of fighting terror is absolutely indefensible. Governments must hold themselves to a higher standard.

Editor’s Note: Maya Arulpragasam (known as M.I.A.) is a music artist whose song “Paper Planes” received a 2009 Grammy nomination for Record of the Year. She was born in England to Tamil parents and fled the war in Sri Lanka after living there for ten years. She currently lives in the United States. [courtesy: CNN-AC 360]

After Killinochchi: Crouching Tigers Waiting To Pounce

by P.C.Vinoj Kumar

The dream of an independent homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka, or Eelam, still burns bright in Tamil Nadu, despite the fall of Kilinochchi, the de-facto capital of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) controlled territory in north Sri Lanka. In Tamil Nadu, a state where the LTTE continues to enjoy some political support despite it being a banned outfit in India, the LTTE's retreat from Kilinochchi is seen as a tactical move. On 2 January, 2009, Sri Lanka's hard-line President Mahinda Rajapakse announced the capture of Kilinochchi from the Tamil rebels, triggering celebrations in Colombo. Kilinochchi has come under government control after a gap of about 10 years.

Breaking the news on national television, Rajapakse, who has vowed to wipe out the LTTE and capture its chief, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, warned, "I am telling the LTTE for the last time to lay down their arms and surrender." Three days later, LTTE's political head B Nadesan, remained defiant. In an interview to the pro-LTTE website, Tamilnet, he pointed out that Kilinochchi had been captured more than once by the Lankan army earlier. "Similarly, we have also recaptured the town on earlier occasions. It is in Kilinochchi that the Sri Lankan forces have suffered historical debacles."

Pro-LTTE parties in Tamil Nadu, familiar with this history, are not perturbed at Kilinochchi's loss and regard the news of extermination of the LTTE as mere propaganda. They warn of a bloodbath for the Lankan forces, which are now spread out thinly across previously held LTTE territories. After being evicted from the Eastern Province, the Tigers also lost several strategic locations in Mannar district, west of Kilinochchi, before losing their capital.

Tamil Nationalist Movement leader P Nedumaran recalls the LTTE operation in the late 1990s to retrieve lost territories, including Kilinochchi. Codenamed Oyatha Alaigal (Unceasing Waves), the LTTE apparently conducted the operation in three phases from 1996. In the battle to retrieve Kilinochchi about 2,000 Lankan soldiers were killed in 1998. The operations began after the Tigers were dislodged from the Jaffna peninsula in 1996. At that time, the loss of Jaffna was considered a major blow to the LTTE and it was felt the Tigers would be decimated soon. History proved otherwise.

"The Tigers have shown repeatedly in the past that they can retrieve, in a matter of days, the territories that the Lankan army took months to capture," says Viduthalai Rajendran, general secretary of the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam. This is the overall sentiment shared among pro-LTTE parties. Asked about recent setbacks for the LTTE, they say that the LTTE is preserving its men and arms to fight another day.

In the recent battle, the LTTE has kept its losses to a minimum. The Sri Lankan Defence Ministry said the army had lost 33 soldiers in the battle, among the highest it has admitted losing in the fight with the LTTE. The LTTE has been periodically releasing the photos of dead Lankan soldiers along with their names and identity cards and arms seized from the Lankan forces.

Kilinochchi is cited as a classic example of the LTTE strategy. After putting up days of stiff resistance at Paranthan, a small town located a few miles from Kilinochchi, the army virtually walked into a deserted Kilinochchi town. Mysteriously, there was barely any one around of the one lakh population. Tigers claim they had withdrawn deeper into the eastern Mullaithivu district. "It calls for supreme organising skills to pull off such a Herculean task of evacuating a whole town in a matter of days," says Agni Subramaniam, a human rights activist and an Eelam ana

An estimated 30,000 Lankan soldiers are protecting Kilinochchi, which the media has labelled a 'ghost town.' Journalists who visited the town have reported that there is no trace of life barring stray dogs and cows. A report in the local media said, "The city's 40-feetlong main water supply tank was reduced to pieces with powerful explosives. The electricity cables had been slashed across the city, and through the 8 km length of the town not many electric poles were seen." Rajendran, who had stayed in Kilinochchi as a 'state guest' of the Tigers in 2006 for about a month, says the town used to bustle with life. "They had built star hotels and restaurants. They had their own courts, and were running hospitals, and schools," he recalls.

However, even as the pro- LTTE parties are hopeful of an LTTE comeback, Indian security analysts like B Raman, a former RAW official, and Colonel R Hariharan, a former Military Intelligence official, feel that the possibilty of an LTTE recovery is remote. "The LTTE has bounced back in the past. But this time it may be difficult because the circumstances in the world are not what they used to be," says Hariharan. He points out that the LTTE, which has a modern weapons system, procures its arms from countries like Ukraine, Cambodia and North Korea. "The marine sea routes through which their arms are smuggled in are no longer porous. It will be difficult for the LTTE to ensure a steady supply of arms to continue its fight," he says.

Supplies from the Tamil Nadu coast have virtually stopped. The DMK Government, which is constantly under pressure from the Centre to monitor the coast so as to prevent the infiltration of LTTE cadres, has strengthen coastal security. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard have also increased patrolling in the previously porous region.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi in his message at the Chief Ministers' Conference in New Delhi on 6 January, urged the Prime Minister to "treat the lengthy, porous border of Tamil Nadu along the east coast on par with the international borders in the north, east and west, and increase the presence of central forces, the Coast Guard and the Navy."

The Q Branch, a special wing of the State Police which deals with militant groups, is closely monitoring the LTTE. A senior official told TEHELKA that the LTTE no longer uses the Indian coast to smuggle arms. However, he reveals that there have been seizures of satellite phones, iron balls, and computer spare parts meant for Sri Lanka. "We have arrested about 279 people in the last three years in connection with these seizures," he said. Ten of them were allegedly LTTE men, most were smugglers and had no ideological links with any of the Tamil groups or the LTTE, the official said. The LTTE has started using the Mullaithivu coast on its eastern borders for landing arms, most of which arrive via the South East Asian sea route.

For Prabhakaran, the year ahead will be crucial. The LTTE is banking on a US regime under Barack Obama, who is taking office as US president on January 20, to rein in or prevent Rajapakse from exterminating the Tamils in Sri Lanka on the pretext of a war. It remains to be seen whether Obama's description of the Eelam conflict as a 'vicious civil war' and his designate secretary of state Hillary Clinton's perceived softness towards the Tamil minorities will herald a softening in US policy towards the besieged Tigers.

COURTESY: TEHELKA

Six former US Ambassadors write to President about Lasantha’s killing

Six former US Ambassadors to Sri Lanka have expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in the country following the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

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[L to R: Ambassadors Marion Creekmore, Teresita Schaffer, Peter Burleigh and Shaun Donnelly]

The ambassadors, Marion Creekmore (1989-92), Teresita Schaffer (1992-95), A. Peter Burleigh (1995-97), Shaun Donnelly (1997-2000), Ashley Wills (2000-03) and Jeffrey Lunstead (2003-06), while accepting that the government was engaged in a necessary fight against terrorism, in a stinging letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse in their personal capacities have said that the foundations of democracy had come under assault following the killing of Wickrematunge.

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[L to R: Ambassadors Ashley Wills and Jeffrey Lunstead]

Following is the full letter:

"We are all former United States Ambassadors to Sri Lanka, but we are writing in our personal capacities. Our service in Sri Lanka stretches for over 15 years, and we have seen good times and hard times in the country. We all have great respect and affection for Sri Lanka and its people. We have known you at different points in your career, and we all acknowledge your love for your country and your desire to see it at peace.

"We have all, at different times and in different ways, made it clear that we believed the goals and tactics of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were unacceptable, and that the Government of Sri Lanka was engaged in a difficult but necessary fight against terrorism. We have all supported and argued for United States assistance to Sri Lanka in that struggle.

"It is for all of these reasons that we are now so upset by developments in Sri Lanka, the most recent of which was the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. We fear that, even as Sri Lanka is enjoying military progress against the LTTE, the foundations of democracy in the country are under assault.

"The killing of Wickrematunge has prompted this letter, but there have been many previous incidents in which the rights of individuals and the media have been violated.

"Mr. President, we speak frankly because in our dealings with you we have always found you to have an open mind and to respect the truth. Some have suggested that these events have been carried out not by elements of the government, but by other forces hoping to embarrass the government.

"We do not find such arguments credible. We are familiar with your history as a defender of those whose rights were threatened by the government. We assume, therefore, that if government forces are carrying out these acts, they are acting without your permission and knowledge. We believe it is imperative that these actions stop, and that those who have carried them out be prosecuted.

"Fighting an unconventional war against a terrorist enemy is a difficult task, and the sad truth is that it almost always results in some brutal and illegal acts. This is as true of our country as it is of Sri Lanka. The important thing is that the country’s leadership not condone these acts, and that an atmosphere is set from the top that they will not be accepted, and that those who commit them will be held to account.

"We urge you to take steps to reestablish accountability and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. Investigations have been promised before but have been futile. At times government officials have not appeared diligent, as happened in the investigation of the killing of NGO workers assisted by the International Eminent Persons Group.

‘It is crucial that an investigation now not follow that same fruitless path. It must also be made clear to members of the security forces that discipline will be enforced and violators will be brought to justice. Only you can provide the leadership and clear direction that will make this happen. We have seen before the positive results that such leadership can have, for example, when the decision to issue receipts for all detained persons dramatically reduced the number of disappearances.

"Sri Lanka has gone through difficult times, but its democratic system has always persevered. Neither the LTTE nor assaults by other radical forces have been able to destroy it. It would be a tragedy if it were destroyed now, not from without, but from within.

"We intend to make this letter public after you have received it."

Human Rights Watch writes to Mahinda about illegal detention of three Tamil Journalists

JSTTC0122.jpgThe New York based Human Rights Watch has written to President Mahinda Rajapakse about the "illegal" detention of three Tamil journalists in Sri Lanka. The full text of the letter is given below:

January 22, 2009

Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse
President of Sri Lanka
‘Temple Trees’
Colombo 3
Sri Lanka

Via facsimile: +94 11 2446657

Dear President Rajapakse,

Human Rights Watch is writing this open letter to urge your government to drop all charges and unconditionally release journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and publisher V. Jasiharan and his wife V. Valamathy, who have been in detention since March 2008

J.S. Tissainayagam, an ethnic Tamil columnist with the Sunday Times newspaper and editor of the Outreach website, was arrested by the police Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) on March 7, 2008. The previous day the TID had arrested V. Jasiharan, the owner of E-Kwality press, and his wife V. Valamathy. Tissainayagam and Jasiharan are co-directors of the company Outreach Multimedia.

On August 25, Tissainayagam was charged under the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act for editing, printing and publishing the North Eastern Monthly magazine, of which he was previously an editor, and for aiding and abetting terrorist organisations through raising money for the magazine.

The indictment quotes the following passages from the North Eastern Monthly as grounds for charging Tissainayagam:

1. In a July 2006 editorial, under the headline, "Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future," Tissainayagam wrote: "It is fairly obvious that the government is not going to offer them any protection. In fact it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrator of the killings."

2. The charges against Tissainayagam also include part of a November 2006 article on the military offensive in Vaharai, in the east, which said, "Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel, with the hope of driving out the people of Vaharai and depopulating it. As this story is being written, Vaharai is being subject to intense shelling and aerial bombardment."

Your government’s decision to arrest and prosecute Tissainayagam violates his fundamental right to freedom of expression under international law. While international law permits some restrictions on freedom of expression for reasons of national security, such restrictions may not be used to justify far-reaching restrictions on critics of the government.

The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1996/39 (1996)), provide in principle 7 that “the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression shall not be considered a threat to national security or subjected to any restrictions or penalties.” Expression which shall not constitute a threat to national security includes: criticism of the government, its agencies, and public officials; objections to a particular conflict; or expression communicating information about alleged violations of international human rights or international humanitarian law.

As a former human rights activist, you brought international attention on the issue of enforced disappearances and would have vociferously opposed anyone being prosecuted for peaceful comments and criticism of the government.

We fear the real motive behind jailing and prosecuting Tissainayagam is to punish him for his activities as a journalist, and to intimidate other critical media in Sri Lanka.

The handling of the case has also violated Tissainayagam’s fundamental rights to due process and a fair trial under international law. We discuss those issues below.

Perhaps the most glaring of these irregularities was that Tissainayagam’s indictment was made available to the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Rajiva Wijesinha, before being registered in the relevant court and the indictment proceedings. In a letter dated August 12, 2008, Wijesinha wrote to Human Rights Watch that “Mr Tissainayagam was arrested because of suspicions regarding connections to the LTTE, a terrorist organization which as you are aware is banned in several countries.” He wrote that Tissainayagam continued to have contacts with the LTTE and that after time-consuming investigations (during which Tissainayagam was detained for over 150 days), he had been charged for publications which Wijesinha termed “questionable.” Wijesinha quoted a passage from one of Tissainayagam’s articles written in 2006, which he said was part of the indictment.

The critical issue here is that on August 12 Wijesinha referred to an indictment which was only registered with the High Court of Colombo on August 13. Both Tissainayagam and his lawyer were unaware of the charges against them until Wijesinha’s statement was made public.

We would like to know why Wijesinha had access to the indictment before it was filed. He has no role in criminal investigations or prosecutions. This violates Tissainayagam’s right to due process and demonstrates that the political authorities intervened inappropriately in his case.

We would also like to know why neither the accused nor his lawyer saw the indictment until August 25. This is also a serious failure of due process.

There have been other instances where established legal procedures and due process have not been followed in the case.

1. The authorities did not inform Tissainayagam’s family of his arrest. Tissainayagam was arrested on March 7, yet his family only had confirmation of his arrest when the TID arrived with him to search his house in the early hours of March 8. This is in violation of Sri Lankan Supreme Court directives on arrests, which require that the family has to be informed immediately. In a country where enforced disappearances remain a major problem, the failure to notify a family of an individual’s arrest can result in significant distress.

2. The state counsel did not produce a detention order for Tissainayagam on March 27, 2008 in the Supreme Court despite being given a week’s notice by the Supreme Court to do so.

3. Since his arrest, Tissainayagam has not had adequate access to counsel. Despite seeking permission to see Tissainayagam on March 10, his lawyer did not receive permission to see him until March 21, four days after a Fundamental Rights Case was filed. International law obligates states to permit persons to have access to legal counsel of their choosing immediately upon detention.

4. Police officers have been present during Tissainayagam’s discussions with his lawyers, violating his right to communicate and consult with a lawyer in full confidentiality. One of the police officers present during the consultations has been cited as a respondent in the Fundamental Rights Case filed. Tissainayagam’s lawyers filed a complaint with the Supreme Court on May 22, yet this practice continued.

5. Tissainayagam was arrested on March 7, 2008. He was produced in the magistrate’s chambers on April 1 and the magistrate ordered that he be produced again on May 12. Despite repeated orders that Tissainayagam be produced before the magistrate's court, the TID refused to produce him on six different dates, only producing him on May 27.

6. On June 5 Tissainayagam’s detention order lapsed. The TID failed to follow Sri Lankan procedural guidelines by either submitting a detention order the following day or producing Tissainayagam in court. The TID flouted the magistrate’s order to produce Tissainayagam in court the same day, producing a fresh detention order from the Defense Secretary instead.

7. On December 23, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense published a statement on the case on its website “Background: Thissanayagam Case and Others,” http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20081222_01 which quoted parts of Tissainayagam’s confession interspersed with comments about the North Eastern Monthly magazine. The case is currently sub judice and the defense ministry article calls Tissainayagam a “terrorist” even as the court is still hearing the matter. The LTTE is not mentioned in Tissainayagam’s indictment but the defense ministry article claims as fact that the North Eastern Monthly magazine was controlled by the LTTE. This has serious implications for the fundamental fair trial right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

On August 25, 2008, the trial against Tissainayagam began in Colombo. The government sought to admit as evidence a purported confession made by Tissainayagam while in government custody. On December 5, the High Court ruled Tissainayagam's confession to be voluntary and therefore admissible as evidence. However, the order detailing the reasons why Tissainayagam's confession was voluntary was not made available to his lawyers despite a motion from the lawyers being tendered immediately.

On December 18, the High Court judge stated that the case record is kept under "lock and key" but ordered that the order be made available to the lawyers immediately. However, when the trial resumed on January 13, the order had not been made available to them. The lawyers requested the order again in open court, which was finally made available to them on the afternoon of January 19. The prosecution was provided the order before January 13.
The glaring violations of due process and the right to a fair trial in the Tissainayagam case create the wide impression in Sri Lanka and abroad, that his prosecution is part of a campaign of repression targeting independent media.

Press freedom is a fundamental component of any functioning democracy. Fighting terrorism should not become an excuse for jailing peaceful critics of the government. In light of the recent murder of journalist Lasantha Wickremetunga and the attack on Maharaja Television, now is the time for your government to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of expression and the protection of journalists instead of conducting politically motivated prosecutions.

Real leadership is needed if you are to convince Sri Lankans and the world that you and your government genuinely support press freedom. An important step would be to drop charges against J.S. Tissainayagam, V. Jasiharan and V. Valamathy.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.

Yours truly,

Brad Adams
Director, Asia Division

Cc: HE Mr. H.M.G.S. Palihakkara; HE Mr. Jaliya Wickramasuriya; HE Mr. Dayan Jayatilleke; HE Mr. N.A.C. Nihal de Silva Jayasinghe

Over 100 civilians killed and 300 injured says Mullaitheevu Government Agent

By C. Bryson Hull

Nearly 100 civilians have been killed in artillery exchanges between Sri Lanka's military and Tamil Tigers since the weekend, a top government official working in the area controlled by the rebels said on Thursday.

The report of casualties came on a day the United Nations said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had violated international law by stopping its local staff and their families from leaving the war zone in an aid convoy.

twchil3a.jpg

[Injured child in Vanni]

That echoed earlier complaints from human rights watchdogs that said the separatist rebels had forced civilians to stay in the war zone as human shields and forced conscripts. The rebels, on U.S., E.U. and Indian terrorist lists, deny that.

Sri Lanka's military has boxed the LTTE into an area of less than 400 square km after the most successful campaign so far in the 25-year war and is aiming to deliver a final blow to the last rebel redoubt, the port of Mullaitivu.

Aid agencies have warned that about 230,000 refugees are trapped and at risk of being caught in the crossfire.

"Around 30 people died in the morning today. Personally I saw that nearly 100 people have died from Saturday up to today. More than 300 have been injured," Mullaittivu District Government Agent Emelda Sukumar told Reuters by phone.

Getting independent confirmation of casualties in the war zone is nearly impossible.
Sukumar, who spoke from Mullaittivu, is in charge of government services including humanitarian aid in the rebel area.

The national government pays her salary, but she is under the LTTE's watch and relies on them for her safety. For that reason, the government has often said its agents are under duress and liable to publicly give a version of events favourable to the LTTE.

'CANNOT ESCAPE'

Sukumar said the army ceased fire after her office got in touch with them and the Red Cross, which arranged a convoy to ferry 46 sick and wounded people from a hospital near Mullaittivu to a government hospital in Vavuniya, far from the battle.

"When people occupy particular places, the LTTE send shells from that area, and then army also targets the same area," she said. "So people cannot escape from the shelling."
The military on Wednesday announced a 32 sq km safe zone near Mullaittivu and dropped leaflets urging civilians to go there.

On Thursday, pro-rebel website www.TamilNet.com reported that shelling had killed 66 civilians and wounded 176 in the past 60 hours in areas including the safe zone and the hospital.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied that.

"Today we stopped firing and took 46 patients from that hospital through the Red Cross, so that kind of humanitarian operation is underway. We didn't fire into the safe zone because we wanted civilians to come," Nanayakkara said.

The United Nations in a statement said it had "issued its strongest possible protest to the LTTE for their refusal to allow U.N. national staff and dependents" to leave the war zone in a convoy on Thursday.

"The LTTE's denial of safe passage is a clear abrogation of their obligations under international humanitarian law," it said.

The LTTE could not be reached for comment.

The LTTE say they are fighting to create an independent state for minority Tamils, many of whom complain of mistreatment by successive governments since the Sinhalese ethnic majority took over at independence from Britain in 1948.

COURTESY:REUTERS

Britain endorses war on LTTE while emphasizing human rights and political solution

The full text of the written Ministerial Statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs on Sri Lanka, issued on 21 January 2009, follows:

The Government has long standing concerns with the promotion of peace in Sri Lanka, where the conflict has claimed at least 70,000 lives during the past 26 years. We are now at an important moment.

Since its abrogation in January 2008 of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, the Sri Lankan government has embarked on a policy of militarily defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In recent months the government has made significant military gains, including the capture of Kilinochchi, the former administrative centre of the LTTE in the north, and the capture of remaining rebel territory in the Jaffna Peninsula. These gains make progress on a political solution even more urgent. The LTTE is a proscribed terrorist organisation with no democratic mandate to represent the Tamil people. It is responsible for a terrorist campaign that has targeted innocent civilians across all communities in Sri Lanka over the past three decades.

Thousands of lives have been lost since the renewal of open hostilities in 2006. We recognise the government of Sri Lanka’s need to root out terrorism. It also has a responsibility to safeguard the rights of all its citizens and adequately to address their political concerns. Our consistent position remains that for peace to be sustainable, an inclusive political process that takes fully into account the legitimate concerns of all Sri Lankan communities - Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim - is essential. As my Rt. Hon Friend the Prime Minister has said, we must see an end to the conflict and new drive for a lasting political solution. We continue to engage with all political parties across all communities in Sri Lanka to support progress in this direction.

We are deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka and the growing number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). My Rt. Hon Friend the Prime minister spoke about this issue with President Rajapakse when they met last September and we continue to raise our concern at senior levels. The UN estimates that 200,000-300,000 IDPs remain in the conflict area. Although there have been convoys providing basic humanitarian assistance, there are credible reports that these supplies are inadequate. The military gains by the Sri Lankan armed forces have resulted in these IDPs being squeezed into an ever-decreasing space. Further deterioration in the situation would mean acute humanitarian need and distress.

Following on from a Department for International Development (DFID) mission in September 2008, we will be sending a DFID humanitarian expert in the coming weeks to try to assess the situation and to report on the distribution of £2.5 million in humanitarian funding that we have committed to assist IDPs in northern Sri Lanka. In coordination with international organisations on the ground, we have urged all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the need to ensure the safety of civilians, to allow their free movement and to enhance access for humanitarian agencies to facilitate the delivery of adequate supplies of humanitarian aid. Safe passage for civilians wanting to escape the hostilities should be guaranteed by all parties and safe humanitarian space provided for them. We believe that a full independent assessment of the IDPs’ humanitarian needs is essential. Such an assessment would be a powerful demonstration that everything that can be done is being done to support these vulnerable people. We will continue to press on these matters.

Recent weeks have seen a considerable number of high profile attacks on media freedom in Sri Lanka. We condemn such brazen attacks. Of particular concern was the murder on 8 January of the Chief Editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, Lasantha Wickrematunge. The Sri Lankan authorities have a duty to take prompt action to ensure a thorough and independent investigation is carried out. Those responsible must be held to account. The lack of progress in securing convictions for such cases indicates that urgent action is needed.

There continue to be reports of abductions, disappearances and acts of violence and intimidation in Sri Lanka. Without strong mechanisms for independent human rights reporting, it is difficult to assess the true scope of the problem. We consistently call upon the government of Sri Lanka to take decisive action to tackle human rights abuses, including by taking action against those responsible for violations. Creating an environment in which people from all communities in Sri Lanka live without fear is essential to creating the conditions for a sustainable end to the conflict. The recent commitments by militias on release of child soldiers and disarmament following our lobbying are welcome steps that need to be followed through.

My Rt. Hon. Friend the Prime Minister has written to President Rajapakse to express our concerns.

TNA wants International community to prevail on Colombo to end war

The Tamil National Alliance has issued a statement calling upon the International community to prevail upon the Sri Lankan government to end the on going war.

Full text of the press statement follows:

URGENT PRESS RELEASE – TNA CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE CEASEFIRE AND TALKS:

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) wishes to bring to the urgent attention of the international community the current dire situation facing the Tamil civilian population in Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) administered areas. Currently there are over 360,000 IDPs out of a total population of nearly 500,000 people in LTTE controlled areas. This entire population is living within an area of about 400 square kilometers.

In addition to ordering all United Nations and other humanitarian NGOs out of LTTE administered areas since September 2008, the Sri Lankan State has also imposed stringent economic, medical and food embargoes resulting in the severe lack of basic items required by the civilians.

In addition to this already critical condition, due to the targeted bombing campaigns by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces on IDP camps and other public buildings that could provide shelter, IDPs have been forced to seek refuge under trees, on the roads, and even in the jungles to avoid being killed. Most of these areas are flooded due to the recent monsoon rains.

Tamil civilians including children and infants have been killed or grievously injured in substantial numbers. Their houses, farms crops and plantations have been destroyed. Their means of livelihood have been destroyed and they have been rendered destitute. In the last 20 days alone 66 civilians have been killed and 263 civilians have been grievously injured.

This military campaign is taking place whilst the Sri Lankan State has been unwilling to take any meaningful steps in keeping with the mandates given by the overwhelming majority of the Tamil people to the TNA at the last two consecutive general elections. This only demonstrates that the Sri Lankan State is not committed to an acceptable political solution to the Tamil National Question. This further demonstrates the reality that the Sri Lankan State is only committed to a military solution.

It is the considered view of the TNA that the Sri Lankan State is prosecuting the current war in pursuit of an ideology, namely the assertion of Sinhala Buddhist supremacist nationalism, and in order to achieve that objective a process of Genocide of the Tamil people is in progress. The inhuman conditions and the daily killings to which the Tamil civilians in LTTE controlled areas are being subjected to are only the more obvious elements of this process.

Under these circumstances the TNA urgently appeals to the international community to prevail upon the Sri Lankan State to bring the war to an immediate end. The TNA also calls upon the international community to use its good offices to bring the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to the negotiating table.

PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
TAMIL NATIONAL ALLIANCE

January 21, 2009

Celebrating war victories as those of majority community is warped idea of patriotism

By Shakuntala Perera

Long grown to the idea of patriotism being the refuge of scoundrels, it was indeed refreshing to hear Mr. Barak Obama actually extolling its virtues on Tuesday night. Delivering his inaugural address to the nation as its 44th President, he brought new meaning to the word and where it stands in the new world order.

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true,“ he stressed.

He noted that these virtues were in fact the quiet force of progress throughout American history. Seeking to ‘return to these truths’, he opined that what was required of ‘us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world.

He maintained that these duties must not be accepted ‘grudgingly’ but rather ‘seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

‘This is the price and the promise of citizenship’, he stressed. Apart from successfully inspiring a nation standing financially and morally bankrupt he possibly alerted the nation towards the duties it needed fulfill. Duties, that countries like Sri Lanka; long on the US loan schemes had been denied recognition, drawn in a quagmire of politically drawn agendas.

The post Independent generations of Sri Lanka had fast been denied their right to patriotism, drawn apart by a varied color and hue. They grew up challenging the idea of loving your country, confused at the idea of having any duties towards its progress. The ensuing alienation of minority communities was then, not such a surprise. Alarmingly, these communities were being denied the satisfaction of carrying out their rightful duties towards their motherland.

This in effect is why the historic war victories of Sri Lankan security forces are fast being celebrated as those of the majority community. It is such warped ideas of patriotism that is denying the Tamil people the pleasures of witnessing the defeat of their biggest enemy. No one is more responsible for the elimination of the intellectual moderate Tamil citizens than Prabhakaran.

No organization is more at fault for denying this community the dignity with which to have a normal life, than the LTTE. And no one is more responsible for the drudgery of a life in a refugee camp or stunting its cultural and intellectual growth as a community with a unique identity as the LTTE. The fears that every mother, denied her child in the armed cadres of the LTTE, or forced into the villages of Mullaitivu today as a human shield of the LTTE, would find space to enjoy the victories of the security forces against the ruthless LTTE, if petty politics would not be in the way.

Every successive post independent government must hold responsibility for the alienation every minority community feels today. They are equally responsible for the guilt that many within the majority community feel enjoying the victories in the battle field. From the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to the Patriotic National Movement which has taken patriotism under its custody must be held responsible for denying the minority communities their fair share of the celebrations.

In their attempts to cultivate its vote base, such parties are making the sacrifices of our valiant soldiers to be purely those of a Sinhala Buddhist army. Such methods apart from proving LTTE claims of discrimination right, will pose a greater threat towards building a nation strengthened by the virtues of patriotism.

The UNP in its weak attempt to lure the minority communities thus alienated into its voter fold is no less responsible. In fact the UNP long abandoning its duties as a responsible Opposition, need necessarily to be mindful of the long term consequences of fishing in such dangerous waters, for the country.

And no leader is more responsible for treating patriotism as a dirty word than Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his continuous attempts to play politics with the aspirations of the marginalized. And as Mr. Wickremesinghe threatens to destabilize the country further by his no-confidence motions, and nonsensical political agendas one needs to remind him what makes people like Barak Obama leaders. It is not in refusing one’s people the pride of a nation or bringing all communities together as one that both make leaders but also takes countries towards progress.

The UNP must wake up to this sad reality blocking its path. As long as the UNP attempts to derive strength from measures threatening the country’s sovereignty it will find it denied the base it is in crying need of. The real lessons of patriotism are not very hard to learn- neither are their failures.

Sinhala educated parliamentarians cannot even speak Sinhala

by Jayatissa Perera

The great Sinhala scholar Ediriweera Saratchandra used to say that those who knew only Sinhala did not know even Sinhala. Hence the verse "Demala Saku Magadha Nohasala Sathata Dhadha/Sihala basin sekevin Kiyami padhabendha" or to those who are uneducated in Tamil, Sanskrit, Pali, I shall in brief, versify in Sinhala.

But when in 1956 we had the Sinhala only policy the boys and girls in our schools began to think of Sinhala only and nothing else. Though our Marxists like NM at first opposed the Sinhala only idea they themselves had no alternative but to accept it in order to prevent themselves from being carried away by the language tsunami of the pancha maha balavegaya, the monks, vedamahattayas, Iskola Mahattayas, Kamkaru Sahodarayas and goviralas. Today, to use the words of another great scholar, Ivor Jennings, we are in a ‘cultural desert’.

To know what ignoramuses were born after the Sinhala only policy switch on to Swarnavahini on a Sunday at 7.30 p.m. and watch a man in tie and coat trying to educate a set of mutton-heads to speak English!

A Sri Lankan friend of mine, an old Royalist of the good old days when the medium of instruction was the Queen’s English, who is now educating his children in England, asked me why Sri Lankan parliamentarians lacked intelligent humour.

He mentioned how speakers in English possessed that quality in old Ceylon when schoolchildren were compulsorily taken to the supreme legislature as a part of their education. In the Indian parliament too, one qualification for an MP, was his ability to use language to create laughter in the House. That was when English was still the language of choice.

He said how on 20 September, 1980, the well known Piloo Mody was then in the Opposition presenting his critical views on a government proposal. The ruling party was the Congress (I) and they wondered how long they would have to listen to his caustic words. Sitaram Kesari from the government benches who had a reputation for boldness, asked Mody to refrain from ‘hooting.’ Mody retorted, "It is better than barking."

Sitaram Kesari sensed that he had received more than he could swallow. Yet, he realised that he could gain a point over Mody by seeking the intervention of the Speaker as the use of the word ‘barking’ was unparliamentary. The Speaker agreed to give his ruling after referring to his dictionary. Mody, who was still on his feet, saw an opening for yet another barb. He added, "Mr. Speaker, while you are at it, please also pronounce whether ‘braying’ is allowed."

Whenever I watch parliamentary debates telecast in Sri Lanka, I feel sad for our MPs who, as Ediriweera Saratchandra remarked, speak only Sinhalese and that too without any intelligent humour at all, because they don’t seem to know even Sinhala.

January 20, 2009

Prabakaran Is Presumably Fighting His Last battle In Conventional warfare.

by Col.R.Hariharan

The battle being waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to defend Mullathivu in the face of the Sri Lanka security forces’ onslaught may well be the last conventional military operation by Tamil insurgent leader Velupillai Prabakaran in the two-year-long “Eelam War IV.” Mullathivu is the LTTE’s last bastion, what is left from an original domain of nearly nine districts it had ruled for over a decade. The security forces are building up a four to six division-strong force for what they promise to be the closing call on the LTTE.

After the fall of Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass successively during the early part of January, the LTTE lost control of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, and with it lost the ability to have an impact on the lives of most of the people of the Northern Province. The LTTE had dominated the road, considered to be the lifeline for Jaffna, a city that had once flourished as a thriving business hub next only to Colombo. After driving out the LTTE from the A9, the security forces were focussing on three aspects — consolidating their hold on the highway by eliminating LTTE defences east of it, opening the axes of offensive to Mullathivu, and getting ready for a final offensive on Mullathivu.

During the first half of the month, the security forces eliminated the line of LTTE defences along the old Kandy-Jaffna road running parallel to the A9 to its east. With the clearing of the defences aligned from Iranamadu in the south to Vaddakachi and Dharmapuram in the north, the forces marginalised the LTTE’s capability to interfere with the A9. So the forces may well keep up the promise to open the road within a month for civilian traffic, thus providing much needed relief to Jaffna’s beleaguered citizens. Though the LTTE had stoutly defended its strong points such as Iranamadu and Dharmapuram, its intention was probably only to delay the start of the offensive on Mullathivu.

During these operations, the forces captured the LTTE’s main airstrip east of the Iranamadu tank on January 15. This was an important airstrip used by the tiny LTTE air wing for its plucky operations that caused more psychological impact than operational damage. It was built in a clearing of heavy undergrowth, cleverly using the old Kandy-Jaffna road passing through the area. The 1.5-km long and 40-metre wide airstrip was central to a complex of two smaller airstrips located to the north and south of the Iranamadu tank. These were captured in earlier months. Five days earlier, the security forces had captured another battle-ready airstrip west of Mullathivu.

The six LTTE airstrips that have been captured so far go to show the enormous effort the insurgents had put into developing their air capability. Undoubtedly, the ceasefire period during the peace process was put to build up the ground infrastructure for air operations. These are a testimony not only to the LTTE’s technical capability but its relentless effort to build military capability regardless of peace parleys. Significantly, none of the two light aircraft used by it earlier for raids have been found. Presumably they were dismantled and mothballed in hideouts as the operational conditions and the active air and ground surveillance would have made it difficult to fly them out of harm’s way.

Mullathivu town, which is the focal point of the current offensive, is located on a narrow strip on the eastern coast of the Northern Province, flanked by the sea on the east and the Nanthikadal lagoon on the west. Its defence perimeter is made up of a complex of LTTE positions strung up as a crescent along the western edge of the lagoon starting from Puthukkudiyiruppu in the north to Tanniyuttu on the Mankulam-Mullathivu A34 road.

The security forces’ battle plans are built on three broad fronts. 55 Division coming from Jaffna along the northwest has blocked the escape routes through Chundikulam, a key Sea Tiger base. From the same direction, 58 Division is advancing along the A35 road fighting a series of delaying positions. From the west, 57 Division is playing a containing role with the LTTE cadres boxed in the jungles between Iranamadu tank and Mullathivu. The main offensive is being built up from the south with three task forces — which are formations smaller than divisions — and 59 Division. The task forces are combing the jungles while 59 Division is poised for the assault.

With such a large force confronting them, the LTTE cadres defending Mullathivu are facing a situation that is not dissimilar to what they faced during their defence of Kilinochchi, which crumbled after the government forces broke through the perimeter defences. Mullathivu might face the same fate with the final assault going through as a walk-in into a ghost town.

Humanitarian agencies have warned of an impending human tragedy with about 3.5 lakh civilians trapped in the battle zone, and the LTTE is being accused of using them as a cover. However, civilians have started flowing into the area controlled by the security forces in their hundreds, indicating that the LTTE is no more able to exercise tight control over them.

Thus, what is possibly Prabakaran’s last battle is likely to leave him in a position similar to what he was in 1987 — mauled badly and trying to cut his losses and live to fight another day. And, as earlier, the security forces are at his heels to catch or kill him, although the army commander, Lt. General Sarath Fonseka, says the Tiger chief might have fled the island for a safer refuge. After losing the precious lives 24,000 of his followers in nearly three decades of war, Prabakaran is still where he was to pursue his dream of a Tamil Eelam. (courtesy: The Hindu)

(Colonel (retd) R. Hariharan served as head of intelligence with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka during 1987-1990. E-mail: colhari@yahoo.com )

Lasantha Assassination: Significance beyond who did it and why

by Izeth Hussain

"The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy." – H.L.Mencken

I never met Lasantha Wickrematunge and here I am referring to him familiarly as "Lasantha", that is to say as if he were a lost friend of mine. My purpose is to give the name "Lasantha" iconic status, a household name familiar to everyone, a name that stands for the rare and exemplary courage without a modicum of which democracy cannot survive in Sri Lanka. He seemed an unlikely person to be cast in so heroic a role, with that cherubic face of his stuck on a podgy body.

Furthermore, he was obviously enormously talented and talented in a multi-faceted way so that he could have easily shone as journalist, businessman, politician, and led the life of the privileged upper class of Sri Lanka. Instead he chose to fight the good fight as our grand servitor of democracy, displaying a courageousness that was unparalleled among Sri Lankans of his class and background. He deserves iconic status.

We must see him for what he was in the perspective of democracy. Its prerequisite is the holding of free and fair elections. One problem is that after being elected democratically a government can come to have dictatorial powers. Rousseau wrote in the eighteenth century that the English people were free on the day of the elections, after which they became slaves of the government until the next elections. It was a jaundiced view of British democracy, coloured by Rousseau’s Swiss background which led to a predilection for participatory as opposed to representative democracy. He failed to recognize therefore that British democracy with its rotten boroughs and limited franchise, and all its other defects, was alive and vigorously kicking because it was an organic growth of the British political culture, something shaped by centuries of struggle. But Rousseau’s observation could be apposite to countries where democracy is a transplant with shallow or no roots at all. It was certainly apposite to the kind of democracy we had in Sri Lanka for many years after 1977.

Where Rousseau went really wrong was in failing to grasp that there is much more to democracy than the periodic holding of free and fair elections. It came to be recognized in the eighteenth century that one of the requisites for democracy was the separation of powers, that is to say the powers of the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive, which stood in the way of the democratically elected government becoming despotic. Later it came to be recognized that a free press was another requisite, and later still the factor of an active civil society was added to the list. I believe that at the core of it all is the democratic will of the people to be free – shown in a willingness to stand up for themselves and for each other against state power – without which there will be no active civil society, no free press, no meaningful separation of powers, and no democracy worth the name. That will was there among the British people in the eighteenth century and earlier. It can be seen as part of British national identity as central to it is the notion of the free-born Englishman, the notion that Britons never will be slaves.

That democratic will was not there among the Sri Lankan people, as shown by the ease with which democracy was destroyed after 1977 by the Jayawardena dictatorship. Sometime afterwards our late and great journalist Mervyn de Silva, who had an exceptionally acute understanding of the politics of our time, took to quoting the famous poem of Pastor Niemoller. It has been much in vogue in recent times, and I see that it has been quoted more than once in the obituary tributes to Lasantha. I myself will quote it here as it is something that ought to be engraved in the mind of every Sri Lankan: "First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Democracy was restored by President Wijetunga, and it has continued since then though in a flawed form. We need people like Lasantha – though not necessarily cast in the same heroic mould – to improve our democracy, and indeed to preserve it. I must confess that I was no admirer of his brand of journalism. The Sunday Leader certainly scored triumphs in investigative journalism, and the sparkling polemics of its editorials made them a delight to read. But its blatant partisanship put me off, and besides he got it all wrong about the war. Nevertheless his exemplary courageousness – showing the will to stand up for himself and for others, which is at the core of democracy. – makes him our worthy democratic icon.

I come now to the question of what his assassination signifies: who did it and why? It belongs to the category of assassinations that are carried out in broad daylight with several members of the public as spectators, none of whom will dare to come forward as witnesses, the kind of assassination that we all know will never be solved. The assassins in such cases obviously believe that they have the license to kill with impunity because they have the backing of powerful personages within the State. This does not mean however that the President or his Government were behind the assassination. I find that impossible to believe because a government is never as popular as after resounding military victories. Why on earth should it want to besmirch its reputation at this time? I find it very hard to believe that the UNP was behind it either. It seems profitless to speculate on who was behind the assassination and why because we cannot hope to come to any conclusion about it.

Instead we should focus on its possible significance. The fact of obvious significance is that our foremost icon of democracy has been silenced. The issue is that of democracy versus dictatorship. It is possible that we will shortly face a threat to democracy of a more serious order than ever before. One reason is that after a protracted war systemic change of a radical or revolutionary order can take place. Another reason is there has been widespread disgust with the behaviour of our politicians, and possibly serious disillusionment about democracy – at least about democracy as practiced or malpractised in Sri Lanka. It is significant that in the euphoria of recent military victories noises of a fascist order were made against our minorities by some notables. A spokesman of the JHU made a statement in favour of dictatorship, and so did S.B. Dissanayake more recently. Such people are genuinely concerned about Sri Lanka and mean well by it, and that precisely is what makes them dangerous to democracy.

What we have to fear is not so much the outright imposition of a dictatorship as the drift towards one as happened after 1977. What should we do to counter that possibility? We must firstly recognize that no amount of institutional change is going to safeguard democracy. For that there has to be an underlying democratic will among the people, as I have argued in this article, a will that has to be shown through our civil society standing up for democracy instead of behaving like a doormat as it did after 1977. It will also help immensely if we can think up a simple and straightforward argument that will convince the people about the value of democracy. I believe I have such an argument – in my view an irrefutable one.

How have we come to win the war? The excellent performance by our armed forces, of course. But behind that is the following political factor: our Government practices democracy while the LTTE practices dictatorship. This fits in with the fact that in the modern era wars are invariably won by the more democratic side. It means that if the Government was dictatorial and the LTTE democratic, we would have lost the war. Can we be so mad as to jettison a political system that has brought us our military victory?

We must look into the possible reasons why it seems to be an invariant law that wars are won by the democratic side. I believe that it is to be found in one of the two consequences that flow from the unbridled power that goes with dictatorship, one of which is an inability to distinguish between right and wrong, and the other is a weakened grasp of reality. The second of these is germane to my purpose in this article. The best illustration I can think of is Hitler and his Nazi dictatorship, about which there is an immense wealth of detailed material available. It can be shown very convincingly that from the time he acquired dictatorial power right to the end he displayed a weakened grasp of reality. As the facts are well-known I will not go into any details in this article.

My argument can certainly be illustrated by the trajectory of our ethnic conflict as well. The scale of the UNP’s 1977 election victory was so great that J.R.Jayawardena went almost instantly mad with power, and quickly made himself a dictator. Instead of making the necessary political concessions to the Tamils – which at that time could have led to a political solution without much difficulty – he carried out a program of State terrorism which reached its genocidal apogee in 1983. By the time he relinquished power there were two major rebellions in this small island, of the LTTE and the JVP, the IPKF was behaving like an aggressive occupying army, and the Government had virtually lost control over a third of the national territory and almost half the coastline. All that was certainly the consequence of the weakened grasp of reality that went with JRJ’s dictatorial power.

After President Wijetunga, a democratic political order has held sway in Sri Lanka even though it may be deeply flawed in some ways, while at the same time the LTTE came to exercise absolute and total power over the areas under its control. It seems reasonable to suppose that the resulting weakened grasp of reality led to all the policy mistakes that have led to the LTTE’s present plight. The spectacle of Prabhakaran being holed up in his Kilinochchi bunker made everyone think of Hitler’s last days in his Berlin bunker.

It does not seem necessary to go into more detail to show that it could be hazardous for us to resort to dictatorial government. It might lead to our snatching political defeat from the jaws of military victory. We must somehow stick to democracy. Lasantha should be living at this hour.

Like Palestine ,in Sri Lanka Today, hope is a four letter word

By Qadri Ismail

Bulldozed from the land, bombarded from the air and sea, brutalized in general, one would think the Palestinian people would make a sensible calculation, put their hands up and surrender. They don’t.

Most of the world is with them, but that doesn’t really matter because the dominant global power, the United States, is against. Indeed, the U. S. refuses to prevent, or even condemn, the merciless assault of the Israeli state. Thus encouraging, abetting it. Barack Obama’s silence is particularly repugnant.

One would think that Palestinians would get the message. They don’t.

Their cause seems so hopeless some might even think they should capitulate. Clearly, however, they won’t.

Like Palestine, in Sri Lanka today hope is a four letter word.

TCQI1.JPG

[The bodies of two brothers, ages 5 and 7, at a hospital in Beit Lahiya. The brothers were reportedly killed in the strike on the school-more Conflict in Gaza pic-NYTimes]

In the three years since the Rajapakse brothers captured the presidency, our citizens continue to be denied equality, our rights have been stolen systematically, our lives are increasingly terrorized. The constitution is treated, at best, as an inconvenience. The press, a threat. Human rights activists are accused of aiding terrorism. One of our leading lawyers, J. C. Weliamuna, had his home grenaded. Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered – for opposing, as everyone including its apologists is aware, the government and its warmongers.

The Tamils, of course, are the primary target of this regime’s policy of systematic slaughter. Since Don Shelton Senanayake, they have been less than equal citizens. Since Junius Richard Jayawardene, they have been brutalized. Mahinda Percy Rajapakse and his brothers are inspired by the worst examples of both.

Under the pretext of a war on terror, Tamils are routinely murdered, maimed, displaced, dispossessed in Sri Lanka today. Never before in our postcolonial history have they felt more politically insignificant. Never before has their every step been monitored, scrutinized. They are even denied the right to move freely across the country. More than a thousand are arbitrarily detained in northern camps – including some fleeing the LTTE. The number incarcerated in the south is unknown.

In Sri Lanka today, the Muslims, too, are being made politically irrelevant. In the east, under the pretext of saving the environment, hundreds of acres of their land have been alienated. At some future stage, no doubt, this property will be transferred to Sinhala settlers. Soon it may be next to impossible for Muslims to elect representatives from any but the most densely populated parts of the east (like Kaththankudy).

In such a context, it is infuriatingly ironic to find Rajapakse, not to mention the JVP, express sympathy for the Palestinian people. The same Rajapakse who unabashedly buys guns and gunships from Israel. Similar weapons, no doubt, to those directed, as you read this, at Palestinian lives. If not Palestinian life itself.

For the Rajapakse regime is like the Israeli state.

The Iranian government of that anti-Semitic anti-imperialist, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, may think it proper to subsidize the brothers – despite their repression of Sri Lankan Muslims. Despite the fact that Iranian money ends up subsidizing the Israeli arms industry. Despite the Defense Secretary’s own admission on Wednesday that the Sri Lankan and Israeli navies exchange ideas on tactics. But, to repeat: the Rajapakse regime is like the Israeli state.

Palestine is a territory occupied by Israel. An analogous argument could be made about the Sri Lankan army in the north and east.

The Palestinians are an oppressed people. So are the Tamils.

Israel is a pariah state. So is the Rajapakse regime.

The sympathy of the conscience of the world is with the Palestinians. And the Tamils.

The Israeli military says it targets only the resistance. And yet, most of its casualties are civilians. The same is true of the rhetoric and victims of the Sri Lankan military.

The Israeli government often stages military actions around elections. The Rajapakses, ditto.

The Israeli government only accepts Palestinian politicians it can puppet, like Mahmoud Abbas. The Rajapakses pull the strings of Douglas Devananda, “Karuna” Muralitharan and “Pillayan” Chandrakanthan.

Israeli leaders are routinely accused of corruption. The Rajapakse brothers appear to revel in it.
Parallels are not restricted to the present, but extend historically.

The Israeli state has systematically settled Jews in Palestinian territory. Perhaps they learned this from the Sinhala state, which has pursued such a policy since Senanayake.

And Israelis Jews believe themselves to be a chosen people. That god himself bequeathed Palestine to them as their exclusive homeland. Likewise, Sinhala Buddhists believe Buddha himself blessed this country as their sole possession.

If you believe in absurdities, said Voltaire, you will commit atrocities.

Unfortunately, in both Palestine and Sri Lanka, atrocious acts are not limited to one party. The Palestinian resistance has targeted, killed and injured Israeli civilians. Just as much as the LTTE, once upon a time at the urging of the Indian state, has constantly targeted and murdered Sinhala civilians.

Such practice is ethically unacceptable. It cannot be whitewashed by any alibi. Murder, even to counter state-sanctioned murder, remains murder.

Such practice is also politically counter-productive. Like the Palestinian, I unequivocally endorse the Tamil demand to resolve their future. The Rajapakses, instead, would resolve it for them.

But the actions of the LTTE have weakened the Tamil cause and their case. Indeed, the LTTE’s authoritarian methods have significantly alienated the Tamil people themselves: the drafting at gun-point of children for its army, the killing of dissenting Tamils like K. Padmanabha and Rajini Thiranagama and hundreds of others, the forced evacuation of the Jaffna population in 1995. The list is long. Despite this government’s brutality, due mostly to its own actions, the LTTE no longer enjoys the popular support it did in the 1980s and 90s.

It does not follow, however, that most Tamils who diverge from the LTTE support this racist regime. They don’t.

It does not follow that the Tamils believe, despite Rajapakse’s bombast, that this is a government of all the people. They don’t. Even Devananda, Muralitharan and Chandrakanthan don’t believe that.

Or that the Tamil people, however terrorized they might be today, will surrender their struggle for peace with equality, with justice, with honor.

Like the Palestinians, hell no, they won’t.

January 19, 2009

Whither the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam?

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Recent developments on the war front in Northern Sri Lanka have caused bewilderment and disappointment to many supporters and sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

There were many who thought that the LTTE was going to defeat the Sri Lankan armed forces conclusively and deliver an Independent state of Tamil Eelam on a platter.

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[Norwegian facilitaters and the LTTE leadership in 2004]

They were willing to overlook, gloss over, ignore or blatantly deny the various human rights violations perpetrated by the LTTE because they thought these were necessary evils on the path to liberation. [Click here to read the article in full in dbsjeyaraj.com]

President must do the right thing by implementing practical measures

by Atticus

John Maynard Keynes, the economist, is widely quoted as saying "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?" The quote comes to mind when reflecting on the current attitudes to devolution. The facts relevant to devolution have changed fundamentally in the last few decades. Views, however, are stuck in a time warp.

We hear the same arguments repeated vociferously, and ceaselessly, that a political solution (a euphemism for devolution) is the sine qua non for peace in the country. It is implied that devolution well beyond the 13th Amendment of the Constitution (apparently the views of the APRC) is the only way to accommodate the "historical" grievances of the Tamils, to address the aspirations of the Tamil people to, to reconcile the Tamils to the Sri Lankan state, to achieve a real and sustainable peace in the country, to permit the Tamils to live in dignity and to share power in equal partnership. Quite a tall order for devolution to fulfill.

It is quite understandable that articulate Tamils living here, and those who have moved to greener pastures, feel, in reality or perception, that Tamils are being treated as second class citizens. The state security measures combating the LTTE insurrection has weighed heavily on them individually, to a greater or lesser extent, or in respect of someone they know. Likewise the foreign cash flushed NGOs, for reasons best known to themselves, have been prominent advocates of widespread devolution.

Then there are the hordes of peripatetic diplomats from Western countries arriving in Colombo who look at the embassy files stretching back decades, fraternize with foreign funded NGO types and anti-government politicians. Many of them are then loud-mouthed saying there is no military solution against the LTTE and call for a cease fire. They demand a political solution (aka extensive devolution) before the LTTE has been defeated militarily.

Some of these diplomats are beyond the pale of civilized diplomatic practice. What sort of diplomat gives an oration at a funeral turned into an Opposition political event? Others are well liked and well intentioned towards the country ("Call me Bob"). The well regarded and respected Indian diplomats are in a category of their own because of constraints stemming from political pressures in Tamilnadu.

It is among the politicians that "argumentative dialogue" is sorely lacking. The UNP has sat out the APRC process with a total lack of logic and sagacity. Perhaps it hopes by this gross dereliction of responsibility to blame the Government for the proposals emerging from the APRC process. For some, too little power is devolved. For others, too much.

It is the JVP alone since 2004, if not before, that dimly recognized there was a case to answer relating to Tamil grievances but that devolution was not the answer. Unfortunately it never fleshed out its Tamil policy. After taking positive initiatives regarding the estate Tamils, the JVP leadership pressed the self-destruct button and sailed in a self-satisfied manner towards oblivion.

The Government has blown hot and cold with devolution. The majority of Government parliamentarians are probably resigned to accepting some form of wider devolution than currently prevailing. It seems a necessity if only to satisfy Big Brother India in the aftermath of ousting the LTTE from all territory.

In what ways have the plates shifted, and the facts changed fundamentally, that makes the case for any devolution, let alone more devolution than prevailing, much weaker as a political solution than it was in the past

First over half a million (probably many more) "Ceylon" Tamils have left the country primarily to Europe, North America and Australia. They have left for good. More leave every year (25,000 a year?) for a variety of reasons such as joining families, marriage, employment or as asylum seekers. The Tamil Diaspora is doing well in the countries that they have settled.

The Tamil exodus includes much of the crème de la crème of the Tamil elite (professionals). It was that elite who were in the forefront of fighting for Tamil "nation" rights. The number of "Ceylon Tamils" in Sri Lanka is now thought to be about 2 million people or less, or 10% or less of the total population.

The Tamils remaining are overwhelmingly workers, farmers and traders with needs very different from the Tamil elites. Is it really warranted to frame a constitutional system to satisfy the demands of a historical Tamil elite who have left the country for good? Or to satisfy a minute Tamil elite living in the country that makes demands that have little resonance to the Tamil workers and farmers?

Second, a large majority of Tamils live outside the Northern Province---the province where 99% of the settled people are Tamils. With devolution it may be considered a "homeland". But in what way can devolution of power to the Northern Province be judged a political solution for the legitimate grievances of the Tamil population or Tamil "nation" as a whole? The vast majority of the Tamil population would have to learn to share power in other provinces with the Sinhala people as well as other minority groups, in order to find solutions to their grievances.

Third, in the aftermath of the War where much blood has been shed, and much hardship endured by the Tamils in the Northern Province, the circumstances are not conducive to hold free and fair elections. Those who feel humiliated by the defeat of the LTTE, especially many in the Diaspora, may well spend billions of rupees to elect separatists and front men (TNA?) to the Northern Province Council so that they would clamour for more power, and the withdrawal of the armed forces from the North.

The provincial system may be made unworkable by acts of terrorism. The Government would then have to spend billions of rupees to preserve law and order, and to safeguard the North against terrorist infiltrators and the flow of terrorist weaponry. Back to square one in dealing with terrorists unless Western nations stop the Tamil Diaspora funding of separatism and terrorism and India prevents any arms smuggling to Sri Lanka.

Even if there is no turning back, and some form of truncated devolution as a political settlement "flies", there is scope for other measures that could be adopted to transform the relationship between the Tamil community and the majority in the country.

These could be implemented not as a means of massaging the ego of the Tamil elite both here and abroad, of caving into western countries for thirty pieces of silver, of indulging the caterwauling foreign funded NGOs, or as a response to the whining and whinging of the Opposition and its allies.

They should be implemented solely because the President and the Government believe that they are the right things to do.

A list of such measures could include:

---a commitment to compulsory bilingualism in Sri Lankan over a 15 year period. With the primary classes in 2009 (and progressively raising the bar year by year) every Sinhala child would be taught Tamil as a second language, and every Tamil child taught Sinhala as a second language.

--- a commitment to compulsory bilingualism in the public service. All salary increments and promotions in government service after 2015 would depend on basic knowledge of both languages.

--- a commitment to positive discrimination of Tamil language job seekers in public service recruitment until the proportion of public servants from the minorities at various levels are equal to their proportion of the population (20-25%). The target must be reached before the end of next Parliament.

--- a commitment for a three year period of a guaranteed purchase scheme (and subsidy) for the agricultural commodities produced in the Northern Province at a price 25% above prevailing market prices.

--- a commitment to establish 100 high quality technical colleges to teach literacy, numeration and technical skills (possibly also basic English) in areas heavily populated by Tamils in different provinces, notably the Northern Province and the Central Province. That task should be assigned to someone such as Anandasagiri, possibly assisted by Wigneswaran, to beg and borrow money from the Government, foreign donors, the Tamil Diaspora and the corporate sector to implement the scheme.

--- a commitment to promote the preaching of Buddhism to the Tamil population, especially in the plantation sector, and Hinduism to the Sinhala population.

The President has the opportunity to be a great President in the mould of Abraham Lincoln to bind and bond the Nation as a whole including erstwhile separatists and their sympathizers. In order to do so, he needs to take a lone, heroic stand by refusing to join the Gadarene rush over the devolution cliff to a free fall nobody knows where. Would he opt out? It is a tantalizing question. One can only hold one`s breath.

LTTE oppression makes Wanni civilians hate LTTE

by Gomin Dayasri

Those making the crossing from around Mullativu are a different lot, from others who crossed during the last few months. They know it is twilight time for the sun god awaiting a call to be beheaded. Escape, he must, if he is to survive but before he could, those who lived in his domain have decided to move. They are certain that the LTTE is destined to lose, so why wait?

Suresh, an LTTE fighter had ridden his bicycle to an not knowing the Army had already moved in so deep into the LTTE heartland. "Cadres know they cannot fight the army with 15 days training. All males between 18-40 are conscripted. So they run when the army fires as they cannot stand and fight. The will to fight is no longer there even among our senior cadres. More will desert. Previously, their mother or father were taken into custody as a form of insurance - now the LTTE is ineffective. If they knew how well we are treated more will cross. We were told repeatedly that the Army will kill or maim us." He had surrendered, but many come in groups, with a front liner often carrying a white flag.

Twenty-three-year-old Ranga was promised IT training, but instead given a crash course in military instructions and sent to the battlefront. He was brainwashed about the so-called atrocities committed by the Army, so he feared surrendering. He was shown newspaper articles of roaming white vans. They were lectured on the need that "all must be together to win the war." He came to the conclusion that the forces were moving rapidly and the LTTE is in disarray and many have taken flight and no longer can orders be effectively communicated to the public.

Young men were watching the finals of the one day international against Bangladesh

squatting or stretched on the floor of the displaced persons camp (luxury to those who came from a district without electricity), seeing Murali display his skills with the bat on the brink of defeat, the soldiers on guard joined to watch TV; the poignant moment was when the soldiers and the young boys from the North, in unison cheered lustily as the winning stroke was made. One Nation, One People.

Those in the camps from the Killinochchi District have sharp insights. The fall of the LTTE strongholds accelerated with the departure of the NGOs’ from the area; obviously the second line of defense of the LTTE. It was these foreign organizations that provided the LTTE with first aid facilities for the injured, excess fuel for vehicles, preservative food rations for the fighting formations and building material for the construction of makeshift bunkers.

The largest project undertaken by the NGOs was providing equipment for the construction of the many high embankments, which girdled principle towns that thwarted the progress of the Forces. The LTTE could not survive for long without inputs of these NGOs which operated from Killinochchi. Often, these foreigners, could be seen enjoying the ala carte menu of the Terrorist Kitchen in happier times.

Army’s hospitalable treatment assuaged the initial fears instilled by the LTTE. At the crossing points itself, the new arrivals are served with tea and biscuits. Soon, a Tamil speaking officer arrives to offer comfort. Kind words are balm to scared souls. It was the women who feared most, but the trepidation eased with the service of food parcels and the arrival of women officers, with buses being provided to take them to camps. With the LTTE presence diminishing in operational areas, the people were able to bring more belongings and a row of trailers brought the goods to camps.

There were problems in the camps due to inadequate attention by the administration under GA Vavuniya. There was agitation in my presence that there were not sufficient mats for sleeping, whereas there should have been buffer stocks and the camp officers had to ease the tension. It was known days ahead that the flow of refugees would increase. Many felt the GA was not sufficiently caring or was typically bureaucratic!

LTTE trishaws mounted with hailers circle villages, announcing fallaciously the likelihood of an invasion by the Army and demanding they leave homes forthwith. Most knew it was a false alarm, but they had no choice. A ring built around the village by armed terrorists in battle fatigues blocked the many exits making them leave compulsorily to a designated area. Having being shepherded to a virtual concentration camp, the people were compelled to work - build emergency bunkers, fell trees, construct high embankments and dig wells.

Where free speech is not tolerated, there was no right to protest and punishments were galore with jail sentences. A possible effective protest was to launch a hunger strike as it attracted unfavorable publicity in the vicinity. Much of Prabhakaran’s image has been destroyed by his cadres. People remain baffled whether such herding of the population was to create a human shield or a concentration camp for emergency work. The objectives could be twofold.

Weeding bells pealed persistently during the CFA, but the restrictions have come again. The marriages are frowned upon, but permitted on the condition that the honeymoon is on till midnight on the day of the wedding. It was comical that before first light, the groom or the bride had to join to serve the LTTE. It was an early to bed, early to rise manipulation. Who would not care to escape from such a megalomaniac? Life has become more intolerable with the LTTE forces losing ground.

The most horrific story was of an aged cultivator (a former State Timber Corporation employee), who had hidden his two children (boy 27, girl 22) for two years on an islet around the many lagoons.

When the LTTE came in search of them, he told them the girl had disappeared to get married and the boy has run away. At 1.00 or 2.00 a.m. fearing the presence of village spies, the parents used to secretly visit the children in the hideout with ‘roti’ fried in oil so that it is preserved to last three meals. They used to take the children occasionally to a well which did not contain salt water for a bath. The happy family of four I saw at the refugee camp was relieved to be out of the clutches of the terrorists though the comforts at the camp are minimal. There was unanimity that mass forced child recruitment with parents held as sureties which began after the fall of the East, was the most telling factor for Prabhakaran to sully his image.

The boys in the refugee camp discovered a former LTTE child recruiter posing off as a refugee and sought the permission of the lady warden to assault him. Before long the parents joined in the melee, but the camp officials who are duty bound to protect all registered refugees had to intervene and escort him to safety and dispatch the offender to another camp. The little boys jeered him all the way out of the camp while a few cried. He defense was that he had to carry out the orders of the LTTE high command – the stand many took at the Nuremberg trials.

There was the story of human trafficking where LTTE agents safely dumped kids out of their territory to safe homes if Rs. 200,000 was offered. Many affluent parents had resorted to making such payments but there was no verification whether this was authorized by the LTTE or clandestinely carried out. If unauthorized, it would have met with capital punishment, so it is likely that it had the blessings of the high command. The decrepit feeble and the sick had to pay Rs. 5,000 for not making a manual contribution to the cause.

A doctor at the government hospital had often asked patients who came, why they arrived for treatment to discourage non LTTE cadres from visiting the hospital. It did not surprise me since I was told the same question was being asked by a high public official from refugees who came to the camp over the last few days. The LTTE still has its operatives in strange places!

A middle aged father from Puthukudiyiruppu described being incarcerated in a prison for sending his son to India in a cubicle designed in the form of a 6 feet x 3 feet kennel and he was fed in the same manner as a dog and was kept chained for 10 days.

A frequent complaint was that provisions doled out by the state or the NGOs were siphoned off by LTTE agents. The LTTE had its own identity card system in place and arrangements with the cooperatives to which the food was dispatched. The goods were over priced and the locals knew part of it was channeled to LTTE pockets. Vegetables sell at Rs. 400 per kilo, a petrol liter sells presently at Rs. 1,000 and a litre of kerosene at Rs. 320. Tractor motors have been modified to pick up on petrol and run on kerosene.

These traumatized people coming from entrapped areas yearn for peace. Their right to live a normal life has been more abridged than ours. Do not doubt that the days of the LTTE are numbered. They, more than us, want the LTTE decimated for their own good. The wear and tear of hard life under the LTTE bears telltale marks on their faces, which shows more age than the passing years. The swiftness of the desired military victory is with the hope that normalcy will return to their lives in their lifetime.

Tamil Nadu State to be "paralysed" until Colombo declares ceasefire

By Mrinalini Ramachandra

All work and transport in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu will be paralysed indefinitely until the Sri Lankan Government of President Mahinda Rajapakse declares a ceasefire.

Two regional political party leaders from the pre-dominantly Tamil state have decided to launch a massive state – wide hartal or Bandh (stoppage of work) in the state until Colombo calls off the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The joint decision to this effect was made by Pattaligal Makkal Katchi (PMK) led by Dr. Ramadoss and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchy (VCK) led by T. Thirumaavalavan.

Consequent to the decision the VCK leader called off his four day protest fast

The hartal is expected to paralyse all activity in the state for an indefinite period till the ceasefire demand is met.

Transport will cease except for Ambulances and vehicles carrying milk for children

The hardline decision comes in the wake of Indian Foreign secretary Shiv Shanker Menon’s visit to Sri Lanka where the issue of a ceasefire was not discussed

This was contrary to the pledge given by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he would send his foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee to Sri Lanka and negotiate a ceasefire when a delegation of political parties led by Chief Minister Muttuvel Karunanindhi met him in New Delhi.

Menon’s visit was regarded as a preliminary move in that direction but the foreign secretary went on record that discussing a ceasefire was not his “brief”.

The foreign secy also dodged media persons at the Chennai Airport and boarded a New Delhi bound plane using a backdoor entrance

Presspersons were waiting to quiz Menon while returning to India from Sri Lanka

The PMK and VCK will meet chief minister Karunanidhi to canvass support

The support and solidarity of likeminded parties will be solicited

Liberation Leopards Leader ends fast: Over 100 arrested for damaging 35 buses

Thol. Thirumavalavan the leader of the Liberation Leopards Party of Tamil Nadu ended his proclaimed fast unto death after four days even as 35 buses in Tamil Nadu were damged and over a 100 arrested.

The LLP known in Tamil as the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi is ardently supportive of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka.

The Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol. Thirumavalavan called off his fast, accepting PMK leader S.Ramadoss’ suggestion for “an indefinite bandh till a ceasefire is announced in Sri Lanka,” even as over a 100 VCK cadres were held across the State for damaging buses.

Nine of them have been booked under the National Security Act for burning buses. Mr.Thirumavalavan began his protest on January 15.

Dr. Ramadoss, who met Mr. Thirumavalavan at the fasting venue, said Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi could organise an all-party meeting in a common venue to discuss the suggestion.

“Since the Chief Minister asked us to come out with a proposal, I am placing it before his consideration,” Dr. Ramadoss said. The PMK leader said the protest should bring the State to a standstill. “Barring the movement of ambulances and milk supply, no other activity should be allowed. It should go on till the Indian government intervenes and ensures a ceasefire in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Mr. Thirumavalavan said his objective was not to embarrass the State government or the Chief Minister. “My protest seemed to have no effect on the Indian government. My party will not have any truck with the Congress in the future,” he declared.Earlier, the meeting of the VCK office-bearers urged Mr. Thirumavalavan to give up his protest in view of his deteriorating health condition.

CPI (M) State secretary N. Varadarajan also called on Mr Thirumavalavan and explained to him that his party was for stopping the war.

“The Central government should speed up the diplomatic efforts to find a solution since innocent people are severely affected in the war,” he said.

Meanwhile More than 100 activists of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchigal (VCK) were held in different parts of the State for damaging buses. More than 35 buses were damaged.

The police arrested the activists who indulged in violence while garnering support for Tamils living in Sri Lanka.

A senior government official said that nine persons were detained under the National Security Act for burning buses. The rest were arrested for stone throwing.

Deputy Inspector-General Masana Muthu issued shoot-at-sight orders on Sunday morning for Cuddalore and Villupuram districts following violent protests by the activists.

More than 30 buses were damaged in stone throwing and two buses completely gutted in Cuddalore and Villupuram districts. Police arrested a total of 81 activists from 26 places in the two districts. All of them have been remanded to judicial custody.

While 17 buses were damaged in Cuddalore district, 15 were targeted in Villupuram, of which two were completely gutted. Activists distributed pamphlets seeking support for Thol. Thirumavalavan who was on a fast to highlight the issue. One private bus was damaged in Nettapakkam in Puducherry. Night service buses continued to be curtailed in Madurai city and its peripheries for the third consecutive day as miscreants targeted TNSTC (Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation) buses, police said.

On Sunday, some unidentified persons stoned a bus at K. Pudur and fled the scene. K. Pudur police have registered a case. In suburban Madurai, police said there were no fresh incidents on Sunday. However, they were on the lookout for those who torched a bus on Friday midnight. On Saturday night, a Coimbatore-bound bus, parked inthe Arapalayam bus stand was stoned. A group of 15 persons belonging to the Aadhi Tamizhar Peravai were arrested in front of the Madurai Railway station when they attempted to block trains. Police said the accused were released in the evening.

In Perambalur district, about 120 persons, including Parivallal, Mr. Thirumavalavan’s brother, observed fast at Anganur, Mr. Thirumavalavan’s native village, on Sunday expressing solidarity with the fasting leader of the VCK. Several shopkeepers in Ariyalur downed their shutters on Sunday after some members of the VCK made a plea with the traders’ association. In Chennai, DGP K. P. Jain said in a press release that “around ten buses had been subjected to torching and stone-pelting.” He said such incidents would not be tolerated and said all those indulging in violence would be detained under the National Security Act.

The “situation was well under control” and that strong action was being taken by the police, he added.

(compiled from News Agency and Newspaper reports)

January 18, 2009

How Mahinda reacted when heard of attack on Lasantha

by Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge

While the government attempted to drown out the cries of outrage and sounds of weeping over the brutal murder of The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge with the pounding of bombs in the north, its claims of victory on the military front may now not be enough to hold the regime together.

Hours after news of Lasantha's murder rocked the entire country, government ministers and other SLFPers were already jittery, privately blaming the government for its failure to stop a dangerous trend within the country culminating with this brutal killing. Some UNP crossers over were visibly angry at the government's failure to address the culture of impunity that had gripped the nation stating they had not crossed over to nurture this kind of break down of rule of law.

LWTUK0118.jpg

Body language

As the shocking news of Lasantha's murder reached parliament last Thursday morning (8) the corridors were filled with those decrying the deed as a foul and despicable act.

Yet quickly the exigencies of political survival would kick in. Lasantha was a journalist who had a wide range of contacts from across the political divide. Albeit this wide circle of friends and acquaintances dotted in their hundreds in the national and international political milieu the body language of the ruling regime following his murder was uncomfortable and distant at best.

Hardly any government minister save for a smattering of those UNP crossers over, felt it politically expedient to pay their last respects to a man who had stood up for the rights of all during his rich life.

Frightening

But for the tremendous crowds that did come, the realisation was clear. That at no time before had they lived through more frightening times. From the spontaneity with which passers joined the massive protest procession it was evident that at least in that moment of emotion, these massive crowds had joined for one shining moment the journey traversed by one man. A colossus in his time. A man who had no fear.

Certainly if there was ever a time for the establishment to get rid of the nuisance that is Lasantha Wickrematunge, then this time was that time. The government was pushing forward on the military front capturing large swathes of territory while the LTTE retreated to the jungles of Mullaitivu. Drunk with power and buoyed up by a wave of optimism over the war, Lasantha's murderers - whoever they maybe - could take false comfort in the knowledge that the current military successes could be effectively used to soften the impact of such an outrageous and high profile assassination.

Yes. Lasantha's funeral was not attended by the entire government despite many of its members including President Rajapakse admittedly being closely associated with him.

And one could hardly expect a peep about the assassination from Lasantha's friend President Rajapakse even today as he delivers a political speech at the UPFA's first propaganda rally of the upcoming Provincial Council election in Matale.

It would be the first public rally to be addressed by the President after the recent military successes in the north and the government will continue to sell the war and ride on this wave of euphoria that is being fueled by government propaganda machines as it drowns out the voices of dissent and the sounds of justice.

Claims of friendship

Immediately after Lasantha's death, Rajapakse went on every possible television channel to demonstrate his close proximity to the Editor - President Mahinda Rajapakse said he had been invited to Lasantha's wedding on December 27, 2008 and had even invited the newly weds to Temple Trees for a meal. An invitation he claimed they had allegedly accepted.

Just last Wednesday (14) President Mahinda Rajapakse at a media heads and publishers meeting especially convened for the purpose was to even accuse The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge of being an informant.

According to the President, Lasantha had told him Karu Jayasuriya was quitting the government and joining the UNP. However sources close to Lasantha said Jayasuriya's crossing over was no secret at the time it was revealed and that Lasantha had mentioned it in passing during an informal chat with Rajapakse in the presence of Dr. Eliyantha White and another businessman.

Useless informant

While President Rajapakse - a man who has been called a cabinet reporter himself by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga finds solace in such innocuous banter, and attempts to tarnish the character of the slain editor in a desperate attempt to demonstrate Lasantha's value as a friend and informant he had yet failed to provide any evidence of a recording or CD to substantiate his claims.

Neither is Lasantha alive to prove or disprove these statements but in his finest work which would alas be his last he predicted his own death. His final editorial titled 'And Then They Came For Me.' in the space of 10 days came to be known as the 'Letter from the Grave' - it has become one of the most viewed and most emailed articles in the world.

In it Lasantha says, "It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me."

Under your watch

Lasantha continues addressing President Rajapakse, "You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you."

It is true that Lasantha and Mahinda Rajapakse had been friends for over 20 years. But it was only recently that the two had begun meeting again - and that too at the insistence of Rajapakse.

Lasantha never went for the monthly editors meetings convened by the President's Office but for the last couple of months before his death he had visited the President's House for dinner - in the presence of two friends. Lasantha was at first apprehensive about this Presidential call to a rapprochement but later relented.

Oluwatada wedune?

Be that as it may, on the morning of Thursday, January 8, President Rajapakse was busy with meetings at Temple Trees. At a meeting of four associations related to the coconut industry the President had been talking with key industrialists about the problems facing them in the present economic scenario.

The meeting was attended by the Coconut Product Exporters Association, the Coir Products Association, the Horticultural Exporters' Association and the Poultry Association where representatives of these bodies were making presentations setting out the current problems facing exporters.

While the Coconut Product Association presentation was being made by its representatives Rajapakse was to get a phone call. He would listen attentively interjecting only once to say 'oluwatada wedune' before terminating the call.

Immediately assuming the matter related to the military drive in the north and wondering if the President would be in a mood to continue with a coconut exporters' presentation the representative asked 'Can I continue Sir?' at which time Rajapakse told him to please continue his presentation.

In fact when a representative from the Poultry Association observed during the meeting that due to certain constraints they were better off doing business in Singapore, Rajapakse was to say jokingly 'then we should send you to Singapore.'

However when it was time to ask questions President Rajapakse had told those present, 'I'm hungry, aren't you'll hungry let's go out and eat.'

Those at the meeting and President Rajapakse then went out of the meeting room to the Temple Trees dining room to partake of presidential victuals. Having escorted the attendees outside, Rajapakse was to go into his office and they were informed the meeting was over.

It was only when the representatives of the Coconut Exporters Associations had come out of Temple Trees and collected their confiscated mobile phones that they realised Lasantha Wickrematunge had been fatally attacked.

That was not the only meeting President Rajapakse would attend that morning. He was also scheduled to meet with bankers and representatives of small and medium industries which he would do. Again Rajapakse was seen to receive two calls which he answered and then continued with the meeting at hand.

Eliyantha White

Be that as it well may, medical sources at Kalubowila reveal that at the time Lasantha was brought into the OPD that Thursday morning his pulse was a low 43, he had dilated pupils and his right ear was oozing blood.

It was some time after crack medical teams had started to work on Lasantha that Dr. Eliyantha White had walked in to the hospital. He had informed a close family member that Lasantha had in fact called him that morning on his way to office to tell him that he was being followed and to convey this message to President Rajapakse.

White was supposedly a herbal medicine man somewhat well regarded among certain politicians and also President Rajapakse.

White had informed this family member that he had immediately called the President but the President had been otherwise occupied in the Budu Ge (Shrine Room) for about 45 minutes. When the President returned his call, Eliyantha had told this family member, 'The deed had already been done.'

Injury

Meanwhile Lasantha was in the Emergency Unit of the Kalubowila Hospital with an injury to his head. We already know from eyewitness accounts that his car was surrounded by assailants on four dark hued motorbikes.

We know that the windows of both the drivers' side and the passenger side had been smashed. We know that a witness had allegedly seen one of the assailants on the passenger side of the car pulling out a weapon of sorts - likely a heavy metal pole wrapped in a newspaper and smashing it into the head of Lasantha.

Lasantha according to police sources may have fallen onto the passenger seat sideways when he was attacked from the drivers' side of the car.

Base of skull fracture

From the injury on the skull medical sources who do not wish to be named say the metal pole may have had at its lethal end two sharp points driven into it. Lasantha also suffered a base of skull fracture due to pressure from within.

Police sources say that two noises were heard during the attack but they did not sound like gunshots. Police sources so far allegedly claim that spent cartridges have not been found.

The government has rejected calls to bring in a team of international experts to investigate the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, saying the Sri Lanka Police were capable of conducting the investigation themselves.

Conspiracy theories

This is even as elements in the government like the JHU put forward absurd claims of CIA conspiracies relating to the murder.

Meanwhile, the police are said to be conducting a separate investigation to ascertain whether there is a link between the recent attack on the MTV/MBC studio in Pannipitiya and the assassination of Lasantha.

Dead end

However these crack local police teams so far have said they have no leads in either investigation, but were analysing fingerprints found at the two scenes. DIG Prasanna Nanayakkara is in charge of two teams the government says is working on the case.

And even as the government is on the one hand publicising the war and trumpeting its victories to drown out the cries for justice over Lasantha on the other hand it is quickly building up bogus conspiracy theories to point fingers elsewhere not only over Lasantha's assassination but also on the attack on MTV/MBC two days before Lasantha was killed.

Politicising investigations

IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne sources say have had several conferences with investigation teams on the subject while reliable sources said the authorities had also called for the files of Richard de Zoysa and other journalists killed during the UNP era to use in a political debate over the killing of Lasantha rather than focus on bringing the culprits to book.

The government has also gone into panic mode for the same reason. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Colombo German Ambassador Juergen Weerth was sharply criticised and summoned Tuesday (12) by Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona for delivering a funeral oration at Lasantha's funeral on Monday. It did not matter that the contents of his short speech were uncontroversial and indeed appropriate.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona expressed the government's displeasure in private but the Ministry leaked the news to the media right away Foreign Ministry sources said.

Diplomat reprimanded

Weerth in his oration said inter alia, "It is a day where words do not count anymore. It is a day where one remains speechless and one has to say something. Maybe we should have raised our voice before.

"Today it is too late. It is a day when humanity has lost a major voice of truth...But what remains is his legacy and what he meant to each of us.

Let us honour his work, his courage and his example. As Dean of the Diplomatic Corps may I extend our deepest condolences to the family, the staff of The Sunday Leader and all here who have had the privilege to call Lasantha a friend as have I."

Given the outpouring of public support for Lasantha's cause it was also a day the government was to feel at its lowest and at its most vulnerable.

Public concern

And it is this response by the government that gives rise to public concern regarding the objectivity of the government when conducting investigations into Lasantha's death.

Many steps that even to a layman should perhaps have been taken seem to have not. Although the types of motorcycles the assassins used have been identified by witnesses no public appeal has been made to establish their whereabouts. Though there is reason to believe that the nature of the murder weapon is known no description of it has yet been published calling for information from the public who may know who possessed or manufactured such a weapon.

These are matters that need to be clarified even as it is important to see that the investigation into Lasantha's murder does not in any way follow in the path of the investigation into the murder on New Guinean Rugby Player Joel Pera.

It is vital that the government for its own survival - whether it is a fair perception or otherwise - is not seen to be embarking on both a cover up and a campaign to confuse the evidence so as to secure an acquittal even if the murderers are eventually apprehended.

And if Lasantha lay bleeding on a hospital table January 8 morning the government was busy trying to hush it up. Minister Dulles Alahapperuma was to call up some media houses and advise them to lie low on the issue. That evening on the Rathu Ira programme UNP MP Jayalath Jayawardena, a guest on the show was asked by one of the producers to not touch on the slaying of Lasantha Wickrematunge but to stick to the agreed subject of provincial council elections.

The main evening news bulletin of the government owned Independent Television Network made no mention of the killing of Lasantha on Thursday night even though it was obviously the top story of the day. The other state media barely made mention of it merely using it as a filler at best.

With national and international support pouring in for the Editor the government now resorted to desperate damage control. President Rajapakse on hearing the Editors were planning to carry a common lead story on the assassination was to even call the Sunday Times Chairman Ranjith Wijewardena on the matter to have it stopped.

Alliances in a common cause

Meanwhile the broad opposition front, civil society and women's organisations were never more bonded to one common cause than after Lasantha's brutal assassination.

UNP's Jayalath Jayawardena had already taken steps to write to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the International Press Union to muster support for a more concerted campaign against the culture of impunity cultivated by the Rajapakse government.

NGOs, civil society, professionals and businessmen will next Tuesday (20) meet to set up a broad front for the Right to Live and The Freedom of Expression.

Last Wednesday (14) a group of about 35 people met at Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's Cambridge Terrace office to prepare a framework for future action.

Wickremesinghe had come out all guns firing slamming the government for the attacks on the MTV/MBC Station and the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, alleging an elite killer squad within the security establishment was behind the attacks.

Given the outrage generated across the island over the brutal events of last week it would seem that the government though winning on the military front may not be doing so on all other fronts.

COURTESY: THE SUNDAY LEADER

Why Sirimavo refused to visit Jaffna after 1964 cyclone

By Neville Jayaweera

In the last week of December 1964 a cyclone of unprecedented ferocity devastated the Northern Province. The fishing villages of Myliddy, Kankesanturai, Point Pedro, Nargakovil and several areas within the Jaffna district were reduced to a wilderness of sand dunes, stagnant salt water and windswept debris. In the Myliddy fishing village alone, several hundreds lost their lives at sea. The Collector of Ramnad District in SE Tamil Nadu (India) contacted me to say that over 200 bodies had been washed ashore there and he had no alternative but to order mass cremations on the sea shore in order to halt the spread of disease. Throughout the Jaffna District the Kalavoham crop ( the main paddy crop ) was wiped out and hundreds of fishing boats were reduced to matchwood. The distress was appalling.

TCNJ0118.jpgWhen the cyclone struck, my wife and I were in Colombo on Christmas vacation and I had no way of returning to station. The Palaly Airport had been rendered unserviceable and it took me 36 hours, making tortuous detours along the way, round fallen trees and broken culverts, through Puttalam and Anuradhapura, to get back to Jaffna. Eventually, it was R. M. B. Senanayake, my colleague and GA of Vavuniya, who helped my wife and me to get back to base, by placing at our disposal a Land Rover and a driver.

On reaching Jaffna I found conditions were horrendous. Our resources were limited, having no heavy machinery for clearing roads and for rescuing people buried under fallen houses. Everything had to be done by hand and we were hard put to it, to bring relief and succour to hundreds of sorrowing families. All public services, particularly the PWD and the Irrigation Department, and my DROs and village headmen, suspended their normal work and mobilising to a man, struggled valiantly to bring some order out of the chaos. One of the first services to be restored was the telephone link to Colombo.

Call to the Prime Minister

In a personal call I made to Mrs. Bandaranaike at Temple Tress, giving her the grim picture, I pleaded that she should visit the devastated areas immediately. I told her that she should demonstrate to the people of Jaffna that she was indeed the Prime Minister of the whole country and that the Tamil people were as much her people as were the people in the South. I also pointed out that it was a magnificent opportunity for her to heal the long running wounds and to make a new beginning. She listened to me without betraying any feeling and said she will consult her advisors and let me know.

Not content with my personal pleas to the Prime Minister, I also asked my brother Stanley Jayaweera who had close personal links to her, to impress on her the utmost need for her to visit her people in Jaffna at this time of their dire need. Stanley had done exactly as I had asked him to, but her rejoinder to him shattered me.

Referring to the effigy burning that accompanied the abortive Secessionist Campaign an year earlier, she had said,

"Huh! Why should I go to them now, if they burnt my effigy a few months ago. If they did not want me then they must not expect me to come to them now."

Her response filled me with dismay and a deep sadness. It was not just that she failed to respond to her people’s anguish, but the realisation dawned on me that Sri Lanka as a nation had no leader. It was as if the Prime Minister of the country had consciously renounced responsibility for one fourth of her country’s population! Not least, the high esteem in which I had held her after meeting her on several occasions, plummeted.

The US Ambassador Cecil Lyon and the Canadian High Commissioner James George, both sent personal emissaries to condole with the people of Jaffna, and proffer whatever help was within their means to render. I realized of course that their gestures were expressions of goodwill, rather than concrete offers of assistance.

Having decided not to visit her people in their distress, the Prime Minister opted to send the Governor General, William Gopallawa and her Perm. Secr. Mr. N. Q. Dias, along with General Udugama and Admiral Rajan Kadirgamar, to deputize for her. It was a delegation which, though high on rank and heavily weighted with brass, was politically offensive, for what could be more insensitive than sending N. Q. Dias and General Udugama, both names that were symbols of oppression in the minds of the Tamil people, to represent her! The response of the local people was eloquent and scathing. As the Governor General’s convoy drove slowly through all the devastated areas, literally not one local, not even one of the grieving widows, stepped out to meet them. The silence was eerie and overpowering. It was like driving through a graveyard.

It is easy to judge Mrs. Bandaranaike as unforgiving, petty, petulant and paranoid, all of which she probably was, but I also believe that her reaction was symptomatic of a deeper malaise and that she was manifesting attributes that were more than merely personal to her. She was also a creature and victim of a cultural ethos, deeply rooted in her history, of which she was not even aware, which of course does not exculpate her, but helps us to understand the problem at a more complex level. The capacity to transcend peer pressure and one’s inherited culture, and construct one’s own cultural environment based on a set of universal values, such as the Brahma Viharas or the Fruits of the Spirit, ( love, kindness, forgiveness, equanimity, joy and peace) is vouchsafed only to a minuscule few, and clearly Mrs Banadaranike was not one of the few.

Consciousness and the constitution

The disturbing thought began to dawn on me that, none of the politicians of Sri Lanka, whether Sinhala or Tamil, seemed able to transcend their cultural conditioning and historical memories. Worse still, none of them seemed to have any concept of a fully integrated and harmonious Sri Lankan nation, and much less, of how to achieve it, the operative concept here being "nation". Most of them had a vibrant sense of Sinhalaness on one hand, or of Tamilness on the other, but both sides lacked a sense of a Sri Lankaness as a common ground. They seemed to ignore the stark facts of history, which, whether they liked it or not, had over the centuries, constituted Sri Lanka as a mosaic of diverse ethnic groups and religions. That mosaic was a given and irreversible. What Sri Lanka seemed to lack were leaders who could weld those diverse groups into a harmonious polity.

The politicians of all parties, both in the North as well as in the South seemed to reduce the problem of nation building to a constitutional issue - should Sri Lanka have a Unitary Constitution or a Federal Constitution. They did not see nation building as having to do with the more fundamental question of raising consciousness, and forgot that in the absence of a unified consciousness, constitutions by themselves cannot integrate a society, whatever checks and balances may be built into them.

Since the close of WW2 all constitutions dispensed by experts all over the world and handed down to former colonies by the erstwhile masters disappeared from the political landscape within a few decades, proving that, to really work, a constitution must embody the consciousness of the whole national community. The primary task facing a nation’s leaders must therefore be to help develop that consciousness as a necessary condition of a constitution’s viability.

Building a deseeya cintanaya

Building a consciousness of nationhood, or a deseeya cintanaya, is not a responsibility that can be left to politicians and constitutional lawyers. A deseeya chintanaya cannot be legislated, nor can it be secured through structural changes. Unlike a jathika cintanaya, whether Sinhala or Dhamila, which have roots reaching back over two thousand years, the seeds of a deseeya cintanaya have yet to be planted.

It is pre-eminently an educational task, to be initiated at the level of our schools. It requires a new way of looking at history, and helping young minds climb out of the constraints placed on their understanding by the sectarian myths, legends, and memories that are embedded in their ancient chronicles, whether they relate to their Aryan origins or to their Dravidian origins. This does not mean that children should be ignorant of, much less that they should reject, their rich historical inheritance, but that they should acquire a more global view of history and be equipped with a critical sense that will enable them to stand back and look at their respective narratives more objectively.

Building a deseeya chintanaya is a task that also devolves on Civil Society - on artists, novelists and poets, on intellectuals, on film producers, on writers of lyrics and songs, on religious leaders, and on the NGO network. Most of all, it is a task that should be undertaken by newspapers and journalists, who rather than sow to sectarian emotions, should open the minds of their readers to a broader and deeper vision of social reality.

On the other hand, if these agents of Civil Society are themselves not imbued with a deseeya chintanaya, no amount of constitution making and no amount of structural surgery can ever achieve it.

The point I am trying to make here is that our preoccupation with constitution making, whether to have a Unitary or a Federal constitution, whether to devolve and how much to devolve, misses the point. In fact, they are escape routes from reality. The reality is that in the absence of a consciousness of nationhood, constitution making is a spurious game. Constitutions do not create social reality but only reflect it. On this point I also demur from classical Marxist theory which claims that economic relations are the primary determinants of social and political relations. Marxists forget that even bringing social and political relations into sync with the underlying economic relations requires the re-engineering of consciousness, or as Paulo Frère pointed out, the "consciencetisation" of the people, which is a rather convoluted form of saying that transforming the consciousness of the people is primary.

Where there is no underlying consciousness of nationhood, constitutions and structures that claim to ensure it serve only to conceal its absence. They are merely forms without substance.

The missing X factor

So, what has been that absent X factor in shaping Sri Lanka’s consciousness as a nation? I believe that the missing X factor is leadership. More than any other single factor, it is leadership that catalyses separateness into unity, and conflict into harmony, and it requires a great leader to carry a society from tribalism to nationhood.

Sri Lanka’s inability to produce leaders who combined a great vision with moral stature, has been crucial. I believe that Sri Lanka’s leadership poverty, its lack of men and women who had caught the grander view, who could rise above the compulsions of opportunistic politics and who could envision the good of the whole country as opposed to the advantage of this or that ethnic group or this or that party, has been fundamental.

The primary commitment of the vast majority of our politicians has been to their respective sectarian constituencies, whether Sinhala or Tamil, rather than to the nation as a whole, and given Sri Lanka’s demographic structure, whoever stokes majoritarian emotions will always exercise power over the whole country, whereas whoever puts the nation first is likely to pass into political oblivion!

Ironically, as a nation, Sri Lanka has never had a constituency or a leader. This paradox can be resolved only under two conditions. Firstly, the people’s consciousness has to be raised and widened to encompass the whole nation as its domain, but since that is likely to take several decades, or even a century, rather than years, there must simultaneously emerge one or more leaders who can rise above their narrow constituency perspectives and be able to catalyze the fragmented ethnic and religious groups into a unity.

Concerning leadership

Broadly, there are two types of political leaders.

The commonest are those who have sensed the dominant mood of the people, the zeit geist, and ride it to power, like surfers ride the waves. They are the sectarian populists. Not being rooted in a set of values, and lacking a higher vision, they do not question the morality of the dominant mood, much less seek to transform it, and once ensconced in office, using all the state apparatus at their disposal, seek only to magnify it. Lacking moral goals higher than attaining or remaining in power, they are quite willing to sacrifice the nation and the long term good of the very people who brought them to power, at the altar of their ambitions. As they hurry the nation in a disintegrating downward spiral, their sectarian constituency cheers them on, and lacking any criteria by which to judge themselves or their constituency, they cease to be true leaders of the nation and become instead tribal chieftains.

The second type of leader is those who, having caught a vision of a civilized society, try to objectify it. Their take off point is not the mass but the vision, and their constant reference frame are the attributes of that higher moral order, viz .fundamental rights, righteousness, equality, justice, integrity, fairness, harmony and peace. The dominant paradigm will always resist any attempt by that higher order to intrude upon its sectarian domain, but the test of a great leader is his willingness to dilute into it those elevated attributes, so that they may start working as catalysts, like salt works in a bowl of soup. Seeing that there is a huge gap between the higher vision he is trying to objectify and the sectarian consciousness in which he is trapped, the great leader tries to bridge the gap by upgrading the latter. He starts paddling upstream, against the torrent. Sadly, such leaders belong to a miniscule minority.

My experiences in Jaffna in the mid 1960s prompted me that Sri Lanka was light years away from attaining nationhood, and the events of the decades that followed have fully confirmed that conviction. As I said earlier on, Mrs Bandaranaike’s refusal to visit her people in Jaffna in December 1964 when they were in deep distress, was more than a personal dereliction. It was symptomatic of a deep underlying national disorder. It is not without significance that since Prime Minister Sir John Kotalawela visited Jaffna in 1955, not a single incumbent Prime Minister or President, with the exception of Mr. Dudley Senanayake (n the 1965-70 govt.) has visited Jaffna. (I am open to be corrected here) It looks as if for over 55 years the Head of the Sri Lankan state has renounced responsibility for one quarter of the country’s people! Is it a wonder then that those who are thus disowned and renounced seek to set themselves up separately and go their own way?

More than the power it derives from an overwhelming superiority in numbers, what exalts any majority community, and endows it with a true greatness and moral authority, is its willingness to accord to all those other communities who lack the advantage of numbers, a status and dignity equal to its own, and never to let them feel marginalized or disadvantaged because they are fewer in number, or because they are different in colour or beliefs.

Unless and until Sri Lanka can produce leaders who can realize that truth, and are willing to act on it, it will continue to be dismembered by conflict, long after the LTTE and Pirabhikaran have passed into history.

(Neville Jayaweera is a former Government Agent of Jaffna. The above article , extracted from his forthcoming book of memoirs, was published in the “Sunday Island” of Jan 18th 2009)

January 17, 2009

The Story Behind Lasantha Becoming Columnist "Suranimala"

by Vijitha Yapa

Many words have been written about Lasantha Wickrematunge over the last days, but words have failed me. Overcome with grief, I wonder whether Lasantha would still be alive today if we had not trained him to be an investigative journalist. That pang of conscience will haunt me forever. Memories flood back…sometimes in images, sometimes in incidents… his infectious laughter echoes and re-echoes in my head, as his shoulders shake coinciding with the bursts of laughter. Is he really dead? I stare at the posthumous editorial printed in the Sunday Leader. He must have had a premonition that he was going to die, but even in his wildest imagination he would not have believed that the four horsemen of apocalypse, four armed motorcyclists on their black horse powered machines, would be needed to carry out the death sentence. Who gave the order and why the order was given will perhaps remain an unsolved riddle like the Sphinx.

Even with Rs 7.5 million offered as a reward for the perpetrators of that arson attack on MTV, there are no takers. Who will have the conscience to tell us the truth? In the X Files series, the catch phrase was "The truth is out there". Perhaps, like an Agatha Christie crime novel, one day truth will be out.

Questions also remain for which we will never know the answers. If so many warned him about motorcyclists following him, why did he not take simple precautions or have at least another person go with him and at least make a complaint to the Police?

When they shot him, did they not realize that it is not red blood which would pour out of his body but blue ink. He was armed with a mere quill. They were armed with guns. What flowed from that pen was more powerful than all the guns combined. As long as there are investigative journalists, those quills will continue to be used. If the story is wrong, there are civilized ways of correcting them, without resorting to bullets against which there can be no retort, no correction, no errata, no editor's note.

When I was editor of The Island, Lasantha had been recognized as a potential journalist for our paper. But feelers sent out to him at the Sun newspaper where he worked evoked little response. Thus when a call came out of the blue asking if we could meet, there was an immediate response. Within a few hours, it was sealed. Lasantha accepted our offer.

Those days of on-the-job training paid dividends and soon Lasantha became an indispensable part of our team, which included Gamini Weerakoon, the deputy editor, Ajith Samaranayake, the features editor and D.B.S. Jeyaraj who came to us from Veerakesari, the Tamil language newspaper. Jeyaraj cut off his moustache before coming for the interview because Ajith had told him that I do not like people with moustaches!

Because of his close connections to the Bandaranaike family, the splits, the fights and the turmoil within the party was spilt out to the public. His innuendo type writing was first developed as a contributor to the gossip column, Anuradhapura Diaries, though he was not U No Hoo. It is in this column that Premadasa was referred to as Alaya, Mrs. Bandaranaike as Queen Bee, Anura was clown prince, Lalith Athulathmudali was Aluth mudalali while cabinet meetings were referred to as meetings in the almirah. When Vijaya and Chandrika, Actor boy and Satellite, had their first child, the name Vimukthi was first announced in that column, much to the surprise of even the couple and their relatives!

One story of Lasantha I remember well involved a former Sri Lanka diplomat, whose son was believed to have connections with the LTTE. Even the country he had served in was named. I wanted the story rechecked and a senior Cabinet minister confirmed he had heard the President's Secretary telling JR about it. But even with that, I reworded the story and said he was once an ambassador in an Asian country. But alas, the former diplomat sued and we ended up in courts where Romesh de Silva defended us and asked very pertinently why the letter of demand was sent on a government letterhead when it was a private plaint.

My next encounter with Lasantha was when I was Editor of The Sunday Times. He said there was a talented journalist named Raine who had just returned after a stint with the Hong Kong Standard. I employed her and it was months later I discovered that Raine was his girl friend.

In the late eighties, Lasantha asked if he can write a weekly column for the paper. After much discussion and his submission of a sample article, Lasantha was hired. Being Secretary to Sirima Bandaranaike helped him to cultivate friendships with many -- and the controversial Suranimala column was born.

He did not want anyone to know he was writing the column. We met during the week at a pre-arranged place to discuss the week's column. He brought the article to my home personally every Saturday and my wife Lalana decoded his hand writing and patiently typed it out. I then edited it, checked with him for any amplifications, clarifications and deletions when necessary and took it to the editorial office. Soon it became the most widely read political column in any newspaper in Sri Lanka, with its insight and surgical type rapier thrusts. He feared no one. The frequent visits led to a female boarder in my neighbour's house developing a crush on him, which ended when she was told politely that he had other interests.

The Premadasa era brought many things to a head. The President wanted Sirisena Cooray to help him form the Cabinet which Mr. Cooray declined by saying he did not want to be blamed for cutting other people’s necks and took off in a helicopter to Devinuwara to be with Mahinda Wijesekera at a function in the Devale. Mr. Cooray knew that President Premadasa wanted to cut the powers of Lalith and Gamini.

The publishing of this item infuriated Premadasa who felt we were trying to convey to the world that there was a rift between him and Mr. Cooray. The publisher and I were attacked from public platforms.

Lasantha as Suranimala wrote on current issues and gave inside details, including what was served for supper! In one instance, he wrote of President Premadasa's proposals on devolution which had been sent confidentially. But Lasantha had discovered that Premadasa used four different colours of ink to trace for leaks. He deliberately mentioned the colour of the ink used in the file copy which led to a major crisis in the Presidential Secretariat. K.H. J. Wijedasa, Secretary to the President, phoned me at home and wanted to know who the source of information was. I refused to divulge any information and he said it was a request from the President. I said I am unable to help.

Suranimala's column continued and featured inside details of the government hunt of the JVP cadres, and by then the powers had discovered who Suranimala was. Threats to his life made Lasantha leave the country after the Australian High Commissioner helped him to obtain visas for his family. But the powers were surprised that though Lasantha had left, the column Suranimala continued. Lalith Alahakoon (who was then my news editor at The Sunday Times and is now the editor of the Nation) and I put our heads together and the column appeared regularly. Lasantha's father, Harris, met President Premadasa which led to the return of Lasantha.

Changes in colours of governments did not mean press freedom was guaranteed. Three of the journalists who worked with The Sunday Times have had problems with the authorities. Richard de Zoysa, who wrote a column for us, was abducted from his home and later killed. Keith Noyhar, who was working at the YMCA library in Fort and persisted in joining The Sunday Times as a trainee had his problems at the Nation last year and was assaulted and left the country with his family. The third is J.S. Tissanayagam, who joined us fresh from university and is today in custody.

Lasantha's column was embarrassing to the Premadasa government. They applied pressure.

The independence of an editor was more vital than stopping columns and I bid goodbye to mainstream journalism in Sri Lanka.

These events may have played a part in Lasantha's decision to start his own newspaper.

He was fearless, took risks, irked many and paid with his life for his beliefs. He was threatened, beaten up, shot at, sued and his press set on fire and even sealed. But he was a one-man army. He was meticulous with his research on investigative stories and every thing was backed up with documentation, whether writing about ice cream parlours, misuse of credit cards or arms purchases.

Conversations were tape-recorded and reproduced on the front page of his newspapers, to the embarrassment of many. But in the process he had no friends and created plenty of enemies.

In my view, the danger of writing news stories or columns where one is the publisher and editor is that there is no one to read and check your story and raise any points or objections. Thus anything was fair go, which has its own implications. Sadly, in more recent times, he made the mistake of allowing his political views to colour some aspects of his writing. Yesterday's targets became today's allies, as happened with Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mangala Samaraweera. Some could do no wrong.

He sacrificed family life to return to Sri Lanka but never forgot to phone his three children.

Raine flew from Australia with the children and said amidst sobs, " We heard that once, the goons who had come to attack us turned away saying there was a lady in the car. Even the goons had their code, but the next time another group set on us with clubs and they hit me too. Why did they have to kill him? What were they frightened of?"

Last month, he married Sonali Samarasinghe, who had been by his side in the last years. A few days later, the assassins snuffed out his life forever. He wrote under many names but the phrase "Be that as it may" revealed who the author of the article was.

In summing up, he will remain an outstanding journalist, a dedicated professional in investigative reporting, a martyr who stood up for the freedom of the media.

He sought the truth. And what is the truth? A Fleet Street journalist, Peter Howard wrote, a powerful play in the sixties called "Mr. Brown comes down the hill". In it he asks, what will happen to Christ if he came back to earth today? He will be surrounded by people who have initiated a new morality where things are no longer black and white.

Church leaders believe he is dangerous and decide to eliminate him. Before he dies, they ask him the question Pontius Pilate asked from Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago. "What is truth?" Pontius Pilate asked and Christ remained silent. But Peter Howard answers that question through Mr. Brown. "Truth is the right you deny and the wrong you justify".

It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves honestly to save hundreds of Lasanthas in the future. That type of introspection may be the greatest gift we could give to Lasantha, so that corruption and misuse of power can be eliminated with a decisive lead by all, without merely crying for justice in a society which seems too deaf to hear.

(Founder Editor of The Island and The Sunday Times )

Germany – Sri Lanka diplomatic row due to Lasantha funeral

A diplomatic row has broken out between Germany and Sri Lanka after the funeral ceremony of slain “Sunday Leader” editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Both countries are at loggerheads with each other over some comments made by German envoy Jurgen Weerth at Lasantha’s funeral.

Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Germany, T.B. Maduwegedara, was summoned by the Foreign Office in Berlin on Friday, twenty four hours after his counterpart in Sri Lanka, Jurgen Weerth, was summoned to the Foreign Office in Colombo over his conduct at the funeral of slain Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Ambassador Weerth had spoken at the funeral in his capacity as the dean of the Diplomatic Corp. in Sri Lanka, and had consulted other Colombo-based diplomats before he spoke. It is learnt that the German foreign office had asked Ambassador Maduwegedera what wrong Ambassador Weerth had committed at the funeral.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona who expressed the government's displeasure at Ambassador Weerth's speech told the media that he had called for a report from Mr. Maduwegedara "on the matter", but declined to give further details.

Ambassador Weerth in his funeral oration said, "Today is a day when one remains speechless," adding "maybe we should have spoken before this. Today it is too late."

Namini Wijedasa writing in “Lakbima News” of January 18th has outlined the background to this diplomatic row. Here are some relevant excerpts:

The government last week chastised German Ambassador Jurgen Weerth over an apparently unrehearsed speech he made at the funeral of The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

And questions are now being asked: Did the diplomat, in fact, exceed his mandate or was the government being typically xenophobic?

According to reports, Weerth’s under-three-minutes speech at Monday’s funeral went something like this: “Today is a day when one remains speechless. Maybe we should have spoken before this. Today it is too late. Today is a day when humanity has lost a major voice of truth. But he will live in his work.” Weerthen also called on the government to investigate the killing and to prosecute the offenders.

The remarks appear harmless. A journalist who attended the funeral said they were not controversial. “Ambassadors don’t usually get involved in the internal affairs of a country or make speeches against governments in host nations,” said one commentator, who wished to remain anonymous. “As far as I know, the German ambassador did not deliver a contentious statement.”

“Surely, everyone has the freedom of speech?” asked another observer, who also did not wish to be named. “As long as the ambassador didn’t criticise the government, there’s nothing wrong. From the point of view of the diplomats, they just attended a funeral at which the German ambassador delivered an oration. As simple as that! It’s not their fault if political parties had tried to capitalise on it.”

One website reported German Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Elmar Erich as saying the ambassador had not overstepped his bounds or made a political statement. “The chosen tone was adequate and it was an appropriate sign of solidarity,” he added.

Others say this was a reaction typical of the Rajapaksa government, which has shown itself to be against foreigners (in general) and against the West (in particular).

It is learnt that Weerthen had been selected to deliver the brief eulogy after the Western bloc met formally and agreed he was the most suitable person for the task. But local diplomats said

Weerthen should have known better. Secretary to Ministry of Foreign Affairs Palitha Kohona—who subsequently summoned the ambassador to express displeasure over the graveside tribute—said it had not been wrong for Weerthen to attend the funeral.

“What is wrong is that the funeral had been publicised as a political event,” Kohona explained. “For two days, a certain political party had made announcements asking people to come and express opposition to what was happening. That made the speech unacceptable.” Foreign ministry sources said Weerthen had been contrite.

“Funeral orations by foreign diplomats are totally unnecessary, particularly in situations like this when a prominent person has been murdered and it has become a political issue,” said senior retired diplomat, Nanda Godage. “These diplomats have confused licence and liberty. Would they take these liberties with India or with any other country? They do it because we are small and week. They must know their limits.”

He said that too many ambassadors posted in Sri Lanka to promote goodwill are “hell-bent on acting like politicians and getting publicity like politicians”.

Mangala to ask Barack and Hillary to investigate Gotabhaya

by A Special Correspondent

Moves are on to request US President elect Barack Obama and Secretary of state designate Hilary Clinton to investigate the conduct of a US citizen Gotabhaya Rajapakse in Sri Lanka.

Opposition political leader Mangala Samaraweera is behind moves to investigate the Sri Lankan defence secretary for alleged acts of state terrorism in Sri Lanka.

A detailed dossier outlining several instances of human rights violations by Government related or Govt controlled agents has been prepared for submission to the new dispensation in the United States of America (USA)

Most of the cases cited amount to deliberate, pre-planned acts of state terrorism.

Defence secretary and Presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapakse who is a US citizen has been named as being directly and indirectly responsible for many such incidents.

Leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s Mahajana Wing, Mangala Samaraweera says he has prepared a detailed report of human rights violations in Sri Lanka to be handed over to US President elect Barack Obama.

He said that he had requested US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately investigate a US national who is behind the “international conspiracy to destroy Sri Lanka’s democracy.”

Samaraweera said that he will make arrangements to meet Clinton and will be flying to America soon for a meeting with the new secretary of state.

He said that an American citizen was behind the attack on the MTV/NBC building and also the killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

He also said he was going to ask the US State Department to investigate this person since he had “betrayed the US by being involved in such acts.”

Samaraweera further added that he will be submitting a detailed report on this person along with evidence and will be closely watching the steps taken by Obama’s government with regard to this matter.

Gota instructs Police to arrest MTV News Chief Chevan Daniels

Moves are on to interrogate and then detain Mr. Chevan Daniels , the news director of MTV/MBC media network whose studio at Pannipitiya was attacked by a terror squad in civil garb two weeks ago.

Instructions have been given by defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse to the Police that Daniels who is of Tamil descent should be interrogated and then detained on the grounds that he was a Tamil tigers.

This crude abuse of power follows the horrible attack on the MTV studio and subsequent cover – up by the Govt.

The pretext on which Daniels is to be arrested relates to the interview given by him to CNN after the Pannipitiya attack.

The CID has detailed a special team to track down and record a statement from MTV Channel One News Director Chevan Daniel, CID chief M.G.W.M. Muthubanda told The Sunday Times.However, he declined to give the reasons for CID detailing a team, but other police sources said that it was regarding an interview Mr. Daniel had given to the CNN regarding the January 6 attack on the MTV/MBC station.

The CID team visited the MTV complex at Depanama in Pannipitiya but was told that Mr. Daniel had not come in. Mr. Daniel drew ire from the defence establishment following the CNN interview which was telecast on Wednesday.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the interview telecast live on state TV and other channels later in the day drawing reference to the CNN interview said, “Half an hour before I came here I saw someone from Sirasa appearing on CNN saying that a claymore mine was used in the incident (on the MBC/MTV station) and that the government was responsible. He asked if the government could capture Kilinochchi why it couldn’t catch those responsible through investigations”.

He referred to that person as a 'kotiya' (Tiger) and said he would imprison him. He then went on to say that the burning down of MTV was an insurance ruse undertaken by the company itself.

Mr. Daniel in his CNN interview said it should be “noted that initial investigations revealed that a claymore mine may have been used to destroy our complex.”

“… As you said…, the Sri Lankan government is carrying out a fantastic military offensive against the rebel stronghold in the north and has captured Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass as well, and what really puzzles us is that why the government can’t put forward a similar effort to curb the type of lawlessness that is now rampant in the south, and in particular in Colombo,” the CNN report quoted Mr. Daniel as saying.

Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe had publicly queried from the Govt whether it intended arresting Chevan Daniels to which no proper reply has been given.

Informed sourcs revealed that Chevan Daniels had hastily left the Country upon being tipped off that Gotabhaya had instructed Police to interrogate and detain him under the prevention of terrorism act (PTA).

Four Journalists including Iqbal Athas flee abroad after Lasantha killing

Four prominent journalists have fled Sri Lanka in the aftermath of “The Sunday Leader” editor Lasantha Wickrematunge’s brutal assassination in broad daylightby motor cycle gunmen in civilian clothes and helmets.

The journalists had allegedly received reliable tip – offs from within the defence ministry that they were on the hit list of the sinister forces behind Lasantha Wickrematunge’s killing and the attack on Sirasa/MTV studio.

After this sudden turn of events four journalists have left the country and gone overseas.

The four journalists are the political columnist of Lankadeepa newspaper Upul Joseph Fernando, Lankadeepa defence columnist, Rathnapala Gamage, Sunday Times defence columnist Iqbal Athas, and Anuruddha Lokuhappuarachchi, Reuters photojournalist.

Iqbal Athas who has been under constant threat had left Sri Lanka earlier and relocated his family abroad.

He had then returned to Colombo and resumed writing in a very restrained and careful manner

His situation report has not appeared in”Sunday Times” for two weeks in succession.

Meanwhile, MTV News Director Chevan Daniel has also left the Country some sources said.

Lasantha's killing places all of us in common dilemma

By Rajan Hoole

When faced with someone’s violent death, the question inevitably arises, why him or her and not me? It is a question we dare not try to answer. To do so is to seek false comfort. We have to face it with humility, as a duty and debt cast on us. One day perhaps we might understand. The divine economy has no place for personal vanity -something the killers of this world have in abundance.

The murder of Lasantha is not more criminal than that of thousands of ordinary folk gunned down by the killers of several governments of this land, by the LTTE and by the JVP. Rather, it presents the ugliness of the ruling clique in its sheer nakedness. Many Sinhalese who turned a blind eye to what was happening in the north-east as what needs to be done to fight terrorism, have seen the ugly monster that has fattened itself on their money, their feelings and their passive consent

LWBW0117.jpg

[Media right activists light candles front of the portrait of slain Sri Lankan newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga during a silent vigil to condemn his killing in Colombo January 15, 2009.-pic: Buddhika Weerasinghe /Reuters-via Yahoo! News]

Lasantha in his damning posthumous testament makes it clear why he was killed - for his journalism articulating his commitment to a liberal democratic society, a plea to view the ethnic problem in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. His paper also articulated a reality that is lost on most Sinhalese, that while the terrorism of the LTTE must be confronted, but ‘to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

A nation that has bombed a section of its own citizens for 20 years without ever implementing a decent political settlement opens itself to damning censure. Lasantha was not suicidal; he enjoyed life, his children and his journalism. He wrote his last testament after weighing his adversaries, and decided that it is nobler to face what confronted him full throttle, than to make conciliatory noises in the right places and lead a respectable, conformist existence from which all that ennobles man is fled. This is the corruption we, alas, invariably encounter among the great and the good of our society, and something that always tempts the best among us.

Like all of us, Lasantha no doubt had his failings and his moments of shame. These would be of interest to the biographer who sets out a balanced picture of the man and his struggles against his achievements, for the benefit of posterity. For us now, his death and the manner of it, redeem all his faults. He has thrown the gauntlet very effectively at the rulers of his land who have brought ridicule on sovereignty and the rule of law.

The president understood this. In his victory speech over the capture of Elephant Pass on 10th January, he referred to sinister international conspiracies to ‘belittle these victories, to turn the attention of the people to other directions’. He spoke of efforts to tarnish the image of the army commander with unfounded charges. To these conspiracies he added the murder of Joseph Pararajasingham MP at Christmas mass and the attack on Uthayan Newspapers on World Press Freedom Day. The president might have added that the international conspirators have prevented his police from making any headway with investigations.

All these when the president, as he said, was engaged in giving new life to the unitary status of our country through enlivening democracy. Previously in an IANS interview in September 2007, the president affirmed his position of a unitary state citing his political legacy and constraints. His legacy appears in the report of an SLFP parliamentary group meeting in the wake of the 1958 communal violence against Tamils, in Tarzie Vittachi’s Emergency ‘58, which was censored without the author being physically attacked: “The Tamils will destroy us eventually. Before that happens, I ask the Tamils be settled once and for all” (Pani Illangakoon). “The Tamils are gaining strength in all parts of the country where they are. The Sinhalese are in danger of being liquidated by them” (Sagara Palansuriya). “Destroy them” (Lakshman Rajapakse).

It is a terrible thing for the country and the president to carry the burden of this 60-year legacy, which has mired this country in violence without hope. Victories have been celebrated before over the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and combatants. It is the glory of a moment, the opium for greater misery to come. It means attacks on civilians and the Press would increase because the truth is what the leaders dare not face.

What the president and government spokesmen have tried to diminish is Lasantha’s greatness in his conscious stand, knowing precisely the evil his honour bade him confront, even unto death. He has followed a proud tradition to which few have attained, but paid a terrible price that is a reflection on our times. Those who must live cheek by jowl with the forces of terror know exactly where the danger lies and whom it comes from and what these forces are about.

Two very legitimate items appearing in the Daily Mirror in April 2007, led to the president’s brother and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, threatening the paper’s lady editor with some misfortune from the Karuna group and journalist Uditha Jayasinghe with a scarier prospect.

All journalists who valued their independence took the threat as dire a warning. One could see the slow erosion of standards, as papers tried to buy insurance by giving space to hacks who supported the government in an uncompromising military approach to the Tamil problem and whose forays into semantics were the counterpart of covering up crimes of the security forces through violence and intimidation. These highly accomplished persons who were taught in school to play fair on a level playing field may soon be bowling to wickets from which the batsmen have gone six feet under or were stopped at the pavillion.

Here is a quality missing from present reporting, which earned for Uditha Jayasinghe the defence secretary’s sinister rebuke when she tried to represent the plight of Tamil displaced in the piece titled, ‘Mutur IDPs: Battling a manmade tsunami in the guise of war’. She said, “Without even food in their bellies it is at best difficult to predict when these people will have a place to call home and if their lives will ever be rebuilt to include hope and happiness.” The attack on reporting on the plight of Tamil refugees did not stop there.

Journalist Tissainayagam was arrested and cast into a TID cell in March 2008 and is since detained. Justifying the incarceration, Rajiva Wijesinghe in a letter to a major human rights organisation cited the following from Tissainayagam’s writings about the siege of Vaharai as designed to embarrass the Sri Lankan government through false accusations: “Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel, with the hope of driving out the people of Vaharai and depopulating it. As this story is being written, Vaharai is being subject to intense shelling and aerial bombardment.” The very idea of governance is thrown into ridicule when the attorney general is required to file charges against Tissainayagam on the basis of such. The country is so blinded that all this appears legitimate because the victim is Tamil.

Accurate or not, what Tissainayagam wrote was neither a crime nor an outlandish interpretation of current facts, as seen from the Non Violent Peace Force report for Batticaloa District during November 2006: “... according to figures collected by our teams, there were...between 149 and 177 civilian deaths, 85 combatant deaths, between 217 and 847 civilian injuries, and 68 combatant injuries due to violence...Violence continued to escalate with 21 days on which shelling took place, 21 incidents of aerial bombing and artillery fire.”

Lasantha put it much more strongly in his final testament, “We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.” In May 2008, Keith Noyahr, deputy editor of The Nation was abducted and brutally attacked. The Nation was cowed.

The Leader press situated in a high security zone too had been attacked in November 2007. The president ordered a full-scale inquiry. The paper reappeared four days later on a note of defiance, “We shall never surrender our rights to downright thuggery. The public knows whom we refer to. We will prevail and march on, unbowed and unafraid.” The Leader had evidently not sought insurance through tactical compromise.

Against this history, thinking people have a good idea where these influential, well equipped goon squads come from and ultimately under whose authority they operate. There will never be evidence or judicial hearings when the role of the police is principally to suppress evidence. Something recklessly ugly has mushroomed. In the murder of Raviraj MP, UTHR (J) Special Report No 29, also tabled in parliament, alleges that the killers from the Karuna group handled by state intelligence were housed in a Maligawatte temple by a JHU-associated monk, who deals directly with the president; and the EPDP were accessories.

As with Lasantha, proof will never see the light of day. But the people know and this knowledge will haunt the murderers. We, and the people, know that the LTTE murdered Rajani Thiranagama in 1989, but we have no proof. Well-heeled Tamils, who are the counterparts of Sinhalese spin-doctors, have gone to town about legal proof writing reams, but to no avail.

Part of the reason why we are here is the conformist nature of the elite even though we are too far down the line of disintegration to play our usual games. Most of the commissions appointed had some of the best persons in our society. They produced respectable reports, but carefully, spared those at the top, as has become the norm for commissions of inquiry. If the disappearance commissions of the 1990s had worked, several senior officers in the security forces would have gone on record as being responsible for some terrible crimes. The burden of impunity has been passed on to another generation.

Lasantha had already answered those who would cover up by hiding behind the thoroughly debased law enforcement machinery: “In the wake of my death I know you [Mr President] will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.”

Several of us have been in our time close to those who defied killers for a principle without flinching and paid the price. Subathiran, a solid democrat killed by the LTTE in 2003 was one of them. We have swallowed the semantics of killers and their agents.

After the LTTE abducted and killed Jaffna University student Vijitharan in 1986, LTTE Jaffna leader Kittu, asked us repeatedly in the Senior Common Room, “Where is the proof?” The damning testimonies left behind by my colleague Rajani are well documented. We exposed the LTTE’s violations because it was as Tamil people our duty towards our community.

After her death when all was dark, our best hope was reform in the south paving the way to an opening in the north-east. We did then find the space to work in the south while being as critical of the government.

The killing of Lasantha firmly places us all in a common dilemma, when a government purporting to eradicate LTTE terrorism becomes instead, its clone. Rajani would not have been surprised. She was keenly aware of the fascist potential of both Sinhalese and Tamil nationalist ideologies.

(Rajan Hoole is the head of UTHR (J), University Teachers for Human Rights, an organization which has attacked both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government for rights violations. )

Left front not for Left Bloc government with UNP

By Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

The political atmosphere of France is pervaded with the idea of the “Left Bloc.” After a new period of Poincare-ism which represents the bourgeoisie’s attempt to serve up to the people a warmed over hash of the illusions of victory, a pacifist reaction may quite likely set in amongst broad circles of bourgeoisie society, ie, first and foremost among the petty bourgeoisie.

The hope for universal pacification, for agreement with Soviet Russia, obtaining raw materials and payments from her, on advantageous terms, cuts in the burden of militarism, and so on, in brief, the illusory programme of democratic pacifism - can become for a while the programme of a Left Bloc, superseding the National Bloc.

From the standpoint of the development of the revolution in France, such a change of regimes will be a step forward onlyprovided, the proletariat does not fall prey, to any extent, to the illusions of petty-bourgeois pacifism.

Reformist-dissidents are the agency of the Left Bloc within the working class. Their successes will be the greater when the working class as a whole is seized by the idea and practice of a united front against the bourgeoisie. Layers of workers, disoriented by the war and by the tardiness of the revolution, may venture to support the Left Bloc as a lesser evil, in the belief that they do not thereby risk anything at all, or because they see no other road at present.

One of the most reliable methods of counteracting inside the working class, the moods and ideas of the Left Bloc, ie, a bloc between the workers and a certain section of the bourgeoisie against another section of the bourgeoisie, is through promoting persistently and resolutely the idea of a bloc between all sections of the working class against the whole bourgeoisie.”

The above statement of Trotsky in 1922 on the French political situation has been used over and over again to criticise working arrangements with capitalist parties. Is the Left Front Nava Sama Samaja Party making a Left Bloc with the UNP against the nationalist front of Mahinda?

In the first place there is no electoral or parliamentary political alliance comprising the UNP and the Left Front. But it is true that the present Left Bloc with the UNP will enhance the electoral campaign of the UNP. But we are not in an electoral front for a Left Bloc government. We are not interested in such a front. In the meantime we are interested in developing the relationship among Left groups and trade union unity. Our election lists display that Left unity. It must be noted that Trotsky pointed out that a Left Bloc victory over the National Bloc was a “step forward provided the proletariat does not fall prey, to any extent, to the illusions of petty-bourgeois pacifism.” So even if the UNP gains in elections because of the present Left bloc, we have to go forward consolidating our unity at the base within the proletariat.

We have to campaign not only for trade union unity but also for a national delegates conference. It is to bring representatives of work places irrespective of political association to fight for economic benefits as well as for a peace settlement. Already there is a campaign that started with the demand for a Rs 5000 pay rise. This slogan may have to be revised with the present level of price increases. The campaign for the reduction of petrol prices as ordered by the Supreme Court judgment is important; it has been accepted by the Left Bloc. Ranil has pledged to go forward on this issue as well. UNP unions participated in the July 10, 2008 strike. The plantation sector still has a significant trade union base.

“The fact that complete ascendancy of professional intellectuals over the workers prevails in the party of the Dissidents runs nowhere counter to our diagnosis and prognosis. Because the passive and partially disillusioned, partially disoriented worker-masses are an ideal culture medium, especially in France, for political cliques composed of attorneys and journalists, reformist witch-doctors and parliamentary charlatans,” said Trotsky in the same statement. But today the media has taken a different role compared to journalists in Europe in 1922. They have opted to play the role of the radical students in the 1948 revolution and the 1968 French revolution. Well, at least I hope so!

January 16, 2009

Only voices of sanity are those who continue to cry out in pain

by Shanie

One of the salient features of the Buddha’s forty-five year ministry was a rational approach in his teachings and in his own search for truth. In his wandering mission, he once arrived in the Kingdom of Kosala where the learned Kalama people lived. The Kalamas sat at his feet and asked him, "Venerable Sir, many religious teachers come to our place from time to time and expound their respective doctrines in detail. All of them say that what they preach is the only truth and the others are wrong. Thus while glorifying themselves and their doctrines they find fault and despise others, Now, Sir, we are at a loss. How are we to know which of these teachers speak the truth and which speak falsely?"

"Yes, Kalamas," said the Buddha, "it is quite natural to doubt where doubting is proper. Now come, do not accept a thing merely because it has been handed down by tradition or from generation to generation or from hearsay. Do not accept a thing because of mere scriptural sanction, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by superficial knowledge, nor yet because of your fondness for some theory, nor because it seems to be suitable, nor again just out of respect for a certain religious teacher. But Kalamas, when you know for yourself that certain things are unprofitable, blameworthy, censured by the wise, and when performed or undertaken conduce to loss and suffering, then you should reject them.

Now what do you think, Kalamas, when greed arises within a person, does it arise to his profit or to his loss?"

"To his loss, Sir."

"Well, by becoming greedy or being overcome by greed and thereby losing balance of mind, does he not indulge in killing, commit theft, go after another’s wife, tell lies and not only that, mislead others into evil and immoral acts which lead to his own loss and misery for a long time?"

"Yes, he does, Sir."

"Likewise, when hatred or malice, delusion or ignorance or such other evil states arise, do they not make people lose control of their minds and thereby lead them to perform all kinds of evil and immoral acts which end in loss and suffering?"

And when the Kalamas answered in the affirmative as above, the Buddha continued, "It is precisely for this reason, Kalamas, that I told you not to accept a thing merely because it happens to be traditional, and so on, and that you should reject a thing when you know for yourself that a thing is harmful and will bring misery to yourself and to others. On the other hand, when a person is not greedy, nor malicious, nor deluded – that is to say, is liberal, kindly and wise – what do you think: will not these qualities be to his own profit and happiness?"

"They will, Sir."

"And in being liberal, kindly and wise will they not become self-controlled and refrain from the immoral acts of killing, and so forth? And will that not be for their own and also for others’ profit and happiness?"

The above is from Anguttara Nikaya 1.188 quoted by Bhikku Kasyap in ‘The Path of the Buddha’. This columnist has taken it from a publication ‘The Value of Dissent’ put out by the Civil Rights Movement in 1992. It is very apt for our time, when media stations and journalists are being brutally suppressed for daring to challenge the propaganda of those in power. It is too much to expect the chauvinistic and fascist forces who ‘advise’ the President to heed the words of the Buddha. But let us hope that the President himself and other senior members of the SLFP in the Government will denounce and openly oppose the terrorism that is being unleashed against dissentients and opposition parties. In doing so, they will be upholding the liberal and democratic vision of the founding fathers of the SLFP – leaders like Bandaranaike, Sri Nissanka, D A Rajapakse and Bernard Aluvihare.

Police Investigations into Killings

It is a disgrace that the forces behind the killers of prominent ‘opposition’ personalities like Lasantha Wickrematunge, Janaka Perera, Raviraj, Joseph Pararajasingham, Johnpulle, ‘Taraki’ Sivaram and Maheswaran still remain unidentified. It is a telling indictment on the professionalism of our Police Service today that they have to make the excuse of ‘lack of evidence’ to explain making little headway in the investigations into these political killings. It is also a disgrace that the only action taken by the Police to the destruction of the Depanama studios of MTV/MBC was to arrest a UNP Municipal Councillor on the basis of an alleged anonymous telephone call. If the Police were to arrest and remand someone purely on the basis of anonymous telephone calls, there will have to be thousands of such arrests. But no, it appears you have to be an opposition politician to be so arrested. Thus two activists of the JVP were arrested for exercising their legitimate right to put up posters protesting the attacks on the media. It is a shame that the once professional Service has been so politicised.

Police action or inaction must be understood in terms of the strategy of the apologists and fascist forces surrounding the President who sought to divert blame for the terrorist attacks elsewhere. They make asses of themselves with their sanctimoniousness. It is not known if they believe their own propaganda but certainly they cannot fool the now more mature public.

In their annual report for 2007 released last year, Amnesty International concluded that "enforced disappearances, unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and torture continued to be a feature of the ongoing and escalating conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE….As hostilities intensified the space for dissent was increasingly restricted, and journalists, particularly those associated with the Tamil media, were attacked, abducted and killed. Despite compelling evidence, the authorities failed to effectively investigate or prosecute those responsible for unlawful killings." Sadly, these conclusions still remain valid, perhaps to an even greater extent.

National Conscience and Sanity

During the period of the second JVP insurgency around the end of the eighties, several thousands simply disappeared or were extra-legally killed. It must be stated that the insurgents themselves were also responsible for many disappearances and unlawful killings. The Asian Human Rights Commission published in 2004 the stories told by the families of about 30 of the disappeared. In introducing the stories, the report sated, "As the stories narrated here show, tears are choking these families even now. Tears are also running in the heart of every decent citizen who has had the misfortune of sharing the bitter knowledge of political mismanagement and law enforcement in the country…..

It is often stated that many of those who masterminded and carried out these inhuman acts are still holding prestigious posts. One officer reportedly tells his friends that he "misses the fun of not being able to kill someone at least now and then." The degenerated psychological condition that made these acts possible is still prevailing, despite claims that ‘things have changed’. Nothing has been done to exorcise this condition. No one has made any apologies. No confessions have been asked for, and none given. Tacitly, cynical laughter is what the political and legal establishment is able to offer the families of the disappeared and anyone else who cares to raise questions about them. Even the UN agencies, such as the UN Human Rights Committee and the Working Group on Disappearances, have not been spared such cynical treatment."

The report concludes, "The only voices of sanity today are those who continue to cry in pain. These families have done this for over a decade and will continue doing so for the rest of their lives. At some stage, will the national conscience … prove capable of responding to their pain? The answer to this question lies in whether or not the Sri Lankan people will prove capable of escaping from the Bokassan scheme in which they are trapped." (The reference is to the former ruler of the Central African Republic, who manipulated the constitution to become the self-proclaimed Emperor Bokassa. He was overthrown in 1979 and later tried and convicted of treason, murder and embezzlement while in power.)

[Column from "Notebook of a Nobody" in"The Island"]

“Those who killed Lasantha were cowardly Barbarians”

By Dayan Jayatilleka

“…The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…
…And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” - WB Yeats, ‘The Second Coming’

I have a particular problem with the murder of journalists, especially editors of newspapers. The Editor’s Guild and Publishers Society of Sri Lanka annually host an awards ceremony at which the final presentation of the evening, the pinnacle prize (distinguished by a different hue from the others), is for Journalist of the Year. That award is named after my father, Mervyn de Silva. It was not donated by me or any member of his family. It was instituted by the premier organizations of the profession to which he dedicated his life. Lasantha Wickrematunge was an Editor of a mainstream English language newspaper. He was thus a member of that tribe of which my father was a renowned elder.

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Mourners light candles near a portrait of Lasantha Wickrematunge, the slain editor of The Sunday Leader, outside a Colombo cemetery soon after he was buried-pic: Amantha Perera/IRIN

I do not know who killed him, but I must disclose that I do know something about his killers and those who ordered the killing. They were cowardly barbarians. They were cowards because they killed an unarmed man, and anyone who intentionally kills an unarmed man or woman is a coward. They were barbarians because they expressed their disagreement with what Lasantha wrote and did, not by opposing his ideas with the same weapons of words, but by butchering him. That conduct places one outside the borders of humanity and universal values of civilization.

There are those who may think that these are values that cannot be upheld in times of war, especially a war against terrorism. That is nonsense. One of the finest acts of humane, civilized conduct I am aware of was by one of the bravest, most daring soldiers we have amongst us, General Gamini Hettiaarachchi, iconic head of the Special Forces, highly respected by the US Green Beret trainers based at Fort Bragg, and mentor of generations of Sri Lankan Special Forces operators, including the legendary “long rangers”. His brother, a planter, was decapitated by the JVP, but when he apprehended JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera at gunpoint, he did not even deal the latter a blow, and ensured the safety of Wijeweera’s family.

Let’s say it straight out. Lasantha’s paper was, in stridency of tone, a tabloid masquerading as a broadsheet. More controversially, he and his paper were not merely soft on the LTTE but were arguably pro-LTTE. None of that justifies his murder. Lasantha did not kill anyone. He did not even carry a weapon. If his paper was objectionable, it should not have been read. Perhaps it should have been boycotted. If his writing was distorted as indeed it often was, it should have been subject to withering criticism in writing. If he had dubious connections and was engaging in political conspiracy he should have been exposed. If he was acting subversively he should have been taken into custody and prosecuted in accordance with our tough anti-terrorist laws. Nothing he said or did warranted his murder, nor can be used to justify it.

It is simply illogical to suspect that the President and the Secy. Defense were guilty of or responsible for Lasantha’s murder. A local writer on a website had likened the killing to that of Benigno Aquino and had made reference to Marcos, with the clear implication as to who was playing Marcos. This is plain stupid. Marcos was a highly unpopular President and Aquino was a well known politician returning from exile with a good chance of replacing him. Lasantha wasn’t running for office and the incumbent President is hugely popular. Lasantha posed no threat to him. As for exposes of financial turpitude, Lasantha’s English language and therefore limited circulation newspaper had little effect. Another writer had opined on how perfect the timing of the killing was, oblivious to the irony that the factor of timing works precisely against the hypothesis of high level governmental guilt. On the one hand, the wave of military successes and the prospect of electoral triumph rendered utterly needless any violent measures against domestic dissenters and critics while on the other hand, the murder could only dull the glow of the President’s success and work to his discredit.

I am not making some special excuse for President Rajapakse. At the time of Richard de Zoysa’s murder I knew that President Premadasa had nothing to do with it and was appalled by it – though I did come to know that he permitted (but did not initiate) the cover up by the state apparatus and powerful elements in the governing party, some of whom are now at the helm of that party. Though a critic, I never thought that President Kumaratunga had anything to do with the murders of Tamil youth strangled with plastic handcuffs, floating in the Diyawanna Oya girdling the Parliament or with the murder of Kumar Ponnambalam shortly after he criticized her and the Government on TV in the Sinhala language, or with the lethal grenade attack on the Shah Rukh Khan show or with the murder of columnist “Taraki” Sivaram. All of these took place on her watch, while she was Commander-in-Chief, and yet I do not think she was guilty or responsible in any direct sense, anymore than Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was responsible for the fatal dive that Dodampe Mudalali took from the Fourth Floor of the CID building in the Fort while being questioned on an alleged plot against the UNP Government of the day.

What we must remember however, is that in all these cases – Dodampe mudalali, Richard, the Diyawanna victims, Kumar Ponnambalam, the grenade attack and Sivaram—no one was convicted. The trail ran cold or the traces were kicked over, the perpetrators got off. In each of these cases, somebody decided that the intended victim was a subversive or a traitor and deserved death, and then took it upon themselves to function as or deploy others as executioner. Others, either agreeing with the logic or feeling a far closer affinity to the killers than the victims, covered up and convinced still others to go along with the cover up, irrespective of the damage to the system and the health of the body politic. This is the logic of the Ku Klux Klan, of vigilantes, Death Squads. It is a fanatical, fundamentalist, totalitarian logic; a fascist logic. Who will be the next victim?

Almost as abhorrent ethically as the murder of Lasantha, is the justification of that atrocious crime. There are emails flying around including one that urges that it be “propagated worldwide”, especially to the media, by all Sri Lankan diplomats, which is how I got it, courtesy of a horrified friend. The most unobjectionable part of it is the point that Lasantha’s posthumous editorial was not by him at all but by colleagues, and written post facto. So what? I had assumed that as I read it – and that is a perfectly acceptable journalistic device and literary conceit. The editorialist/s had been deliberately ambiguous about it. The e-mailer then goes onto comment on the quality of the English language prose of Lasantha and Sonali Samarasinghe, a comment which might have had greater credibility if the emailed exegetical critique itself had not left a great deal to be desired in its command of the English language. Worst of all is the justification of the murder – a justification that mixes in the viciously and speculatively personal, the religious and the racial. What is ironic is that the author and distributors thought that every Sri Lankan diplomat would somehow find this garbage either convincing or helpful. What they do not realize is that however badly the LTTE is defeated on the battlefield, all that is necessary for the cause of Tamil Eelam to be recognized by the international community and carved out a la Kosovo by international intervention, is for free tickets to be given to and appointments made for a racist or “patriotic” vigilante organization to spout these views before legislatures throughout the world. Already the anti-conversion legislation which a small party wishes to bring forward in February, poses the danger that if passed, it will put us on a collision course with the Obama administration and the Democrat dominated Congress – the most popular and powerful administration and the most influential legislature on the planet.

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Adesh and Avinash, the two sons of the slain editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper, pay their respects to their father-pic: Amantha Perera/IRIN

The killing of Lasantha is a blow against the image of Sri Lanka and provides a weapon for the pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora as it tries its utmost to forestall our final victory. Their question is being raised with some credibility: if this is how ethnic Sinhalese editors of English language newspapers are treated in Colombo , how much worse will the Tamils be treated by the victorious Sinhalese?

Prabhakaran has done our country more damage than we realize. Thirty years of war has caused an atrophy of almost all institutions and the hypertrophy of some. He has also caused a degree of mirroring of the conduct of his instrument. But not all the evil within our society and system can be blamed on Prabhakaran. During the liberal UNP administration of Dudley Senanayake we spent one thousand days under Emergency rule. The political atmosphere was such that the JVP armed itself in the late ‘60s against what it feared was an imminent rightwing authoritarian takeover by the JR Jayewardene-Esmond Wickremesinghe wing of the UNP. Six years of the seven year rule of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike were spent under Emergency, and “tyre pyres” appeared in April-May 1971, as did thousands of bodies of youths with the their hands tied behind their backs, floating down the rivers. Lt. Alfred Wijesooriya, convicted of the rape and murder of Premawathie Manamperi the Kataragama beauty queen, was the only one who didn’t get away. Governments change but organizations and structures, systems and sub-systems, apparatuses and machines, learn modes of behavior which then begin to inhere unless consciously inoculated or programmed against.

If there are those who think that people should be killed because of what they express and then go onto to actually order the killing; if our institutions cannot apprehend and punish the killers and therefore they enjoy impunity; if there are those who actually justify the murder of an unarmed man however bad or wrong his views; then something very nasty and dangerous is happening to us. What kind of society is emerging? What would we have lost while engaging in the necessary war against the separatist terrorist enemy?

I find the critical commentary on the murder of Lasantha to be unhelpful because, as in the case of Richard’s killing, the tendency is to make cheap political points by pointing the finger at the national leadership. Misdiagnosis helps no one: when there is a malignancy encysted in the entrails, it does no one good to shriek about a nonexistent tumor in the brain of the body politic.

The upper middle class of Colombo have isolated themselves by not supporting the war effort, and therefore allowing itself to be seen or portrayed as unpatriotic. The contrast with Mumbai could not be starker. While the young professionals in the corporate sector in Sri Lanka belong to the so-called peace lobby, in Mumbai they were out demonstrating against the government’s ineffectual response to the terrorist attacks. While they wanted a full-on response to terrorism they were careful not to sound even the slightest anti-Muslim note. Similarly the Muslims of Mumbai were quick to condemn the terrorist attacks. In Sri Lanka by contrast, the middle class professionals are either for Ranil’s CFA and Chandrika’s PTOMS or sympathize with the Sinhala-Buddhist racist pressure groups.

We must support our military which is defeating that enemy described by Barbara Crossette in The Nation of January 6th as “pioneers of the suicide bomber and the cyanide capsule, and the most totalitarian and lethal guerrilla organization in contemporary Asia .” Bear in mind that contemporary Asia includes the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Lashkar e Taiba, the NPA, MILF and Abu Sayyaf. Our military is defeating a force rather different from some ghetto youngsters shooting off home made rockets which cause double digit casualties over a number of years. The Sri Lankan armed forces are doing this without murdering hundreds of children, and without using white phosphorus in populated urban areas. A quarter of casualties inflicted by the Sri Lankan offensive are not children and women.

While we support our military and the military effort, Sri Lanka must not enthrone militarism. Unfortunately those who oppose militarism do not support the military and the military effort, while those who support the military and the military effort do not oppose militarism. Similarly, while Sri Lanka is understandably proud of its adherence to Theravada Buddhism, it must not countenance intolerant practices. The outcome of the defeat of the Tigers must be a restored democracy and an open society, devoid of the mistakes and inequities that constituted the causes of our conflict -- not a straitjacketed social order which suffocates diversity and its expression and enthrones the values of intolerance in the name of patriotism, the nation and “cultural correctness”. After the gun-smoke of war wafts away in the tropical wind, we must not look around and glimpse the outlines of a dominant social bloc which has as its ideology a theocratic militarism and regards the popularly elected civilian political leadership as a screen of some sort. Could it be that the murder of Lasantha is part of an effort to dictate the terms of the post war order, social political and ideological; an extra-constitutional attempt to unilaterally re-draw the lines of permissible dissent? Perhaps, as Yeats warned in The Second Coming, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer”.

The history of the twentieth century, from Europe to Latin America shows that not only should the elected political leadership NOT be the target of unfair criticism, but must be recognized as the only potential counterweight against the negative forces and trends in societies such as ours, especially when the democratic opposition suffers an organic crisis of leadership.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer).

Biggest LTTE mistake which brought curses upon the Tamil community

By A. M. M. Naoshaad

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem.

Since my entry into Parliament in April of 2008, I have always maintained that I am an opponent of war. I would like to start with what Henry Ford said in his writings, “My Life and Work.” It states, I quote:

“My opposition to war is not based upon pacifist or non-resistant principles. It may be that the present state of civilization is such that certain international questions cannot be discussed; it may be that they have to be fought out. But the fighting never settles the question. It only gets the participants around to a frame of mind where they will agree to discuss what they were fighting about.”

Since the advent of this problem in this country and the many wars that we have fought, we have finally always tried to settle down to discuss the ultimate solution to this problem. Now, we have in this House a classic example of how youth of the minority community emotionally got sucked into this war. We have Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran alias Karuna who belonged to the generation which came of age with the Black July. His is not just the story of one man; it is symbolic of the tragedy of an entire generation compelled by circumstances beyond their control to make choices which enmeshed them, their community and the country, in a cycle of vicious and deadly errors. It was a generation which came of age witnessing the spectacle of innocent Tamil men, women and children being brutally murdered by rioters while a majority of Southern society watched in silence. But, we all know that there were quite a lot of Southern people who risked their lives to save thousands of more lives. It was the most courageous and idealistic among that generation who joined the militant movements only to have their dreams shattered or characters degenerated by an unforgiving reality.

In a few short years, they were either killing fellow Tamil militants or being killed by fellow Tamil militants, supposedly brothers in arms against a common oppressor. Some died, some left, others stayed and died or prospered. Karuna stayed and prospered. But, I must remind Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran what Albert Camus said or Albert Cami as pronounced in French said, I quote:

“We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages. But the task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.”

Now, this is the plight of this community and the country. What we need to understand is that the situation today, the military victory in Kilinochchi and the push forward to the North and the eventual or inevitable defeat of the LTTE, looking at the numbers should teach all of us a lesson in that this event that we are witnessing today and some being forced to celebrate is of our making. This is not something that was born out of nothing. I have said this in the House before. That when a section of the population finds that it is being deceived at every turn, when every democratic option is denied to them, then they have to resort to what they think is fair.

Now, we have members of the Government constantly harping on the CFA. I was a vociferous critic of the CFA. In fact I did not belong to the UNP at that time, and I was one of the vociferous critics of the CFA. And, you must remember that the Muslim community of the East suffered the most under the CFA. Under the CFA the events of Trincomalee, the events of Valaichchenai all happened when Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran was a part of the LTTE fighting machinery. He was commanding the East. We suffered the most but what we need to understand is that if not for the shrewd tactics of the then UNF Government and its leader, we would not be in this position today. You have to understand that. In fact, when I was the Assistant Secretary of the United National Party, I used to have long discussions with the Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe, Leader of the Opposition with regard to how to approach this issue. He would always say that the only option left is to agree to a ceasefire at any cost and hold it as long as possible.

Now, if you look back, if not for the CFA, if that then Government had kept on fighting, Pillayan would not be the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province today. Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran would not be a Member of Parliament. He would still be a part of the LTTE fighting machinery. It was the CFA, the resultant peace talks, the exposure to the outside world, the mechanizations of so many foreign bodies that eventually made Karuna Amman leave the LTTE and fight the very forces that he had helped to build. If not for the CFA the international safety net would not have been established and the abandoning of the LTTE by the international community would not have taken place.

In fact, it was the CFA, the very CFA that destroyed the Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe’s chances of becoming the President of this country. He paid the price for that. If the LTTE did not fear him, he would have perhaps been His Excellency Ranil Wickremasinghe. It was the biggest mistake that the LTTE did that brought this curse upon the Tamil community. If the LTTE had sat down genuinely and worked towards a peaceful solution they would not be in this situation today. We would not have lost thousands of lives on both sides, thousands of young men and women maimed for life and we would not have been discussing what we are discussing today.

So, it is easy to heap the blame on one side when the other side comes to power. And, that is why I was reluctantly compelled to interrupt the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs when he spoke about the CFA. If not for the CFA, what we have achieved or what the State has achieved today would not be a reality because you can keep fighting a war. You do not need the Opposition to fight a war. All you need is dedicated, well directed armed forces to fight a war. And, I must commend the Government for the leadership it has given to the forces and what they have achieved. As proud Sri Lankans we have to give credit where it is due and I am reminded of the situation that His Excellency the President is in today . In a letter that Winston Churchill wrote to a friend in 1916 he said, I quote:

“I think a curse should rest on me - because I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment - and yet - I can’t help it - I enjoy every second of it.”

This is what Winston Churchill wrote to a friend in 1916. As I said before, you do not need the Opposition to fight a war and the Government is doing a good job of fighting the war. But, what are we fighting the war for? Is it just to gain territory? No. The ultimate objective of fighting this war is to bring about peace. To bring about peace what do you need? You need consensus.

Finally, you need consensus of this House and all those who sit here to bring about durable peace. So, how do you build consensus when you keep on blaming the other side for everything that has happened in the past? You cannot bring about consensus. You are basically dividing the country further. Anybody who speaks against the war is a traitor. Anybody who is associated with the UNP is a traitor. But, you must remember that 48 per cent of the people of this country voted for the UNP or for Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe. So, how do you bring the leadership of these millions of people to reconcile to peace? How do you bring peace without a consensus?

Today Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran is in this House. He fought with the LTTE. Now he is with the Government and when we sit down to talk peace, he will definitely have his say. The JVP basically brought victory to his Excellency the President. But, today a section of the JVP is opposed to him.

The reality is that all these forces will have to come together and sit down to decide as to how we are going to take this country forward. Today you are in power, tomorrow you can be in the Opposition. But, that does not mean that you should continue to antagonize each other and not work towards building a consensus. You fight the war. Nobody can stop this Government from fighting the war. You have caught the Tiger by the tail. You cannot let go; you have to finish it. But, finishing it militarily, you must remember, does not necessarily mean that you are not leaving room for young people of 1983 like Vinayagamoorthi Muralidaran who felt like what Albert Camus o said, I quote :

“rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some way you are justified”

In 1983, he felt that somewhere, in some way he was justified in what he was doing. This is not going to prevent other Tamil youths thinking in the same way. So, we do not want to re-invent the wheel. We need to work towards a consensus now, a Sri Lankan consensus, not a Sinhala-Buddhist consensus or a Sinhala consensus.

It is a Sri Lankan consensus where everybody - every Sinhalese, every Tamil, every Muslim, every Burgher - in this country feels that he is a part of this solution and that he is a part of a new Sri Lanka.

But, this cannot be achieved in the way we are going, my Friends, not by people being forced to fire crackers, to gather around the roundabout to prevent the Opposition Leader coming to the House or trying to intimidate us. Anyway, I do not get intimidated. All I can get is killed. But you have to die some day. But we have to speak out as to the dangerous trend that we are setting with the events of these few days such as burning of the MTV studios. I have never appeared on MTV. I do not attend those talk shows. But, that is a necessary element of our society.

So, I as a representative of the Tamil-speaking people of the East, I humbly request every member of this House to forget their political differences and work towards a solution by consensus and not by blame.

(This is the text of a speech delivered by A.M.M Naoshad in Parliament. He is a UNP member of Parliament from Amparai district)

LTTE Chief appeals to diaspora while Tigers prepare for "Final Battle"

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The old saying “All roads lead to Rome” is one that had its roots in the period when the Ancient Roman empire was at its zenith.The new saying icurrently in vogue in Sri Lanka seems to be “All roads lead to Mullaitheevu”.

Several fighting elements of the Sri Lankan army have either moved in or are moving into the North – eastern district of Mullaitheevu. In a related move , particular formations of the armed forces are targeting Mullaitheevu town. [Click here to read the article in full ~ in Daily Mirror.lk]

January 15, 2009

Amnesty International writes to Indian Foreign secy urging protection for civilians in the Wanni, Sri Lanka

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
OPEN LETTER

AI Index: ASA 20/001/2009
Date: 14 January 2009

Open letter to Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon urging protection for civilians in the Wanni, Sri Lanka

Mr. Shivshankar Menon
Secretary
Ministry for External Affairs
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi – 110011
India

Dear Mr. Menon

On the occasion of your upcoming visit to Sri Lanka, Amnesty International calls on you to raise, with your Sri Lankan counterparts, concerns about the safety of civilians trapped in the Wanni, as government forces close in on Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) bases in the north-eastern part of the island. We also ask that you discuss the general deterioration of human rights in the country, even in areas not directly affected by the conflict.

More than a quarter of a million people, mostly Tamils, face immense hardship and are running out of safe space in the face of intensified fighting between the two sides. This population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is trapped between the approaching Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE, which has imposed restrictions on their ability to leave and is using them as an involuntary pool of recruits and labourers. With the Sri Lankan government’s recent recapture of Killinochchi, hundreds of thousands of people have been compressed into a smaller area and are increasingly vulnerable. As the fighting encroaches on the trapped population, there are fears of a further mass exodus of civilians.

Lack of protection to civilians during fighting

Given the restrictions imposed by both sides on independent media and humanitarian aid workers, there is little independent verification of conditions in the conflict area. Available information suggests that over 300,000 people are experiencing tremendous insecurity and food shortages aggravated by the fact that many of these families have sold most of their possessions to cope with multiple displacements.

In November 2008, Amnesty International drew attention to acute food and shelter shortages facing this population (Amnesty International, Sri Lankan government must act now to protect 300,000 displaced, 19 November 2008). At the time, the organisation welcomed the food supplies that were sent by the Indian authorities. As humanitarian supplies, including those sent by the Indian government, have since dwindled, aid workers express fears that many of the displaced are vulnerable to potential public health problems and are receiving far less calories than the daily recommended allowance. Also, civilians injured in the fighting cannot be transported outside the Wanni for urgent treatment due to road closures by the security forces.

As hostilities have intensified, the LTTE have stepped up its recruitment, especially of younger people. LTTE continue to hinder people from moving to safer places by imposing a strict pass system. In some instances they have forced family members to stay behind to ensure the return of the rest of the family.

Despite assurances by the government of Sri Lanka that the situation is under control, there is evidence to suggest that the authorities lack the capacity to provide the required humanitarian relief to displaced people. Humanitarian access to the Wanni continues to be restricted. Only government-approved food convoys are allowed to enter the area since the authorities ordered the United Nations, and nearly all humanitarian agencies, to withdraw from the Wanni on 9 September 2008.

On 29 and 30 December 2008, an Inter-Agency support mission accompanied the World Food Program-led convoy in order to monitor implementation of United Nations (UN) funded programmes and conduct a needs assessment. The mission noted increased vulnerability of the civilian population due to several factors including: ongoing fighting, new and repeated displacements into an increasingly compressed area, flood damage and reduced capacity and material to address urgent shelter and sanitation needs.

Attacks on media

Away from the front lines, the general human rights situation in government-controlled areas has deteriorated (Amnesty International has previously criticized the LTTE for severely curtailing civil and political rights in areas under their control). Amnesty International is appalled at the increasing instances of attacks on the media, including the recent assassination of the editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunge in Colombo and attack on the privately owned Maharaja television/MTV studios in Colombo which was ransacked by a gang who used claymore bombs to damage property.

During your upcoming discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka, you should pay special attention to the severe difficulties facing the people of Sri Lanka. Amnesty International urges you:

To raise issue of the civilian protection and press for urgently needed humanitarian assistance to reach civilians who are trapped between the two sides. Pressure must also be put on the LTTE to allow free passage of displaced families from the Wanni with immediate effect.

To press for international monitors to assess the humanitarian needs of quarter of a million people trapped in the Wanni and to ensure proper distribution of food and other humanitarian assistance, particularly as the fighting pproaches the trapped civilian population.

To raise the issue of attacks on the media and press for impartial investigation into the same.

Thank you for your consideration for the above recommendations, and we look forward to your response at the earliest.

Sincerely,

Sam Zarifi
Program Director
Asia-Pacific Program

END/

Public Document

****************************************

For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: press@amnesty.org

International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK www.amnesty.org

January 14, 2009

Lasantha, my Editor and Friend

by Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Lasantha Wickrematunga was my editor and friend over the last one and a half decades. He was an intrepid fighter against corruption, partisan and plucky, mischievous always and Macchiavellian sometimes, he dared to dissent and to push to the hilt the media’s contribution to a vibrant functioning democracy in Sri Lanka. His murder leaves a huge void in the ranks of the defenders of democracy and human rights in this country. He was an example many admired, but which few have yet to emulate.

Lasantha was also one of a handful of people in the media who truly recognized and appreciated the inherent pluralism of Sri Lanka and the need to arrive at a new social contract, which would encompass the aspirations of all of the peoples of this country. He ensured that his newspaper would have space for minority opinion and concerns when most were wittingly or unwittingly caught up in the majoritarianism of the day. Not for him the orthodoxy of the times, with its stifling stereotypes and biases. His newspaper gave more space than any other to the plight of IDPs , to the carnage wrought by the war on combatant and civilian alike and to the need for a political and constitutional settlement of the ethnic conflict. His is the only paper that had the courage and conviction to publish an editorial exposing the hypocrisy and inhumanity of homophobia.

His killing is an egregious act of terrorism against democracy in our country. The greatest tribute to his life and work will be for his death to serve as the catalyst for a broad coalition against the terror and terrorists who threaten our freedom. This coalition must include the apathetic and unknowing and all those who read the Leader to salve their conscience and by doing so, avoid direct action. As Lasantha always believed and as his life and work have demonstrated, there is never a good or auspicious time to act to arrest the slide into darkness. Democracy requires constant vigilance; it requires us in our country to do something about this darkness, NOW. No one should abstain; no one should believe that this is a duty that can be delegated.

I will miss the Monday morning call reminding me about my column and the chats about the challenges facing our country, the chuckles about the “good” and the “great”, the whiff of scandal and the looming crises. But most of all, I will miss an intrepid fighter like no other, in the fight to protect and strengthen the values we shared and without which our country will be doomed.

Lasantha, knowing you, remembering you will always help me, in the words from Tennyson’s Ulysees - to seek to strive to find, and not to yield.

January 13, 2009

A Final Farewell: Family Gives Up Lasantha To God

By Dharisha Bastians

“I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life…..” - The Fray, How To Save A Life

In the heat of the midday sun, unprecedented crowds, estimated at over 7000 people, gathered to mourn slain Sunday Leader Editor in Chief Lasantha Wickremetunge on January 12. For a capital city that slumbers through political and economic upheavals, save for occasionally complaining about them at cocktail parties, such a call of conscience was groundbreaking. Sporting black arm bands and flags, carrying posters and banners, Sri Lanka’s conscience-stricken marched from Kirimandala Mawatha Narahenpita to the Borella Cemetery, some of them chanting angry slogans and accusations, caught up in the moment; others somber, overcome by the tragic finality of it all.

Perhaps the most unique thing of all about the eclectic crowd that came together on Monday was the fact that the majority of them came of their own volition. They were not coerced by any group or individual or dumped by the bus load by a political party eager to get as much political mileage as possible out of this blatant, brutal attack on the free media. As activist Sunila Abeysekera was to note in her funeral address, some of those who came had never read a word Lasantha had written. Still they came, she said, because it was not possible to be passive bystanders in the face of such a repugnant act. My 58 year old aunt, a grandmother, took a three wheeler to Narahenpita to take her place among the protesting groups. “The time has come to stand up. I can’t just sit and wait anymore. It doesn’t even matter if we get shot in the process,” she tells me wearily, her face drawn from the heat and emotion of the day.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

This ‘call to arms’ if you will, of the ‘good’ people, has been some time in the making. The people have stood by while journalists became The Hunted, harassed, threatened, abducted and assaulted at every turn. The murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge was the last straw in the string of incidents that has left the public reeling from the impunity and injustice of it all.

And so, the 7000 marched. For four hours, along the scorching asphalt of Baseline Road, Lasantha was hoisted from shoulder to shoulder - the Old Bens, the Black Coats and those who loved him best. At the entrance to the cemetery, they smashed a hundred coconuts and cursed his killers. Black helium balloons littered sunset skies. Black was the colour of the day and that was apt, for the day was dark.

Yet somewhere between entering the cemetery and the performance of Lasantha’s last rites, genuine sorrow got lost in the noise. A string of political speeches, taking up the better part of two hours took something away from the mourners. What should have been quiet tributes and celebration of a life, became a dance for the cameras, with politicians ranging from UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to trade union leaders taking the stage to condemn Lasantha’s killing and make vague promises about avenging his death. The crowds shuffled their feet uncomfortably, people chatted quietly in groups seated on the periphery of graves and some walked away, allowing the politicians to make hay in the aftermath of tragedy and death.

Only Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem uttered any words worthy of being called an ‘oration’ when he quoted Mark Twain: “In the real world, nothing happens at the right place at the right time. It is the job of journalists and historians to correct that.” Lasantha, he said, was constantly trying to correct history and to set apart victorious euphoria and the tragedies of reality in the way he practiced journalism.

Many skilled orators took the stage that day. And yet through it all, not a single speech captured the man; his ready smile, the passion for his cause, the pride and love with which he wore the mantle ‘father.’ In fact, the only words spoken on behalf of Lasantha’s family came from his brother Lal, in a voice wracked with emotion. It was well past twilight on Monday when the burial rites for Lasantha commenced. The mood turned quiet, reflective and resigned as mourners lit candles and accompanied the family to what is to be Lasantha’s final resting place. Quiet tears replaced harsh slogans then as we watched Lasantha’s family and dearest friends give him up to God.

It was well past twilight on Monday when the burial rites commenced. The mood turned quiet, reflective and resigned as mourners lit candles and accompanied the family to what is to be Lasantha’s final resting place. Quiet tears replaced harsh slogans thenas we watched his family and dearest friends give him up to God.

As the crowd began to leave, I wondered whether we would all still remember this tomorrow and the day after that. The death of Lasantha Wickrematunge may perhaps be a catalyst for many things. It might give us the courage to fight harder to win our rights, it might spur us on to speak out against the great injustices that plague our society. It might even TURN the page on this blood sodden history. But the true and manifest impact of Lasantha’s death will be laid to bear upon his three beautiful children, those three small souls, who kept sorrowful vigil by his gravesite that night, long after the crowds had moved on.

The people especially the Tamil people are with Lasantha

by T.Sabaratnam

This column joins the people of this country to salute Lasantha Wickrematunga the undaunted fighter for the establishment of a transparent, secular, liberal democratic Sri Lanka.

I was one of his admirers who repeatedly warned him of the danger he faced. “Saba! Don’t worry,” he laughed out loud every time I cautioned. “It’s better to die than be silent.” He had been finally silenced. I am sure he would have been thrilled to see that so many people were with him. They stood by him.

I was not his close associate. I am 26 years older than him and I struck to tame journalism, having served at Lake House for 41 years. But as political reporters we used to bump into each other at press conferences and social events. Being strict teetotallers, we gravitated to the same corner where we shared thoughts.

My first meeting with Lasantha was in 1981. He was then a cub reporter at the Sun, where he joined after his studies in England. His interest being politics, he was assigned to cover a press conference held by Rural Industrial Development Minister S. Thondaman, leader of the Ceylon Workers’ Congress. Lasantha was keen to get an exclusive interview with Thondaman and I helped him.

Thondaman was a good judge of men and matters. He took an instant liking for Lasantha. Thondaman saw in Lasantha a young journalist willing to look at the other side. He told me, “He looks different from other Sinhala journalists.”

When I was reading the ‘last editorial’ on Sunday in The Sunday Leader my eyes started tearing. In it he had spelt out his and his paper’s ‘angle.’ I quote that portion in full because that portrays Lasantha.

“Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning.

“Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic... well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you’d best stop buying this paper.”

Lasantha was what he was because he believed in transparency, secularism, liberalism and democracy. That was his mission. He was totally committed to it.

Whenever we met, we talked about the ethnic problem. There were occasions when we talked as representatives of our races: I as a Tamil and he as a Sinhalese. We always agreed we must continue to be what we were born and that was what enriched our motherland.

Once he raised the eternal Sinhala fear and asked: Won’t the Sri Lankan Tamil join hands with Tamil Nadu Tamils and smother the Sinhala race?” I told him that that would never happen. And I told him that though both speak the same language and follow the same cultural norms, the Sri Lankan Tamils have evolved a separate identity and they will never permit it to be swamped by the Indian Tamils. “We are proud of our sub-nationalism, the Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism. We wish to be Tamils and Sri Lankans.”

He told me he had also discussed that matter with his colleague D.B.S. Jayaraj and he had also told him the same thing.

We discussed at length about Tamil grievances, especially during the year-long 1984 All Party Conference, which we covered together, and young Lasantha was by then a convinced supporter of the devolution process. That was the period when Velupillai Pirapaharan was one of the many Tamil youth leaders and was beginning to emerge the first among them.

Lasantha was one of the two Sinhala journalists – the other was Mervyn de Silva – who were disappointed when President J.R. Jayewardene scrapped the All Party Conference and returned to the military option. I remember young Lasantha commenting, after government spokesman Lalith Athulathmudali announced the cancellation of the political process: “We have missed a chance.”

In this context, please read what Lasantha, a mature journalist, wrote to be published in the event of his slaying:

“…we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism.”

I was at Kataragama on Friday evening when the Sinhala people lighted crackers to celebrate the recapture of Elephant Pass. Tamils were embarrassed. Lasantha understood the long-term implications of military occupation. Now read his words:“What is more, a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering “development” and “reconstruction” on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen – and all of the government – cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.”

Lasantha was warned repeatedly of the dangers of voicing such views. He had been offered official favours. He had been offered facilities to migrate to other countries. He refused to accept them and made use of his acid pen to reveal instances of fraud and misuse of power. And the most touching thing is that he prepared to face the inevitable… the slaughter.

For him: “But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.”

Lasantha! the people, especially the Tamil people, are with you.

From Richard to Lasantha: A Tale of Two Assassinations

By Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha

Eighteen years ago I wrote an article entitled ‘Inquest on a System’ about the murder of Richard de Zoysa. Hearing of the tragedy that had befallen Lasantha Wickramatunga, my mind went back to that essay, because here too was an individual who was larger than life, whose political progress was a remarkable record of the recent political history of this country, and whose murder raised similar questions to that of Richard.

There are of course differences, in the characters, and also in my own acquaintance with them. I knew Richard extremely well, and was privy to his reasoning over the different political choices he made, and I hardly knew Lasantha. But right through his spectacular journalistic career, I was always conscious of the first time I had met him, way back in 1980, when I was invited to attend some sort of policy making meeting at Mrs. Bandaranaike’s Rosmead Place House.

This was just after I had resigned from the University in protest at what I saw as the beginning of the destruction of democracy in this country, the taking away of her Civic Rights. Perhaps the SLFP saw me then as a suitable candidate for recruitment, though I suspect I would have seemed hopelessly alien then to the people I met. One of them, in talking about educational policy, continued to insist that English was unnecessary and, if Sri Lanka had to have an international language, it might as well be Russian as any other.

I cannot remember who this was, nor the other people who were there, except for Lasantha. I did not attend any further meetings, for this was clearly not my milieu, and I suspect the others there were relieved. But Lasantha I had sensed was modern in his outlook and, knowing that he was a close associate of Anura Bandaranaike at the time, I wondered why he did not contribute more from a more modern standpoint.

It was only reading his obituaries now that I realized how young he was, that in 1980 he would have been just 22, the same age as Richard. It was not surprising then that Lasantha, articulate as he was, could make no impact on the SLFP, and of course those were the days in which his friend Anura was gradually being pushed out, with the Chandrika wing as it might be termed taking over the party and its Presidential campaign in 1982. When, following that and the disastrous referendum, that wing seemed to over-reach itself and Mrs. Bandaranaike turned back to Anura, Lasantha moved back to centre stage in the party. One paper records that he even became private secretary to Mrs. Bandaranaike in 1986, and that did ring a bell, though the assertion that she was Leader of the Opposition then was clearly wrong. Another column in the same paper may be more accurate, in claiming that this position was his after the 1989 General Election.

The question of the date may be significant. I did not see much of him in the run up to the Presidential election of 1988, when the Liberal Party was prominent in the discussions that led to the formation of the Democratic People’s Alliance. That Alliance however was doomed, when Mrs. Bandaranaike reneged overnight on the agreement she had reached, with Anura’s blessing, with the Muslim Congress, which led to Mr. Ashraff throwing his weight behind Mr. Premadasa in the election. We had prepared a paper for her to make clear the importance of the Muslim Congress vote (and the final results proved our point), and it was Chanaka Amaratunga who had to break the news to Mr. Ashraff. Anura characteristically decided he could not bear the scene, and took himself out of Colombo, sending Chanaka to Mr. Ashraff to stop him, just as he was getting ready to come to Rosmead Place to sign the agreement.

After Mrs. Bandaranaike’s defeat in the Presidential election, Chandrika was able to make a triumphant return to the SLFP, and Anura was once more out in the cold. By this time Lasantha, though still friendly with Anura, had realized that Anura was not the most effective political mentor in the world. It is possible therefore that he continued with Mrs. Bandaranaike while Anura was moving away. However Chandrika would have none of him, so that by the time she triumphed, at both the Parliamentary and Presidential elections of 1994, Lasantha had moved back towards the UNP.

But this, I believe, was towards Gamini Dissanayake. Certainly I remember being told, between the two elections, when Gamini was running a fantastically effective campaign for the Presidency, that he was going to start a new English paper. This I believe was the genesis of the Leader, even though by the time it came out Gamini was dead, killed by the LTTE at an election rally. Lasantha had no choice then but to gravitate towards Ranil and his vehement dislike of Chandrika helped to cement the relationship. Incidentally, Chanaka used to write for the Leader in its early days, originating the Thelma column I believe, with a strange mix of witty insight and salacious gossip that found Chandrika ready meat for satire.

This was in effect the tone of the Leader throughout, which enabled it to be hugely influential in oppositional circles in Colombo. This was also the reason I did not see the Leader as in any way a threat to government, because Lasantha always wore his heart on his sleeve, and made no bones about where his predilections lay. In discussion with foreign diplomats, in the dark days of 2007 when there were serious attempts to overthrow the government, I found this impression confirmed, when many of them evinced the same attitude to the Leader, but seemed to believe more insidious efforts in other papers to undermine the government.

This does not mean the Leader did not fulfil an important role, and a role that was necessary. Lasantha’s investigative skills were fantastic, and the paper was always interesting, in part because of its incisive exaggerations. But its long term impact is best summed up by the response of one of my favourite UNP groupies, who used to think that a particular journalist was fantastic, until one of her close friends was accused of unmentionable things – after that it became ‘that woman’, and the Leader no longer had pride of place in that household.

But that was also the Leader’s strength, that it was wide-ranging in its criticism. In fact its finest moments were perhaps during the Wickremesinghe regime of 2002-2003, when it was one of the harshest critics of many individuals in that government. Ranil alone was exempt from criticism, and it took some time to realize that some of the attacks, such as the terrific critique of Karu Jayasuriya, were part of a deeper political game, but there was certainly consistency. The Leader was alone in asserting that the government was not going far enough in satisfying what it saw as legitimate LTTE demands. Even if to many of us this showed a failure to understand the manner in which the LTTE operated, it was certainly a logical exposition of the principles that underlay the approach of the government of the day.

Conversely the Leader had been brilliant in its earlier revelations regarding some of the weaknesses of the Chandrika’s government, which perhaps explains the increasing animosity between her and Lasantha. The saddest human aspect of this though was the breach that developed between him and Anura, when the latter finally went back to the party of his parents. The Leader’s accounts of the brother and sister then were extraordinarily entertaining, and the aftermath shows that there were no hard feelings, or at any rate that these were forgettable, when the Leader accepted the need for Chandrika and Ranil to become bedfellows in their hostility to the current government, and Anura at intervals went along with this as well.

The trajectory then is extraordinary, and suggests a volatility like Richard’s that also symbolizes the volatility of Sri Lankan politics during the last two decades. Richard, born as it were into the UNP, implacably opposed to the SLFP, found Premadasa unacceptable and seemed then to gravitate into the JVP, though whether this was with Lalith Athulathmudali’s blessing or not will never be known.

Lasantha, growing up in the SLFP, found himself a victim of the rivalry between Anura and Chandrika, and ended up in the UNP, to which indeed his father had initially belonged. The enormous irony is that, in the end, both Anura and Chandrika gravitated in that direction too, disliking the transformation that had occurred in the SLFP, a transformation paralleling what Premadasa had, if temporarily, achieved in the UNP.

My hope is that there will be similar parallels in the aftermath. I have written before about how the enormity of Richard’s death enabled Premadasa to rein in the squads which had previously operated with impunity in eliminating the JVP. There are those who would argue that such squads were necessary, given the enormity of the terrorist threat in the late eighties. That is a position that must be understood, if not accepted, though at the same time we cannot forget how the government of the day bears some responsibility for having driven the JVP, which had taken up democratic politics by then, underground and into terrorism. The bottom line however was that, by 1990 certainly, there was no need for extreme measures, and Richard’s death was inexcusable.

In the present situation however, inexcusable too as is Lasantha’s death, there are differences. The types of squads the UNP had no qualms about creating in the eighties, the PPRA and Green Tigers and Black Cats and so on, have not existed in recent years. That in itself is a tribute to Premadasa, if Richard’s mother was correct in claiming that, shortly after his murder, they were all told that the game was over, and there would be no impunity for anything in the future.

However, in considering the possible reasons for Lasantha’s death, the idea that squads of the earlier sort do operate cannot be dismissed. Obviously the gang that killed him was well organized, and must represent some sort of policy decision, so the question is, what sort of policy is being carried out?

When I wrote about Richard’s death, which happened while I was away, so I could on returning to Sri Lanka look at all the writings comprehensively, I noted that ‘The least controlled of the Sri Lankan papers suggested four possibilities as to his death’. The opening phrase is significant, suggesting how far we have come since those days of heavy control, when only government had television channels and there were very few daily or Sunday newspapers. And perhaps more significant is the fact that now most papers will simply enunciate a single possibility as to the killing, or at most two, namely the two diametrically opposed ones.

To my mind however there are four possibilities again, though as previously I believe two of them, the two opposed ones, can be dismissed fairly easily. One is that he was killed on as it were official orders. This parallels the claim in Richard’s case, though in that case that was finally the most likely explanation, albeit there is continuing uncertainty as to whether responsibility lay, as an opposition MP put it, with the dark haired or the white haired one. The reference was to Premadasa or Ranjan Wijeratne, and sadly, against all evidence, Colombo society continues to believe that Premadasa was responsible, though at least in the references this week the claim was modified to ‘Richard de Zoysa was killed by former President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s henchmen’.

In this case however such an explanation is unthinkable. Apart from the President’s own links with Lasantha, dating back to his position in the Anura and anti-Chandrika wing of the SLFP (Premadasa had no knowledge of Richard and was surprised to learn that he had links with the Saravanamuttu family that had been active in Colombo Municipal politics), clearly anyone in office would know that the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga would be the most destructive blow possible to a government now widely perceived as immensely successful. That such an act takes away immeasurably from the positive achievements of the armed forces is obvious and, unless one assumes that governmental policy is deliberately self-destructive, the attribution of blame to government does not make sense.

At the same time, I am not convinced of the contrary view, that this is an elaborate plot by the LTTE and their supporters, of whatever sort, to bring the government into disrepute. The charge is not as absurd as the charge made by the UNP government in 1990, that Richard was killed by the JVP, since the JVP had been so decimated by then that it could not have benefited from Richard’s death even had it been in a position to plan it. But it is similarly unlikely now that the LTTE, however well supported, could have planned such a sophisticated operation in Colombo and got away with it on this occasion.

The third possibility is that the murder was by forces supportive of the government, who saw in Lasantha a nuisance that the government would be well rid of. This is a possibility, but it requires an assumption of relative innocence as to political realities that is not likely in those who could have planned such an elaborate opposition. This after all is a period in which the Leader’s criticisms of the forces have been proved untenable. The mockery extended to claims of military victory has been exploded, and it would have made much more sense for those supportive of the forces to watch the Leader going into contortions to justify its earlier idea that the LTTE was somehow equal to the government, than to justify the entire approach of the Leader by murdering its editor.

But naivete on the part of those blindly dedicated to those in power is not unthinkable, so that possibility cannot be dismissed. There is however yet another possibility that is well worth considering, and which seems indeed to be supported by the reactions of Lasantha’s political associates. They are working overtime to ensure the polarization of our society, and that could well be in accordance with the agenda of those who killed Lasantha.

After all, in the current context of military victory over the LTTE, the government, most obviously the President but also many other spokesmen, have shown themselves keen on affirming the need for a politically inclusive solution to the political problems we face. This was apparent in the approach even of the Army Commander who in his speech eschewed the triumphalism that a few supporters and many opponents of the government wanted. The forces meanwhile, through their recent magnificient effort over the ‘Future Minds’ Exhibition in Jaffna, showed their commitment to the welfare of the people and the development of the region.

In such a context, those who would prefer confrontation rather than compromise needed a dramatic cause. Killing Lasantha was bound to cause tensions and, precisely because the three other explanations I have suggested above were available, political polarization was likely. This is encouraged by all those busybodies who think they are serving the cause of human rights by pointing the finger at the President and the government, even in the absence of any evidence for their claims.

Thus Reporters without Borders had no qualms about declaring that ‘President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him’. The Asian Human Rights Commission was also categorical in its finger pointing, and declaring its particular reasons for hostility, in claiming that ‘Mr Wickramatunga was a primary target of the Rajapakse regime and particularly the Secretary of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapakse’. And though others were more circumspect, Human Rights Watch too was fairly clear about who it thought was responsible – and what it seeks like AHRC to achieve in focusing on the murder – when it said, ‘The government should not take its recent military victories as a signal that it can stifle dissent.’ And of course the UNP, forgetting its outrageous behaviour over the killing of Richard de Zoysa, is trying to make political capital out of the killing.

Such attempts to put the government on the defensive could help to strengthen the influence of those who disapprove of the inclusive agenda the President has been setting. In that respect the prophecies of doom can become self-fulfilling, with extremists on either side gaining in influence, which would be precisely what was sought through the murder.

The President however is not likely to be swayed by such considerations from the programme he has set himself. He has too the example of Premadasa, who was able after Richard’s death to assert himself firmly, and put a stop to extremist agendas of all sorts. As a result he could launch into a nationwide development programme that saw economic opportunities extended to rural areas in a manner that the country had not seen for decades. The East, it will be remembered, was regained then, and through local government elections too, though in the aftermath the very different approaches of the three administrations which succeeded Premadasa’s saw it lost again, until the recent achievements of this government.

We can only hope then that this tragedy too, like Richard’s, will be the precursor of a conceptual change that will put aside the polarization and confrontation that can only harm Sri Lanka. The opposition obviously sees this as an opportunity to attack, and to recover from the blows to their prestige caused by the military victories and their reactions to them. However the government should not allow itself to be drawn into a game of atrocity snap, tempting though Ranil Wickremesinghe’s vulnerability in this respect might be.

It should make it clear that incidents like Lasantha’s death are unacceptable and must be investigated conscientiously and thoroughly. It should not allow police officers to be led astray by oppositional criticism into thinking that government has something to hide, and therefore they can relax in their pursuit of the criminals. After all, in a similar situation, when government was accused of responsibility for all abductions, clear instructions to the police to investigate every case led to the arrest of two gangs in the Eastern Province. A similar message must be given out categorically now, because to allow criminals to get away with such acts, even if they might claim they were acting in pursuit of what they saw as the national interest, will not help the national interest at all.

In short, there can be no substitute for the rule of law. Now that the main danger is past, it is clear that priority should be given to the restoration of law and order. The Secretary of Defence had shown the way in dealing through the Courts with what he saw as unfair criticism, and his success in that respect may well have irritated those at either extreme who preferred violent and anarchic confrontation. National security obviously cannot be ignored, but in the long run the restoration of the rule of law all over this country should be a matter of urgency, and the police in particular should be well aware that establishing the facts and prosecuting the guilty in this instance is the most important contribution they can now make to a durable peace.

(Rajiva Wijesinha is Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and secretary Ministry of Disaster management and Human rights)

Lasantha Received Threat : "If Writing Continued You Will Be Murdered"

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The truth is, Lasantha spoilt us for any other editor. He nurtured us and kept us bonded in such a way that we worked out of sheer love for him. And now that he is gone, it is the spirit he created that continues to bind us and made us keep our noses to the grindstone, just so that we don’t fail Lasantha or defeat his mission.

For all us journalists, he was the mirror of our souls — the democratic ideals we stood for.

For virtually being the opposition in a country where the collective opposition lacks both imagination and fire, Lasantha has paid the supreme price. He was the embodiment of a true opposition, the voice of dissent. There is little wonder as to why the assassins strike journalists and not politicians of the day, for the ruthless assassins obviously do not consider the elected representatives as a worthwhile challenge.

Lasantha would walk around the office biting his pen, a man full of boyish energy, getting excited when we lay hands on a good story. He got the biggest kick from a good story.

Heartbreaking

It is heartbreaking to think that he would never walk away with my breakfast or take bites off my vegetarian sandwiches, grimacing that ‘rabbity food’ had no place in a carnivorous world. My ‘papadams’ too will never go missing.

Personally, Lasantha was my inspiration, my reason to give up legal practice and to continue at The Sunday Leader. He was also the biggest reason for my journalistic growth — the editor who created the space for me to spread wings and celebrated my success like a doting father. If I call myself an investigative journalist of any worth, I owe it all to Lasantha.

A high-energy personality, everything about Lasantha was also about the art of the possible. With his mischievous smile and buoyant personality, he would make our workload light. And he would make me write five full-paged articles and if I were to wrinkle my nose, wanting to refuse but unable to say no, he would grin and say "Yes you can."

A week ago, a partially torn page of a Sunday Leader edition arrived by post. The story on that page read: ‘The capture of Killinochchi a media circus.’ Across that in red paint, the written words read: "liwwoth maranawa" (If writing continued, you will be murdered). With a dismissive gesture and his characteristic smile, Lasantha instructed the editorial secretary to throw it into the dustbin!

In November, he was to work on an investigation on the assassination of Gen. Janaka Perera. As always, the story excited him no end. "They should never know we had this story. If they find out, we will be bumped off," he said.

Symbol no more

But we also believed for all his ill concealed dislike for Lasantha, President Mahinda Rajapakse needed Lasantha to survive — as his symbol of the existence of media freedom in Sri Lanka. As criticism mounted on Sri Lanka’s sagging human rights credentials and media freedom, the Presidential remarks were: "There is Lasantha Wickrematunge, freely driving around with no security and continues to publish a newspaper that vilifies my regime and even my family."

Lasantha’s fault was that he told the stories that others did not have the courage to print or broadcast. He gave voice to the marginalised, the oppressed and stood for an inclusive society. This is the price for such idealism.

Lasantha earned both brickbats and bouquets for his journalism. I would like his detractors to reflect upon two questions that I pose here. Was Lasantha’s pen mightier than the T 56 that his life had to be snuffed out to still that golden pen? When Lasantha stood up for good governance, parity and a pluralistic society that accommodates all communities, was he wrong?

It was just the final Friday we had with him that Lasantha cautioned a journalist cryptically that deadlines were deadlines. "Even if there is a funeral, the show must go on."

The following Friday, journalists appeared to be remembering those words. With downcast faces in mourning black and white, sniffing, some openly sobbing, they still wrote their tributes. And managed their general stories. Lasantha would have been so proud of last Friday’s editorial scene.

‘Security’

We had bleeding hearts on Monday as our much-loved editor was being laid to rest. It devastated us to have some security types demand that we produce our media accreditation cards to prove that we were Sunday Leader staff and indeed journalists. For a movement I wondered whether I was seeking access to my own Editor’s funeral or some corrupt and stupid politician’s burial. Had Lasantha lived, the security men would have received a lecture they would not forget in a hurry.

Now that he is gone, we have been thrown into the deep end. It is now required of us to sustain his memory, continue that legacy and give voice to those Lasantha gave representation to.

We can only try to live his dream and fight for the same ideals. That’s the spirit in which he nurtured us. Do not doubt whether the legacy of our brightest light would be continued. It will for we can.

Lasantha was the very celebration of diversity and dissent. So instead of the appalling silence of the ‘good people,’ may a thousand flowers bloom

COURTESY:The Morning Leader

Why we don’t trust “Independent” and “Impartial” investigations in Sri Lanka

By Sumanasiri Liyanage

“What’s going on just now? What’s happening to us? What is this world, this period, this precise moment in which we are living?” –Michel Foucault

Two incidents that happened within a period of 48 hours signified a major blow to media freedom and democracy in Sri Lanka. In the first incident, the main complex of Sirasa TV was attacked and its equipments were destroyed. According to reports, this attack was carried out by about group of 20 armed persons. The second incident that happened in day light on busy road in a Colombo suburb was the killing of Lasantha Wickramathunga, the editor of Sunday Leader by unidentified gunmen. All circumstantial and historical evidence has made me feel that these cowardly attacks were carried out by a group of people who have the backing and the blessings of the government and the government machinery. Sirasa media people were attacked many a time by a Minister of this Government. There were reports in the last 12 months period that the printing press that printed Sunday Leader was burned and there were death threats to Lasantha Wickramatunga. The leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickramasinghe, who knows quite well, may be through his own experience, how these government machineries works in killing and harassing its opponents, indicated in his statement to the Parliament that the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga would have been a job of the section of the security forces. Media Minister announced that the President had ordered an ‘independent’ and impartial enquiry to the killing.

In Sri Lanka, we do not trust ‘independent’ and ‘impartial’ investigations for two reasons. First, these ‘independent’ and ‘impartial’ investigations in the past failed miserably to uncover the truth and to find the perpetrators. Still people in this country are not aware who killed Richard Zoysa or who killed the editor of an unknown newspaper whose name I do not remember although I used my Ravaya column to condemn it at the time of his assassination. We all have our guesses. Secondly, there is no mechanism to appoint those ‘independent’ and ‘impartial’ investigating bodies by independent institutions. The Seventeenth Amendment to the Second Republic Constitution of 1978 enacted in 2001 provided provisions to give those investigating agencies at least some resemblance of independence. This piece of legislation is still inoperative. I am certain of one thing: if the Government or at least section of it is behind these heinous and cowardly acts, nothing will come out from the investigations. May be, investigation would reveal something if and only if the Government’s conspiracy theory is true. Since the issue of conspiracy theory comes up, I should say something about two main explanations about the two events. The spokespersons of the Government have noted that at a time when the Government was so popular because of the military victories in the East, Mannar and Vanni and the capture of the LTTE ‘capital’ Kilinochchi, the Government had no reason to fear media criticisms how harsh they would be. According to this argument, governments disrespect media and harass media people only when the governments are unpopular and cannot withstand criticisms. Of course, there is a grain of truth in this argument. However, it suffers from two major flaws. First, politicians are quite clever when it comes to the issue of guarding their power. They know very well that the popularity experiences up and downs; ebbs and flows. Attitudes of the public change instantaneously. Winston Churchill was defeated at the election held immediately after the World War 2. Hence, the politicians may feel that the criticisms should be silenced when they are strong and popular. Chinese Government was not generally unpopular when it decided to suppress Tienmann Square protest. Secondly, the politicians who have shown authoritarian tendencies use gradually and on incremental basis governmental technologies to tighten their control over ‘subjects’. Hence, the suppression of media freedom is a part of a bigger project. This second aspect has been taken as the point departure of the argument of the opposition. According to them, the government is planning to use the military victory in order to strengthen and establish its position by tightening its control over the activities of all the independent institutions. Military victory of the government would reestablish the state’s monopoly of coercive power as it unarmed its main contender, the LTTE. However, on the other hand, the government may not be able to use war propaganda for its benefits when the war came to an end with the LTTE suffering a comprehensive military defeat. So, it has to use other ‘technologies’ in the South to maintain and tighten its control. Joint opposition has a valid explanation and the way in which the government is operating have already shown authoritarian tendencies.

However, the main opposition front is to prove its credentials. What would be the guarantee that the opposition when acquiring power at a future date will act differently? S B Disanayake, the UNP chief minister candidate to Central Provincial Council has made it crystal clear that the Sri Lanka needed a dictator. Ranil, Mangala et al may be ‘good democrats’ in out of office. But Richard Zoysa was killed when Ranil was in power. The trinity of Chnadrika, SB and Mangala, in my opinion, was responsible of killing a editor of a newspaper. This is a good time for them to show their either honesty and integrity or dishonesty and hypocrisy. Can they come forward and tell us why those media people were killed, and what governmental machineries or subterranean machineries were used in killing media people and harassing media in general. Such a revelation would be of educational value to understand governmental technologies of control and coercion in an underdeveloped context. Moreover, in future, if there will be an investigation on a similar issue by an independent body, such knowledge would also facilitate its work. Will they come post factum with the truth? I have my doubts.

Attack on Sirasa and killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga have made me convinced once again my earlier proposal that any protest and opposition to the present government should be a part of a bigger political exercise aiming at naming a non-party peoples’ candidate with minimum transitional program that include the change of the constitution in order to make the state more accommodative, power-dispersed and the politicians more accountable through built-in checks and balances. In case, as in the past, if the energy and time spent on resistance to present regime is oriented and confined only towards a regime change, such exercise will definitely be an utter waste.

The writer teaches political economy at the University of Peradeniya. E-mail: sumane_l@yahoo.com

January 12, 2009

Lasantha : a voice cries freedom from beyond the grave

by Peter Foster

Back from Beijing (where I spent last week, apologies for lack of posts) to report, with the heaviest heart, the murder of one of Sri Lanka's bravest and most controversial journalists.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, 50, was stabbed and shot to death in broad daylight last Friday as he drove to work at The Sunday Leader, the liberal Colombo-based newspaper he edited.

His death - conveniently obscured in the news agenda abroad by events in Gaza and at home by Sri Lankan army's gains against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in the Elephant Pass - sounds the death knell for civil society in Sri Lanka.

Just like all the other state-sanctioned killings in Sri Lanka, the promised investigation will be an unholy sham. His killers won't be caught and 'we'll never know', who did it.

However Mr Wickrematunge, writing from the grave (see below), is in no doubt who was behind his murder: the Rajapakse regime and its lawless proxies.

There is so much to say about this killing - how perfectly it demonstrates the fact that the current government of Sri Lanka has become indistinguishable from its evil enemy, the LTTE; how pyrrhic, ultimately, are all the great victories in the North.

But today I'm not going to waste your time with my words, but instead to exhort you to read those of Mr Wickrematunge himself, written from beyond the grave and published in the Sunday Leader this weekend, two days after his violent death.

If you do anything today, take the time to read what follows. It is profound and important and puts the frivolous, prying journalism of the West (look what we did with our hard-won freedoms) into humbling perspective.

These are the words of a truly wise and brave man and they deserve the widest possible audience. Mr Wickrematunge died for speaking truth unto power and in return for giving his life in the name of freedom (strange, is it not, how devalued that phrase has become?) the world, which has not done enough to prevent killings like Mr Wickrematunge's, should pay him the courtesy of listening to what he has to say, one last time.

The link is here, but without apology and in defiance of all known blog etiquette (just in case you couldn't be bothered to click through) I'm pasting the entire text of his valedictory below.

'And Then They Came For Me'

By Lasantha Wickrematunge

NO other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic... well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you'd best stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let's face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka's ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that - pray excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing expos‚s we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen - and all of the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses the familiar Sinhala address oya when talking to him. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President's House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I - and my family - have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am - and have always been - ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem"ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem"ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem"ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

(POSTED IN FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS)

Lasantha is the Latest in a Long List of Assassinated Media Personnel

by Lionel Bopage

In a country where, it seems, shooting the messenger has become the norm, yet another journalist who sought to highlight everything that is wrong with Sri Lanka today, has been brutally gunned down.

Lasantha Wickramatunge is the latest victim of a long list of assassinations of media personnel in Sri Lanka, yet another sorry statistic which has made Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to practice their profession, according to Reporters without Borders.

My obvious political differences with Lasantha do not prevent me from appreciating his personal, political and journalistic qualities as a leader in the island’s media industry. He was fearless and was willing to boldly uncover and critically expose in no uncertain terms what he believed to be the truth. His assassination is a tragic loss to the people of Sri Lanka as a whole. I take this occasion to convey my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.

In the outstanding contribution he has made to Sri Lankan journalism over a comparatively short but eventful life, Lasantha took governments of all hues to task through his daring and unparalleled investigative reporting. He was a strong critic of the current government. He wrote recently about the war euphoria enveloping the country and warned of the danger of not addressing the aspirations of the Tamil people. Despite many attempts to silence him, he continued exposing what he believed to be misconduct and corruption by highly influential individuals. He did not allow his freedom to write to be limited by the ‘truths’ presented to the people.

The Government of Sri Lanka and the President have condemned this tragic murder in public and ordered an investigation. In the past few years there have been many similarly heinous assassinations carried out in Sri Lanka. Many parties and individuals including some who hold high positions have been blamed for these killings. In every such assassination, the government ordered investigations.

However, very few perpetrators of such terrorist activities were ever brought to justice. When allegations were raised against those who were not in government, the process had been fairly swift, while when allegations were raised against those who were in government, the process had been extremely slow.

The government claims that investigations cannot proceed due to lack of witnesses; that those who have witnessed such assassinations have not come forward to provide any evidence. In the north and east the reason for this seems fairly obvious. Either, people did not know, or were too afraid to antagonize the various forces affiliated to the parties involved in the situation there.

This situation extended to Anuradhapura and what happened afterwards is public knowledge which does not need to reiterate here. Setting fire to ‘Sirasa’ broadcasting station and assassinating Mr Lasantha Wickrematunga signifies the return of these terror tactics to the south of the island.

Naturally, questions arise in one’s mind: who are the parties or individuals, people in the south are afraid of accusing when such heinous incidents occur? We remember the historical parallels that existed in the 1988-89 period where various pro-government paramilitary groups and the notorious “Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya” silenced people.

Who were these groups? Who led them? Are many of those ring-leaders still in positions of power now?

The long list of assassination of media personnel include RK Ratnasingam in 1985, M. Amirthalingam and I. Shanmugalingam in 1986, Nithyananthan in 1987, Rajani Thiranagama and K. S. Rajah in 1989, Richard de Zoysa in 1990, Rohana Kumara and Nadarajah Atputharajah in 1999, Mylvaganam Nimalarajan in 2000, Aiyathurai Nadesan and Balanadarajah Iyer in 2004, Dharmaretnam (Taraki) Sivaram, Arasakumar Kannamuthu, Relangi Selvarajah, Manickam Kamalanathan and Yogakumar Krishnapillai in 2005, Subramaniam Sugirtharajan, Bastian George Sagayathas, S. Ranjith, Suresh Kumar, Rajiv Kumar, Sampath Lakmal de Silva, Mariathas Manojanraj, Sathasivam Baskaran and Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah in 2006, S. T. Gananathan, Chandrabose Suthaharan, Selvarajah Rajivaram and Sahathevan Deluxshan in 2007, and P. Devakumaran, Mahendran Varadhan, and Rashmi Mohamed in 2008.

Obviously, all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka have targeted media personnel.
Time and again, local and international organisations have called upon these parties to respect the rights of media personnel to report and inform on the happenings in the country.

Governments of the time have been called upon to investigate all cases of attacks, disappearances and killings promptly, independently, impartially and effectively, irrespective of the identity of perpetrators or victims. Yet, despite pious pronouncements about democratic ideals and rights of free speech, these killers have been brought to justice only rarely.

Many journalists have fled their work areas and what is called news reporting in Sri Lanka today seems entirely dependent on what is dictated by the ruling faction.

These assassinations and the repressive culture being imposed upon the Sri Lankan society, culminating with the killing of Mr Wickramatunga, should provide the impetus to stimulate all political forces and individuals in Sri Lanka and overseas, who are committed to protecting the human and democratic rights of its people, to come together and oppose this state of fascism.

For the people of Sri Lanka, this latest assassination should serve as a timely reminder of the immortal poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) on the inactivity of German intellectuals following the ascendency of Nazis to power and the targeting of people who did not adhere to their twisted philosophy;

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

It is the duty of every Sri Lankan, local and overseas to ensure that this does not happen

January 11, 2009

Lasantha Assassination was the work of those who understand neither truth nor power

By Rohan Samarajiva

"To die for the benefit of the people, is more important than Tai mountain; working for the fascists and dying for those who oppress and exploit the people, that death would be lighter than a feather." – Mao Zedong

I did not know the assassinated Mr Wickrematunge. So I do not know whether he would have been honored by mixed metaphors from Chairman Mao.

But it does seem appropriate for a life that served the people; and a death that leaves a very large void. Imagine what the landscape would be without the Tai mountain; that’s what the mediascape in Sri Lanka is now.

Those who did the killing; gave the orders; and promoted the totalitarian culture that created the conditions for his death and its multiple justifications will die too. But those deaths will be lighter than feathers.

Some say Lasantha was biased. As one blogger said: “a dirty politician pretending to be a politician, murdered.” He expanded: “he did publish some newspapers, and edited them, and wrote in them. but he was more than that. he was political player. he was close friend and collaborator of politicians . . ..”

To be a friend of a politician; to have an opinion; is this to cease to be a person worthy of praise, or at least tolerance?

Questions of bias and fairness loom large in discussions of media in this country. Sirasa being attacked is justified because it gave only four minutes to the second capture of Kilinochchi and 13 to the despicable attack on the Air Force Headquarters a few hours later, and was thus biased. Some people perceive bias and switch the channel; others bomb the station.
Those who want to banish bias from Sirasa do not seek the same from government-owned electronic and print media. Those who demanded fairness from Lasantha do not demand it of Jayathilake de Silva, the editor of the Ceylon Daily News and the Observer. The critics must be balanced, but not the propagandists.

There are several mistakes here.

Unit of analysis

First, they have the unit of analysis wrong. It would be very boring if every story were to be internally balanced. One can try this. Wikinews, with its “neutral point of view” (NPOV), is the most recent sustained effort to resurrect the notion of objectivity in news: http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Wikinews:Neutral_point_of_view. But it will be practically impossible to apply the NPOV to real-time news reporting.

News reporting is a form of story telling (it’s not for nothing that we call individual news items “stories”). Good stories have heroes and villains, winners and losers, victims and perpetrators. The minute you have heroes and villains, neutrality creeps out the window.

People don’t read newspapers only for the “news.” They like to read opinion pieces and editorials, where value has been added to facts by those with good writing skills and viewpoints. Opinion columns in online newspapers are read and shared more than news stories. By definition, opinion pieces and editorials cannot be unbiased.

If bias within individual stories cannot be eliminated, can there be balance within a specific media product such as a newspaper or a television channel? Yes, but not necessarily. In competitive markets, where people can choose among different media, it is abnormal for each news product to strive for neutrality.

In the same way that some people like Cream Soda and others like Sprite, different people have different tastes in news: some like the tabloid style and others the more serious broadsheet style; some like a conservative bent to their news; others want liberal. In England, some read the Guardian; others the Daily Mail. The difference in content and angle differentiates the products and gives value to the readers.

When newspapers strive to reach the largest possible readership and deliver the greatest value to their advertisers, they seek to present a balance. The New York Times carries columns by Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman from the Left and David Brooks and William Kristol from the Right. But most people know the Times is liberal. If you really want conservative, you’d read the Wall Street Journal, or watch Fox News.

The realistic objective is an overall media environment made up of multiple news products with different biases. The balance is in the environment, not in the individual channels or newspapers. Irudina is biased, but so is Lanka. So is the Sunday Times. Selection and prioritization create bias within each news product.

The overall environment that is constituted by Irudina, Lanka and everything in between should not be biased. This is the achievable, and not boring, balance. This is the balance that is sought to be destroyed by gunning down newspaper editors and setting fire to printing presses and television studios.

Government media

The second and bigger mistake is demanding fairness from private media, such as Sirasa and the Leader, and not from publicly-funded media. Publicly funded media are the only ones that should strive to be internally fair and unbiased. They are funded by each and every citizen and are therefore obligated to be fair.

Why should government owned media be held to a different standard than the private media? For the same reason we expect greater fairness in procurement and personnel policies from government organizations than from private entities. Natural justice has to be adhered to by government agencies, but not by private firms. The remedies of writs and fundamental rights may be sought against government actions, not against private actions.

The rationale is twofold. The first is the use of public funds, which imposes a higher standard of behaviour. Second, the government usually does not have competition. If I do not like the services provided by the Department of Registration of Persons, I cannot go to an alternative supplier of National Identity Cards. Monopolies are, or should be, held to higher standards.

How would the government get its story out, one may ask, if it cannot have its own media? Governments all over the world do perfectly fine (and much better than the media-rich but tongue-twisted Sri Lankan government), despite not running in-house propaganda machines. If a government’s policies are any good, there would be someone in society who supports them; so one can expect that some private media would come out in support of government policies.

There are also the time-honored practices of giving speeches and creating media events that would then be covered by the media. In addition, the government can always buy advertising: not the pompous, self-congratulatory piffle that passes for government advertising in this country, but well-designed media messages that will actually communicate.

A life well lived

Lasantha Wickrematunge was an activist, never content with the status quo. Since the mid 1990s his newspapers occupied the special niche of the muckraking medium, occupied in the 1960s by Aththa, and in the early 1990s by Ravaya.

Journalists working in newspapers that occupy this niche do not have to go after news; news comes to them. They are on the speed dials of the phones of reporter -politicians; files turn up on their doorsteps. They constitute the whistles of the whistleblowers and the daggers and scimitars of the political operatives. Leaks are the currency of their realm; innuendo the key to their style.

They make mistakes. And they trash careers and plans in the process, sometimes unjustifiably. In an ideal world, they would take more care, but Lasantha and his newspapers did not live in an ideal world and they were not perfect. They tried to move us toward a less-imperfect one.

In his short and exciting life, Lasantha Wickrematunge spoke truth to power, mostly. His assassination was the work of those who understand neither truth nor power. He was no Rohana Kumara. He was too big to go quietly into the night.

Marcos killed Aquino. Little good it did him.

Lasantha’s life would have been in vain only if we cower in a corner; only if we collectively fail to pick up the torch so cruelly ripped from his hand. If we are that stupid, we will surely deserve whatever fate befalls us.

[courtesy: Lanka Buisness online]

A.R. Rahman wins Golden Globe award for best original score (music) category

By Mrinalini Ramachandra

India’s music composer maestro Alla Rakha Rahman (AR Rahman) created history on Sunday night as he became the first Thamizhian to win a prestigious golden globe award.

AR Rahman won a Golden Globe award for Best Original Score for his music in British director Danny Boyle's uplifting underdog tale "Slumdog Millionaire" at "The 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards" held on Jan 11th, 2009.

More than 50 Hollywood stars attended as presenters at "The 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards" and it was telecasted live on NBC Sunday, January 11 (8 - 11 p.m. EST) at The Beverly Hilton.

"The 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards" will be seen in more than 160 countries worldwide and is one of the few awards ceremonies that span both television and motion picture achievements.

Earlier "Slumdog Millionaire" won two awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association - Best Director for Boyle and Best Music for Rahman. It also won the runner-up prize for Best Cinematography for Anthony Dod Mantle.

The film, set and shot in Mumbai, has also won the Best Cinematography prize from The New York Film Critics' Circle and earned six Critics Choice Award nominations for Picture, Director (Boyle), Writer (Simon Beaufoy), Young Actor (Dev Patel), Composer (Rahman), and Song ("Jai Ho").

The Golden Globe award for Best Original Score is being given since its institution in 1947. The organization Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HEPA) is an organization of journalists who cover the United States Film Industry but are affiliated with publications outside North America.

The prestigious GG awards are regarded as the forerunners of the Oscar awards.

[A.R.Rahman Dil se Re live]

Forty – two year old AR Rahman was born on January 6th 1966 in Chennai as A.S. Dilipkumar. His father RS Shekhar was of Thamizhian descent and a one – time assistant to music composer Sutharsanam and also composed music for Kerala movies.

Dileepkumar was nine years old when his father died. Two years later the Hindu family converted to Islam .His name was changed to Alla Rakha Rahman.

Rahman who studied western classical music in London got his first big break in composing music in cinema for the Tamil film “Roja” in 1992.

Thereafter he never looked back and went on to score music for scores of movies in different Indian languages.

He has won numerous wards for his music composition and was hailed by “Time” magazine as the “Mozart of Madras”.

[thaay koduththa thamizhukkillai thattuppaadu-from 1994 movie Duet - Thamizh (language) bestowed by (my) mother has no scarcity]

Tamil fans have dubbed him as “Isaipuyal” (Musical storm)

Several films became blockbusters mainly due to Rahman’s music.

His filmscores and soundtracks have sold more than 100 million records and 250 million audiocassettes.

Rahman is one of twenty – five all time top –selling recording artistes.

Unlike Sri Lanka where Tamil speaking Muslims regard themselves as separate to that of Tamil speaking Hindus and Christians Muslims of Tamil Nadu perceive themselves as ethnic “Thamizhians” whose religion is Islam.

Tamils worldwide are excited by the news that AR Rahman has become the first Tamil to get a golden globe and next, hopefully an Oscar.

You can kill the messenger but the message will live on

LWV0111.jpgBy Arjuna Ranawana

In the corridors of power whether it be Temple Trees, or the lush temples of the JHU monks, there must be a sigh of relief that Lasantha Wickrematunge is dead.

For at least for a while, those corrupt deal-makers running the country may feel safe to carry on regardless.

Of course there were loud statements trumpeted from those very corridors condemning his assassination and yet more orders to the IGP to probe and pursue his killers. I for one do not expect such an investigation to yield results but believe them to be cynical public statements being made by a regime bent on killing the messenger.

This is because there have been so many of these investigations launched and none have borne results. Eitherthe IGP never gets those orders and only reads them in the newspapers, the police are utterly inept, or the government is lying to the public and allowing the killers to get away with a bundle of cash, a nod and a wink.

NR0111.JPGCan you even remember the number of special investigations launched into these types of killings, which include MPs N Raviraj and T Maheswaran? These include assaults on journalists and the horrible farce that exists around Minister Mervyn de Silva’s incursion into Rupavahini.

All have probes, no? Even Presidential Commissions.

There is still space though, for the IGP to prove me wrong.

Mind you, Lasantha wasn’t the easiest person, but the great never are. I’ve known him for perhaps 25 years and on more than one occasion have had sharp differences of opinion and often been exasperated by him. But he would laugh away my irritation and I always ended up being unable to be angry with him. He knew I admired him greatly but understood, finally after much persuasion from my side, that we would never really be able to work together. Latterly, I too have been at the sharp end of his acid pen, but never felt hurt and injured as I always found him honourable and honestly dedicated to his own mission at the end.

And much of that mission was to relentlessly attack the putrefying corruption that underpins Sri Lanka today.

TMTC0111.jpgWhat Lasantha was trying to tell us is that everything in Sri Lanka right now is a cynical money-making deal for those in power. The great war of the Vanni is a business. Radio and TV broadcast licenses are given out not to help the public but as rewards for favours and are auctioned out to the highest bidder. Public money is being given to friends and relatives to have adventures such creating an airline –and all that is being done in the name of saving the nation and fighting terror.

And the other very important message that Lasantha was sending, as Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu pointed out a few days ago, was that the diverse cultural mosaic that is Sri Lanka , is being attacked by the most openly racist administration ever.

I hope that these messages will not be forgotten.

Over the years repressive governments in Sri Lanka and outside have killed the messenger when the message was unpalatable. In the horrific late 1980s, the UNP government death squads and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna competed to kill off unarmed media-persons and others. The LTTE has, throughout its existence tolerated no dissenting voices practicing extreme censorship at all times.

Evidence that this government is also making that a practice is clear, a sad commentary of the evolution of Mahinda Rajapakse, from being a one-time human rights activist and drinking buddy of the free souls of the Free Media Movement, to a gross violator, hunting those very people down. News1st, which I headed briefly, has fought militarists and racists tirelessly and the attack on the Depanama facility carried out with military precision is a frightening indication that dialogue is now not possible with this administration.

The other indication is the way Editors at Lake House were treated in the case of the Army Commander’s interview. The current Media Minister - who has fed at the trough of Lake House for many terms – is making the poor sods masquerading as news executives play musical chairs with the Editors chairs. This again is a case of punishing the messenger.

I have really no problem with Velupillai Pirabhakaran fighting for the rights of an oppressed minority. But I have relentlessly opposed him because he thinks nothing of killing people –except his own children – and because he is trying to create a mono-ethnic state ruled by terror.

Pirabhakaran is a terrorist and that’s why the nation has sent thousands of poor boys and girls from Sri Lanka ’s villages to fight him and bring justice to the people. Not to keep the Rajapakse brothers in power.

If the war leads to the defeat of Pirabhakaran and the creation of a mono-ethnic terrorist Sinhala state, then the lives lost and the cash spent will be in vain.

Lasantha is dead, but Mihin Lanka lives as a grotesque example of squandering public money; oodles of cash collecting interest in banks for Monks sworn not to touch money are still, oodles of cash. The MIG deal, is still smelling like the St John’s market; public money gambled away by the Central bank will not come back and the Foreign Minister’s friends and relatives still occupy plum jobs in expensive cities across the world.

You can kill the messenger, but the message, I hope, will live.

Arjuna Ranawana lives in Canada and can be reached at aranawana@hotmail.com

Disturbing Questions On Media Rights, Advocacy and Ethics

by Victor Ivan

Media is one of the principal conduits supplying information to the people. It is also the main source that exposes misdeeds happening in the country. All important and powerful persons in the country are criticised more or less in the media. Media is also the watchdog that scrutinises the three arms of the government - the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.

People’s desire for information and the right of information is quite large. It is the journalists who speak most about the significance of providing people with true and undistorted information since facts are sacred.

Free Media Movement

They are vehemently against both distortion and suppression of information. They believe that nothing of importance to the public should be concealed. They oppose legislation such as those pertaining to state secrets which conceal information.

Journalists enjoy the right to criticise every important person and expose those that commit offences. They firmly oppose the curtailment of that right even by an iota.

There is no method that examines journalists who enjoy such wide power as socio-political watchdogs. Since both print and electronic media that comprise the platform that distributes information and exposes offenders are in their hands they (media and media personalities) have the ability to suppress criticism of media and media personalities.

TCVI0111.jpgMedia ethics

Quite recently UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made a valuable criticism about the media ethics practised in Sri Lanka. When a journalist questioned him he questioned the journalist in response. Media organis ations considered it a threat to journalists and issued a statement condemning his conduct.

Though the UNP, on behalf of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a statement in response to the statement of the media organisation it was either not published in the media or was published in a truncated and distorted form. Though Mr. Wickremesinghe made a public criticism of the media personalities and organisations based on this incident it was not adequately subjected to discussion. It is not clear whether there was actually no discussion or whether the media and media personalities did not allow such a discussion to take place.

CPA

Even in the dispute between Sunanda Deshapriya and the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) state media published various stories. The CPA did not divulge what really happened. Neither did Sunanda Deshapriya make a clear statement on the issue. The CPA spoke in a confused language without giving any details. Sunanda also replied in a complex language sans details. Though it appeared that something had taken place what had actually taken place was not clear.

Now an explosive situation has arisen within the Free Media Movement (FMM) and within the five media organisations linked with it. FMM is said to have appointed an internal investigation committee t o examine and report on a number of transactions made by it. Meanwhile the Working Committee of the FMM had met and decided to suspended investigations conducted by the Committee and decided to convene a General Meeting to elect new Office Bearers. At that meeting the importance of preventing information on the dispute being published in the media was discussed. Opinion was also expressed that media should be prevented from having access to facts concerning the dispute.

Doesn’t it show that journalists themselves who hold facts sacred want to conceal information from the public? Doesn’t it show that journalists themselves who oppose legislation safeguarding state secrets and have secrets to safeguard?

Several persons connected with the FMM requested me individually to intervene in my capacity as a founder member of the FMM to settle the dispute hat as arisen. I told every one of them that I could not do so as I have already resigned from the FMM.I also told them it was not a good policy to conceal serious offences, if they had taken place within the organisation.

Limelight

The majority opinion of those who spoke with me, however, was that issues that have arisen should be settled internally and in confidence, without allowing them to appear in the limelight. I concluded that not only bad journalists but also good journalists do not want their misconduct or failings to be known to the public and that they are not ready to apply to themselves the policy they pursue in relation to offences or failings of everyone else.

Now the storm has blown across the Sri Lankan media and the fantasy land of the media personnel. For some time there were embers hidden beneath the ash that could spark off a big fire. The fire sparked albeit on a small scale from the CPA. Though he fire there has been doused it has emerged elsewhere. The investigation by t he CPA was against one person. Thereafter, the FMM as well as the Press Institute have initiated investigations against several activists of media organisations.

I am also a founder member of the FMM. But I had differences of opinion at the formative stage of the FMM. They were about its constitution. The constitution was not structured to allow any professional journalist to become a member. It was structured to allow only a select few to obtain membership.

I warned that the resulting movement would be not a common organisation of journalists but a movement of a certain clique or faction. A policy that would open the door to everyone would pave the way for an organised group to capture power, they argued. Since I did no agree with this reasoning I kept away from the organisation for a long time. When the Chandrika Government unleashed heavy repression on the media Varuna and Sunanda asked me to rejoin forgetting differences of opinion in order to face media repression. Hence, I rejoined.

Then it had an agenda of its own. We spent our own money for its activities. The annual income of the FMM did not exceed even Rs. 10,000.Nor were there paid employees then. Then we also faced death threats. There were times when we faced bomb attacks and acid attacks. We faced all those ordeals from our own strength.

We did not have luxurious safe houses to hide. Nor was any mechanism to pay special allowances to those threatened. We had only one project. That was the project relating to media freedom. It was a movement that was propelled by our own strength and labour.

With the passage of time the nature of the movement also changed gradually. It was transformed from a self-supporting movement to one that ran on foreign funds. I am not against receiving foreign funds. But they should be proportionate to our real needs. We should not sell our right to fix the agenda to donor organisations.

Foreign projects

Yet the FMM became an organisation involved in foreign projects to such an extent that it found it difficult to extricate itself from their grip. If you are in dire need of money there is no harm in involving yourself in one or two projects that would not harm the organisations self respect. Instead, what happened was that the FMM had become an organisation enmeshed in so many projects without being able to implement a single of them correctly so that ultimately it forgot its own project.

I expressed my displeasure and bid good bye to the FMM again. My criticism was that the FMM had become an organisation that works on foreign funds according to a foreign agenda instead of one that speaks and acts on real issues. Some time after leaving FMM I tried to point out one trend I observed in a printed debate with Uvindu Kurukulasuriya.

There I pointed out that a class of media advocates has sprung up among the journalists and that they have become persons who decide the agenda of the journalists and that there is a large disparity between the incomes of these advocates and that of journalists. The information concealed regarding the present dispute shows how my prophecy then has been confirmed.

When Keith Noyar was abducted and assaulted inhumanly a journalist telephoned me and invited me to participate in a protest campaign. I told him that volunteers like me are not necessary since there is now an official institution and specially paid officials to act on behalf of victims.

When he questioned further I said that citizens volunteered to apprehend criminals when there was no Police to enforce law and order and once the Police are available the responsibility should be shouldered by the Police and not by the citizens.

According to information I have gathered from here and there are two officials receiving a monthly salary for the last four years to look after the safety of journalists.

They are paid by the international organization INSI. One is paid a monthly salary of 750 Euros. In 2007 the exchange value of One Euro was Rs. 160. Hence the Rupee value of the monthly pay of one was 120,000.

In addition their expenses for travelling, fuel, purchase of mobile phone, mobile phone bill, purchase of laptop computer, E-mail are also paid. Thus the total salary amounts to around Rs. 200,000 per month. This is not the sole income of these two officials. They have other sources of income too.

Secrecy

I am not against having two permanent paid officials to look after the safety of journalists. I am not against a foreign institution paying them a huge amount for fulfilling a huge task. What I question is the secrecy surrounding the issue. Even journalists are not aware that there are two officials to look after their security. Even media organisations are not privy to it. If journalists are aware they could go to them and request safety when needed.

Now we not only have paid officials for safety of journalists we also have a Safety Fund for journalists. This fund is under the trusteeship of the Press Institute. The extent of the fund is not clear. There is a subsidiary fund within that fund. It has been placed at the disposal of the FMM. It amounts to Rs. 8.2 million per year. You could guess the extent of the total fund from this figure.

Inquiry

Since the use of this subsidiary fund has been a problem the Press Institute has suspended the use of it and initiated an inquiry.

Unlike earlier, journalists under threat now could get compensation from this fund. It is said that the Fund pays Rs. 5000 each to five families of slain journalists. It is good. But the people who are said to be threatened get more than the slain.

Two houses have been rented for two journalists for their safety. The rent for one is Rs. 230. 000 while that for the other is Rs. 178,000.In addition those threatened are paid a monthly allowance of Rs. 10,000 to travel with safety. There are five persons obtaining this facility.

Training workshops

I have always had a criticism about training workshops for journalists. Though there are many active programs for this purpose majority of them are of poor quality. The Press Institute conducts good training programs for electronic media journalists. Yet their programs for print media journalists are of poor quality. The two-day workshop project by the FMM and similar organisations is nothing more than a deception.

Even for short-term training there should be a formal curriculum, qualified trainers and review procedures.

The five media organizations including the FMM conduct four big training projects on Public Service Journalism, Human Rights, Fraud and Corruption and on Security of Journalists. I do not know the total allocation for these projects. I have heard that the Human Rights project has a grant of 199,000 Euros from the European Union.

Projects

That is more than Rs. 15 million. Strangely it is the same persons who are employed as trainers in all four projects. It is the same trainers that act as Regional Coordinators. It is the same people who organise and judge essay competitions on topics related to these projects.

The payment for a trainer for a two-day workshop varies from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 38,400. A Regional Coordinator is paid a sum ranging from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000. One person is paid a sum between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 20,000 for judging a contest.

Four journalists were paid Rs. 54,900,Rs. 103,000, Rs. 125,000 and Rs. 109,800 respectively for the month of November 2008 from this training project.

The first person was a journalist with a salary of Rs. 60,000 per month. In addition he drew Rs. 25,000 as a Regional Coordinator. Hence, his total monthly income was Rs. 139,000.

The second person was also a paid journalist with a salary between Rs. 40,000 and s. 50,000. He drew Rs. 20,000 as a Regional Coordinator. His house rent of Rs. 17,500 is paid from the Security Fund. He also draws the Safety travel allowance of Rs. 10,000 per month. If his salary is taken as Rs. 50,000 his monthly income amounts to Rs. 200,500.

The third person is also a journalist drawing a salary between Rs. 40,000-50,000. He has a safe house for which a rent of Rs. 19,000 is paid to him. His safety travel allowance is Rs. 10,000. If his salary is taken at Rs. 50,000 his monthly total income amounts to Rs. 204,400.

The fourth person receives an allowance of 750 Euros per month. If the exchange rate is taken at Rs. 155 for One Euro it amounts to Rs. 116,250. In addition he has drawn Rs. 6,650 for petrol, Rs. 10,900 for travelling, Rs. 12,930 for telephone facilities from the INSI Fund. Thus his total monthly income amounts to Rs. 326,530.

(Translated from Sinhala ) Courtesy: Ravaya

We Have Nothing to celebrate but much to Shed tears For

by Dr.Vickramabahu Karunaratne

"Special program to mark conquest" said the headline of front page news item of the Sunday observer 4 January that gave the details of celebration. Who the conqueror is clear, though it is not so clear who the conquered is. Disposing few hundred LTTE rebels cannot be a conquest. It must include a territory, property and subjects. So apparently celebrations are for the conquest of Tamil land by the Sinhala army. People are made to flee, may be because the LTTE ordered them to leave. Hence the Sinhala army conquered the Tamil city Kilinochchi empty of people. What is the conquest?

Grabbing the city from the Tamils? In the same paper however the editorial says "As the President stressed in his Address to the Nation, One must not belittle this victory as one that has been won by one community over another. It should not be interpreted as defeat of the North by the South. This is a victory for our entire nation and country." So it is not a conquest but a social act to clean the society. Then the editorial goes further to explain "It is a decisive victory over savage terrorism that was playing around with the blood, muscle and sinews of humans. It is a victory over venomous separatism that sought to divide people on grounds of race and religion".

Thus the 'enemy' now becomes a mythical entity that plays with humans instead of a real military leader with a particular political programme. In the next passage this government propagandist puts a somersault and says "We call upon the LTTE even at this last hour to heed the President's call and lay down arms and surrender. It is the only means by which they could help the hapless civilians in the North who are trapped in the war zone and relieve the agony of combatants who have been conscripted by them at gun point." So LTTE are real people who could be persuaded to be kind to their fellow humans! All these show how confused and muddy the thinking of the Mahinda regime about the Tamil national problem.

In 1817 British conquered the Kandyan kingdom by taking over the city of Kandy. British maintained that they intervened to save the Sinhala people from the terror launched by the king and his Malabar relatives. Kandyan convention signed by the governor Brownrig and adigars, dissawa and other lords of Sinhala says "that the cruelties and the oppressions of the Malabar ruler, in the arbitrary and unjust infliction of bodily tortures and the pains of death without trial and sometimes without an accusation or the possibility of crime, and in the general contempt and contravention of all civil rights , have become flagrant, enormous , and intolerable, the acts and maxims of his government being equally and entirely devoid of that justice which should secure the safety of his subjects, and of that good faith which might obtain a beneficial intercourse with neighboring settlements." Surely this list of crimes of Vickrama Rajasinghe the last king of Sinhala, spelled out by the British and the feudal Sinhala lords, surpasses any list pronounced by the government against Pirabaharan the Tamil leader.

But Sinhala people today remember the last king as a gallant man who stood against the British imperial power. Only traitors will celebrate the "benevolent" intervention of the British to eliminate the terror of last Rajasinghe. All queens and kings of Mahavansa, and all fighters against enemies of Sinhala, whether they are cruel or not, are legends to be remembered by the Sinhala people. What is good for Sinhala will be equally good for the Tamils. Hence while the Sinhala chauvinist are celebrating the great conquest of Kilinochchi, the Tamil nationalist will remember this as a cruel plunder of their dignity and self respect. This war has enhanced separatism and division between Sinhala and Tamil nationalities.

We have nothing to celebrate. We have much to shed tears. We must shed tears for the youth both Sinhala and Tamil killed and wounded in this barbaric war. We must shed tears for the destruction and lost of valuable property. Finally we must shed tears for the gulf of separatism developing between the Sinhala and Tamil nationalities.

Lasantha Wickrematunge Speaks After Death via Editorial of Jan 11th 2009

LWFTC0111E.jpgNo other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning.

Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic... well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you'd best stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let's face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka's ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that - pray excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing expos‚s we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen - and all of the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses the familiar Sinhala address oya when talking to him. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President's House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I - and my family - have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am - and have always been - ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

Killing Lasantha the worst example of media suppression

An interview with media activist Sunanda Deshapriya.

Q: How do you view the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge? Is it an isolated attack on a prominent journalist for his brand of journalism or one in a series of attacks to suppress the media?

A: This is very much a part of a series of calculated attempts to stifle the media. Any one who decided to kill Lasantha must have carefully considered the consequences of his killing.

Killing Lasantha is not killing some journalist in Jaffna or Batticaloa where there is a strong culture of violence still prevailing together with war conditions.

Lasantha is an internationally reputed journalist, an award winning journalist and also the symbol of dissenting voices in Sri Lankan media. Whoever who decided to kill Lasantha wished to silence the dissenting voices in this country.

This is therefore is a symbolic killing, not an individual's killing alone. They want to kill the campaign, it is a movement suppress the media. I don't think some lunatic group carried it out but this is part and parcel of the ongoing media suppression in this country.

Q: Sri Lanka according to the IFJ ranking is the fifth most dangerous place for journalists.

A: Very much so. Some 17 journalists and media workers have been killed and already Tissainayagam and others are in custody under the PTA for over 300 days while others too are threatened and intimidated in many ways.

During the past three years, we have recorded at least 100 incidents per annum. That is a terrible record. Dozens of journalists have been assaulted and media institutions have been brought under control through various measures. Media outlets have been shut down. It is undoubtedly a very dangerous place for journalists.

Q: After Lasantha's assassination, how do you view the threat perception to other journalists?

A: There is a saying that you kill a journalist and silence a hundred. By killing someone like Lasantha, you kill many thousands. Everyone who wants to be critical, dig deep into a story, practice investigative journalism would now think twice whether they could do this or not.

Threats would naturally increase and the fear psychosis will multiply.

In this violent backdrop, one can't sit back and relax either. Killing Lasantha is probably the most dangerous development we witnessed in the recent past. This trend must be arrested.

Q: Many a journalist here highlights issues of good governance, media freedom and human rights in Sri Lanka. Despite all that, very few journalists tread the crucial ground of calling for negotiated peace, creation of a pluralistic society and a policy of non-racial administration perhaps where Lasantha really stood apart. Does this mean that the media is becoming racially segregated as well?

A: Certainly. We are truly an ethnically polarized country. Among those who stood for non-discriminatory treatment of all ethnic communities, Lasantha was a pioneer. He always stood for a political solution. That was a difficult stance to adopt and defend. But he did it. He also looked critically at any military solution and did not lose sight of the ravages of war that impacts on civilians.

Whether we agree with him or not, he had the courage to criticise the most powerful people in this country and to name them and dig deep into those issues. He embarrassed, ridiculed and exposed the mighty forces.

While being a very courageous investigative journalist, the leading figure in investigative journalism, he was also a great advocator of a pluralistic society. He stood fearlessly for non-discriminatory treatment of all communities and a political solution. He abhorred a military solution. That perhaps was one of the reasons that caused sinister forces to kill him.

Q: Lasantha made strong statements regarding the attack on the MTV/MBC stations. He predicted attacks would not cease and many others would be victimised. He became the next victim. Do you see any connection between the MBC attack and his killing?

A: I do. In fact I see them as two parts of a single series of events. They are not two separate incidents from a layman's view. Both groups were wearing black and they could be the same group. They appeared to be comfortable with weapon handling.

I am personally aware that Lasantha realised how much he was under threat. That's where he stands alone again. He was previously followed, shot at, his house was attacked and his printing press was burnt down. He never self censored whereas the majority of others are practicing self-censorship for survival.

He knew he was being followed and that he would be killed. They were on a mission to kill him and silence that powerful voice. But Lasantha too was on a mission and his mission was his passion. This was his way of fulfilling his duty to his country. He was not doing it for personal gain. It was a cause he felt deeply committed to.

Q: In a situation like this, naturally journalists are going to be fearful of discharging their duties. But what can be done to mobilize the civil society to fight for media freedom?

A: I think it is very important that as a journalists, we stand together. First, we must shed all our differences. We do the same job. That alone should be a binding force.

We should protest against the killing of Lasantha, a beacon of light in Sri Lanka journalism. We should stand together and fight for the freedoms that are now being denied.

We also need people's organisations and to say 'enough is enough.' Our silence is going to breed more criminality, so we must act fast.

All political parties, both in government and opposition should come out in defence of media freedom. We should together try to arrest this dangerous trend of killing journalists. If we remain divided, there won't be a civilised country left. We should not go back and sit back after a single protest. We should do our duty to the people as journalists and create and maintain the space that is rightfully ours.

January 10, 2009

Kilinochchi and Gaza, Lasantha and Sirasa/MTV studio

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"Among Tamils who regularly deal with the government, there is fear of its duplicity as well as a sense of hopelessness. After the first meeting with the president, and one might come away reassured…. What shows through time is sarcasm, deceit and derision. To the Tamils and the Muslims it has been clear for sometime. The Sinhalese are finding out the hard way" (UTHR Information Bulletin No. 46 – 8.7.2008).

Lasantha Wickremetunga was murdered, in broad daylight at a busy junction, less than forty eight hours after the wanton attack on the Sirasa/MTV studios. These twin crimes against an editor and a media organisation, reputed for their strident opposition to the Rajapakse administration, denote either an unforgivable dereliction of duty on the part of the security establishment or official complicity. The President, as always, has condemned these atrocities in the strongest terms and has promised the widest possible inquiry. There is always a gap between the words and actions of any politician. With some the gap is abyss-like. It would take a great deal of gullibility to believe that the police will identify, let alone bring to justice, Mr. Wickremetunga’s murderers.

Lasantha Wickremetunga performed a function that is indispensable to a healthy democracy. He exposed unpalatable truths about powers that be. He had an uncanny capacity to discover (with proof) what those in power committed in secrecy and he exposed these acts to public scrutiny unhesitatingly, and baldly. His style may not have been in the best of taste; but without his exposes, politicians would have got away with many more misdeeds, at the country’s expense. At times his paper played the role that would have belonged to the UNP under a more dynamic leader. Without Lasantha Wickremetunga, political and military leaders would be able to face their Sundays with much less misgiving. His murder has left a void which will not be filled. No wonder he had to die.

Two years ago there was an unsuccessful attempt by the CID to arrest Mr. Wickremestunga; when asked about it Minister Keheliya Rambukwella indicated that the reason was a report in the Sunday Leader entitled, ‘President to get Rs. 400 million luxury bunker’. "Minister Rambukwella said if the report for example was to divulge security sensitive details relating to the weight of the metal plating to be used for such a bunker it would educate the LTTE on the weight of explosives needed to successfully target the bunker. ‘It may not be direct but it may aid terrorism’" (Lanka e newspapers – 3.1.2007). In the light of the assassination of Lasantha Wickremetunga, this proclivity of the Rajapakse regime to label opposition/dissent (including judicial intervention) ‘terrorist’ seems ominous (the timing of the killing is fascinating – in the aftermath of Killinochchi and in the midst of the battle for Elephant Pass and Mullativu). As Umberto Eco points out (re Italy), "When you hear on television members of the government who in different ways…suggest that people who make accusations against the government…are armed terrorists (morally, morally they specify), then you are hearing the expression of a dangerous political principle" (Turning Back the Clock). A political principal based on the belief, ‘if you are not with us you are with the terrorists’; a political principle redolent of violent intolerance; a political principle completely at variance with media freedom, civility and democracy. Is this the future awaiting Sri Lanka under Rajapakse rule?

Killinochchi and the Divided Nation

The different Sinhala and Tamil reactions to the fall of Killinochchi were symbolic of an unpleasant and unwholesome reality: Sri Lanka is still a psychologically divided country. The day Killinochchi fell Sinhalese rejoiced; Tamils did not. For a Sinhalese, elation came unbidden (I know). Conversely, for a Tamil, worry and fear would have predominated. For a Sinhalese, the possibility of a victorious end to the war made the future seem more hopeful. But for a Tamil, that same future, peace sans a political solution, would cause not hope but foreboding. Sinhalese long for a return of peace and normalcy. For Tamils, those happy days before the war was the time their language was downgraded; their modest demands and peaceful protests were met by scorn and violence; their youth learned to hate and to yearn for revenge; and Vellupillai Pirapaharan metamorphosed from an indifferent student to a deadly warrior.

Killinochchi was President Rajapakse’s moment of glory and his desire to savour it is but human. He, his government and the military deserve to be credited for this victory (just as they deserve to be blamed for the defeats and the setbacks). His desire to make political capital out of the fall of Killinochchi is also comprehensible and indeed normal. Still, instead of totally succumbing to Sinhala triumphalism, an effort could have been made to reach out to the Tamils, to reassure them about the future. In the absence of this necessary effort, the fall of Killinochchi, paradoxically, furthered the geographical unity of Sri Lanka and worsened her psychological disunity.

Sinhalese and Tamils hold diametrically opposing views about the war. In opinion polls Tamil respondents express a clear preference for an immediate ceasefire while Sinhala respondents want the war to continue. A ceasefire with the LTTE, so long as Vellupillai Pirapaharan is alive, will be an exercise in futility and stupidity. Still the Tamils’ overwhelming desire for an immediate ceasefire is understandable, for it is they who bear the brunt of the war and it is they who suffer most at the hands of both the LTTE and the Lankan state. When a Sinhalese hears of air raids, the vision is of dead Tigers; but for a Tamil the images are of devastated villages and terrified civilians, hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamil men, women and children who live in dread of bombs and shells, with no roof over their heads or enough to eat. These differences constitute a key challenge to Lankan unity and they cannot be dealt with by treating Sri Lanka as a Sinhala country and Tamils (and other minorities) as enemy aliens.

The dominant sections of the state and the Rajapakse regime regard the war as a Sinhala on Tamil conflict, as does the LTTE. Consequently many ordinary Tamils cannot be faulted for seeing the defeats and setbacks of the LTTE not as Sri Lankan victories but as Sinhala victories. For the Sinhalese, the army is ‘our army’. But can we expect the Tamils to feel the same way? Given the non-existence of a Sri Lankan nation, it is unrealistic to expect a Lankan response from the Tamils. This is particularly so since the only kind of patriotism that exists in this country is of the ethnic or ethno-religious variety – an inevitable consequence of the non-existence of a Lankan nation. This problem must be acknowledged as a problem and dealt with politically; indeed, doing so is a necessary precondition for the creation of a Sri Lankan nation.

So long as Vellupillai Pirapaharan is alive, the LTTE will neither give up Eelam nor give up arms. A military response to the LTTE is thus unavoidable. But this unavoidable military response must go hand in hand with a political response to the Tamil people. It is necessary to convince the Tamils (and the international community) that the state cares about their safety and wellbeing; that Sri Lanka is committed to the defeat of separatism as well as to evolving a peaceful modus vivendi with Tamil nationalism. Unfortunately such a dual approach is conspicuous by its absence. Mr Pirapaharan depends on this critical absence to justify both the Eelam demand and the recourse to arms; to create the next generation of Tigers and Black Tigers. Given this seminal absence, all the LTTE has to do is to explode a few bombs in the South now and then. The regime will overreact with retaliatory bombing and shelling in the Vanni and with mass arrests, abductions, extra-judicial killings and attempted deportations elsewhere – responses tailor made to suit the Tigers’ politico-propaganda needs.

The battle for Killinochchi was expected to be over in weeks; it took months. The battle for Vanni will be infinitely harder and harsher as with its back to the wall the Tiger will fight more ferociously than ever before. The LTTE’s strategy would be to prolong the war, making it unsustainable politically and economically. That danger is a real one though it would seem inconsequential in the present hubristic climate. The obvious pitfall is the economy. Sri Lanka is no stranger to Bernie Madoff type financial scandals; In the 1990s there was the collapse of NU Jayawardene’s Mercantile Credit Ltd though it happened when the economy was sound and the financial system robust. The Golden Key debacle is taking place in a context of local and global crises and thus can have wide and deep repercussions on the entire financial system and the already debilitated economy.

Israel has a carte blanche from the US to kill Palestinians; Sri Lanka has not the same leeway where the Tamils are concerned (fortunately or we may fully emulate the Israeli military). With President Obama in the White House and Hilary Clinton in the State Department, Sri Lanka will feel more pressure to go for a ceasefire or, at the least, to improve her human rights record. India will make similar demands as election nears. More irresistible will be domestic pressures resulting from economic hardships and military casualties. That the Lankan forces have suffered high levels of casualties is obvious; why else would the government refuse to divulge numbers? Most of the foot soldiers killed and injured in this war come from the countryside; therefore the policy of concealment will work for a while in the cities, though not indefinitely. Is this why the media must be cowed into compliance and dissent silenced?

Gaza and Palestinian Untermenschen

If George W Bush killed the War against Terrorism with his Iraqi invasion, Israel has buried it with the Gaza offensive. The brutal Israeli assault is turning Gaza into a fecund breeding ground for future terrorists and suicide killers. ‘Palestinian lives are so cheap’: according to Al Jazeera this is an oft repeated refrain in Gaza and the West Bank. Such a mindset is the ideal psychological basis for the creation of future suicide bombers; after all, if the world does not care about dead Palestinians (including babies) why not end such expendable lives not as cowering victims but as deadly avengers?

With the new Obama administration there was a real possibility of isolating the extremists and strengthening the moderates in the Middle East – a precondition for any lasting peace. Israel has destroyed that potential with its brutal offensive. Irrespective of the degree of real damage Israel manages to inflict on the Hamas, the invasion will not bring about peace or stability but fury and hatred sufficient to turn Middle East into an inferno. Each bomb, each shell, each death will become a seed of hatred sown in soil made fertile by the blood, tears and curses of the innocent. And the ranks of organisations such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah will be filled by the young and the frustrated from all over the Islamic world thirsting for revenge from Israel and its US ally.

There is no comparison between Israel and Hamas, in terms of military prowess. Hamas cannot destroy Israel and to say it is a threat to Israel’s survival is a lie of Gobbelsian proportions and ingenuity. To use large scale aerial bombing on a small city of 1.5 million souls is a crime by any standards, legal or moral. It is as if a giant is using a siege engine, repeatedly, against an anthill - the powerful against the powerless; Goliath against David. Israel of all countries should know that a people cannot be destroyed by the force of arms; that violence cannot kill the spirit of a nation. If wars and massacres, persecution and injustice can destroy a people, Jews would have become extinct centuries ago. Killing and injuring civilians, imposing unjust blockades on them, pounding fleeing women and children from the air will not catalyse peace but more violence and more suicide bombers. That is a lesson valid across the globe, from Gaza through Afghanistan to Sri Lanka – especially when victory seems within grasp and hubris overrules not only humanity but also commonsense.

Lasantha the loving father of three children

Journalists both, Lasantha and Raine Wickrematunge, were an integral part of The Sunday Times team in the early days of the newspaper in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he writing the political column under the pseudonym Suranimala and she working as sub-editor and subsequently Features Editor. It was a link that had begun many years earlier at the Sun and Weekend newspapers in the early ’80s, in the company of many of their erstwhile colleagues who were now at ‘The Times’.They left The Sunday Times to launch The Sunday Leader in 1994. In this article, Lasantha’s ex-wife, Raine, relives her fond memories in an appreciation we invited her to contribute to their former newspaper.

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Raine and Lasantha at the Sun office

By Raine Wickrematunge

When The Sunday Times asked whether I would write an article about Lasantha for its latest edition, I doubted I could muster the emotional strength to write even a sentence, let alone an article. I am broken-hearted, my mind is in a daze and I feel numb. I will, however, attempt to write a few words.

I will not elaborate on Lasantha the journalist because you, the public, are more than aware of his now legendary writings for which he finally paid the price. I will instead write about the man Lasantha, the funny guy, the doting dad…the man who, at the risk of being called biased, I will call in all sincerity, the man with the biggest heart.

To say Lasantha was a loving father would be an understatement. He adored his children. They were his world. Our firstborn, Avinash, now a young man, was still “his darling” at 19. I remember the time when Avinash was a baby, just learning to stand, when he toppled over the edge of the cot and came crashing down on to the floor. I don’t know who cried louder, Lasantha or the baby.

Ahimsa was his “darling only daughter”. Like the others, she got anything she asked him, especially after she came to live with him in Colombo.

Aadesh, our 10-year-old, was almost an obsession with his father. “Malli Boy” became the most kissed, hugged and loved child in the world. Whenever Lasantha came to Melbourne, father and son would have a ritual – the ritual of the 100 kisses. Dad had to have his 100 kisses before anything else.

Lasantha’s day in Sri Lanka wasn’t complete until he had spoken to the two boys in Melbourne. If one of the children wasn’t available to talk with him, he would call back without fail. I only had to tell him one of the kids had the sniffles or a graze on the knee, and he would be in a panic...

How our children will now cope without his love, I can’t begin to imagine. Lasantha was the biggest hearted man I have ever known. Generous, loving and kind to strangers and friends alike. His generosity towards his family and extended family is beyond belief. Some would find his generosity bizarre; case in point.

About 10 years ago, we were returning home from a visit. While we were stationary, another car crashed in to the side of ours, damaging our car badly. Luckily no one was hurt and Lasantha got off to talk to the driver of the other vehicle.

When he came back to the car, everyone bombarded him with questions. “What’s happening? Do we go to the police? Is he paying for the damage?” “Those people are from out-station,” Lasantha told us. “They had come for a wedding; the driver just got his licence.”

And then he took me aside and said, “I feel so sorry for the fellow; he’s so shaken up. I gave him 2,000 rupees.” I was astounded; but then again, I wasn’t really. That was Lasantha.

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Raine and the children yesterday

His generosity wasn’t just in kind. When we were assaulted in 1995, and the men who did it were subsequently apprehended, Lasantha called me in Melbourne. “I don’t want to punish them, I told my lawyer to drop any charges. What do you think?”

I told him I thought the same. Then he called back and told me his lawyer had advised him against it because they would be setting a bad precedent.

Jolly, funny, hilarious, Lasantha was always the one-man comedy act. Whether prancing about in his towel doing a Schwarzenegger impression, pulling someone’s leg with a high-pitched female impression, or having the girls at the Leader screaming with laughter at his jokes, Lasantha always kept people entertained. The office colleagues, one and all, every department, loved him dearly.

And now Lasantha is dead, lying in a coffin with a bullet hole in his head. All the joy has gone out of me. How will I ever laugh again? I thought during that long trip back home. “How will I ever be happy again?”
Part of me has died and I have to now live with the pain and that of my three grieving children. I told Malli Boy that Thathi loved him so much, he was going to be by his side always.

“Will he come and sleep on my bed?” he asked. I told him he definitely would. “I am not scared Ammi, I want him to sleep on my bed everyday,” he said tears streaming down his little face. And then this morning he woke up smiling. “Thathi told me in my dream that he is here with us,” he said.

I know that’s true. The man who adored his children so much in life will be there by their side always.

Thank you Lasantha for all the memories.

Will the security forces lose the war if journalists criticise it?

by Namini Wijedasa

When they came for me, There was no one left to speak out.
- (Pastor Martin Niemoller)

Moments after learning of Lasantha Wickrematunga’s daytime murder, one of my colleagues fervently combed through the intrepid editor’s last column to see what he might have written that got him killed.

“Do you think it is safe for me to continue my column?” he asked. “I am scared to criticise the government....” It was a predictable reaction. Independent journalists around the country— those not associated with or employed by state media— no longer know the parameters within which they are expected to write.

Government to blame?

The only group to directly blame Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime for the Sunday Leader editor’s despicable assassination is the UNP. But the suspicion lingers in many minds that the government was behind it. To his dying day, Lasantha had been strongly critical—even taking on some of the most powerful members of this defence establishment.

It was not long ago that President Rajapaksa had fumed at Lasantha over the phone: “I will show you what it is to be scared! I will rest only once I have destroyed you! You wait and see!” The newspaper published a story about these threats. It was not contested by the president’s office.

Those who firmly believe that the government got Lasantha killed ask: “What better time to get rid of your personal enemies than after the capture of Kilinochchi, when the public cares about nothing else but that glorious military victory?” And what works wonderfully for the men who ordered this vile slaying is that Lasantha died in between Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass. There could be no better opiate for the masses.

People are also murmuring about “a list” that the state might be maintaining, of detractors they want to eliminate. “MTV and Lasantha in one week,” said one civil society representative standing outside the mortuary where a post-mortem was being done on the editor. “It is a sinister plan, if you ask me.”

The front page of last week’s Ravaya newspaper—published in black reverse—accused the military of killing Lasantha and of the brazen attack on the MTV/Sirasa studio complex a mere forty-eight hours before. Three other assaults had been staged recently, the newspaper says, pointing out that two of them had been against journalists. The journalistic community has generally accepted those attacks to have been carried out by the security forces, Ravaya says, adding that, although they may not say so publicly, journalists also believe the security forces had attacked Sirasa and murdered Lasantha Wickramatunga.

The home page of the website www.lankadissent.com has been black reverse since Lasantha’s death. Its editorial board says in a message that they will return when dissent comes back as a democratic right. “...in this compassionate, democratic Buddhist land enfolded with love, in wisdom and fullest freedom, media is forbidden to raise a dissenting voice,” it laments. “Media is forbidden to criticise the ‘law’ of the ruling regime. The media is forbidden to speak for the people.”

Indeed, when a fiercely critical editor is audaciously shot in the head at point blank range in broad daylight and television stations are broken into, vandalised over a period of 45 minutes and gutted by organised gangs armed to the hilt...you are not living in a democracy.

“Not us”

The government is overreaching itself to convince the country it had nothing to do with the MTV/Sirasa attack or with Lasantha’s shooting. Ministers have had to fend off a barrage of questions at press conferences from journalists who believe that these stinking acts had been carried out at the behest of the Rajapaksa regime or people closely connected to it.

“Why would the government do these things at a time like this?” asked a source close to the regime. “Kilinochchi has been captured and the government is very popular. To commit these acts is like dropping a dash of dung into a pot of milk. Do you think the government would be that foolish?”

Others are gushing about how Rajapaksa had been invited to Lasantha’s recent wedding, saying that this points to a growing chumminess between the two. They say the president had even invited Lasantha and his wife, Sonali Samarasinghe, to Temple Trees.

To explain away Lasantha’s assassination, Rajapaksa himself trotted out The Conspiracy Theory...that eager, dependable remedy for any local ailment. He even blamed international forces of plotting to tarnish the country’s image. He appealed to the public’s sense of patriotism, warning: “One must not mistake these conspiracies as being against me or my government. This is a conspiracy against the entire country by those who have been driven to fear due to the successes of our security forces.”

Spokesman Anura Priyadharshana Yapa maintained at the weekly cabinet press briefing that the government had nothing against Lasantha. The president had ordered the best medical care for the editor, as he lay unconscious with blood seeping steadily from his wounds.

In general, the public is also loath to believe that their adored president is responsible for criminal acts against the media. One caller to a programme hosted by Hudson Silva on SLBC ranted about the rilaw (monkeys) who were making rash allegations against President Rajapaksa at a time when the security forces were making inroads into Tiger territory. He was so emotional that his voice cracked. There is a nation of people out there who are convinced that the UNP and a diabolical team of conspirators is wreaking havoc for the powerful executive president and his coalition government.

JHU spokesman Nishantha Warnasinghe had this to say: “Lasantha’s killing is a gunshot fired against journalism, democracy and fundamental rights. The finger is clearly being pointed at the government. If there is a local or international conspiracy aimed at toppling the state, the government must defeat this by immediately taking into custody those who gave the orders to kill Lasantha. They must be tried in a court of law and punished. What is the point crying “conspiracy, conspiracy” when it is not followed by action? Don’t look away. Don’t waste time. Expose the wrongdoers.”

Unanswered questions

Ultimately, we don’t know who killed Lasantha. Or why. The arguments cut both ways. It is possible to believe that the government was responsible. But the government’s line of reasoning also holds water.

True, it is difficult to comprehend how a large, organized gang with a bundle of weapons can burst into a prominent TV station and wreck it to bits in a country that is supposedly on red alert over terrorism. It is also hard to swallow that international forces—who are presumably grappling with the worst economic crisis in decades—have taken time off to destabilize little Sri Lanka with horrible conspiracies aimed at silencing the free media (which is fiercely critical of the government).

One might even ask how reliable a government is when it doesn’t know such conspiracies are in the hatching till they explode into the open. Or that, if an effeminate, ineffectual, disorganized, incompetent opposition party like the UNP was perpetrating these crimes, why elections haven’t been won.

The sad truth is that, in present day Sri Lanka, anybody could have done it. The country is a haven for impunity. Men and women are in prison for being unable to afford fines levied over petty crimes. But as sure as the sun rises in the East, Lasantha’s killers will never be found.

There were many who didn’t agree with Lasantha’s brand of journalism and some who considered him rash. But nobody can say, with his hand over his heart, that Lasantha should have been murdered for writing the way he did. Article 14 of the Constitution, in the chapter on Fundamental Rights, states: “Every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech and expression including publication.”

Don’t touch the war, we journalists were warned early on. It is possible that Lasantha wrote articles undermining the military operation. Is the government’s war effort against the Tigers based on such tenuous ground that editors who question it must be eliminated? Will the security forces lose the war if journalists criticise it? By destroying dissent, are we not becoming mirror images of the LTTE, whom we are trying to vanquish? If there are Sri Lankans who say the war is unnecessary, is it impossible to tolerate them?

And when will enough be enough? Is it when every last journalist who is critical of the government is dead? Even the military will miss us, then. There will be no one left to speak out.

LTTE has enough fight left for a potent counter attack

Outlook records with regret the death of Lasantha Wickrematunge shortly after filing this despatch. Editor of the Sunday Leader, Wickrematunge was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle as he drove to work in Colombo on January 8, 2009. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres held Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government responsible for inciting hatred against Wickrematunge, an investigative journalist. Sri Lanka was ranked 165th among 173 countries in the 2008 Press Freedom Index, the lowest ranking for any democratic country.

Daring The Embers: Cowering in forests, the LTTE wears a beaten look. The Lankan army can still expect a vicious sting.

By Lasantha Wickrematunge

***The Fall Of Kilinochchi

* The battle for Kilinochchi begins toward August-end

* It's preceded by govt advances over 12 months into the Tiger heartland of N Sri Lanka, known as the Vanni

* Sri Lanka's Task Force One (TF1) moves on the western shoreline, taking over Tiger-held areas. The 57 Division
operates east of TF1, between the coast and the A9 highway that cuts through the Vanni area

* By late August, the Lankan army reaches Akarayankulam village, south-west of Kilinochchi

* The battle begins. The LTTE attacks the Trincomalee Naval base & Vanni defence headquarters at Vavuniya

* On December 30, the 57 Division and TF1 link up and launch the final assault on the town

* On Jan 2, 2009, troops enter Kilinochchi

***For over a decade, Kilinochchi had been the political nerve centre of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had wrested it from the Sri Lankan security forces after fierce battles in September 1998. It was at Kilinochchi that the Tigers entertained foreign dignitaries, and where the Peace Secretariat—their political headquarters—was housed. It is also where the LTTE had a cemetery for its war heroes. The Tigers' sway over Kilinochchi ended on January 2, 2009, when the Lankan army marched into the town and hoisted the national flag there, signalling yet another dramatic shift in the decades-old war between the LTTE and Colombo.

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The collapse came suddenly. Barely a month before, on November 27, Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had declared in his annual Heroes Day Speech: "Standing alone, we have blasted networks of innumerable intrigues, interwoven with betrayal and sabotage. We stood like a mountain and faced all dangers that loomed like storms. When compared to these happenings of the past, today's challenges are neither novel nor huge. We will face these challenges with the united strength of our people." Such was Prabhakaran's confidence that he had dubbed President Mahinda Rajapakse's plan of capturing Kilinochchi a "day dream".

t was a deserted town, populated by stray dogs and cattle, that the Lankan army entered. The only civilians were a group of 24 from four families who had hidden in jungles close to Kilinochchi and crept back after the Army took control. Most buildings had their roofs blown off. "We have captured their capital, their prestige," said Maj Gen Jagath Dias, who heads the 57th Division of the Lankan army.

Even as Maj Gen Dias spoke to journalists, heavy mortar and artillery fire reverberated to the east and northeast of Kilinochchi, where both sides were already squaring up for the next round. There are reports that the Tigers are already constructing trenches on the approaches to Mulaithivu, which are set in thick jungles.

Fighting was also reported in Muhamalai, the narrow isthmus north of Kilinochchi. About the battle in Muhamalai, a senior military officer said, "They (the Tigers) will have to give it up. Against a multipronged attack, they will have to decide between holding Muhamalai and Mulaithivu." The fall of Muhamalai could see as many as eight divisions from the army opening the offensive upon Mulaithivu, the LTTE's last stronghold. Located in a thickly forested area, it is where the Tigers have amassed all their resources and cadres.

The government's advantage over the LTTE largely stems from Indian logistical support. Not only did India instal radars, it also provided experts to man them and train Sri Lankan personnel in their use. Intelligence furnished by New Delhi gave Colombo a vital edge in the military operation and enabled it to curtail the LTTE's arms shipments.

Nor did New Delhi restrain Colombo from undertaking the heavy aerial bombing of the LTTE territory, where nearly 2,50,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) were trapped. Their plight prompted Tamil Nadu politicians to mount pressure on New Delhi to intervene and enforce a ceasefire. Apart from occasional statements calling for restraint, New Delhi chose to allow Colombo a free hand, thereby rendering the task of the army relatively easy. It didn't have to bother unduly about human rights violations. Experts also say the army's successes couldn't have been possible without the aerial support its troops received.

New Delhi's stance was in sharp contrast to its response in 1987, when the government of President J.R. Jayawardene wanted to capture Jaffna. Then, India had despatched a ship with food supplies for civilians; when it was turned back, India took to air-dropping token supplies in a show of strength. These developments culminated in the signing of an India-Lanka agreement, which brought about the provincial council system and the Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka. The misadventure ended with the Tigers going to war with the IPKF and assassinating Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

So, is the LTTE down and out? In the past too, the Tigers have been in positions similiar to what they are in today. For instance, the IPKF had confined them to Mulaithivu, as did former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, who evicted the Tigers from their then de facto capital of Jaffna in 1996. The Tigers had the resilience and the resources to pounce back from such hopeless situations to capture large chunks of territory, destroying in the process many military camps, including the heavily fortified Elephant Pass.

At least the Tamil people, and even the Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarians (TNAP), believe that the LTTE is far from finished. TNAP's Jaffna district MP, Gajen Ponnambalam, told Outlook, "I don't believe one party gaining territory or another party losing territory is an indication of either party's strength or weakness. The Tamil people have been struggling against the Sri Lankan state for their right to live as equals for decades. As long as the government continues to think that it can subjugate the political will of the Tamil people through military means, this problem will never be solved, nor will there be peace." Ponnambalam cautions against the growing belief in some quarters that the LTTE has been routed. "That's a big mistake which could have severe consequences," he said.

LTTE political head B. Nadesan, in an interview with TamilNet, dismissed the occupation of Kilinochchi as an insignificant setback in a liberation struggle. Claiming that the Tamil people's support has always been the LTTE's strength, he told the news channel, "We have taken forward our struggle for more than 30 years, solely relying on the support of our people."

Experts think the Tigers may now carry out suicide attacks on soft targets in the south.One such attack took place in Colombo on January 2, even as troops were securing Kilinochchi. The target was a senior officer in the air force, and the attack left at least three dead and 22 injured. The LTTE is also expected to deal crippling blows to the Lankan economy. Boasting some 4,000 fighters, the LTTE, indeed, has enough fight left in it for a potent counter-attack.

Before and after Kilinochchi, and now Elephant Pass

by Rajan Philips

It is possible and it is necessary, morally and politically, to defend the rights of the Tamils and Muslims to political equality in Sri Lanka, and criticize at the same time the LTTE’s destructive intransigence and the government’s deliberate inaction towards a political solution. Those who are thus disposed would view the fall of Kilinochchi, on the one hand, as LTTE’s deserved comeuppance and, on the other, as a temporary detraction for the government from the deep troubles that it has got into and the even deeper crisis that it is dragging the country into. But the detraction has proved to be less than temporary.

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[Picture released on January 10 by defence.lk, Sri Lanka is said to show a Sri Lankan soldier at the entrance to the Jaffna Peninsula after the capture of Elephant Pass; destroyed tanker in the picture is from fighting several years ago]

Kilinochchi is no longer the detraction after the vandalizing of the Maharajah TV Station and the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge. Even the government’s worst critics were over-sensitive not to rain on its victory parade, but the parade has now been bloodied beyond belief. Kilinochchi may turnout to be a pyrrhic victory over a not so false struggle! The capture of Elephant, the news of which came as I finish writing this, will not have the same gloss as Kilinochchi.

The two events within a week after Kilinochchi have shaken Colombo. More so than any LTTE suicide bombing could have shaken the City. The government has tried to point fingers at its enemies, more imagined than real, and more alien than local. But a million more fingers, both local and foreign, are pointed in the direction of the government. When the Supreme Court ruled to reduce the price of petrol, one of the Ministers talked darkly, and stupidly of course, about external forces mobilizing against the government. Not to be outdone, the Sri Lankan President himself has, on national television, raised the spectre of foreign forces. Which external force would have wanted to besmirch this government, by destroying the country’s largest private TV Station and by killing in cold blood, on a busy road and in broad daylight the irrepressible Editor of the Sunday Leader?

Whether the government was involved in these acts is not the question, for there is no question that the government has created and contributed to a climate of intolerance, impunity and terror in which anyone who dares to criticize the government should be prepared to pay the highest price. There is also no question that the LTTE has devoured much of Tamil society in the name of liberating the Tamils. The grave new question is if the government is going devour the Sinhalese society quite the same way in the course of destroying the LTTE.

The meanings of Kilinochchi

What does the fall of Kilinochchi signify? Neither the euphoria of the government supporters in the South nor the sulking agony of LTTE sympathizers everywhere has grasped the political meanings of Kilinochchi. The supporters and sympathizers are cheer leaders, one side wishing that their side will keep winning, and the other hoping that their bad days will come to an end soon enough. As Tissa Jayatilaka said it with great feeling last Wednesday, neither the government nor the LTTE cares a fig about “the destruction of our, mainly, non-middle class youth who continue to serve as cannon fodder”. The seeming motto for both is “we must all hate each other and kill”, rather than be literate and live up to, as Tissa wished, Auden’s poetry: “we must all love each other or die.”
One unintended outcome of Kilinochchi could be for the LTTE and its advisers to finally embrace a political solution that is less than separation and agree to negotiate on that basis. The growing sentiment across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu – from the Communist Party of India to Tamil Nationalist local Parties - favouring a non-separatist solution is a good enough circumstance for LTTE advisers and fellow travelers to seriously recommend this option to the leadership. Or else, the Sri Lankan Tamils will qualify, if we already haven’t, for what the late Abba Eban, longtime Israeli Foreign Minister, said of Arab leaders in that they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

As I have argued earlier in these columns, not only the LTTE but also the government of Sri Lanka could use Tamil Nadu as a viable intercessor to find a principled compromise on the Sri Lankan Tamil question. That the government’s thinking is no where close to finding a healthy compromise was made clear by no less a person than the President himself, when he promised to continue the war until “the final act of this false Eelam struggle is played to its finish in the small territory of jungle in Mullaitivu it is confined to today”. One could debatably call “Eelam”, as separate state, a false demand, but when does a struggle become false? Only if one deems false the existence of all Sri Lankan Tamils on this planet. The description is ignorant at best and insensitive at worst. And the struggle is not confined to a jungle territory, never mind that the government has been making victory laps after “reclaiming” every piece of the same jungle territory including Kilinochchi.

“Eelam is a state of mind” one Tamil journalist (S. Sivanayagam) polemically and publicly wrote to another (S.P. Amarasingham) during the 1977 riots. I have always liked that description of Eelam, even though it has never been the state of my mind. I have also agonized over its political ‘operationalization’ – especially since it was translated into meaningless, counterproductive and self-serving violence not just by the LTTE but also by many others who are now happily receiving their survival stipends from the Sri Lankan government, and not all of them Tamils! Eelam at best is the evolution as a moniker for what has been the political alienation of the Tamils in Sri Lanka at least from 1931, if not earlier. I am not suggesting that Tamil leaders, who developed these monikers, or demands, were infallible. Far from it, they complicated the problem, and are continuing to complicate it. But as long as the alienation remains real, the struggle against it is inevitable and is not false.

Calling the Eelam struggle false also sets the stage to “do nothing” politically after a military victory. It also assumes that after the conventional military victory over the LTTE, the apparent falsity of the Tamil struggle will morph into the practical reality of Tamil submission. The government would be well advised to be not so presumptive, and the advice has much more to do with than a simple military calculation of what the LTTE can or cannot do as guerilla insurgents after a so called conventional defeat. Anyone who has followed the ebb and flow of Tamil politics after 1977 will know that no one anticipated then what has been unfolding since. It would be a mistake to assume that the defeat of the LTTE will be the end of the Tamil struggle.

Tamil Diaspora and Tamil Nadu

The Tamil Diaspora has been credited or discredited with sustaining the LTTE against all odds. The Diaspora, by definition, is all outside Mullaitivu, and whatever happens in Mullaitivu the Diaspora will go on, perhaps more determinedly than before, to be a mighty thorn in any Sri Lankan government’s backside. Enough has been said about the need to have the LTTE’s participation in any viable political solution. From a practical standpoint, the Sri Lankan government has to positively deal with the Tamil Diaspora. The Tamil Diaspora, like any other Diaspora, has its fair share of nuts, but their experiences are real and they cannot be made false by the Sri Lankan President or his speechwriters.

If the government starts on the premise that the Tamil Diaspora is incorrigible, that is what it will get and feelings will be unproductively mutual, as they currently are. I have always thought that the late lamented Lakshman Kadirgamar did only the easy part of getting foreign governments to ban the LTTE and left out the more difficult part of persuading his expatriate compatriots of the political sincerity of his government. Perhaps, the good lawyer he was, he thought he did not have much of a brief to successfully advocate. His successors have made it worse, by engaging the Diaspora not in any constructive dialogue but in petty debates and internet street fighting. In any event, no dialogue can even start without a clear indication of the government’s real political intent. There was nothing before Kilinochchi, and there has been nothing after it; only Elephant Pass.

The other main difference from 1977 is Tamil Nadu. When the Eelam idea was first mooted in Jaffna, there was no excitement in Tamil Nadu. Everyone knows what transpired after 1983, but the recent developments in Tamil Nadu would seem to indicate the emergence of a more widespread and sustained concern over developments in Sri Lanka. The interview given by the Tamil Nadu leader of the Communist Party of India to the Editor of the Sunday Leader was exceptionally prescient when it was first published. The killing of the Editor makes it poignant as well. It is again up to the Sri Lankan government to use these developments positively for the benefit of all Sri Lankans rather than bunker itself in an isolationist hole as the LTTE has been doing.

Wining on War Front and Losing on Other Fronts

by Col R Hariharan

Victory in the war front

In just a week after the fall of Kilinochchi, the Sri Lanka security forces captured Elephant Pass, the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the A9 Kandy-Jaffna highway, the vital lifeline of the Northern Province on January 9. This was not unexpected as Elephant Pass was becoming unviable to defend as the security forces pressed on their offensive after capturing Paranthan in the south on January 1

According to the defence sources, the final assault on Elephant Pass came with 58 Division entering the Elephant Pass causeway from the south to link up with 53 and 55 divisions advancing from the north, capturing Pallai and Iyakachi one after the other.

As President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, with the fall of Elephant Pass, the entire route from Point Pedro in Jaffna coast to Dondra Head in the southern tip of Sri Lanka is now fully under government control after more than two decades. Regardless of other issues, the President and the security forces have shown what they can achieve if they makes up their mind. It is a creditable military achievement in successfully coordinating a large scale offensive involving a number of formations. There were a few hiccups, but wars are always full of imponderables.

Now the focus of the war is on Mullaitivu where the LTTE hopes to offer major resistance. Probably this was conditioned by the requirement to provide sufficient linear space for disrupting the advance of the security forces towards Mullaitivu with a series of delaying positions. The two major security forces axes of advance are: from the northeast along A35 road from Paranthan-Murasamoddai-Puthukkudiyiruppu-Mullaitivu and from south/southwest on a broad front covered by Oddusuddan-Mulliyavalai-Tanniyuthu. The army commander is said to be concentrating 50,000 troops – that is about four divisions minus – for the offensive, where the LTTE is reported to be having 6000 defenders.

Already 58 Division advancing along A35 axis have encountered the first LTTE position in Murasamoddai which probably extends up to Vaddakachchi to its south. 58 Division claimed recovering 11 bodies of LTTE cadres and some mines and equipment in the area. Similarly troops operating south of Murasamoddai have also come in contact with LTTE. Along the southern axis Task Force 4 and 59 Division are poised to take on Mullaitivu; presumably there will be some coordination of operations on both the axes of advance for finally taking on Puthukkudiyiruppu/Chundikkulam-Mullaitivu where main LTTE assets are likely to be concentrated.

Security Forces will now be facing the major task of keeping the A9 highway safe from LTTE's hit and run attacks for free traffic. Already 61 Division, the holding formation, reported killing four LTTE cadres who had been operating in area Pampaimadu. Probably politically it will be appropriate to open the A9 highway for public use as early as possible. And in all likelihood safe public passage can take place only when at least about three to five-mile stretch on both sides of the entire highway is totally sanitised and kept free of LTTE. We can expect the holding formations and other task forces not actively involved in offensive operations to undertake this task.

The LTTE has reported killing seven people including three air force personnel

in a Claymore mine attack between Pankulam and Morawewa (22 km from Trincomalee on the road to Anuradhapura). Similar small scale attacks are likely to increase.

So it is not surprising the police are picking up suspicious Tamil youth in smaller towns in vulnerable areas. One can only hope of their organised release after the screening process to lessen the heartburn of the affected families.

Failure on other fronts

If President Rajapaksa's strategy had worked well on the war front, they appear to be not working at all on two fronts vital to sustain the military gains over the long term. These are the political front and the human rights front.

On the political front, just as expected already India, the US, Japan and the EU have asked for starting the political process to resolve the Tamil issues speedily. It is significant that they have accepted the military successes fait accompli as possession is three fourths of law. But they would like to expedite the political process that stands grounded.

The US has probably articulated their view best: "The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE, a group designated by the United States since 1997 as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. However, we do believe that a broad range of other Tamil voices and opinions must be brought into a political process to reach a political solution that Tamils inside and outside of Sri Lanka see as legitimate.

"This will help assure Tamils that their rights are protected, that they have a say over important areas of their lives in geographical areas in which they predominate, and that they are an integral and respected part of an undivided Sri Lanka. At the same time, such as process would further delegitimize and erode the support of the LTTE in Sri Lanka and abroad. made it a point to The U.S. believes that a lasting, sustainable peace can best be achieved if the Sri Lankan Government works now to reach a political solution that addresses the aspirations of all Sri Lankans, including Tamils, Muslims, and Sinhalese."

All that the government can think of is to harp on the All Party Committee to evolve a consensus on the devolution. With most of the major political parties not participating in the APC deliberations, it has become a big joke. The continued inaction on this front is likely to be used by the LTTE to light of the embers of Tamil chauvinism to turn it to its advantage.

The other front where the government is clearly losing is the human rights front. There had been relentless pressure on the media, to crush dissent. All means are being used. Even BBC news is under unannounced censorship despite being hosted by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. The latest victim of calculated violence against the media is the brutal killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge shot in broad day light in a busy thoroughfare near Colombo, a city bristling with police checkpoints. In spite of that how two motorcycle borne gunmen who repeatedly shot at the editor and escaped is a mystery. And he is not the first journalist to be killed in Sri Lanka.

Of significance is that Wickrematunge was a vociferous critic of the Rajapaksa regime's policies including the war and governance in the process courting the wrath of the Rajapaksa brothers and Lt Gen Fonseka. There is no confirmation that any government agency was involved in his killing. But what the public perceive is very important and unless a transparent investigation is done and the guilty are brought to book, public suspicion will centre on government agencies. So how the government conducts itself is very important if it is serious about free media which President Rajapaksa has referred to in his condolence message on the killing.

It is difficult to believe that the President cannot achieve success if he makes up his mind to trigger the political process as well as set right the dismal human rights record, just as he has done in his war of "liberation" as he calls it. Otherwise all the talk of war of freedom will be meaningless, not only to Tamils but all Sri Lankans. And after all the sweat and blood of soldiers, that would be a national achievement wasted.

January 09, 2009

Why no one bothered about Mahela’s 100th Test?

MJ0110.jpgby Nirgunan Tiruchelvam

In 1968, Colin Cowdrey became the first cricketer to play 100 Tests. His achievement was greeted with much revelry. The English public thronged to watch him play at Edgbaston. The Queen sent him a congratulatory letter. He reciprocated the accolades by scoring a 100 in his 100th Test. There were few who could fault Cowdrey’s sense of timing of both the ball and the occasion.

By the sharpest of contrasts, Mahela Jayawardene’s 100th Test went virtually unnoticed last week. Hardly any of the Sri Lankan papers referred to it. Most Sri Lankan fans were not even aware of it. Mahela did not even bother to make an impact. He plodded against the pedestrian Bangladeshi bowlers to muster 33 off 138 balls.

Is he Selfish?

Mahela, the 48th man to play 100 Tests, may become one of the least respected. Though Mahela accomplished the milestone at a superior average (53 to compare to Cowdrey’s 44) and at a younger age, Cowdrey’s name will ring louder in cricket’s memory.

Sadly for such a gifted man, Mahela may be noted for his selfishness rather than his heroism. Lured by the Indian Premier League (IPL) riches, Mahela is intent on playing as little international cricket as possible. Last year, he led a campaign to cancel the English tour. Politicians were pleaded with. Cricketers became activists. The board’s dire finances required the US$1.5m guarantee money from the tour. But, Mahela was intent on embarrassing our administrators. The tour was scrapped.

Last week, he compounded SLC’s woes by reducing the Pakistan tour from three to two Tests. This is shocking given Sri Lanka’s lack of Test cricket. Last year, Sri Lanka played just 6 Tests, while even Bangladesh played 9. This year, we face an empty calendar until June, except for the Pakistan tour.

Poor Away Record

Perhaps, Mahela has a vested interest in restricting his foreign appearances. There is a yawning gap between his home and away records. He is a masterly accumulator at home and an ordinary batsman abroad.

At home, he has reached superlative heights with an average of 66. His chanceless 374 against South Africa at SSC in 2006 was an awesome display of endurance in the savage Colombo heat.This mammoth knock stands as a monument to his ability.

It ranks as highest Test score by an Asian, the highest Test score by a right-hander, and the fourth highest Test score. Unlike other triple centurions, Mahela’s long vigil actually led to a victory as opposed to a draw. South Africa had a fabled attack consisting of a feared quicks such as Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel. Nicky Boje was a fine left-arm spinner.

Abroad, he averages just 39.The extra bounce and the movement have been his undoing. His feet have been leaden. His shot selection has been chancy. In fact, Mahela’s average in New Zealand (28) and South Africa (31) are particularly poor. Part of the problem may be limited opportunities that Sri Lanka has been afforded overseas. But, Mahela is worsening the situation by avoiding valuable overseas opportunities. The captain’s main priority is to maximize his earnings from the IPL, while restricting Sri Lankan foreign appearance to hopeless opponents like Bangladesh.

Gifted Player who has never had to Struggle

Mahela is the first captain to play entirely in the happy afterglow of the 1996 World Cup win. Mahela missed the struggle and isolation that shaped the careers of Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya. He entered the team as a prodigious cherub, who was soon elevated to the vice-captaincy. Mahela took the elevator to success, while others took the stairs.

Lest we forget, he is a master of deft touch and timing. His batting is marked by an upright elbow and a straight bat. Blessed with a rock-like defense, Mahela favours the arc between mid-on and mid-off. There are no doubts about his stamina and perseverance at the crease. But often, he flatters, only to deceive, as his overseas record shows.

He should note that the IPL is itself under a cloud. Many franchises are struggling to justify the lavish salaries. Pakistan is threatening to forbid its players from participating.

It was Sri Lanka that propelled his career and not his IPL franchise Kings XI Punjab. There is only way he will be remembered in the same terms as Colin Cowdrey. That is, to give international cricket his top priority.

Mahela Jayawardene – Test Record

Tests Runs Average

Home 56 5167 66

Away 44 2792 39

Overall 100 7959 52

Lasantha: Fearless Editor who spoke truth to power

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge was brutally assassinated in broad daylight on a public road. He was murdered on January 8 by cowardly minions for courageously speaking truth to power.

Refusing to be silenced by the powers that be, the fearless editor of “The Sunday Leader” fought valiantly against overwhelming odds to expose corruption, nepotism, misgovernance, racism and militaristic triumphalism.

The motto of “The Sunday Leader” was “unbowed and unafraid”. Lasantha personified the motto in every way and remained to the very end, unbowed and unafraid. [click here to read the article in full-in Daily Mirror.lk]

Iyakkachchi taken: Capture of Elephnat Pass imminent

The long anticipated capture of Elephant Pass is imminent as the 53 and 55 divisions reached the strategic Iyakkachchi junction along the Jaffna – Kandy road known as A – 9 highway

The key junction is only 3 km away from the Elephant pass causeway

Iyakkachchi is further south – east from the A – 9 highway.

It is from Iyakkachchi that the Elephant pass garrison got its fresh water supply

In April 2000 tthe tigers succeeded in taking Iyakkachchi first and disrupting water supply to theb besieged Elephant pass camp.

Thereafter a de – hydrated army was compelled to negotiate terms of surrender after which troops vacated the camp.

The tigers took it over and later demolished camp structures.

Today the wheel has turned full cycle and the army is now in Iyakkachchi as a prelude to capture Elephant pass

The 55 division has branched out to Iyakkachchi and is consolidating the area

The 53 is continuinf g its march to Elephant pass

Once this process is complete the capture of Elephant pass would be announced formally

Also the full clearance of A – 9 highway would be complete. So establishment of full control over the road too would be announced

The earlier plan for the 58 division on the south of Elephant pass on the mainland to link up with 53 in the peninsula has been shelved

Instead the 58 division is deploying personnel in a multi – pronged push to take Ooriyaan, Kandawalai and Vattakkachchi

Meanwhile the Air force is bombing the Chundikulam lagoon targeting LTTE boats evacuating cadres to the mainland from the peninsula

(Transcurrents News)

January 08, 2009

59 Takes over Vatraappalai Temple while 58 Seize Murasumoddai

The Sri Lankan armed forces made two significant gain on the Wanni northern mainland front on Thursday January 8th.

In one move soldiers of the 58 division who entered Murasumoddai township on Wednesday progressed further and took over the main junction in Murasumoddai despite stiff tiger resistance.

Thereafter the army began consolidating its grip on the town situated about five kilometres east of Paranthan junction along the Paranthan – Mullaitheevu road known as A – 35 Highway

The LTTE defence line extending from Iranaimadhu to Ooriyaan cuts across the A – 35 near the 2nd mile post.

The 58 division after fierce fighting battered through the tiger positions in and around the 2nd mile post.

There was also intensive artillery shelling of Vattakkachchi adjacent to Murasumoddai and Tharmapuram further east

At least seven civilians including children were killed and arouns 23 injured, Injured persons were admitted to Tharmapuram and Vatakachi hospitals

The Sri Lankan air force bombed areas adjacent to the Chundikulam lagoon in a bid to target tiger cadres being evacuated from the peninsula

In another significant development the 7 Gemunu Watch battalion commanded by Lt. Col Chaminda Lamahewa moved further towards the Nandhi Kadal lagoon area and encircled the historic Amman temple at Vatraappalai.

The 7GW is attached to the 593 brigade of the 59 division commanded by Brig. Nandana Tudawatte

The Hindu temple is the most famous temple in the Wanni region.

The LTTE had vacated Vatraappalai without fighting as they did not want the temple damaged.

Given its location vis a vis the Nandhikkadal lagoon it would have been quite conducive for the tigers to entrench defences in and around Vatraappalai.

Instead they pulled back to Keppapulavu

Apart from these two gains there were at least twelve skirmishes between the Army and LTTE in different places of the Wanni.

(Transcurrents News)

LTTE kills Lt. Col. Nalinda Kumarasinghe in Jaffna

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) currently withdrawing from the Jaffna peninsula delivered a big blow to the army on Thursday Jan 8th as a high – ranking army officer was killed.

Lt. Col Nalinda Kumarasinghe RWP, RSP was killed in a booby trap explosion in the Puloppalai area of the peninsula.

Lt. Col Kumarasinghe was the commanding officer of 5 Gemunu watch which is attached to the Air Mobile brigade that is a component of the 53 division

Lt. Col Kumarasinghe was moving along with his troops from Pallai in a south eastern direction.

The carefully booby trap exploded as the jeep they were travelling in went over it near a turning point on a dirt track.

The signals officer in the vehicle was also killed.

Two others were injured.

Altogether the army has lost twelve men in the past four days in the peninsula.

Around 55 men were injured.

The bulk of those killed and injured was due to landmines, pressure mines, anti – personnel mines and booby traps.

Lt. Col Kumarasinghe was an excellent commanding officer and had excelled in recent fighting by inspiring and leading troops

He was the highest – ranking officer to be killed by the LTTE in the northern fighting

He was elevated posthumously to Col rank

(Transcurrents News)

Army takes Pallai, Soranpatru and Puthukkaadu Junction on A-9 Highway

Soldiers of 53 and 55 divisions stationed in the Jaffna peninsula gained some more territory on Thursday January 8th by moving into areas vacated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE that had fallen back from its earlier positions along the Kilaly – Muhamaalai – Nagarkovil axis and set up new positions north of the Puthukkaadu junction on the Jaffna – Kandy road known as A – 9 highway.

The tigers busily evacuating cadres from the peninsula to mainland across the Chundikulam lagoon have begun their withdrawal process now.

The LTTE is not firing at the army now but while retreating have set in place several mines, anti – personnel mines and booby traps

The Army is moving into areas vacated by the tigers but are treading warily on account of mines and traps.

The 53 division commanded by Brig. Kamal Gunaratne and 55 division commended by Brig.Prasanna Silva are engaged in a south bound drive towards Elephant Pass.

Meanwhile troops from 58 division led by Brig. Shavendra Silva are stationed at the other end of the Elephant Pass causeway in the mainland

Once 55 and 53 troops reach the peninsula side of Elephant pass both formations would link up thus bringing the entire A – 9 highway under full army control

While using the A – 9 highway as an axis the soldiers are not using the road in their south bound trek.

Troops from the 53 are moving down on the right side of the A – 9 while 55 is doing so on the left.

5 and 8 Vijayaba infantry regiments attached to the 533 brigade and 5 Gemunu watch battalion and 1 Gajaba Regiment attached to the Air Mobile brigade are from 53 division.

4 Gemunu Watch and 6 Sri Lanka light infantry battalion attached to 552 brigade and 7 and 8 Vijayaba Infantry Regiments aatached to 553 brigade are from 55 division.

Soldier who reached Pallai on the A – 9 moved further down and reached Puthukkaadu junction on the A – 9.This is 9 km away from Elephant pass.

They also moved along a road leading eastwards from this junction to Maruthankerny on the East Vadamaratchy coast.

The village Soranpatru has now been brought under full control Of the army. The LTTE has used this place to fire artillery when resisting military advances earlier.

After establishing themselves in the Soranpatru area the army moved another two km forward

By nightfall on Thursday the Army was only 7 km away from Elephant pass

Dying for Journalism: Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka

By Jyoti Thottam / Colombo

Lasantha Wickrematunge, one of Sri Lanka's leading journalists, a freelance reporter for TIME and an outspoken critic of the Sri Lankan government, was shot this morning as he drove to work in Colombo, his country's capital. He later died of his injuries.

The attack, by two gunmen on motorcycles in the middle of morning rush hour traffic, was brazen even by the standards of Sri Lanka. The country has suffered through more than 25 years of war between the government and a Tamil separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which pioneered the use of suicide bombers. Wickrematunge wasn't far from his home in Colombo South when he was approached some time between 10 and 11 am by the two gunmen, who blocked his car and shot him in the head and chest; he was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died shortly after 2 p.m. local time.

His death has galvanized the growing anger among the press and other civil society groups in Sri Lanka about restrictions on free expression in the country and intimidation of the media. Just two days earlier, the offices of Sri Lanka's largest private broadcasting company were attacked in the middle of the night. "What has happened to Lasantha Wickrematunge today is an absolute atrocity," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a research group based in Colombo, who added that the two attacks were linked, part of a plan to silence Sri Lanka's few independent media voices. "Those who are doing it it want to stifle dissent and destroy democracy in this country."

Wickrematunge, who was trained as a lawyer, started the Sunday Leader with his brother almost on a whim. Over dinner last week, he told me that he intended, at first, to get the newspaper off the ground and then return to the law, but he couldn't get enough of the thrill of journalism. And so it was especially frustrating for him to be prevented from running pictures or firsthand reporting from the war zones in northern Sri Lanka. The government claims that the 25-year-old war is finally approaching an end — an event that any journalist would be eager to cover — but it has refused to allow reporters or photographers regular access to the war zone, or to those areas where an estimated 230,000 people have been stranded amid the shelling.

Even more than the war, Wickrematunge's specialty at the Leader was no-holds-barred, occasionally salacious stories alleging corruption and self-dealing among the powerful. No matter who the ruling party was, all officials were his potential targets; and, Wickrematunge believed, he had become theirs. His paper's stories and editorials about the administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current Sri Lankan president, have been particularly controversial. The newspaper is fighting a defamation lawsuit by the defense secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is also the president's brother, over a series of articles in the Leader alleging corruption. The Sri Lankan government has denied that it is responsible for the attack on Wickrematunge and has called for an investigation.

The Sunday Leader's motto is "Unbowed and Unafraid" and it's a good reflection of its editor's philosophy. Wickrematunge had been worried over the last few days that he was being followed, but that had not diminished his enthusiasm for the next big story. I spoke to him less than an hour before the gunmen appeared, and he was full of ideas. It will be up to the staff at the Leader — including his wife, who is also a journalist with the paper — to continue that work. I spoke to a staffer who was waiting at the hospital during his surgery, and she said a group of her colleagues had decided to go back to the office before they knew whether their mentor and friend would survive. "We have to get the newspaper out," she said. I can't think of a more fitting tribute. [courtesy: The Time]

"We may not agree with his views but you dont shoot a man in cold blood"

A controversial but powerful newspaper editor was assassinated Thursday even before outrage and dismay had died down over the ransacking of the premises of a popular radio and TV broadcaster by masked, armed men.

Lasantha Wickrematunga, the respected editor of the English-language ‘Sunday Leader’ weekly newspaper, was shot in the head by unknown gunmen riding a motorcycle as he drove to his office at Ratmalana, south of Colombo, on Thursday morning. He died in hospital within hours.

"We are in shock. It’s useless," said opposition legislator Dayasiri Jayasekera, echoing the general view across the journalistic fraternity and among many politicians in this violence-racked country.

"We may not agree with his views but you don't shoot a man in cold blood," said a shocked journalist from a state-owned newspaper.

The assassination comes just two days after a group of masked gunmen ransacked the broadcasting complex of Maharaja TV (MTV). Wickrematunga was among those who had publicly condemned the attack and blamed pro-government elements for it.

On Wednesday, media analysts said protests and demands for justice against the brazen intimidation of Sri Lanka's most popular channel will not deter those who seek to muzzle the media.

No one -- like in the dozens of previous attacks on the media -- has claimed responsibility for the killing of Wickrematunga, but suspicion immediately fell on pro-government elements since the shooting was carried out with precision and, according to some reports, using silencers.

Ravi Karunanayake, another opposition legislator from the United National Party (UNP), said Wickrematunga's killing was a tragic loss to the media and the country at large. "We are all in shock."

The Leader Publications group also published the Sinhala-language ‘Irudina’ newspaper which was equally critical of the government. The newspaper group was generally seen to be supportive of the UNP.

Wickrematunga, 50, co-founded The Sunday Leader newspaper with his brother Lal, the publisher, more than 10 years ago and very soon grabbed the attention of the nation with stunning exposes on corruption, scams and scandals.

He won both bouquets and brickbats for his fearless work, but typically government politicians would condemn him for 'one-sided reporting' while opposition legislators and the public praised him.

"We are speechless," exclaimed J. Weliamuna, executive director of Transparency International (TI)'s office in Sri Lanka.

Weliamuna, a fearless human rights campaigner and himself the survivor of a grenade attack at his home in September, said Wickrematunga was the first Asian to win the Global Integrity Award in 2000 awarded by the Berlin-based TI.

"Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard," he said.

Most media professionals and politicians were stunned by the killing and said the extent to which dissent is being quashed was unbelievable. "This is something no one bargained for," one analyst, who declined to be named, said.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which two days ago raised the alarm on the possibility of more political assassinations in Sri Lanka, said it was saddened by the confirmation of their prediction in less than 48 hours.

AHRC reported that Wickrematunga had noticed two men following him on a motorcycle and even informed several friends over his mobile telephone.

Wickrematunga had become the primary target of the regime of President Mahinda Rajapakse, and particularly of his brother and defence secretary Gottabaya Rajapakse.

An attempt to arrest Wickrematunga failed after senior police officers refused to comply and also because of the intervention by journalists who had gathered around him.

Thereafter, the printing press of the Sunday Leader, which was situated close to a security zone, was attacked and burned by a group of unidentified persons who were never arrested. It is widely believed that the group was sent by the ruling party and was probably from some section of the armed forces.

AHRC described the attack on the MTV broadcasting station as ‘’gloomy predictions of things to come in the very near future to a country which is already bedevilled by lawlessness, violence and corruption’’.

‘’If there was to be political assassinations of opposition leaders, trade union leaders, journalists, human rights activists and others who stand for democracy, rule of law and human rights it would be the natural course of things arising out of a build up which has already taken place,’’ the AHRC predicted, somewhat eerily.

On Thursday, following the assassination of Wickrematunga, the AHRC said: ‘’In all likelihood many other unidentified gunmen must be lying in wait for opposition members of parliament, for independent journalists, for lawyers appearing against the government or against prominent leaders of government in courts and for judges making unfavourable decisions against the government.’’

‘’Many spokesmen for the opposition parties have blamed the government for using the war against the LTTE as a propaganda ploy to suppress and eliminate the opposition,’’ AHRC said.

‘’The army victories in Kilinochchi seem to be leading to a celebration of the shedding of the blood of the government’s opponents,’’ the AHRC statement said.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a leading independent think tank expressed outrage and 'revulsion' over the attack. Its executive director, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, said in a statement: ‘’This latest attack on one of Sri Lanka's best known and most senior journalists confirms fears of a planned terror campaign against critical voices, conducted with complete impunity.’’

Saravanamuttu, a columnist for the ‘Morning Leader’, a mid-week newspaper published by Wickrematunga's group, said the legitimacy of the war against terror rests on government respecting the norms and values of democracy and human rights, of which the tolerance of criticism is a fundamental facet. "Those responsible for this egregious violence are enemies of democracy and become terrorists themselves.’’ [courtesy: IPS]

The war against media and The Sunday Leader

By Vimukthi Yapa

From its inception in 1994, The Sunday Leader's editors and scribes were presented with a special gift from their publishers: a pledge of editorial freedom.

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It was this special carte blanche that was most responsible for The Leader's ascension as one of the strongest foci of liberal democratic values in Sri Lanka. The newspaper was quick to discover and indiscriminately expose regular acts of corruption by the ministers and officials of every government that has come into office since, regardless of political complexion.

Thus The Leader newspapers and its writers have frequently been threatened and come under attack by those exposed in its pages, and those opposed to its values.

One of the first and to date most twisted stones cast at this newspaper was in 1995, following a spate of exclusive exposures on corruption at the government owned national carrier Air Lanka, now SriLankan Airlines.

Attacked

At around 11 pm on Tuesday, February 7, 1995 the Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge and his wife were driving home when they noticed what they thought was a broken down vehicle. When they stopped to offer assistance, a brutal ambush was sprung. Four masked men sprang from the vehicle armed with clubs and nail-spiked poles, physically thrashing Lasantha to the ground, and unleashing what was left of their fury on his helpless wife, beating her as well, before making their hasty escape.

Lasantha was hospitalised briefly with cuts and bruises, but after he was discharged, the work of the paper continued unabated. Despite a complaint made by the Wickrematunges to the police, not a single suspect was ever arrested in connection with the case, and the perpetrators walk free to this day.

As the work of The Leader continued and grew in tenacity, its growing list of enemies sought more means to silence its Editor and thus stifle its string of damning expos‚s. Three years after the first attack on the Wickrematunges, spiked poles and clubs had ceased to be the order of the day for politicians irritated by continuing exposures of corruption and incompetence in The Sunday Leader.

In mid-1998 details of the backroom dealings and improprieties that led to the privatisation of Air Lanka through a sale of its stock to Emirates were laid bare in The Leader. This series of expos‚s put graft in the order of millions of dollars before the public eye, and was clearly not to the liking of many. How better to muzzle the press than by going Mafia style, using military-spec assault rifles against journalists?

Automatic fire

In the second week of June, 1998, Wickrematunge began to notice that his house was under surveillance. A mysterious white van with tinted windows was regularly parked outside the premises. On June 17 Wickrematunge and his wife attended a dinner, where they exchanged pleasantries with some cricketers before returning home at around 11 pm. About 10 minutes later they heard what they initially thought was an explosion of firecrackers. A few seconds and several shattered panes of glass later they realised that they were under attack.

Wickrematunge, his wife, children, and domestic aides dived for cover as their house in Nugegoda was bombarded by heavy penetration ammunition from weapons of war, shattering windows, chiselling at the walls, and effortlessly cutting through the garage gate to severely damage the two vehicles parked inside the residence. A driver nearly lost his life as he ducked behind a jeep in the garage, bullets whizzing bare inches from his neck. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Inspections later revealed 40 empty T-56 bullet cartridges strewn on the road outside the house. This heavily armed assault team also managed to vanish into thin air, despite the country being on a war footing and the suburbs of Nugegoda being littered with checkpoints.

Were the culprits ever found? Was a suspect ever questioned or an arrest made? Did the government or any local authority really lift a finger to apprehend and bring to justice those responsible for an act of such barbarism? The answers are no, no, and of course, no.

Harassment

It was later that same year that the government officially engaged in harassing The Sunday Leader. The paper had carried a story on July 26 producing a letter written by two members of the Bribery Commission to then Speaker of Parliament, K.B. Ratnayake, urging that he remove two ministers, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and G.L. Peiris, from a Parliamentary Select Committee that was probing their own conduct!

Both ministers refused point blank to step down from the committee, and the result of the expos‚ was a concerted campaign to dislodge the two bribery commissioners, T.A. De S. Wijesundera and Rudra Rajasingham, from their office.

As a part of this campaign, CID officers were dispatched on August 14, 1998 to the office of The Sunday Leader demanding a statement from Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge on who it was that had leaked the letter about the ministers to the newspaper. Of course, The Sunday Leader has never revealed its sources, and never will. In response to the CID's interrogation, Wickrematunge insisted that the CID record his response: why had they not recorded a statement regarding the shooting up of his house a mere two months earlier?

The next serious challenge posed to the newspaper was a legal one in 2000, precipitated by the military setbacks suffered in the north as a result of political meddling in the armed forces. On April 22, 2000 the LTTE attacked the military complexes at Elephant's Pass, over-running the base and quickly pushing the armed forces further north towards Jaffna. The embarrassment led to the appointment by the government of a media censor to block all reporting on the military situation.

Censorship

This led, amongst other stipulations, to the broadcast of foreign TV news services being suspended in the country and all newspaper articles pertaining to the war being screened by the government. Needless to say, most of the content the government sought to prevent from being published was an effort to hide its own incompetence. The Sunday Leader was quick to prove beyond doubt with an expos‚ published on May 14, 2000 that the censorship itself was aimed at protecting the government rather than the armed forces.

The paper sent two articles to the censor, one blaming the entire state of the nation on the government and the other identical, except blaming the UNP and the leader of the opposition for the same. Guess what? The article about the government was rejected outright and that blaming the UNP was approved with barely a single change. How could a government with that much egg on its face defend itself other than by shooting journalists?

By mid-May panic had engulfed the whole country, with the over-running of the army camp at Palai by the LTTE, as it was mistakenly thought that the Air Force Base at Palali - the last major military bastion in the north - had been captured instead. Later news began to spread about a large scale LTTE attack on Palali itself, and terror gripped the nation, which was kept in the dark on what was going on.

The Sunday Leader took the view that the way in which the media censorship operated was unconstitutional, and so published on May 21, on its front page, an article titled 'War in Fantasy Land - Palali not under attack' in an attempt to tell the public what was 'not' happening in the north.

Sealed

The very next day, agents of the government arrived en masse at our press in Ratmalana and surrounded it, locking it up and shutting it down under powers claimed had been vested under the director of information through Section 14 of the Emergency Regulation No. 1 of 2000.

Leader Publications filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court stating that its right to equality under Section 14 of the Constitution had been infringed by the shut-down of the paper. A three judge bench of the court heard the case and, on June 30, 2000 gave a judgement in favour of the newspaper.

The court not only overturned the ban on publication and sealing of the press, but invalidated the censorship regime, calling it unconstitutional, and ordered that the paper be re-opened.

The Sunday Leader has not been victimised only by governments lead by the SLFP. It was during Ranil Wickremesinghe's tenure as prime minister that a threat to murder the Editor-in-Chief was uttered in the corridors of parliament by a sitting cabinet minister.

The Sunday Leader had in July 2003 begun running a series of exposes into corruption in the ministry of then-UNP Minister Mahinda Wijesekera. As quoted without contradiction in reports published by several rights groups, he responded with these words aimed at Lasantha uttered in rage at the parliament complex: "very soon I'll put him in a room and have him shot or he will be stabbed to death!"

From hero to zero

When Mahinda Rajapakse was sworn in as prime minister in April 2004, The Sunday Leader warmly welcomed him to office stating in our very next editorial that "We at The Sunday Leader cannot hide our pleasure at welcoming Mahinda as the country's next prime minister." We also set a precedent in the warmness of that welcome by referring to Rajapakse throughout that editorial by his first name.

It was just over a year later that the same pages bore the politically tragic details of his now infamous 'Helping Hambantota' scam.

Sadly, Rajapakse had not lived up to the expectations the country had of him. The actions today of the Rajapakse brothers demonstrate that Helping Hambantota was but a modest beginning.

This viewpoint cost The Leader dearly and on October 16, 2005 the premises of The Leader's press were raided by an armed gang, which assaulted and threatened employees, and set fire to newspapers and machinery before taking flight. Thankfully Leader staff had been able to extinguish the fire, thereby saving the printing press from destruction. No action to apprehend those responsible was ever taken by the police.

Even after Rajapakse won office as President in November 2005, the newspaper continued to perform its duties unabated, earning a vicious threat from our Chief Executive.

Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge received a phone call on his mobile at 11:13 am on January 11, 2006. The man who ultimately came on-line at the other end was the elected Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka: His Excellency Don Mahendra Percy Rajapakse.

Rajapakse had a lot to say, and he chose his epithets carefully from the choicest available in the Sinhala lexicon. Here is a reminder of some of the things the President said:

"F**k your mother, you son of a bloody wh**e!"

"I will finish you!"

"I treated you well all this while. Now I will destroy you. You don't know who Mahinda Rajapakse is. You watch what I will do to you!"

Not quite, perhaps, what his alma mater, Thurstan College, expected of its alumni.

Over nothing

Uncharacteristically rattled by Rajapakse's outburst, Wickrematunge had inquired what exactly it was that Rajapakse was so upset about. The President was referring to an article about his wife Shiranthi, that simply did not exist in that day's Morning Leader. Lasantha had explained that such an article was a figment of the President's imagination: someone had been feeding him meat.

He had added, addressing Rajapakse by his familiar first name, "Mahinda, just because you are President, do not talk in that threatening way. We don't get intimidated by threats. Tell us what it is we are supposed to have written."

And how did the duly elected President of Sri Lanka respond?

"You are not scared!"

"I will show you what it is to be scared. I will rest only once I have destroyed you. You wait and see. You don't know who Mahinda Rajapakse is."

Just a month later, on February 21, 2006, Lasantha was harassed by immigration officials acting on the dictates of the government as he waited to board a plane at Bandaranaike International Airport, to attend the Geneva peace talks.

Detained

Wickrematunge arrived at the airport and presented his passport to emigration officials who held him up and questioned him for over half an hour. It was only when Wickrematunge broadcast his plight on Sirasa Radio via his mobile phone that authorities received a hasty message from Colombo to let him through, a mere five minutes before his flight was to depart.

It was later revealed by Immigration and Emigration Chief P.B. Abeykoon that the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) had issued orders to prevent one "Wickrematunge" from leaving the country, thus the holdup.

Luckily for them, only 'one' Wickrematunge happened to pass through the airport on that day. Heaven help the airport authorities should the NIB order them to detain every "Perera," "Silva" or "Mohamed" that arrives at the airport.

Next up in this sordid saga was the attempt made by the government to actually arrest Wickrematunge on December 28, 2006, for 'endangering national security' by publishing the details of a luxury bunker to be built in the presidential complex. That exposure was considered a threat to national security, even though the plans for the bunker were publicly available. Annoyingly for Rajapakse, The Sunday Leader had in advance of publication of the details sought a clarification from Director General, Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle.

The trusty Daily News slipped in a 'Talking Point' article on their December 28, 2006 issue hinting at the Attorney General to give a green light for Wickrematunge's arrest. Ultimately the pressure brought to bear on the government was too great and moves to arrest the Editor without the approval of then Attorney General, K.C. Kamalasabeyson, which approval, correctly, was not given, stopped cold.

Bizarre episode

Perhaps the most bizarre of the attacks against this newspaper took place just last month with the arbitrary incarceration by the CID of young journalist Arthur Wamanan and his mother, who was later forced to leave her son in custody at the CID's notorious fourth floor. Wamanan was arrested based purely on a statement made to the CID by Minister Mano Wijeratne.

The CID tried their very best to hold Arthur in remand, but were ultimately forced to produce him in court in the full glare of the public and the media.

When the Chief Magistrate of Mount Lavinia asked what the CID's objections to bail were, pat came the answer from the CID Chief Inspector presenting the case: "His family is from the north, and he lives in Wellawatte." That a man charged with enforcing the law, protecting the public, and seeking justice would say such a thing in court to justify an arrest, in itself proves how vital it is that The Leader and other institutions keep the flag of liberal democratic values flying in Sri Lanka.

Commando style

Earlier this week, an armed group of masked men burst into the press of The Leader newspapers for the second time in two years - this time in commando style.

They surrounded the press building, apprehending at gunpoint every person present, forcing them to kneel in a line and surrender their mobile phones. No mistakes this time, they were determined to finish the job. A few petrol bombs later, and the printing machine put out of use, the goons fled in their four wheel drive vehicles through the high security zone.

Notwithstanding this cowardly attack, we will continue to publish. That many pages of today's issue are in black and white serve to highlight the determination and courage of this newspaper's loyal and dedicated staff to bring you this newspaper.

Come what may, The Leader newspapers will continue to prove to its detractors that the pen is mightier than the sword.

We will prevail...unbowed, and unafraid.

(This Article is reproduced from "The Sunday Leader" of November 25th 2007)

CPA Condemns brutal murder of Senior Journalist Mr. Lasantha Wickremetunge

8th January 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) expresses its outrage and revulsion over the murder of the Editor in Chief of the Sunday Leader newspaper Mr. Lasantha Wickremetunge this morning.

Mr. Wickremetunge was shot and seriously wounded by unknown persons while driving to work in a suburb of Colombo and was pronounced dead at around 2.15pm by hospital authorities.

[Sunday Leader Editor in Chief Lasantha Wickremetunge murdered-Video courtesy of vikalpasl]

Just over 48 hours after a major arson attack against private TV broadcaster MBC / MTV Networks that destroyed its Main Control Room and studios, this rampant violence against independent media demonstrates an alarming deterioration of democracy, the rule of law, the freedom of expression and dissent.

Tellingly, Sri Lanka has been repeatedly identified as one of the world's most dangerous countries for independent journalists. This latest attack of one of Sri Lanka's best known and most senior journalists confirms fears of a planned terror campaign against critical voices, conducted with complete impunity.

The legitimacy of the war against terror rests on government respecting the norms and values of democracy and human rights, of which the tolerance of criticism is a fundamental facet. Those responsible for this egregious violence are enemies of democracy and become terrorists themselves.

DR. PAIKIASOTHY SARAVANAMUTTU
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

"Sunday Leader" Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga shot and hacked to death by Motor Cyclists in civils

Lasantha Wickrematunga, the courageous and Independent editor of the English weekly “The Sunday Leader” was shot and hacked to death by gunmen in civilian garb riding motor cycles.

The shocking incident occurred near the Bakery junction at the land side end of Temple road in Attidiya.

Fifty year old Wickrematunga was first taken to Kalubowila general hospital where emergency surgery was done.

Thereafter he was to be taken to the National Hospital where additional surgery was required.

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"The fearless editor was noted for his courage and forthrightness in speaking truth to power"

Since his situation was pronounced as extremely critical he was not moved to the national hospital. Instead doctors at Kalubowila continued to attend to him. Lasantha had lost a lot of blood. His head injuries were serious.

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[Sunday Leader chief editor Lasantha Wickrematunga was shot and hacked to death on Jan 8th morning at the Bakery Junction, Attidiya]

After persistent efforts for more than four hours to save him, finally Lasantha succumbed to his injuries.

Lasantha was on his way to work in the morning when the incident took place at about 9. 15 am.

As was his usual routine Wickrematunga was driving his own car to work alone.

He had observed men on two motor cycles trailing him in a suspicious manner. Lasantha had then telephoned some friends on his cellular and told them of the suspicious motor cyclists following his vehicle.

Initial reports said there were two persons on each motor cycle

When he neared Bakery junction which was very close to his office, the motor cyclists had got ahead of his vehicle and cut across thus blocking him.

Even as Lasantha was forced to brake, one assassin jumped down and ran to the car and shot from the front shattering the windscreen with bullets hitting Lasantha’s chest

Another person got down from the pillion and came up to him by the side and opened the door and began hacking Lasantha with a sabre. He then took out a gun and began firing at point blank range at his ear and head.

The unarmed Wickrematunga was shot in cold blood by cowardly assassins in the chest, ear and head,

He also received many cuts to his body.

The assassins wearing civils then got on to their vehicles and sped away.

All this happened in broad daylight on a busy road with scores of people including Policemen watching.

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Sonali Samarasighe, left, wife of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, arrives at the hospital where her husband was treated in Kalubowila (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena) via Yahoo! News

Lasantha bleeding profusely was rushed to Kalubowila hospital and from there he was to be taken to the Borella national hospital.

But he was not taken there because he could not be moved because of his condition

Large crowds gathered at the Hospital premises.

Finally the end came.

He never gained consciousness.

The fearless editor was noted for his courage and forthrightness in speaking truth to power.

The newspaper was boldly critical of the Government and defence apparatus and also published regular exposures of the corruption, nepotism, racism and misgovernace of the Rajapakse regime

The newspaper was also critical of the Government’s warmongering and advocated a negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis.

These viewpoints were thorns in the flesh of the government.

There were many incidents of friction with the government including an incident where President Rajapakse threatened Wickrematunga in abusive language on the telephone

On one occasion the government ordered his arrest but could not go ahead due to public protest

The Sunday Leader also criticised Army Commander Sarath Fonseka for his blatantly racist comments.

Currently a legal case is pending in courts against Wickrematunga as defence secretary Gota Rajapakse had filed action for an article alleging corruption in purchase of aircraft

Despite all the threats and danger to his life Lasantha Wickrematunga continued to write and edit fearlessly living up to the motto of his newspaper “Unafraid and un bowed”

He fought to the last never bowing or compromising with the racist Rajapakse regime

We his friends and colleagues salute him.

Lasantha co - founded “The Sunday Leader” in 1994

The shocking and brutal assassination t resulted in severe condemnation of the Government as it was crystal clear as to who was responsible

There seemed to be little doubt in the minds of most people that the “terror Squad” attached to the Intelligence unit of an armed force was responsible

The cowardly elements responsible for several attacks on media personnel and institutions was held responsible his death

Hundreds of people gathering at the Hospital were praying for Lasantha Wickrematunga as he was fighting his last battle.

We at “Transcurrents. Com” join those souls in praying for Lasantha Wickrematunga

We also extend our condolences and sympathies to his family members.

The fourth estate has lost one of her most brave sons.

The media world and Sri Lanka have suffered an irredeemable loss.

(Transcurrents News)

January 07, 2009

Karuna feels humiliated by Gen. Sarath Fonseka's remarks

Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP)leader and national list MP , Vinayagamurthy Muraleetharan alias “Colonel Karuna” is reportedly feeling humiliated by some remarks made by Army commander Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka to the media.

According to TMVP sources “Col” Karuna feels that General Sarath had deliberately humiliated him.

According to TMVP sources Karuna had been of immense assistance to the army in its fight against the LTTE by providing extensive information at many levels

TMVP cadres had also fought in eastern battles.

At present TMVP cadres along with EPDP cadres are functioning with military intelligence to abduct and kill suspected LTTE supporters.

But TMVP sources said that Karuna is unable to claim these actions openly as some of them amount to crimes against humanity.

Official acceptance of “collaboration” will also affect the TMVP in elections as Tamil voters could reject them.

“It was unfair for the Army chief to belittle us when he knows it is not correct and that we cant openly say so” said TMVP circles.

“Col” Karuna will however meet defence secretary Gota Rajapakse soon and protest about the Army commander.
Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka had gone on record saying it was ‘shameful’ for anyone to try connect Karuna Amman leaving the LTTE with the recent success of the Army on the battlefield against the LTTE.

The Defence Ministry website quoted the Army Chief as telling State electronic media that Karuna Amman and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran fell out because of ideological differences and that by the time the Sri Lanka Army started retaking the Eastern Province he was left with about 200 cadres.

He said ordinary people supported the Army to retake the Eastern Province from the LTTE. There were many Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil villages in the Eastern Province situated side by side whose inhabitants helped the Army. The Army was able to win the hearts of the people of the Eastern Province before capturing the land, he further said, according to the Defence Ministry.

Asked about whether he was trying to get the credit for the good work done by former Army commanders, he said neither had he asked for such undue credit nor had former commanders complained that he was trying get credit due to them. He said all commanders have to be responsible for their blunders and get praise for their achievements. There should be a reason why he should not get credit for his achievements, he said.

The Army Chief further said in the Eastern Province battles it was only a 20 kilometre distance the Army had to fight through, but in the North it was an 89 kilometre distance the troops had to handle. Today, the triangular area to which the LTTE hierarchy and others are constained is being attacked from multiple fronts. Before, Kilinochchi's fall everybody thought the attack there was only a dream of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But the Army Commander said the continued attack on the LTTE, is also going to be a daydream to some likewise, but certain to become a reality soon.

Asked about how the LTTE had improved itself making use of the Ceasefire Agreement, the Army commander said, more than anything else the LTTE increased its combat force from 2,500 to more than 11,000 during the four years of the ceasefire agreement. The Tigers only possessed two artillery guns captured from the Army, he said.

Machine guns, Dvora-like fast boats and three fixed wing airplanes were added to their strength. They established banks, courts, police and customs to generate income, the Army Commander further said.

(Transcurrents News)

Three "real" reasons behind Govt. proscribing LTTE

Notwithstanding claims by the government headed by President Mahinda Rajapakse that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization was proscribed because it failed to release the people allegedly held through force in the Wanni, the real motives according to authoritative govt sources were different.

According to these sources who spoke on condition of anonymity there were three real reasons for the Government to clamp down the ban on January 7th midnight.

The first was tremendous pressure by Defence secretary Gotabhaya and Army commander Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka. The duo whose influence on the President and Government is enormous had accelerated and intensified pressure after the capture of Kilinochchi and Paranthan.

Gotabhaya and Sarath who think alike on most matters felt that no quarter should be given for the LTTE and that the military campaign should continue until the tigers were totally defeated.

It was feared that the tigers may try and stave off possible defeat by reviving peace talks through international mediatory efforts.

If the on going military drive was suspended and talks begun with the LTTE , it would seriously affect armed forces morale it was pointed out.

Moreover open revolt from the rank and file and junior officers was also anticipated.

As such it was insisted that all options for the LTTE to enter talks should be foreclosed.

In 2002 the LTTE demanded that it be de-proscribed for it to enter talks. Logically it meant that the tigers would not enter talks if it was banned.

So it was advocated that the ban be re-imposed so that the tigers could not enter talks. It was in military jargon a pre-emptive strike.

The President who is also on the same wavelength with the defence secy and army chief promptly agreed

The second reason was also on similar lines.

The International community has been mounting pressure on the government that it should initiate talks with the LTTE

The government rationale for wagging war with the tigers was allegedly to weaken the LTTE and force it to come to the negotiating table

The international community which went along with the idea now feels the tigers have been considerably weakened.

So efforts are on to make Colombo revive political dialogue.

The proscription therefore is a pre – emptive strike to prevent further IC pressure

The third reason is India

Apparently New Delhi does not want any negotiations with the LTTE. But in recent times there is significant pressure from Tamil Nadu that India should pressurise Colombo into resuming talks with the LTTE.

More importantly there is a growing demand in Tamil Nadu that India should remove the ban on the LTTE. It was imposed in 1992 after Rajiv Gandhi assassination in 1991.

Many Tamil Nadu leaders have called for New Delhi to de – proscribe LTTE on the grounds that it is not proscribed in Sri Lanka.

Thus it was suggested by the big neighbour that LTTE shuld be banned.

These then are the real reasons behind the re – imposition of the LTTE ban.

Given below is the full text of the Prsidential proclamation banning the LTTE:

“A proclamation by His Excellency the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka"

WHEREAS an organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has been continuously engaged in acts of terrorism and others acts of violence with the primary objective of unlawfully establishing a separate sovereign State in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka;

AND WHEREAS, such acts of terrorism have included engaging in an illegal internal armed conflict with members of the armed forces and the police of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka;

AND WHEREAS, acts of terrorism and other acts of violence perpetrated by the aforementioned organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been involved in the assassination and attempted assassination of persons holding high political office, members of the security forces and the police force, public servants and civilians and of causing damage to property belonging to the State and to private property;

AND WHEREAS, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Democratic Socialistic Republic of Sri Lanka has been threatened by these continuous acts of terrorism and other acts of violence perpetrated by the said organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and such as acts have endangered the interests of public security, the preservation of public order, and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.

AND WHEREAS notwithstanding the promulgation of the Emergency (Prevention and Prohibition of Terrorism and Specified Terrorists Activities) Regulations No.07 of 2006 the organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has continued to engaged in terrorism and other acts of violence;

AND WHEREAS, repeated requests made to the aforesaid organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to eschew terrorism and other acts of violence and to lay down arms, surrender and participate in the democratic process for the purpose of resolving disputes and developing and adopting lawful and democratic processes and solutions for the resolution of the problems faced by the citizens of Sri Lanka, have been disregarded:

AND WHEREAS , repeated requests made by the Government of Sri Lanka and by segments of the international community to the said organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to refrain from holding, keeping or confining civilians living within the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka , by force or other means, or thereafter to use such civilians as human shields and consequently place the life and liberty of such civilians in danger, and also to prevent or obstruct the supply of emergency treatment and assistance and humanitarian relief to such civilians;

AND WHERES, repeated requests made by the Government of Sri Lanka to the organization known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam to permit civilians trapped or confined in areas unlawfully controlled by the said Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to leave such areas and move into areas under the control of the security forces, have been disregarded;

AND WHEREAS, the said organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam continues, to unlawfully conscript civilians, including women and children, as fighting carders of the said organization and thereby endangers the life and liberty of such civilians:

AND WHERES, acts of terrorism and other acts of violence perpetrated by the organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and its conduct orchestrated for the purpose of collecting funds to perpetrate acts of terrorism, and its activities relating to the procurement and smuggling of arms, ammunition and explosives, has the potential of adversely affecting international and regional peace and security and law and order of other sovereign nation;

AND WHEREAS, in order to eliminate the scourge of terrorism from the world, it is necessary for all sovereign states to criminalize terrorism and proscribe without exception organizations engaged in the perpetration of terrorism;

Now THEREFORE it has become necessary to proscribe the said organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and to provide for the proscribing of other organizations that are connected with or which are representing or acting on behalf of the organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and which have therefore become prejudicial to the interests of public security , the preservation of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community, His Excellency the President intends promulgating regulations in terms of the Public Security Ordinance(Chapter 40).

Given at Colombo, on this 7th day of January Two Thousand Nine.

By His Excellency's Command, signed by Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga

(Transcurrents News)

Fierce fighting in Murasumoddai as Army moves East along A-35 highway axis

Murasumoddai about 2 km to the east of Paranthan junction along the Paranthan – Mullaitheevu road has become the latest theatre of fierce fighting in the North

The fighting escalated to a very high level on Wednesday January 7th as troops of 58 division who reached the outer limits of the Murasumoddai met with stiff resistance by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Contrary to some media reports Murasumoddai has not been taken by the Army. The Army too has not claimed it has done so. Fierce fighting erupted as troops entered the perimeter of Murasumoddai.

The Paranthan – Mullaitheevu road known as the A – 35 highway goes south – east towards Puthukkudiyiruppu and then turns south to Mullaitheevu town.

After the 58 division took the stratregic Paranthan area it became obvious that soldiers would be moving along the axis of A- 35.

Meanwhile the LTTE which vacated Paranthan and Kilinochchi began constructing a new line of defence to safeguard areas retained by the tigers east of the A – 9 highway.

This new defence line relied mainly on an earth bund extending from the north of Iranaimadhu reservoir to Ooriyaan on the shores of Chundikulam lagoon.

This defence line crossed the A – 35 highway at a point near the 2nd milepost in the Murasumoddai area.

On Tueaday January 6th soldiers of 58 division commenced a twin – pronged drive from Paranthan towards Murasumoddai

One column proceeded along the A – 35 axis while the other progressed parallel to the road on the south towards Panankandal adjacent to murasumoddai.

Soldiers succeeded in reaching the outer limits of Murasumoddai on Wednesday Jan 7th when fighting intensified

All civilians had fled the Murasumoddai area as the armed forces have been conducting aerial bombardment and artillery shelling on the township area from December 31st 2008.

In the first aerial strike on the eve of the new year 5 civilians were killed and 21 injured.

The second aerial strike on New Year day saw 4 civilians getting killed and 18 injured

On January 3rd there was intensive artillery shelling on Murasumoddai township. Two civilians were killed and twelve injured. Several houses were damaged.

All this resulted in panic – stricken civilians moving out of Murasumoddai

There was a lot of shelling on Jan 6th and 7th too but mercifully there were no civilian casualties as people had moved out.

A lot of structures were damaged. Among these were two schools , Murugananda Maha Vidyalayam and Murasumoddai Roman Catholic school.

Fighting is expected to continue in Murasumoddai in the next few days.

(Transcurrents News)

Three different military thrusts repulsed by LTTE

Three different military thrusts by the Sri Lankan armed forces were repulsed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Kilinochchi, Katsilaimadhu and Ambakaamam.

These limited military drives by the army occurred in areas way from the spotlight in Kilinochchi south and Eastern Wanni while media focus is primarily on the peninsula and areas east of Paranthan.

In the first thrust soldiers of 57 – 4 brigade broke out of positions in Kanagambikaikulam in Kilinochchi south and moved towards the northern side of Iranaimadhu reservoir.

The LTTE has begun constructing a new line of defence extending from Iranaimadhu north to Ooriyaan near Chundikulam lagoon.

The 57 – 4 brigade move was presumably to target the defence line from the south while the 58 targets it from the north at Murasumoddai.

In another thrust soldiers of Task Force three stationed in the Ambakaamam area attempted to move north along the axis of the old Kandy road.

This road went out of use after the A – highway was enlarged and modernised.

The old Kandy road goes through areas of Iranaimadhu and ultimately reaches Vattakkachhi area

This forward movement was beaten back.

In a third military thrust other elements of Task Force Three broke out of positions in Katsilaimadhu and moved north – east along the axis of Oddusuddaan – Puthukkudiyiruppu road

The LTTE blocked troop movement at a place called Korudamadhu and after fierce engagement soldiers retuned to former positions

Katsilaimadhu which is occupied by soldiers was the site of the historic battle where the Wanniya chieftain of Adangaapatru, Pandaara Wanniyan fought against British troops led by Capt. Drieberg

The thre separate military thrusts and LTTE resistance shows that the fighting is not likely to subside after the fall of Kilinochchi or Paranthan.

(Transcurrents News)

Triumphalism after Kilinochchi is continuation of politics of humiliation

by Dr.Kumar Rupasinghe

The victory over Kilinochchi by the Sri Lankan armed forces is a decisive victory. There is no question about this. The President proudly announced the fall of Kilinochchi and General Fonseka went into great detail to exemplify the battlefield strategies of the armed forces and crowds in several cities lit crackers to celebrate the victory. We have now been assured that 2009 will be the year when the battles will be over and we can all regain our lost Paradise. Will the war be over, that is the question? There have been numerous battle field victories in the past but winning a battle is not winning the war.

The fall of Jaffna

The fall of Kilinochchi is reminiscent of the fall of Jaffna, during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time in 1995. Victories against the LTTE were celebrated with much fanfare and General Anuruddha Ratwatte was seen hoisting the Sri Lankan flag in the Jaffna Kachcheri. On 6th December, the state controlled Daily News reported triumphantly “ Deputy Defence Minister Col. Anuruddha Ratwatte, deputizing for President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, on the invitation of Northern Commander Rohan Daluwatte, hoisted the Lion flag in the re-taken Jaffna town at a simple, but impressive formal ceremony at the auspicious time of 11.52 am on Tuesday (5 December)... Deputy Defence Minister Ratwatte inspected a guard of honour at the former Jaffna Fort before hoisting the national flag. Martial music preceded the hoisting of flag. Some historians have already looked upon the liberation of Jaffna, Yapa Patuna of ancient fame, as a historical parallel to its re-taking by Prince Sapumal in the 15th century by vanquishing the forces of rebel chief Arya Chakravarti. Prince Sapumal later ascended the throne as King Buvenekabahu IV.."

The Time magazine commenting on the victory ceremony held on 6th December in Colombo said thus : "... In a function room in the Presidential Secretariat, (broadcast live on national television), Sri Lanka's leader (President Chandrika Kumaratunga) stood gravely before a line of tough-looking military officers. Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, fresh from hoisting the flag in Jaffna town, presented her with a scroll rolled up inside a red velvet container. The scroll was dated "full moon day of the month of Unduwap in the year 2539 in the Buddhist Era." It read, "Your Excellency's rule and authority has been firmly re-established" in the historic city. The territory was not referred to as Jaffna, its official name, but "Yapa Patuna" the term used by conquerors in medieval times. The victory of Jaffna was celebrated in a ghost town where over half a million people had left in a mass exodus and moved to the Wanni. The houses were empty and only stray dogs greeted the invading Sri Lankan army. Similarly Kilinochchi was a ghost town when the armed forces took over an abandoned and derelict town. Kilinochchi which was the capital of the LTTE had been razed to the ground with many thousand tons of bombs from the countless sorties of the Sri Lanka Air Force. Fortunately, the President did not resort to the pseudo-nationalist rhetoric and was careful not to evoke the metaphors of Sinhala Buddhism. He tried to portray the victory as a victory of all the peoples. But these words will ring hollow if the historic grievances of the Tamils which surely were the root causes of terrorism are not addressed.

The battle for Mulaithivu

The rhetoric of the LTTE in the course of the battle for Kilinochchi was strident and Prabhakaran who usually does not give statements or interviews made the statement that Kilinochchi would never be captured and that President Mahinda Rajapakse was day dreaming. His Police Chief Nadesen was later to revise his leader’s proclamation by admitting that Kilinochchi would be conceded but that the LTTE would live to fight another day. Now the battle field will be restricted to 40 square miles of jungle heavily fortified and where the displaced people of the Wanni, over 200,000, live in terrible conditions. The LTTE will seek refuge and cover amongst them and resist the multi pronged thrust of the armed forces. Mulaithivu is certainly not Thoppigala and it will take many battles to conquer this well fortified jungle area. Although Kilinochchi has been taken and retaken many times over, Mulaithivu remains a formidable bastion of the LTTE. Whether the LTTE can resist this assault is yet to be seen. The LTTE has been seriously wounded but it still enjoys the support of the Tamil people, particularly in the Diaspora and its leader is still accepted by the organisation. It still has unlimited quantities of weapons, its suicide squads and commandos who can continue to destabilize the country. The LTTE surely has to learn its lessons within the jungles of Mulaithivu. There is no point in dreaming about a foreign power coming to its rescue and whatever happens in South India, the Indian State will not encourage a separate state near its own border. Neither is Sri Lanka a Kosovo; it would be foolish to imagine that NATO or the “international community” will come to its rescue. It will also have to learn the lessons of the use of terror and how it has not only alienated the South, but also its own people who have now experienced continuous displacement and mass exodus. The LTTE will have to learn that politics must be in command and that it has to find ways and means of genuinely fighting for the the freedom of its own people.

The politics of humiliation

The triumphalism which is now portrayed by the mass media is mostly election rhetoric but it does leave a sour feeling amongst the Tamil people. Whilst the LTTE is reprehensible to many Tamils, they do not see any light in the dark tunnel that they have been kept during the last sixty years. The question that arises is whether we as a nation and a people should demonstrate a mood of triumphalism in conquest, when in fact the conquered are our own people or a part of our people. I remember well when Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Deputy Defence Minister hoisted the Sri Lankan flag in the Jaffna town. In an interview I gave to the BBC at that time, I said that it was a day of shame for the Sinhalese people, for we are hoisting our flag in our country amongst our own people. No sooner did the takeover of Kilinochchi take place, many Tamil shops closed in fear and reports indicate that people in the hill country also closed their doors amidst provocations by mobs. Now the bloodletting has started with the gutting of the Sirasa T.V. station where armed men laid siege on the building. Not a day had passed with the take over of Kilinochchi, the inimitable Wimal Weerawansa made a press statement that the APRC has to be scrapped and there should be no concessions to any form of devolution of power. I said at that time that the fate of the Sinhalese and the Tamil people are like two sides of the same coin and that our destinies are intricately linked to each other and that we have to co-exist with dignity. The majority peoples will be measured by the treatment they mete out to the other, to paraphrase a point made by President elect Barack Obama.

The Sinhalese people have to go into deep reflection and at least now ask some profound questions as to the roots of terrorism which found ready soil in Sri Lanka. These questions cannot be wished away. Nor can they be swept under the carpet by the triumphalism and war hysteria which are constant refrains of our mass media. Such triumphalism is but a continuation of the politics of humiliation which has beset this island for the last sixty years. If we are to rid the country of “terrorism” and ensure that it does not raise its ugly head again, the Sinhalese people have to deeply reflect on their contribution to the politics of humiliation. As I have repeatedly argued, ad - infinitum, it is not the battle for territory that will win the war, but winning the hearts of a people. This means that the minorities must feel that they have a stake in the country, that they can live in dignity, that they can share power without carrots being thrown at them at the whim and fancy of our leaders. We have to have statesman similar to Nelson Mandela or the leaders who formed the European Union, who with a single voice cried out loud “Never Again” to war and mayhem in the continent of Europe. They did not practice politics of revenge, but in a spirit of reconciliation which guided these leaders, created legislation and frameworks for reconciliation and equal participation. Today, these nations have risen from the carnage of war to powerful multi ethnic societies.

In the same way our leaders, by this I mean the President, the Leader of the Opposition, and other leaders of our political class must move towards introducing reforms and legislation which rectify this historical harm and damage done to all our peoples. This means first of all, immediate implementation of the 13th Amendment as a first step in implementing the proposals put forward by the APRC, measures to accelerate the implementation of the two languages policy in all public institutions and legislation to be introduced to ensure that no ethnic profiling and discrimination are practised by public institutions. The President has indicated that he would be willing to implement the 13th Amendment as a first step and the APRC report has now been finalized. I hope that the elections in the coming months will be a referendum for the sharing of power and that people will be asked to vote for a Sri Lanka where all peoples will live in dignity.

Will Peace Finally Come to Sri Lanka?

By Barbara Crossette

In recent days, events of importance to South Asia have been unfolding in Sri Lanka, where decades of civil war have all but destroyed the international reputation of what was once the region's most progressive and democratic country. The Sri Lankan army, on the march against an armed ethnic Tamil movement, has seized the rebels' de facto capital and is closing in on the last strongholds of the group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE, pioneers of the suicide bomber and the cyanide capsule, and the most totalitarian and lethal guerrilla organization in contemporary Asia, have suffered "a body blow from which there can be no recovery as far as anyone knows," an editorial said Monday in the Hindu, one of India's leading publications. The paper, whose editor, N. Ram, knows the Tigers well, called this an existential crisis for the LTTE "the gravest it has faced in three decades of armed struggle."

The story is far from over, however, and the fallout of this unexpected military success will extend beyond the shores of the Indian Ocean island nation formerly known as Ceylon. In Sri Lanka itself there are fears within the Sinhalese majority that a wave of ethnic triumphalism will shatter the chances of healing a bloody ethnic rift and rebuilding a shared nation. And across the Palk Straits in India's Tamil Nadu state, there is already a clamor to come to the aid of fellow Tamils, reigniting a visceral fear of Tamil chauvinism among Indian political leaders.

India has been entangled in the fate of the Tigers for many years, beginning in the 1970s when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave the go-ahead to Indian intelligence agencies to aid and train Sri Lankan rebels to undercut a pro-Western Sri Lankan government she mistrusted. There were nearly a half-dozen Tamil groups in the field then and most of them established bases in Tamil Nadu. In the 1980s, journalists searching for the Tamil Tiger leadership found it in a residential neighborhood of Madras, now Chennai.

Grievances among ethnic Tamils, whose historical and cultural heartland has been Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula since the third century BC, were rooted in steps taken by successive Sri Lankan governments, dominated by a Sinhalese Buddhist majority, to marginalize Tamils and their language. Tamils are largely Hindu, though there are Christians in both ethnic groups. Many Jaffna Tamils (distinct from the Indian Tamils of the highland tea country farther south) had been educated in American missionary schools, spoke English and were favored by British colonial administrators for government jobs.

Tamils were killing Tamils in this civil war before it became an island-wide, inter-ethnic conflict. By the late 1970s, the LTTE, under a ruthless and shadowy leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had begun systematically to eliminate competing guerrilla groups and moderate mainstream Tamil politicians who tried to rectify wrongs within the political arena in Colombo, the island capital. Sri Lanka has had democratically elected governments since independence in 1948.

In 1983, a wider national war began after the Tamil Tigers murdered a group of thirteen Sri Lankan troops, and the Sinhalese government allowed, if not actually encouraged, an inflamed mob to attack Tamils and Tamil property in Colombo. The LTTE unleashed a terror campaign hallmarked by bombings and assassinations that killed thousands of innocent people almost at random and decimated a generation of Sri Lankan political leaders, Tamil and Sinhala. The Tigers also assassinated the country's leading human rights lawyer, Neelan Tiruchelvam, a Tamil who gave his life trying to bridge ethnic divides. Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka military became more heavy-handed and brutal.

Sri Lanka bungled its case diplomatically and very quickly lost an international propaganda war to the LTTE, which established a large overseas network of supporters. Tamils in the diaspora gave money willingly or were regularly strong-armed for contributions. A large arms-smuggling network was set up.

Most of the world did not see what was happening in Sri Lanka, and outsiders were willing to believe that the Tigers were leading a legitimate fight for an oppressed minority and were the victims of official human rights abuses, not the instigators of terror. The voices of unarmed moderate Tamils were never heard. Most of them were soon silenced.

Indian troops intervened openly in Sri Lanka in 1987, but to disarm the LTTE, not aid it. Rajiv Gandhi, reversing his mother's earlier policies, had signed an agreement with Sri Lanka to end the rebellion and send peacekeepers. The Indian intervention turned disastrous, as the Indians took many casualties in a standoff with the LTTE. At the same time the Indian military presence on the island provoked a catastrophic and unbelievably brutal Sinhala nationalist uprising in the south.

By the early 1990s Sri Lanka and its important tourist industry were in tatters. But India had suffered also. In 1991, the Tiger leader Prabhakaran, abandoned and humiliated by Indian troops in Jaffna, ordered the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who was duly blown up by a female Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning in Tamil Nadu.

International public opinion was shifting by then, and in the succeeding decade the LTTE was added to terrorist lists in the United States, Canada, Europe and India. The Sri Lankan army began to make gains; the Tiger movement split. After a 2002 truce fell apart and fighting resumed in 2006, even pacifists among the Sinhalese conceded reluctantly that perhaps a decisive military victory was the only way out of the horror that had befallen the island.

In India, Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia, is now leader of the Congress Party, which dominates the governing coalition and which has refused calls to intervene in Sri Lanka again. Congress faces an election battle this year and political opponents in Tamil Nadu appear willing to make a campaign cause of the government's unwillingness to stop Sri Lanka crushing the LTTE. Opposition Tamil Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party and communists are both accusing New Delhi of betrayal.

What has been lost in Sri Lanka? A reasonably egalitarian society with human development measures that still exceed India's--in better health care, near-universal education and literacy, protected rights for women and numerous other factors--descended on all sides into brutality for long enough to numb too many consciences. (Buddhist monks are among the fiercest of Sinhala nationalists.) Political civility has given way to the culture of the tinted-glass, gun-infested SUV. Resentment still lingers among distrustful Tamils; the LTTE, now cornered in a still-sizable patch of jungle and reliant on abducted child soldiers, may strike again with new ferocity. Suicide is part of its ethos.

Sri Lanka, a small country without powerful international backers, still has not made its case in the West, where old habits and perceptions die hard. Last year a group of Western democracy and human rights groups led a successful campaign to deny Sri Lankans a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (where such nations as China, Cuba, Pakistan and Azerbaijan enjoy membership.) A cause for smug satisfaction, perhaps, but no contest, really, in targeting a small and tormented nation. If peace can be achieved, Sri Lanka deserves better than that. [courtesy: The Nation]

Barbara Crossette is The Nation's United Nations correspondent.

Army moves in as Tigers withdraw from Vadamratchy East and Pallai

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Wednesday January 7th 2008 continued withdrawing from entrenched positions in the Jaffna peninsula and evacuating cadres to the northern mainland.

The 53 division commanded by Brig. Kamal Gunaratne and 55 division commanded by Brig. Prasanna Silva are currently moving into positions vacated by the LTTE.

The 53 division is now moving into Pallai on the A – 9 highway that has been vacated by the tigers who have fallen back to areas near the Puthukkaadu santhi or junction from which a road branches out eastwards to Maruthankerni via Soranpatru and Maasaar.

The LTTE earlier maintained offices in Pallai and also had an artillery battery positioned there.

The tigers have dismantled their artillery and relocated them elsewhere.

The LTTE has also begun vacating positions along the coastal east Vadamaraatchy area. Tigers have fallen back to positions south of Aaliyawalai now.

Earlier the tiger presence extended northwards up to Nagar Kovil south.

The 55 division has now broken out of Nagar Kovil and commenced a coastal trek downwards.

LTTE cadres are being continuously evacuated by tigers to the mainland. Some are being taken in sea tiger boats while others are crossing the Chundikulam lagoon from Kmbaatty to Ooriyaan.

Instead of trying to break through the weakened tiger defences and attacking fleeing LTTE cadres as they did no Tuesday Jan 6th the armed forces remained non – combative on Wednesday.

It appears that the army is well aware that the tigers are moving out of the peninsula and so are content to “watch and wait” rather than attack.

Likeise soldiers of 58 divison commanded by Brig. Shavendra Silva are also staying put in their newly established positions south of the Elephant Pass causeway.

Since the ground reality is that of the LTTE being sandwiched between 53 and 55 in the north and 58 in the south , the general expectation is that the LTTE will withdraw completely from the peninsula in the next few days.

The 58, 53 and 55 will then move north and south and link up thus establishing full control over the entire peninsula.

If however the LTTE continues to maintain a presence in the peninsula after evacuating the bulk of their cadres the army will most probably play a proactive role and engage the LTTE in direct combat.

At least four abandoned LTTE bases in the Kilaly, Muhamaalai and Pallai areas were demolished by the army

The bases were codenamed “Echo – 3, ECHO -9, DELTA – 2 and GOLF – 7 which was the command centre for all of the peninsula.

Until recently the LTTE’s northern front commander “Col” Theepan was stationed here.
(Transcurrents News)

Tigers in Dunkirk-type evacuation from Jaffna Peninsula

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Operation Dynamo” was the codename for the successful exercise that succeeded in evacuating trapped soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in France in May-June 1940 during world war two.

I don’t usually like to compare battles fought by the Sri Lankan armed forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) to those of world war one and two.

When comparisons were made between the fight for Kilinochchi and the siege of Stalingrad, I pointed out that the similarity was only superficial and that equating both amounted to the fallacy of false analogy.

It is with some reluctance therefore that I invoke “Dunkirk” to describe an event unfolding in the Jaffna peninsula right now. But then I do see shades of Dunkirk there! [click here to read the article in full, in dbsjeyaraj.com]

"Terror squad" which attacked MTV-MBC studio had "Militaristic Style" say eye-witnesses

Several eye – witnesses to the attack on the MTV – MBC Studio in Panniitiya allege that the “terror squad” responsible conducted itself very efficiently in militaristic mode.

These allegations have further re-inforced suspicion that those responsible belonged to the Army’s intelligence unit.

The Police has not been investigating the incident speedily despite the President announcing an intensive probe.

Unravelling the sequence of events, MTV Channel Head Chevaan Daniel said a gang of around 20 men had entered the complex at Depanama in Pannipitiya around 2:15 am. The group members who arrived in a white van without number plates were heavily armed with T-56 assault rifles, pistols, iron bars and hand grenades. They had overpowered the security personnel, grabbing two more shot guns in the process, and then entered the studio complex.

The gang then overpowered some employees, and forced the captives to show them where the main control room - the heart of the broadcast system – was located. They destroyed these with explosives, and according to Mr. Daniel had thereafter proceeded to destroy every single piece of equipment in the station. He said they even damaged the doors and windows. Mr. Daniel described the scene as a “sight of utter and total devastation”, with empty bullet shells strewn on the floor.The fire brigade managed to put out the fire using four fire engines, despite having to follow the Bomb Disposal Unit, which was performing a systematic sweep of the building complex. The attackers had initially warned about booby traps being placed, but the Bomb Disposal Unit found none. They however, managed to recover one unexploded grenade from the complex premises.

Duty Officer, MTV, Supun Ratnayake who was an eye witness to yesterday’s incident told told media that although he informed the police hotline 119 about some suspected vehicles that were parked close to the TV station without number plates, the police failed to arrive on the scene till the armed gang left the MTV premises after causing heavy damage to the building and equipment.

"I was the Duty Officer on Friday (2) night as well when a white van without a number plate threw petrol bombs at our guard room. Immediately after that incident we lodged a complaint at the Maharagama Police Station, but up to now we do not know as to what action they have taken.

"Once again on Monday we had to lodge yet another complaint with the Maharagama police when we noticed a white ‘Dolphin Van’ without a number plate near our station," claimed Ratnayake.

According to Ratnayake had the police taken prompt action to send a mobile unit to the MTV complex no sooner they were informed yesterday it could have averted the massive damage caused to the TV station

"It was disgusting the way the police reacted when informed of the incident but we know why the police failed to take prompt action," alleged Ratnayake.

According to Ratnayake a security guard had informed him of some suspected vehicles without number plates parked at the public playground close to the MTV station around 2 a.m. last morning (6) and he had immediately sent the mobile security unit to ascertain whether it was true.

"The mobile security unit returned without delay and requested me to call the police immediately to get assistance as the suspected vans were following them. I immediately called the police hotline 119 and although I informed the police they failed to send anyone," added Ratnayake.

He further stated that one man had entered his room, assaulted him for informing the police, dragged him to the gate and ordered him to kneel facing downwards.

"All the security guards and I had to kneel down for about 20 minutes while the rest of the gang went inside to accomplish their task. One young man was guarding us near the gate and we were not allowed to raise out heads. We heard them bombing the buildings and a little later they all came back to the main gate and warned us not to go inside the buildings as they have planted bombs all over and that they would go off within 10 minutes.

"After the armed gang left we were shocked to see the building ablaze and realising that some of our colleagues were trapped inside we quickly went to rescue them before the said bombs exploded," Ratnayake further stated.

According to Ratnayake the gang has arrived around 2.15 a.m and had taken only 20 minutes to accomplish their mission.

"Without any hesitation I would say that the attackers were a group of well trained men," said Ratnayake alleging that they appeared to have a militaristic presence. "This was very clear as they were able to destroy the entire station with the equipment therein within a few minutes.

This militaristic style was obvious not only from their behaviour but also from how they planned to get away in case of an emergency. They had drawn a huge cable along their pathway to enable them to come out of the building in case of a power disconnection. They threatened one of our employees to assist them in tracing the main rooms and the other important sections," added Ratnayake.

Meanwhile Director-Stations, MTV, Asoka Dias told the media that although he had requested the Maharagama Police to provide adequate security to the TV station as it was under constant attack by unidentified groups for the past few days they failed to respond to the request positively.

"Although several complaints were lodged with the Maharagama Police nothing was done to ensure our safety. Following the many requests made by us the Maharagama Police had promised to provide a police patrol unit to the TV station, but that only remained a promise and nothing was done to ensure our safety," Dias added.

(Transcurrents News)

Army military intelligence unit suspected for attack on Sirasa

The Sri Lankan Police tasked with the responsibility of investigating the attack on MTV/MBC studio (Sirasa) at Pannipitiya are displaying a marked reluctance to discharge their duties satisfactorily in probing the incident and apprehending the culprits responsible.

The Police who failed to arrive on time to prevent the attack despite being informed repeatedly are now showing great lethargy in investigating the incident in spite of President Mahinda Rajapakse announcing that he had ordered an intensive investigation into the incident.

The despicable conduct of the Police is attributed to the fact that the cops had prior knowledge of who was responsible for the attack

In spite of the authorities “stonewalling” the probe there seems little doubt in the court of public opinion about who was responsible.

Although there is no concrete proof it is widely believed that members of the military intelligence unit in the Sri Lankan army were responsible for the attack

This “terror squad” within the army engages in intimidatory violence against selected targets and enjoys immunity from detection or arrests.

The members of this motley crew are allegedly functioning as henchmen of big shots within Army upper echelons and the defence apparatus.

Opposition leader and UNP chief Ranil Wickremasinghe has “identified” the miscreants in an indirect way when he condemned the attack on Sirasa.

“It is the government that is behind the whole attack. This is not an isolated incident, as the Sirasa TV station has been constantly under attack by this government," Wickremesinghe said.

According to him those who had a hand in abducting journalist Keith Noyar and the failed attempt on Namal Perera were behind the Sirasa attack. Wickremesinghe also added that he would reveal the names of those behind this attack in time to come.

"As a responsible opposition I would take this up internationally to urge the government to stop the white van syndrome in this country. The damage caused was estimated to be around Rs. 200 million, but still MTV was in a position to transmit their programmes," Wickremesinghe said.

Briefing the media Wickremesinghe accused "a certain section" in the armed forces of supporting ‘high government officials’ to suppress those who speak out strongly against the government’s misdeeds.

"Ninety nine percent in the armed forces are law abiding citizens, but there are a few who support certain people in the government to enhance their power. This cannot be ignored and we will take action not only locally but also internationally," said Wickremesinghe.

"Although the acts of suppression inflicted on MTV/Sirasa by this government are well known, the recent spate of threats started after a group of Buddhist monks requested the government to suspend Sirasa TV telecasting the Poya Day Buddhist sermon live from Temple Trees. This was followed by the petrol bomb attack on Sirasa last Friday, and on Monday the government did not take the Sirasa crew on its tour of Killinochchi. Its next step was to destroy the MTV complex completely, but the government failed to fully accomplish its aim," Wickremesinghe told the media yesterday.

Maatara district MP and leader of SLFP (M) Mangala Samaraweera has also conde,ned the incident. Samaraweera said:

"The attack on MTV which has been one of the most Independent media institutions in Sri Lanka in the last decade should be seen not merely as an attack on a media institution but, as an invidious attack on the democratic tradition of our country. During my period as media minister and as a cabinet minister for nearly 11 years, I was also a subject of intense criticism by MTV. But, I always respected their views and never tried to stifle the media for doing so.

The cornerstone of democracy is the ability to express differing view. But unfortunately the present government which is totally averse to any form of criticism had been subjecting the MTV group to various forms of harassments over the past two years.

The white van style of operations carried out in this attack shows clearly it has been a well planned operation carried out by professionals. This sort of incident is reminiscent of the early days of Hitler’s Germany.

All those who cherish democracy must condemn this attack vehemently and it is high time that we as a nation say clearly and loudly to the government, ‘enough is enough.’"

This is a barbaric act and an attack on democracy, press freedom and rule of law. It is very difficult to travel around without the support of at least some sections of the state. For a group of 15 fully armed people to travel in a vehicle in Colombo and enter the station and attack them confirms this. It is the government’s duty to investigate and arrest the people involved. If they fail the government has to take the responsibility for this."

This is a barbaric act and an attack on democracy, press freedom and rule of law. It is very difficult to travel around without the support of at least some sections of the state. For a group of 15 fully armed people to travel in a vehicle in Colombo and enter the station and attack them confirms this. It is the government’s duty to investigate and arrest the people involved. If they fail the government has to take the responsibility for this." (Transcurrents News)

Attacking Sirasa TV: Who wants to create a headless Sri Lankan nation?

by Nalaka Gunawardene

Sirasa’ literally means ‘head’ in Sinhala. In the past 15 years, ‘Sirasa’ has also emerged as one of the most popular brands in Sri Lanka. It is the flagship name of Sri Lanka’s leading private TV broadcaster, MTV Channel (Private) Limited.

Sri Lankans woke up last morning to the disturbing news that their Sirasa was on fire. In the early hours of 6 January 2009, Sirasa group’s main studio and transmission complex was attacked, ransacked and bombed. A heavily armed and masked gang of around 20 persons had stormed the premises, located in Pannipitiya just outside Colombo, held the night staff at gunpoint and destroyed the main control room.

According to news reports, the attackers fled after inflicting targeted damage to the station’s nerve centre. They were not detected or apprehended in spite of Colombo being under heavy police protection to guard against terrorist attacks.

Within hours, the attack was widely condemned by local and international groups. It also sparked intense discussion and debate online as to who did it, and why. One blogger, who was particularly active on the topic, noted: “The culprits were not identified. The motives were apparent. Somebody badly wants to silence Sirasa TV.”

That much is clear: here was yet another case of shooting the messenger, a worrying trend that has become almost entrenched in parts of South Asia. Never mind the information content and its analysis; just attack - and hopefully silence - the messenger bearing bad news.

In other words, if you don’t like what you see in the mirror - which is what media is to society - just kick it, shatter it and hammer it into dust so that it won’t reflect anymore. Destroy all the mirrors of the land, and we’ll finally be the fairest and prettiest in the whole world. That seems to be the perverse logic that fuels attacks of this nature.

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned the attack. “Violence and threats against such privately-owned media outlets and journalists trying to impartially report on the conflict must stop,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “The government must quickly find and punish those responsible for this latest attack and see the network is compensated.

It added: “The attack seems to be because its coverage was not ‘patriotic’ enough. The network is one of the country’s few, and very popular, independent news sources. The incident recalls the November 2007 attack on the Leader Publication printing works, for which nobody has been punished.”

RSF also noted that the MTV/Sirasa network has been criticised “for not giving enough air-time to recent government victories over the rebels, with state-run media outlets accusing it of reporting a suicide attack in Colombo on 2 January, the day the army captured the rebel capital of Kilinochchi, in northern Sri Lanka. A bomb was thrown at the network’s offices just after news of the government victory was broadcast.”

In late 2008, RSF had ranked Sri Lanka among the bottom 10 countries for its media freedom. At No 165 among 173 countries assessed, Sri Lanka is in the company of Cuba, Burma, North Korea, China and Iran. (Interestingly, the latter two are among Sri Lanka’s key donors of bilateral aid or credit.)

Attacking the untamed and pluralistic media is characteristic of these bottom-ranked countries and their intolerant regimes. That is what happened to Geo TV network in Pakistan in 2007-2008, when it bore news that the military dictator General Musharraf and his cronies didn’t like. In March 2007, the station was broadcasting live images of anti-Musharraf street protests when the riot police stormed the Islamabad offices of Geo, the country’s most popular TV network and caused damage. (In 2008, RSF ranked Pakistan at No 152 among 173 countries for its media freedom.)

Within hours, Musharraf had “apologized for the raid…and indicated that the action had been executed without his approval”. But Hamid Mir, the station’s bureau chief, said that was insufficient. “They (police) wanted to destroy this newsroom…They were trying to send a message to the whole media by attacking Geo TV.”

In some respects, Sirasa TV is Sri Lanka’s own version of Geo TV. The latter’s resolve amidst much adversity from the Pakistan’s military rulers earned it worldwide praise, even if it had to pay a heavy price for such defiance. The station was driven off the air for some time in late 2007, and later its offshore transmissions from Dubai were also suspended under pressure from Pakistani government. But Geo had the last laugh.

We can only hope that the Sirasa TV situation will not evolve to such drastic levels. Surprising its viewers (and perhaps also its attackers?), the Sirasa group’s television channels managed to get back on their feet within a few hours of the attack - for much of January 6, they ran a combined transmission that showed the extent of damage and aired many and varied comments of politicians, artists, intellectuals and ordinary viewers shocked by this turn of events.

MTV channel head Chevaan Daniel was quoted as saying that “it would be a while before normal programming can be resumed”. He says the current broadcasting set-up was due to the ingenuity of the engineering staff of MTV.

This isn’t the first time Sirasa group has literally risen from the ashes. A fire broke out at the same studio complex on on 6 January 2001, which was not linked to arson, but nevertheless caused massive damage. On that occasion, state-owned TV channel Rupavahini - which lags behind Sirasa TV in Sri Lankan TV ratings by independent market research firms - came to its gutted rival’s help. The one-time monopoly broadcaster loaned some of its transmission facilities to Sirasa to get back on the air, but it took the latter station weeks to resume its regular schedule.

Just a few years later, such inter-station solidarity seems unthinkable. The Sri Lankan broadcast media landscape is now so polarised between those who uncritically support the government, and those who choose to practise the time-honoured principles of journalism, such as consulting multiple sources and accommodating a multitude of opinions. Sirasa group, and its news operation branded as News 1st, operate on this basis: their slogan is ‘we report, you decide’.

It’s precisely that kind of rational and independent thinking that the attackers on Sirasa would rather not allow. Media and human rights activists have already said that the attack on Sirasa is far more than an act of violence against an individual media organisation. Indeed, it goes far deeper: it’s an attempt to zombify a society, to turn 20 million Sri Lankans into a headless nation that can then be herded, remote-controlled and led in any direction to the beat of war drums…with no one asking irritating questions.

Tragically, sections of the private media have already fallen in line to such an extent that they behave so much like docile school boys and girls. The country has 3 state-owned TV channels and a dozen privately owned channels, all broadcasting signals free to air, and some more cable or DTH channels available to paying subscribers. But this proliferation of channels - the product of (imperfect yet useful) media liberalisation since the early 1990s - has not been matched by a corresponding plurality of views.

If their station logos were suddenly removed, I would find it hard to discern between state TV and some private - and supposedly independent - TV channels!

To be fair, all private channels - both radio and TV - have reasons to mind their step. They operate on broadcast licenses granted on governmental discretion. What I wrote in a commentary in November 2006 still holds: “When it comes to radio and TV broadcasting, private operators are completely at the government’s mercy.

The highly discretionary broadcast licensing system has always lacked transparency, accountability and consistency from the time private broadcasting was first permitted in 1992. Since then, several governments have been in office, and while election manifestos regularly promised the creation of a broadcasting authority, such a body has not yet materialised.”

A further attempt to regulate private TV broadcasters in October 2008 was delayed only because media activists petitioned Supreme Court which ordered further study and hearings.

In this turbulent, unfair and unjust media scenario, Sirasa group’s channels have tried hard to uphold the people’s right to information, offering a platform for a diversity of views, and opportunity for public discussion and debate. The station telecasts in three main languages on separate channels: MTV Channel One in English, Sirasa TV in Sinhala and Shakthi TV in Tamil. No other station has such dedicated channels for each of the country’s three official languages. Programme content of the channels includes news, educational programmes, family entertainment, music, sports, teledramas and game shows.

Sirasa group has been an innovator and pathfinder pushing the limits of Sri Lankan broadcasting. For the past decade, it has been a case of the group’s bouquet of radio and TV channels leading and all others struggling to follow. Sirasa innovates; all others emulate or shamelessly copy!

When innovation led to popularity and market domination, that inevitably inspired much jealousy among its less successful rivals. Especially the former monopolists of state radio and state TV have been very bitter about being beaten in their own game by this relatively young, dynamic and innovative channel. I call them tired old aunties without eyeballs. At their age, they need to watch out: too much of sour grapes can cause serious indigestion.

It’s not surprising that, unable to compete in the marketplace of ideas, they should resort to patriotism, the usual last resort of the scoundrel. As RSF noted in its statement: “The state-owned media has recently attacked MTV/MBC for supposedly being “unpatriotic,” which has forced some of its journalists to censor themselves or flee the country.”

Yet amidst all the frustration, envy, finger-pointing and fist-waving, how many of Sirasa’s detractors and competitors have paused to think why Sirasa remains the ratings leader in radio and television broadcasting in Sri Lanka? Why does this channel have such wide appeal among the various ethnic and religious groups who call Sri Lanka home, and from across the social and education spectrum? To begin their search, they might start looking in the mirror.

Meanwhile, the vocal minority of Sirasa’s critics - some of who have already tried to justify the latest attack - would do well to remember that there’s a cheaper, entirely legal and far more civilised way to silence a TV channel they find objectionable or even offensive for one reason or another.

It’s a little gadget called the remote control. Try it once in a while.

Declaration of interest: I consider myself part of Sirasa’s extended family. I have been a regular ‘TV pundit’ on Sirasa airwaves for at least a decade, and in 2008 co-produced a TV debate series called Sri Lanka 2048 which explored choices for creating a more sustainable Sri Lanka over the next 40 years. This doesn’t mean that I uncritically cheer everything they do. As my friends at Sirasa know very well, I don’t always agree with them, but we respect each other’s right to hold differing opinions.

(This article appeared first in www.movingimages.wordpress.com)

Political compromise should follow military victory in Sri Lanka

By Ashok K. Mehta

Could it be that Sri Lanka's quarter-century battle against a fierce insurgency is nearly over? The government's capture of Kilinochchi, the northern stronghold of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, represents a major victory. But the military can't win this war alone, and the next phase of the war could see the Tigers turn to guerrilla warfare to continue their fight. Winning the fight will require a combination of military subjugation of remaining Tiger fighters and a political solution for the majority of the country's Tamil population.

Although Colombo can't end the war just yet, it's closer to being able to than it has been at any other point in the conflict. Under President Mahinda Rajapakse, the military has transformed into an efficient fighting force. Kilinochchi itself has fallen, and so has the Elephant Pass to the north, the patch that connects the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the island. The Tigers are now boxed into an area of 1,000 square kilometers with 3,000 hardcore fighters backed by 300,000 Tamil civilians who, the government says, are being used as human shields.

The Tigers' last-ditch stand will be around their bastion Mullaithivu, the coastal stronghold in the northeast which they seized from the military in 1996. The LTTE is left with one option: to defend Mullaithivu until it can't anymore, and then to break out into classic guerrilla warfare backed by terrorism. Since the fall of Kilinochchi, Tigers have struck twice in the heart of the capital.

So the war is not going to end anytime soon, only the conventional phase will. Now the government will have to focus on a political solution for ethnic Tamils. While most Tamils are not terrorists or guerrillas themselves, their longstanding unresolved grievances with the Sinhalese-majority government have made the community fertile ground for Tiger recruiting. Integrating this community into some form of stable political system will be key.

The template in the north will be the Eastern Province, a majority-Tamil-Muslim area that had been a theater in the Tiger-government conflict. In 2004, the government capitalized on a split within the Tiger leadership in the east to align itself with a splinter group led by Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, known as Karuna. In 2006, the government legally split the eastern province from the northern majority-Tamil area, forming two separate provinces. Through its loose alignment with Karuna's faction, the government was able to subdue the Eastern Province in 2007.

This resulted in local elections in 2008, followed by a Provincial Council vote. The "Rising of the East" ceremony that followed in Colombo was hailed as a new dawn for the region. Yet dark clouds of skepticism remain, even within the government. One of President Rajapakse's Tamil Muslim ministers, Rauf Hakeem, described the event as a political exercise built on military gains that made Tamils feel a "conquered people."

Delivering results -- especially economic opportunities -- will be key to dispelling such doubts, both in the East and also in the North once the government unveils a similar political settlement there. This has proven to be a challenge for Colombo. In particular, Colombo has faced charges it's dragging its feet to implement the 13th amendment to the constitution, which provides for devolution, a policy that would offer regional governments in Tamil areas greater power.

The new political structure in the East has also posed challenges to the Tamils, who have not often had to consider seriously questions about their own future. Debate continues over whether Tamils should favor devolution at all costs, or less devolution if it means greater access to resources from Colombo that could help economic development. Some so-called moderate Tamils are siding with the government by voicing preference for development over devolution. This plays in the hands of Sinhala government officials who want devolution to be nominal.

Meanwhile, Tamil suspicion of the government in Colombo is unlikely to abate anytime soon. Mr. Rajapakse has shifted the official rhetoric away from ethnicity and toward counterterrorism, describing the current spell of victories as liberation of the Tamils from the clutches of "LTTE terrorists." But the Sinhalese, who feel squeezed between their Tamil minority at home and the 60 million Tamils 24 kilometers across the water in India, have long viewed subjugation of the Tamils as a key goal. The sole painting on the wall in the Army Commander's office in Colombo is of a Sinhalese king on an elephant with a vanquished Tamil chieftain at his feet.

Mr. Rajapakse hopes to leverage wins over the Tigers into electoral gains in early elections that would help his party consolidate power. He is within kissing distance of Mullaithivu and, with the capture of that last major rebel stronghold, a conventional victory. But he cannot rewrite the rules of counterinsurgency that only a political resolution of the ethnic conflict can address the grievances of ethnic Tamils. The next front in this war will be political.

Gen. Mehta is a retired major general of the Indian army who has served in Sri Lanka.

[courtesy: Wall Street Journal]

January 06, 2009

What can and should Tamils do if LTTE (Tamil Militancy) fails?

by E. A. V. Naganathan

Is the path of armed resistance adopted by the LTTE the only course open to Tamils? NO.

There are in my view two insuperable and inevitable objections to the militarism advocated by the LTTE. Firstly, it is out of date. The world unfortunately for Mr. Prabhakaran does not look favourable on totalitarianism, especially where it is in tandem with terrorism. The trend increasingly is towards democracy. Maybe, because of a growing conviction that even the worst-run democracy is usually more just, more peaceful, and even more prosperous than the best-run dictatorship. So there can be no quarrel between Tamil rights of nationality and democracy, because, as a part of the great whole of humanity, the Tamils have a claim on democracy, and the LTTE and all its works, just does not fit into this wider and futuristic framework.

Secondly, the LTTE methodology of militancy is proving far too expensive in terms of Tamil lives and resources. The question has been asked whether any other strategy could have coped with the violence of the Sri Lankan state practiced on the Tamils since 1956. The answer is that violent militancy, too, has failed to deliver, instead devastating the North and East and stalking the Tamils with displacement and death.

There is an alternative that I support and that is Non-Violent Direct Action, exemplified several decades ago by the Civil Rights Movement under Martin Luther King in the USA, and in our own times by the Falun Gong Movement in China, which are very practical alternative techniques to militancy-cum-terrorism. I see several features in this strategy which are positive and relevant to the Tamil people everywhere.

Firstly, it will involve large masses, if not all, of the Tamil people. No longer will the lucky ones, who managed to get or stay away and are currently marketing their brains or brawn aboard or in the non-combatant zone in the country, be able to get the vicarious satisfaction of participating in the 'struggle' by simply opening their purses from time to time, leaving it to the rustic inhabitants of the 'uncleared' area of the North and East to face the reality in all its nastiness.
Secondly, it will preclude the enormous waste of resources in the purchase of arms, presently finding its way into the pockets of the global merchants of death, which could be far better spent in rehabilitating the N. and E., presently lying in ruins. Personally, I find the spectacle of 3rd party Tamils gloating over the conflict on their TV screens or in the headlines of newspapers, deplorable. The alternative I support provides a less unethical, less immoral and certainly less mortal route to the same experience of involvement - and it is open to every Tamil.

In line with this thinking I suggest that all Tamil parties should establish their permanent headquarters in the North and the East. So, also, the Tamil social service organizations or humanitarian agencies. All the foreign NGOs have already done so. The Hindu cultural and religious organizations should follow suit. The Tamil people everywhere else should consider it their bounden duty to look after their less-fortunate brethren in the N. and E. as a priority, live soberly, and demonstrate to the rest of the world that they take their responsibilities as a people, seriously and ethically Non-violence with Direct Action is not naive, but a rough factor for real politic based on careful study of human psychology. There is the Tamils evolution in the revolutionary tactics of non-violence to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Thondaman s prayer campaigns were a case in point. It will enable the Tamils and the parties to appeal with confidence to the conscience of the international community, as expressed in international law, world opinion and international institutions. It will realistically facilitate an UN-sponsored armistice and UN-supervised referendum that will hand back the Tamil land to the Tamil people.

I believe that it is for the Tamil people in the North and East to decide how they wish to settle the Tamil question - to plagiarize Al Gore, 'Let the people have their say'. There has been no properly elected civilian representation in the N. and E. since 1977 - a period of 23 years in which a whole generation has grown to maturity without experiencing democracy in action. The Tamil peoples will can only be vindicated after this lapse of 23 years, if they have an opportunity of expressing that will at free and fair elections. This is not possible, regrettably, under the present dispensation, whether it be the present Government or the Opposition that is in power. It can only be feasible under the auspices of an UN-sponsored Election Monitoring Team.

All current peace initiatives seem directed towards one end - talks with LTTE. I am sorry, but I do not see that as an equation that is ipse facto, true. Does the LTTE, or for that matter any of the Tamil parties, have a mandate from the Tamil people? The peace groups, the Government, the Opposition, the Norwegians, the British seem to accept this as an axiom. No one has, however, cared to test it with the Tamil people. That is why I say that it is time that Tamil people everywhere, whether in the 'cleared', or 'uncleared' areas, or in the rest of the country, or abroad, demand their right to an open forum in which to have their say. How create the conditions for the Tamil people to exercise their right to enter the debate and negotiate the final answer to the Tamil question that concerns them most? My suggestion is, in the context of the inability or unwillingness of all these parties concerned to keep the peace in the North and East, that a UN Elections Monitoring Team be called in to install a properly elected, civilian government, freely chosen and clothed with power and responsibility. This is the rationale for UN intervention. For one thing, it will yoke all the Tamil parties, including the LTTE, into agreements and arrangements that explicitly provide for democracy and human rights safeguards. In addition, life in the N. and E. will return to normal. What that means can, perhaps, best be expressed in terms of the reverse of all the abnormal, aberrant behaviourism that have been observed in that land in recent times.

Every opportunity should be grasped by the Tamil people and parties alike to establish links with groups of enlightened Sinhalese opinion that perceive the good of all implicit in breaking the hold of the present Sinhala ruling class over the affairs of the country, defeating majoritarianism and replacing the present unitarianism and centrist structure of government by a new confederative structure or consociation of nationalities. This, in a plural society such as ours, is the only suitable vehicle for democracy, according parity, equality and tolerance at all levels of government and society and culture and liberating the down-trodden and oppressed, whether Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malaya or Burgher or other, so that they may live in peace, dignity and concord, without either class or ethnic bias and where there is scope for all without the one subsuming the other.

(An extract from an article * What can Tamil people and Tamil Political Parties, do to resolve Tamil question? * written by E. A. V. Naganathan)

Army takes Kilaly and Muhamalai as Tigers withdraw to Puthukkaadu junction

The Sri Lankan armed forces scored two more significant successes when troops belonging to 53 division captured the Kilaly and Muhamaalai areas by Tuesday January 6th evening.

After offering token resistance the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) withdrew from entrenched positions in both these areas to the south and south – eastern region of the peninsula.

The LTTE has now retreated to a third defence line set up along the Puthukkaddu junction along the A – 9.

Soldiers however were attempting to move further forward to the 3rd line with intensive artillery support.

Fighting however continues sporadically between the LTTE and 55 division soldiers in the Nagar Kovil region.

All transport along the A – 9 were stopped for several hours in the Thenmaratchy sector.

LTTE positions in the Jaffna peninsula were set up along an axis comprising Kilaly in the west, Muhamaalai in the center and Nagar Kovil in the east.

Currently all areas to the west and north of the A – 9 highway are in army hands. Soldiers are expanding their control to the south and east of the Jaffna – Kandy road.

The LTTE is at present in control of the coastal strip in the peninsula from Nagar Kudaarappu in the north to Chundikkulam lagoon in the south.

The LTTE has also withdrawn further to the south of the peninsula to areas south of Puthukkaadu junction which include Iyakkachchi and northern elephant pass.

While the LTTE is expected to resist militarily for a while in these areas military analysts rule out the possibility of the tigers retaining these areas for long.

Already LTTE cadres are withdrawing from the peninsula to the northern mainland.

The LTTE is crossing the lagoon by boats and rafts in from Kommaatty in the peninsula to Ooriyaan in the mainland.

Transport along the A – 9 highway from peninsula to mainland is impossible because the 58 division soldiers are occupting southern elephant pass thus blocking access through the causeway.

The LTTE in the peninsula is thus sandwiched in between the 53 and 55 divisions in the north and 58 division in the south.

While tigers continue to resist after withdrawing from some areas it is doubtful whether they can hold out for a long period say analysts.

Nevertheless the prospect of tigers launching a counter - attack or attempting to hold on to a coastal strip of land in the peninsula despite the danger of being outmanoeuvred in a double envelopement movement is not ruled out by some observers.

(Transcurrents News)

India’s RAW observes Sri Lanka’s North from air in secret hi-tech plane

By S. Venkat Narayan

A day after the Sri Lankan army took over Kilinochchi, the so-called administrative capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and pushed the harried rebels to the northern jungles of Mullaithivu, India has sent a select team of officials from the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) on a secret surveillance mission across the Palk Straits.

The Times of India quoted unnamed sources in a report published today as saying that an aircraft belonging to the Air Research Centre (ARC), a top secret wing of Indian external intelligence agency (RAW), took off from Chennai airport around 3am on Saturday, January 3.

However, the sources refused to confirm if the ARC exercise was undertaken on a request from the Sri Lankan government.

"The ARC aircraft, which took off from Chennai with high-tech espionage equipment, flew quite close to the Sri Lankan coast and got back to another airport without returning to Chennai," the newspaper further quoted its source as saying.

ARC has a fleet of Boeings and Embraers fitted with some of the best cameras for high-altitude photography. They can fly well above 40,000 feet.

The vision of the cameras, made on the lines of satellite cameras, can penetrate clouds and get photographs of spatial resolution of less than one metre. This means a small vehicle or even a person on the ground can be photographed from a height of 40,000 feet and above.

For civilian flights, there are internationally accepted pre-set codes. But the ARC aircraft use codes and call signs other than these, and keep changing them before every exercise.

The exercises are so secretive that ARC uses its own pilots, and not even those from the Indian Air Force (IAF). There is no fixed air base for ARC. It uses civilian airports and IAF air bases.

A Chennai airport source told the daily that there was little notice for ARC’s January 3 mission. The flight came from some other airfield and took off from Chennai on its secret mission.

(S. Venkat Narayan is a veteran Indian journalist and is a special correspondent of the Colombo newspaper "The Island")

India, USA, UK, Japan call for political solution After Capture of Kilinochchi.

In a significant development after Kilinochchi was captured by the Sri lankan armed forces, several important countries like the United States of America, Britain , India and Japan have called on the parties in Sri Lanka to pursue a political solution.

The fall of Kilinochchi represents an important point in the 25-year war that has divided Sri Lanka; the US Embassy in Colombo said , adding that they hope it will help hasten an end to the conflict.

“The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE, a group designated by the United States since 1997 as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. However, we do believe that a broad range of other Tamil voices and opinions must be brought into a political process to reach a political solution that Tamils inside and outside of Sri Lanka see as legitimate,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

The U.S. believes that a lasting, sustainable peace can best be achieved if the Sri Lankan Government works now to reach a political solution that addresses the aspirations of all Sri Lankans, including Tamils, Muslims, and Sinhalese, the statement said.

In a separate development, the British government in a joint press statement issued by Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British Government, Lord Malloch Brown and Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander said the fall of Kilinochchi makes it even more urgent that all parties achieve progress on setting out a political solution that addresses the legitimate concerns of all communities.

“This development makes it even more urgent that all parties achieve progress on setting out a political solution that addresses the legitimate concerns of all communities. This is the only way to achieve a strong and sustainable peace in Sri Lanka in which all communities can prosper. We remain concerned about the humanitarian impact of the conflict and call on all parties to abide by their obligations under International Humanitarian Law; in particular the need to ensure the safety of civilians, to allow their free movement in the Wanni and to enhance access for humanitarian agencies to facilitate the delivery of adequate supplies of humanitarian aid,” the British statement said.

Meanwhile, India reiterated that the military option would not resolve Sri Lanka’s longstanding ethnic conflict but instead the Sri Lankan government would have to look at a political solution.

"There are several aspects to the Sri Lankan problem. Addressing them in isolation is not sufficient to resolve the problem," Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told journalists when asked to comment on the Lankan military offensive in Sri Lanka.

"There is no military solution to the problem, no matter how the military situation might fluctuate. One side may be up or down," he underlined.

He said the military situation might change but there is more to the situation in Sri Lanka than the military aspect.

"Until there is political understanding within the framework of a united Sri Lanka within which all communities of Sri Lanka are comfortable, you cannot speak of a political solution to the situation," Mr. Menon reiterated and added that there was also a humanitarian aspect, involving civilians caught in the conflict between the military and the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka for whom India had sent relief and would continue to do so.

Mr. Menon also referred to Prabhakaran and said India had consistently sought his extradition to face trial in India with the request being renewed repeatedly.

In a further development, Japan, Sri Lanka's top donor, was also cautious after the Tamil Tiger rebels' capital fell, with an official saying that only a political solution could resolve the island’s ethnic war.

"The real solution to the ethnic conflict can be realised only through political efforts," a Japanese foreign ministry official in charge of Sri Lankan matters told AFP.

"Japan will keep encouraging the Sri Lankan government to pursue a political solution to the ethnic conflict by promoting local autonomy in the northeast region," he said.

The official requested anonymity as Japan has not yet officially reacted to the events in Sri Lanka, He said, however, that he expected the bloodshed to continue.

"Capturing the de facto capital of the rebels holds symbolic meaning but its military significance is limited," he said.

"The conflict is expected to continue in the jungles of eastern Sri Lanka," he said.

These significant developments indicate that important sections of the International community pine that there is no military solution for the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis.

(Transcurrents News)

Terror squad attacks Tamil owned MTV/MBC Radio-TV station in suburban Colombo

In what was described as an audacious commando – style operation a terror squad numbering 12 – 15 masked men in civils launched a crippling attack on the premises of MTV/MBC Radio – Television transmission station and media studio.

The group carrying assault rifles, shotguns, grenades and pistols had arrived in two “white” coloured vans and a land rover jeep at the MTV –MBC transmission station cum studio complex premises situated at Depanama, Pannipitiya at about 2.00 am on Tuesday January 6th.

SirasaTV0106.jpg

Brandishing their weapons the “terror” squad had forcibly entered the premises uttering threats that a lesson would be taught to all “tigers” and their media supporters who refused to give due prominence and coverage to the heroic victory of our valiant soldiers in the north against the LTTE.

They had also fired several rounds in the air and at the buildings causing much panic.

The populat MTV/MBC station is known generally to viewers by its Sinhala Television’s name “Sirasa”.

While a few men tok up positions outside the premises in militaristic fashion the others entered the building and began mercilessly assaulting employees accusing them of being “koti”.

Several employees who on night duty fled and took cover in fear.

The masked terror gang had begun vandalising the office pulling out files, documents, discs and cassettes and destroying them. They also smashed furniture, wall decorations and mirrors.

One employee was held at gun point and ordered to take the masked “terror squad” to the Main Controlling Room. At one point he had been bodily dragged along the corridors.

Upon being taken there the gang had systematically wrecked the valuable equipment there. They also set fire to the premises.

Several grenades were also lobbed resulting in much damage. An unexploded grenade bearing military markings was later recovered by the police.

The terror squad had also rolled a length of wire around parts of the building and ordered a few remaining employees to run away as they wanted to blow up the building

Most of the terror squad were wearing trousers, tee- shirts and boots. They were young and physically fit and were close – cropped and clean – shaven.

According to a statement made to the Police by employees the attackers were very atheletic and conducted themselves like the “hamudawe” (military).

With fire spreading in the main control room an alert employee had telephoned the fire brigade on his cellular phone and also set off the fire alarm.

The terror squad had then retreated in crism military fashion after de – commissioning the media network in a 30 minute operation.

Even as the terror squad was taking off a fire engine had arrived but the attackers identifying themselves as “jathika Veerayo” (national heroes) had warned the fire brigade not to enter the premises as the whole building had been wired by them and would explode in a few minutes.

MTV0106.jpg

As a result the fire brigade and other employees and onlookers had remained at a safe distance for a long time not realising that the “explosion scare” was a hoax.

The bomb disposal squad was hastily summoned. It was then that the hoax was discovered.

Thereafter the fire – fighters got into action and brought the situation under control but extensive damage had occurred.

Though the Maharagama Police had been immediately alerted the cops arrived only after an unusually long time.

There is also an army base in Panagoda.

As a result of the attack broadcasting on all FM channels of the MBC and telecasting on all MTV channels have ceased currently. The MBC – MTV management says it is only a temporary disruption.

The MBC – MTV station had been attacked on January 2nd when a gang of men in civils arrived in a single white van at the premises. After shouting that the “sirasa” had not given enough coverage to the Kilinochchi victory the gang had thrown “Molotov cocktails” at the premises and left.

The “Sirasa” organization explained that the charge was wrong and that 13 minutes of the 23 minute main news broadcast had been devoted to the Kilinochchi victory.

A complaint was lodged at with the Police and security was requested.

Four media rights organizations condemned the fire bomb attack and demanded that the government provide adequate security to the media network.

Nothing happened but now a more lethal attck has occurred.

MRO0106.jpgThe MBC networks (pvt) Ltd and MTV channels (pvt) Ltd are part of the conglomerate , Capital Maharajah organization, which is Tamil owned.

“Maharajahs” as it is generally known is the biggest commercial concern owned by Tamils of Sri Lankan origin in the Country.

Largely built up through entreprenuerial ability the organization suffered tremendous destruction and loss in the 1983 July anti – Tamil pogrom.

However the establishment made an amazing recovery like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

There has been much resentment and opposition to the conglomerate on purely racial grounds as chauvinist elements in the majority community cannot stomach the prosperity of members of the Tamil nationality.

Despite the management and a preponderant majority of employees being “Sinhala” the “jathiwadi” elements have not been satisfied.

The role played in the media scene has been particularly resented.There has been an organized campaign spitting venom and hate against “Sirasa”

There have been some incidents of friction too.

With Sinhala supremacists, neo – fascists and national socialists ruling the roost under the Rajapakse regime , a conducive climate has been created to wage war against “captains of commerce” from the Tamil and Muslim communities

It is against this backdrop that the recent attack should be viewed.

Media minister Yapa has expressed concern over the incident.

President Rajapakse in customary style has ordered a probe.

till, all knowledgeable persons know that nothing tangible would be done.

It is almost common knowledge that the culprits responsible for the attack belong to the “terror squad” masquerading as the “intelligence” unit of an important force responsible for the security of the Country.

The United States has strongly condemned the attack on MTV/MBC and has called for swift investigation.

Full Text of the statement released by US Embassy, Colombo:

U.S. Condemns Attack on Maharaja Television and Broadcasting Studio Complex

January 6, 2009 - The United States strongly condemns the brazen attack on Maharaja Television and Broadcasting Studio Complex early this morning. We call on the authorities to investigate thoroughly this serious crime and bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice. The U.S. deplores this latest in a series of criminal attacks on the independent media in Sri Lanka. A free press that is not subject to intimidation or violence is an essential component of any democracy.

(Transcurrents News)

Vandalised MTV/MBC tied up with SLT to provide World Class transmision

The MTV/MBC transmission station and studio that was attacked and de – commissioned in a “terror” attack in the early hours of January 6th had only in March 2008 signed an agreement with Sri Lanka Telecom to provide world class transmission.

The now defunct “Colombo Post” edited earlier by Sri Lanka’s Consul – General in Toronto, Bandula Jayasekera ,had in its issue dated March 17th 2008 provided a detailed account of the event

It is reproduced below:

Communication giant Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) is to provide a world class transmission solution to MTV Channel (Pvt) Ltd & MBC Networks (Pvt) Ltd giant of TV and Radio Broadcasting which is a part of the Capital Maharaja Organisation Limited. The solution will feature broadcast quality digital audio and video transmission via SLT’s state-of-the-art optical fibre infrastructure which will interconnect MTV/MBC studios, transmission stations and head office.

Commenting on the agreement signed with SLT, Mr. Mano Wickramanayake, Group Director of MTV/MBC said; “I am greatly appreciative of the fact that a Sri Lankan service provider is able to give us the advantage of a world class communication solution. Today’s media is driven by technology and hence we are committed to use all of the platforms that are available to improve our services to our clients.

We can now link new head office and our new studios in Braybrooke Place to our studio in Depanama and to our main transmission tower in Union Place and our central transmission tower at Mount Oliphent .

This solution provided by SLT will serve all seven of our media outlets. With this solution, I am very confident that our reliability factor will be improved.”

According to SLT, the fiber technology and data transmission system provided to MTV/MBC stations is the most advanced transmission technology currently available in the world as there is no conversion of digital video signals to analog signals for transmission, ensuring optimum quality of the transmitted signal throughout thus resulting in an extremely good picture quality right through out their transmission.

“We are very pleased to be able to provide a world class communication solution to the Capital Maharaja Organisation one of the important corporate customers of SLT to strengthen their businesses. The internet and broadband services have changed the way communications flow. It gives everyone the opportunity to receive necessary information as well as communicate in a faster and effective manner. What we are providing is quite different from a traditional communication solution, because information is shared quickly. SLT is eager to take the initiative to be the pioneer in developing this new information society in Sri Lanka. We consider the Capital Maharaja Organisation as a very important client, in terms of driving forward our broadband service,” Mr. Shoji Takahashi, CEO of SLT said at the signing of the agreement.

In addition to this communication infrastructure, the Capital Maharaja Organisation have enjoyed a host of SLT’s communication solutions over a long period of time. Communication services including; voice telephony services, Broadband internet through ADSL technology, dedicated internet leased lines and IP Virtual Private Networks help seamlessly connect the group companies S-LON, Harrisons, Kevilton, PE+, M-Entertainment and Aquarius.

SLT has been always in the forefront of introducing innovative state-of -the-art technologies to Sri Lanka to Bridge the Digital divide between Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. SLT’s solution is flexible and scalable to suit the future expansion needs of the Capital Maharaja group. The quality of service offered along with high service levels and bespoke solutions tailored to customer specific requirements, are among the reasons Capital Maharaja has chosen SLT as their telecommunications partner.

With a view to making Sri Lanka a broadband island, SLT is in the process of introducing the necessary infrastructure in the form of NGN [Next Generation Networks] using optical fibre backbone and broadband services such as IMS, IPTV etc. SLT also provides high speed global connectivity to countries in the South Asian region through its investments in international submarine cables such as SMW3, SMW4 and the Bharat Lanka submarine cable [between India and Sri Lanka] and Dhirragu-SLT submarine cable system between Maldives Islands and Sri Lanka. Newly incorporate SLT Hong Kong Ltd, a fully owned subsidiary of Sri Lanka Telecom, fully geared to provide services such as IP transit, IPVPN, IPLC and International voice traffic transit services to global telecom operators and corporates in Hong Kong.

Capital Maharaja Organisation Limited is a multifaceted and multi dimensional group whose activities span manufacturing, marketing, exports, communications, media, information technology, foods and packaging among others. The group is now firmly entrenched in media with several Television and FM radio channels. In addition to this, it has pioneered novel communication methods to reach areas that were previously inaccessible and has set up infrastructure capabilities to feed demand from both its own as well as other TV stations. The group has also emerged as one of the leaders in information technology in Sri Lanka. It has broadened its horizons to encompass Information Communication Technology (ICT), with leading names in the industry as their strategic partners. Moreover, its clients are spread across the Middle East, South Asia and South East Asia.

MTV Channel (Pvt) Limited is the premier private television network in the country. Equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual receiving and transmitting equipment, its signals are beamed, free to air across Sri Lanka. The MTV Channel telecasts in three main languages with separate channels: MTV Channel 1 in English, Sirasa TV in Sinhala and Shakthi TV in Tamil. Programme content of the three channels includes a wide spectrum as well as being innovative, covering everything from news to educational programmes, family entertainment, music, sports, teledramas and game shows.

MBC Networks (Pvt) Limited owns and operates four FM radio broadcasting channels in all three languages. Its programme content revolutionised the country’s broadcasting industry as well as its mission, which is to provide entertainment and information to enhance the lifestyle of the Sri Lankan public. The station caters to a larger listener base and to a variety of tastes comprising of contemporary music, drama, sports, current affairs and unbiased news reports and programmes. The channels include Yes FM in English, Sirasa FM, the Sinhalese language channel which enjoys the highest listener-ship in the country as well as Shakthi FM which is the only Sri Lankan Tamil language programme available on the internet.

Launched on December 1, 2005 Y FM is the latest addition to the MBC network. Its primary audience is young people who listen to the radio and enjoy listening to music from Western and Bollywood cultures. Creating a unique brand identity, it has positioned itself as innovative and unique in its approach, its presentation style and music.

Eatsern Governor may be impeached by Provincial Council

By A special Correspondent

In what is described as an unprecedented development the Eastern Province governor Mohan Wijeywickrema is likely to be impeached by a joint resolution passed by the Eastern Provincial Council

Intensive discussions are now going on among Eastern province councillors to submit an impeachment motion in the council, pass it with two –thirds majority and then demand that President Mahinda Rajapakse dismiss the governor with immediate effect

According to eastern political circles there is consensus among Tamil and Muslim eastern councillors to support an impeachment motion regardless of political party divisions

Apart from two Sinhala councillors belonging to the SLFP and JVP all others are in favour of the motion

The proposal is being ooted as the Governor is seen as obstructing the smooth running of the eastern administration headed by chief minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan

The Governor is seen as working against than for devolution.

Karu MR P.jpgThe maiden statute of the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) enacted early November is yet to get the assent of the EPC Governor. As a result the EPC is unable to implement the statute as scheduled with effect from 1/1/9. But the Governor instead of giving the assent has referred this to Attorney General. He has not referred it direct to the AG but through the President.

The governor seems to believe that the statute is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution. But the EP Councilors say that the statute is enacted purely on the subjects devolved to the provincial council in the schedule under the 13th amendment to the constitution.

According to article 154H (1) of the constitution, any statute made by a council shall come into force upon such statute receiving assent as provided in sub articles 154H (2), (3) and (4). The four sub articles of article 154H does not speak referring any statute to the President or the Attorney General.

The governor has three options under these articles. He may either give assent or refer back to the PC with his amendments. The PC with without the governor’s amendment may refer it back to the governor for his assent.

When the PC passes the statute for the second time probably without the amendment of the governor he is given the option to refer NOT to the Executive President or to the AG but he may refer it to the President of the Supreme Court that should mean and include the Chief Justice in my view. Article 154H (4).

He has to refer it to the SC within one month of passing the statute for the second time for a determination whether it is consistent or inconsistent with the constitution. If the SC determines that it is consistent, the governor SHALL give the assent. If it is inconsistent, the he SHALL withhold the assent.

What the governor has done to the maiden statute of the EPC is obviously inconsistent with the constitution in terms of the above articles of the 13th amendment. The governor’s delay in giving the assent has derailed the journey that the EPC was planning make with a kick start in the New Year.

The EPC has reached an important milestone in its journey towards acquiring maximum powers under the Constitution within a short period of its formation by passing this statute. The Council has taken all necessary steps to implement the provisions of this statute and to levy stamp duties and other allied revenues that could be levied by the Council with effect from 01/01/2009.

By the passage of this financial enactment the EPC has asserted its devolved power under the 13th Amendment of the Constitution for the first time. Exactly after 20 years of the establishment of the Provincial Council. The formerly merged Northern and Eastern Provincial Council could not even enact single provincial statute within its short life span of two years.

Already the EPC is granted a budgetary allocation of Rupees 1.4 billion. Comparatively this allocation is less than the budgetary allocation granted to other provincial councils. Hence the EPC is compelled to evolve a mechanism to increase its revenues on the devolved subjects under the 13th Amendment.

The EPC from assuming its duties after the provincial council election held in April this year has been agitating for the exercise of devolved powers by the Council under the Constitution.

Accordingly, the budget and the first financial statute were passed by a majority of 15 votes. The EPC has to enact more statutes on other powers devolved under the 13th Amendment as soon as possible.

This could be quoted as model to the Northern Provincial Council when the North is liberated and the provincial election is held next year as per the govt.’s plan. Therefore, it is high time the looming cold war is brought to an end an the EPC and the governor work hand in hand in the interest of the people of the East.

The EPC should not suffer on account of undue delay any more and must be allowed to enact the other important statutes that it plans to enact and make it operative from the beginning of the New Year. What should prevail in the EPC is the will of the people who have elected a council not the will of the Governor.

Mahinda says "zero civilian casuaty policy" but TNA lists serious "collateral damage"

While Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has gone on record that the armed forces are implementing a “Zero Civilian casualty policy” in the embattled Northern province the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has issued a press communiqué listing various incidents causing damage to the lives. Limbs and prperies of innocent civilians

The TNA says these amount to war crimes that cannot be brushed away as “collateral damage”

The TNA chargesheet places President Rajapakse in the dock.

President Rajapakse in an interview given to N. Ram the Editor – in – Chief of Chennai based “The Hindu” said his zero casualty plicy was being perfectly implemented by the armed forces. Here is the relevant excerpt:

“Speaking to me over the telephone from Colombo on Sunday evening, Mr. Rajapaksa expressed satisfaction that his ‘Zero Civilian Casualty Policy’ was implemented perfectly by the armed forces during the operations to liberate Kilinochchi, the administrative hub and de facto ‘capital’ of the LTTE. They would continue to implement this policy in all their operations”.

“See what is happening in Palestine! Horrible,” the Sri Lankan President said. “I spoke to the Palestinian President [Mahmoud Abbas] to find out the real situation there.”

The Full text of the TNA press release follows:

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) notes the deliberate and systematic targeting of Tamil civilians and civilian infrastructure, particularly hospitals, in the LTTE administered areas by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces. The escalation in such targeting has taken place during the current Christmas/New year/Thai Pongal festive season, when civilian activity is at a high. Such targeted attacks have included the following:

* On Wednesday, 17 December 2008 a 5-month-old child and a 25-year-old male were killed and 13 other refugees including three children were wounded when Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) jets bombed refugee settlements in Vaddakkachchi four times.
* On Friday, 19 December 2008, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) bombers attacked civilian settlements in Mullivaikaal village in the morning and at noon causing injuries to 11 civilians, including 6 children. On the same day the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) had also fired artillery shells on the Mullaitivu General Hospital injuring two members of the medical staff and causing extensive damage to the hospital complex.
* On Saturday, 20 December 2008 the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) shelling killed 2 civilians in Vaddakkachchi in Kilinochchi. From morning the SLA artillery fire had targeted civilian settlements in Vaddakkachchi and Kilinochchi destroying several houses. On the same day the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) bombers had also attacked a coastal area in Mullaitivu where thousands of recently displaced civilians had established temporary shelters. The bombers dropped eight bombs on fishing huts and boats.
* On Thursday, 25 December 2008, Christmas Day, the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) fired artillery shells targeting the Kilinochchi General Hospital causing damage to the hospital buildings and narrowly missing several hospital staff, including the Medical Superintendent of Kilinochchi.
* On Saturday, 27 December 2008 the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) jets bombed the Iyakkachchi, Iranamadu and Vaddakkachchi areas targeting three civilian settlements killing a 24-year-old woman and seriously injuring ten persons, including an 18-year-old girl who lost both her legs.
* On Tuesday, 30 December 2008, the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) fired artillery shells hitting the Kilinochchi hospital causing damage to the building.
* On Wednesday, 31 December 2008 Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) bombers attacked a civilian settlement in Murasumoaddai on Paranthan - Mullaitivu Road killing two females of a family and a male on the spot. Another man, who was seriously wounded, succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. 16 civilians, including a couple, were wounded. The Sri Lanka Armed Forces also targeted fleeing civilians, Internally Displaced Person's huts in Karaichchi, a school, temple and agricultural lands on the same day.
* On Thursday, 01 January 2009, New Years Day, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) bombers again attacked Murasumoaddai on Paranthan-Mullaitivu Road thrice and bombed the next junction at Kandaavalai, while hundreds of civilians were fleeing due to the previous day attacks at Murasumoaddai. Two civilians, a 60-year-old mother and a 20-year-old male were injured in the attack on the densely populated junction. Three shops were fully destroyed and six shops damaged.
* On Friday, 02 January 2009 two persons who accompanied a convoy of ambulances from Puthukkudiruppu to Vavuniya were wounded when Sri Lanka Army (SLA) fired artillery shells at Mannaakandal. The two ambulances with 13 civilians with serious injuries, being transferred from Tharmapuram and Puthukkudiyiruppu hospitals to Vavuniya hospital, were targeted after clearance had been obtained through the ICRC. On the same day Artillery shelling by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) killed a civilian and wounded at least 10 civilians at 3rd Mile Post in Murasumoaddai. Another civilian was wounded at Pannangkandi due to SLA shelling. The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) bombers also attacked a petrol station and a bus depot killing four civilians and causing injuries to 8 close to Mullaitivu hospital. 8 buses were destroyed and the depot building was damaged and the petrol station completely destroyed.
* On Saturday, 03 January 2009 Sri Lanka Army (SLA) shelling continued to target densely populated civilian area in Puliaympokkanai in Vanni where a 61-year-old civilian was wounded when at least 6 shells hit the settlement.

The abovementioned targeting of Tamil civilians and civilian infrastructure by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces is taking place whilst over 330,000 Tamil civilians are internally displaced in the Vanni. The Sri Lankan State has also imposed stringent economic, food and medical embargos on the war affected areas in the Vanni where there is a total population of nearly 500,000.

These measures that collectively target the Tamil population cannot be justified under any circumstances. They are not only War Crimes in contravention of the Geneva Conventions but are also a part of a policy of Genocide that the Sri Lankan State has been carrying out against the Tamil people.

The TNA notes with disappointment that the international community has not only been, by and large, silent whilst the Genocide of the Tamil people is taking place, but also that key international States are continuing to provide military assistance to the Sri Lankan State using various pretexts.

It is whilst these crimes are taking place in the Tamil Homeland that the Sinhala political parties and the Sri Lankan State have been celebrating what they consider to be military successes. It is this approach of subjugation of the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan State that is at the root of the conflict. There can be little doubt that the continued desire to subjugate the Tamil people without addressing the long held legitimate political aspiration of the Tamil people, as overwhelmingly mandated at the 1977 General Elections to the TULF and thereafter to the TNA, will not produce any positive results. These events only further demonstrate the complete polarization between the Sinhalese and the Tamil peoples in the island.

The aforementioned are a reminder to the 70 million strong world Tamil population that the success of the Tamil peoples struggle to live as a free people with dignity on this island depends on our unity, strength and determination.

Parliamentary Group
Tamil National Alliance

January 05, 2009

Battle for Eelam shifting to battle for Tamil Nation State

By Kusal Perera

Kilinochchi was captured fuelling stronger hopes in the Sinhala polity of defeating the LTTE completely and “separatism” for good. ‘Separatism’, as the JVP hastened to explain after the Kilinochchi occupation on January 02nd, is the ideological base on which the LTTE works and interprets the concept of a “separate Tamil State” in the land of Eelam. Although the JVP vowed to defeat this Tamil separatism, the concept of separatism and the emotional binding of the major Tamil political process to this separate Tamil State, the “Eelam”, is the ultimate growth of Tamil nationalism within Sri Lankan Tamil politics. This was democratically sealed and projected as the mandate of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, at the 1977 general elections. The Waddukodai Resolution in 1974, which adopted an “Eelam State” as a legitimate political necessity of the Tamil people, was interpreted as having been passed unanimously by the Tamil society which voted the TULF en masse in July 1977 leaving absolutely no doubt, the Tamil polity was firmly behind the slogan.

The separate State slogan was firmly backed by armed groups of the day. These nascent armed Tamil politics had two divergent outlooks from the beginnings. One led by the PLOTE and the other by the LTTE. Though opposing each other, they did have one binding logic within them. The Eelam State which they took up arms to establish would need external assistance and support. The PLOTE theorised that the “Sinhala South” should have a “Left” led government that would accept a Tamil neighbour and thus tried to link up with a few break away “Left” grouplets. Prabhakaran worked the other way round. The Tigers worked on a strong Tamil heritage which they found in the Chola Empire and provided historical bindings to Tamil Nadu. That was an aggressively founded, culturally rich Tamil history which provided Prabhakaran with his ruthless determination to establish an ‘Eelam’ for the Tamil people.

It is this historical strength that brought Prabhakaran and the LTTE all this far, while all other groups that took arms for a separate State compromised, splintered and turned into paid voices. Prabhakaran survived to successfully instil in the Tamil youth a “superior cult” psyche on “Cholaism” stronger and prouder than DMK’s “Dravidianism” of the 1950’s. The Chola rule was the golden age of Tamil-speaking South India. Music and dance, poetry and drama, arts, sculpture and painting, jewellery-making and architecture, philosophy and religious thought reached new heights, with the temple as the centre of all activity, the effervescent base of the present Tamil identity.

While that proud Tamil history gave the LTTE a binding foothold they needed in Tamil Nadu, within the LTTE the Chola concept of martial art and its ritualistic reverence, helped resurrect the “Tamil Martyr”. The Tamil Martyr, decorated with “Maha veer” episodes enacted every where in Tamil society, became the flagship brand of the Tigers every one feared, but with a respect. All of it not only gave the LTTE the “snarling Tiger” of Chola supremacy, the organisation’s hallmark logo, it also provided the aggressive ideology to develop one of the most intricately structured and organised armed outfits in the world. The LTTE became ideologically so well motivated with “Cholaism”, it allowed Prabhakaran to be a ‘Rajaraja’ who dictated terms within the Tamil Diaspora though holed up somewhere in a Mullaitivu forest.

This unusually extra ordinary organisational might with a fiercely publicised and hyped Chola ideology, established the LTTE as the only Tamil organisation that could challenge the Sinhala State. That settled the LTTE as the only Tamil organisation, without whose consent no solution could be agreed upon to end the conflict at any level. It is not simply clandestine work of LTTE ‘moles’ that had its impact beyond the Palk Straits within the Dravidian separatist splinter groups. It was the aura, the Tamil national pride that was gradually built around the non compromising LTTE that helped resurrect a 3G Tamil separatist sentiment in TN. According to Vinoj Kumar in “Tehelka.com”, there are at least 10 such groups active in TN. Most formed after the outbreak of the ethnic war in Sri Lanka in the 1980s.

School Children posing in front of Welcome Board to their Village

[Children posing near village welcome board in Gautamapuri, Tirunelveli Dist, Tamil Nadu, bearing the symbol of Thirumavalavan's party-pic by: Sankar Salvady]

The growth of this new generation Tamil separatism is what the LTTE is banking on now, with its military defeats at the hands of the SL government’s security forces. These splinter groups that still revere the Dravidian icon Periyar who founded the Dravida Kazhagam (DK), the DMK’s fore runner and the first to espouse a separate Indian Tamil Nation in 1938, have now been more ideologically influenced by the ‘Greater Tamil Nadu’ concept which includes “Eelam”, the Tamil homeland claimed by all Tamil groups in Sri Lanka, a concept argued by Adithanar, the founder of the Tamil daily, Thina Thanthi. These groups now have a presence in almost all parts of the TN state, claims Vinoj Kumar. While public names like Vaiko, Nedumaran, Karunanidhi, Veeramani and Thirumavalavan perhaps carried the media glitz, it was militant groups who worked steadfastly in bringing together the broad coalitions in TN which agitated for the SL Tamil people during the past months. It would be them who would provide the nexus for the next phase of the LTTE campaign.

The LTTE now on its own have very little chances of realising their Eelam dream, during Prabhakaran’s active life. They made a serious mistake in paving the way for a Rajapaksa regime. Their calculations went berserk when the Rajapaksa regime went beyond the expected rhetoric of opposing a negotiated settlement on the basis of power sharing in a united but a single Sri Lanka. Their calculations the Rajapaksa regime’s Sinhala rhetoric would lead to the international community supporting the LTTE’s claim for a separate State, wasn’t what came about. The Rajapaksa regime went out of the Western oriented international community, to have its own foreign alliance with Chinese, Russians, Iranians and Malaysians that accommodated Pakistan on a different equation. HR violations weren’t their plate of rice for this new alliance and the Rajapaksa government managed enough funds to survive. With that new foreign alliance, the Rajapaksa government compelled the Indians to come after it, to bargain a stop to Pakistani influence in SL politics. That gave Rajapaksa a mileage the LTTE never bargained for. It gave a free enough hand to savagely oppress the whole of the Tamil society, in squeezing out the LTTE and crushing it militarily.

Proved beyond doubt that the LTTE can not hold on to large tracts of land, although they could intermittently shift to conventional battle mode, Prabhakaran is now compelled to reinterpret his Eelam dream. Politically the LTTE stands valid as the Rajapaksa regime would assume power devolution would now be on its own terms with no necessity to negotiate. The LTTE would make themselves more valid to a grumbling and complaining TN with their perspective of an Eelam extended to accommodate the “Greater Tamil Nadu” idea as well.

There is more than their initial baptism with Cholaism to give the LTTE a lead. During the Indira Gandhi period when SL Tamil militants were officially nurtured in TN, the Delhi regime had to contract the support and participation of the TN State machinery. That changed perceptions all round and allowed Tamil militants to have their support bases within the State’s administration. The LTTE kept nursing those worthy contacts through out their Eelam wars. With such inroads into the State apparatus, the recent broad anti Sri Lankan protests with artistes, trade unions and exceptionally large student participation is a clear indication of the growth of militant groups cutting their teeth in TN soil beneath that of Karunanidhi and Jeyalalitha. They could well turn out to be Amirthalingams and Anandasangarees of TN.

All indications are, the battle for an Eelam State is shifting to a battle for a Tamil Nation State. The LTTE network in the Diaspora providing a new life line to the hitherto isolated separatist militants within South Indian Dravidian politics. If that Cholaism catches up fast enough in TN, the next phase would have both sides of the Palk Strait facing the same conflict for a third but more than feudal new Chola dynasty to be established. But for Prof Venkatachalapthy of the MIDS, formation of a Tamil nation will remain a dream, but such dreams spur and spawn militancy.

Tigers constructing new defence line from Iranaimadhu to Ooriyaan

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)organization has begun constructing new defence lines to prevent the Sri Lankan armed forces from moving further into tiger – controlled territory to the east of the Jaffna – Kandy road known as A – 9 highway.

The latest tiger move comes in the wake of the Army gaining control of Paranthan, Kilinochchi and the entire stretch of roadway up to a point two km south of Elephant pass.

The new LTTE defence line begins south of Kilinochchi in the Thiruvaiyaaru east and the northern tank bund of Iranaimadhu reservoir and extends northwards to Ooriyaan along the shores of the Jaffna lagoon.

The defence line is almost like a straight line running parallel to the A – 9 highway .

The defence line to the east of the A – 9 includes parts of Murasumoddai,Kandawalai and ends in Ooriyaan.

The defence line cuts across the Paranthan – Mullaitheevu road near the second mile post.

On Sunday the armed forces launched a three –pronged drive towards LTTE defences near the 2nd milepost LTTE defences.

The operation which began at 3 am in the morning met with stiff LTTE resistance.

The LTTE has claimed that the military push was repulsed with over 60 soldiers being killed and more than 150 injured

There is no mention of the operation in defence related official press releases.

(Transcurrents News)

Army Captures More Places in Eastern Wanni After LTTE Withdrawal

The Sri Lankan armed forces have made significant gains in the Eastern Wanni region after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began withdrawing from several areas held by them earlier.

Among these places were the culturally important Vatraappalai , home to the famour Amman temple and the strategically important Oddusuddan along the A – 34 highway

Troops have also cleared the area from Mankulam to Thaniootru on the A – 34 or Mankulam – Mullaitheevu road.

Task Force-4 operating in the east of the A-9 Road took full control of the Oddusuddan township.

Oddusuddan is a popular logistics and transit base used by the LTTE and its capture earlier facilitated the movement of cadreps to Nedunkerni, Mankulam and Pudukudirippu.

Oddusuddan town was captured by the army during the ‘Jayasikurui’ operation in 1998.

Troops have also gained control of the well-known Vatraappalai Amman Kovil area Mullayaweli north.The Kovil is one of the main Kovils where LTTE leader Prabhakaran is known to worship at and and for the first time the LTTE used its light air craft to drop flowers during a Kovil festival few years back.

Troops who are moving toward Mullativu town area also entered the Western edge of the Nandikadal lagoon after fierce fighting during the last few days.
Current developments pertaining to Oddusuddan and Vatraappalai were outlined in an earlier posting on January 2nd by “Transcurrents” headlined “Tigers begin withdrawal from Elephant Pass: will also vacate Mullaitheevu, Oddusuddan and Vatraappalai” .Excerpts are given below -

“Meanwhile the LTTE is also expected to vacate other key areas in eastern Wanni like Mullaitheevu, Oddusuddan and Vatraappalai.

Mullaitheevu on a promontory is being defended as a built up area now. Soldiers of the 59 division are only 5 km to the south of M/theevu in the general area of Silawattai.

Though tigers are defending positions currently the LTTE has begun moving out from Mullaitheevu and adjacent areas in anticipation of its fall.

59 division soldiers and Task Force – four soldiers are also occupying areas like Mulliyawalai and Thaniootru on the Mankulam – Mullaitheevu road or A – 34 highway.

It is only a matter of time before troops move further towards Mullaitheevu via the “nandikkadal” lagoon area.Those areas are undefendable.

With troops moving along the coast and by way of the A – 34 axis from two directions , Mullaitheevu ,like the Poonagary promontory has to be abandoned.

The LTTE has also commenced preparations to vacate Oddusuddan along the A – 34 highway. The Army is now on either side of Oddusuddan along the Mankulam – Mullaitheevu road.

The soldiers are stationed to the west of Oddusuddan in Karippattaimurippu and to the east on Mulliyawalai.

Though the LTTE remains in Oddusuddan for now the tigers cannot remain there for long as troops close in from both sides and also possibly from the north via the Ambakaman jungles.

Thus the LTTE has begun its withdwal on a gradual basis.

Likewise the tigers have also begun preparations to move out from Vatraapalai which is home to the most famous temple in the Wanni – The Vatraapalai Amman Kovil.

With soldiers in Mulliyawalai now attempting to move towards Puthukkudiyirupp along the road running through Vatraapalai that area too is becoming untenable.

Moreover the LTTE does not want any damage to happen to to the temple.

With the process of withdrawal now going on the armed forces are likely to be in control of , Oddusuddan and Vatraapalai before Thai Pongal Day

(Transcurrents News)

Army moving into Elepahnt Pass as Tigers begin withdrawal

The Sri Lankan armed forces have started moving into the “Aanai Iravu” or Elephant pass region as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) commenced withdrawing from the area.

Soldiers of the 58 division commanded by Brig. Shavendra Silva began moving towards Elephant pass from two directions.

One column proceeded along the axis of the Jaffna – Kandy road known as A – 9 highway from a place called Umaiyaalpuram , north of Paranthan.

The other column moved in a North – Eastern direction from a place called Thattuvankottu that had been occupied by soldiers even before the seizure of Paranthan.

Both columns converged at Kurinchatheevu adjacent to the Elephant Pass Isthmus.

Earlier after the fall of Paranthan, the 58 division had intended to wait for a period of time before moving north towards Elephant Pass.

With the LTTE beginning a process of withdrawal the army shelved the idea of biding time and has accelerated an advance to Elephant pass.

Elephant pass which was captured by the LTTE in April 200 is likely to be re- occuoied by the army within 48 hours depending of course on the pace in which the LTTE withdraws.

The LTTE has also begun reducing the number of cadres from the Kilaly – Muhamaalai – Nagar Kovil axis.

Current developments pertaining to Elephant pass were outlined in an earlier posting on January 2nd by “Transcurrents” headlined “Tigers begin withdrawal from Elephant Pass: will also vacate Mullaitheevu, Oddusuddan and Vatraappalai” .Excerpts are given below:

“The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have begun withdrawing from entrenched positions in the strategic Elephant Pass region.

The narrow Isthmus that links the Jaffna peninsula to the Northern mainland known as Wanni by land is often described as the “gateway to Jaffna”.

Preparations are also afoot to vacate tiger positions in other key places in Eastern Wanni like Mullaitheevu, Oddusuddan and Vatraappalai.

The tigers seized the Elephant Pass area after protracted warfare codenamed “Oyatha Alaigal” (ceaseless waves) in April 2000.

The LTTE has now begun withdrawing personnel and other military assets including long – range artillery from the strategic areas following the fall of Paranthan and Kilinochchi situated to the south of Elephant Pass along the Jaffna – Kandy road known as “A – 9 highway”.

Though Paranthan is several miles to the south of Elephant Pass , soldiers of the 58 division are much closer to Elephant pass as they had earlier moved to the north of Paranthan in order to encircle it.

The taking of Thattuvankottu by the 58 division known also as Task Force – one was a turning point in the battle for Paranthan as it facilitated a thrust on the town from the rear.

Soldiers are now occupying not only Paranthan but also key positions near the A – 9 highway that are very close to Elephant Pass.

Apparently soldiers are now about 2 km to the south of Elephant Pass and are near Kurinchatheevu adjacent to Elephant Pass.

Realising that Elephant Pass is not defendable the LTTE have begun vacating the area.

It is unclear whether the tigers would offer some resistance or simply vacate as the area cannot be held militarily.

The Armed Forces can make a triumphant entry into the place lost eight years ago.

The LTTE is yet to withdraw from positions along the Kilaly – Muhamaalai _ Nagarkovil axis that demarcates the LTTE line of control in the peninsula.

The tigers however have begun reducing the number of cadres stationed there.

The tiger line of control would become untenable once Elephant Pass is taken as the army would be able to wedge the LTTE in from both sides.

It is expected therefore that the LTTE would begin to withdraw from the Peninsula in the near future.

There is however a possibility that the tigers may try and hold on to areas east of the A – 9 in the peninsula as these include important coastal points like Thalaiaddy, Vettrilaikerny and Aaliyawalai.

The tigers may also want to retain access to the mainland via Chunddikulam and also hold on to the sea tiger base there.

Still the chances of the LTTE holding on to this strip seems a virtual impossibility in the long run.”

(Transcurrents News)

In search of the elusive “Moderate” Sinhalese

By Saranga Wickramasinghe

Sri Lankan Society is divided into few categories in relation to the Ethnic Issue. They are:

1.Die hard Tamil Diaspora
2.Die hard Sinhalese Diaspora
3.Die hard local Sinhalese
4. Die hard local Tamils
5.Majority of the local Sinhalese
6.Majority of the local Tamils

The first two categories often share their sentiments through various means; support financially and/or even go up to the extent of physical violence to seal their point of view.

They feel guilty over the absence of their presence and in some cases unable to be in Sri Lanka due to security reasons; some Tamils are directly LTTE connected and it’s their strategy to get involved with some politically affiliated Sinhalese. People in these categories are usually responding to many situations in the country by opinion building and support opinion building through their local counterparts. Once in a way they visit Sri Lanka and share their sentiments but do not stay as they have their own interest in the domicile states. These categories are not moderate communities but they are affiliated to some ideology or party or group. They in most cases represent their tribe or clan in all their activities.

Category three are the most active at the moment as they are in the victory path and they seem to be in preparation to enjoy the power without any resistance for the next few decades. This category mainly comes from those who follow “Southern Consensus” on War and Terrorism. They followed the foot steps of George Bush where they categorise people as friends and enemies. For them there only one thing that’s either you are with us or not with us. Any body who is not with us is an enemy for them. There is no in between. It’s rooted in every where, in the state’s schools, private sector, political parties and relegations institutions as well.

Politically the country is on a war footing therefore all Sri Lankans have to follow the instructions and should not raise and object until the situation gets normal, that’s the theme of the above category of the people. If some one tries to be smart they can experience punishments, as they are against the trend and theme of the community.

Recently I saw a poster in a hospital where they branded well known trade union leaders as koti Trade Unionists. So if you are against any thing its very easy that you get the koti label and count among the bunch of various koti’s ( Tigers ) such as green Koti (UNP), red Koti, White koti ( Norway) , Sinhala Koti , Left Koti , Media Koti , Trade union Koti and many Other Kotis . Every one is in fear of this, as Label of a Tiger Supporter pushes you in to a position of a Social leper.


Therefore the dominant Ideology of the third category governs Sri Lanka and 4th 5th and 6th categories doesn’t have any opinion or voice as they are silent viewers or followers of the scenario. None of the later categories of the society are being able to raise their voice in favor or against as the 3rd category, which already closes all the platforms for such discourse.

Who performs in the 3rd category is the most interesting thing. The dominant ideology was clever enough to bring all the leading voices of the society and admirable characters of the people in to this bandwagon. Willingly and unwillingly these categories are in the bandwagon and these days they are very much part of the propaganda mechanism of the dominant stream. Artists, religious leaders, some academics, professionals and unfortunately media personnel are given opportunities to air their views freely in support of the dominant ideology. In these platforms mainly in the television and other electronic media, these personalities unconditionally support the ideology of the 3rd category. Some artists whom Sri Lankan society identified as radicals or humanitarians are in the forefront of this ‘enemy bashing’.

I have no issue with them when they oppose the LTTE, as LTTE is equally responsible for the present blunder but most unfortunately it is that none of them are agreeing on the Tamil cause, which many of them strongly argued in favour few years back and many of them identified it as a serious situation. So the whole attention is now towards the war victory and nothing on Tamil Issues.

On Jan 4th 2009, all the Tamils in Western province were again asked to register; (officially its not Tamils, but those who resided in North and East before 2007 and now live in Colombo) No one look at these things as issues, as such questions are against the main stream and dominant ideology.

The die hard Sinhalese segment is so strong and so powerful. They are in their peak and dominating the whole scenario. They are no more “Sinhalaya Modaya and Kawum kanna Yodaya”; they are very sophisticated, well connected and well equipped internationalized group where commitment is to the skies. This is the success of the domination of the 3rd category and they were highly nourished during last three years and are fully recognized by the state.

JHU and JNP (Wimal group ) consist of some of these figures and many have no party affiliations and they do it as a service and part of their volunteerism. Many of them are locals and few diaspora also there.

So no one should be wonder why the security forces are in the wining path as necessary support is with them, i.e. the dominant stream of the society supports them. Sinhalese as a tribe follow this. Sinhalese don’t like a separate state. Sinhalese do not believe that Tamils can share Power or trust worthy any more as several years of war had taken away that trust from them. Sinhalese feel that every thing happen as ‘terrorism’ in our land. Sinhalese feel that this government does the correct thing. This includes UNP and JVP as well. UNP too is willing to give the credit of the victory to president and his government. Therefore Sinhalese have no big issues at the moment other than defeating Prabha. This is the continuing plea of the maha sanga as well. Under these circumstances it’s very hard to find moderate Sinhalese who can raise their voices on Tamil Rights or Tamil cause.

Tamils have to deal with it. I am a Sinhalese and I don’t know how Tamils should tackle this issue but this is the reality. Whether Sri Lanka will end as federal state or quasi federal state will be in the hands of the Sinhalese as Wimal Weerawansha of JVP and JHU has very clearly stated that they support the government only on war, but not on Devolution; JVP as well says the same. UNP is divided over the same. So where can you find Moderate Sinhalese.

Tigers after Kilinochchi: What can they do? What will thy do?

by Col. R. Hariharan

The often asked but seldom answered question "what after Kilinochchi?" has become more relevant after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) lost Kilinochchi on January 2 and along with it control over most of its domain in the north. After Kilinochchi, two major actors in the war scene – the government of President Rajapaksa and the LTTE -will be reworking their agendas to suit the emerging environment.

Of course, a third but reluctant player is the Sri Lanka Tamil polity, which had avoided drawing up an agenda so far. For them it is confusion compounded now; and most of them have to put on the thinking cap and think beyond blaming others. They have to take some hard decisions. But they might not be in a hurry.

Though capture of Kilinochchi was expected for quite sometime now, the security forces did it just a day after the fall of Paranthan on January 1.This was faster than I had estimated in Sri Lanka Update No 160 written on the day Paranthan fell. Evidently Task Force I after capturing Paranthan had maintained its momentum to exploit the pressure building up on at Kilinochchi to capture it in a joint operation with 57 Division. Though the LTTE had vacated its de facto capital, troops in combat quickly wasted no time to occupy Kilinochchi. This speaks for the high morale of the troops. So it is not surprising that the security forces are now moving towards Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu supported by air strikes.

From a tactical point of view, the LTTE took the pragmatic decision to vacate Kilinochchi defences when it became untenable rather than get decimated. Past experience appears to have clouded the LTTE estimation of the staying power of the security forces in the Eelam War-4. The LTTE is now fighting highly motivated and clearly focused armed forces single-mindedly executing the presidential mandate to eliminate the LTTE. Their ability to attack and capture of Kilinochchi even after suffering heavy casualties earlier shows the determination of the security forces. The LTTE will probably rethink its "trusted" strategies because the security forces have disproved their validity in Kilinochchi operation.

According to a report from an unknown source in the usually well informed website www.transcurrents.com the LTTE has already started withdrawing from their defences in and around Elephant Pass in the narrow land strip linking Jaffna peninsula with the rest of the country. According to the report the LTTE was preparing to vacate its defences in Eastern Mullaitivu district including Mullaithivu, Oddusuddan and Vatraappalai. Though the report is plausible it is not confirmed by other sources. If the report of LTTE withdrawal is correct, it would indicate the tectonic impact the loss of Kilinochchi is having on the LTTE.

The loss of Kilinochchi is a big blow for the LTTE's image. It is also the peak of achievement for the security forces in their process of demystifyig LTTE undertaken in 2006. It comes when LTTE's woes are many: domain is restricted to a district or so, use its Sea Tigers curtailed, and the Air Tigers grounded probably for many more months to come. Its international funding and propaganda machinery has been tampered and merchant supply fleet run aground.

The army commander has announced his intention to continue the war till the LTTE leaders are hunted out. So the environment is going to be even more risky to disengage, regroup and reassert. The security measures in cities have been tightened, often with draconian measures. In the past, the LTTE had always managed to bounce back and come out stronger to take on the State more strongly than before. This time that process is not going to be easy. The global and national environments have changed after 9/11.

However the question is not whether the LTTE will bounce back, but how it will try to do so. Prabhakaran's unique strength is his doggedness to reach for his goal. So he will put every ounce of his strength and talent to bounce back. And that is the worst case scenario for Sri Lanka government. So what will be his agenda now? How he will try to stage a comeback with the LTTE? These questions are more relevant to be answered.

To recover from the continued onslaught and reassert, the LTTE will have to first extricate itself from battle. This is a tricky operation in itself. Pulling out of Kilinochchi might well be its starting. Other issues in the LTTE agenda could be – securing assets from further loss, regrouping and reorganising cadres in safe hides, rebuilding the logistic network, and reassert LTTE's power through a graded series of covert and overt actions.

Prabhakaran would have prepared hideouts for mothballing heavy armament and equipment. Assets not required for immediate use like heavy weapons, spare ammunition, and arms would be similarly cached. Other valuables would also need safe keeping. With the loss of Kilinochchi, the LTTE has lost its large infrastructure assets built there over a period of time. The LTTE is also probably facing cash crunch due to the cost of operations and fall in income from a number of lucrative sources like the "toll tax" on vehicles using A9 road, remittances, and local levies following the shrinking domain. Thus recouping financial assets and rebuilding revenue resources would be a top priority in LTTE agenda. It might need some arm twisting of businessmen in Colombo, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Jaffna for "donations" and such activity would carry bigger risks than ever before.

Regrouping the cadres for a guerrilla mode after disengagement is not going to be easy task. Unlike earlier Eelam wars, few veteran leaders are available to do this task and they are also aging. There are quite a few issues. Casualties have to be attended to and treated. (Tamil Nadu could become a refuge for such benign wounded cadres.) Other non-effective members will have to be shed under secure conditions. The units have to be re-grouped in smaller subunits and assigned specific responsibilities. Guerrilla operation involves in small groups or lone individuals operating in a decentralized fashion. To be successful the guerrilla requires a great deal of self motivation. LTTE's much heralded suicide terrorism has depleted motivated and trained cadres. In this ambience, burden of motivating the cadres is likely to rest on younger hardcore warriors who gave a good account of themselves in the war. The success of the LTTE come back will depend upon them.

Through the years of war and peace, the LTTE had built a strong international network of supporters who had helped it to become one of the top insurgency movements in the world. They had been bankrolling the LTTE war effort. The Tamil expatriates had also provided international propaganda interface for the LTTE's cause and lobbied the governments for support. Their support cannot be taken for granted anymore.

The LTTE's war has been going on for two decades in which over 25,000 of Tamil youth have lost their lives, without achieving any tangible results. As the LTTE continues to b a listed terrorist organization, the stringent international anti terror protocols (in place after 9/11 terror strike in New York) are not going to make it easy for external support to reach the LTTE. And the governments of 37countries which have banned the LTTE are unlikely to ease the guard or allow their soil to be used for rebuilding LTTE.

Lastly, despite their differences over LTTE's questionable methods, sections of Tamil expatriates had supported its efforts in the hope to realize their dream of an independent Tamil Eelam. They find their hopes are now turning into a chimera. To broaden its appeal, the LTTE has to change its style of operation to a democratic one and accommodate different shades of Tamil opinion in the decision. Prabhakaran's personality probably does not allow even the thought of such "inclusive strategy." The Tamil National Alliance is a very good example of LTTE's attempt at inclusive strategy. Dignified Tamil politicians have been reduced to be 'yes men' of Prabhakaran and nothing more.

And to reach the reassertion stage, the LTTE will have to successfully go through the other three parts of the agenda discussed earlier.

In the past, the inability of Sri Lanka state to satisfy Tamil aspirations had been the biggest incentive for them to support the LTTE despite Prabhakaran's repressive style. This had helped the LTTE "bounce back." Tamils had always found that there is always a yawning gap between what Sri Lanka government and politicians promise them and deliver. Their doubts have only been strengthened by the way President Rajapaksa had handled the political part of the issues raised by the LTTE and other Tamil politicians. In short the bounce back of the LTTE will dependent upon how sincere the Sri Lanka government is in implementing a strategy to gain the trust of Tamil people and give them a feeling of security.

Translated into the hard reality of politics it is unlikely to happen merely by holding elections. The success of the LTTE's bounce back process depends upon how the state helps the people to recoup normal lives and avocations of the people battered by years of war. If the President can do it and give the Tamils a sense of ownership in their destiny, the LTTE comeback will not be easy, despite Prabhakaran's best effort. There it is, the answer to the question "after Kilinochchi what?"

(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)

January 04, 2009

Calling "Soul"less Kilinochchi a"ghost" town is an understatement - eyewitness account

by B. Muralidhar Reddy in Kilinochchi

A team of selected media persons were taken by the Sri Lankan government to Kilinochchi town that came under the control of the Armed forces after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) withdrew from their former de – facto administrative capital.

Among the journalists was B. Muralidhar Reddy the Colombo correspondent of the Chennai – based “The Hindu”.

His first – hand report is reproduced below:

To describe Kilinochchi, the administrative and political headquarters of the LTTE which fell into the hands of the Sri Lankan military on Friday, as a “ghost town” is an understatement.

It is a town without a soul, roofs, windows and any conceivable civil and administrative infrastructure. For a bustling town that is home to an estimated 1,00,000 people, the destruction left behind presumably by the fleeing Tiger cadre as the military advanced is to be seen to be believe.

The Army officers and soldiers who marched into the town early Friday were shocked to discover that asbestos roofs, doors, windows and all conceivable fittings of every house and establishment in the town had been ripped apart and carted away.

The civil and administrative apparatus had been razed to ground. The 40-feet long city’s main water supplying tank was reduced to pieces with powerful explosives. The wires which supplied power had been slashed across the city and through the 8-km length of the town not many electric polls were seen.

“What is happening in Gaza is nothing compared to the devastation caused by the Tigers to Kilinochchi,” an Army officer told The Hindu.

Besides the damage to the infrastructure, the biggest concern of the government is about the fate of the citizens of Kilinochchi. Going by even accounts of the LTTE, the civilians had fled much before the military reached there.

Jagat Dias, General Officer commanding the 57 Division which along with the 58 Division laid siege to the citadel of the Tigers, told a group of visiting foreign and local journalists that weeks before Kilinochchi fell the Tigers had ordered the civilian population to move towards Mullathivu, its last remaining stronghold.

Barring a group of 30 civilians who turned up in the town on Sunday and have been sheltered at the local hospital, there is no trace of the rest of the citizens. Amid the bustle of military trucks and movement of men in uniform, the only trace of life in the town is stray dogs and cows.

“We believe the civilians of the town have been forcibly shifted out by the LTTE. However, as our march towards Mullathivu progresses and we zero in on the hideouts of the LTTE top brass in the thick jungles the civilians would have the confidence to return. We have seen this happen earlier in Jaffna in the mid-90,” said Lt. Gen. Dias.

The morale of the officers and soldiers of the Army appears high and there were no signs of tension on their faces as they go about consolidating their grip over the town. An estimated 30,000 soldiers are deployed in and around Kilinochchi and a large number of them are engaged in the process of inch by inch verification of the town to ensure that the place is free of booby traps and land mines.

In a separate development the N.Ram, the Editor – in – Chief of “The Hindu” had a telephonic conversation with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse

N. Ram’s first person report is also reproduced below –

Post-Kilinochchi, President Mahinda Rajapaksa expects the Sri Lankan armed forces to make rapid advances and capture Elephant Pass, which controls access to the Jaffna Peninsula, and other key targets in a short while. He is confident that, in the near future, the fighting cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam will have nowhere to go outside the jungles of Mullaithivu district in northern Sri Lanka.

Speaking to me over the telephone from Colombo on Sunday evening, Mr. Rajapaksa expressed satisfaction that his ‘Zero Civilian Casualty Policy’ was implemented perfectly by the armed forces during the operations to liberate Kilinochchi, the administrative hub and de facto ‘capital’ of the LTTE. They would continue to implement this policy in all their operations.

“See what is happening in Palestine! Horrible,” the Sri Lankan President said. “I spoke to the Palestinian President [Mahmoud Abbas] to find out the real situation there.”

Mr. Rajapaksa expressed concern over the LTTE not releasing the tens of thousands of Tamil civilians it holds “virtually as prisoners.” He has warned the organisation that it would face a ban if it continued to deny Tamil civilians their freedom and human rights. It is understood that the ban could come within a week. Paradoxically, the LTTE, which has been banned or designated as a terrorist entity in some 30 countries, including India, is yet to be proscribed in Sri Lanka.

“We have to give the highest priority to looking after these civilians,” Mr. Rajapaksa told me in the telephonic conversation. “We want their safety. That is why I am insisting strongly on their release.”

“We are sending them food,” the Sri Lankan President added. “We are feeding the LTTE. We won’t keep them hungry even after the civilians come over!”

Mr. Rajapaksa said some of the LTTE cadres were surrendering to the armed forces. His government was aware that there was a possibility of some suicide bombers trying to come out as refugees. The government was doing its best to apprehend and neutralise the LTTE’s suicide bombers, possibly 15 to 20 of them, who are believed to have infiltrated into Colombo and its environs.

Killinochchi and Gaza: A Tale of Two Invasions

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Killinochchi is an important milepost in the Fourth Eelam War, an outstanding victory for the Lankan Forces and a significant defeat for the LTTE. The Tigers’ response to the fall of Killinochchi was both characteristic and portentous - a suicide blast near the Air Force Headquarters in Colombo.

According to the well informed Transcurrents , the LTTE has begun withdrawing from Elephant Pass and Mullativu and may withdraw from the Jaffna Peninsula altogether. If true, this development, together with the premeditated response to the loss of Killinochchi, would signify a shift from positional warfare to guerrilla attacks and in particular acts of terrorism in the South and in the East, partly as a morale booster and partly to create the ground conditions necessary for the birth of a new generation of Tigers and Black Tigers.

Much thus depends on the manner in which the government handles this historic victory and its aftermath. The initial signs are not encouraging. President Rajapakse, his government and his military officials deserve to be credited for this victory (just as they deserve to be blamed for the defeats and the setbacks; the attribution must work both ways).

The Rajapakse administration’s desire to make political capital out of the fall of Killinochchi is comprehensible and indeed normal. However, in its blatant political exploitation of the Killinochchi victory, the regime overstepped the boundary of both good taste and good sense. This was as needless as it was unseemly; after all the Lankan electorate is hardly likely to reward Ranil Wickremesinghe for Killinochchi and therefore less self-aggrandisement would have helped rather than hurt the President’s image and the regime’s electoral prospects.

A greater cause for concern is the regime’s inability/unwillingness to reach out to Tamils at a moment of considerable emotional significance. Sri Lanka is still a psychologically divided nation; especially where the war is concerned, Sinhala and Tamil reactions are, in general, diametrically opposed. In opinion polls a majority of Tamil respondents express a clear preference for an immediate ceasefire while most Sinhala respondents want the war to be continued.

This is an understandable divergence since it is Tamils who have to bear the brunt of the war and it is Tamils who suffer most at the hands of both the LTTE and the Lankan state. Moreover the dominant section of the regime and the state regard the war as a Sinhala on Tamil conflict (as does the LTTE). Consequently many non/anti-Tiger Tamils would see the defeats and setbacks of the LTTE not as Sri Lankan victories but as Sinhala victories.
Given the non-existence of a Sri Lankan nation, it is unrealistic to expect a Lankan response from the Tamils (particularly since the state and the government habitually react in a majoritarian rather than in a Lankan manner).

Therefore most Tamils are unlikely to feel elated about the Killinochchi victory. Given the regime’s Sinhala supremacist mindset and the absence of a political solution to the ethnic problem, most Tamils are likely to feel dismayed and worried rather than hopeful about the future. A majority of Sinhalese may welcome a Sinhala peace; but a majority of Tamils would not. This very real difference must not be glossed over; nor should it be condemned as unpatriotic.

After all, the only kind of patriotism that exists in this country is of the ethnic or ethno-religious variety – an inevitable consequence of the non-existence of a Lankan nation. The problem must be acknowledged as a problem and dealt with; indeed, doing so is a necessary precondition for the creation of a Sri Lankan nation. If in moments of victory, the administration in particular and the Sinhalese in general, act with insensitivity and miserliness towards the minorities, it will impede the nation building process without which Sri Lanka will not know a lasting peace.

So long as Vellupillai Pirapaharan is alive the LTTE will neither give up Eelam nor give up arms. The LTTE’s New Year Message made this clear, yet again. A military response to the LTTE is thus unavoidable. But this unavoidable military response must go hand in hand with a political response to the Tamil people. Unfortunately such a dual approach is conspicuous by its absence. Mr. Pirapaharan depends on this critical absence to justify both the Eelam demand and the recourse to arms; to win fighters and sympathisers here and abroad.

Given this seminal absence, all the LTTE has to do is to explode a few bombs in the South now and then. The regime will overreact as usual, with mass arrests, abductions, extra-judicial killings and attempted deportations – responses tailor made to suit the Tigers’ politico-propaganda needs.

The battle for Killinochchi was expected to be over in weeks; it took months. The battle for Vanni will be infinitely more difficult than Killinochchi. With its back to the wall the Tiger will fight more ferociously than ever before. The LTTE will also go out of its way to provoke the Lankan side into committing acts of violence and persecution against civilian Tamils, both in the war zone and in the rest of the country. Deaths and injuries from aerial bombing and shelling, mass arrests, attempts at deportation would be the responses the Tigers would try to elicit from the regime.

The duration and the final outcome of the war would depend to a great extent on the way in which the regime treats its Tamil citizens. Will the government come up with a political solution to the ethnic problem even as it pursues the next phase of the war and act with responsibility and consideration towards civilian Tamils in the pursuit of the next phase of war? Or will the government’s actions and reactions become even more majortarian supremacist than they have been so far?

These are key questions, particularly because of the economic factors. It is not possible to keep defence expenditure at the current levels, given the worsening of the economic situation. The Golden Key debacle is just the tip of the iceberg. A financial crisis is unavoidable as is a debt crisis. Significant as the Killinochchi victory is, the harder part of the war lies ahead and some of the necessary preconditions to sustain the war are fast disappearing.

Sometimes winning the battle or even the war is the easy part. In Afghanistan the coalition forces were able to defeat Taliban with surprising ease. This victory became a pyrrhic one absence of a concerted programme to win the peace by winning over the populace.

Today Taliban has made a comeback and is threatening the very survival of the Karazi government. This is a lesson the government should do well to heed, before it succumbs completely to hubris and makes the kind of avoidable mistake which will only help the Tigers.

The Israeli ground offensive in Gaza has begun. Hamas’ options were limited so long as the invasion was limited to air attacks; it had no capacity to bring down Israeli air crafts and all it could do was to fire some rockets into Israel which did very little real damage. With the commencement of the ground offensive, Hamas can finally fight back. As Israeli ground troops enter Gaza, the battle will become more even, and the casualties will begin to include more and more Israeli soldiers.

Many ordinary Palestinians will join in this fight back, not because they are pro-Hamas but because Israel’s extremist policies and practices have left them with no choice other than resistance or capitulation.

With the new Obama administration there was a real possibility of isolating the extremists and strengthening the moderates in the Middle East – a precondition for any lasting peace. Israel has put paid to that very real potential with its brutal offensive. At the end of this criminal misadventure Hamas is likely to emerge politically strengthened rather than weakened, not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank.

In fact the main political casualty of this monumental blunder is likely to be the moderate Fatah in general and the Abbas faction within it in particular. Other big losers may include the pro-Western rulers in the Islamic world. All over the Middle East, from Israel to Turkey, from the Palestinian territories to Egypt, political extremists and religious fundamentalists will gain from the tragedy of Gaza.

Israel of all countries should know that a people cannot be destroyed by the force of arms; that violence cannot kill the spirit of a nation. If wars and massacres, persecution and injustice can destroy a people, Jews would have become extinct centuries ago. With such a historic memory, it is ironic that Israel has not been able to comprehend and appreciate the Palestinians’ desire for liberation, their determination to survive and their will to resist.

If Israel applied its own experiences to the Palestinian situation, it would not have blockaded, bombed, shelled and invaded Gaza. If Israel remembered how suffering gives rise to resistance and injustice engenders hatred and revenge, it would not have tried to starve and destroy the Gazans into submission.

Israel forgot and will be called to pay for her avoidable errors. She has already paid a heavy price for her refusal to be rational, for her inability to understand that real security is impossible so long as one’s policies give rise to generation after generation of angry Palestinian men and women willing to kill and die battling Israel. Perhaps the most telling indicator of the failure of Israel’s hard-line policy is that young Israeli Jews show an increasing tendency to migrate to the West, including to Germany, because they have lost faith in Israel’s future.

Israel facilitated the rise of Hamas because it wanted to fragment Palestinian resistance on religious lines, because it needed an enemy who could be demonised with ease. Israel and Hamas always had a mutually sustaining relationship and this will become intensified as the Gaza invasion progresses. President Abbas has discredited himself with his servility towards Israel and the West; the only moderately radical leader who could have made a positive difference, Marwan Barghouti, is serving six life sentences in an Israeli jail.

The current vicious impasse can still be broken if Israel is willing to halt the offensive, lift the blockade and release Mr. Barghouti in time for the next Palestinian election. With President Obama in the White House, if Ms. Livni is elected the Prime Minister of Israel and Mr. Barghouti becomes the Palestinian authority President, there will be a real possibility of marginalising the Hamas and Israeli right-wingers and working towards a two state solution.

But as the Gaza invasion wends its destructive way, as opinions harden on both sides of the divide, such positive possibilities will rapidly evaporate. Instead Binyamin Netanhayu will win Israeli elections and Hamas the Palestinian Presidency. With extremists dominating both sides, peace will become more impossible than ever, whatever the efforts of Mr. Obama. And all over the world, fundamentalists of all faiths, terrorists of all types will become stronger and more numerous.

If George W Bush killed the War against Terrorism with his Iraqi invasion, Israel has buried it with her Gaza offensive. As Eduardo Galeano asked, “And isn’t it clear that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the invasion of Gaza and Lebanon are the incubators of hatred, producing fanatic after fanatic after fanatic?”

After Kilinochchi: Victory within sight but there are pitfalls

By Dayan Jayatilleka

“Hasta la Victoria Siempre!” (“Ever Onward to Victory!”) -  Che Guevara

 

“One thing is now required—to deal the death-blow to the fascist beast…The last storming of the Hitlerite lair is on…give them no respite until they cease resistance.” - Stalin, Order of the Day, May 1, 1945

 

With the liberation of Paranthan and Kilinochchi, the war has pivoted decisively in favor of the Sri Lankan armed forces and against the LTTE. We are winning a ground war, not against sporadic suicide bombers or home made rockets causing single digit casualties over long years, but against a ferocious insurgent foe fielding large  formations, armed with heavy artillery, fast boats and light aircraft. We are doing so not with open ended foreign patronage, not while imposing collective punishment and inflicting civilian casualties which are almost a fifth of armed enemy casualties, but with minimum collateral damage despite the use of human shields by the enemy. If in the eyes of some, colossally disproportionate force is perfectly ok as a “defensive “measure to protect one’s citizens against the dangers and disruptions of sporadic rocket attacks, how much greater the existential danger to the Sri Lankan state and how much more justified Sri Lanka’s offensive against an enemy who has murdered many of our leaders, stultified our economic development for decades and secretly built six airstrips capable of deploying aircraft to bomb targets anywhere on this small island?

 

Victory is on the horizon, within sight, but there are pitfalls. The pitfalls are that there will be redoubled pressures to delay, dilute or divert the final offensive and its objectives. There will be calls for ceasefires, negotiations and non-military, political solutions. Some of these will come from the local commentariat, the well intentioned but feebleminded, the high-toned but near-hysterical. Others will emanate from sources less naïve or innocent. They will come from those external forces who do not wish to see strong states in the Third World , especially those led by nationalist leaders such as President Mahinda Rajapakse. In most parts of the world, these external forces and their successors have, over decades and even centuries, encouraged divisions and patronized this or that particularistic group, in order to prevent the consolidation of strong nation-states. This is, has been and will continue to be the strategy of global hegemony, at times operating through regional subsystems. There is almost no violent conflict today, from Palestine to Zimbabwe , from Afghanistan to Kashmir , which is not traceable in its origins to colonial policy, the divisive stratagems of de-colonization and the successor Cold war policy of imperial hegemony or a combination thereof.

 

The neocolonial forces do not wish to see the defeat of Tamil separatism in either its armed or unarmed forms. They wish Tamil separatist terrorism to survive even in residual form, so it can be reactivated and used as an instrument at any given time. We must understand that our fight against separatist terrorism is part of the larger struggle for the defense of our own path, our independence, political sovereignty, and right of self determination. The struggle against fragmentation through separatism is part of the struggle for the consolidation of what President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have conceptualized for their own country as “sovereign democracy”. It is part of the struggle against the installation of an anti-national puppet administration, which would cede the sovereignty of the state to outside players and even partition the state for private profit.

 

Certainly there has to be a parallel political process which can reunify Sri Lanka while reforming it. However that is neither the main task nor the call of the moment. The chief challenge is neither political nor diplomatic, it is resolutely military. The war has to be won, without losing our current offensive momentum, without giving the LTTE a chance to retreat in good order, without giving them the time to regroup and dig in deeply in Mullaitivu their last stronghold.

 

We must remember though that Prabhakaran has been placed on the strategic defensive just as certain political “planetary changes” are taking place, which he has been eagerly awaiting. Anita Pratap, the Indian journalist closest to Prabhakaran pointed out in a speech some months ago that Prabhakaran was awaiting two international developments to take place this year, in 2009:  new administration in the USA and elections (hopefully -- from his point of view -- leading to a new administration) in India. It is most likely that Prabhakaran has miscalculated the impact of these political developments. However, it is best to pre-empt these developments. It is the challenge before the Sri Lankan state to eliminate his military capacity before these political changes can begin to work in his favor.

 

The central task after the liberation of Kilinochchi has been correctly identified by Sri Lanka’s leader and Commander in Chief, President Rajapakse in his address to the nation on January 2nd:  “I call upon you to continue with your commitment to the country until the final act of this false Eelam struggle is played to its finish in the small territory of jungle in Mullaitivu it is confined to today, and the LTTE is fully and finally defeated.”

 

The Commander of the Army General Sarath Fonseka accurately developed this perspective when he said that 2009 would be the year of the eradication of the LTTE which should not exist in 2010. 2009 is the year in which, sooner rather than later, within a matter of months, the high–to-mid intensity Sri Lankan conflict must transition into a low-intensity one entailing residual terrorism if at all.

 

What the armchair critics of the Sri Lankan armed forces have been totally unable to discern is that in this campaign, the Sri Lanka army has not been bogged down in positional warfare but has fought a war of mobility and maneuver, brilliantly outmaneuvering the LTTE, deploying the Strategy of Indirect Approach, (best articulated by BH Liddell Hart).   This is why our troops have long since opened fronts in Mullaitivu itself, operating on the flanks and in the rear of the enemy.

 

Those who daydream of the inevitability of a long drawn out guerrilla war, such as that waged by the Vietnamese or the Taliban simply do not know either their history or their geography. The Vietnamese waged a peoples’ war of national liberation against a conscript army from tens of thousands of miles away, possessing no understanding of the Asian continent, let alone the local terrain. The guerrilla resistance deployed broad united front tactics, mobilized the peasantry, were supported by a safe rear area ( North Vietnam ), had supplies coming in from socialist Russia and China , and was supported by solidarity movements all over the world including in the USA itself. If there is any Indo-Chinese parallel for the LTTE it is not Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese, but Pol Pot: the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist John F. Burns described Prabhakaran as the Pol Pot of South Asia. The Vietnamese won, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge eventually lost.

 

The Taliban operate in the huge mountainous terrain which stretches from Afghanistan into Pakistan . Mullaitivu is one district out of a total of twenty four, in a small island, with no land border, only the sea. The Tigers have been consciously corralled, funneled into Mullaitivu by the multi-front strategy of the Sri Lankan armed forces, which has been waging an impressive combination of large unit and small unit  ‘deep penetration’ warfare in that battle-space. Thus the durable base area and regroupment zone of Prabhakaran from which he staged his comebacks against the IPKF and the Sri Lankan army (with the Mullaitivu camp’s overrunning in mid-1996) is about to become a killing zone for the Tigers.

 

B Raman a former senior Indian official turned web pundit, had in a wildly absurd analogy, thrown Stalingrad and later El Alamein into the mill of his journalistic analyses of the Kilinochchi battle, omitting a few details like the Russian Winter which devastated Napoleon’s invading troops, over a century before it did the Nazis. Mr. Raman did not seem to know that in Sri Lanka , people do not generally die of the monsoon weather, though we did have some brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives fighting in swirling rapids. Nor did he seem to appreciate that the Sri Lankan armed forces, unlike the French and German armies were not foreign invaders stuck at the end of very long indefensible supply lines. He did not seem to understand that Stalin’s Russia had built up an industrial base and that Red Army tanks were driven to the battlefront by the factory workers who had just fished manufacturing them. Prabhakaran on the other hand spurned every opportunity, beginning with the Indo-Lanka Accord, to build up the economic base of the Tamil people and the Tamil majority areas. Raman certainly seemed to be ignorant of the comprehensive grassroots socio-political mobilization that Stalin had undertaken by the dual means of Communist party cadre and radical social revolution.

 

Mr. Raman continues with his ludicrous analogies in his piece “After Kilinochchi”. Now it is George W Bush after the conventional victory in Iraq , and the allied victory claims over the Taliban in Afghanistan . If the writer had looked at the world map, he would have recognized that in Iraq and Afghanistan , the US and its allies are fighting across continents and seas, in foreign lands, in which they constitute foreign armies of occupation, possessing an utterly alien culture and civilization. It is not only a matter of geography. The geographic silliness is representative of a total confusion of the character of the respective wars and the actors involved in them. Drawing a parallel between the US army in Iraq and the Sri Lankan army in Kilinochchi-Mullaitivu, is as intelligent as equating the presence of the British colonial army in India with the Indian armed forces in the North-eastern or North-Western peripheries of the country.

 

Mr. Raman is not alone. The piece de resistance is provided by Professor Kumar David, Trotskyist, who wrote: “Well, 2009 has dawned and Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu are, albeit tenuously, still in LTTE hands. For the last five months (from the provincial council elections in August 2008 to the PC elections now approaching) government and military spokesmen have announced Kilinochchi’s “imminent” fall; clearly not military strategy but the government’s political and electoral agenda is driving the timetable...The war will continue into 2009 with unabated ferocity; finishing off the LTTE is still a far away possibility. Sure, sure the military may still take these two towns in the coming weeks or months, but that does not alter the reality that the war is interminable...”

 

That gem of professorial prescience and scientific Samasamajism appeared in the Sunday Lakbimanews of January 4th 2009, two days after Kilinochchi had fallen, briefly beating even the Gaza firestorm in the headlines of the BBC.

 

(These are the strictly personal views of the author).

January 03, 2009

Remember Baby 81 of Dec 26th 2004 Tsunami?

By Thooya Thamarai in Kurukkalmadam

It’s true that children live in a world of their own. One such child lives in Kurukkalmadam in Batticaloa, is four years old, playing the character of bold knight using an old broomstick as a jousting stick. He camouflaged himself among the wide-branched coconut tree in the middle of his tiny garden. His cousin, of the same age soon comes over to fight with him and there’s a roar. His father arrives on the scene to settle the fight and the children start a new game – hide and seek.

AB0103B.jpg

[His name is rooted in the Sanskrit word "abhilasha," meaning aspiration or desire-more pix: By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]

ABTC0103.jpgLife moves on for this little Abilash who runs in and around his house. He’s not aware that once he gained so much fame that the entire world focused on him. The world knew not his name, but he was highlighted by the global media as ‘Baby 81’. In a King Solomon-esque twist to an extraordinary tale, Abilash was the central focus of an uproar following media reports that the then two month old baby, who had been saved after being separated from his parents in the tsunami, and was being claimed as their son by nearly nine women.

No sooner was the story out, as many as 40 media institutions, including some of the international television stations covered the ordeal. Although the court later charged that the dispute over the baby was pure media hype while there actually had not been nine parents claming the tsunami orphan, it took 52 days, several court hearings and DNA testing, before Murugupillai Jeyarajan and Jenita of Kalmunai won the bitterly fought custody battle for their son, Abilash.

With the happiness of the re-union, ‘Baby 81’ shot to fame and even got an opportunity to visit USA to participate in a popular TV Show. This was also in 2005, three years ago, when the tsunami disaster was still very fresh in the mind of the world.

Today, many of us have forgotten that bittersweet tsunami story and few would wonder at what became of Baby 81 in the end. In complete ignorance of his previous claims to fame, Abilash is an inconspicuous little child, happy and eager to learn.

Unknown to many, Baby 81’s fame had some unfortunate repercussions for his parents.
“When my baby was lost, I tried my best to find him and sought loans from many. The struggle made waves and bought us fame. When the baby was legally handed over, many media flocked to interview us. Our neighbours felt that when the cameramen fixed the tripod, he was also giving us money. So many money lenders demanded money that was given as loan, but they did not understand and would not believe when I said I did not have money,” said Jeyarajan, the father of Abilash.

Jeyarajan is a barber by profession and his family now lives in Kurukkalmadam, some 20 kilometres away from Batticaloa town. His wife is from Kalmunai and once they were married, they settled in Kalmunai. The tsunami ravaged the area in which they lived and during the disaster, they lost their infant while fleeing the giant wave. One would imagine that the publicity given to the Baby 81 story, Abilash and his family would have rebuilt their lives faster than most. But despite all the pledges of support, they continue to live under difficult circumstances.

“We did not have a house of our own. It is when we planned to build a house that the tsunami intruded into our lives. When we spoke to the government authority for a house, they said we did not fall into the tsunami housing criteria of the government. It is the same when we sought support from many NGOs. Some NGOs said that if I acquire a plot of land, then they’ll think of building a house for my family. I did not have a land and wasn’t in a position to buy any,” explained Jeyarajan.

It was during such a difficult time, Jeyarajan’s sister told him to share a space in her plot of land. Then one NGO came forward to build his house and his family was overjoyed. But the joy did not last long.

“The Project Director of this particular NGO who supported to build my house retired and a new person took over. Looking at the criteria and their fund, they said that they may not be able to finish the house as I don’t fall into their housing criteria. My house was half built then. So I had to speak to many other NGOs. Some said they are not willing to repair the house built by another organisation and wanted me to seek new land. All this left me helpless. But I’m thankful for the NGO that took steps to initially build my house,” Jeyarajan said.

Four years have passed. With the little money he got from his barber shop, Jeyarajan paid off all his loans and was able to put up the roof to his little house. However, the money was not enough to plaster their home and it still looks like a half built edifice.

“Paying off the debt was a great relief to me,” he took a deep breath and explained, “but no money is left for my family or to plaster the house or to buy any household items.”
Jeyarajan’s wife, Jenita was cooking inside the kitchen. Abilash ran towards her saying he was hungry. She dis