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February 28, 2009

Articulating Ethics and Politics: A Leftist Engagement With The Present

"Assuming the LTTE finished is fantasy masquerading as fact"

By Qadri Ismail

Che Guevara once said: “if you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are my comrade.”

The distillation of a lifetime of agitation, intervention, reflection, this statement, the opposite of a soundbite, pithily articulates ethics with politics. We’ve known, at least since Aristotle, that the two are inextricable, yet distinct.

Che links them together in exemplary leftist fashion. If one understands ethics, following Levinas loosely, as deference to the other; and politics, following Derrida equally loosely, as a calculus about the possible; then Che’s formulation insists that, while the leftist might not (be able to) act upon every injustice, she must be moved. Narcissistic indignation is called identity politics.

Che Guevara, Argentine-Cuban Revolutionary Speaks to CBS-TV's "Meet the Press" on December 13, 1964 (AP Photo).

[Che Guevara appeared on Meet the Press at CBS Television on December 13, 1964-AP]

When the leftist acts, she cannot be deterred by considerations of difficulty, of (im)possibility. They get overdetermined by the ethical imperative, the banal necessity, to resist injustice, oppression of the other. Not the political calculation whether resistance might be fruitful. Necessity, as opposed to choice, characterizes leftist action.

In other words, the leftist is not and has never been a realist. Revolutions, national liberation struggles, campaigns against patriarchy were not inspired by opportunists. Neither is the Tamil struggle for justice in Sri Lanka. The legitimacy of that struggle doesn’t stand or fall by the record – the abysmal, atrocious record – of the LTTE.

And yet, as one writes, many on the left, thinking the LTTE in the past tense, advice the Tamils to adopt a “realist,” that is to say mendicant, position regards the Rajapakse regime: reconcile with the actuality of its overwhelming power. Take what you can get. In effect, surrender.

As one writes, that same regime continues to bomb, from air and ground, the tiny territory still in LTTE hands. It kills between 10 and 20 Tamil civilians every day, maims dozens of others. Many little children are now amputees. They might be safe if the LTTE, unconscionably, does not hold them as human shields; even, horribly, shooting those who try to flee. But that is no alibi for this government’s brutality.

Yet, as one reads, one finds no indignation, no outrage, from sections of the left. There is, of course, the mandatory, parenthetical – pathetic – gesture of concern about civilian casualties. But the brutality of this government, it appears remarkably enough, should not shape our response to it. Only the “fact” of its assumed victory.

Take, as symptomatic instance, a recent position paper by Sumanasiri Liyanage. It expresses with clarity a position held by many about “the post-LTTE era.” But assuming the LTTE finished is fantasy masquerading as fact. Its record suggests resilience, not oblivion. Weakened, broken as the guerillas are – they’ve never been so unpopular, even amongst their own – there’s nothing inevitable about their disappearance from our politico-military terrain. Regardless, the leftist commitment to the justice of the Tamil struggle is not bound to the fate of the LTTE.

Liyanage’s undeniable commitment to peace with justice has been established over decades, with great consistency. I have admired his many thoughtful interventions, especially in the last couple of years. But, now – and this is said with loss, not anger – he effectively whitewashes the regime. Arguing that “revolutionary” constitutional change is “unlikely” – the word litters the article – he advances realistic “reform” as the position we should all adopt. One could ask, in response: if U.S. slaves had considered the likelihood of ending their captivity, if they had realistically calculated their chances against the overwhelming power of the white establishment, would they have rebelled? Unlikely.

Incredibly, Liyanage doesn’t once identify the Rajapakse regime as responsible for any – not a single – part of the horrible Sri Lankan present. The “JVP and Hela Urumaya…[are] the main advocates” of exclusivist nationalism. The SLFP, it would appear, doesn’t share this ideology, is innocent of blame.

As one writes, the Rajapakse regime has announced plans to house Vanni Tamils in specially constructed detention camps for up to three years. These camps will include schools, hospitals and banks. The populace inside will be held captive, policed by the military. The Rajapakses, brazenly, have even approached the U.N. and other international NGOs – the same organizations its spokespeople routinely slander – to fund these centers akin to concentration camps.

Given the career – brief, but consistently exclusivist – of this government, one doesn’t need to be an astrologer or political scientist to foresee the next stage of the plan. Over the past two years, led by the JHU’s Champika Ranawaka and Basil Rajapakse, the regime has systematically alienated Muslim land in the east. Sinhala settlers cannot be far behind.

There is little reason to doubt that the Vanni territory, once denuded of Tamils, will also be colonized with Sinhalese. This is the Rajapakses’ “final solution” to the national question: make the Tamils politically irrelevant. Physically eliminate any resistance, even the non-violent. Concentrate the rest in camps.

In this regard, the only moot question is whether Sinhala nationalism, which has systematically followed such a strategy since D. S. Senanayake in the late 1940s, learned this from Zionism – or whether the Israelis copied the Sri Lankan example. Not coincidentally, the two states have been co-operating openly since the mid-1980s. Mahinda Rajapakse, opposition M.P., may have been a champion of Palestinian rights, a progressive, in those 1980s; his regime is comparable to the Israeli state.

In such a context, advocating reform would be to debate how many Sinhalese should be allowed to colonize the north. Not whether colonization should occur in the first place.

But “reform” and “revolutionary change” are not the only alternatives. Resistance – the unyielding demand for peace with justice – is another. Liyanage, however, frames his position with canny rhetoric. Reform, after all, sounds realistic, possible, even reasonable. Naming its alternative revolutionary – spin worthy of U.S. conservatives, the (white) guys who call universal health care “socialism” – is delegitimizing. For, in the worldview fabricated by George W. Bush, that Liyanage reproduces, perhaps unwittingly, a synonym for revolutionary is terrorist.

Yes, the LTTE could be accused of terrorism – if one finds the term productive. Among national liberation organizations, its brutality is unmatched. Its record is too well known to require iteration here. A powerful case could be made that the LTTE and its leadership must face trial for war crimes. But, surely, an equally powerful case could be made about leading figures of the government.

On the other hand, if one advocates engagement with the regime, shouldn’t one also advocate the same with the LTTE? Ideologically, both embody exclusivist, extremist – if not totalitarian – nationalism. Both equate dissent with treason. Gotabhaya Rajapakse actually said this to BBC television, following the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge. The LTTE has systematically assassinated resistant Tamils, including K. Padmanabha and Rajini Thiranagama. The only difference is that the LTTE’s brutality extends for decades. Simply put, it has killed, intimidated, devastated more. But considerations of number should not determine leftist ethics.

Liyanage knows this. He refers to the Tamils and Muslims as “numerically small nations,” desiring not to other the Tamils and Muslims by calling them “minorities.” Yet he cannot frame his position outside the logic of number. For, one could ask, after Derrida: at what number does a nation become small or large? Would we also need a cage for the medium-sized? Would the Chinese be extra-large? Is there some secret book of rules, available only to social scientists, with the right answers?

More importantly, does it matter? Does their number have anything to do with the fact that we’re moved, appalled, outraged by the oppression of the Tamils – or the Palestinians, for that matter? Should indignation not serve as the launching pad of our response?

The argument for engagement, for reform, is an argument for accepting the continued domination of the Tamils and Muslims. It negates the very basis of the Tamil struggle, for peace with justice. Even worse, it provides the Rajapakses with an alibi. For, one must ask: given that the president himself turned the consensus within the APRC, for greater devolution, into acceptance of the status quo, what are the chances of this regime, even minimally, reforming the state? Unlikely.

The stagist argument – finish the LTTE first, then attend to Tamil “grievances” – is, at best, counter-factual, presumptuous. Both about the LTTE, that it can’t re-emerge; and the regime, that it will suddenly, miraculously, turn democratic.

But what are the chances of the Rajapakses, who cannot countenance journalistic resistance – witness the murder of Wickrematunge, the continued imprisonment of J. S. Tissainayagam – suddenly becoming democratic? Is it “realistic” to expect this regime, which refuses to honor the 17th amendment, to discover the virtues of constitutional governance? Or, as Jayadeva Uyangoda begs, Mahinda Rajapakse to display “statesmanship”? You know the answer.

The Sinhala left has a long, impressive, honorable record on the question of social justice. Despite being woefully underfunded, we can boast of free universal health care and education through university. The United States cannot. Despite the best efforts of J. R. Jayewardene, in the 1980s, our trade unions thrive. They even strike every now and then. Without the left, this would not be the case.

On the national question, however, the organized left, with the rare exception of a Vickremabahu Karunaratne or Sarath Muttetuwegama, has been a paragon of complicity with Sinhala nationalism. It bears iteration that the same Colvin R de Silva, who said with astute prescience in 1956, that establishing Sinhala as the only official language would lead to separatism, sixteen years later effectively instituted Buddhism as the state religion. The militant Tamil resistance was inaugurated that same year, 1972. Then, as now, members of the CP and LSSP adorn the cabinet.

Just last January, after the murder of Wickrematunge, after the rampages of this regime against Tamil and Muslim civilians, documented over three years, an old leftist – I don’t have the heart to mention his name – told a mutual acquaintance: “Mahinda is basically a progressive.”

Surely, the task of our intellectual left must be to hold these positions to account, not make them role models!

Our task is to insist, and keep insisting, that there cannot be a just peace in Sri Lanka without radical – not reformist, or revolutionary, but radical – constitutional change. (Revolutionary change, a complete, total break from the past, is impossible – even conceptually.) A form of confederalism, if that’s what it takes; which accounts for Muslim, as well as Tamil demands.

The equality of all citizens, including those outside the northeast, must be institutionalized in something like a bill of rights. As importantly, the symbols of the state must signify such equality. This means no special status for Buddhism. And redesigning the flag, which as it now flies reproduces – with its dominant, armed, scary lion and two miserable stripes for the minorities – Sinhala nationalist dominance.

This will take a long struggle, but reform – surrender to Sinhala nationalism – takes us down a dead-end. This will involve rethinking the tired clichés about peace we’ve inherited from social science, conflict management. This entails much labor, patience, anger and frustration, but we must abide by our convictions, not yield to our most conformist instincts.

Edward Said once told me, when I asked of his vocal opposition to the Oslo accords, that they could only lead to the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people – while providing Israel with the alibi of commitment to peace. Despite tremendous pressure, mostly from the PLO, he refused to yield his position. Refused, that is, to settle for mere reform.

The point is not that he turned out to be right. He was no realist. Rather, after a lifetime of agitation, intervention, reflection, he had conviction. He understood that the leftist, when confronted with surrender or resistance, doesn’t have a choice. Like Che, Said knew how to articulate ethics with politics.

The Dilemma of Balancing Humanitarian Concerns with Security Requisites

By Namini Wijedasa

As fighting rages further north, haggard civilians with tales of horror are continuing to stumble into Vavuniya.

And with numbers growing, authorities are under intense international pressure to balance humanitarian concerns with security requisites — so that men, women and children traumatised by the LTTE are not victimised again by the government.

Barbed wire

“Civilians who manage to escape the Tamil Tigers and the shelling soon find themselves locked up in military camps by the government, surrounded by barbed wire and cut off from the outside world,” says a statement on Friday by Anna Neistat, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. She reportedly returned from Vavuniya two weeks ago.


[A young Tamil woman attempts to speak to family members inside one of 16 'transit sites' set up by the government-pic: IRIN]

The tales of grief are everywhere. A firsthand account of welfare camps written by Dr Thaya Thiagarajah, a psycho-social consultant, speaks of separated families, civilians with gruesome injuries, tight security and dismal conditions inside welfare camps.

“Nobody was allowed to get into the camp,” she writes. “The schools are being used as the interim camps. But they were putting up sheds which I would call tents about 5-6 meters in length. They had put barbed wires around the camps like those around the army camps. People could see those inside only from the other side of the road. The security was very tight.”

The visual and psychological impact of barbed wire is strong and stark. It evokes memories of concentration camps and some international journalists have already used the comparison in their writing. Sharp and inhospitable, barbed wire is generally used to keep out predators or to keep in prisoners. So why has it been installed in “welfare camps” for the displaced?

Some commentators feel the government doesn’t care about these civilians. “I think, crudely, the government wants to make life as uncomfortable as possible for people when they come out,” said a westerner working for an international think tank. He did not wish to be quoted. Others are more accommodating. “I think they are trying their best but certainly a lot of concerns need to be addressed,” said a source from an international NGO. He, too, did not wish to be identified.

Weeding out the Tigers

One of the trickiest issues faced by the government is the weeding out of Tigers who are inevitably lurking among civilians. “A journalist who visited an IDP camp in Vavuniya told me that a woman said softly that she can’t speak to him,” recounted the westerner earlier quoted. “He asked whether it was because there were soldiers around and she replied: ‘No, they are here, they are here’. The LTTE is good at blurring the lines between cadres and civilians.”

“Yes, there are terrorists among civilians,” said Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, military spokesman. How did they know? “We have identified certain numbers,” he replied. “Some people have confessed that they had undergone training and request rehabilitation.”

Asked what happens to them once identified, he said the adults (“if they are hardcore”) would be sent to rehabilitation camps at Tellipalai and Welikanda while former child soldiers are taken to a centre in Ambepussa. “So far, nobody has been arrested,” Brig Nanayakkara said. There are around 200 cadres undergoing rehabilitation at Welikanda alone.


All displaced persons seeking protection in government territory are sent to the camps. This includes those who have relatives in other parts of the country that are willing to house them. Some civilians inside the camps are residents of Vavuniya but can’t move into their homes in that town. Movement outside the camps is barred. According to reports, inmates are even prohibited from visiting family members in hospital or attending the funerals of those who have died. Every incoming civilian is screened by military intelligence and registered. No international agency or organisation is present during this procedure. “I am concerned, not so much about the camps per se, but the prior stages of screening for LTTE presence,” said another aid community source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is not transparent. There is no reason in the world why they can’t have the ICRC present, to create confidence that they are not pulling people aside and just killing them. There is no transparency.”

Human Rights Watch, whose voice is influential in international circles, also highlighted this issue. Its statement last week complained that international humanitarian agencies were “no longer allowed to adequately monitor the government’s screening process of new arrivals to government-controlled areas, and that there were reports of the security forces taking away LTTE suspects to arbitrary detention and possible enforced disappearances”.

But the government remains firm on this issue. “How can ICRC, international organisations or anybody else do screening?” asked Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. “Only security people can do that. The problem is that people start creating doubts even before we start doing anything.”

“This is a sovereign country,” he asserted. “We have systems here. We have a sense of responsibility, the capacity and capability. We know terrorists will come with the people. We are doing the screening and people must have confidence in us. It is not the ICRC’s task to get involved. They have signed a memorandum with the Sri Lanka Government in which their specific duties are identified.”

“People come here and get involved in things that are not their business,” he continued. “When ambassadors come here, they start doing politics. That is not their job. Our ambassador in the US will never be allowed to do politics. Our high commissioner in the UK cannot meet people all over the countryside and do politics.”

Freedom of movement

As routines fall into place and new procedures are adopted, international agencies are hoping that life becomes easier for the civilians. Family members are being reunited. More temporary shelters are being constructed. Children have resumed “school”. Clinics meet the medical needs of the displaced. Toilet and bathing facilities are expected to improve when more money and assistance is received.

The most crucial requirement, however, is freedom of movement which would contribute towards building confidence among the Tamil population. Nobody detained indefinitely in “open prisons” will feel benevolent towards the government. It is learnt that the government will soon issue identity cards to the displaced. It is not known, however, whether these will permit them to move freely around Vavuniya, gain employment or live life as normally as possible. All attempts to contact Basil Rajapaksa, the parliamentarian overseeing this subject, failed last week.

It is also not clear when the displaced will be resettled in their villages. With the conventional battle between the LTTE and military still raging, it might be irrational to raise the question. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the government handles displaced civilians in a humane and dignified manner which builds confidence and creates a platform for lasting peace.

Any ill-treatment of these helpless Tamils will undermine the prospect of a lasting political solution. A lack of transparency will undermine the credibility of the government with Tamils. A failure to give heed to their legitimate grievances and urgent needs will only create a repetition of the vicious cycle.

Pressure from international quarters has been welcome because it has kept the government on its toes. In the final equation, however, it is not about satisfying the requirements of “foreigners who butt their noses into every bit of your business”. It should be about appealing to the Tamil people so that they permanently desert the LTTE — physically and ideologically — out of a sense of genuine sense of trust in the government.

(This article is reproduced from Lakbima News.It appeared under the heading “A state’s dilemma;Catching terrorists or caging civilians behind barbed wires?”)

LTTE predator not protector of Tamil civilian population

by Rajan Hoole and Kopalasingham Sritharan

The LTTE’s treatment of civilians who came within its ambit calls for greater imagination and restraint in giving practical effect to the rules of war. Nominal government instructions to civilians to move into supposedly safe zones have been cited as a reasonable pretext for free shelling elsewhere, regardless of the life-threatening obstacles the LTTE imposed on them. The recent Human Rights Watch report ‘War on the Displaced’ is brutally frank in placing the LTTE’s relation to the Tamil civilian population — whom it has frequently shot and killed for trying to escape — as a predator, and not a protector. Based painstakingly on copious tragic testimonies, HRW also conveys an implicit warning to the government on its approach to humanitarian norms.

“Violations of the laws of war by one side to a conflict do not justify violations by the opposing side” (HRW report), is an absolute principle of civilised humanity. Day by day, testimony coming from civilians fleeing the LTTE drives home the task of protecting trapped civilians to be diabolically intricate. In each incident a turning point is reached where we revise our judgments, and are forced to see the problem differently and find answers to new challenges that become more urgent by the hour.

Those who long knew the LTTE, understood clearly where it was taking the Tamil people. In addition, the present government has an atrocious human rights record and its chauvinist leanings have led to widespread alarm. Such a government being in a war where mainly the Tamils are at the receiving end, would have predisposed most observers to see every incident in a light unfavourable to it.

Take, for instance, the incident when just before midnight on 1 February, Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK) hospital was shelled killing nine persons. Questioned by Sky TV, the defence secretary said, “No hospital should operate outside the safety zone...everything beyond the safety zone is a legitimate target.” One wonders how someone in the Government could have demarcated a safe zone exempting the hospital barely two miles beyond its south-eastern edge.

The shelling of the hospital is a grave contravention of humanitarian norms for which there is no excuse. Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, in an ill-conceived exercise in damage control, produced an aerial video of the hospital in an attempt to discredit ICRC and UN reports of shelling. The minister also attempted to mitigate the killing of civilians by suggesting that injured LTTE cadres being treated in hospital could pass as civilians. He also charged that some persons in international organisations were on LTTE payroll.

That is, however, not the whole story. We now have testimony from a senior member of the refugee community that, prior to the shelling, the LTTE stood behind the hospital and fired into the air. While the government response is unjustified, the question arises how feasible is it to protect civilians when the group allegedly fighting for them holds them hostage and does everything possible to maximise their misery for propaganda. If that, too, does not enable them to re-emerge to a dominant position, they are quite capable of imposing mass suicide on the people. It was implicit in their politics from the beginning.

Testimony gathered by the UTHR(J).Testimonies exemplify the plight of civilians.

When Visvamadu fell at the end of January 2009, the ICRC was doing valuable work in transporting the injured by bus to Vavuniya. The LTTE had to “clear” those being transported.

The man in his late 50s had been fleeing the battle zone amidst fire from hi-tech weapons and had become weary and thirsty. He said from his hospital bed that he had been looking for a well so that he might fall into it and die. That was when he spotted a waiting ICRC bus taking in injured. No sooner had he climbed into it and slumped into a seat than an armed LTTE cadre stepped in and told him roughly to get out as he was not given permission to leave. He had replied that he could shoot. They left him alone and now he is in the local hospital.

Another highly traumatised lady in her late 50s is under treatment at another hospital (Cheddikulam). She with some others was caught between advancing troops and the LTTE defending fiercely. She spotted a bunker and crouched inside it for over six hours under a heavy exchange of fire overhead. Finally, the defenders retreated and the troops passed over her bunker in pursuit. She climbed out after some time, walked over dead bodies, some of them her kith and kin, to the army defence line.

A joint family from Mannar District who had for over two years been fleeing from place to place in search of safety got into a bunker, late January, to take cover from a heavy exchange of shelling overhead. One shell fell right into their bunker killing every one. Their only surviving sibling is an agonised Roman Catholic nun.

The civilians had been so caught up in a pincer movement where they got no relief, but have been continuously either kept on the run or confined to bunkers. Though all of them had some dry rations, money was in short supply, and given the collapse of the agricultural economy, purchase of other essentials was difficult. They survived by boiling rice with either soya meat or dhal and salt.

This was prior to the fall of Dharmapuram in late January followed soon by Viswamadu. At present, the trapped people rarely get the opportunity for a cooked meal. Many were maimed or killed when they were utterly exhausted by hunger and thirst after spending prolonged periods in bunkers, and had crawled out to have a cup of tea or to cook a meal. In one incident reported by IDPs a mother who left her family in a bunker and came out to prepare a meal was stuck by a shell and died. In another incident a whole family called up by the mother to have a cup of tea in the evening were struck by a shell and died.

On 25 February, about a hundred injured who had been transported by the ICRC from the coastal safe zone in Mullaitivu to Tricomalee were brought to the local hospital for further treatment. Among them were two siblings who had been separated from their father. Their mother and another sibling had died of shrapnel from the same shell that had injured them. Such traumatic separations are all too common. They were expressing the wish that the shells had fallen directly on their heads so that all of them had died together.

To many of the people of Wanni, it came as an unbelievable shock that the LTTE not only threatened to shoot those attempting to flee towards the army-controlled area, but actually did so, sometimes below the knee, but at other times to kill, and sometimes subjected fleeing civilians to mortar-fire. The military men on the front lines saw this with their own eyes and understood that, contrary to the view frequently held by their superiors and the propaganda of the nationalistic media on both sides, the civilians of Wanni were just as human as anybody else. This is perhaps the greatest contributory factor to the mellowed approach by the military in the handling of refugees.

When in a corner, the LTTE has on several occasions over the years strained towards collective self-immolation of the Tamils by massacring Sinhalese, as it did 21 Sinhalese peasants in Inginiyagala on 21 February in an attempt to provoke mass reprisals.

In response to international pressure arising from mounting civilian casualties, the government on 21 January established a safe zone atThevipuram, starting two miles east of PTK, lying north of the Mullaitivu-Paranthan Rd. From 21 to 29 January, this zone experienced intense shelling by the army resulting in several civilian casualties. It quickly became an international issue, prompting the Indian foreign minister’s hurried visit. There is also a different side to it.

Injured civilians have testified that after they moved to safe zones, the LTTE moved in with them and opened fire sometimes standing among them. A senior man in the education field also stated that the LTTE positioned itself next to schools and hospitals and launched artillery attacks on the military. Residents at Thevipuram said that the government’s counter artillery attacks were so accurate that they generally went over them eastwards towards the area from which the LTTE originally launched shell attacks and then vamoosed. Many civilians who were crowded into the safe zone received shrapnel injuries from shells exploding towards the eastern boundary.

Although one is usually sceptical about defence ministry reports, LTTE artillery positions as shown on its web site (defence.lk, 1/31/2009) are in fair agreement with civilian testimony above. The reality was that neither the LTTE nor the army did much harm to each other, but the civilians sustained enormous harm. The army returning the fire served no purpose, proportionate or otherwise. To quote from HRW, “having declared the area a safe zone for civilians, the SLA encouraged civilians to go to the area, increasing the vulnerability of civilians in the event of an attack...all feasible steps must be taken to distinguish between military targets and civilians, the weapons used must be able to discriminate between the two”.

One cannot, thus, on the evidence charge the army with premeditated killing or maiming of Tamil civilians, but it could have acted with greater imagination and restraint. It also raises a problem the south needs to deal with. We have cases of civilians escaping from the LTTE to the army-zone being shelled by the army while on the road. The soldiers would have been more restrained in responding to provocation had the civilians been Sinhalese, for the fear of hitting their kin. The Tamils are, aliens to them. Through this experience, the Tamils would continue to see the army as an alien, Sinhalese army.

Further, there has been too much politics and posturing with safe zones. Following the Indian FM’s visit, which was occasioned by firing into the Thevipuram safe zone, the president announced, “For all those civilians, I assure a safe passage to a secure environment.” A 48 hour grace period was announced. Questioned by LAKBIMAnEWS, the defence secretary confirmed that there was no ceasefire, just ‘an opportunity for the LTTE to send the civilians out to the safe zones.’ It was back to square one, to the same safe zone, the shelling of which was the original problem.

On 12 February, the government announced a new safe zone, a 7 and half mile stretch of the sea coast east of PTK, remarking that the LTTE had moved its heavy weapons into the Thevipuram zone. It did not rescind the safe zone status of Thevipuram. The people were neither asked to move to the new zone nor given a time frame. The people, including the old and infirm, had gone through a lot of trouble to settle down in Thevipuram. After the abandonment of Killinochchi hospital, several temporary hospitals were established to treat the rising toll of injured, including three around Thevipuram. Puthukudiyiruppu hospital, too, had to be moved to Puthumaththalan after the defence secretary had said that all outside the safe zone would be regarded as LTTE. Surely, these movements require reasonable time?

How another safe zone could solve the problem is also unclear. There is nothing to stop the LTTE moving artillery into any zone. Further, safe zones do not provide relief for an estimated one third of the civilian population sheltering everywhere in bunkers, because the LTTE blocked their entry. In the interest of the civilians, diplomacy and exposure of the LTTE’s conduct should have been tried to the utmost. That, too, became difficult when the UN and ICRC were constantly being abused by the government and its supporters as LTTE agents for reporting the civilian plight. Were the people’s safety the main concern, any inaccuracy in their reporting ought to have been sorted out amicably.

India and the international community would do far more good by pressing the government to take concrete and coherent measures to protect civilians and the hapless rank and file of the LTTE, rather than by futile ritual demands for both the government and LTTE to respect humanitarian norms. The government, too, ritually repeats its supposed policy of zero civilian casualties. Civilian protection is a challenge to be undertaken despite the obduracy of the LTTE leadership.

In what is being hailed as the eve of absolute military victory, we must guard against an alarming trend. The euphoria contrived is being used to crack down on democratic dissent in the south as well as the north-east. The country watches in disbelief as the assassination of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge is followed by vindictive police harassment of the elderly Mr. R. Sampanthan MP and N. Vithyatharan, who piloted Jaffna’s Uthayan newspaper through daunting vicissitudes. Hate campaigns on state media are the standard fare accompanying harassment. Witch hunting in place of generosity at this time, portends smallness. It could easily transform hopes of victory into another long nightmare.

(Rajan Hoole and Sritharan are Martin Ennals award winning human rights activists of the fiercely independent University Teachers for Human Rights.(J) which they co – founded.)

Human Rights Watch Standard Bearers of Human Rights Extremism

by Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha

Human Rights Watch, standard bearers of what Michael Roberts has characterized as HRE – Human Rights Extremism – seems to have decided that it has a special relationship with me. I am the only person quoted by name in the presentation made by their Senior Researcher Dr. Anna Neistat to the US Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee that dealt with Sri Lanka.

Sadly, this anxiety to use my name in an attempt to shore up her case against the Sri Lankan government was not accompanied by any attempt to check with me as to my views on the matters on which they were pronouncing. This is of a piece with their previous dodging of any engagement with me.

Eighteen months ago HRW failed to respond when I proved, from their own report, that their sensationalistic release about the Sri Lankan forces indiscriminately targeting civilians was totally false. Even more tellingly, they cancelled a discussion on Sri Lanka that they had arranged in the British House of Commons, when they heard that the Foreign Minister had asked me to attend. The official from our High Commission who had been liasing with them, and found first Sir Nigel Rodley dropping out, and then Human Rights Watch abandoning the event, thought they feared I would be excessively critical.

Running away from discussion based on evidence seems a dubious practice for an organization that claims the moral high ground, but an investigation of the way they present their opinions suggests that morality has nothing to do with it. They have a purpose, and if that purpose coincides with the purposes of terrorists, that means nothing to them, since they do not have to live with the effects of terrorism. So they produce what seem to be well researched papers, but singularly fail to substantiate any of the points they make.

In the case of Dr Neustat’s performance in the Senate, the one piece of verifiable evidence she produced was something she attributed to me, all her other quotations being from sources she would not name. However, despite this use, or rather misuse, of my name, she did not bother to check her story with me, even though she claims to have been in Sri Lanka at the time the London Times cited the line she so triumphantly used.

That the line was misleading must of course have been obvious to anyone who understands English. The London Times had claimed I said, "Of course, it will not be voluntary - we need to check everyone." which is tautologous because that is what the word ‘check’ means. Even in what is termed random checking, it is not those checked but those who check who decide who will be checked. I could only conclude then that Dr Neistadt privileging me by citing a redundancy arose from a desire to score debating points, while fearing to see me face to face.

The fear is perhaps understandable, because her testimony is so full of falsehoods that she would have been extremely nervous to actually ask questions that would have upset her applecart. She starts by claiming that the Sri Lankan government is burying ‘the abuses’ by preventing people from gathering or disseminating information, and then immediately says that ‘we’, whoever that might be, managed to collect credible information. If she can achieve that in a short time, and so many others are purveying information they think credible, what on earth makes her think that the government is trying to stop information being collected, or believes that it is possible to succeed in such an endeavour?

Dr. Neistat claims that the government and the LTTE are engaged in a perverse competition to demonstrate the greatest disregard for the civilian population’. She conveniently thus ignores that the government expended much energy and money in providing high quality health and education to those under LTTE control for several years, and continued to supply them when the LTTE drove them from pillar to post as the forces regained more and more territory in the North.

She ignores forced conscription by the LTTE of one and then two children per family, the forced labour to build bunkers with all the cement the Sri Lankan government sent in for dwellings for civilians. And she will not admit that, if civilians are trying to get into government controlled territory, 35,000 of them succeeding despite being shot at in LTTE attempts to stop them, they obviously do not share her view that both sides are as bad as each other.

Dr. Neistat claims that, following the fall of Kilinochchi, civilian casualties have skyrocketed. This is certainly true, but there is no mention of the fact that many of these were due to the LTTE firing on its own people, as indicated by the UN verdict (on the day on which TamilNet reported the greatest number of alleged deaths) that ‘we believe that firing this morning was most likely from an LTTE position’.

Significantly the Human Rights Watch Extremism estimate of civilian deaths, up to 2,000, which they claim came from independent monitors on the ground, is almost the same as that propagated by TamilNet. However, HRW’s figure of other ‘civilian casualties’, 5,000, far exceeds what would otherwise have been thought the worst case scenario, that of TamilNet, which alleged fewer than half that figure over the last eight months.

Dr. Neistat talks about insufficient food, medical care, and shelter in government-run internment camps, which are obviously a figment of her imagination, since no one from the UN or non-governmental agencies who has visited the welfare centres has made any such claim. However Dr Neistat then pulls rank about her wide experience of ‘many conflict areas across the world’ to say that she has ‘rarely seen a humanitarian disaster of such scale’, which is a statement that cries out for that old examination rubric, ‘Name names’.

Dr. Neustat then claims that Sri Lankan forces ‘have committed numerous indiscriminate and perhaps disproportionate attacks consisting of artillery bombardment and aerial bombing. These include attacks on the government-proclaimed "safe zones" and on clearly marked hospitals. Statements by senior officials indicating that civilians who do not leave LTTE-controlled areas are subject to attack are indicative of an intent to commit war crimes.’ which is rich even for her. If she can name me, why can she not name these ‘senior officials’, and perhaps cite what they said to prove her point? Does she not see that talking of ‘perhaps disproportionate attacks’ reveals her prejudices?

She does try to substantiate her claim regarding ‘clearly marked hospitals’ with a long list, dating only from December, which was after we had pointed out how careful the government had been in the preceding six months, since TamilNet had alleged hardly any collateral damage. And whilst it cannot be asserted that there has been no collateral damage since, there was only one allegation of a civilian death until January 22nd, when it was claimed that 30 people had died in an attack on Vallipuram hospital.

When the doctor cited initially denied this, the claim was brought down to 5, while it is ignored by Dr Neustat that this was not a hospital marked by coordinates but a medical centre set up suddenly. Indeed, even the TamilNet claims about this, and the Udaiyaarkadu hospital refer to them as ‘makeshift’ hospitals. It is therefore disingenuous of Dr Neustat to assert that ‘Deliberately attacking a hospital is a war crime.’, and use these instances to bolster her case,

With regard to violations by the LTTE, HRW quotes eyewitness accounts of particulars and, though there are no names, there is some description at least of the alleged eyewitnesses. Contrariwise, claims about excesses by the Sri Lankan forces are usually generalized and full of whims and wise sayings. What are claimed to be eyewitness accounts are sometimes at odds with the earlier TamilNet claims, as when an incident on January 24th is said to have taken place in a playground, whereas TamilNet mentioned a hospital.

The number of deaths alleged is the same, 7, while HRW has 15 persons injured where TamilNet has 87. Whatever the number these deaths and injuries are too many, but as the Bishop of Jaffna put it, the LTTE had positioned its guns amidst civilians, which HRW grants, though helpfully noting that they were ‘about two to four kilometers north of the playground’ and also that the ‘SLA was also not prohibited from attacking LTTE forces inside a safe zone.’ Though obviously the obligations of a government are greater than those of terrorists, this incident, assuming the HRW account is accurate, does not justify the claim of ‘serious violations of international humanitarian law’ which led to high civilian casualties’.

Dr. Neustat then goes on to talk of what she calls lack of humanitarian access after September 2008, and repeats her charge of shortages of water, food, medical supplies and other necessities’, none of which have been reported by others, with the UN indeed informing the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance after a monitoring visit in December that it was pleasantly surprised at the satisfactory levels of health (and also of education, with the government conducting the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level Public Examination).

Though things have got more difficult since then, this has finally prompted people who seemed to be hedging their bets before to categorically call upon the LTTE to let go of the civilians whom it was holding against their will. With the support of the Church, 35,000 did make their way out in February, and if there is no ambiguity about criticism of the LTTE for keeping the rest, it is likely that they too will soon be set free.

Then Dr. Neustat, ignoring the fact that, despite the propaganda of both the LTTE and HRW, 35,000 people chose to make their way to what those two organizations described as internment camps, continues with the usual HRW diatribe about these. She sets up a Manichaen dichotomy in claiming that ‘Instead of providing the internally displaced with the assistance and protection they are entitled to under international law, the Sri Lankan government continues to violate their fundamental rights’, forgetting that not only have physical needs been provided, but that education and vocational training have also commenced.

Dr. Neustat talks of arbitrary detention during screening procedures as though she is the sole arbiter of the reasons the Sri Lankan government might have for particular security precautions. However, given that the government has only placed in judicial custody 32 of the 250 or so youngsters who confessed to being fighting cadres, and has allowed the others to remain with their families, its conduct can scarcely be described as arbitrary.

Dr. Neustat then goes on to complain of conditions in the camps as well as the hospitals, obviously not aware that the UN had actually said it could not assist at the level the government had prescribed because it was beyond UN standards. The ICRC has consistently praised the efforts of the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health. Dr. Neustat may have different ideas of a public health system, given her own experience, but she should read the plaudits the Sri Lankan system has received from international observers, and also register the comparative efficiency with which it has dealt with such a large influx of patients.

And though she complains of security precautions, and that humanitarian assistance from outsiders is forbidden, she must recognize first the need to limit access given the reach and intensity of Tiger terrorism, and secondly the fact that many humanitarian workers, including indefatigable nuns, have been assisting the Ministry in its work. Besides, government has made arrangements for relations to accompany those being treated, even though that makes security precautions all the more difficult.

Dr. Neustat cites some cases of what she claims are disappearances, but is extraordinarily coy about these. She may claim that she is silent because of fear for her informants, but since government has had cases of families who were separated in the trek to safety brought to its notice, and has sought and in many cases already achieved reunification, Dr Neustat should get over this particular neurosis if she is really anxious to help.

She should also avoid sweeping generalizations such as ‘some detainees are children’ since government has been waiting anxiously for such victims of the Tigers, but has so far found none, though some of those who confessed to being cadres were former child recruits, though now over eighteen.

Dr. Neustat claims that ‘Several sources reported to Human Rights Watch the presence of plainclothes military intelligence and paramilitaries in the camps. A UN official in Vavuniya told Human Rights Watch that she and colleagues have seen members of paramilitary groups in different camps.’ It is astonishing that this has not been conveyed to government, since the forces, who are present in uniform too to help as necessary, have made it a point to prevent any such incursion.

Indeed, when I checked a claim that the USAID sponsored agency Internews had reported something of the sort, they denied it – but clearly HRW has its own special sources, none of which will actually make any clear allegation.

HRW also goes on at length about restrictions, without any recognition that, with 35,000 people arriving suddenly and the Tiger practice of deathly infiltration, security precautions are essential, at least until the Tiger command structure is dismantled. HRW also ignores that restrictions on outside access were intended to prevent exploitation of those who had been previously exploited by the Tigers, and that aid agencies, once they had committed to particular acts of assistance, have been granted access.

Journalists too now visit, though the salacious reporting of HRW makes one realize why some precautions are still necessary, since the Tiger propaganda wing is now its most efficient component and will take ruthless advantage of anything critical of the government.

Sadly, so systematic has HRW been in its critiques of the Sri Lankan government, that one begins to wonder whether it thinks such grist to the terrorist mill to be no bad thing. Certainly its reliance on simply one-sided information and its refusal to even attempt to engage with government, indicates a deviousness that does no credit to the ideals it professes.

(Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha is head of SCOPP and Secretary. Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights)

New global conventions needed to protect war affected communities

by Thrishantha Nanayakkara

On Feb. 9, an LTTE suicide bomber killed herself inside a crowded transit camp maintained by the government for displaced Tamil civilians in northern Sri Lanka. She killed and injured scores of Tamil men, women, and children awaiting transport to safer areas. A day later, the LTTE shot and killed 19 civilians as they attempted to cross over to government held areas. The incident was not widely reported in international media, perhaps due to its low political appeal. However, it is absolutely imperative that we resolve—as a global community—that no rebel group or government be allowed to commit such crimes against humanity again.

As a Sri Lankan who has spent most of his life in a brutal conflict between the government and the LTTE—also known as the Tamil Tigers—I have seen many instances in which crime against helpless civilians could have been avoided had the global community devised better mechanisms and conventions to those affected by conflict.


[A Tamil family in conflict-affected northern Sri Lanka-pic by: WFP/Sri Lanka]

Just as gravity pulls together the local chaotic movements of water droplets to orchestrate the outer geometric identity of a waterfall, conventions pull together human turmoil to orchestrate the notion of humanity. The Tamil Tigers can perpetrate the above crime and face mere condemnation from a few countries, because almost no convention to protect war-affected communities exerts enough pressure on rebel groups who abuse civilians. Nearly all mechanisms are devised to limit the scope of military action that a government can take to face a rebellion, which has been proven insufficient to protect internally displaced persons. Moreover, this pressure imbalance is often abused by parties with vested interests to interfere in the internal politics of war-affected countries like Sri Lanka, further compounding the vicious cycle for those affected.

Modern conflicts with sophisticated international involvements—combined with the bitter experiences faced by countries like Sri Lanka during the colonial past—often lead such governments to take extreme precautions to ensure no covert foreign force creeps into their internal politics again. This was evident in Sri Lanka when the government ordered all non-governmental organizations except the International Committee of Red Cross to leave rebel-held areas in September 2008. This action was taken after Sri Lankan authorities learned that several NGOs had wittingly or unwittingly given material aid to the Tamil Tigers.

For example, the government’s unmanned aerial vehicles identified heavy equipments belonging to an NGO called “Norwegian People’s Aid” being used by the LTTE to build a complex network of massive earth bunds around its major strongholds, such as Killinochchi and Mulattivu. Some bunds were longer than 30 miles and rose above 10 feet. When questioned, the NPA replied that LTTE robbed the machinery from them. The government’s position was further consolidated when the program officer of another NGO, called “ZOA,” stated that he would remain with the LTTE to fight against the government, thus disobeying the demand to move out of the rebel-held area.

The civilians of the country were victimized most out of this political drama. Therefore, there is great need to introduce innovative global conventions to exert adequate pressure on NGOs operating in war-affected countries—especially with a colonial history—to absolutely honor the sovereignty of the country. The pressure from the donors alone has proven to be insufficient in the Sri Lankan case.

Furthermore, in the absence of independent information sources to assess the situation of IDPs trapped between the warring parties, the global community should empower international organizations like the United Nations to use modern technology such as satellite imagery and reconnaissance aircrafts to verify claims made by various parties. For instance, the Sri Lankan government claimed that the Tamil Tigers had moved more than six heavy artillery guns into the governmentally declared safe zone to invite return fire to civilian neighborhoods.

The LTTE, on the other hand, claimed that the government forces had shelled a hospital in Puthukkudyiruppu. This hit the headlines of many international media. The only way the government could prove it was false was to take images using a Beechcraft. Had there been powerful global conventions to allow the UN to use modern technology to verify such politically sensitive claims, room for political gains over the lives of innocent civilians could have been blocked. By leaving allowances to political bigotry, we are putting the lives of thousands of civilians at risk.

Due to the fact that communities and their aspirations continue to change, conflicts are an indispensable reality in our societies. My definition of peace is an atmosphere in which harmonious change can occur. Therefore, I am stressing the need to introduce innovative global conventions to exert balanced pressure on all stakeholders in a conflict zone. This would keep disturbances within the frame of humanity, just as gravity orchestrates droplets colliding without repeatable pattern into a waterfall.

(Thrishantha Nanayakkara is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. This article appeared in The Harvard Crimson)

Is South Asia falling apart?

by Michael Binyon

Rioting in the Punjab. A military mutiny in Bangladesh. The seizure and intimidation of a newspaper editor in Sri Lanka. Is South Asia falling apart? Is instability about to engulf a region that is home to a third of the world’s population?

In each case, the violence comes after a long period of mounting tension. In Pakistan, the clashes were sparked by popular anger that the Supreme Court has barred Nawaz Sharif, the main opposition leader and leading politician from Punjab, from holding office.

In Bangladesh, thousands of mutinous troops from the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles went on the rampage to demand higher pay, better conditions and longer holidays.

Discussing with journalists in Jaffna on media freedom

[Jan 2009: Deputy High Commissioner of UK in Sri Lanka, Mark Gooding, meeting with M.V. Kaanamylnathan, the Editor of Uthayan (A popular Tamil newspaper) newspaper, Jaffna-more pics]

And in Sri Lanka, the police arrest of a Tamil editor attending a funeral came as government troops are on the brink of victory in the long-running war against Tamil Tiger separatists.

The causes of the violence differ. But there is a common underlying theme: in each case, anger is rising at the failure of government to cope with looming challenges. The consequences could be dire. Each of the three countries is teetering on the edge of breakdown. Rioting and popular demonstrations will only exacerbate the problems and the tensions.

In Pakistan, the violence in Punjab is directly related to the political turmoil unleashed in the final year of rule by President Musharraf and the chaotic conditions in which a civilian government succeeded him. The two largest parties, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, are regionally based, each drawing their strength largely from the country’s two main provinces — the PPP from Sind and the Muslim League from Punjab.

The rivalry between Asif Zardari, widow of the assassinated former party leader Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, the leader ousted by General Musharraf’s coup in 1999, is intense. They briefly formed a government of national unity as a way of forcing Mr Musharraf from office last August, but swiftly fell out over whether he should be prosecuted and all dismissed judges reinstated. Within weeks Mr Sharif withdrew his ministers and went into opposition.

Both leaders are now in a struggle for supremacy. But both feel vulnerable because of previous court convictions that have been set aside. Each party is therefore trying to use the courts, almost the only civil institution still widely respected, to gain political advantage. And few people in Punjab believe that the latest ruling, disqualifying Mr Sharif and his brother, currently the province’s chief minister, from political office is free of pressure by President Zardari.

The riots are a warning to the Government that it has already lost popular support, failing to tackle religious extremism, failing to quell the rebellions in the tribal provinces and, above all, failing to curb inflation, unemployment and economic decline exacerbated by the global downturn.

A similar perception of both political and economic failure now dogs the government of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh. The mutiny was sparked by anger among the 42,000-strong border guard force at low pay and shorter food rations than the regular army. But it represents the general anger of many in government employment at stagnant or falling living standards.

This, too, is a warning to a civilian government that returned to office only in December. The previous military government had disbanded the two main parties and promised a clean-up of Bangladesh’s notoriously corrupt politics. Sheikh Hasina is one of the two “battling begums” — widows of murdered politicians who have divided the country in the long feud and who were both initially banned and investigated for corruption by the military government.

There is a real danger now that the mutiny, although brought to an end for now, will be echoed by the traditional rivals of Mrs Hasina’s party. The military coup was meant to end a culture of corruption. But if the result of the election has returned not only civilian rule but some of the discredited politicians to power, frustration in Bangladesh will grow — especially as the recession begins to cut the country’s already low living standards.

In Sri Lanka, the fear among the Tamils and many moderate Sinhalese is that the present Government, flushed with its victory over the Tamil Tigers, is seeking not reconciliation but triumph. There is a growing intolerance of any criticism of the military campaign, of the plans for dealing with Tamil refugees and of anyone still proposing autonomy for the former secessionist regions.

Many Sri Lankans are delighted that the 20-year civil war seems to be ending. But many are also deeply worried that the seeds of future conflict are being sown. The arrest and murder of newspaper critics are an ominous sign that free speech may be one of the casualties of the war, along with any hopes for a measure of autonomy for the Tamils.

The three conflicts are on the periphery of India, which appears far more stable and settled than its neighbours. But with a general election coming in May, tensions will inevitably grow there and political frustrations rise. India is immensely resilient, however, and has a deeply embedded tradition of democracy. Whether this is enough to overcome the looming economic difficulties or help its turbulent neighbours remains to be seen. [courtesy: The Times, UK]

A Tamil Standpoint in Sri Lanka

MRF4TC0228.jpgby Rajan Philips

In his book: Abiding by Sri Lanka, Qadri Ismail teases the eminent historian, K.M. de Silva, for the latter’s rendering of history that accounts for the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims contentiously co-existing but “finds no Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka”. The problem of finding Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka has become more than a matter of textual teasing as old divisions are hardened by the current war.

Among the Sinhalese, there is jubilation over the outcome of the war and the victories of their soldiers. President Rajapakse himself has led the celebrations, setting an atavistic tone that has done little to dispel the dominant perception that Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and the Sinhalese are Sri Lanka. This unfortunate and outdated perception is second nature to many influential Sinhalese politicians but anathematic to all others including large numbers of Sinhalese who positively support a plural Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, many Tamils, not all, are dejected by the defeat of the LTTE. Almost all Tamils, even those who are not supporters of the LTTE, are concerned that the Rajapakse government will use the defeat of the LTTE to deny them their equality. Sri Lankan Tamil politics has never been as rudderless as it currently is. Nor has it been as existential – their land has been scorched, tens of thousands of civilians are caught in the crossfire, and several more are living in a virtual state of nature in the North and East.

Tamil Demonstration in Toronto

[Tamil Demonstration in Toronto - January 30, 2009-more pics by: TricotTreat]

The Sri Lankan Tamils in the Diaspora are not extricated from the goings-on in the old country. They are often considered to be a big part of the problem because of their support of the LTTE, and by the same token they will have to be part of the solution too. No one has the right to tell them to find federalism in Canada or settle down in Tamil Nadu. Their stakes in their natal land will not be removed regardless of where they are and what happens in the war. The age of globalization has ensured that.

Besides the Sinhalese and Tamils, Muslims and Upcountry (or Kandyan) Tamils have their own political silos. The Muslims are no longer the group to be tagged on as “Tamil speaking people” by Tamil political leaders at their pleasure, dispensed with by the LTTE in its arrogance, or used as vote banks by the Sinhalese political parties at their convenience. The Muslims are a democratic force to reckon with and will be a formidable presence at future constitutional tables.

The Kandyan Tamils, finally citizens after fifty years in political purgatory, are coming free of the old paternalistic and now corrupt yoke of the CWC. They sit atop what is still a vital sector of Sri Lanka’s economy, and have issues to be addressed and voices to be heard that cannot be substituted for by some inept backbench presence in an oversized cabinet of ministers.

The results of the recent elections in the Wayamba and the Central Provinces show not only the sheer dominance of Mahinda Rajapakse over Ranil Wickremasinghe among the Sinhalese, but also the voting cleavages along ethnic lines. About 70% of the Sinhalese including a solid proportion of Sinhalese Catholics in Wayamba have voted for the Rajapakse government while about the same proportion of Muslims and Kandyan Tamils mostly in the Central Province voted against the government.

These cleavages were there before the LTTE was born. It was their exacerbation over thirty years following independence that produced the LTTE. By its method and its madness the LTTE made itself the problem and created the illusion that merely by eliminating it Sri Lanka would solve all its pre-LTTE problems. The prospect of eliminating the LTTE has also given rise to facile economic expectations that the mere defeat of the LTTE will propel the Sri Lankan stock market to go through the roof and carry the real economy with it!

The outcome of the war will not by itself lessen the task of resolving the pre-LTTE political problems, and the economic costs of war will stifle Lanka for a long time to come. Comparers of Sri Lanka’s ethnic war and the American Civil War should rather than a cowboy reading of the military history of the US Civil War undertake a more serious study of the constitutional and economic histories of the United States.

North and East as Garrison Provinces

More likely to happen is what is being bandied in government circles as the need to consolidate the military victory in the name of national security and in the name of forestalling future challenges to national sovereignty. This approach is neither new nor wise. It is the extension of the old approach of N.Q. Dias, Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Permanent Secretary, in the 1960s, about whom Neville Jayaweera has recently been writing in these columns. The application of Dias’s method now would be to go beyond establishing military outposts in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and turn them into garrison provinces where suspect Tamils will be kept under surveillance, even in camps if necessary, by Sinhalese soldiers while Sinhalese civilians are induced to settle to change the ethnic composition of these areas. Ethnic surveillance and settlement is what is reportedly happening in the ‘liberated East’.

If this is what is being planned for the North after its ‘liberation’, it would mean that the government has learnt nothing and forgotten everything from the LTTE experience. The Dias initiative of planting a military outpost in every other town or so in the North and the East to keep the Tamils in their place only ended in provoking the rise of Tamil militancy. It took almost two decades before organized violence broke out because Tamils at that time had more to lose than gain from violence given the ‘middle-class’ nature of their society based on human capital and their fine-grained system of family properties. That is no longer the case.

Thirty years of violence has broken and brutalized the Tamil society. People living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been displaced multiple times, have little to lose and are quite used to receiving and returning violence. Constant military poking of them will eventually produce violent reactions. They may not have the organization, the resources and the fire power of the LTTE, but they will have the rage and the resourcefulness that Palestinian teenagers showed in their first intifada using sticks and stones against Israeli military tanks. A revamped Dias approach will turn the North and East into two restively lawless provinces that will not make life there any worse than it is now, but will impose a permanent drag on the rest of the country.

A second likely development is on the political front. What is being talked about is a condescending approach that recognizes the need for a political settlement but insists that the military defeat of the LTTE has set limits on what the Tamils can and cannot ask for as well as the manner in which they could ask for it. The Thirteenth Amendment is the most what the Tamils will get, it has been asserted, but they should not expect all of it, only parts of it. The debate over whether the Thirteenth Amendment is sufficient or not will go on endlessly, and a military outcome is not going to put an end to it. What is more important is whether there is the political will and commitment to bring about a constitutional change at this time or in the near future. Political will and commitment are two attributes that have been sorely missing in the shaping of Sri Lanka’s constitutional development.

I say this because both the Donoughmore Constitution and the Soulbury Constitution would have worked and much of our grief would have been avoided if rightwing Sinhalese political leaders had even half-faithfully adhered to the letter and the spirit of the two constitutions in regard to minority rights and sensibilities. Indeed, Lord Soulbury believed that he and his Commissioners had given minority rights the best protection that “the wit of man could devise”. What he did not account for was the electoral opportunism of rightwing Sinhalese leaders to deliberately violate the constitution that his Commission had prepared based on the proposals of the Board of Ministers comprising the self-same leaders. Sinhalese constitutional violations before and after independence, respectively precipitated the Tamil demands for Fifty-Fifty and Federalism. There is no need to revisit the fiascos of the 1972 and the 1978 Constitutions that were virtually drafted, enacted and adopted as if Tamils, Muslims and the Kandyan Tamils did not live in Sri Lanka.

The Thirteenth Amendment, reluctantly introduced at India’s insistence, is far more comprehensive and specific than the Soulbury Constitution. Along with changes to the Citizenship laws the Amendment provides the framework to address three of the “four basic demands” that was formulated by the Federal Party in 1957 and formed the basis of the B-C Pact: in regard to language, regional autonomy and citizenship. The fourth one calling for the stoppage of “state aided colonization” (not to be confused with voluntary internal migration) in the North and East could also be addressed if the government abandons the surveillance and settlement approach that it now seems ready to implement in the North and East.

But the Thirteenth Amendment has had no willing and committed executor. It has been stymied not only by the intransigence of the LTTE but also by the equally vehement opposition among Sinhalese politicians. The present President went further and for once listening to the Supreme Court delinked the North and East even though the Court gave him the option of legalizing the merger of the two Provinces through a parliamentary resolution. Artfully, Rajapakse also arranged New Delhi’s acquiescence after the fact. Notwithstanding the neighbourly goodwill, New Delhi is still unable to get a forthright and public commitment from the Sri Lankan President that he would faithfully implement even what is left of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Nam-arkum kudiyallom

Nor have Delhi and other powers been able to prevail on the government and the LTTE to stop fighting and prevent the humanitarian tragedy involving the civilians in the combat area. The international community sat on its hands for too long and is now unable to do anything to prevent a tragedy escalating into a disaster. International institutions and their highly paid officials stand helpless and exposed of their ineffectiveness. Reduced to basics and stripped of the grand language of sovereignty and self-determination, the failed role of India and the international community in the situation in Sri Lanka is no different from the inability of a civilian police force to stop two fighting gangs going at one another in the middle of a city, town or village. The difference is that globalization and the post-coldwar ‘imbalance’ of powers have transformed local conflicts into modern war pits using weaponry that by any rational assessment should be beyond the means of most of the conflicting state and non-state parties.

The Government of Sri Lanka has been accused of taking cover under its sovereignty to deny the international community its competence to protect the war affected civilians in Sri Lanka. The accusation is not without merit but it is incomplete in that it lets off the LTTE despite its abominable record of ignoring every international plea to respect democracy and human rights while claiming the right of self-determination. The right of self-determination loses all meaning and the claim for it is rendered sinister if it is not intertwined with the principles and practice of democracy.

NKTCRP0228.jpgSelf-determination can be experienced in many ways. Tamils steeped in the tradition of their psalms and poetry, know the immortal words of their seventh century savant, Tirunavukarasar (Appar): “Nam-arkum kudiyallom” - we are not subjects of anyone. That sums up better than anything else in Tamil ethos the essence and the defiance of individual self-determination.

In its far better known and more materially sustained European origins too, the principle of self-determination began as an individual development before being usurped, some times positively but many times perversely and atrociously, not only by the building block of modern society – the nation state, but also by non-state actors wanting to become states. In the long history of national self-determination the notorious location of the LTTE is quite widely acknowledged. What is not equally realized is that in taking on and defeating the LTTE at its own game, the state of Sri Lanka is emulating the LTTE and is establishing its own notoriety.

During the dark days of 1983, Narasimha Rao, then India’s Foreign Minister, flew to Colombo and personally delivered a stern message from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to President Jayewardene. The latter though taken aback kept his composure and responded: “You may occupy us but you cannot conquer our spirit”! Nothing less should be expected of the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

February 27, 2009

Sri Lanka must be Declared Rogue State and Economic Sanctions Applied

by Malarthamil

The international community is slowly waking up to the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka which is quite overdue for the last few months. However it is regrettable that a discussion in the Security Council of United Nations, either about the humanitarian crisis or about the political settlement for Ealem Tamils, has been kept in abeyance due to the geopolitical considerations of the member countries. The day by day account of the last week indicates a stalemate in this issue.


Mr Ban Ki-moon called on for a “suspension in fighting”.

On 19 February 2009 the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, on a three day visit to Sri Lanka, stressed the need to ensure the protection of civilians caught in the conflict zone in Sri Lanka

On 20 February 2009 UK Ambassador John Sawers at the UN spoke of a Security Council briefing once Holmes return from Sri Lanka.

On 21 February 2009 while returning after the visit Mr.John Holmes urged combatants on both sides of the battle ravaging the northern Vanni region of Sri Lanka to make greater efforts to stop the rising toll of civilian casualties

On 23 February 2009, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on for a “suspension in fighting” between the Sri Lanka government and Tamil Tiger separatists to allow civilians to escape. Ban further told “There is an urgent need to bring this conflict to an end without any further unnecessary loss of civilian life and destruction of Sri Lankan society,”. He also said the United Nations was renewing its call on all sides to work for a “political discussion to achieve an orderly end to the conflict.” But on the same day Sri Lanka Government rejected a call for ceasefire by LTTE.

On 24 February 2009 the U.S. Senate committee focused its attention on the situation in Sri Lanka.. Witnesses at the Senate hearing descried the actions of both sides. Anna Neistat, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, described a deplorable situation in the so-called safe zone, established by the government to protect refugees. “We received several detailed accounts from people who stayed within the safe zone, and these accounts suggest that the shelling by Sri Lankan forces killed dozens if not hundreds of people inside there,” she said.


[UN Nations humanitarian chief John Holmes addresses journalists during a press conference in Colombo on February 19, 2009-AFP pic by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi, via Yahoo! News]

Other witnesses in the US Senate Committee described what they called the Sri Lankan government’s growing assault on dissent and pointed out that nobody has been prosecuted for any of incidents of attack on journalists or abduction and disappearance of Tamils. Ambassador Lunstead said the world community could play an important role in shaping Sri Lanka’s future. He recommended that international donors impose conditions on economic aid to the government of Sri Lanka. He said those conditions should include an improvement in the country’s human rights record, the resettlement of displaced persons and a devolution of power from the capital, Colombo, to local areas to allow all Sri Lankans to have a greater say in how they are governed. Anna Neistat further urged the United Nations Security Council to hold a special session to address Sri Lanka’s humanitarian catastrophe.

On 24 February 2009 Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, agreed with UK parliamentarians who said that the Sri Lankan government is “quite prepared to go ahead with acts of genocide.” Responding to Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, MP, Mr. Miliband said “the resolution of [a] terrorist problem cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights of minority communities in Sri Lanka, and that is what we are trying to work on.”

But to the dismay of the Human rights activists, few days back, at the UN, it is learnt ,a move by Mexico to bring the Sri Lanka situation on to the Security Council was scuttled by Russia. Russia took up the position that Sri Lanka was not on the agenda of the Security Council. A Foreign Ministry source in UK said there was little chance that the Sri Lanka situation would be brought up before the Security Council. He said both Russia and China would oppose such a move because the Russians wanted to avoid its human rights situation in Chechenya being put on the Security Council agenda and the Chinese would protect their flank against any attempts to put Tibet on the agenda.

These happenings only show the diplomatic manipulations of the state of Sri Lanka in keeping the big powers beyond the focusing distance of the crisis at Sri Lanka.

But what the international Community could not ignore is that the State of Sri Lanka enjoys unabated impunity in spite of having engaged in extrajudicial killings, abductions, extortion, conscription, and the use of child soldiers. Despite confirming use of cluster bombs by the Sri Lankan Army, the United Nations could take no further action on such open crime.

Under these circumstances, Tamils are wondering whether any country in this world is concerned about putting the Humanitarian or Political aspirations of Tamils in the agenda of the Security Council.

Sri Lanka turning a deaf ear to the international community is understandable but the International Community showing a blind eye to the sufferings of Tamil population could not be explained by its own standards set in the United Nations.

In all their statements the UN, UK, USA or EU appeal to both GOSL and LTTE, accepting very well that LTTE represents the Tamil nation in the island of Sri Lanka and they equally deplore both parties for the crisis but at the same time have proscribed LTTE and allowed the GOSL to proceed with genocide. This is seen as an off-balanced stance and is not justified. Just blaming both sides or appealing both sides could not be considered as neutral if it is not going to stop the killing. They should either declare Sri Lanka a rogue country and apply economic sanctions or lift the ban on LTTE or openly discuss the issue in the security council putting aside the geopolitical compulsions of the big powers and come to a conclusion to stop the count down of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka first and to declare freedom to Ealem.

(Malarthamil is a civil engineer and writer-poet inspired by Thirukkural.This piece appeared in Kalugu.com)

Arrests of Journalists and the value of dissent

by Shanie

I have raised the questions, daughter
which you and your kids must ponder.
I feel guilty I did not sooner
in my lifetime urge them stronger.
And now, ere I answers provide
I may in cold blood be buried.
Have I your futures compromised?

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian writer and activist, a leader of the minority Ogoni people, who was tried in a sham trial by the then military regime and hanged in 1995. He wrote this poignant poem for Zina, his daughter, shortly before his execution. This poem is included in an excellent series of booklets under the title ‘The Value of Dissent’ put out by the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka between 1991 and 2000. The poem has relevance today to an alarming growth of a culture of intolerance in our country. It is not only the state authorities, but also various armed groups and individuals act with impunity by resorting to violence against those who dissent and who disagree with them. This week’s arrest of the Sudar Oli editor Vidyatharan was the latest in the harassment and intimidation of journalists and dissidents. Vidyatharan may or may not be guilty of the charges being made against him, but the manner of his arrest raises several questions and doubts. It is similar to the arrest of journalist Tissanayagam, his incarceration for several months, and the ‘charges’ made against him in a trial that is still going on.

Ken Saro-Wiwa

[Illustration of the struggle of Ken Saro-Wiwa-by AHSart]

The CRM’s publication also reproduces an extract from a 2nd Century BC Pali text ‘Milinda Prasna’ a conversation between King Milinda and the Buddhist monk Nagasena:

The King said, "Bhante Nagasena, will you converse with me?"

"Sire, if you will converse with me under the fashion of the wise, I will. But if you converse with me as Kings converse, I will not."

"And how, Bhante Nagasena, do the wise converse?"

"Sire, when the wise converse, whether they become entangled in their opponent’s arguments or extricate themselves, or whether they or their opponents are shown to be in error, and whether their own superiority or that of their opponents is proved, none of these things can make them angry."

"And how, Bhante, do kings converse?"

"Sire, when Kings converse they put forward a proposition, and if any should oppose it they order his punishment, saying, ‘Punish this fellow!’"

"Bhante, you are right. I will converse as the wise do, not as kings do. Let your reverence converse with me in all confidence. Let your reverence converse as unrestrainedly as if with a Bhikku, a novice, a lay disciple or a keeper of the monastery grounds. Have no fear!"

In an introduction to this series, the CRM stated that the publication originated in the context of the appalling violence that had disfigured Sri Lanka, accompanied by a terrifying rise of intolerance. The CRM identified as a priority the need to promote understanding of not only the right to dissent but also the intrinsic value of dissent. ‘Threats to the free exchange of ideas certainly do not come from government alone. They can and do come from other sources too; from various social and political groups, from communal and individual attitudes, even from majority public opinion. Indeed, the suppression of opposing views by the state is often with the support of society at large; governments in many ways reflect society’s prejudices. However, intolerance from whatever source is dangerous to society, and must be identified and opposed.’

The CRM’s warnings are even truer today with growing threats, intimidation and even killing of dissidents. Despite President Rajapakse’s attempts at damage control, these petty ‘potentates’ continue to act with impudence and impunity. These ‘fascist tendencies’, to borrow Michael Roberts’ phrase, must be exposed and opposed, for the sake of the future of democratic rule in our country. As fellow Island columnist Tisaranee Gunasekera has stated, the rule of law must not be allowed to be replaced by the law of the rulers.

The helplessness of the civilians

The current conventional phase of the war rumbles along nearing its inevitable end. Tens of thousands of non-combatants however continue to lie trapped in the conflict zone. Apologists for the two sides, not caring a damn for the helplessness of these civilians, engage in shameless rhetoric. One set of apologists deny the brutality of the LTTE and deny that these trapped people are being used as human shields. The other set of apologists seek to justify the harsh and uncaring attitude towards these civilians. When they argue that those remaining in the LTTE controlled territory are LTTE sympathisers and deserve what they are being subjected to, they are in effect denying the claim that LTTE is using them as human shields.

The situation is compounded by the de facto censorship imposed on the media in the country. The ordinary people are deprived of independent information about the actual ground situation for the civilians. All this is sadly polarising our people as never before. The Tamil diaspora is fed an exaggerated story of the otherwise genuine suffering of the civilians and also a pro-LTTE slant to the real ground situation in the Vanni. This in turn is relayed via the internet to the middle class Tamils in the country and which then filters down to the ordinary Tamil people. Sinhala supremacist propaganda is readily made available to middle classes and the masses via both the electronic and print media. Naturally the result is a major polarisation between the Sinhala people and the minorities on how they perceive the current political position. This polarisation was more than evident in the way the people voted at the two Provincial Council elections held recently. Radhakrishnan of the Upcountry People’s Front stated that his Party which enjoyed substantial support in Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya and which contested with the UPFA failed to win a single seat because the plantation workers, subject to harassment under the guise of security measures, voted against the Government. That was the ground situation for the minorities. War rhetoric and controlled war news however worked to the advantage of the Government among the Sinhala voters. The intimidation and de facto censorship may prove effective in the short term but in the longer term, history has repeatedly shown that it is counter-productive.

The Final War?

One vocal Sri Lankan diplomat has claimed that the current is the final war – the war to end all wars against LTTE terrorism in our country. He dismisses the fear expressed by many that once the present conventional phase of the war lends and LTTE loses all territory it controls, LTTE will revert to their former guerrilla war strategy. Another diplomat in Vinayagamoorthy Muraltharan, alias Colonel Karuna, now an Honourable Member of Parliament, disagrees. (We refer to this gentleman as a diplomat because he was officially issued a diplomatic passport by the government and allowed to travel under his incarnation as Kokila Gunawardena.) This gentleman predicts that the war will continue for twelve to eighteen months even after the LTTE loses all its territory.

Who is right will probably depend on whether the LTTE supremo is captured, killed or goes underground. Being a largely monolithic outfit, the LTTE will probably disintegrate if he is no longer there to provide leadership. But as Karuna predicts, the second tier of leadership may carry on an underground guerrilla war for some months. But if Pirapaharan himself goes underground, then we will have to brace ourselves for a prolonged and uncertain guerrilla war.

The success or otherwise of such a guerrilla war will depend largely on how the Government of Sri Lanka handles the aspirations of the minorities. If it comes up with political package that ensures that the Tamils, Muslims and other minorities feel that they are equal partners with the Sinhala people and are being treated with justice and dignity, then there is no potential for the LTTE or any other militant group to exist and enjoy popular support, a sine qua non for the success of a militant underground movement.

TheSinhala Language Has an Ingenious Methodology to Enrich its Vocabulary

by K.A.I. Kalyanaratne

An exposition made on a timely subject becomes more impacting when it is presented in an appropriate and meaningful setting. The topic of this essay, namely, ‘Sinhala language possesses an ingenious methodology to enrich its vocabulary’, cannot be considered as more meaningful, timely and appropriate than on March 2, the day the Sinhala community, and more specifically, our literati pay tribute with unbroken continuity, year in, year out, reminiscing the yeoman services rendered by an extraordinary personality who revived the Sinhala nation through his untiring industry aimed at uplifting the Sinhala language, community and the country (foi, ni, /i). This personality is none other than Munidasa Cumaratunga, and his 65th death anniversary falls on 2nd March 2009. The commemoration is scheduled to be conducted by the Hela Havula, at the J. R. Jayewardene Centre, in Colombo.

The users of the Sinhala language had been extremely conscious of formulating a methodology that could serve the formation of words - both nouns and verbs - and enriching the language, without diluting its intelligibility and marring its inimitable qualities. A language is closely interwoven with the thought-process of its users. More particularly a language that has developed through the ages to commit its people’s subtle nuances to writing, should, for certain, develop a methodology to coin words to help convey specific feelings and emotions, as well as, formal expressions, based on new discoveries and experiences.

Ingenuity in word-coinage

The Buddhist doctrine with its abstruse and knotty philosophical concepts, the advanced state of engineering and irrigation technology, sculpture and architecture, and even the medical science that existed at the time, to mention only a few of the nation’s more advanced industries, demanded a rich vocabulary both to express ideas, keep the momentum of the activities, spread the knowledge to the future generations, as well as to preserve such knowledge for posterity. All these industries were the products of the people of the soil, and therefore, they were created, planned and executed through the vernacular, which was none other than Sinhala.

Reliance on local parlance

Our native physicians are fully aware of the efficacy of the medicinal plant ‘isjs /is m,q’ or ‘yS/iaim,q’. It is often used for making medicines for breakages and fractures. ‘Vitis quadrangularis’, is its botanical term. It is a climbing plant, edible when tender, having four-winged stems. Our ancients named this plant based on the three words used in their parlance ‘isjs’, ‘/is’ and ‘m,q’. They neither sought the assistance of Sanskrit lexicons nor lexicographers, for that matter. Isn’t it a shame, therefore, to coin a different technical term for ‘quadrangle’ as ‘p;=ri%h’ or ‘p;=rN+ch’, when our surroundings provide a word ‘isjs /ish’ which is quite close to our hearts.

Dependence on native lexicons

The Sinhala language in its stages of development and enrichment had the fortune of possessing quite a number of lexicons. ‘‘rejkau,a ks>Kagqj’ or ‘kdur;ak ud,dj’ is one such lexicon. In giving alternatives to the meaning ‘ksYap,,’ (not shaking, motionless, still, steady, settled, calm or tranquil), the word ‘ou;a ‘ had been provided in the above lexicon. Professor Vinnie Vitharana in compiling a glossary of geographical terms (N+f.da, jsoHd YnsofldaIh) made use of ‘ou;a’, and coined ‘ou;alv’ for the geographical term ‘doldrums’. It means ‘the equatorial low-pressure belt’. The term provided for this phenomenon in the Composite Glossary of Geographical Technical Terms (Glossary published by the Department of Official languages, in 1962) had been ‘fvda,av%us ;Srh’. One needs no explanation to choose ‘ou;alv’ which is self-explanatory and akin to the Sinhala-tongue. The word ‘ou;s’ appears in Gurulugomi’s ‘Amavatura’, of the Polonnaruwa period, to connote the meaning ‘tamed/ controlled’. (taming of demon Alawaka). Hence, the word goes beyond the period of the Ruwanmal Nighantuwa.

Rendering of Computer Terminology into Sinhala

The lid of the issue of coinage of "Sinhala" technical terms was opened especially with the compilation of the Glossary of Technical Terms in Computer Science, published by the Education Publications Department in 1991. Several scholars challenged the suitability of the words coined by a panel of experts including several professors proficient in the Sinhala language and computer science.

The main criticisms against this glossary were based on

a) Inconsistency in the coinage of words
b) Inability to maintain economy in the usage of words
c) Inability to provide the different shades of meanings related to computers

The glossary under reference has only added additional words as adjectives to the common term ‘mrs.Klh’ without visualising the flexibility needed in using the term in different contexts. The glossary is silent on such shades of meanings as Computable, Computant, Computational, Computative, Computator, Compute, Computerization, and Computerize.

The Cumaratunga-Concept of Word-Coinage

The late scholar, Cumaratunga Munidasa, expresses , in the Subasa journal, his concept of coining of technical terms, in the following manner:

"The language is the most valuable possession of a nation. It should fully portray the character of the nation. Just because immensely coarse and rough words are found in Sanskrit or Wanga or Hindi, it is unbecoming of the nation to borrow such coarse and rough words in the same manner, without taking into consideration the character of both the Sinhala people and their language. It is necessary to deeply study whether we possess or not words that are quite akin to us."

(Volume 2, Issue No. 22, of 24th March, 1941)

Following this Cumaratunga-Concept of Word-Coinage, Kalasuri D. V. Richard de Silva, in his exposition on Coining of Technical Terms, presented at the Silver Jubilee of the Hela Havula, in 1966 (9th July) spelt out the three ways we should follow in attempt to coin words, viz.,

1. Coining of words taking cognisance of both the morphology and the meaning of the foreign word. Examples:

‘frfojsj’ for radio

‘;,nukh’ for turbine

‘lusgqj’ for committee

‘;,nKqj’ for telephone

2. Coining of words taking cognisance of the meaning of the foreign word. Examples:

‘ osh l=uqoqj’ for submarine

‘mysk m; ’ for post-card

‘mdmqjrej’ for foot-board

3. Sinhalizing the foreign word by making the word look like a Sinhala word. Examples:

‘nexl=j’ for bank

‘f,drsh’ for lorry


The above exposition would lucidly explain that any attempt made to render foreign words into a language should, as an initial activity, study the philology of that language. It is such a study that reveals the history and development of words in that particular language. Unlike most modern western languages, eastern languages, including Sinhala, have their unique word formations. It is such features that maintain the character and nature (unique personality) of each such language. Hence, any attempt made, sans such a study, would result in coining words that act as foreign bodies in the eye.

Technical terms in their proper sense, are not only confined to words relating to modern science and technology. The country has had a history of an advanced irrigation technology, architectural and sculptural technology, as well an advanced agricultural technology, medicine and astrology. Moreover, the advent of Buddhism entailed a planned coinage of terms and phrases capable of rendering its philosophy in its pure and serene form. Buddhism demanded exactitude in the usage of words and phrases so as to connote the quality of being very accurate.

The Sinhala language could, therefore, be described as a veritable palimpsest (an inscription in which the former records are found in the layers beneath the current surface) revealing the nation’s history, its technological advances, vastness of its civilization, richness of its literature and exhaustiveness of its vocabulary. Hence, to ignore such a repertoire of a nation’s wealth is, in fact, a heinous crime.

Overshadowing of language by Sanskritization

A study of the language, and more specifically the attempts made to render new knowledge into Sinhala, would reveal that for the last several years the process had led to deforming the character / characteristics of the nation’s most valued possession. In short it has been a steady process of ‘sanskritization’ of the language.

The language-sanskritization-process is not only confined to the Sinhala language. Short-sighted consultants, translators, and incompetent people had sought refuge in the Sanskrit language, and more specifically, Sanskrit roots of verbs and nouns to render borrowed knowledge into the Tamil language. The process of rendering knowledge of foreign sources, in fact, had commenced in South India much earlier, that is, as early as 1940s.

This is what a memorandum submitted by the ‘Committee of Educationists to the Government of Madras’, stated, as far back as 1941, on the coining of technical terms:

"Though a common terminology may be possible in Northern India where Hindustani and Sanskrit have mingled together very much and local languages have been greatly modified by them, such a terminology would be unsuited to the Tamil area where Tamils have preserved the purity of their language. Words coined must have Tamil roots and suffixes to make them intelligible to the Tamils."

Language planning, Standardization and coinage of technical terms

The Department of Swabhasha (1956), and subsequently, the Department of Official Languages (1962) were established initially to meet the urgent needs of the implementation of the Official Languages Act. However, it needs to be admitted that such hurried acts have affected the development of the language, as the executors had not been able to identify the salient characteristics of the language, and how an unplanned exercise would affect the future of the language. What is heard over the electronic media, as well as in the printed media, provide ample evidence of this debacle.

The Sinhala language possesses the desired efficacy, strength, prowess, flexibility, methodology and an exhaustive vocabulary to meet any demand made on the language as described above. As such, our language should not be made a vassalage of Sanskrit or any other language

(The writer is Manager, Training and Publications, Postgraduate Institute of Management, Member. Central Committee, Hela Havula)

Stark contrast between Barack Obama and some "of our" leaders

by Prof. A.N.I. Ekanayake

Independent perceptive Sri Lankans whose rational judgment has not been impaired by jingoistic inebriation with good news from the war front, may be excused for having conflicting emotions while watching the passion and sincerity with which President Barak Obama addressed the joint session of Congress and Senate today (25th February), to the accompaniment of repeated standing ovations.

Obama Hope Sticker

It reminded one of the resounding optimism and euphoria with which millions of Americans heralded the ceremonial inauguration of their new President only a month ago. The joy of one community is often reason for another to weep for itself. I wonder how many people felt this strange dichotomy as they watched this latest performance, as well as the historic transfer of power in Washington a few weeks ago?

On the one hand one can rejoice with the American people. In this decadent age when political leaders in so many parts of the world are viewed with cynicism and contempt, it is the great good fortune of Americans to have discovered out of the blue a unique individual – intellectually brilliant, highly educated, articulate, charming, upright, humble, idealistic and principled to lead that nation. Not that the rise of Obama is a blessing limited to the American people.

Like it or not we now live in an inextricably interconnected "globalised" world where the fate of nations is inexorably determined by global economic, environmental and political currents, and where old fashioned grandiose notions of national sovereignty have very limited application. In such a globalised society it has been euphemistically asserted that the President of the United States is in a way the most powerful man on earth.

Consequently people of all nations not just Americans may well have good reason to rejoice at the emergence of a man of the stature of Barack Obama to give leadership to both America and a deeply troubled world at this time. However it is possible that for many people throughout the world such sentiments were probably eclipsed by the dejection of contemplating the contrasting reality of their own circumstances.

Indeed millions of people across many nations especially those Third world countries which deceptively label themselves "democratic and socialist" when in reality they are quagmires of tyranny, deceit and inequity, may well be deeply envious of Americans at this time when they behold the stark contrast between Barack Obama and their own leaders.

To such, the good fortune of the American people in electing an extraordinarily gifted President in the liberal tradition, is only a stark reminder of their own misfortune at being governed by politicians many of whom are perceived as being corrupt and unscrupulous, or at the very least just plain stupid and incompetent.

Ironically, the delectation of Americans at the election of Obama coincides with a period when they have every reason to be deeply despondent at the state of their nation. At this time Americans share with many other countries the agonies of a historic economic catastrophe. Arguably in some respects the United States being an infinitely larger and more complex economy may be more badly placed than other nations given millions of job losses, the virtual collapse of the banking system, and a tottering business corporations.

Americans also share with populations in many other countries the burden of terrorist threats, although being the prime target of Al-Qaeda’s deadly malevolence, and tied down by two unfinished wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, America is seemingly in a far worse situation than countries like Sri Lanka which boast that 95% of their battle against terrorism has been accomplished.

Nevertheless, why is it that the mood of the American people on inauguration day a few weeks ago was characterised by mighty hope and high morale compared to the spirit of gloom and despondency with which populations in so many countries with similar problems seem to face the future at this time ?. What is it in a nation that transcends the trials and tribulations of the present however depressing and enables people to face the future with hope and optimism ?.

The sight of Americans virtually dancing in the street in January, even as nearly 600,000 people lost their jobs that same month, shows that what enlivens a nation even in the darkest of times is the confident expectation of good governance in the years ahead under trustworthy and competent leadership. It is that which makes all the difference. With President Obama in power Americans rejoiced in being able to look forward to such leadership for many years to come. No doubt their confidence was founded on many certainties which sadly cannot be shared by many people in other parts of the world.

For example Americans could rest assured that their President had not come to power through the fortuitous circumstance of a minority community of his detractors being precluded from voting for his opponent. Nor were they in any doubt that on election the new President would put together a cabinet of brilliant individuals who would be capable of providing outstanding governance in that country. They had no reason to fear that Obama would (even if the US constitution allowed it) use tax payers money to make every Tom, Dick and Harry of a Democratic Party member in Congress into a minister who would do his every bidding and ensure his continuance in power.

There was not a chance that on becoming President Obama’s siblings (if he had any) would have been drawn into positions of influence in his administration. On the contrary Americans could take satisfaction from the fact that their chosen leader was a true intellectual ( a former President of the Harvard Law review no less ) who valued the contribution that quality individuals with education, ability and integrity could make to public service , as against cloning a whole generation of fawning sycophants and mediocrities who only tell politicians what they like to hear.

In the area of policy, in promising to pursue diplomacy and wage peace rather than war wherever possible the new President was not afraid of alienating hawkish nationalists in the American electorate. He neither flinched from being branded a terrorist by fanatics for his moderate views before election, nor did he include extremists in his team after assuming office in order to placate a particular constituency. And if it came to waging war the new President did not believe that the end justifies the means. His uncompromising commitment to human rights and the rule of law come what may was reflected in his inauguration address where he said "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils that 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".

Unlike so many heads of state with parochial loyalties Barack Obama has sought to bury political differences and unify a nation. Far be it from him to discredit and imperil political detractors and media critics by labeling them as terrorists, and the American public know that at the end of the day four years from now when it is time for re-election it is inconceivable that Obama would resort to ploys like lavishing cheap White House hospitality on successive groups of potential voters in order to canvass their support.

Finally, for us Sri Lankans, Obama’s resounding election victory brings into focus a still more depressing realisation. It has more to do with the contrasting attitudes in the two societies than any attributes of the new American President. The 13th amendment abolished slavery in America less than 150 years ago. Racism in the United States was such that less than just 50 years ago there were separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks, "Coloured balconies" in movie theaters, seats in the back of the bus for black people, with soldiers called out to protect little children who were trying to go to school.

Yet by 2008 Americans elected a black man as their President with the kind of acclamation that bore comparison with the victory celebrations after world war two. By contrast Tamils have resided in Sri Lanka for well over 2,000 years. The nations’ great tea industry was built on the backs of what was by modern standards Indian slave labour. Prof. K. M. de Silva records that during British colonial rule in the late 19th century "with the disinclination of the Sinhalese to take the lead in formal political agitation it was left to men like Ferguson, and more significantly the Tamils to assume the initiative.

The energy and enterprise displayed by the Tamil elite was a sharp contrast to the political inertia of their Sinhalese counterparts". After Independence the Tamils were an exceptionally educated and industrious community rising to the highest echelons of academe, administration and the learned professions in the country and making a distinguished contribution to public life. Nevertheless, in 2009 (whatever the constitutional provisions) it is inconceivable that Sinhala Buddhist hegemony in the island would allow a Tamil ( or for that matter even a practicing Christian) to be President or Prime Minister in this country! Even a personality who was as integrated into Sinhala society as Lakshman Kadiragamar and played an outstanding role in discrediting Tamil terrorism worldwide did not stand a chance.

What a tragedy that there should be so many reasons why ironically the very circumstances that made Americans rejoice wildly a few weeks ago should evoke feelings of gloom and dejection in some other parts of the world.

Statement by John Holmes to the UN Security Council

Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka: Statement by John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity to brief the Council on my recent visit to Sri Lanka.

As you know, the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka has deteriorated significantly over the last few months, in particular since the beginning of this year. As Sri Lankan Government forces have advanced deep into the Vanni area, which had been under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, almost all the civilian population has been progressively displaced along with the LTTE. They are now in a rapidly shrinking pocket of land, and are increasingly being squeezed into a narrow coastal strip of 14 square kilometers, declared a 'no-fire zone' by the Sri Lanka Government, as shown in the map that I have distributed. Many of these people have been displaced many times in recent months, and indeed over the years, but they now face very great danger from fighting between the Sri Lankan Government forces and the LTTE. And there is strong evidence that the LTTE are preventing them from leaving.


[John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, urged that combatants ensure the safety of civilians during a press briefing in Colombo on Feb 21-pic by Amantha Perera-IRIN]

Estimates vary of the number of civilians trapped, from 70,000 according to the Government, through around 200,000 according to UN estimates, up to 300,000 or more according to Tamil groups. The number of casualties from the fighting, among whom we believe are many civilians, cannot be verified in the absence of independent sources, since humanitarian agencies and the media have no access to the area, but we believe dozens of people per day at least are being killed and many more wounded.

The physical condition of these civilians is also of increasing concern. Because of the fighting in late January, land convoys organized by the WFP were suspended, leaving only the Government Agents and the ICRC providing some relief supplies by sea. Food, medical supplies, clean water, sanitation facilities and shelter are now extremely short. The risks from hunger and diseases are growing rapidly, in addition to those from the fighting.

Mr. President, the purpose of my visit was to obtain first-hand information about the dire humanitarian situation of those trapped, to look at arrangements for taking care of those who manage to escape, and to promote compliance by all the parties with international humanitarian law and international principles and standards for treatment of the displaced. I had discussions with the highest levels of the Government, including the President. I also met opposition politicians, including the leader of one of the important Tamil political parties; the Co-Chairs, namely the US, Norway, Japan and EU, as well as a wider selection of donors; and UN Agencies, NGOs, the ICRC, and representatives of civil society.

An important part of the visit was to Vavuniya, just south of the formerly LTTE held area, where some 36,000 IDPs who escaped from the fighting have been accommodated in the last three weeks. I visited transit sites in a school and other local buildings, where temporary shelters and other facilities have been set up by the Government and local authorities, with the help of UN agencies, the ICRC and NGOs. I also visited a local hospital where some of the injured evacuated by sea from the Vanni pocket are being treated, and a large site to which the IDPs are gradually being moved - Menik farm - which has caused much controversy because of accusations that it is intended to house Tamil IDPs on a long term basis against their will. In both the transit site and Menik farm, basic needs such as food, shelter, clean water, sanitation and health care appeared to be being met, despite serious overcrowding in some of the transit sites. UN agencies and NGOs now have more or less free access to these sites, which is very important. But movement into and out of them is otherwise currently highly and unacceptably restricted.

Mr. President, I highlighted a number of key humanitarian issues with all I met. First and foremost, I expressed my extreme concern about the fate of the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the Vanni pocket. I called on both sides to respect international humanitarian law, to ensure the protection of the civilians there, and to do everything possible to avoid further civilian casualties. This includes guaranteeing the safety and the security of a number of UN national staff and their dependents, and of NGO staff and their dependents, still trapped with the rest of the civilian population. I called in particular on the LTTE to let the civilian population leave freely, amid credible reports of shootings of some trying to flee, and to stop forced recruitment, especially of children. I also urged the Government to do all they could to make it possible for the civilian population to get out safely, including by means of agreement to a temporary halt to hostilities or a humanitarian corridor to allow people to leave, if this could be arranged and agreed, and in general to ensure a peaceful, orderly and humane end to the fighting. The risk of a very bloody end to this long running conflict is otherwise unacceptably high.

The Government assured me at every level that they have virtually stopped using heavy weapons because of their recognition of the need to spare the civilian population, who are of course their own citizens. It remains unclear how far this is the case in reality.

Secondly, I called upon both the Government and the LTTE to allow unhindered humanitarian access, to ensure that sufficient relief supplies are delivered into the Vanni pocket. Latest efforts by the Government in cooperation with the ICRC and WFP to ship food and medical supplies via the sea route are welcome. For example, on 26 February, 40 metric tonnes of food provided by WFP were delivered by a tugboat chartered by the Government. UN staff and dependents in the no-fire zone played a key role in its offloading and distribution. The next similar shipment by WFP is planned for this weekend. This is in addition to previous use of an ICRC-chartered passenger ferry, with a capacity of 10 metric tonnes, whose main task is to evacuate the wounded and other particularly vulnerable individuals. Since these evacuations started two weeks ago, nearly 2,000 people have managed to get out by this route. I repeat that recent supply deliveries are welcome, but to have any chance of meeting the most basic requirements of those trapped, such operations need to be scaled up much further.

Thirdly, I emphasized to the Government at every level that the treatment of IDPs has to be in line with international standards and principles. I urged the Government to step-up capacity and arrangements for receiving IDPs in Vavuniya dramatically, especially by allocating additional land for temporary sites, in view of what I very much hope will be an imminent major influx of those currently trapped. I understand that, since my visit, an extra 250 acres have been cleared for temporary sites to accommodate 25,000 people. We expect another 400 acres to be allocated very soon. In addition, I urged the Government to move swiftly to eliminate progressively the military presence inside IDP sites, and to ensure increasing freedom of movement for the IDPs. I also raised specific concerns with the Government about the transparency of the initial security screening processes and about cases of family separation, and stressed the need for enhanced monitoring by the ICRC and UNHCR. I was assured by the Government that UNHCR can be present during the screening as the displaced leave the Vanni area, and that the Government will soon complete the registration of existing IDPs and distribute temporary ID cards, which will help to allow increasing freedom of movement. I understand that IDPs over 60 years of age have already been allowed to move out of the IDP sites to stay with relatives outside the camps where possible.

Fourthly, I reiterated the importance of the displaced being able to return to their places of origin as soon as possible. The Government, at every level, assured me that this was their firm intention, including the goal of returning 80 percent of the IDPs by the end of 2009, once the necessary de-mining is completed. I underscored the need to put to rest suspicions of wanting to manipulate the ethnic mix in the north or keeping IDPs in long-term camps against their will.

Finally, while not part of my humanitarian mandate, I urged the Government to take the historic opportunity to move swiftly, after the end of the fighting, to tackle underlying political issues, and move to a generally acceptable devolution settlement on a fully democratic basis.

Mr. President, I understand that there are continuing attempts via intermediaries to persuade the LTTE to let the civilians go and agree on a peaceful end to the fighting. I desperately hope these attempts will succeed very soon. I also urge the Government of Sri Lanka to hold back from any final military battle in order to allow time for the civilian population to get out safely, one way or another.

Mr. President, the Common Humanitarian Action Plan, or CHAP, 2009 for Sri Lanka was launched on 18 February, for a total amount of USD155 million. In order to accelerate humanitarian response by UN agencies in partnership with NGOs, I have released USD 10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund. The funds will be utilized for life-saving activities in the areas of protection, food, nutrition, health, shelter, water and sanitation, and emergency education. I appeal to the donor community to respond generously to the CHAP, in the light of the existing and future needs in this very worrying situation.

Mr. President, my visit to Sri Lanka was intended as a visible demonstration of the international community's high level of concern about the humanitarian consequences of the continuing fighting. I trust that my pleas to all parties to do all they can to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law will not fall on deaf ears. The continuing close attention of the international community will be a very important part of this, including scrutiny of the implementation of the assurances given by the Government. I urge again all those with any influence on the positions of the LTTE to use that influence now to persuade them to let the civilian population go. There is no time to lose.

Thank you for your attention.

Sri Lanka may have to devalue currency significantly

By Cherian Thomas

Sri Lanka may need a bailout from international donors to help pay its debts as the island’s 26- year civil war draws to a close.

Since August, the South Asian nation has spent half its foreign reserves, now $1.7 billion, on supporting its currency, paying debt and buying imports. That doesn’t leave much after the government shells out another $900 million due in 2009. The reserves aren’t getting replenished as the ailing world economy pummels exports and overseas investors flee emerging markets.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government is unwilling to turn to the International Monetary Fund, which requires austerity measures in return for loans. Securing financing from other countries may be challenging for a nation whose credit rating from Standard & Poor’s is the lowest apart from those of Bolivia, Pakistan, Grenada, Argentina and Lebanon. Fitch Ratings downgraded its outlook on Sri Lanka today.

“Sri Lankan authorities have to act fast to beef up the country’s reserves,” said Ashok Parameswaran, senior emerging markets analyst at Invesco Inc. in New York. “Otherwise, they may have to devalue their currency significantly.”

Since December, countries including Russia, Vietnam and Kazakhstan have weakened their currencies rather than use reserves to prop them up. That has made imports costlier, reducing demand for goods from overseas.

Neighboring Currencies

Sri Lanka kept its exchange rate at about 108 rupees per dollar between January and October 2008 to slow inflation, even as the currencies of neighboring India and Pakistan weakened. The Sri Lankan rupee has since dropped to 114.95.

“Sri Lanka has relaxed the rupee in stops and starts, but they need a controlled devaluation,” said Agost Benard, a Singapore-based sovereign analyst at S&P. “The implicit currency peg will have to change and that’s one of the long-term solutions to the nation’s foreign-exchange problems.”

S&P cut Sri Lanka’s rating by one level in December to B, five steps below investment grade. Fitch Ratings lowered the nation’s rating outlook to negative from stable because of “heightened concern” over a “marked” decline in the nation’s reserves. It affirmed Sri Lanka’s rating at B+, which is four levels below investment grade and unchanged since April 2008.

Sri Lanka is banking on currency swaps with central banks, sales of treasury bills and bonds and offering higher interest rates on deposits to citizens living abroad to boost reserves.

Tamil Tigers

Once the northern region of the country is recovered from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, peace will lead to more remittances and aid for construction of houses, schools and hospitals, said P. Nandalal Weerasinghe, chief economist at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. This will provide “some balance of payments support,” he said.

The Tamil Tigers, who have been fighting for a separate homeland, have retreated from most of the northern part of the island nation. They now control a pocket of only 87 square kilometers (34 square miles) in the Mullaitivu region in the northeast, the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry said Feb. 22.

John Keells Holdings Plc, Sri Lanka’s biggest diversified company, last week doubled its stake in Union Assurance Plc, a local insurer, to 74 percent. The company said it’s anticipating that the liberation of Tamil Tigers-occupied territories will spur demand for finance and insurance.

To be sure, the dispute hasn’t ended yet.

“Although there is the possibility of outright military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, a potentially different style and lower-intensity conflict will continue to pose a risk to growth prospects and public finances,” S&P’s Benard said.

Still Raiding

Tamil Tigers launched an air raid in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, on Feb. 20. Their two aircraft were shot down, one crashing into a building housing the Inland Revenue Department and the second north of the city.

Sri Lankan police yesterday arrested a Tamil newspaper editor in connection with the air raid, prompting a protest by media rights group Reporters Without Borders.

At the end of November, Sri Lanka had 1.4 trillion rupees ($12 billion) of foreign debt outstanding. Its total debt is 3.4 trillion rupees, or 75 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to S&P.

Liabilities increased as Sri Lanka, which spends a fifth of its annual budget on defense, borrowed from local and foreign sources to build roads and ports, among other spending. The nation’s budget deficit has averaged 8.7 percent of GDP in the past decade.

Debt ‘Distress’

Sri Lanka must reduce reliance on dollar-denominated short- term commercial borrowings to ease public debt “distress,” the IMF said in October. It called on the government to weaken the rupee as part of a “comprehensive policy package that would underpin confidence in the currency.”

The central bank said Jan. 19 that it will neither let the currency fall nor approach the IMF for a bailout to pay for imports and repay its debt.

On Feb. 19 Governor Nivard Cabraal said the central bank received $200 million from Malaysia, declining to reveal the terms of the deal or whether it was a swap or any other facility with Bank Negara Malaysia. Bank Negara didn’t respond to an e- mail sent by Bloomberg News for comment.

“It’s unlikely that Sri Lanka will go to the IMF for funds,” said Dushni Weerakoon, deputy director of the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo. “At whatever cost, they will try to raise small sums from other countries.” [courtesy: Bloomberg.com]

February 26, 2009

UN Security Council to be briefed on Sri Lanka situation by Sir John Holmes

Expected Council Action

On 27 February, the Council is expecting a briefing by John Holmes, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka . This briefing follows his 19 – 21 February visit to Sri Lanka . It will take place in closed consultations under “Other Matters”, following a briefing on the Peacebuilding Support Office. Given the difficulty of obtaining first hand news of the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka , members seem very interested in Holmes’ assessment of the humanitarian situation in the conflict zone.

Recent Developments

In the last month the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) appeared to be moving into a decisive phase.

The LTTE, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, began fighting for a separate homeland in 1983. In recent months the Sri Lankan army has succeeded in confining the area controlled by the LTTE to about 34 square miles.

Humanitarian groups estimate that there are about 250,000 people trapped in the area and that the combination of its small area and intensity of the fighting was leading to disproportionate risks for civilians. (The government claims that there are only 70,000 civilians in the area.)

It seems that civilians trying to leave the war zone have been targeted and recruitment of child soldiers is on the increase.

It appears that Sri Lankan forces are currently moving on the last LTTE bastion, Puthukkudiyiurppu near the northeastern coastal town of Mullaitivu.

Restrictions to journalists in the war zone have made it very difficult to ascertain actual state of the fighting and numbers killed.

On 20 February the LTTE flew two aircraft to Colombo in an attempted aerial attack. The plans were shot down, with one crashing into the Internal Revenue Department and the second coming down north of Colombo . Forty-five people were killed including the two pilots.

The Sri Lankan government has rejected calls by the US , UK , Japan and the EU for a negotiated truce and are looking for an unconditional surrender from the LTTE.  The LTTE has indicated a desire for a ceasefire but are unlikely to agree to surrender their arms, a pre-condition of the Sri Lankan government for ceasefire negotiations. The Secretary-General has called on “all sides to pursue serious efforts toward political discussion” to end the conflict.

India has said that it is willing to facilitate the evacuation of civilians and provide humanitarian relief materials, medicine and medical care. (In 1987 India sent a peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka but withdrew three years later.)

On 6 February the Secretary-General spoke to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa about the worsening humanitarian situation in the conflict zone and conveyed his strong concern about the heavy casualties, including children. He has also reiterated the responsibility of the LTTE to let civilians move to safe areas and that the government was obliged to conduct its military operations with “due regard to the need to safeguard civilian lives”.  On 24 February the Secretary-General called for a suspension of fighting to allow safe passage to civilians trying to flee the conflict.

During his recent visit to Sri Lanka , Holmes visited Vavuniya, a town just south of the conflict zone where many of the escaping civilians have sought shelter. Holmes called on both sides to make greater efforts to stop the rising toll of civilian causalities and to protect the people trapped in the area held by the rebel fighters. Holmes also announced that the UN has targeted $10 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to help civilians caught in the conflict.


The most likely option is for Council members to discuss the issues relating to protection of civilians in the conflict zone with Holmes following his briefing. Specific action at this stage seems unlikely.

A possible option is for the Council to agree on a press statement or authorize the president to convey to the media the convergence of views in the Council including:

  • Expressing concern over the humanitarian situation, particularly the need to protect civilians and minimize the number of civilian causalities, including children.
  • urging the parties to work towards a political discussion and an orderly end to the conflict;
  • encouraging the Secretary-General to continue the organization’s efforts to assist in these goals
  • stressing that steps need to be taken to prevent further recruitment of child soldiers and the release and rehabilitation of those caught up in the conflict

Key Issues

Among the key issues are:

  • the potential scale of the humanitarian problem particularly with the food shortages imminent in the zone of conflict;
  • the difficulty of obtaining accurate information on the conflict given that journalists have almost no access;
  • Whether the UN can play a more useful and active role in this conflict. For example could it help with evacuation given its expertise in this area and reaffirm its willingness to be of assistance in possible peace talks? ;
  • the increasing risks of a humanitarian catastrophe as the area held by the LTTE decreases and civilians remain trapped;
  • the immediate needs for rebuilding of infrastructure, homes and schools in the north; and
  • The problem of internally displaced persons, both in meeting their current needs in the camps and in resettling them in the future.

Council and Wider Dynamics

In recent months Council members have been divided over whether this issue is one that should be brought before the Council. Members like Mexico and Japan were pushing for a Council discussion several weeks ago. They faced opposition from Russia which was of the opinion that the issue should not be on the Council’s agenda. Most other members seemed willing to distinguish between having a formal agenda item and an informal discussion in the context of a briefing. It seems that agreement has been resolved on a compromise under which members would hear a briefing but not agree to a formal agenda item which would open the way to substantive action

Prabhakaran's last card trumped

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Friday night’s suicide air raids on Colombo and Katunayake came as no surprise. In fact, even before the two Tiger aircraft took off from Puththukudirippu East, the army on the eastern flank knew the so called Thamileelam Air Force was mounting its last attack. The 12 GR (Gajaba Regiment) troops of the 58 Division commanded by Brigadier Shavindra Silva had heard the sound of aircraft engines. After having briefed an SLAF officer attached to the 58 Division of the impending attack, the army on the eastern flank went on the alert. The troops of the Task Force IV commanded by Colonel Nishantha Wanniarachchi too had heard the sound of the aircraft engines. The initial detection had been made at 8.35 pm.

"No sooner they started the engines we knew what was coming," a senior officer based in the Vanni told The Sunday Island. He asserted that the aircraft would have taken off from a part of the Paranthan-Mullaitivu road under Tiger control.

These were the first suicide attacks attempted by the LTTE since its air wing launched operations over two years ago. With the area under its control down to approximately 100 square kilometres, the LTTE had no option but to use its aircraft on one final mission. With the 58 Division now fighting its way into Puthukudirippu East after having secured Puthkudirippu West and the entire Ampalavanpokkani area under its control by Thursday (20), the LTTE is rapidly losing ground on the eastern flank.

After having alerted Colombo, the army had prepared to engage the aircraft. But they had managed to dodge anti-aircraft fire and return to Puthukudirippu. "We alerted artillery units deployed on the eastern flank to zero-in-on the area if aircraft approached Puththukudirippu," a senior officer said but they weren’t aware that the Tigers were using their last remaining aircraft on a suicide mission.

Despite being alerted first by the army and then tracked down by 2D radar supplied by India and 3D radar from China, F7 interceptor aircraft had failed to successfully interdict the LTTE planes. Although the Chinese interceptors lost the opportunity, SLAF anti-aircraft fire brought one of the Czechoslovakian built Zlin 143 aircraft packed with 215 slabs of plastic explosives weighing 140 kgs as it approached the Katunayake air base. A heat seeking missile fired at the aircraft too had failed to lock. But heavy anti-aircraft fire directed by ground troops had hit both the aircraft and its pilot.

In Colombo, the second explosives packed aircraft approaching the SLAF headquarters had also been hit by anti-aircraft fire as it flew over the harbour. According to a report posted on TamilNet on Friday night, Black Air Tigers had targeted the multi-storied SLAF headquarters and Katunayake airbase where the Kfir, MiG and F7 squadrons are based.

The Tigers also released photograph of the two Black Air Tigers, ‘Colonel’ Roopan and "Lieutenant Colonel’ Siriththiran with Prabhakaran before embarking on their suicide mission.

TamilNet reported that both pilots had been previously decorated with what the LTTE called the Blue Tiger award for having carried out successful air raids on enemy targets.

Although the SLAF brought down one aircraft over Katunayake and contributed heavily to the Colombo operation, the failure of the jets and the shoulder fired missile should be investigated. The SLAF which has played a critical role in the overall military campaign to destroy the LTTE must conduct an in-depth inquiry into the shortcomings.

Although the Black Tiger approaching Katunayake had to abort his mission after being hit by small arms fire and crash land his fixed wing aircraft into a marsh, the second suicide aircraft, forced to abandon its intended target (SLAF HQ), hit the Inland Revenue headquarters building triggering a massive explosion. The aircraft is believed to have been hit by a 14.5 mm weapon mounted on the roof top of Rangala naval base.

Defence spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella who had been with a group of security forces officers on board the Jetliner troop ferry at the Colombo harbour had sighted the aircraft first as it flew over the Colombo harbour.

Shooting down of the LTTE aircraft couldn’t have come at a better time as the government prepares for elections for the Western Provincial Council (WPC). It would give a tremendous boost to the ruling coalition, particularly in the Western Province and re-assure people that Air Tigers no longer posed a threat.

Friday’s attempt to mount an air attack on targets within the fortified capital city was the first serious challenge posed by the LTTE following a series of battlefield defeats it suffered on the eastern flank where the Tigers have been constantly on the retreat.

Living in luxury

Government propagandists accused Prabhakaran and his senior cadres of leading a luxurious life in the Vanni after the army recovered a menu card from an underground facility believed to be used by the beleaguered Prabhakaran in the Vishvamadu area. The finding by the 58 Division conducting operations north of the Paranthan-Mullaitivu (A35) road on February 6 prompted accusation that the top LTTE leadership had been living a life of luxury as forcibly recruited Tamil youth were thrown into battle.

The LTTE leadership was accused of feasting on sumptuous biriyani with chicken curry. According to the menu, the LTTE leadership had been served noodles with meat, fried rice with prawns, cuttle fish or meat and a range of other items including string hoppers, roti, thosai, pittu, chapatti, boiled peas, milk rice, herbal drinks, bread, chutney, dry fish, fried fish, sambol and cooked vegetables.

Had anyone bothered to compare the subsidized meals offered to MPs and pariamentary officials at the expense of the taxpayer with Prabhakaran’s menu, neither group would have been considered to be doing badly. Despite rising defence costs, successive administrations had provided heavily subsidized meals, free housing, vehicles and a range of other perks and privileges to some at the taxpayers’ expense.

Politicians receive full pension rights after completing just one term in Parliament and appoint their family members, relatives and associates to their personal staff. Overseas appointments and creation of posts both here and abroad to accommodate friends, associates and relatives and luxurious lifestyles of the ruling elite had been a heavy burden on the country’s struggling economy.

The abuse list is long. The Rajapaksa administration has enhanced and introduced perks and allowances granted to politicians. A case in point is Rs. 100,000 monthly rent allowance drawn by about 40 incumbent ministers.

The Auditor General has quite rightly slammed the House administration for massive waste of meals before the return of Dhammika Kitulegoda as Secretary General of Parliament. But still a lot has to be done to clean up the mess.

The armed forces’ triumph over the LTTE had facilitated the ruling coalition’s victory at the last week’s elections to the Central Provincial Council. Although Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake held the release of the final results of the Puttalam electoral district due to malpractices taken place at the Nayakkarcheni Tamil Vidyalayam and ordered a re-poll at that particular polling station on Saturday (February 21), the government’s victory was a foregone conclusion.

Even if the UNP polled the entire Nayakkarcheni vote, the government would still take the Wayamba province as it had comfortably secured four out of five polling divisions in the Puttalam electoral district. The bottom line is that the result of yesterdayre-poll wouldn’t make any difference.

The cancellation followed reports that Puttalam district SLMC member A.K. Baiz, now with the ruling coalition, had manhandled a police officer after police thwarted his supporters from rigging the poll. Although the much delayed action taken by the Elections Commissioner wouldn’t deter the ruling coalition from engaging in malpractices, the elections chief has signaled that the absence of an independent election commission wouldn’t be a problem if he wanted to exercise his full powers.

Despite malpractices at Nayakkarcheni, last week’s polling in the Central and Wayamba Provinces was the most peaceful for well over a decade. It is too much to believe that the ruling party had a change of heart and now shunned violence. As resounding battlefield victories and president’s war on terror had given government candidates the upper hand, the tendency to engage in violence directed at UNP and JVP candidates would have been very much less. Had the armed forces’ failed in their task, the country could have seen election violence on an unprecedented scale.

Relative merit

UNP National Organiser S. B. Dissanayake has publicly acknowledged the armed forces’ role in the government victory. Addressing a hastily called press conference immediately after the Elections Secretariat announced the UPFA victory, Dissanayake said that the party had failed to realize the challenge posed by the peoples’ readiness to discard political differences in support of the war effort. The UNP’s loss had been the government’s gain. The Rajapaksa administration has exploited the battlefield success and among the immediate beneficiaries were those who contested last week’s elections.

UPFA chief ministerial candidate Sarath Ekanayake (Mahanuwara district) and his step brother, Nandimithra (Matale), who had switched sides on more than one occasion, had been elected to the Central PC on the UPFA ticket. Three other brothers, S. B. Dissanayake (Mahanuwara), Saliya Bandara Dissanayake (Nuwara Eliya-UPFA) and Jayalath Bandara Dissanayake (Nuwara Eliya-UNP), too found space in the CPC. Livestock Development Minister R. M. C. B. Ratnayake’s brother, S. B. Ratnayake, who contested the Nuwara Eliya district on the UPFA ticket is also in the new council. Provincial Councils Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon’s son, Pramitha (Matale), and his cousin, Thilina Bandara Tennekoon (Mahanuwara) are among the UPFA winners. Urban Development Minister Rohana Kumara Dissanayake’s son, Parakkrama, and Dilum Amunugama, son of Enterprise Development Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama’s brother, and former PA Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte’s eldest son, Lohan , secured slots in the CPC under the ruling party ticket. Former UNP Minister Alick Aluvihare’s son, Wasantha, who contested the Matale district is among the winners on the UNP side. In fact all three successful candidates representing the UNP elected from the Matale district were relatives of politicians. Sanjiva Kaviratne, son of a former UNP Cultural Affairs Minister and Rohana Bandara, son-in-law of former UNP Minister Wijeratne Banda comprise the opposition team.

Power Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage’s a relative too has found a place among the UPFA team. Sarath Kongahage, a former UNP National List MP now with the UPFA had his wife, Shanthini elected to the CPC on the UNP ticket. Former Kotmale electorate MP Ananda Dassanayake’s son Kumara, too, is in the CPC as a UPFA member.

Although the situation at the Wayamba PC is not as bad as the Central PC, Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa’s brother, Chandana, former minister D. P. Wickremesinghe’s son, Neranjan, Coconut Development Minister Salinda Dissanayake’s wife, Manjula, Disease Prevention Minister Jayaratne Herath’s son, Piyumal, and Asanka, son of Ranjith Navaratne, President of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya had secured slots in the Kurunegala district all on the UPFA ticket. Soma Kumari Tennakoon who received the support of Minister S. B. Navinna had come second in the Kurunegala UPFA list with 67,998 preferential votes. UPFA chief ministerial candidate Athula Wijesinghe topped the list with 90,295 preferential votes.

J. C. Alawathuwala, son of a former UNP MP has also secured a place in the Kurunegala UNP list.

But UPFA’s constituent parties had suffered heavy defeat with the majority of candidates fielded by Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front, JHU and Communist Party failing to gain entry. The NFF which fielded ten candidates for Kurunegala, Puttalam, Mahanuwara, Matale and Nuwara Eliya districts had managed to secure just one slot. Nimal Piyatissa who contested Nuwara Eliya district was the only winner from Weerawansa’s list.

The loss suffered by the UPFA’s minor constituents is as bad as the poor showing by the UNP and the JVP. The JVP ended up with just one seat in the Wayamba PC. The fact that its most successful candidate at the Wayamba PC, A. Keerthiratne, polled 2,191 revealed the true extent of their defeat.

Former JVP frontliner S. D. Senaratne who contested the Kurunegala district on the NFF (Weerawansa’s) ticket and lawyer Aravinda Wanniarachchi, a central committee member of the party, too, lost. The loss suffered by Senaratne who had played a critical role in Weerawansa’s revolt against the JVP surprised many. Weerawansa and Nandana Gunatilleke based their campaign on the government’s battlefield success.

The crushing defeat suffered by the NFF is likely to have far reaching impact on their efforts to strengthen the party ahead of the parliamentary elections. The debacle couldn’t have come at a worse time as the party prepares to contest the critically important forthcoming elections to the WPC.

Another UPFA constituent the Upcountry People’s Front had failed to secure a place in the Central PC despite fielding three candidates while only two of the eight candidates fielded by the CWC in the same province had been successful.

With Piyasena Dissanayake, President of Minister Dinesh Gunawardene’s Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, seeking nomination from the SLFP after Gunawardene’s refusal to field him in the Western Province, the fight to secure a place on the UPFA ticket has taken a new turn. Candidates hoping to exploit the government’s rising popularity due to battlefield success are fighting hard for a place in the UPFA list. [courtesy: The Island]

Sri Lanka parlaying fight "against terror" as an incredible propaganda tool

Michael Freund wrote of the "unfair treatment" Israel gets in the international arena in the Jerusalem Post recently. His argument was that, "Sri Lanka's conflict, which has claimed twice as many lives as our (Israel's) foray into Gaza, has barely seemed to register on the international radar screen."

Dr. Ellyn Shander MD, of Stamford, CT, USA, a humanitarian activist has written to Michael Freund explaining that Sri Lanka's current war is not exactly a "war on terror".

Both views, the article from Jerusalem Post, "Are all counter terror operations created equal?", and Dr. Ellyn Shander's response to Mr. Freund are as follows:


by Michael Freund

What's the difference between Sri Lanka and Israel? The question might seem odd, almost a throwback to elementary school when a teacher having a bad day might attempt to trip up his or her students by tossing a curveball question at them. But it is in fact highly relevant, and far more revealing than you might think.

For aside from all the obvious answers, such as the respective countries' sizes, locations, social structure, topography and weather, there is one dissimilarity in particular which has been noticeably evident in recent months.

Consider the following. In late December, government troops launched a coordinated military assault, with thousands of heavily-armed soldiers storming terrorist strongholds in an effort to deliver a decisive and painful blow against the reviled radicals.

After years of enduring suicide bombings and failed cease-fires, the authorities decided they had no alternative but to resort to overwhelming force to alter the strategic equation on the ground. Something dramatic, they were convinced, had to be done to finally bring the terrorists to their knees.

While the above description may sound familiar, don't be fooled into thinking that it applies only to our own little Middle Eastern corner of the world. For even as the IDF was entering Gaza to strike against Hamas, a similar series of events was unfolding some 5,400 kilometers to the east, in Sri Lanka, where the army was sent in hot pursuit after the Tamil Tiger rebels.

SIMILAR, THAT is, but with one crucial difference: While we were lambasted globally for having the nerve to defend ourselves, hardly a peep could be heard about Sri Lanka's own version of the war on terror.

For years, the Tamil Tigers, which the FBI has called "the most ruthless and efficient terror organization in the world," have been fighting to carve out their own autonomous region in the northern portion of the island country. Chafing under the rule of the majority Sinhalese population, the Tigers have terrified the rest of Sri Lanka for nearly three decades, mounting brazen terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets in the hopes of seceding and forming an ethnic Tamil state.

They managed to create a Gaza-like enclave, where they enforced their rule with a heavy-handed mixture of brutality and cruelty. Just like Hamas, the Tigers, who are also known as the LTTE, used civilians as human shields against the Sri Lankan army, and cowed their opponents into submission through intimidation and murder.

In 2005, Sri Lankans elected Mahinda Rajapaksa to the presidency. He ruled out Tamil autonomy and vowed to reassess the peace process in light of the Tigers' obstructionism. After the terrorists violated a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire (shades of our own Oslo debacle?), the government last year decided to give victory a chance instead of continuing to pursue a capricious peace.

"We gave clear instructions: no cease-fires, no negotiations until we defeat the LTTE completely," Sri Lankan Defense Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Washington Post this past Sunday. "The LTTE would use cease-fires and peace talks to reorganize and resupply weapons. There have been... dozens of negotiations and more than 10 cease-fires. Everything failed. After every period of negotiation, they came back stronger. We decided enough was enough."

After ratcheting up its military response, and rallying the bulk of the island's population behind it, the government went on the offensive, seizing the Jaffna peninsula in the north before proceeding to capture several of the Tigers' last remaining outposts. It is now said to be close to defeating the rebels once and for all.

And yet, Sri Lanka's conflict, which has claimed twice as many lives as our foray into Gaza, has barely seemed to register on the international radar screen.

Apparently, not all counterterror operations are created equal.

SURE, HUMAN rights groups have harshly criticized both the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers for their treatment of civilians, but the crisis cannot be said to be at, or even near, the top of the world's list of priorities. Indeed, there have been no calls on American college campuses to boycott Sri Lankan products, few if any editorials have appeared in major newspapers denouncing the counterterror operation, nor have any European Union leaders rushed to the area to press the government to rein in its troops.

This is sheer and unbridled hypocrisy. For while Sri Lanka is fighting to stave off a secessionist insurgency, this country is confronted with a terrorist movement bent on its destruction. Yet while the former is allowed to proceed unmolested, the latter is subjected to incessant and withering international disapproval.

The conflict in Sri Lanka, of course, is just one of many which attracts far less attention than Israel. When was the last time you saw diplomats or demonstrators grow apoplectic on your television screen over hot spots such as Somalia, Burma or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Because the media ignores them, most people probably could not find these places on a map. But who hasn't heard of the Middle East on an almost daily basis?

Therein lies the tragedy of the international community's approach. By constantly harping on Israel, it is not only being unfair to the Jewish state, but also ignoring countless other crises around the globe, allowing them to fester seemingly without end.

So what, then, is truly the difference between Israel and Sri Lanka? As far as the international community is concerned, it amounts to this: Jews may be news, but Tamils and Sinhalese certainly are not.



Dear Michael

You missed the boat entirely and have really dealt an unfair blow to the Tamil people

Of course everything you said about Israel getting treated unfairly in the international news is correct. NO QUESTION.

But I am an American doctor who has lived in Israel and also volunteered in Sri Lanka after the tsunami.

I have been devastated at the cruelty of the Sri Lankan government since 1948 when the British left the Tamil minority at the mercy of the government of Sri Lanka

Since then there were pogroms, race riots, systematic murder , rapes extra judicial killings and torture of the Tamil people. Their ancient and beautiful library at the north of the island was burned by thugs.. . This has been systematic killing and hatred of a minority population in their own country !!!

The LTTE was born as freedom fighters from the constant killings and terror wrought upon them over many years. This included marginalizes them as 3rd class citizens in their own country.

The govt of SL has parlayed their fight " against terror" as an incredible propaganda tool. They are not fighting terror., it is a systematic killing of the Tamil people - GENOCIDE.

Rajapakse even won the election on the platform of the 'final solution" of the Tamil people, and his techniques are chilling similar to the Nazi's extermination of the Jews.

So here we have a sovereign government doing mass murder of their citizens the Tamils. and the army that arises to fight back is considered the terrorist.. Frankly the govt has been doing state sponsored terrorism for years. All documented by Human Rights watch and others.

Now the conflict in Israel is entirely different. Israel is a sovereign nation that is being attacked by outside terror organizations to destroy it and take its land. Israel does not kill its own citizens, it is a moral nation and has attacked Hamas for it's murderous attacks on Israelis and Jews around the world.

So in summary the conflicts are not anything alike and when you put them together like you did, you play right into that Nazi Rajapakse's hands who says he can kill all of the Tamil citizens in the name of fighting terror. that is genocide.

So Simple to understand./ The Sinhalese government are the nazis, and the Tamils are the Jews in ww2. Had we had a freedom force in the Warsaw ghetto, would they be branded as terrorist? What do we call the original Haganna who bombed the British out of Palestine to create Israel ?/ terrorist or freedom fighters.

it is so sad an unfortunate that Israel bought Rajapakse's story of fighting terrorism. because I am so ashamed that Israel kefir jets have killed so many unprotected Tamil civilians in safe zones , and refugee camps. Please correct your story.

It is so damaging, we have been fighting this propaganda of the government of Sri Lanka for years, and now it is urgent as they move in to finish the genocide.

Thank you

Ellyn Shander MD

Controversy Over Arrest of Tamil Newspaper Editor

by Yohan Perera and Senaka de Silva

Controversy surrounded the arrest of Sudar Oli Editor N. Vidyadaran in Mount Lavinia last morning after police initially said, he was abducted by an unknown gang which had come in a white van. But later they said he had been arrested by the police and was being questioned over the recent LTTE air attack in Colombo.

There was confusion on the fate of the senior editor with even the police initially saying they did not know anything about his whereabouts and were treating the complaint as an abduction and were investigating the incident.As confusion reigned on the journalist’s fate the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) and a government minister cleared the air saying the Editor was arrested in connection with the LTTE air attack on Colombo last week.


[E. Saravanapavan, managing director of Tamil language newspaper Sudaroli, gestures as he describes the arrest of his editor Vidyadaran at a funereal parlor in Colombo-AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena-via Yahoo! News]

Police Spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera, who had also earlier told the media that Vidyadaran was abducted by an unidentified group in a white van, also confirmed that he was actually arrested by the Colombo Crimes Division.
Mr. Vidyadaran was taken away while he was attending a family funeral at the Mahinda Florists in Mount Lavinia last morning.

Minister Anura Priyadarashna Yapa who commented on the matter said the editor was arrested over some phone calls he had received during last week’s air attacks. The Minister said he would be released if found innocent but would be legally charged if there was evidence pointing to his involvement.

Sudar Oli Publishers Mass Media Syndicate Ltd Managing Director E.Saravanapavan who was with Mr. Vidyadaran at the time of the arrest said he was at the funeral parlour when the six men approached the editor and dragged him into the van. They had come in a white van bearing number HX 0640, according to an eye witness.

He said three out of the six men were in civvies and others in police uniform. They had said they were taking him to the Dehiwala police station when Mr. Saravanapavan inquired as to where he was being taken.

Mr. Saravanapavan had then inquired from the Dehiwala, Wellawatte and Mount Lavinia police but none of these police stations knew about the arrest according to him.

“I also tried to pull him away when they were dragging him on the ground and I am sure he must have suffered some injuries,” he said.

While speaking to journalists Mr. Saravanapavan received a call on his mobile from Mr. Vidyadaran saying he was alright. However he had not said where he was.

The call followed President Mahinda Rajapaksa being informed of the incident by some Ministers with whom the Mass Media Syndicate Ltd Managing Director talked to after the incident.

Deputy Tourism Minister Faizer Mustpha who is also a member of the Ministerial Sub Committee on Media who rushed to the scene inquired from the IGP and the police Spokesman on the matter. According to the Minister they were not aware of the arrest at that time.

Mr. Saravanapavan said a group of men who identified them selves as officers from the intelligence unit had searched the Sudar Oli office at Grandpass on Wednesday and had asked for all the names and contact numbers of the journalists attached to the paper. However he had refused to provide them with these details.

The Sudar Oli Editor has been working for Udayan newspaper in Jaffna for more than 20 years and has been a native of Trincomalee. He has come to Colombo five year ago.

SLPI deplores manner of editor’s arrest

The Sri Lanka Press Institute lodged a strong protest yesterday at the manner in which Sudar Oli Editor N. Vidyatharan was arrested on Thursday morning at a funeral parlour in Mount Lavinia -- being dragged out by some men in police uniform and others in civvies and bundled into a white van and driven away.

“If the editor was needed by police for purposes of an investigation, he or indeed any other citizen, should have been told why he was required, shown the Magistrate’s warrant permitting the arrest and taken away without the rough housing that was evident The methods used were, to say the least deplorable,” a SLPI statement said.

We do not know whether Mr. Vidyatharan was taken away for good reason or bad and without that knowledge will not comment on that matter. But the fact that the police spokesman first told the media that he had been abducted by a group of gunmen and driven off in a white van and the story later changed to say that he was arrested by the Colombo Crimes Bureau, implies either an attempted cover-up in the first instance or that the left hand of the police does not know what the right hand is doing.

Eye witnesses at the funeral parlour, where the editor was standing by the publisher who was to later perform the obsequies at a relative’s funeral, said that three men in police uniform tried to take the editor away and when this was resisted by Vidyatharan and others present, three others in civilian dress came out and dragged Mr. Vidyatharan along the floor, bundled him into a white van and then drove him away.

SLPI strongly asserts that the manner of the arrest and the use of a white van for this purpose are most deplorable.

Arrest a violation of the rule of law- RSF

Reporters Without Borders yesterday expressed shock at the arrest of N. Vithyatharan, the editor of Sudar Oli, a Colombo-based Tamil daily that is part of the Uthayan press group. He was forcibly arrested while attending the funeral of a relative of the group’s chairman in Colombo . The media minister told the organisation that the editer was being “treated well” by the police.

“Carried out without a warrant, this arrest was a violation of the rule of law,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The police must release Vithyatharan without delay. What is this respected Tamil editor accused of?

Outspoken coverage of the situation in Sri Lanka, including the fate of its Tamil population.”

Three uniformed police officers and three men in plain clothes arrested Vithyatharan at the funeral of a relative of Uthayan press group chairman M. Saravanapavan. The police hit people who tried to intervene to prevent the arrest.

“Until we have seen Vithyatharan safe and sound, we will continue to regard this as an abduction,” Saravanapavan told Reporters Without Borders.

Media minister Laxman Yapa told Reporters Without Borders by telephone that Vithyatharan was being held by the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) for the purposes of questioning. “He is currently being interrogated and his relatives will be able to see him this evening,” Yapa said. “I can assure you that he is all right. And the press will be informed tomorrow.”

Reporters Without Borders asked the minister to guarantee Vithyatharan’s safety.

The CCD is conducting an investigation under the emergency regulations into two reports published in Sudar Oli on 6 and 11 February. Vithyatharan was already summoned for questioning by CCD police officer Aura Senanayake on 13 February.

Senior members of the Uthayan press group have meanwhile received phone calls threatening them with the same fate if they do not leave the country.

Uthayan and Sudar Oli have repeatedly been the targets of violence. Six of the group’s employees have been killed since 2005 and its offices in both Jaffna and Colombo have been attacked several times. [courtesy: the daily mirror]

Sambandan complains to Mahinda about Police interrogation

Trincomalee district Parliamentarian and head of Tamil National Alliance Parliamentary group, Rajavarothayam Sambandan has complained to President Mahinda Rajapakse about his being interrogated by the Police over views expressed by him at a press conference. Full text of the letter sent by Mr. R. Sampanthan to President Mahinda Rajapaksa follows:

His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse,
President, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,
Temple Trees.
Colombo 3.

Your Excellency,

Media conference held by the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) on 17th February 2009 at the Parliamentary Complex.

The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) held a Media conference at the Parliamentary Complex on 17th February 2009 , pertaining to the position of Tamil Civilians in the war zone in the Mullaitheevu District, and the Tamil Civilians who had crossed into Government controlled territory.

I addressed the Media conference, and also answered questions.

An officer of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) visited my residence at Colombo on the evening of 23rd February and orally informed me that the CID would like to record a statement from me pertaining to the Media conference and requested me to attend the CID office at 9.30 am on 24th February for the said purpose. I was present at the CID office, as requested.

I wish to state that the officers who interviewed me did so with the utmost courtesy.

At the Media conference, I referred primarily to the casualties- deaths and injuries of Tamil Civilians in the war zone, how these injuries were largely caused, the inadequacy of food, medicine and shelter, and the complete lack of transparency in regard to what was happening as a result of Government personnel including the Government Agent, Doctors, and other Government Civilian staff, United Nations and other Humanitarian Agencies and their staff and the Independent Media both domestic and foreign being kept out of the war zone. I also referred to the extreme difficulties being faced by those who had crossed into government controlled territory.

I am glad to state that just 2 days later on 19th February, the Human Rights Watch, an internationally reputed Human Rights Organisation, has in a comprehensive report issued by it, confirmed the substance of the statements made by me at the Media conference.

I was informed by the senior officer of the CID that the they were acting on the instructions of the Inspector General of Police.

Some in your Government, may have been irked by what transpired at the conference, and this so-called investigation, despite the courtesy extended to me by the CID officials, constitutes an unwarranted interference in my freedom of thought and action as a democratically elected representative of the people, and the leader of a political party which very substantially democratically represents the affected people. You cannot be unaware that the democratically elected representatives of the Tamil People are prevented from having any direct contact with the displaced Tamil People either in the conflict zone or even after their arrival in government controlled territory. May I please ask what the Government is seeking to conceal by such actions.

I must also mention that certain programmes on Government Television Channels have made slanderous references to me both while commenting on the Media conference and the interview the CID had with me. There is clearly a malicious effort to create an environment hostile to me, the objective of which is to suppress the truth.

I do not know what further developments there could be, and, I consider it my duty to keep you informed of the above, so that such improper conduct by some in your Government would be brought to an end.

Member of Parliament,
Trincomalee District
Parliamentary Group Leader
Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi

February 25, 2009

'More civilians may have died in Lanka than in Gaza'

Sunanda Deshapriya, a journalist, peace activist and the person behind the free media movement in Sri Lanka, has been in India from January 18. The killing of senior journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge has forced many journalists and activists from Sri Lanka to take refuge in Europe and India.

Influenced by the French and the Cuban revolutions, the Vietnam war, the Naxalite movement, Deshapriya started his life as a militant and was jailed for seven years from 1971. In fact, he says he and his group started the armed struggle in Sri Lanka. "I would say we gave birth to Tamil militancy."

Disillusionment with armed struggle made him change and he became a peace activist. He understood that revolution was not possible in the 20th century with powerful and sophisticated States everywhere. He calls himself a social democrat now.


In this exclusive interview, he talks to rediff.com's Shobha Warrier about the current situation in Sri Lanka.

It was reported that you have taken refuge in India. Is it true?

Well, I would like to put it this way. I have taken time out because of the situation in my country. It has become very volatile after the killing of Wickrematunge and the attack on the MTV MBC network.

How difficult was it to take the decision to move from one's own country to another?

It was not easy at all because this is the first time I have done this in my 30 years of life as a peace activist and editor.

Has the accusation of money swindling against you anything to do with the decision?

No. Not only me but 11 other journalists also have left the country after Wickrematunge's killing. It was a collective decision to use the money for some other purpose, and no money was used for any personal interest.

Given the situation, it became a political accusation for the whole movement which is very unfortunate. They tried to mingle the personal and movement together. We all felt later that we should have done it in a proper way. But the fact is not a penny was used for personal purpose by anyone. None of the accusations has been proved. There was no investigation actually; all this was done by the State media.

Is it to suppress the freedom of the movement that such accusations were hurled?

Well, the end result was that. Media freedom has suffered in the last three years. All of us in the media, Tamils, Muslims, Sinhalese, trade union leaders -- all stood united and we became a kind of opposition. The campaign for press freedom became a focal point for everyone to rally around in the country. Other unfounded accusations also came in when we provided safe houses and safe travel for journalists.

The end result of all this was the weakening of the campaign for media freedom. Today, there is virtually no campaign within the country for press freedom.

Did you start the free media movement because there was suppression?

In 1991, the United National Party government tried to take control over the media. Then, we -- a lot of editors and senior activists -- came together and started the free media movement. Now, some of them have joined various political parties; some have joined the government. You know this happens to every movement. Only a few of us remain in civil society, not joining any political party -- that was our main strength.

Image: Sunanda Deshapriya. Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj [courtesy: Rediff]

Maya 'MIA' Arulpragasam, Varnakulasingham Murugathasan and Dayan Jayatilleke

by Kath Noble

As I stood at my bedroom window looking out at the red tracers and searchlights crisscrossing the sky on Friday night, I wondered how things had come to such a point. The LTTE hasn’t been very popular amongst its own community for a long time. After the suffering it has imposed on Tamils during all these years of fighting and the appaling number of Tamils it has felt compelled to kill for refusing to accept its leadership, the LTTE has been reduced to stealing children to despatch to the frontlines and even indoctrinate as suicide bombers. I wondered how an organisation with so little ready backing from ordinary people could have built those aeroplanes, and how it could have trained pilots to fly under the most trying of circumstances more than half the length of the country.

The main answer is of course the obsession and ruthlessness of its leader. Prabhakaran is willing to do anything that might bring him closer to his dream, as his recent antics in holding people against their will to effectively stand between him and the advancing Sri Lankan forces demonstrate. Shooting civilians in the back to prevent them escaping to a peaceful life somehow helps liberate Tamils in the warped recesses of Prabhakaran’s mind.

But another part of the explanation must lie in the diaspora. As has been noted many times before, the Tamil community outside Sri Lanka is huge, the majority in India, but with significant groups in the West and elsewhere too. It is from these sources that the LTTE has drawn its power since it lost the confidence of Sri Lankan Tamils. Eelam appeals to a fair number of them, and people living elsewhere have the luxury of working towards the success of an idea while rarely having to endure the pain of failure. Combined with a good bit of LTTE fascism, this has delivered the money and equipment to get things done and the political cover to get away with it.

The diaspora has been particularly active in the last few weeks, with protests almost worldwide. But a couple of individuals and their respective statements have caught my attention.

First there was the interview by the London-born singer Maya Arulpragasam on a talk show in Los Angeles. I must admit that when I first heard about it, I assumed her motive to be self-serving. Celebrities have become ever more engaged in speaking out on various causes in recent years, and while they probably do it with genuine concern for the issue they are pontificating about, they also clearly have at least half an eye on their record sales, sponsorship deals or whatever the currency of their fame happens to be.

When I finally watched it, I decided that she probably meant every word. The host had only just managed to get through the briefest of chatty introductions about her rather obvious pregnancy when Maya Arulpragasam launched into her diatribe on Sri Lanka, in response to his inquiring as to what she made of her success in being nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar in the same year. It was a little prepared, but why not. If I believed that a systematic genocide had been going on in the country that I’d grown up in for the last decade, and I were invited to an American talk show, I too would prepare. Not that preparing seems in her case to have involved looking into the facts of the matter, like whether there are 350,000 people simply trapped in the battle zone, whether aid, humanitarian work and reporting of the story are actually banned, and whether the Government really is 100% to blame. Perhaps she believes that she has, being a musician. If the reaction of the host is anything to go by, she probably isn’t used to having to defend her opinions with facts or even very coherent arguments.

Then came the suicide of Murugathasan Varnakulasingham outside the United Nations in Geneva. From Jaffna, he left Sri Lanka half a dozen years ago for London, where he completed a degree in Information Technology. Yet he somehow ended up setting fire to himself in protest at the situation here, blaming the United Nations for failing to intervene.

His motivation can hardly be questioned, although that of the politicians who were quoted in the British newspapers commenting on his death certainly must be. His local representative, who just happens to be the chairman of the British Tamil Councillors Association, explained that the young man was pushed to suicide because the media was refusing to publish what was going on in Sri Lanka. Whether such politicians truly believe that this is the case, the British newspapers happily printed this opinion that implied there was an unreported genocide underway without any cautionary references.

The LTTE propaganda machine has through the actions of these few individuals shown itself to be quite extraordinary in scope. It can get through to the ordinary man on the street, but is also capable of reaching global celebrities. Some politicians are either convinced by the LTTE or willing to go along with its lines for their own benefit, and most journalists don’t seem to know any better either. The result of all this is a lot of agitation in Western countries, as well as the age old problems with India.

It is very sad that these events were promptly followed by the news last weekend that what I hope it wouldn’t be too presumptuous of me to call Sri Lanka’s most effective diplomat is soon to return home. The Nation on Sunday reported that Dayan Jayatilleka, who has spent the last two years as Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, will not have his appointment renewed when his current term is up in June. This is despite Sri Lanka’s treatment at that body having been decidedly more reasonable since he arrived.

Dayan Jayatilleka’s most enthusiastic opponents, it would seem from the emails that have also been flying around Colombo of late, are from the Sinhala diaspora. They obviously have more in common with their Tamil brethren than they might like to think, for this demonstrates about as much wisdom as was displayed by Maya Arulpragasam and Murugathasan Varnakulasingham.

Some of the characters involved have got it into their heads that Dayan Jayatilleka is a communist, and thus anathema to the Western countries they believe it very important to pretend to suck up to while pulling faces to each other. Of course this is misguided in every way, and demonstrates not only a total lack of understanding of the world and what diplomacy is supposed to be about, but also a complete failure to grasp why their own attempts to persuade the West that the LTTE is bad haven’t worked.

Shouting terrorist might have been enough to convince George Bush, but the rest of us Westerners aren’t quite so unsophisticated. The only people who are tempted to accept that the fact that the LTTE kill civilians is enough to make it stupid to agree to down weapons and talk about an Interim Self Governing Authority for the North and East are rightwing and, in case these agitators have failed to notice, rightwingers don’t make up the majority in the West any longer. Even when they did, it wasn’t a failsafe argument. John Major, while pretending that it would turn his stomach to do so, was busy talking to the IRA, and might well recommend a similar course of action to the Government here if he didn’t know anything more about the situation.

It is noticeable that the majority of Sri Lankan diplomats think more along the lines of these misguided emailers from the Sinhala diaspora, which is perhaps why Dayan Jayatilleka has become a target. There may not be anything wrong with this per se, although it would seem wise to have as much diversity in overseas representation as there is amongst intelligent people supportive of the Government at home, but it isn’t a lot of help in getting others to understand the truth of this conflict.

Friday night’s attack on Colombo marked what is almost the end of this phase of the fighting with the LTTE. Its territory is nearly gone, and with it the capacity to hide aeroplanes. But that doesn’t mean that all problems are now solved. Whatever happens to Prabhakaran, there are people abroad who believe that the Government is committing genocide against Tamils. This feeling may not be channelled into action so effectively if the LTTE isn’t around, but it can hardly be a good idea to just let it be.

(This article by Kath Noble appeared in "The Island" of February 25th 2009 under the heading "Other battles still to be won".)

February 24, 2009

Sri Lankan refugees face open-ended detention in camps

By Simon Montlake

The camp's dry goods store opened only a day ago, but its windows are already greasy and smudged from the many faces pressed up against it. As workers stack bags of rice, lentils, and flour on crude wooden shelves, war-weary Tamil refugees stare longingly inside. None have money to spend here, only time to kill.


[Tamil women and girls, who escaped Tamil Tigers rebels-held area following fighting between Sri Lanka army and Tamil Tigers, hold plastic cups in a temporary refugee camp in Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka February 23, 2009 -pic: via Ybahoo! News-REUTERS/Nir Elias]

Behind them, a resettlement camp for 2,800 people is taking on an air of permanence. Classrooms are being built to house the children who study outside in crisp white uniforms. A post office, bank, clinic, and vocational training center have already opened.

Inside razor-wired fences, soldiers patrol the dusty lanes. And there is relief and joy among those who escaped the battlefield carnage. But there is also frustration and anguish over the strict rules and the prospect of open-ended detention.

On a 1,000-acre site nearby, a vast refugee town for as many as 200,000 people is planned, as authorities brace for an even larger exodus from what appears to be the final stand of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). So far, some 32,000 of those fleeing the fighting have been evacuated to Vavuniya. Most are crammed into schools and other public buildings until more camps are carved out of the red-dirt soil.

For those in the most makeshift facilities, conditions are grim. "It's so bad here, I want to go back to the Vanni. We're like prisoners here," says Mr. Balachandran, who sleeps with 47 others on the floor of a squalid classroom.

Once the fighting is over, the Tamils of the Vanni, the final stronghold of the LTTE, are supposed to return home. Sri Lanka's government says it must first de-mine the conflict zone, a process that will take many months, if not years. To guard against LTTE subversion, refugees aren't permitted to leave the camps. Nor are visitors allowed in.

"We're not detaining anyone. We're not separating anyone. We're keeping them in a safe place," P.S.M. Charles, a district administrator, told reporters on a visit organized by the military.

A need to improve conditions

Authorities say conditions will improve once more camps are built and international aid flows more freely. Sri Lanka has asked foreign donors to shoulder much of the cost. A cash economy should emerge once work initiatives start within the camp, bringing customers to the newly opened cooperative store, whose manager reckons that its sunflower-yellow concrete walls will still be standing in three years' time.

Officials say a faster timetable is possible, once the fighting ends. "The government is trying to think in terms of getting 80 percent of people back [to their homes] by the end of the year," says Rajiva Wijesinha, secretary general of the government's peace secretariat.

A darker fate may await suspected rebels who cross as civilians into government-held areas, where the military tries to weed out LTTE infiltrators. The government says it has detained 32 self-confessed militants and is monitoring another 218 people in camps. But aid workers and church groups have received reports of men being separated from families at Kilinochchi, the rebel capital seized last month.

Western diplomats say they are pressing Sri Lanka to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to monitor the screening and to register those who arrive. Government officials have publicly rebuffed the idea, however. They insist that as a sovereign power fighting domestic insurgents there is no legal requirement for international observers.

Aid workers point out that war refugees can easily be separated in the chaos and that those reported as missing may simply have been sent to other camps. Although the ICRC had begun helping to trace relatives, its program is currently on hold pending further talks with the government.

But there is some trepidation over a repeat of the tactics of the 1990s, when Tamil men taken out of military-run camps joined the ranks of Sri Lanka's disappeared. Some were later traced to detention centers, but many never came back. Fed by LTTE propaganda, such fears die hard among Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.

Still, the most pressing crisis is in the jungles of the Vanni where at least 70,000 civilians are caught between the advancing Army and the cornered LTTE, which has menaced those who seek to flee. While Sri Lanka has insisted that its troops are doing their best to limit civilian casualties, aid groups say the toll of dead and injured is rising.

"My biggest concern is that people are dying … the real crisis is up there," says Annemarie Loof, the country head of Médicins Sans Frontières, a relief agency working in the camps.

Refugees in Vavuniya tell of desperate treks through no man's land, dodging bullets and artillery shells that fell "like monsoon rain," before being evacuated. All cited the constant bombardment and lack of food and water in the war zone as the reason for their escape. Many said they had moved several times due to the fighting.

A dash across a battlefield

Devi Segaram, an English teacher, joined around 1,000 others who waited till dawn on Feb. 7 before cutting across a field that lay between the two forces. On their way out, they ran into a group of five LTTE soldiers, who fired warning shots to stop them. When the refugees kept running, the shots came closer, and two young boys fell down, she says. But Ms. Segaram and her daughter, a high-school graduate, didn't hesitate.

"We came running. I held her hand, and we just kept running," she says. Within half an hour, they caught sight of soldiers who called them over with a megaphone. Within days, she was in the camp.

Now she says her hope is eventually to be reunited with a son who lives in the capital, Colombo, far from her war-torn homeland. [courtesy: The Christian Science Monitor]

HRW calls for UN Security Council discussion on Sri Lanka humanitarian situation

“Recent Developments in Sri Lanka”: Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
February 24, 2009 - Testimony of Dr. Anna Neistat, Senior Researcher, Emergencies Division, Human Rights Watch:


[Dr. Anna Neistat, Senior Researcher, Emergencies Division, Human Rights Watch]

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for inviting Human Rights Watch to testify at this hearing. I will address the most recent developments on the ground in Sri Lanka and, in particular, the desperate plight of civilians caught between the two warring parties—the government of Sri Lanka and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Just over a week ago I returned from Sri Lanka. I have to mention, first of all, that collecting information about the conflict and the situation of the internally displaced persons is extremely difficult. The Sri Lankan government is conducting a cynical campaign to prevent all independent public coverage of its military operations and the plight of civilians caught up in the war. While decrying LTTE abuses, it has kept out the media and human rights organizations that could report on them – and on government abuses. It has kept displaced persons locked up in camps and hospitals. It has traded the well-being of tens of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens for evading international scrutiny. It has been trying its best to bury the abuses.

While in the country, however, we managed to collect credible information about egregious violations by the parties to the conflict, both of which appear to be engaged in a perverse competition to demonstrate the greatest disregard for the civilian population. Our findings are summarized in a 45-page report, “War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni,” that we have just released and submitted for your review along with this testimony.

As you know, after 25 years, the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE may be nearing its conclusion. This conflict has over the years claimed some 70 thousand civilian lives, and has left hundreds of thousands displaced for years and even decades.

Since the fall of the LTTE’s administrative center, Kilinochchi, in early January 2009, civilian casualties in the northern Vanni region have skyrocketed. The latest figures received by Human Rights Watch from independent monitors on the ground suggest that the total number of civilian casualties has now reached 7,000, including up to 2,000 deaths. Added to this are the dire hardships faced by the displaced – insufficient food, medical care, and shelter, whether in the combat zone or government-run interment camps.

Having worked in many conflict areas across the world, I have rarely seen a humanitarian disaster of such scale, where both sides demonstrate such shameless disregard to the safety and well-being of civilians, and which, at the same time, receives so little international attention. Civilians caught in Sri Lanka's conflict continue to die as we speak, and immediate action is necessary to stop this egregious loss of civilian life.

Violations of the Laws of War by both sides of the conflict

During the ongoing fighting in the Vanni, both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law with respect to the conduct of hostilities. The high civilian casualties of the past months can be directly attributable to these violations.

The LTTE has been responsible for deploying their forces within densely populated areas and deliberately firing on civilians to prevent them from fleeing to safety. There is also evidence that the LTTE has used civilians as “human shields.”

The Sri Lankan forces have committed numerous indiscriminate and perhaps disproportionate attacks consisting of artillery bombardment and aerial bombing. These include attacks on the government-proclaimed “safe zones” and on clearly marked hospitals. Statements by senior officials indicating that civilians who do not leave LTTE-controlled areas are subject to attack are indicative of an intent to commit war crimes.

Violations by the LTTE

The LTTE has deliberately prevented civilians under its effective control from fleeing to areas away from the fighting, unnecessarily and unlawfully placing their lives at grave risk. As the LTTE has retreated in the face of SLA offensive operations, it has forced civilians to retreat with it, not only prolonging the danger they face, but moving them further and further away from desperately needed humanitarian assistance. And as the area that the LTTE controls shrinks, the trapped civilian population has become concentrated, increasing the risk of high casualties in the event of attack and placing greater strains on their living conditions. Human Rights Watch documented a number of incidents when the LTTE forces fired at civilians who tried to cross to the government-controlled areas, killing and injuring dozens. In an illustrative case, a 35-year-old father of three described how LTTE cadres had shot at civilians attempting to flee:

When we came to Suthanthirapuram, it was full of dead bodies. Bodies were lying along the road. Nobody cared about them. They smelled. We didn't have food for two days. We slept in the field.

Some 150 people started out together, but when we tried to leave, at Suthanthirapuruam, the LTTE tried to stop us. There was only a narrow path to leave by. The LTTE caught us. There was fighting, arguments. They were shooting at us. Many people were injured and killed. It was shocking to see. Only 65 were in my group when we came out. We were separated from the rest along the way.

One father was carrying his child on his back. As they were running from the LTTE, he was holding him by the arms so hard—in order not to lose him—that he broke both of the child's arms.

The LTTE practice of forcing civilians to retreat with its forces, rather than allowing them to flee to safer areas, has meant that LTTE forces have been increasingly deployed near civilians in violation of the laws of war. Several cases were reported to Human Rights Watch in which LTTE forces appeared to be making deliberate use of civilians to protect their positions from attack — which is considered to be “human shielding,” and constitutes a war

The LTTE has continued to place civilians at serious risk by forcibly recruiting civilians for untrained military duty and for labor in combat zones. The LTTE also has a long history of using children under 18 in their forces, including in armed combat, and the UN has reported that it continues to do so. Since September 2008, the LTTE has increasingly forced people with no prior military experience to fight or perform supportive function on the front lines,
which has led to many casualties. One Vanni resident described this practice to Human Rights Watch:

The workers were taken to the frontline to dig bunkers, collect weapons from killed cadres and SLA soldiers, and so on. It was very dangerous for civilians – about 25 of my neighbors were killed while doing this work. They did not receive any training — the LTTE cadres fetched them from their homes and the next day brought their dead bodies back. Every day, many people were crying in my neighborhood because they lost young children; some even beat up LTTE cadres when they brought the bodies back.

Violations by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces

The LTTE’s grim practices are being exploited by the government to justify its own atrocities. High-level officials assert that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning violations. Sri Lankan forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas packed with displaced persons, causing numerous civilian casualties. This includes numerous reported bombardments of a government declared “safe zone” and of the remaining hospitals in the region.

Concerns of indiscriminate attacks by SLA forces are heightened by reports that they are using multi-barrel rocket launchers. Rockets fired from multi-barrel launchers cannot be targeted with sufficient precision to be accurate against military targets, and their broad area effect makes their use incompatible with the laws of war in areas where civilians or civilian objects (such as schools or hospitals) are located. The use of such weapons in populated areas is indiscriminate in violation of international humanitarian law.

Many of the civilian deaths reported in the past month have occurred in an area that the Sri Lankan government has declared to be a “safe zone.” On January 21, the Sri Lankan armed forces unilaterally declared a 35 square kilometer “safe zone” for civilians north of the A35 road between the Udayarkattu junction and the Manjal Palam (Yellow Bridge) in Mullativu district. The Sri Lankan Air Force dropped leaflets appealing to civilians to move into the safe zone as soon as possible.

During the next days, several thousand people gathered in a large playground located just north of the A35 in the safe zone. The playground also functioned as a food distribution center for the local government agent (GA) and international organizations. Several people located in or around the GA food distribution center told Human Rights Watch that, despite the army declaration of a safe zone in the area, the area was subjected to heavy shelling from SLA positions in the period January 22-29, which killed and injured hundreds of people.

One shell that struck inside the playground early in the morning on January 24 killed seven civilians and injured 15. An eyewitness told Human Rights Watch:

One mortar shell came in, close. I heard the whirling sound. It was dark so we didn't know where it landed. When I stuck my head out of the bunker, I saw the mangled body of a young woman by the entrance. I had never seen that before. I couldn't believe that it was a person.

There was a huge amount of screaming immediately after the impact. More mortar shells started coming in.

Nothing had been touched when we got out of the bunker in the morning. There were lots of people in bits and pieces lying around. My gut reaction was that I don't want to see this, but I felt that I had to.

One woman was lying on her back with two infants, one of whom survived, as I later heard. One baby was hanging from a nearby tree. Another baby, decapitated, was hanging on the barbed wire surrounding the playground. Next to the woman lay her husband, face down.

Next to the family lay other people. One was severed in half. I think the other one was as well, but I couldn't look anymore. One woman sustained shrapnel injuries to her head. Her brain was lying on the ground. The LTTE and police that came to take away the body did not remove the brain from the ground. It was still lying there when they left.

Several sources told Human Rights Watch that LTTE forces maintained positions in the safe zone (although about two to four kilometers north of the playground), from which they fired on SLA positions. And as LTTE forces retreated, they moved heavy artillery eastward through the northern part of the safe zone. This by itself cannot be considered a violation of international humanitarian law, as the safe zones were declared unilaterally by the Sri Lankan government and not in agreement with the LTTE. The SLA was also not prohibited from attacking LTTE forces inside a safe zone.

At the same time, having declared the area a safe zone for civilians, the SLA encouraged civilians to go to the area, increasing the vulnerability of civilians in the event of an attack. By creating the zone, government forces took on a greater obligation to ensure that they spared civilians from the effects of attacks. Given this civilian presence, attacks on valid military targets in the safe zone should only have been carried out after issuing an effective advance warning that the area was no longer a zone protected from attack.

Human Rights Watch also documented several SLA attacks outside of the safe zone which seemed to have been indiscriminate and led to civilian casualties. For example, one of the

witnesses from Vallipunam, a town just outside the government-declared safe zone, recounted to Human Rights Watch the SLA shelling of the town on January 19:

There were about 40-50 people traveling along the road when the shelling started. The shelling lasted for about 15 minutes. About 10 shells landed in the immediate area, but we could hear shells landing further away as well. I was staying in the bunker during this time and for another 30 minutes. When I came out of the bunker, people were crying and shouting. A vehicle had already taken the injured to Vallipunam school [an IDP center]. One shell had landed in the middle of the road, however, killing three people who were still lying there when I came out. The shells were coming from SLA positions, from the southwest. We could hear them when they came in.

According to the witness, there were no known LTTE positions in the vicinity at the time of the attack.

The witness also told Human Rights Watch that seven of his wife’s relatives, including two children—8 and 6 years old—were killed on February 5 by shelling in Mathalan, an area controlled by the LTTE that he believes had come under SLA attack. He was concerned that three other bodies had been found, mangled beyond recognition, and could be those of relatives he had not heard from.

During the fighting in 2009, the few hospitals that exist in LTTE-controlled areas have repeatedly come under artillery attack. This has added immeasurably to the suffering of individuals who have sought help in medical facilities, already horribly overcrowded and dangerously short of medical personnel, equipment, and supplies before the attacks. We gathered information from aid agencies and eyewitnesses on more than two dozen incidents of artillery shelling or aerial bombardments on or near hospitals. Hospitals are specially protected under international humanitarian law. Like other civilian objects, they may not be targeted. But under the Geneva Conventions, hospitals remain protected unless they are “used to commit hostile acts” that is outside their humanitarian function. Even then, they are only subject to attack after a warning has been given setting a reasonable time limit, and after such warning has gone unheeded. Deliberately attacking a hospital is a
war crime.

Attacks on hospitals in the Vanni (December 15, 2008 – February 10, 2009) Information compiled by Human Rights Watch from interviews with aid agencies and eyewitnesses

1. 15/12/08 Mullaitivu GeneralHospital Shelling: 2 patients injured, damage to ward and medical equipment.

2. 17/12/08 Vaddakachchi Hospital 10 a.m. Aerial bombing hit refugee settlement 250-300m from the hospital.

3. 19/12/08 Mullaitivu General Hospital 11:30 a.m. Five shells hit hospital causing damage to wards, operating theater, and the Medical Superintendent’s HQ: 2 staff wounded.

4. 20/12/08 Mullaitivu General Hospital Shells hit inside hospital grounds.

5. 22/12/08 Kilinochchi General Hospital 6:20 a.m. Aerial bombing hit near hospital, causing shrapnel damage. No injuries reported.

6. 25/12/08 Kilinochchi General Hospital Shells hit hospital grounds, narrowly missing staff. Damage to newborn nursing section, outpatient department, and reception.

7. 30/12/08 Kilinochchi General Hospital 4 p.m. Shells hit hospital causing damage to the building. No injuries reported.

8. 08/01/09 Tharmapuram Hospital 1:20 p.m. Shells hit Tharmapuran Junction 75 m from the hospital, killing 7.

9. 10/01/09 PTK Hospital 11 p.m. Shells hit IDP settlement located behind PTK hospital.

10. 13/01/09 PTK Hospital 10 a.m. Hospital hit by shells: 1 killed, 6 wounded. Patients fled to the wards to seek shelter from the shelling.

11. 19/01/09 Vallipunam Hospital Shell landed in hospital yard: 6 people in outpatient ward injured

12. 21/01/09 Vallipunam Hospital 7 p.m. One shell hit hospital

13. 22/01/09 Vallipunam Hospital Morning. Shells hit hospital compound: killing 5 and injuring 22.

14. 26/01/09 UDK Hospital Shells hit hospital: 12 killed, 40 injured.

15. 31/01/09 PTK Hospital Shrapnel from shells hit hospital.

16. 01/02/09 PTK Hospital Three attacks. First attack: 1 person injured by shrapnel inside the hospital. Second attack: one shell hit the hospital: 1 killed, 4 injured. Third attack: 1 shell hit the women and children ward (no
information on casualties).

17. 02/02/09 PTK Hospital One shell hit hospital: 1 nurse killed, 10 patients injured.

18. 03/02/09 PTK Hospital Rocket hit surgical theatre: no information casualties.

19. 05/02/09 Ponnampalam MemorialHospital Shelling : 60 casualties inside and outside the hospital.

20. 10/02/09 Putumattalan (make-shift hospital for PTK) Shelling: 16 people killed.

The government has sought to justify attacks that have resulted in high civilian casualties on the grounds that the civilians failed to heed warnings to flee the areas, and that the LTTE’s use of civilians as shields rendered the LTTE fully responsible for any civilian loss.

Humanitarian access

The plight of civilians in Vanni has been exacerbated by the government’s decision in September 2008 to order most humanitarian agencies out of the region. The government’s own efforts to bring in assistance with a minimal UN role have been insufficient. Fighting, lack of oversight, and the manipulation of the delivery of aid by government forces and the LTTE have all contributed to the continuing humanitarian crisis.

Scarce information that comes out of Vanni through phone calls or text messages suggests that the situation gets worse by day, with civilians lacking water, food, medical supplies and other necessities.

On February 10, an international agency received information from its staff, which had relocated to a place along the coast, that the only supplies that they had left were rice, flour, and oil. They had run out of water and the nearest water was 1.5 kilometers away. Walking there was extremely risky as the area was frequently shelled—an artillery shell had recently landed just 100 meters from the agency’s bunker.

The delivery of humanitarian assistance had been further complicated because both side used humanitarian convoys to advance their military positions, in clear violation of international law.

One individual who joined convoys delivering food supplies on December 23 and 29 said that Sri Lankan government troops used the convoys moving northwards to advance closer to LTTE positions. He told Human Rights Watch that on December 29:

We got to the last SLA checkpoint near Oddusuddan from where the ICRC was supposed to accompany us through no-man's land to the LTTE checkpoint 13 kilometers south of PTK. As soon as we passed the SLA checkpoint, military vehicles joined the convoy and followed the convoy on both sides. LTTE saw it and started firing. The army returned fire and the convoy had to stop for one hour. At this time nobody was injured, but when the same thing happened to the GA [government] convoy the next day, their driver was injured in crossfire.

Plight of the Internally Displaced

The situation of civilians who manage to escape from areas of active hostilities into government-controlled territory is dire. Instead of providing the internally displaced with the assistance and protection they are entitled to under international law, the Sri Lankan government continues to violate their fundamental rights.

The government has arbitrarily detained people during screening procedures; subjected all internally displaced persons, including entire families, to indefinite confinement in militarycontrolled camps; and failed to provide adequate medical and other assistance to displaced persons. The government has directly restricted the efforts of relief agencies seeking to meet emergency needs, and has deterred agencies from offering greater support through policies that the agencies rightly perceive as unlawful.

The number of newly arrived displaced persons changes daily and is hard to verify, especially since the government does not share lDP registration lists with any international agencies. As of February 16, according to estimates by international agencies working in the area, there were about 30,700 internally displaced in 12 sites in Vavuniya.

Screening procedures and unknown fate of the detainees

Sri Lankan security forces subject people fleeing from LTTE-controlled areas to several stages of screening, ostensibly to separate those affiliated with the LTTE from displaced civilians. While the government has legitimate security reasons for screening displaced persons to identify and apprehend LTTE cadres, the screening procedures need to be transparent and comply with the requirements of international humanitarian and human rights law. So far, none of these requirements have been met and dozens of individuals, perhaps many more, have been detained during the screening process. The fate of such detainees remains unknown, raising fears of possible enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

According to several sources, at the Omanthai checkpoint - the main screening point for displaced persons on the main A9 roadway before their arrival in camps in Vavuniya - the SLA and the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has separated dozens of men and women aged 18 to 35, as well as some teenage children, from their families, allegedly for further questioning. Some have been released within days and transferred to the IDP camps in Vanunya, but the fate of numerous others remains unknown. An international relief worker told Human Rights Watch that on February 8, 2009, she was approached by about 50 families whose relatives had been detained at Omanthai checkpoint in previous days. Neither the families nor the international worker had any information as to the fate and whereabouts of the detainees. Another relief worker said:

One woman in the camp told me that she was crossing the Omantai checkpoint with her husband and child on February 3. The husband was detained there, and for a week now she has no information about him. People like her call us all night long, trying to get information about their missing relatives.

At this point, no independent observers are allowed to monitor the screening process at the Omanthai checkpoint. Efforts of international agencies, including ICRC and UNICEF (some detainees are children), to obtain the lists of the detainees and any information about their fate and location from the Sri Lankan authorities so far have proved futile

Confinement in internment camps

Upon arrival in Vavuniya, all displaced persons, without exception, are subjected to indefinite confinement in de facto internment camps, which the government calls transit sites, “welfare centers,” or “welfare villages.” Those requiring immediate medical attention are first taken to the hospital, and then to one of the camps (see below).

Sri Lankan authorities have ignored calls from the international community to ensure the civilian nature of the camps. The perimeters of the sites are secured with coils of barbed wire, sandbags, and machine-gun nests. There is a large military presence inside and around the camps.

Several sources reported to Human Rights Watch the presence of plainclothes military intelligence and paramilitaries in the camps. A UN official in Vavuniya told Human Rights Watch that she and colleagues have seen members of paramilitary groups in different camps. In particular, local staff members recognized several members of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), a pro-government Tamil paramilitary organization long implicated in abuses, present at one of the camps. Military and CID officers regularly conduct nighttime interrogations inside the camps, summoning young men and women into their premises.

Displaced persons confined in the camps enjoy no freedom of movement and are not allowed any contact with the outside world. While many of the displaced persons have families in Vavuniya, their relatives have not been allowed to visit them in the camps.

Relatives come to the camp sites, trying to find their family members and communicate with them through the fence and barbed wire surrounding the sites, yet they are often chased away by soldiers. The displaced persons in Vavuniya camps are never allowed to leave the sites on their own.

A local relief worker told Human Rights Watch that a woman she spoke with in one of the camps was not even allowed to attend the funeral of her mother who had succumbed to her wounds at Vavuniya hospital. The relief worker said:

I spoke to one woman in the camp—she was crying and screaming. It turned out that her elderly mother, who had been injured and admitted to the hospital, died there on February 7. The elderly woman’s body was given to the son, who lived in Vavuniya, but her daughter was not allowed to leave the camp even to attend her mother’s funeral. She was in agony because she couldn’t pay respects to her mother.

Several relief workers working with displaced persons told Human Rights Watch that many are devastated because they have been separated from their family members and have no information about their relatives—those who stayed in the Vanni, those detained at Omanthai, or even those who may be in Vavuniya but confined in a different camp.

In apparent efforts to demonstrate that they can handle the influx of displaced persons without assistance from international agencies, and to prevent any communication between displaced persons and the outside the world, Sri Lankan authorities have significantly restricted the access of international relief agencies and local nongovernmental organizations to the camps. Nor have journalists or human rights groups been allowed access.

While in early February, realizing that they would not be able to handle the situation on their own, Sri Lankan authorities allowed various UN agencies and international humanitarian agencies to set up necessary facilities and provide emergency assistance in the camps, the agencies do not enjoy unimpeded access to the displaced. The decision seems to be made on an ad hoc basis by military commanders in charge of the camps, and as a result, muchneeded aid often does not reach the internally displaced. For example, on February 11, 2009, an international agency providing assistance and necessary equipment to the handicapped was not allowed to enter one of the camps. Given the large number of displaced persons disabled as a result of their injuries, the access of this agency to the camps is crucial. Those working in the camps who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that it was virtually impossible for them to talk to displaced persons and interview them about their experiences.

The military, CID, and plainclothes paramilitaries were keeping a close watch on any outsiders in the camp, preventing them from talking to the displaced persons. The military made it clear to the international organizations that violating their rules would result in their losing access to the camps, while local relief workers simply feared for their lives should they get noticed, especially by the paramilitaries.

International bodies, including the UN Secretary-General's representative on internally displaced persons and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have repeatedly called upon the Sri Lankan government to honor its international legal obligations towards displaced persons. These pleas, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government is proceeding apace with its plan to confine all of the internally displaced from Vanni into so-called “welfare villages”—while the army conducts the screening, clears areas in Vanni of remaining LTTE cadres, and demines the area. The “welfare villages,” according to the government’s plan, are supposed to have schools, banks, playgrounds, shops, and other facilities, yet those living there will not enjoy the right to liberty or the freedom of movement. Rajiva Wijesinha, the Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, told the media, “Of course, it will not be voluntary - we need to check everyone."

Originally, the government proposed to keep the displaced persons in the “welfare villages” for up to three years, but following the protests from UNHCR, said it intends to resettle most of the displaced persons by the end of 2009. The Sri Lankan government’s past record with regard to the resettlement of persons displaced by armed conflict does not give cause for optimism that resettlement will happen quickly. On the contrary, it gives reason to be concerned that the government will end up interning those placed there indefinitely.

Inadequate medical assistance at the Vavuniya hospital

The situation of several hundred displaced persons receiving medical assistance at the Vavuniya hospital is desperate.

The majority of patients were brought to the hospital on January 28, when ICRC managed to escort 226 wounded civilians requiring urgent medical assistance, including 51 children, out of the Vanni. Others were either brought to the hospital earlier, by transport organized by the Ministry of Health, or sent to the hospital after they managed to cross to the government side and went through the screening procedures along with other displaced persons. While the medical staff in the hospital has been trying to do everything possible to assist the wounded, the influx of patients has been far beyond the hospital’s capacity.

When Human Rights Watch visited the hospital on February 11, 2009 — after some of the patients had already been discharged to the camps or transferred to other hospitals — there were still not enough beds for all the patients, and many of the patients, especially in the male ward, were lying on the floor in the corridor. The maternity ward was also overcrowded with no adequate accommodation provided for newborn babies and their mothers, many of whom were also injured.

Several sources told Human Rights Watch that due to the hospital’s lack of capacity, patients were being discharged—and sent straight to the camps—long before their injuries were healed, which has already led to at least two deaths.

Human Rights Watch interviewed two women in the hospital who just gave birth. Both of them were in despair as they were informed that they would be discharged and sent to the camp that day. One of the women had been injured by shelling in the Vanni and had one of her feet amputated. She gave birth through Cesarean section four days earlier and still could not even independently take care of herself, let alone her newborn baby. Another woman gave birth to twins a day earlier and was terrified by the prospect of moving into the camp with her two babies and no one to help her take care of them.

It was obvious that the hospital lacked even the most basic necessities. Many of the hospital beds had no bed sheets or blankets, and a number of patients, including at least two children, told Human Rights Watch that they did not have a change of clothes. Despite the obvious lack of capacity to handle all of the wounded and attend to their needs, the hospital personnel, according to several independent sources, were instructed by the authorities not to ask for any assistance from the international agencies, and very few agencies were allowed access to the hospital.

An international relief worker told Human Rights Watch that her agency tried to provide assistance to the hospital when the convoy with 226 patients arrived in Vavuniya on January 28, but the hospital did not allow them to. She said:

Authorities in the hospital kept telling us, “Go away, all needs are met.” Medical staff are under a lot of pressure they were instructed by the government not to ask for anything from relief agencies, not to speak about any of the needs, and not to provide any information. They were supposed to demonstrate that the government could handle the influx of patients. Now, however, the situation is so desperate that despite the government orders, medical staff confidentially approach international agencies, asking for medical supplies and other assistance.

The situation of patients is aggravated by the fact that their relatives—even the ones who were allowed to accompany them from the Vanni—have not been allowed to stay with them and have been sent to the camps instead. That has been true even of small children and severely injured patients who require constant attention and assistance. No patients were allowed to stay with their families—rather than in the camp—after their discharge, despite the hospital staff's efforts to make such arrangements.

Human Rights Watch visited all of the hospital wards and most of the patients were in a state of despair, often crying incessantly. One of the patients told Human Rights Watch: They promised they would allow us to go back after we get treatment. Now our families are back there, and we have no information about them. And we are not much better off. People are dying in the hospital as well; there are no relatives to help us, and there won’t be anybody once we go to the camps. Why did they bring us here? We could have just as well died there [in Vanni], because there is nobody here to take care of us, to feed us, and we are likely to die anyway, just through more suffering.

The hospital is essentially run by the military and guarded even more closely than the camps. Uniformed servicemen patrol every ward of the hospital, the corridors, and the hospital yard. They register all visitors and watch closely, especially when international relief workers enter the wards. Attempts to communicate with the patients have already led to problems for both patients and the people who tried to talk to them.

For example, a local NGO worker told Human Rights Watch that after one of his staff members talked to a young woman with a mental disorder in the hospital, the patient “had gone missing” the next day, and the staff member was approached by the CID and questioned about his conversations with the patient. Out of fear for his safety, he had to discontinue his visits to the hospital.

The NGO worker added that he was aware of three cases in which relatives of the patients “had gone missing” after their visits to the hospital. He also said that, according to the information he received in the hospital, in early February several men arrived in a white van to the hospital and abducted the hospital canteen owner “because he used to go to the wards and talk to the patients.”

The situation in the Vavuniya hospital raises serious concerns regarding the safety and wellbeing of patients not just in this hospital, but in other hospitals where injured civilians have been evacuated. After some 600 patients were evacuated from the makeshift hospital at Putumattalan to Trincomalee by the ICRC on February 10 and 12, initial reports from Trincomalee hospital suggest that it too has become militarized and access to the patients is
similarly restricted.


As a co-chair of the Tokyo Donors' Conference and one of Sri Lanka's key international partners, the United States has the power and the responsibility to address the current crisis. The United States has in recent years been outspoken on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Given the dire needs of the civilian population in the Vanni, Human Rights Watch urges the Obama administration and Congress to bring new urgency to its concerns. Specifically, the US government should call upon the Sri Lankan authorities to:

• Cease all attacks that violate the laws of war, including artillery bombardment and aerial bombing that does not discriminate between military targets and civilians; attacks on hospitals, and attacks using weapons, such as multi-barrel rocket launchers and heavy artillery, that are indiscriminate when used in or near densely populated civilians populations;

• Facilitate, along with the LTTE, the immediate creation of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians trapped by the fighting to travel to areas away from the fighting;

• Immediately lift the September 2008 order barring humanitarian agencies from the Vanni conflict area in northern Sri Lanka and allow humanitarian agencies to return to assist at-risk individuals and reach all civilians in need; ensure that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are able to perform their work without arbitrary government interference;

• Allow independent observers, including journalists, access to conflict zones so that accurate and timely information about the situation of civilians in such areas is publicly available;

• Immediately end the arbitrary and indefinite detention of civilians displaced by recent fighting at the internment camps in northern Sri Lanka;

• Permit international monitoring of the screening procedures to prevent arbitrary arrests and “disappearances” of the detained individuals;

• Otherwise abide by the United Nations General Principles on Internal Displacement, including by permitting the freedom of movement of displaced persons, respecting the right of displaced persons to return to their homes, and permitting humanitarian agencies access to displaced persons.

In addition, we call upon the US government to support a discussion of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka at the UN Security Council.

Fasting for Sri Lankan Peace

Jessica Schieder of The Hoya, Georgetown University's newspaper on record since 1920 - interviews People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka's (PEARL) advocacy director Tasha Manoranjan:

Tasha Manoranjan (SFS ’08) has volunteered in her family’s home country of Sri Lanka since the summer after her freshman year of college and has become an advocate for peace in the island nation’s civil war. As a member of PEARL, an organization that works to inform Americans about the suffering in Sri Lanka and the crimes preformed by the Sri Lankan government against Tamil civilians she is currently fasting along with seven other Tamil-Americans for the Sri Lankan Tamil population’s rights.

How did you first get involved with the situation in Sri Lanka?

Well, my family is originally from Sri Lanka. I was born in Columbus, Ohio, but growing up [my] parents would tell me what they experienced in Sri Lanka and how they were forced to flee the country and the discrimination they experienced, being a part of the Tamil minority there. It was more difficult for them to access education opportunities, based on the fact they were Tamil. It was something I knew, but hadn’t really absorbed, because I was just so far away in my daily life. It never really meant much to me, until I actually went and did volunteer work there.

I felt a part of me really needed to go to this country and see where I came from, and so I went the following summer, the summer before I started college, and spent a few weeks in a girl’s orphanage, teaching them English and getting their conversational abilities a little bit stronger, and that struck me. Hearing that and knowing the differences between their experiences and my experiences just really struck me, because it could have just as easily been me living there. It’s just because my parents were lucky enough to leave the country that I have this amazing life here, and it could’ve just as easily been my life there — in that orphanage, having lost family members, and without any support system, experiencing the devastation that they’re experiencing now. That first experience made me want to go back again and again. Every summer, I go and stay at that girls’ orphanage or another school in the area, just teaching English — and even learning some of their language, myself. I learn from them what their lives are like, and then conveying that to others to educate people about the suffering there.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do here in the United States, as one of the leaders of PEARL?

PEARL is an organization in which we try to educate Americans about the suffering in Sri Lanka and about the crimes the Sri Lankan government has perpetrated against the Tamil civilians and try to elevate the dialogue, which is currently going on, regarding the conflict. The basic status quo approach to the situation is that it’s a conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group in Sri Lanka]. Tamil civilians are completely absent from that conversation, and for so long Tamil civilians have been silenced and ignored. The international community has supported the Sri Lankan government’s approach, that this is a war against terrorism, and according to the Bush doctrine, during wars of terrorism, you can attack innocent civilians, and mark them off as collateral damage. I think the Sri Lankan government has successfully rode on the coattail of that and has been able to portray this crisis and all the civilians, who have been killed over the past few years, as Tiger supporters or as LTTE supporters. The other stories aren’t being heard, so I… see this organization as a tool to utilize our own experiences… to convey that to policy makers and other Americans here, and foster a more educated dialogue, that includes Tamil civilians and respects the rights of Tamil civilians.

That’s our objective, and how we go about doing it is we have a membership of about 2,600 Americans and we e-mail them every week, asking them to forward the letter to their congressional representatives. The letter updates the congressional representatives about what Tamil civilians are currently experiencing.

We supplement the letter-writing campaign with advocacy days on Capitol Hill. We’ll go and speak with congressional offices that are handling foreign affairs, and educate them.

Why are you fasting?

On Monday, the government began bombing safe zones, after having told Tamil refugees they’d be safe there. Then, they began shelling those safe zones, including the refugee camps. When we found out about that, we were beyond outraged — these were people we know. We have friends there, we have family there, and we were so overwhelmed by a sense of urgency. As citizens of the most powerful nation in the world, we felt we should act as a voice for these people and stop this suffering. We thought the typical protests and rallies were insufficient. I know how long it’s been since I’ve eaten, but I have no idea how long its been since these refugees have eaten, slept, been nourished or had access to proper medical supplies — things we take for granted. We felt a fast shows how eager we are to bring an end to this genocide. [courtesy: The Hoya]

Human tragedy continues in northern Sri Lanka

By Sarath Kumara

As fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continues in the northern Wanni region, the plight of civilians trapped in the war zone is worsening.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara claimed yesterday that security forces had surrounded the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu over the weekend and confined the LTTE to just 73 square kilometres of jungle. There is no means of verifying these claims as the government and army block independent media access to the area.

Following international protests against the war, the government has been seeking to downplay the humanitarian crisis. It now insists that only 70,000 people are still in the war zone, not the 250,000 estimated by various international aid agencies. Government spokesmen continue to blame the hundreds of casualties on the LTTE for using civilians as "human shields," rather than on the military's indiscriminate use of artillery and aerial bombardment.

In comments reported by the Associated Press on February 13, disaster management and human rights minister Mahinda Samarasinghe tacitly admitted that the army regards Tamil civilians in the area as the enemy. "How do you identify a civilian and a terrorist?" he exclaimed at a press conference. According to Samarasinghe, all dead civilians are simply LTTE fighters out of uniform.

In bid to black-out unfavourable reports, the government has ordered all humanitarian agencies, except the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), out of the area. In the past few days, officials from the UN Human Rights Council left. Any media reports that provide a glimpse of the unfolding humanitarian crisis are immediately denounced by government spokesmen as helping the LTTE "terrorists".

Despite the media blackout, it is clear that the government's communal war has created a catastrophe. The ICRC has carried out four evacuations from an ad-hoc hospital in the coastal village of Putumattalan. So far, 1,477 injured and their relatives have been transferred to hospital in Trincomalee and many more are waiting. On Friday, 397 patients were evacuated.

The number of evacuees provides an indication of the extent of the devastation being created by the fighting. The makeshift medical facility was set up at Putumattalan after a hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu came under repeated artillery fire. ICRC and UNCHR statements confirmed the attacks. While the military denied firing at the hospital, its spokesmen refused to guarantee the safety of patients and staff.

In a statement on February 18, ICRC spokesman Paul Castella described the desperate situation in Putumattalan: "We did save lives today [with the ferry] but many people remain behind, helpless and anxiously waiting to be evacuated. It is now a matter of life and death." ICRC spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne told the IRIN newsagency: "More and more people are coming to Putumattalan. There is a makeshift medical and triage facility there and we will keep arranging regular ferries to move the sick and wounded out."

Regional Health Director Dr. Thurairajah Varatharajah, who is working at the Putumattalan hospital, told the Associated Press on February 13 that around 40 civilians were being killed and more than 100 injured each day from intense shelling.

Most injuries were due to shrapnel but patients were also suffering from lung infections, fever and coughs, probably from inhaling fumes and smoke. Only eight doctors remain in the area but most staff have stopped coming to work due to the dangers. Varatharajah said the hospital was running out of essential antibiotics, including penicillin.

The government has severely restricted all supplies, including essentials such as food and medicine, entering the remaining LTTE-held territory. A load of 30 metric tonnes was sent on February 18, including 20 tonnes of flour, 6 of lentils and 4 of sugar—the first since January 29. Essential Services Commissioner General S.B. Divaratne justified the lack of supplies by saying there was no guarantee they would not fall into the LTTE's hands.

As in previous fighting over the past 30 months of renewed war, the strategy of the government and the army has been to use overwhelming superiority in numbers and firepower to wear down the LTTE and terrorise the population. Having confined the LTTE to a small pocket of land, the military wants to force civilians out so that it can turn the entire area into a free fire zone.

The military stopped releasing details of its own casualties last October, fearing that the rising death toll would inflame public opposition. Most soldiers are economic conscripts from poor rural villages where there are no jobs or other opportunities. While no casualty figures have been released, the government defence spokesman has acknowledged that 3,000 soldiers have been killed in the recent months of fighting. In rural areas, white flags and death notices for soldiers have become a common sight.

In the midst of international condemnation of the humanitarian crisis, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse invited UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to visit the country. Ban declined the invitation but sent the Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes in his place last week.

After meeting Rajapakse and visiting Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka, Holmes offered what could only be described as a whitewash of the government and its war. "It is hard to say how many of those killed are civilians and who is responsible for any particular incident," he declared. After calling on both the LTTE and the government to protect civilians, Holmes focussed on the LTTE, demanding it release civilians from areas under its control.

Amid criticism of its detention of civilians fleeing the fighting, Holmes praised the government for treating Tamil refugees "excellently". The government is currently proposing the establishment of huge "welfare villages" to compulsorily detain as many as 200,000 war refugees for up to three years and is seeking international money and support.

Last week, LTTE spokesman B. Nadesan expressed his surprise that the UN was not helping civilians. The LTTE, he said, was "deeply sad and puzzled" that the "United Nations [was] not taking effective measures to protect" the Tamil masses. His puzzled disbelief is simply one more futile appeal to the "international community" that has thrown its support behind the Rajapakse government's renewed war over the past three years.

Desperate to boost morale, the LTTE sent two light aircraft on a suicidal mission to attack the capital last Friday. One plane crashed into the Inland Revenue Department building in Colombo and the other was shot down near Sri Lanka's international airport at Katunayake. Such attacks, which will not alter the course of the war, highlight the dead-end of the LTTE's perspective—an armed struggle to pressure the imperialist powers to support a separate Tamil state.

The Rajapakse government's cynical indifference toward the plight of Tamil refugees trapped in the fighting is a warning to working people throughout the island. The military defeat of the LTTE will not bring democracy and prosperity, but will strengthen the position of Rajapakse's right-wing ruling clique amid the country's deepening economic crisis. An end to the fighting will only bring an intensification of class struggles, in which the police-state measures used against the Tamil minority will be extended to the working class as a whole.

Responsibility Of International Community to Protect Tamil Civilians

by Prof. M Sornarajah

It has been reported that the Sri Lankan government has rejected the appointment of Mr. Des Brown by the British Government as an envoy to deal with issues arising from the persecution by the state of the Tamil population in the country. As with all totalitarian governments, like those in Zimbabwe and Sudan, the Sri Lankan government takes refuge in its sovereignty to deny the competence of the international community’s concern with the plight of the Tamil civilians who have been confined to a small space and subjected to relentless bombings by the Sri Lankan army.

The brutality with which Tamils have been treated in Sri Lanka by successive Sinhalese governments has justified a claim to self-determination in the Tamil minority. It is an idea and a claim that cannot be extinguished by the killing of people, either the LTTE militants or the civilian Tamils. As with Palestine, the more killing there is, the more entrenched the determination and will of the suppressed people to continue the struggle, a fact lost both on Israel as well as the Rajapakse government. The history of the Tamil struggle shows that the more the repression, the greater becomes the resolve of the people to ensure their freedom.

In Sri Lanka, every government of every major party, from that of the two Bandaranaikes, the Jayawardene government and that of Chandrika Kumaranatunge kept themselves in power by stoking ethnic hatred and unleashing the army on the Tamil population, without making efforts at a political solution to an obviously political problem. That tendency has become more severe under the government of Mahinda Rajapakse, who finds in ethnic chauvinism, not only the means of maintaining the power of his family group but also of hiding the looting of the country and the economic decline that such plunder has created. Many civilians, largely Tamils but also Sinhalese, have suffered so that this coterie could be kept in power. Sinhalese journalists brave enough to question the fact that the government is bombing its own people out of existence have been murdered within security zones which the government itself has established. No one has yet been arrested in connection with any of these murders. Sinhalese of good will, who queried the conduct of the government, have been quelled through fear or have left the country under threats of violence.

The plight of the Tamils at the present moment is grave. They are being decimated by bombings of hospitals and safety zones by the air-force and direction of artillery fire at these zones. The luring of these people into the safety zones and then bombing the zones smacks of genocide. This practice gives rise to the inescapable inference that ethnic cleansing is the clear purpose of what is being attempted. Taken together with the views expressed by the army commander about his mission to make the island under Singhalese rule and the obvious destruction of Tamil lives, there is genocide taking place in Sri Lanka. In the South, the torture of arrested persons, the disappearances of those opposed to the regime and the violence unleashed on the voices of dissent indicate that the whole of Sri Lanka is being subjected to colossal violations of a diverse category of vital human rights.

In the light of these circumstances, a responsibility to protect the Tamil civilians arises in the international community. The Responsibility to Protect is now well recognized in international law. It results from an international instrument which the General Assembly of the United Nations approved in 2005 at the World Summit. The Responsibility to Protect is a duty every state owes its minorities. The Responsibility requires that the minority not be subjected to atrocities involving genocide or crimes against humanity like torture. Where this duty is violated by the state, it is incumbent on other members of the international community to intervene and ensure that the persecuted group is protected. Such intervention is legitimate in international law. It is opposed only by a few states like China, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, fellow travelers with the government of Sri Lanka and persistent violators of the rights of their own citizens.

There has been a history of violence against Tamils by the Sri Lankan government. The entrenched discrimination began with the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948 with a slew of legislative measures disadvantaging the minority Tamils. But, it soon turned into violence to dispossess them of their traditional homelands. This resulted in violent resistance which successive Sinhalese governments have sought to crush. Tamil men and women have been arrested and tortured. They have been transferred out of the main cities. Their homes have been taken over for construction of high security zones. Bombings of schools and hospitals in the Tamil region have been frequent. Women have been raped by the occupying forces. Children have been killed. Temples and churches have been demolished or desecrated.

Under Rajapakse, these practices have taken a more intense turn. Hiding under the war on terror initiated by a now defunct American government which also unleashed un-American practices in the name of the war on terror, the Rajapakse government has intensified atrocities on the Tamils. The Tamils have now been driven into a thin strip of land and are subjected to constant shelling by the government troops even in the designated safety zones. Independent verification for such shelling exists.

In these circumstances, a clear responsibility to protect arises. It is unlikely that the United Nations would act, as Russia and China, both Security Council members, have their own incidents of oppression of minorities in Chechnya, Tibet and Xiamen to hide. It is incumbent now on individual members of the international community who respect this Responsibility to protect the Tamil minority in its current plight of helplessness against atrocities. Britain has made a start in attempting to send an envoy. More requires to be done so that the gang of international criminals who rule Sri Lanka do not commit further atrocities. As with the British government, other Western states should insist on sending envoys to determine the situation that prevails in the hope of bringing help to a besieged people. The urgency of this situation is great as the people face decimation at the hands of the government troops.

One other urgent measure is to identify the coterie in power in Sri Lanka as international criminals who will have to pay for their crimes in the future in the same way Milosovic was expected to pay for his. What is happening in Sri Lanka is no different from what is happening in Dafur or what happened in Gaza. The equality principles requires these situations to be treated alike. As the impeachment of the President of Sudan is being contemplated by the International Criminal Court, it is necessary to think in terms of the prosecution of Rajapakse as well. Another is to ensure that the corrupt wealth the Rajapakse coterie has spirited away in Western banks is identified and returned to the people of Sri Lanka. The announcement of these measures by well-meaning states will deter the continued persecution of the people, both Tamil and Sinhalese alike, by the Rajapakse government.

It is important to remember that a right to self-determination has arisen in the Tamil people as a result of continued discrimination and oppression which cannot be extinguished through government violence. It will live on however many people of whatever combatant status - terrorists, armed thugs, civilians call them what you want - are eliminated. It can only be dealt with politically through discussion between the two parties. There is a possibility still, as the majority of Sinhalese people who refuse to be deluded by ethnic chauvinism believe, of resolving this issue peacefully through the search for a constitutional mechanism. It must be said that the LTTE itself was not averse to this idea. It is time that the international community intervened in order to ensure that a guranteed settlement comes about through peaceful means and that a problem which has befuddled the island for over a generation is ended.

(Professor M Sornarajah, teaches and works in the area of public international law.)

Dr. Ellyn Shander: "We will never stop fighting for justice"

Full Text of Speech by Dr. Ellyn Shander MD at the “Tamils Against Genocide”, Washington DC rally, Feb 20, 2009:


First I want to say how honored I am to speak at this rally.

I want to thank the organizers of this event who have brought us all together. I am so impressed with the number of people , who have traveled great distances, taken off from work, and put their lives aside to be here.. Look at us, thousands showing up in solidarity and giving voice to the Tamil people in this terrible crises.

WE have the power to change the present anguish and despair in Sri Lanka! WE WILL NOT BE DEFEATED!!!


[Dr. Ellyn Shander at a "Tamils Againt Genocide" media briefing held at National Press Club, Washington DC, Feb 20, 2009]

I dedicate this speech

- to all those who have died in the senseless violence since 1948,
- to all the Tamil victims of targeted persecution and murder,
- to all the brave heroes that have fallen in the struggle for equality AND
- to all the Tamils in SL, who can’t be here today and are suffering now in unbearable circumstances.

Let us take a moment of silence to pray for the restoration of hope, peace and dignity to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. (Silence)

Most of you know me, as an American doctor, I went to the Northern coast of Sri Lanka after the tsunami and helped in a fishing village north of Killonochi. After my second trip back to the North, the government broke the ceasefire. Since then the war on the Tamil civilians has increased to a heartbreaking devastation.

The genocide of the Tamil people is personal for me.

I met hundreds of beautiful people in the North, but now it is over run by government savages.

My memories of Tamil children playing in the villages are covered with death and destruction. What kind of evil government kills its own civilians???

Saddam Hussein, govt of Sudan, Burma and the GOSL. All members of the Killing club.

We have all been shocked , saddened and devastated at the news that comes daily from the Vanni region.

-Incendiary bombs burning whole families as they sleep,
-civilians lying on the streets bleeding to death.,
-forced abortions of Tamil women,
-torture and rape in the new concentration camps for civilian Tamils who escape to Vavunia.

This ethnic cleansing of the Tamils is spreading as a bloodstain across Tamil land. It is masterminded by the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, guilty of war crimes against the Tamil people.

The Sri Lankan government apologizes to no one.
They do not say that civilian deaths are “collateral damage,”
They don’t apologize for using cluster bombs on civilian areas,
They don’t apologize for using incendiary bombs on densely packed civilians,
They don’t apologize for threatening doctors to leave,
They don’t apologize for ordering the UN and all NGOS to leave,
They don’t apologize for closing off the whole area under attack from journalists or observers,
They don’t apologize for starving and killing over 300,000 Tamil civilians who have done nothing wrong except be born Tamil in the country of Sri Lanka.

The similarity to the Jews being killed in Germany is chilling.

The GOSL is acting just like the Nazi regime with plans to exterminate Tamils !!

And just as we can’t imagine the GOSL’s evil to get worse, he orders the shelling of civilian hospitals and then states openly that it was justified!!

These cowards claim they are waging a war against terror.

That is insane… just look at the pictures of the casualties. Old people, women and children. They are not killing terrorists , they are using this an excuse to ELIMIANTE EVERY TAMIL THEY CAN GET THEIR HANDS ON. This is genocide.!!!!

But one thing the GOSL never counted on was us!!

The Tamil Diaspora and friends.

Look around at your neighbor. Look at the faces of the other people in this crowd. You are looking at the faces of people who are dedicated and loyal to truth and integrity for the Tamil people.

The time to accuse us as terrorists is over! We are thousands strong as humanitarians.!!

All of you who come out and tirelessly write letters, organize rallies, come here to march and shout , AND send photos to journalists: all to make sure this genocide can not be hidden, can not be buried, and cannot continue!! We will make sure that the world knows what is happening to the Tamils.


The GOSL never thought we would show up and expose their lies, but here we are: and in this darkest hour we will continue to make sure that people SEE what is happening.. THEY CAN NO LONGER HIDE TAMIL GENOCIDE, by accusing us of being terrorist supporters.

Even if they try to kill every Tamil in Sri Lanka and take their land.

We will not let them succeed in extinguishing the Tamils.

Because in this darkness, we will fight for the Tamils to be a presence in the world and never be forgotten.
WE .. you and I can do this.

In these darkest hours, we will collectively move to our highest selves and say to those Sinhalese Nazis.


Although there is silence in Sri Lanka
We will never be silenced
Although they control Tamils there
We will never be controlled here.

Although they are torturing and killing Tamils there.

They can never kill our collective regroup and stay on the highest moral ground.

WE HAVE GOD ON OUR SIDE, as we come here today: to the capital of our great country and ask for help

President Obama we have come to you for help
Secretary of state Clinton we have come to you for help.

Pres Obama your words on your inauguration day spoke directly to the heart of the Tamil people’s struggle!!

You said:

“We must carry forward the precious gift, the noble idea, passed on from generation to generation. The God given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

Pres Obama we are asking you to make that pledge to the Tamil people.

We need your help!

Pres Obama: We have come here today thousands strong to tell the government butchers and masterminds of the Tamil final solution.

We will never stop fighting for the Tamil people, no matter where and when it is. You cannot break our spirit..

And on inauguration day, we heard your words Pres Obama, mirror ours

You said:

“And to those who seek to advance their aims by……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."

President Obama we are asking you to make that pledge to the Tamil people.

We need your help!

From the worst violent struggles have come free nations.
The US in the revolutionary war
Israel in the war of independence
Etria from Ethiopia
Kosovo and on and on.

And as we saw after WW2, the worse mass extermination of a people, 6 million and yet the Jewish state was born from the ashes.

Know this, the Tamils will rise from these ashes as well.

President Obama we heard you say to governments like the GOSL

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history,

At this rally today we say to you. …Mahinda Rajapaksa … you are on the wrong side of history! We will overcome you!

President Obama we are asking you to make that pledge to the Tamil people.
We need your help!

PLEASE insist on an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

Please send an international presence to SL to bear witness and stop the genocide of an entire people before it is too late.

Please pressure the GOSL to open the conflict areas to humanitarian aid, international journalists and human rights activists.

Sometimes in life we get the rare opportunity to fight for integrity, and truth, and we are forced to go outside, really outside, our comfort zone. That is when it is a privilege to do service for a people and a cause.

Tamils worldwide and their friends, we have been given this privilege.

We demand that the Sri Lankan government stop the genocide…..and
We demand that the international community pressure this Nazi regime to stop the ethnic cleansing and send in humanitarian aid. It is time for the Tamil people to have their own state

But in this fight, we need help.. and once again Pres Obama we found a promise of hope in your words on January 20th. You said:

“know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.”

President Obama we are asking you to make that pledge to an independent Tamil nation.
We need your help!

And finally, President Obama you said on Jan 20th in front of millions of Americans and the entire world that
“this is a new era of responsibility …on the part of every American, …we ( must) be …., 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.”
Mr. President .. the Tamils are facing a very difficult task.. stopping the final solution .a genocide ..from a madness that is stalking their country.

You speak about giving America’s all to a difficult task.

President Obama we are asking you to make that pledge to the Tamil people.
We need your help!

And finally to all of you here today ….let me say, that I have met Tamil men, women and children. teens and elders from,
Sri Lanka, Canada, America, England, India and even Australia.

And what has impressed me most was their
Strength of character,
The tenderness of their hearts, and
The courage to go on under unspeakable sadness about the situation back home,
so one thing I know for sure

Tamils the world over and their friends
Will never give up the struggle
Tamils the world over and their friends
Will try and save every Tamil possible
Tamils the world over and their friends
Will overcome this darkness
And then Tamils the world over and their friends
Will rebuild in our hearts and then on the ground

Thank you

[Dr. Ellyn Shander MD of Connecticut, USA is a humanitarian activist]


February 23, 2009

Children trapped in Sri Lanka’s conflict

A boy with his father at a camp in northern Sri Lanka. The child broke his arm as he leapt into a bunker when the area came under attack.

By James Elder

VANNI, Sri Lanka, 23 February 2009 – Sennappu had a split second, a moment, literally a heartbeat to throw her body around her 18-month-old daughter before the bomb landed. Her reactions were enough time to save the life of her baby girl. Sennappu was killed instantly.

As Sri Lanka’s conflict has grown in intensity, so too has the number of civilians injured and killed. UNICEF has consistently called upon the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE (the rebel group known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to give absolute priority to the protection of civilians. And yet mothers like Sennappu continue to die, as do children.

The main causes of death and injury to children have been shrapnel and bullet wounds, burns and fractures. Some have been evacuated and taken to hospitals out of the war zone, which are overflowing and desperately short of anaesthetic and essential medicines.

‘Fear defines their childhood’

In a statement last week, UNICEF said it was extremely alarmed at the high number of children affected by the violence in the northern area of Sri Lanka known as the Vanni.

“Hundreds of children have been injured in the fighting and evacuated in the past week,” said UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka Philippe Duamelle. “Children are victims of this conflict by being killed, injured, recruited, displaced, separated and denied their every day needs due to the fighting. Instead of hope, fear defines their childhood.”

UNICEF was reiterating the call it has made time and again – to the government and the LTTE – to give children every protection from the fighting and allow them to move to areas where they are safe and can receive appropriate assistance.

Holmes on civilian casualties

That call was reinforced this past weekend by UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

At the end of a three-day mission to Sri Lanka, Mr. Holmes urged that combatants ensure the safety of tens of thousands of civilians who remain trapped within areas of heavy fighting in the north.

“We need to ensure that the civilian population can escape as soon as possible from the position they find themselves in, which is extremely dangerous,” he said. “Every effort should be made by the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to avoid civilian casualties. That is the message.”

Assistance provided to 35,000

Thankfully, some civilians have found safety. UNICEF is responding to the needs of 35,000 people who have been able to leave the Vanni and are now receiving humanitarian assistance away from the conflict.

UNICEF’s emergency support for these children and their families includes tens of thousands of hygiene kits, emergency health kits, safe water, latrines and bathing facilities, nutritional supplies and educational kits for all children.

At the same time, UNICEF is supplying hospitals that are treating the wounded children. It is also providing crucial psychosocial support, as well as identification of unaccompanied children who have been separated from their families.

Appeal for emergency support

Many of the children who UNICEF is now supporting have been displaced multiple times as they fled the fighting over the past 12 months.

One mother, Ms. Paskaran, said her family members had been forced to abandon their homes and shelters nine times since January of last year. “The fighting got closer and closer, and more and more people were dying,” she recalled. “My children saw their friends killed. They spent days and nights in bunkers. They were petrified. But we are out of there now.”

They are out, but today tens of thousands of civilians remain in the Vanni, including a large number of children. They are caught in the crossfire, experiencing serious shortages of food, medicine and safe water. Many children have not been to school in almost a year.

As a part of the UN Consolidated Humanitarian Appeal for 2009, UNICEF is appealing for US$15 million for a broad range of emergency support in water and sanitation, nutrition, education and protection for children trapped in Sri Lanka’s conflict.

Tamil National Movement must re-brand itself to advance its cause

by Aarvalan

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity.
The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty” - Winston Churchill

The fasts, rallies, marches and human chains organised by the Tamil Diaspora has been aimed at informing the International Community (IC) of the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan government and urging the international community to stop the genocide of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The author believes the International community is well informed of the ground realities (example recent HRW report and ICRC sources) and was informed of the fundamentals of the Tamil struggle from by the LTTE delegations which travelled around the world during the 2002-2006 peace talks.

[Awareness Rally in Geneva, Feb 20, 2009-pic by R. Paladin]

The Tamil nationalist movement need to understand that the reason behind the “silence” of the international community or it reluctance to intervene directly in Sri Lanka to stop the genocide. In the author’s view the International community wants to see the end of the LTTE’s military strength and have been successfully convinced by the Sri Lankan government that the end of the LTTE is near. Ironically and pathetically the mounting civilian casualties are perceived by the IC as “collateral damages”. The belief in the IC is that the Sri Lankan government will be able to implement a political solution to the ethnic conflict, without the LTTE being a major player and calling shots in the peace talks. The above assertion does not mean the author endorses this stand, but a reality the Tamil Nationalist movement needs to comes to terms with in developing its strategy to influence the IC.

An important question which has been left out of the above equation is who will the Sri Lankan government negotiate with? And in the absence of the LTTE, who will lead the Tamils? Sri Lankan government’s preference would be the EPDP and TULF for the North and TMVP for the East, there by dividing the Tamil community’s strength, the same old strategy of “divide and rule”.

As Kumar David wrote in his recent article “Tamil nationalist movement must put politics in command” published in www.tamilweek.com, “Tamil nationalism, indeed the Tamil community as a whole, subcontracted the national question to the LTTE during this period. Confidence in ‘the boys’ and the acclaimed military prowess of ‘thambi’ (later thalaivar) persuaded the community at home and more so in the Diaspora to sit back and subcontract out the national liberation struggle. Exclusive reliance on military methods was the consequence; it was not just an error of LTTE, it was also a failure of Tamil nationalism”

Kumar David concludes by stating “The Tamil nationalist movement must put politics in command and engage with broad struggles on social and economic issues”. “Emphatically, this is not the same as ‘joining the democratic mainstream’, the phoney approach that the regimes new found hangers-on, jaded left-opportunists and recently articulate petty-bourgeois quacks postulate”.

At present the LTTE is unable to actively influence the IC and be the public voice for the Tamil nationalist movement. Therefore there is a need for the Tamil Diaspora to form a transcontinental political body to advance the political aspirations for which we have paid a colossal price and provide leadership to the genuine Tamil aspirations. Failure to act now will lead to the Douglas Devanandas and Karuna Ammans playing a lead role with the IC as witnessed by the Pillayan lead TMVP dealing with US and Indian Ambassadors.

This political body should join hands with the Tamil leaders from Tamil Nadu (including the DMK, & ADMK), Malaysia, South Africa and Singapore to form a powerful Tamil lobby to effectively influence the IC. This is not an attempt to isolate the LTTE, but it is about providing a legitimate political voice for the Tamils in the current context.

The transcontinental Tamil lobby should influence the IC to endorse the fundamentals of the Tamil struggle and also develop a proposal to resolve the Tamil nationalistic struggle. The fundamentals of the Tamil National struggle are the Thimpu principles which were formulated jointly by all the Tamil liberation movements. The Thimpu Principles are as follows:

1. That the Sri Lankan Tamils be recognised as a distinct nationality;

2. That an identified Tamil homeland and the guarantee of its territorial integrity be recognised ;

3. That the right of the Sri Lankan Tamils to self-determination be acknowledged.

The LTTE’s supremo, Mr. Prabakaran, articulates the core ideology of the liberation struggle magnificently in his 2002 Heroes day message. He says, “Tamils constitute themselves as a people, or rather as a national formation, since they possess a distinct language, culture and history with a clearly defined homeland and a consciousness of their ethnic identity. As a distinct people, they are entitled to the right to self-determination. The right to self-determination has two aspects: internal and external. The internal self-determination entitles a people to regional self-rule”.

It is also important the Tamil body develop a set of proposals. It is a fundamental failure on the part of the LTTE in 2002 to enter into negotiations without submitting a proposal with their demand for an interim administration (IA). Whilst it was repeatedly stated from Feb 2002 onwards that the negotiations will focus on IA it took more than 2 years for the LTTE to submit its own proposals on IA. As referenced in the author’s previous article the Devolution Proposals formulated by Neelan Thiruchelvam and G.L. Pieris could be a starting point for the new proposals as it was also endorsed by the LTTE’s Late Dr. Anton Balasingham.

The Tamil body should influence the International Community to endorse their proposals for devolution of power, with entrenched constitutional protection. The protection of minority rights in the constitution is vital as evidenced by the Supreme Court ruling the P-TOMS (Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure) and SIHRN (Sub Committee for Immediate Humanitarian Rehabilitation Needs) Proposals “ultra vires”. Also it safeguards against a future Sinhala regime changing the constitution as witnessed in the case of North East provinces being demerged by the Mahinda Rajapakse regime.

As a first step towards forming the Tamil political body a conference should be held in Chennai, Tamil Nadu with the auspicious of the Tamil Nadu government. This conference should unite the Tamils from the entire world together and speak in one voice for the Tamils. This will also send a strong message to the IC and demonstrates the political strength of the Tamils. The conference should endorse the proposals for the peaceful resolution of the conflict and should be a starting point to influence the IC, LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government.

The Tamil Nadu leaders’ input in this exercise is vital from two aspects. One, prior to the Tamils of Sri Lanka, it was the Tamils in India who demanded separate state post independence. However they settled for regional autonomy and in the past 15 years have increased their political influence on the central government. Despite being a minority in India, they have succeeded in becoming “king makers” in Indian politics and at the same time succeeded in channelling economic development to the state, thereby becoming a powerful state in terms of politics and economics.

Secondly, by absorbing the Tamil Nadu leaders the Tamil Nationalistic movement will be able to influence the central government of India effectively. The significance of Indian support or at least India not supporting the Sri Lankan state is very important.

The Tamil National movement needs to rebrand itself to advance its cause. It is time for the politically silent Tamil Diaspora to stimulate progress and end the bloodshed.

This doesn’t mean subjugation;

It means preserving the core and stimulating progress.
It means saving the lives of Tamils (both LTTE members and civilians)
It means providing an opportunity to people who have been displaced a life to live.
It means providing the next generation of Tamils to live in peace and prosperity.

“Do not dwell in the past,
do not dwell in the future,
concentrate the mind on the present moment” – Lord Buddha

The Day I Became a Tamil Again

by N.Chelvakumar

Why did I have to become a Tamil again? Don't get me wrong, I was always a Tamil. I was born a Tamil. My family, as far as I can trace back, was Tamil. But I never consciously thought about it till it was thrust upon me. When I was just a little kid I was a Ceylonese. Then they said that I was a Sri Lankan. That I didn't mind, as Ceylon was a name that was crafted by our colonial masters, so why not another make-believe moniker. It just didn't matter. I was a citizen of the world.

The era of ‘The world is a village' caught my imagination, we all lived in an interdependent global village, working towards a glorious culmination, a dream of becoming one entity. But all dreams had to come to an end. 'How are you doing?' and 'I am doing great!' days did not ring true anymore.

One morning the whole facade erupted into an inferno. I was stopped by a murderous mob of rioters in the middle of a street. 'Are you a Tamil?' they screamed. 'No, I am a not' I pled in panic. It let me continue living, but created an inner crisis that I couldn't resolve. So I fled, I came to Canada.

Slowly I gave up my attachment to Sri Lanka and assumed all things Canadian. This dream of taking up a new identity was soon shattered. 'Where are you from?' I was being constantly asked. 'Sri Lanka' seemed to satisfy most. 'Are you a Tamil?' was the question I now faced from the enlightened. But that too changed. 'A Tamil Tiger?' was the new universal incantation, chanted to produce the expected result - a denial, a retreat.

What am I? Am I a Canadian, a Sri Lankan or a Tamil? Where I was a Sri Lankan I became an outcaste, where I thought I was a Canadian I was considered a Tamil Tiger. Being concerned about the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka had become a crime.

As I watch the news and see all those innocent people being maimed and killed they remind me of the neighbourhood I grew up in, the school I attended, the faces of my childhood. Fathers who should be going to work, mothers who should preparing their children for the future and kids who should be skipping their way through school were being slaughtered instead.

In the eyes of the myopic nation of democracies the separation between the Tamils and the Tigers seem to be fast disappearing. 'Its all your fault, you deserve what you are getting' is the mantra of the appeasers. We, the Tamils, have become a forgotten entity on the map of international political pussyfooting. Anti- 'terrorism' has become a catchall word for anything goes. The basic tenets of humanity has been suspended. The community of nations is sleeping. The echoes of ‘peace for our time’ reverberate again through the halls of transnational diplomacy.

So reluctantly, but by necessity, I have become a Tamil again. I need an identity that is irrefutable. A place from where I can make a stand, make my voice heard. The physical diaspora of the Tamils is spritually merging together in anger, frustration and desperation. But is it too late? Will history weep and wail about a holocaust that could have been prevented. Would we have created a nation of people that will never forget. A people who will say 'never again!' The day I become a Tamil has arrived, its today.

Sri Lankan Muslim bashing by Dr. Ramadoss of PMK

by M.S.Shah Jahan

"Pakistan’s ISI sleuths with Sri Lankan passports and members of Karuna faction had crossed over to India and were stationed in places such as Egmore, Kolhikode and Bangalore, targeting the supporters of Eelam Tamils. It had come to light that recently, over 2,000 Islamic youths from the eastern province of Sri Lanka were trained in a Pakistan camp. The group might pose danger to India and vital installations such as power stations at Koodankulam and Kalpakkam. Sri Lanka seemed to be getting closer to China and Pakistan.

Dr. S.Ramadoss, founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi, [Toilers party] the PMK, uttered the above and urged the Centre to order Sri Lanka to immediately end the war. If the latter did not do so, it should withdraw its naval ships, satellites, surveillance aircraft and the technical hands from the island nation, he added.

‘Save the innocent Eelam Tamils’ campaign was started in Tamilnadu by the Communist Party of India. The Marxists never interfered in Lankan issue but tacitly supported the governments and showed no sympathy for rebels. Marxism itself is based on revolution with a blend of terrorism, as Mao said, "Power comes out of the barrel of a gun." Look at the history how the Leninists in Russia, Maoists in China and Nepal, and the JVP here killed and tortured pro Government elements and the innocent civilians. The word revolution in the 19th centaury gradually became terrorism in the 20th centaury.

Compared to CPM- Communist Party - Marxist [pro China], CPI- Communist Party of India [pro Russia] is weaker in Tamilnadu and nation wide. Therefore it was natural for CPI’s Tamilnadu unit, headed by its State Secretary T.Pandyan, to take up the Eelam cause. But Pandyan rejected that CPI’s support to Eelam Tamils were not a political Manoeuvre. "It is a shame to think about forming political alliance over the dead bodies of Eelam Tamils" he added. Yet it is to be noted here that the CPM plays mild on Lankan issue and not that boisterous like the CPI.

If India had a nuclear deal with China or Russia, instead of US, the Communists would have supported. Now having broken the Congress alliance they are in negotiation with Jayalalitha. But last week Jayalalitha wooed the Congress saying, "Those who will come with us will gain and those who will not be with us will lose." Doesn’t "Amma" talk like Jesus Christ from Mount Hermon? But such alliance is unlikely.

The band wagon brought by Pandyan to Mount Road [Anna Salai today] was readily occupied by Tiger friendly politicians like Vaiko who has ruined his political career for his affection for the terrorists, Thirumavalavan, a young firebrand and a Dalit based party leader, Dr.S. Ramadoss, a medical doctor turned maverick politician, and Nedumaran, LTTE’s foster father in Tamilnadu.

Before forming PMK [1999], Dr. S. Ramadoss previously worked with Vanniyar Sangham [Vanniyar Association] a caste based violent movement like Shiv Sena of Mumbai. Cutting road side trees to block traffic, and placing head on railway tracks were their common way of protest in the early days. His political Mantra was - he should have his own way, or he goes to highway. At one stage he advocated the bifurcation of a Vanniyar cast state where he could become the Chief Minister.

Dr.Ramadoss is an over ambitious and unprincipled politician. His political antic was appreciated by none out of his community. On every election he see-sawed between the ADMK and the DMK, openly announcing that he would join the one who gives even one seat more than the other. That way he was a seat beggar.

For years he promised that none from his family would follow him in politics. But he snapped ties with Jayalalitha in 2001, for she refused to allocate a Rajya Sabha seat to his son Dr. Anbumani, an alumnus of Madras Medical College. Consequently, he joined hands with Karunanithi only after ensuring that his son was accommodated in the Rajya Sabha.

Westernised Dr. Anbumani, [41] played a major role in selecting the party candidates for the last Lok Sabha election and vigorously campaigned for them. The PMK won all the six seats allocated to them in the Congress-DMK alliance and Dr.Anbumani became the Minister of Health through Rajya Sabah. Anyone who questions his authority or grumbles about family politics in the party is either sidelined or thrown out. Such is the hold of Anbumani over the organization. He is indeed the future face of the party.

Lately, Dr.Ramadoss started a movement to save Tamil, which is readily salable in Tamil Nadu. He began with the movie industry by asking them to name movies only in Tamil. This also followed by some rallies and protests that brought conflict with actors like Vijaykanth and actress Kushbu. Both the doctors are accused of playing petty politics against top film personalities like Rajinikanth, smoking cigarettes in Tamil films while targeting Sharukh Khan for drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes in Hindi movies.

Last week Dr.Ramadoss said he had no links what so ever with the LTTE, knew no body there but fight for the innocent Tamil civilians trapped in the war only. Well, his party has a unique position in Indian politics as the one that made a resolution at the party’s high-level executive committee and general council meetings, presided over by Dr. S. Ramadoss, that the Central Government should not allow any other country to replace Norway as a peace negotiator in Lanka’s ethnic conflict.

Few of his party functionaries in the past were guests of functions held in Europe and North America by Tiger sympathizers. Did PMK Men talk about the civilian plight there which did not exist at that time, or glorify the Eelam struggle and praise the Sun God? Further, the ‘Makkal TV’ owned by PMK signed an agreement with LTTE sponsored Tharishanam TV to telecast selected Makkal TV programmes in Tharishanam and vise versa. Do we need further proof for PMK’s link with the LTTE?

Now Dr.Ramadoss, having failed in his numerous attempts to bring a ceasefire [after the air attack on 20th that looked like the last will of the LTTE, a ceasefire seems to be not possible even if the entire Tamilnadu goes on self immolation] to give a breathing space to his ardent brother, has turned his gun against Lankan Muslims and Pakistan. His bombastic speech that spies from Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s ISI are housed in the Buddhist temple opposite to Egmore railway station in Chennai is vituperative and puts the innocent Buddhist pilgrims, in and out of this Kenneth lane Vihara, and Lankan Muslims youths who roam about Egmore on business, at risk. Also his remarks will jeopardize the welfare of Tamilnadu Muslims too.

Pro Tiger politicians in Tamilnadu have been making baseless allegations. Well known Gopalsamy s/o Vaiyapuri alias Vaiko said last month that the Indian Government had sent 3,000 troops to assist Sri Lankan forces. May we ask him by which ship and at what port they arrived in Lanka? Is Vaiko repeating the BBC news of 10th October 1987? Inciting students to participate in demonstration is against law, but Vaiko does. Last week actor Vijaykanth said on stage, "Sri Lanka had Two Crores Tamils before" [20 million]. These are the people who want Tamilnadu’s mantle.

On the 21st instant when Nedumaran was questioned by SunTV about people’s protest in Jaffna for LTTE to release the civilians in Vanni, he said it was Sinhala government news, as if no such protest ever happened. Also he repeatedly said that India was the mother land to Lankan Tamils. Ever any Jaffna man said that before 1983? What is his answer to the allegation by the civilians that the LTTE carders fired at them when they fled to escape from them?

Today Tamilnadu is burning [as LTTE wanted] with shoot at sight order as the ceasefire demand to ‘Save the innocent Eelam Tamils’ has gone out of hand. In fact, it is the LTTE, like a shepherd driving his sheep, drove the people along with them as they lost territory after territory. This was the case in Jaffna in 1995 when they retreated to Vanni. Like in Israel they never took any steps to protect the civilians from aerial attacks.

Now Sri Lanka expressed willingness to accept India’s assistance in evacuating civilians. If the LTTE genuinely cares for the safety of the civilians, they should release them and continue their fight if they are still capable. Plight of the civilians is deplorable. Nadesan’s statement that ‘our people like to be with us’ is humbug. If the LTTE doesn’t, supporters of Eelam Tamils must demand the Tigers to do so. So far no such request was raised. Otherwise, it will be proved to the world that the LTTE held civilians for their own protection and all those demonstrations in India and emotional speeches made by pro LTTE leaders would be taken as being tantamount to save the Leader not people.

Sour not sweet news it will be to Dr. Ramadoss, whose election symbol is Mango.

February 22, 2009

Collective rituals spur support for suicide attacks: researchers

Re­li­gion plays a role in su­i­cide bomb­ings—but it’s col­lec­tive wor­ship, rath­er than lev­el of de­vo­tion, that fos­ters sup­port for such deeds, a new study con­cludes.

The anal­y­sis found that among Mus­lims and Jews sur­veyed in the Mid­dle East, how of­ten people at­tended a house of wor­ship better pre­dicted their back­ing for su­i­cide at­tacks than did pray­er fre­quen­cy.

Su­i­cide at­tacks—today most of­ten as­so­ci­at­ed with acts against Amer­i­cans or Is­raelis by Mus­lims—seem to be one as­pect of a wid­er phe­nom­e­non in which col­lec­tive re­li­gious rit­u­al fos­ters a mind­set known as pa­ro­chi­al al­tru­ism, ac­cord­ing to psy­chol­o­gists. Pa­ro­chi­al al­tru­ism is a com­bina­t­ion of neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes to­ward an­oth­er so­cial group and sac­ri­fice for one’s own.

Su­i­cide at­tacks would be an ex­treme form of pa­ro­chi­al al­tru­ism, said the psy­chol­o­gists who con­ducted the stu­dy, from the New School for So­cial Re­search in New York and the Uni­ver­s­ity of Brit­ish Co­lum­bia. And when forms of pa­ro­chi­al al­tru­ism oth­er than su­i­cide at­tacks were con­sid­ered, the re­search­ers found many cul­tures and re­li­gions fol­lowed the pat­tern iden­ti­fied in the Mid­dle East.

The scientists proposed that col­lec­tive re­li­gious rit­u­als and ser­vic­es cre­ate a sense of com­mun­ity among par­ti­ci­pants and thus en­hance ad­mir­ation for pa­ro­chi­ally al­tru­is­tic acts. But “only in par­tic­u­lar geopo­lit­i­cal con­texts” do su­i­cide at­tacks arise from this, the sci­en­tists wrote in the study, which ap­pears in the jour­nal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors sur­veyed Pal­es­tin­ian Mus­lims about their re­li­gious at­ti­tudes, in­clud­ing how of­ten they prayed and went to mosque. They found that de­vo­tion to Is­lam, as meas­ured by pray­er fre­quen­cy, was un­re­lat­ed to sup­port for su­i­cide at­tacks. But fre­quen­cy of mosque at­tend­ance did pre­dict sup­port for the as­saults.

In a sep­a­rate sur­vey of Pal­es­tin­ian Mus­lim uni­ver­s­ity stu­dents, the re­search­ers found again that those who at­tended mosque more than once a day were more likely to be­lieve Is­lam re­quires su­i­cide at­tacks than less fre­quent at­ten­dees.

The re­search­ers said they ob­tained par­al­lel re­sults from phone sur­veys of Is­rae­li Jews liv­ing in the West Bank and Ga­za. In this case, par­ti­ci­pants were asked about syn­a­gogue at­tend­ance, pray­er habits and wheth­er they would sup­port a per­pe­tra­tor of a su­i­cide at­tack against their Pal­es­tin­i­an foes.

The psy­chol­o­gists al­so sur­veyed mem­bers of re­li­gious ma­jor­i­ties in six na­tion­s—Mex­i­can Catholics, In­do­ne­sian Mus­lims, Is­rae­li Jews, Rus­sian Or­tho­dox, Brit­ish Protes­tants and In­di­an Hin­dus—to see if the rela­t­ion­ship be­tween at­tend­ing re­li­gious ser­vic­es and sup­port for acts of pa­ro­chi­al al­tru­ism held up. These re­sults al­so in­di­cat­ed sup­port for pa­ro­chi­al al­tru­ism was re­lat­ed to at­tend­ance at re­li­gious ser­vic­es, but un­re­lat­ed to reg­u­lar pray­er, the sci­en­tists found.

[Courtesy: Association for Psychological Science & world-science.net]

Performance of LTTE pilots was like the ghost visiting Fazackerley

by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

The air raid by the LTTE that took place on Friday evening was an extraordinary event, with an added human interest inasmuch as it happened while the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights was entertaining Sir John Holmes to dinner. Sir John, like Colonel Fazackerley in the poem of that name, was magnificiently calm throughout the episode, while SMS alerts proliferated around the table.

Fazackerley in the poem is a colonel who is visited by a ghost while having dinner in a castle he has just bought. The ghost howls and rattles his chains but the colonel calmly continues with his meal, while telling the ghost that he really should not make such a nuisance of himself. The ghost, who had successfully frightened all previous tenants, gets more and more upset, but there is nothing he can do. If I recollect aright he finally vanishes up the chimney and is never heard of again.

The poem seemed particularly apposite since, apart from the horror of some people being killed, and more injured, the performance of the pilots, as surrogates for Mr Prabhakaran, was rather like that of the ghost. Ghosts, it should be noted, are generally frightening creatures, and the damage that might have occurred should not be dismissed lightly. After all it was a considerable achievement to have got two planes airborne from a small patch of jungle, to have flown them all the way to Colombo, and to have done much damage to the Inland Revenue Building with one of them.

But this certainly was not an embarrassment to the government of Sri Lanka, as one media outlet claimed, suggesting that it gave the lie to the government claim that the LTTE was almost finished. On the contrary, had it not been for the dead and wounded, one would have almost thought it was a performance the government had ordered, to make crystal clear what it has continuously asserted, that the LTTE is still a force for terror, and that we cannot relax.

The forces have almost wholly destroyed the pretensions of the LTTE to being an orthodox fighting force, and that is just as well, since they have for years been pretending to be precisely that, with a ‘national’ army and navy and police force and most recently an air force. They engage in formal training and, though this includes barbarous rituals, there is a veneer of orthodoxy about this training, even of children, that has taken in a number of gullible foreigners, in addition to the more gullible members of the diaspora who continue to fund what they think is the core of a future nation.

That game is now over and, if the President pursues swiftly his vision of a united pluralistic Sri Lanka, it is not likely to start again. But, as government has never hesitated to declare, the sudden surprise attacks of a ruthless and efficient terrorist outfit will not be got rid of so easily. That is why our security system has to be tight, that is why we still need our forces to maintain the vigilance and care that has lessened but not eliminated horrendously destructive acts. In that respect, the air raid was an object lesson for Sir John of the importance of security also in the Welfare Villages in Vavuniya where, amongst thousands of poor abused civlians finally escaping to freedom, there may lurk one or two suicide bombers, waiting to pounce. And even one suicide bomber is one too many, so we absolutely must take every precaution to prevent the type of slaughter that took place on February 9th, when women and children who thought they were on the threshold of freedom were killed by a woman who pretended to be like them, escaping from Tiger control into the safe haven of government territory.

The precautions we have taken, which should under no circumstances be reduced at this crucial stage, have however lessened the destruction that Tiger ingenuity had for so long perpetrated. And even the episode of the planes was in retrospect rather like the last rattling of his chains by the castle ghost, the damp squib with which the two planes exploded indicating that the ghost’s luck is fading. It may only have been good fortune that prevented the planes destroying an air force building, or the airport, but as it happened the destruction of some floors of the Inland Revenue Department building could not have brought much joy to Tiger hearts. After all that skilful flying over jungle and sea coast and city, a few tax files cannot be seen as feathers in the caps of the latest human sacrifices to the desperation of the ghost.

But a few more civilians have died, and sadly we know that the ghost will continue to kill civilians, Tamils now, but also Sinhalese and Muslims if he has half a chance. There may be no more planes left, but we cannot be sure, and we certainly know that there are hundreds of guns and heavy weapons still in terrorist hands. Given the entrenched habits of the ghost, using any weapon that lies to hand to kill any available victim, we cannot therefore relax in our efforts until all those arms have been surrendered. We must, as previously, take all care possible to avoid civilian casualties, knowing now from what happened from January 26th onward, as indicated by the UN report of the shooting that day as coming from LTTE territory, that the Tigers will happily sacrifice civilians if there is the slightest chance of the blame falling on Sri Lankan forces.

But, as the record of the Sri Lankan forces has shown over the past few years, we know how to take care of civilians, our civilians, which is perhaps what makes this natural to us, unlike in other contemporary theatres of war. Working with that knowledge we have to make sure that the struggle against the forces of terror continues, until the ghost vanishes up the chimney, and not only Sir John but all Sri Lankans can eat and sleep and work in peace.

(Prof Rajiva Wijesinha is Secretary - General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and Secretary , Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights)

February 21, 2009

Proposed Anti-Conversion Legislation: A Road to Therocracy

By, A.R.M. Imtiyaz

The anti conversion bill, introduced by the Buddhist Jathika Hele Urumaya (JHU) in 2004, was approved in January 2009, and thus Sri Lanka’s parliament is expected to vote on the bill either in February or March, depending on the impending re-occupation of the entire Northern region.

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court in 2004 rules that the bill does not contravene the Constitution and it is arguably inconsistent with international law concerning religious freedom. The legislation with the blessing of the government by the Buddhist-Sinhala fundamentalists in Sri Lanka has raised profound concerns among the minorities, especially among Christians, a small minority of the population.

Anti-conversion legislation that alarms religious minorities states 7 years imprisonment and Sri Lankan rupees upto500, 000 ($ 4, 425) for conversion from one religion to another by using “force, fraud or allurement.” Briefly, any attempt to “persuade or influence a person to adopt another religion” would become a criminal offense and anyone convicted of offering “moral support [or] material assistance” leading to conversion could be imprisoned for up to seven years. (The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Part I: Section (I)—General Government Notifications, Ministry of Buddha Sasana. No. 1322/4-2004, January 5, 2004 at §2. (“No person shall proselytize or attempt to proselytize any other person nor shall any person aid or abet such proselytizing.”); §8(a) (1); §8(a) (2).).

The opinions flows from the minority communities confidently fear that the law will extinguish freedom of religion, expression, and association for all Sri Lankans. At the core of religious freedom, arguably, is the guarantee that one may change one’s beliefs. It is obvious that anti-conversion legislation aims to strength Buddhism, which receives foremost place in Sri Lankan society as a matter of constitutional law.

Secular forces believe this legislation as another draconian step toward curtailing human rights and another step toward building a therocracy in Sri Lanka at the expenses of weakening the interests of the group and individual rights. Liberals affirm that the Anti Conversion Bill, which is in the pipeline to pass, would be a very bad and unrealistic piece of legislation that would suppress the individual and human rights and urge the government not be a party to endorse the whims and fancies of religious fanatics and extremists. It is a credible claim that the legislation will 'seriously erode' the freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed in the constitution and sanctioned by international conventions.

It is a fact that Sri Lankan Sinhala-Buddhist ruling has a long history to contain religious minorities’ rights. Since Sri Lanka’s judiciary has often bowed to Sinhala-Buddhist pressure, as it strikingly did in the last day or so, written laws on the constitution to safeguard, will no way help to rescue minorities. In the first week of August 2003, the Sri Lanka Supreme Court, interpreting Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e) of the constitution, categorically ruled that although it was permissible under the constitution for a person to manifest, observe and practice ones religion, it does not guarantee a fundamental right to ‘propagate’ religion. The judgment was in response to a petition field by Anula Irangani Fernando against a Bill titled ‘Provincial of the Teaching Sisters of the Holy Cross of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Menzingen of Sri Lanka (Incorporation)’.

The court concluded that clauses 3 (right to observe and practice a religion) and 5 (right to hold property) of the Bill are unconstitutional, because if a Christian organization owns property, that might induce others to convert, thus violating their freedom of religion. Clause 5 deals with the right of holding and receiving property both movable and immovable and or the power of disposing of such property. The court stated that this clause when combined with the objective of observance and practice of a religion or belief (clause 3), would necessarily result in imposing upon people who are defenseless, vulnerable or in need, improper pressure and inducement to adopt a religion or belief. This they stated would violate Article 10 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion or belief

The Supreme Court further ruled that as Buddhism is the State religion, it is unconstitutional for Christian organizations that propose to carry out proselytization of the Christian faith to be able to be incorporated under an Act of parliament. Article 9 of the constitution guarantees Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly, casts a duty upon the State to protect and foster Buddhism. The Supreme Court held that the purpose of the Ministry in question "the spread of knowledge of the Catholic religion and to impart religious, educational and vocational training to youth" (clause 3) is inconsistent with Article 9 of the constitution; and therefore denied the right of incorporation. The object of clause 3 was seen as a threat to the very existence of Buddhism.

Conversion is equally the right of the person who is sought to be converted, as such it is of no consequence to her if it is not a part of the freedom of propagation of the religious group to which conversion is made, provided she/he is not subjected to force/fraud and inducement.

On examining the legislation and the Supreme Court judgment in light of the international instruments mentioned earlier, the Bill and the judgment seem to be encroaching upon the right to freedom of religion enshrined in those documents. There is a clear guaranteeing of the right to practice, teach and adopt any religion of one's choice and it cannot be denied that the proposed legislation, in effect, seeks to curtail the same right.

Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-Buddhist dominated security forces and their paramilitaries are on the verge of re-occupying the Tamil dominated Northern island of Sri Lanka. Strong pro-Sinhala agenda has been conceived at the elite level to de-Tamilize the North, in order Sinhalanize the region with a careful political agenda of the defense colonization agendas. When that happens with the silent approval minority quisling leaders, it is very likely that the Sinhala extremists would go for the religious minorities. The Sinhala extremists would begin the institutionalized racism with the anti-conversion legislation. In actual fact, anti-conversion legislation is an abridgment of fundamental political freedoms. The Sinhala extremists care neither for the sentiments of the religious communities, nor genuine religious piety.

It is credible to believe that the successful enactment of the anti-conversion law could lead to consequences similar to those of the “Sinhala-only” policy, which was engineered by former Prime Minister S.W. R. D Bandaranayake in 1956 to woo the Sinhala sympathy.

The writer, Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz, is a political scientist from Sri Lanka, currently attached to the Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA.



In November 2002, Mr. Maheshwaran, former Hindu Cultural Affairs Minister, who was brutally assassinated allegedly by a group attached to the ruling Sinhala class, made a visit to Tamil Nadu, one of five states in India with anti-conversion laws. On his return to Sri Lanka, Maheshwaran made a public statement vowing to introduce a bill in parliament to curb religious conversions. In subsequent months, Maheshwaran repeated his intentions to introduce the bill to parliament.

A draft bill closely modeled on the Tamil Nadu anti-conversion law was prepared, leading to increased attacks on Christian churches in the following months.

According to Don Asoka Wijewardena, (“Anti-conversion laws within 60 days” Sunday Observer at 3, 18 January 2004) the proposed anti-conversion laws were drafted by a special multi-religious committee appointed by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe in agreement with the former President Chandrika Banaranaike Kumaratunga. Prior to the dissolution of the Sri Lankan parliament in February 2004, Minister of Justice, Legal Reforms, National Integration and Buddha Sasana, W.J.M. Lokubandara stated that the act would come into effect within the next 60 days.). The JHU monks July 21, 2004 submitted a bill in Parliament seeking to outlaw religious conversions based on offers of cash or other incentives. - A.R.M. Imtiyaz

The Tigers’ ticking time bomb

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Velupillai Prabhakaran is about to be defeated but he has left a time bomb hidden in plain sight which must be defused if he is not to wreak a posthumous revenge. This is the time bomb placed under a strategic four lane intersection, that between the Sinhalese and the Tamils and Sri Lanka and the world. The time bomb can be seen in the epidemic of demonstrations by the Tamil Diaspora and the statements critical of Sri Lanka that flood the international media. Prabhakaran is hoping that the time bomb will go off in time to save him, his army and his project. It is unlikely to do so, though we must not take that for granted and must crush the LTTE before external political trends especially those in the neighborhood, turn hostile. However, even if we defeat the LTTE militarily before the external turns unpropitious, we still have to defuse the time bomb.

Things become clearer when we think back to Prabhakaran’s great gamble which has failed (or his Strategic Miscalculation as Shanaka Jayasekara put it in a thoughtful recent piece). Having milked the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration dry, Prabhakaran pulled out of peace talks in April 2003, and submitted a maximalist proposal – the ISGA - which was bound to politically weaken the UNP. He was geared up, by his own public admission, to go to war in 2004, except that the tsunami forced its postponement. As the Human Rights Watch report of late 2005 revealed, he was collecting funds for The Final War, as it was billed in Diaspora circles.

Well, it certainly is proving to be the Final War for Prabhakaran. His apologists and weak-kneed Sinhala critics, who forewarn – the former, gleefully the latter gloomily-about an unending or subsequent war, simply have not grasped that a Final War is just that: once you’ve upped the stakes, you either win or lose and there are no second chances. Prabhakaran fought the Final War and has lost it or is about to. There will be no other. The Final War doesn’t become the penultimate war or just one more war or the less than final war simply because the side that was supposed to win it lost and the side that was supposed to lose it, won. As for romantic notions that a war isn’t over until memory fades, just ask the Serbs or the Chechens: once you’ve lost a war, you’ve lost it. “Gone Baby Gone” as Denis Lehane put it. Memories of the US Civil War remained in myth and song among the Southern whites (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”) for decades if not a century, but the war was long over, lost and won, done.

Prabhakaran sabotaged the election campaign of Ranil Wickremesinghe (who in his manifesto had promised to explore the Oslo understanding on federalism) having assassinated Lakshman Kadirgamar, because he preferred a Sri Lankan administration that would be or could be isolated internationally. What he failed to assess was the tremendous domestic mobilization effort that the populist-nativist administration of his “choice” was able to put in; a mobilization that has almost swamped Prabhakaran militarily. He completely overestimated his own military strength and prowess; an overestimation rooted in the Jaffna Tamil sense of superiority and racist underestimation of the Sinhalese (and also the North Indians, if one recalls the propaganda and hatreds of the IPKF days).

Let’s face it: they hate us. The bulk of the Tamil Diaspora hates us Sinhalese and this country, Sri Lanka . Their consciousness is almost pathological. They are racists and fanatics, among whom there are those who set themselves on fire. The hatred of Tamils the world over can be managed if only we unpack the problem and address its components. The 80 million Tamils that Prabhakaran appealed to in his last two Mahaveera day speeches can be disaggregated into four categories or groups:

1. The Tamils of the North and East, and outside those provinces but on the island of Sri Lanka , i.e. Sri Lankan Tamils

2. The Tamils of Tamil Nadu

3. The Tamils of the Western Diaspora

4. The Tamils of older immigrant origin in other parts of the world such as Malaysia , Mauritius and South Africa .

The key resides in Sri Lanka . If we are able to satisfactorily address the disaffection of the Tamils in Sri Lanka , the we can begin to make inroads into Tamil opinion elsewhere. Just as Home Rule of the 1920s split the Irish republicans between those who accepted it and those extremists who thought it a sell-out, Tamil nadu and the Tamil Diaspora will find themselves internally demarcated between realists and irrationalists; pragmatists and fanatics. At worst, even if this does not happen, Sri Lanka can ignore the Tamil Diaspora and manage Tamil Nadu, if the Sri Lankan Tamils are in the main, integrated. If the Tamil Diaspora insists that nothing short of a confederation or federalism can satisfy Tamil aspirations they are welcome to negotiate such a solution within Canada or wherever they are, or they can migrate to the only quasi-federal Tamil linguistic region in the world, Tamil Nadu.

However, we can take this stand only if we occupy the high ground. That high ground consists of the elimination of all forms of discrimination and privilege, and the coming into being of a society where all men and women have equal rights and equality of opportunity, together with adequate space for a measure of self government in the areas where they and their culture preponderate.

What does this mean concretely? For the Sinhalese it means implementing the 13th amendment that has been part of our Constitution for over two decades. “13 Plus”, emanating from the APRC, may require step by step implementation. The 13th amendment simply has to be activated fully and swiftly, perhaps with an interim or transitional arrangement until the election can be held in the North. For the Tamils this means acceptance that the 13th amendment is the start line and that the ceiling is maximum devolution within a unitary framework (as in the UK , China , Turkey , the Philippines , etc), while the modes of politics are strictly systemic: elections and the courts. Though legal, legitimate and understandable, the history of the Federal Party shows that nonviolent agitation in an ethnically polarized context soon triggers violence -- and is thus imprudent.

The Sri Lankan crisis today is a multiple one. One of its aspects is a failure to communicate. We just do not know how to talk to each other or to the outside world. The recent election results show that the President’s appeal has moved beyond the Sinhala Buddhist to the Sinhala as a whole and even wider, to the multi religious (Catholic majority areas in the Puttalam district), multiethnic and multi cultural. The fold-up of the Opposition (25-30% is a vastly diminished base vote) shows that the UNP is becoming representative of an enclave or antibody that cannot communicate with or even comprehend the sentiments of the large majority, the mainstream, which is nationalist. That mainstream is flanked by two minority enclaves, one large r than the other: the urban/UNP and the “class struggle” JVP. For its part the political and ideological representatives of that national and nationalist mainstream do not know how to communicate with the urban classes who are absolutely imperative for economic growth and prosperity. This disjunction is tolerable at the moment because the world economic downturn makes tight integration with the world economy less than imperative, indeed an unwise option. Thus Sri Lanka experiences the class struggle as a cultural Cold War and a mutual failure of social communication.

That failure is a multi-vector one. The smaller enclave can communicate with the outside world and the outside world communicates with it. In short the UNP and its anti-war civil society allies produce politically for an “export market” and a domestic “niche market” which is a silly thing to do in a competitive electoral marketplace. The SLFP wins because its political product is for a national mass market, which is sensible as an electoral option. However, the national mainstream’s failure in communicating with the outside world and the international community’s failure to communicate with the national/ist mainstream is a loss for both, and diminishes the prospect of an enlightened reformist outcome of our crisis.

The populist nationalist “pro-war” bloc is as organic as the Oppositional –NGO “antiwar” bloc is inorganic. The organic character of the nationalist bloc is the secret of its domestic political and military success, while the inorganic nature of the Opposition is the secret of its failure. Is its organic character also the secret of the external limitations of the pro-war patriotic bloc? That this is not inevitable is best evidenced by Cuba . But is it that, unlike the Cubans, the nationalists are culturally self-referential, or that our mainstream culture is self-referential? Have we as a country lost our capacity to communicate effectively in the outside world? Have we lost our voice or simply unlearnt the language? This is why History may judge Prabhakaran’s assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar as one of the two most damaging blows he dealt Sri Lanka , equal to or perhaps surpassing the murder of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Sri Lanka does not have to live besieged, but it will unless we prudently yet generously address the question of building a nation while reconciling ethnic identities. Simply put, the question is this: are we ready to follow up our well deserved and hard earned military victory with reconciliatory reform, or are we not? Do we have the wisdom to avoid Prabakharan’s sin, of overweening and ultimately false pride, of what the Ancient Greeks called hubris? If the answer is no, then our fate will be isolation and social division, driving away or repelling our most educated; a fate which deprives us of the chance to fulfill our potential as a country. Fulfilling that potential requires unleashing the richness of our cultural diversity while forging a new unity. Many commentators rediscovering Donne have cautioned that “no man is an island”, but my old man Mervyn de Silva said it best when, extending the Metaphysical poet’s metaphor he warned snugly and smugly insular Sri Lankans that “no island is an island either”, noting in his last essay that “in this Age of Identity, ethnicity walks on water”.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer.)

Sri Lanka's MIAs - present grief, future fear

By Mark Magnier

Reporting from Kuliyapitiya, Sri Lanka -- The white tattered strips line the main road to Kuliyapitiya, hanging off telephone poles and fence posts, each one signifying another funeral, another loss, another hole punched in the heart of a family. A few miles away, in the center of town, ribbons of another sort decorate the chest of a commando at a recruiting post working to impress a group of teenage boys.

Goverment 'war against the Tamils' poster

[in Dambulla-pic by Steve Weaver]

A recent surge by the Sri Lankan army, boosted by an aggressive expansion of its forces, has prompted the government to predict that victory is just around the corner in its 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger rebels who have sought to carve out a homeland in the north and east of this island nation.

Amid the rising euphoria, however, some question whether these hardened fighters will go away that easily, whether the human toll will really end, whether the white ribbons will stop fluttering at every turn.

Sri Lanka has paid a huge price, in economic loss, social and political strain, destroyed infrastructure and human lives, for its long civil war. Almost everyone in this nation of 20 million has been touched.

But it's the rice and coconut-growing areas such as Kuliyapitiya district with its 150,000 population that have paid the highest toll. The government's all-volunteer army has found fertile ground for recruiting in rural areas where job prospects are limited and the army offers adventure, a uniform and a decent paycheck of about $200 a month. "Join the winning side," says a nationwide radio advertisement.

Recently, funerals in these parts have been running about two or three a week, said Chandana Bulathsinhala, an aide to the local opposition lawmaker, adding steadily, relentlessly, to the area's estimated 5,000 casualties since the war's inception -- a staggering one in 30 people.

Bulathsinhala estimates that 99% of the recruits sign up for economic reasons, with many schoolchildren now wanting to be soldiers rather than doctors or lawyers.

"War is always cruel, but the media has promoted good war news, so more people are encouraged to join," he said.

As families in the community confront the human toll, the war machine continues to draw in new recruits. At the Kuliyapitiya Urban Council complex in town, a bus ringed with loudspeakers and posters of fighting men lures new enthusiasts.

"When you come to the interview, bring your stuff and be ready to go," advises a nearby poster showing a soldier in a Rambo-style pose.

A few miles away, Kusuma Gunawardana sits on a hard bed trying to make sense of it all, a cat curled at her side, tears running down her worn face. Her son, a soldier in the Sri Lankan army, has been missing since mid-January. Nationwide, the missing number in the thousands, the result of desertions, front lines that have shifted repeatedly and dense jungle that can decompose a body in rapid order.

Nor is she sure she can believe what the government news channels say. Her older son, also in the army, told her the situation is often significantly different from the rosy images beamed on the channels. She just wants her family back. "I can't think about what happened to my son," she said. "I believe he's still alive."

Down the road, Jayantha Perera, 33, has doubts about a quick end to the war, but for different reasons. It's been going on so long that to him the wrapping-up seems too fantastic. As he talks in a living room decorated with a military calendar and the family's foot-powered sewing machine, he remembers the pride he felt when his older brother Samantha left for the war.

Samantha hasn't been heard from in more than a decade and is presumed dead, one of the 4,000 soldiers and 12,000 Sri Lankan civilians and fighters with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam missing in the war, according to estimates by the Assn. of War Affected Women, a civic group based in the city of Kandy.

As he talks, Perera's aging father suddenly erupts into a wail of grief. It happens two or three times a day, Perera says; he's been on a downward slide since his son's disappearance. The family no longer keeps pictures of Samantha around, except for one fading shot of his regiment, to avoid upsetting his father even more.

Farther down the back roads of the community, posters glorify those who died as placards urge citizens to donate blood, using pictures of neighbors who have already signed up and shipped out as an incentive. "Brother you have not died, you bloom as a flower among us," reads a poster marking the death of a commando who died recently at Elephant Pass.

A few feet from the commando with a chestful of ribbons, Koolitha Manchanayaka, 19, waits by the recruiting bus talking to friends after signing up. The teenager is accompanied by his father and a cousin and is ready to fulfill a dream he's had since he was 17.

His parents were reluctant to let him go, he said, but he eventually persuaded them after promising to be careful. For added security, he wears a pirith cord, a string worn around the wrist, blessed by monks at a nearby Buddhist temple.

Sure, there is a risk that he will be captured or killed, he said. "It could happen to anyone, but I'm not scared," he said, his eyes alight with excitement. "This is the right time to go. If I'm not involved at this decisive time, there's no point."

The military added 40,000 recruits in each of the last two years, said Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, to reach the current 180,000 level for the armed forces.

Those with missing family members receive a death settlement after one year of about $750 for single soldiers and $1,500 for married, along with other pension and insurance payouts.

Laborer K.G. Salen Fernando, 63, of Galkapuyaya village, said his family didn't receive anything from the government when his son disappeared 17 years ago.

A decade or so back, the family finally conceded that their boy wasn't coming back, he said. But without ever seeing his body, the realization was very difficult to accept. "He died for the sake of the country, so I'm proud," the father said, through a toothless jaw. "But they didn't even give us 5 cents. We'd be happy if they paid us something."

Visaka Dharmadasa, the founder of the Assn. of War Affected Women, said the disappearance of one of her sons eight years ago was the catalyst for starting the group, which aims to make the government and the International Committee of the Red Cross more accountable on MIA issues.

The association now numbers 2,000 members. Even though it's been nearly a decade since she last saw her missing son, she said she still waits expectantly. "There's always hope," she said. "It's not going to help anyone when you deny the existence of a person."

Gunawardana's agony is still fresh, as she reflects on Tamil mothers on the other side who must be experiencing some of the same pain.

"In the north, they're going through the same suffering we have," she said. "We are running out of boys in this country. We don't need a war with the north to lose more children." [courtesy: LA Times]

Murugathasan Had Only Himself to Burn

by Sam Jones

His life had taken him from the northern tip of Sri Lanka to a pebble-dashed semi in north-west London and finally to a cold square in Geneva. But it is for his death that the 26-year-old Tamil, Murugathasan Varnakulasingham, is likely to be remembered.

A little after eight o'clock last Thursday night, the computing graduate and part-time Sainsbury's shelf-stacker doused himself in petrol in Geneva and set light to his body outside the United Nations complex in the Place des Nations. Police officers rushed to try to save Murugathasan, who stood "burning like a torch", but he was too badly injured. A few metres away, they found a letter typed in Tamil and English explaining why he had chosen to die: "We Tamils, displaced and all over the world, loudly raised our problems and asked for help before [the] international community in your own language for three decades. But nothing happened ... So I decided to sacrifice my life ... The flames over my body will be a torch to guide you through the liberation path."

Seven Tamils - including Murugathasan - have burned themselves to death in the past month to protest about the treatment of their people by Sri Lanka's Sinhalese government. Most were in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, but on 14 February, another British-based Tamil allegedly tried to set himself on fire outside Downing Street, but was arrested before he could do so.

The wave of suicidal demonstrations has been provoked by the Sri Lankan government's latest attempt to crush the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE). In an attempt to end the country's 30-year civil war, Colombo has dispatched 50,000 troops to the north-east of the island. However, the offensive has left 200,000 civilians trapped between the two sides, and some estimates say 40 civilians are being killed each day. Both sides stand accused of atrocities: the LTTE of using civilians as human shields and forcing people to join its ranks and the government of indiscriminate shelling and setting up internment camps for Tamils.

According to his younger brother, Velmurugan, Murugathasan had become obsessed with the suffering of the civilians and had begun to devour reports and images of what was going on in the country he left seven years ago. "He was a very emotional guy and it just made him worse. He couldn't eat and he just cried."

He added that the reports reminded his brother of the two years the family spent in a camp for displaced people in Kilinochi after the war forced them to leave their village in Jaffna. "He always worried about the people who were going through what he had gone through."

Although Murugathasan joined tens of thousands of fellow British-based Tamils on their protest march through London at the end of January, he could not shake a feeling of powerlessness. "He went to Geneva saying that he was going to participate in the protests," said Velmurugan. "He kept talking about the guys who had burnt themselves in India, saying: 'They're doing this for us. What are we doing for them?' "

But Murugathasan gave his family no hint of his intentions and they remain convinced that his suicide was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Velmurugan said: "He rang home last Monday, he sounded normal and said he would be coming back on Friday."

His brother, he added, was not a tough guy. "He was very soft. If he fell and hurt his leg, he would cry." The family learned about the death through the Tamil media and said they had had no contact with the Swiss or British authorities.

His mother, who has been inconsolable, sat weeping in the living room of the family's home in Harrow. A few feet away was a makeshift shrine with Murugathasan's picture on a table flanked by the television and stereo and surrounded by incense and flowers.

Thaya Idaikkadar, a local Labour councillor and chairman of the British Tamil Councillors and Associates, said: "He did not do this for himself or his family, he did it for his people. He was pushed into it because the media won't tell people what's going on." However, he was keen to add that Murugathasan's actions could not be condoned. "We do not support any form of suicide - our advice is that no one else should ever do what he did."

The family is now trying to plan what they think could prove to be "a small state funeral", with thousands of Tamils from all over the UK coming to pay their respects.

Velmurugan, though, is still struggling to understand what was going through his brother's mind as he stood in the Place des Nations. "Maybe he told himself: 'By losing my life I can save thousands of people.' These were the only weapons he had. He had only himself to burn." [courtesy: The Guardian, UK]

Why Aravinda de Silva was the Best Batsman of All ?

by Nirgunan Tiruchelvam

For the first century of its existence, the Taj Mahal was unknown outside India. If there was a cricketing equivalent of this monument it would be Aravinda de Silva. For much of his career, Aravinda was not recognized abroad. The World Cup victory changed that, but not enough.


[Aravinda De Silva: career in pictures-BBC]

The Indian cricket historian Ramachandra Guha has argued that Sunil Gavaskar was a superior batsman to Viv Richards. Though Viv Richards was much more destructive, he never had to face his own bowlers. Gavaskar not only faced Garner, Marshall and Holding, but he mastered them. He scored a scarcely believable 13 centuries against the feared West Indian bowlers. That is by far the highest number of centuries against the Windies, which was the leading attack of that era.

By the same token, Aravinda was a superior batsman to Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. Not many are aware that Aravinda is the top century scorer against Pakistan, the leading team of his time. As the scorer of 8 centuries against Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir, Aravinda should be placed on a pedestal.

Lara and Tendulkar never had to wallow in the darkness of playing for a minnow. So, their aggregate runs will be higher than Aravinda. But, neither of them have won the World Cup with their own bat.

The clincher in the comparison is that Aravinda vanquished the top team of his time. Sri Lanka has six test wins in Pakistan, most of them engineered by Aravinda's brillance.

I first heard whispers of Aravinda's batting in 1983, when I was 10. My coach was in awe of the merciless hitting of this tiny prodigy. Though he played for a minor school DS Senanayake MV, his batting was already the stuff of fables.

It was only in 1985, when Aravinda hit his first hundred against Pakistan that I understood why. I managed to watch the highlights on tape. There was no live coverage of the series in India, where I then lived.

He was cavalier but correct. The pint-sized Aravinda batted with an upright elbow, that ensured a straight swing of the bat. He could also play the cross bat shots with savage power.

Imran Khan was at his peak. He was fast, with an exceptionally fluid runup. Imran not only generated pace from his exaggerated jump, but he always landed the ball on its seam.

Aravinda ravaged him. Aravinda, then only 19, brought his first century by swinging him over mid-wicket. It was the first test in Faisalabad. Aravinda de Silva recalls expecting a bouncer as he neared his century in his autobiography (co-authored by Shahriar Khan):

"Sure enough, when I was on 94, a bouncer from Imran came my way. I could do nothing else but hook it for six. The ball cannoned back from the stands at about the same time Imran’s flowing locks came to rest in his follow through. He grunted a “well batted” as Asantha de Mel came down the wicket to shake my hand."

Abdul Qadir, the foremost spinner of his time, was at top of his game. The teenaged Wasim Akram could swing the ball at a rapid pace. But, Aravinda defied them. Another century followed in the series, though Sri Lanka were trounced 2-0.

Later in mid 1986, I caught my first glimpse of Aravinda close at hand. It was at the SSC nets in Colombo. Somebody was throwing the ball to him from a distance of 10 yards. The ball must have been coming to him at 100 mph. His reflexes were quick and devastating. He had all the time in the world for his shots. The SSC nets had to be cleared because the power of the shots was a threat to the onlookers!

Like George Headley (the Black Bradman), Aravinda was burdened by the fact that he was a maestro in the weakest team. The Sri Lankan batting in those days was vulnerable and impulsive. Aravinda stood out. He was not just a gifted batsman, but he had the gall.

George Headley averaged 60 in his test career, but like Aravinda he was often on the losing side. Aravinda and Headley careers are distinguished by the contrast between their batting prowess and their team's stature.

Like the West Indies in its first decades of test cricket, Sri Lanka played infrequently. They were treated like poor relations.

The poor relation conquered cricket's Mount Everest by winning the 1996 World Cup. There was only one result possible when Aravinda arrived at the fall of the first wicket. I vividly remember his trance-like concentration on that night.

He opened his scoring with perfect on-drive for 3. His footwork was nimble against Shane Warne. Warne huffed and puffed, but went wicketless. It was his stroke play against McGrath pin-point accuracy that sealed the match.

Soon after the 1996 World Cup, I got to know Aravinda. He was always courteous and humble. He spoke with a soft voice, that was completely unlike his batting.

Perhaps, the most fitting compliment given to Aravinda was by the physiotherapist Alex Kontouri. Kontouri was the Sri Lankan physio for many years and is now with the Australians. He said that "Aravinda is my best friend in the world and also the best batsman in the world".

Highest Number of Centuries against Pakistan:

Centuries Against Pakistan and Highest Score Against Pakistan
Aravinda de Silva 8 & 168
Alan Border 6 & 153
Greg Chappell 6 & 235
Rahul Dravid 5 & 270
Sunil Gavaskar 5 & 166
Polly Umrigar 5 & 117
Mohinder Amarnath 4 & 120
Ken Barrington 4 & 148
Ian Bell 4 & 119
Sanath Jayasuriya 4 & 253

Protection of children must be the first priority - Radhika

New York, 20 February 2009 - “The protection of civilians, especially children, must be the first priority in the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka and both sides must act accordingly,” said Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must release the civilians to safety, especially the children. The Government must be more circumspect with regard to artillery fire and aerial bombardment to avoid civilian casualties. “Images of children killed, maimed and wounded from the Vanni area of Sri Lanka are truly disturbing”, said Ms. Coomaraswamy.

“Forced collective suicide is an option that cannot be tolerated”, the Special Representative added. The LTTE has a moral obligation to save the lives of children in its custody. Recruiting young children as combatants for almost certain death is a despicable strategy. The Government for its part must realize that these children are citizens of Sri Lanka and even if saving them requires a military strategy of forbearance, it is essential that their lives are protected.

The international community has a duty to work with the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that the treatment of internally displaced children meets international standards. Child soldiers must be rehabilitated and not punished.

News reports of IDPs languishing in camps in Mannar for over a year while new camps are being built gives cause for concern. “We hope that the present policy of resettling IDPs as soon as possible will be implemented fully and that they can exercise their freedom of movement,” concluded Ms. Coomaraswamy.

Plight of trapped civilians continues to worsen

by Shanie

The plight of the trapped civilians continues to worsen, despite denials by the contending parties. A few thousands have managed to limp away from the conflict zone and into government-controlled areas in the Vavunya district. The rest, some tens of thousands, continue to remain in the shrinking LTTE-controlled areas in and around Puthukudiyiruppu. There can be little doubt that, given a free choice, nearly all of them would opt to move into conflict-free area where their lives are not at risk. In the current context, it only means being placed by the Government in what are termed ‘welfare villages’ but which in reality are open prisons. Once placed inside, they cannot come out, not even to visit or move into the homes of friends or relatives.

While those in these camps continue to suffer trauma and indignity, the plight of those trapped in the LTTE held areas is infinitely worse. Their very lives are on the line. They lack adequate food and clean water and medical facilities are virtually non-existent. The LTTE contemptuously uses them as human shields with no concern for their welfare or safety. It is reported that the LTTE continues to conscript children in their last ditch do-or-die battles. While not all the stories attributed to the escaping civilians may have credibility, there seems to be pattern in some of the stories. When the LTTE cadres confront escaping families, their violence seems to be specifically targeted against families who refuse to allow their young children to be recruited into the ranks of the LTTE. But not all have the strength to confront the LTTE and many are compelled to succumb.

These civilians, nearly all of whom would prefer to lead violence-free lives and earn a livelihood to keep and support their families, are trapped between the two contending forces, neither of whom seem to consider the safety of the civilians as a priority. Civil society leaders and international humanitarian agencies have reacted with horror at the helplessness of these civilians. One can understand the apologists for the Government among the Sinhala nationalists and mandarins who, for different reasons, seek to justify the lack of respect for international humanitarian laws by the Government. One can also understand the apologists for the LTTE among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and the Tamil nationalists here and in South India who condone the LTTE’s abuse of civilians. One can even understand the apparent lack of concern among most Sri Lankans because most of them are kept in the dark about the uglier side of the war. But the recent veiled apology for the Government from an expatriate historian in Professor Michael Roberts was an unpardonable shocker.

Michael Roberts and humanitarianism

Professor Michael Roberts equates the British-French strategy of an economic blockade of Germany at the beginning of World War 2 with our own situation here in Sri Lanka. Apart from the inaccuracies about the blockade (which he covers up by referring to his ‘desultory knowledge’ and attributing his information to Professor Trevor Wilson but without any quotation marks), it a shocking for a historian to equate an inter-national war with a national insurgency. Surely, Roberts cannot be unaware of the difference between an insurgency such as we had by the JVP in the south and the LTTE in the north and an inter-national war or even a civil war such as in Spain in the 1930’s and in America in the 1860’s.

The British Government fought an IRA insurgency for many years. The Catholic areas in Northern Ireland, similar to the North and East here with the LTTE being the predominant force there, were virtually under the diktat of the IRA and many areas were no-go areas for the British Army. The Catholics, perhaps rightly, viewed some actions by the British Government as discriminatory. But there was no contemplation by the British Government at any stage that there should be any economic blockade of the Catholic areas. The British Government and her officials considered all, Catholics and Protestants, as equal citizens entitled to the same rights and to the equal protection of the law. It is astonishing that Roberts should think that the provision of Government facilities in areas under LTTE control was something extraordinary. Does he honestly believe that it would have been acceptable if the Government withdrew all its officials from these areas and imposed an economic blockade? No Government worth its name would have surrendered territory in this fashion to insurgents. And no responsible citizen, except a madcap chauvinist, would have supported such action.

But back to the Anglo-French blockade in 1940. As a historian, Roberts must know, despite his self-confessed desultory knowledge, that the Anglo-French use of the weapon of blockade collapsed when they attempted to extend the blockade in Scandinavian waters and the Germans responded by capturing Norway and Denmark to secure ore supplies. Roberts must also know the blockade had long been abandoned when the French signed an armistice with the Germans in June 1940. General de Gaulle left France before the armistice and it was the British who recognised him first as ‘the leader of the Free French.’

Roberts accuses the ‘do-gooders’ cloistered in Colombo or New York of a lack of comprehension of the pragmatics of war. Their political naiveté, he says, cannot be excused. Is Roberts of the view that the only realists are those ensconced among the academia of South Australia? And of course the Sinhala supremacists in Sri Lanka.

The future of the Internally Displaced

We must continue to re-express our concern for the helpless civilians who face danger and harassment from all sides. It is difficult to accept that the civilians who are now being herded into what are euphemistically referred to as ‘welfare villages’ are in only for a short stay. If they are going to be re-settled, as Government spokespersons have stated, in their original homes within three or four months, what then is the need for building schools, banks, post offices, etc in these villages? President Rajapakse must resist the temptation to acquiesce to majoritarian supremacist agendas and prevent these civilians from returning to their places of original habitat or to settle outsiders in those areas. Instead of ensuring peace, that would be a certain recipe for continuing conflict. If sustainable peace is to achieved, not only must these civilians be re-settled as quickly as possible, within weeks or months, but also a comprehensive political settlement must be put forward. The UNP is already on record stating that such a constitutional amendment would receive their support. (It cannot be forgotten that they reneged on their commitment to President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s proposals of 2000). But a UNP-SLFP consensus is vital and President Rajapakse would be wise to follow up on the UNP’s offer.

The ‘welfare villages’ must not turn into our version of the Guantanomo Bay detention centre. President Obamo has now made the decision to close this centre but while it existed it remained a blot on US democracy. Terrorist suspects were detained without any charges being brought forward against them. In a challenge brought forward by one of the suspects two years ago, the US Supreme Court in its judgment stated, ‘Even assuming (this suspect) is a dangerous individual who would cause great harm or death to innocent civilians given the opportunity, the Executive nevertheless must comply with the prevailing rule of law.’

Sir John Holmes, who was once called, in a fit of arrogant pique, a ‘terrorist’ by one of our cabinet ministers, is now back in the country at the invitation of the Government. We trust he will be able to visit the IDP camps and the ‘welfare villages’ and that the displaced persons will be able to talk freely to him through Holmes’ own interpreters. One also hopes that President Rajapakse will receive this senior UN diplomat’s (even critical) advice in a spirit of humility as behoves a responsible Government. In dealing with humanitarian issues and with international diplomats, it is always counter-productive to exhibit boorishness.

Ethnic Polarisation

While the Government is entitled to bask in the glory of its successful win in the recent two Provincial Council Elections, an analysis of the results shows that the Government has totally failed win the support of the minorities. In fact, the results show a polarisation between the ethnic majority and the minorities. The vast majority of the Sinhala voters have voted for the candidates of the UPFA. This is perhaps the result of the war rhetoric and the media hype about the rout of the LTTE. It is a moot point if this will continue to be such a strong factor once the euphoria dies down and economic issues begin to take precedence.

But the disturbing factor, not only for the Government but also for the country, is that the Government appears to have lost the Tamil and Muslim voter. The CWC (of Thondaman) and the UPF (of Chandrasekeran) are by far the two largest Tamil parties in the Central Province. They both contested under the UPFA banner. Yet between them, they had only three members elected while the opposition UNP had six Tamil members elected. Among the Muslims, there are eight already declared elected but not one of them is from the UPFA. This surely must be a cause for concern. The Government may win the war against the LTTE but it seems to be losing the peace. This ethnic polarisation is not at all good for the country and President Rajapakse has to change direction if he is to bring about real sustainable peace in the country. [courtesy: The Island]

My trip to Vavunia IDP welfare centres

Dr Thaya Thiagarajah

Though I have been following the news about the war in Vanni, and the damages made to human lives and properties, I never thought it would be so bad until I went in person. I got a call from one of our (JDCSI) parish members from one of the interim camps saying our foster son was killed in the war. The first time I experienced the steps in grief, which I had lectured several times to my students. “No, No, it can’t be” I cried. I straightaway went to the Anglican Bishop’s office. I couldn’t control my tears when I saw Rev. Nesakumar. They told me that he was safe and is in one of those camps.

The next day I booked the seat and took the train to Vavuniya. I started early morning and reached Vavuniya in the afternoon. My foster daughter was waiting for me at the station. We straightaway went to the camp. Nobody was allowed to get into the camp.

The schools are being used as the interim camps. But they were putting up sheds which I would call tents about 5-6 meters in length. They had put barbed wires around the camps like those around the army camps. People could see those inside only from the other side of the road. The security was very tight. I went to the army person who was in charge of the camp ignoring the shouts from other soldiers, “You dare not get closer… run away, run away!”

I approached him, and spoke in English as my Sinhalese was very bad. I told him I just wanted to see my son who is a priest and that I was sure he was in that camp. He was kind enough to send word for him, but asked me to wait on the other side of the road, and said he would give me only five minutes. In ten minutes time Danny came out. He looked haggard tired and traumatized.

They had been running for their lives from place to place. The shelling was so intense that they hardly came out of the bunker. Every now and then there was bombing and gunfire. He was in charge of Karunanilayam. They had mentally handicapped inmates along with the young school going girls as well. On Sunday morning (15th Feb.2009) they had short worship service, and in the evening they had decided to leave. However they left around 1.30 a.m. I could just imagine how terrified they would have been.

Since we worked in Vanni, I could imagine the dangers they faced besides the rain of shells and bombs. They had to watch out for ‘all creatures great and small’ from elephants to poisonous snakes in the thick jungles. They walked for hours in the dark, trying not to stumble on the dead bodies of those who got killed and the parts of the limbs of the human here and there. They finally saw buses which could take them to Vavuniya. As they got into one of the buses, here comes a shell and the other bus got blasted. Fourteen of the inmates were missing he said. (Later, I heard six of them were found).

As we were waiting, luncheon packets were brought in a van. We noticed the packets looked very small for a lunch. Later I heard from a reliable person that they were expected to give a parcel of minimum 650 grams. But each parcel weighed not more than 300 grams.

As I went to the other camps, I noticed of course from the other side of the road, hundreds of men were having shower, may be for the first time after a long time. Ten showers were there in the open space and they all had to push and shove each other to get to the water. After some time the water would be stopped. I wondered how the women were going to manage! In the open space in the presence of the men and army! What would they do for toilet facilities!

The hospital visit was heart breaking. Almost all of those in the accident wards had undergone amputation. By standers were not allowed to many. The patients didn’t know where their family members were. They looked traumatized. In the nights used to scream and cry because of pain and of nightmares. Many had lost both legs, and some had lost their hands.

A pregnant mother had lost both legs and both hands, and was lamenting that the nurses should help her die. Quite a few had been paralyzed because of the severe damage done to their vertebras. I was drawn to one of the boys. His head was shaved. When I went towards him tears started to roll down his cheeks.

He had undergone surgery in the brain. He asked me whether I could find out where his father and youngest sister were. His mother and two brothers got killed. He didn’t have any one with him. “Now that I have survived, what is my future going to be like? They say they are going to transfer all of us to Trincomalee” he said. I had no answer for him except to listen to him empathetically.

Once the patients are ready to go, they would be sent to the camps. Permission was denied to those who had relatives in Vavuniya who were willing to take them. Hardly any had all their family members living. They were being sent to different places like Kinniya, Polannaruwa, Mannar etc, which means even the slightest chance of a family reunion was questionable.

A mother sat with a blank look. As they started to run, one of her children got killed. She had the guts to wait there, got the mammotty (shovel) and buried the child. She didn’t want her child’s body to be eaten by the wild animals. She didn’t cry but sure she was in the stage of dissociation. There are incidents where shells landed directly into the bunkers. I have no doubt that thousands would have got killed. Those who remain in Vanni are scared to come out for various reasons. For them getting killed is better than getting tortured.

Elsewhere in the island, especially in Colombo, the army checking has been increased. If a person has the national identity card, with the birthplace from Vanni or Mullaitevu or Kilinochchi or even Jaffna, he/she will be in trouble. Our apartment was checked thoroughly last week, and my 16year daughter’s room was checked including her wardrobe and her cupboard and she was questioned. So even if the people want to come out of Vanni, they are aware of this problem as well.

Now, what is happening here is genocide in many forms. Needless to say scattering people all over to unknown and unfamiliar places will ultimately lead to a weak population and result in damages done to our culture, education, and relationships. I can foresee a maimed Tamil generation with no hope in the future. The international community can make statements. But none will pay heed. For me the future looks dark and gloomy!

(Dr Thaya Thiagarajah, is a psycho-social consultant and also the wife of the Rt Rev Dr Daniel Thiagarajah, Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. This is a first - hand account of her experiences)

Only uninhabited island can provide beached for LTTE aircraft

by B. Raman

"The LTTE must be trying hard for mounting kamikazee type attacks on military---particularly Air Force ---targets in Colombo similar to itsraid on the SLAF base in Anuradhapura. The fact that it has not succeeded so far would indicate that the physical security for suchestablishments is strong and that the LTTE is facing shortages of the required materials for such attacks. One notices that the LTTE hasnot yet used all the weapons in its arsenal. It has apparently retained for itself an element of ultimate surprise."

---- Extract from my comments of January 1,2009, in response to a query from a Sinhalese journalist.

According to web accounts of pro-LTTE websites, two so-called Black Air Tigers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) carried outkamikazee style suicide 'dives" into the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Headquarters on the Slave Island in Colombo and into the SLAF base atKatunayaka between 9-20 and 9-45 PM on February 20,2009, killing two persons and injuring 51 others. The pro-LTTE web site Tamilnet hasreleased a photograph of the two so-called kamikazee pilots----- Col. Roopan and Lt. Col. Siriththiran---- with Velupillai Prabakaran beforethey embarked on their kamikazee mission. According to the LTTE version, the maximum number of casualties was in the Slave Island---twokilled and 45 injured. Only six were injured in the attack on the SLAF establishment at Katunayake.

2. There are no reports of either of the aircraft involved in the mission having carried explosives in order to add to the destruction effect.Whatever damage was caused was by the remaining fuel in the aircraft---- which could not have been much--- and the resulting fire. Theaircraft, which had been tasked to crash into the SLAF headquarters, actually crashed into one of the top floors of a building located in frontof the SLAF headquarters building in which the offices of the Inland Revenue Department of the Government are located. It is evident fromavailable details that heavy anti-airaft fire from the SLAF building made it difficult for the pilot to crash into the building. He, therefore,crashed his plane into the building of the Inland Revenue Department.

3. While pro-LTTE web sites have projected the crashing of a second aircraft into the SLAF base in Katunayake also as a kamikazee styleattack, the Government's version that the plane was actually shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the ground before it could reach itsintended target carries greater credibility.

4. During the current offensive in the North, the advancing Sri Lankan Armed Forces could not lay hand on the remaining LTTE arsenal atKilinochchi. The LTTE's withdrawal from Kilinochchi was pre-planned and orderly. Before the Army captured it, the LTTE managed to removefrom Kilinochchi everything that it had accumulated there, including not only its arsenal, but also the electrical and other fittings in itsoffices.

5. The LTTE's subsequent withdrawal from Mullaithivu was less orderly. It did not have the time to remove the fittings. While it managed toshift most of its arsenal, it could not move some heavy items such as artillery pieces and boats under construction. These fell into the handsof the army.
6. It managed to move well in time its aircraft holdings and its reserve of aviation fuel. Though the Army claimed to have captured from thewithdrawing LTTE all but one of the air strips, which it was suspected to be using, it could not lay hand on the aircraft and the fuel reserve.The assumption was that the area under the effective control of the LTTE having been reduced to less than 100 sq.kms, it would no longerbe able to assemble the aircraft and send them on an offensive mission without its preparations for doing so being detected by the ArmedForces. The Armed Forces must now be having their electronic intelligence (ELINT) collecting stations at Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu. If theywere functioning satisfactorily, the LTTE pilots should not have been able to assemble their planes, take off and reach Colombo.

7. The fact that they were able to do so would indicate that the ELINT capability of the SLAF is poor or that the Black Air Tigers had takenoff from a place not within the ELINT range of the SLAF stations. Such a place could be in one of the uninhabited islands in the seasbetween Sri Lanka and the Maldives group.

8. Many of the analyses on what are the options available to Prabakaran and the LTTE if and when the Army ejects the LTTE from theshrinking territory under its control have been focussing on the possibility of Prabakaran and his officers shifting to some place in S-E-Asiaor in South Africa. Even if individual leaders and officers manage to sneak in there, they would not be able to shift their remaining arms andammunition, planes, artillery pieces and other equipment there.

9. For the LTTE to be able to stage a come-back one day, it needs a beach-head out of the reach of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces where itcan re-group, re-train and re-plan and wait for an opportunity to strike back from the beach-head. The jungles in the Wanni area couldprovide such a beach-head for a small number of men with light arms and ammunition. They cannot provide a beach-head for planes andartillery units. Only an uninhabited island out of the reach of the SLAF can.

10. If one presumes for analysis sake that the LTTE planes that attacked the SLAF set-ups in Colombo must have come from an uninhabitedisland, the question would arise whether the limited fuel they would have carried could have helped them to reach up to Colombo. Since itwas a kamikazee mission, they would not have needed fuel for a return journey.

11. Whatever be the fact as established ultimately, it is important that all the uninhabited islands in the Maldives area and in theLakshadeep ( Laccadives and Minicoy) area of India are kept under effective watch to prevent the LTTE from setting up a beach-head onany of them.

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

First Take on LTTE Air raids on Colombo

By Col R Hariharan

The ability of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to shock and surprise once again came into play when two light aircraft of its air wing made a daring bid to bomb the headquarters of the Air Force in Colombo and the Katunayake air base near the capital around 9.45 PM on February 20, 2009. But unlike the LTTE's earlier six bombing raids this time the two aircraft did not return home. Both were shot down by the much maligned Sri Lankan air defence system that got into action quickly on spotting the aircraft.

The LTTE reported that the "successful" air raids were carried out by two elite Black Air Tigers Col Rooban and Lt Col Sirithiran, both decorated pilots having flown earlier bombing missions of the LTTE. The pro-LTTE TamilNet website reporting the news displayed a photograph showing the two smiling pilots standing with the LTTE chief V Prabhakaran in the middle with his arms around them. Of course, there was no smile on his face.

The army reported one of the aircraft dropped a bomb on the Internal Revenue building near Air Headquarters, but crashed between third and twelfth floors breaking into pieces. Body parts of the pilot and parts of the air craft debris have been recovered. . According to the government newspaper Daily News, 50 people injured (including two of them who died later) in the incident were admitted to a Colombo hospital.

The other aircraft on the mission to bomb Katunayake air base was hit and crashed nearby. It was later found in a badly damaged condition with the dead pilot inside the aircraft. Bombs and explosives it carried were found intact in the aircraft according to defence sources.

The air raid has come at a time when the operations weighted heavily against the LTTE so far are in the last lap. In fact, the security forces, encircling the last patch (less than 100 sq km according to defence website) northwest of Mullaittivu, reported further gains in nibbling into the LTTE territory both in the north and west of Puthukkudiyiruppu.

Though the missions appear to have failed they give some useful pointers into various aspects of the situation:

* Planning and carrying out an air raid after losing seven air strips shows that the LTTE has not lost its nerve yet. So any call to the LTTE to abandon its fight and surrender its arms is unlikely to yield any results. And that means the unwelcome baptism of fire of civilians trapped in the war zone is likely to continue. This is grim news for everyone. It also means the security forces operations will further be slowed down.

* The failure of the air raid has shown that the security forces air defence system was not lulled into complacency when the LTTE went on its last legs of fighting. This would indicate that the security forces had an inkling of residual air capacity of the LTTE as the aircraft were not recovered so far. More importantly they had factored in the possibility of the LTTE surprising them.

* One of the important question remaining to be answered is from where did the two aircraft emerge. I had written about the possibility of mothballed aircraft hidden in underground defences for future use. Apparently it was not done like that. That would indicate the LTTE had the confidence of safely taking them out and launching them on a mission, even though it might sound like its last hurrah.

* Lastly, the Vanni area east of A9 highway is saturated with troops. If the aircraft had taken off from one of the secret airstrips remaining in the jungle between the A35 Paranthan-Mullaittivu road and A32 Mankulam-Mullaittivu road it might have been detected early by troops on the ground. It is not known whether air defence got such a warning. If not, is there a secret airstrip outside the Vanni area say south of Mannar, which is lightly policed, from where they could have taken off? When the air force pieces the details together, would probably be in a better position to answer these questions in the coming days, I presume.

Even in this is the first take one thing appears to be certain. The war is not going to end so easily; so probably Karuna is correct in his assessment that it would drag on say for a year or more.

(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)

February 20, 2009

HRW: “War on the Displaced”

Army and Tigers Must End War Against Civilians says Human Rights Watch

(New York, February 20, 2009) – The Sri Lankan government should immediately cease its indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians in the northern Vanni region and its policy of detaining displaced persons in internment camps, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Since early January 2009, civilian casualties have skyrocketed in the fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The 45-page report, “War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni,” is based on a two-week fact-finding mission to northern Sri Lanka in February. The government has prohibited journalists and human rights monitors from going to the battle zone in the Vanni, making access to information difficult.

“This ‘war’ against civilians must stop,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “Sri Lankan forces are shelling hospitals and so-called safe zones and slaughtering the civilians there.”

Human Rights Watch also called on the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the war zone, stop shooting at those who try to flee to government-controlled territory, and cease deploying forces near populated areas.

Human Rights Watch said that both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE were responsible for the dramatic increase in civilian casualties during the past month – approximately 2,000 killed and another 5,000 wounded, according to independent monitors on the ground.

As the territory held by the LTTE has decreased – now a short, narrow strip on the northeast coast of the island – displaced persons under their control have been dangerously forced into a smaller and smaller space. In violation of the laws of war, the LTTE has refused to allow civilians to flee the fighting and repeatedly has shot at those who have tried to reach government-held territory. The LTTE continues to subject civilians under their control, including children, to forced recruitment and deadly forced labor on the battlefield.

“With each battlefield defeat, the Tamil Tigers appear to be treating Tamil civilians with increased brutality,” said Ross. “They’ve shot at those trying to flee and stepped up forced recruitment and forced labor.”

The Sri Lankan government has indicated that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning unlawful attacks. Sri Lankan forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas crowded with displaced persons. This includes numerous reported bombardments of government-declared “safe zones” and of the remaining hospitals in the region.

The plight of the region’s civilians has been made worse by the government’s decision in September 2008 to order most humanitarian agencies out of the Vanni. Government efforts to bring in food, medical supplies, and other relief – with a minimal role for the United Nations – have been insufficient. Continued fighting, lack of oversight, and the manipulation of the delivery of aid by government forces and the LTTE have all contributed to the continuing humanitarian crisis.

Displaced persons in the Vanni who escape to what they hope is safety within government-controlled areas are instead put in internment centers masquerading as “welfare villages” in Vavuniya and nearby locations. The displaced persons, including entire families, detained in these military-controlled, barbed-wire camps are denied their liberty and freedom of movement, Human Rights Watch said.

“All civilians who manage to escape the Tamil Tigers are held by the government in squalid military-controlled camps and hospitals with little access to the outside world,” said Ross. “The government seems to be trying its best to keep its role in their ordeal away from public scrutiny.”

The government for security reasons should be openly screening new arrivals, but it is instead secretly taking away apparent LTTE suspects to arbitrary detention or possible enforced disappearances. Impartial humanitarian agencies should be permitted to monitor the screening process.

The hospital in Vavuniya mirrors the town’s internment centers. When Human Rights Watch visited, it lacked even the most basic necessities: many of the hospital beds had no sheets, blankets, or pillows. Despite the obvious lack of capacity to attend to the needs of the wounded, the hospital personnel reportedly were instructed by the authorities not to ask for any assistance from the international agencies, and very few agencies were allowed access. Relatives have had difficulty seeing patients, and some have later been visited by the security forces.

Human Rights Watch called on both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to act immediately to stop the ongoing slaughter of civilians. Both parties should establish a humanitarian corridor and respect the laws of war. The LTTE should allow civilians to leave the war zone, and the army should stop shelling near densely populated areas, safe zones, and hospitals. Displaced civilians who reach the government side should be assisted but not interned. And the government should permit independent media and human rights organizations to go to the conflict area.

Accounts from “War on the Displaced”:

One man described shelling of the “safe zone” that came from Sri Lankan army positions on January 22:

· “There was heavy shelling, especially where people gathered – near the hospital and where the UN distributed food. People were running around, crying. There was no shelter. Some were trying to hide under trees, like animals. Two shells landed 50 meters ahead of me. I was very afraid. When I reached the place where the shells landed, I saw that one person had been injured and was being carried away. Two people were lying by the roadside, one young man and one man about 55. They were both dead and covered in blood. The shelling continued during the day. Later I heard that many people were injured and killed.”

A 35-year-old father of three described how LTTE cadres fired upon his group trying to flee to government-occupied territory:

· “Some 150 people started out together, but when we tried to leave, at Suthanthirapuruam, the LTTE tried to stop us. There was only a narrow path to leave by. The LTTE caught us. There was fighting, arguments. They were shooting at us. Many people were injured and killed. It was shocking to see. Only 65 were in my group when we came out. One father was carrying his child on his back. As they were running from the LTTE, he was holding him by the arms so hard – in order not to lose him – that he broke both of the child’s arms.”

A local resident described LTTE forced recruitment:

· “The workers were taken to the front line to dig bunkers, collect weapons from killed cadres and Sri Lankan Army soldiers, and so on. It was very dangerous for civilians – about 25 of my neighbors were killed while doing this work. They did not receive any training – the LTTE cadres fetched them from their homes and the next day brought their dead bodies back.”

A local relief worker described a visit to a government “welfare center” for displaced persons:

· “I spoke to one woman in the camp – she was crying and screaming. It turned out that her elderly mother, who had been injured and admitted to the hospital, died there on February 7. The elderly woman’s body was given to the son, who lived in Vavuniya, but her daughter was not allowed to leave the camp even to attend her mother’s funeral. She was in agony because she couldn’t pay respects to her mother.”

To read the Human Rights Watch report, “War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni,” please visit: http://www.hrw.org/en/node/80901

UNFPA: Caring for the Needs of Women Caught in Sri Lanka ’s Crisis

Full Text of Press Release:

COLOMBO, 20th February 2008 – Women and girls caught up in the ongoing warfare in northern Sri Lanka are at grave risk. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is assisting civilians who have escaped the combat area but remains greatly concerned for the health and safety of the tens of thousands who remain, particularly those who are pregnant.

Some 32,000 displaced persons have reached Vavuniya district this month; among them an estimated 700–800 are women at different stages of pregnancy. Pregnancy-related disabilities and death often rise in conflict situations when reproductive health services, including prenatal care, assisted delivery and emergency obstetric care, are disrupted and often unavailable. Many women lose access to family planning services exposing them to unwanted pregnancies in perilous conditions.

UNFPA, in cooperation with district health authorities, is supporting Vavuniya and Mannar districts by providing emergency transport for life-saving obstetric care. Surgical instruments for caesarean operations have been provided to the Vavuniya General Hospital which serves displaced women with pregnancy complications. At the same time, safe delivery kits are being distributed to pregnant women in camps for the displaced.

Mobile reproductive health clinics offering a range of reproductive health services – including prenatal and postnatal care and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV – have also been set up in these two districts. Sanitary towels and undergarments are being provided to allow women and girls of reproductive age to maintain their basic personal hygiene. UNFPA is also working closely with health authorities to ensure that camps for the displaced have separate bathing and toilet facilities for men and women and well lit paths to ensure the safety of women and girls.

“Women do not stop getting pregnant or giving birth to their babies even when on the move or when living in camps,” said Lene K. Christiansen, UNFPA’s Representative in Sri Lanka . “Being able to maintain personal hygiene is not only a matter of health but also one of individual dignity,” she noted. “We try hard to make sure that these women and girls have access to needed services”. She also emphasized that the health authorities in Mannar and Vavuniya are doing an admirable job under very difficult circumstances.

With the influx of civilians to Mannar and Vavuniya expected to continue in the coming weeks, UNFPA together with other UN agencies plans to increase its support in response to the growing needs. It seeks additional donor support for this effort as part of the United Nations Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka , launched on 18th February 2009.


UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

For more information, please contact UNFPA:
Ms. Lankani Sikurajapathy, tel. 11-2580840, mob. 77-3411614, email: sikurajapathy@unfpa.org

February 19, 2009

Tamil Expatriates Have Moral Responsibility To Make Peace Possible

by Col R Hariharan

Recently, there is a perceptible change in New Delhi as far as Sri Lanka is concerned. It is trying to clearly articulate what it can do and what it cannot. And asking Sri Lanka to enforce a ceasefire is one of the things it cannot do as stated in Parliament by Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on February 18. But that is not enough. With thousands of civilian population trapped in the war zone increasingly falling victims of a shooting war, the first thing India should be doing is to make vigorous efforts to get the trapped population out. As this is a humanitarian effort, the four co-chairs and India along with the UN should evolve a joint strategy to achieve this on a priority. Mere appeals will not do.

However, even if an international methodology is evolved, the warring sides will have to accept it. While the Sri Lanka government can be pressurised because it has legitimate national and international obligations, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a loose cannon. It might not be amenable to their effort without garnering some advantage. This is where the Tamil Nadu politicians, who have been agitating for an immediate halt to the war to save the Tamil population, can constructively contribute. All Tamil parties should jointly appeal to the LTTE to accept international effort to extricate the beleaguered population. Parties in touch with the LTTE grapevine should use these links usefully to persuade it for this purpose. That would be a visible testimony of Tamil politicians? real concern for Tamils suffering death and destruction every day as the war closes in.

This is the first thing all the stakeholders must be doing if they really want to save lives of people not fighting the war. Other rhetoric can be hyped up when the election fever heats up.

War, ceasefire and peace

There had been repeated calls for resuming negotiations between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE ever since the talks were stalled in the peace progress 2002. The international calls for finding peaceful resolution of the conflict is getting louder as the LTTE?s fighting its battle of survival. The callers? ranks include India, UK, Canada, many members of the EU and the U.S. Of course, these countries have an abiding interest in Sri Lanka for their own reasons. Though pillorying them has become a popular pastime in Sri Lanka, it should not be forgotten that these nations generally wish well for the country.

In the corridors of power in Colombo such calls for negotiations are viewed as treason. Though these days the government is speaking in many voices on other issues, it is a unanimous NO on the resumption of talks with the LTTE. Their suspicion is typical of a climate of war that prevails now in Colombo. The armed forces despite the unexpectedly stiff LTTE resistance at Puthukkudiyiruppu are on the brink of neutralising the LTTE?s power base in the country. And any call for peace that would halt the last lap to success is bound to be suspect. But that in no way diminishes the need to examine the question ?what to do after the war??

The drastic pruning of LTTE?s military power is likely to marginalise its influence on Tamil population. So strategically it would be unwise now for the government to announce a ceasefire as a prelude to negotiations with the LTTE, without some strategic gain. That was why President Rajapaksa had repeatedly offered to talk to the LTTE after it lays down the arms. India?s Home Minister P Chidambaram and Foreign Minister Mukherjee have given similar calls a few weeks. The LTTE has also shown its readiness for talks but laying down arms is not acceptable to it. That would be a very big loss of face to Prabhakaran. Such a move would make it a political orphan when it loses the war. The LTTE has not given up its option to pursue its war on the unconventional mode. Of course, it will have to scale down in scope and content of such operations in keeping with its adverse circumstances.

This is the one big reason why the government should start negotiating with the representatives of the Tamil constituency now, when the LTTE is down. With the loss of military power the LTTE automatically loses its ability to call the shots in any peace process as it did in 2002. If the government can initiate and successfully progress such a process, the LTTE will lose its toehold on the Tamil issue. Is President Rajapaksa?s invitation to all Tamil parties, including the pro LTTE Tamil National Alliance TNA) for talks the beginning of such an initiative? There is no harm in hoping for such a positive development, though other indications are not so encouraging.

In Sri Lanka parliament nearly 20 percent of the members speak Tamil. Yet they have never been able to take a united stand on any issue. Of course in a democracy it is not necessary for linguistic groups to do so as they can do it through their parties. But on the devolution issue, lack of unity has weakened the Tamil political clout. It is unlikely that things would be different now much as the Tamils might wish. Take the TNA for instance. Even though the LTTE guns at its back are being silenced, members of the polyglot alliance are unlikely to agree among themselves even on their future course of action, let alone other major issues.

Given this setting, talks with Tamil parties may not go through to produce worthwhile results. And the President probably knows this. To achieve results, he has to use the devolution package Mr Tissa Vitharana is putting together in the all party committee. And it has to be sold to Sinhalas and Tamils. If this is not done, the political impasse is likely to continue as the Tamil and Sinhala divide has widened over the years.

During the 30 years of struggle since Tamils took up the Tamil Eelam option, there are a number of influences and vested interests that have intruded between Tamil and Sinhala communities. These included the issue of separatism, international powers and expatriates, selfish political interests and the LTTE usurping Tamil leadership. Operating on their own at various levels, these influences have turned what was essentially a political dialogue into a military confrontation as shown in the thematic diagram above.

To reverse this process, the three riders (international involvement, militarization of society and the LTTE dominance) will have to be turned into productive channels for peace. For achieving this everyone will have to work hard. Both communities must decide to abandon violence as the means of settling issues between them. To do this, entrenched prejudices on both sides need to be set aside. The idea of separatism must be buried by Tamils just as Sinhalas should show in their deeds readiness to consider Tamils as equal partners in building the fractured nation. A dynamic leadership is required to initiate this process. Who else can provide that other than politicians and civil society? They have to rise up to the occasion. They have no other choice. No external power or agency can do this because the process has to have Sri Lankan ownership to succeed

Internationalisation of the issue had contributed to the continuation of the armed conflict to a certain extent. The failure of the peace process 2002 has shown the limitations of the four co-chairs ? the European Union, Japan, Norway and the U.S. and their well intentioned effort to end the war. It failed because the two warring sides had their own doubts about the credentials of the foreign powers involved. Moreover, they did not believe the process of negotiated peace would succeed.

Unlike others, India is one external power that could have made a difference. It had been on a listening watch after its unsavoury experience in its earlier spell of active intervention in Sri Lanka. But there are changes taking place in India as well. In Tamil Nadu all the three major political parties ? the DMK, the AIADMK, and the Congress ? have made clear that while they support the Tamil struggle for equitable powers, they do not consider the LTTE as their sole representative. India should actively work with the Sri Lanka government to trigger the political process. That will be in India?s interest as much as Sri Lanka?s. And Tamil Nadu politicians can stop sloganeering and make a positive contribution for peace by working on the representatives of Tamil constituency and politicians in the island to use the political opportunity meaningfully to arrive at a win-win situation.

Time is a valuable resource in showing visible results. In the past, many political efforts to resolve the Tamil question had floundered when key decisions were delayed or allowed die by procrastination. One of the reasons for the failure of the peace process 2002 was lack of visible results on a time-bound basis. This has only reinforced the suspicion among the aggrieved parties; it also generated a lot of cynicism about the intentions of such peace exercises. A well structured devolution process with clear bench mark of actions on a pre determined time schedule only can bring back trust and security between the Tamil and Sinhala communities.

The LTTE is likely to tap afresh the nearly million-strong Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates through its overseas network for bouncing back as a reckonable force. In its vocabulary, that means growth of its military power sans political content. Failure of a renewed political process would act as an incentive for LTTE?s military revival. That would be a tragedy for all the other stakeholders trying to move away from a military solution to achieve a political resolution of the problem.

Nations with strong LTTE front organisations and large ethnic Tamil populations in their midst like Canada, the U.S., UK, other EU nations, and India must ensure the resurgence of LTTE is halted in its tracks in their soil. Some of the political constituencies in these countries take up any cause for garnering a few more votes; they have ended up recycling the LTTE cause as the Tamil cause. They will have to do some soul searching if they want to do their bid to build peace. Tamil expatriates have a moral responsibility to rise up to the occasion to make peace possible just as they showed they can progress war. That would be a fitting tribute from them to all the souls of many hues martyred in the seemingly never ending conflict.

(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)

Civilians caught between LTTE and Govt dying and getting injured in Wanni

By Rajan Hoole & Kopalasingham Sritharan

The focus now is rightly on the civilians in the Vanni dying and being injured, caught between the LTTE’s determination to use them as a buffer and as corpses in statistics, and a government intent on crushing the Tigers with the free use of heavy weapons. The civilians have not been given a meaningful way out. The glass case behind which these helpless civilians were held and paraded as willing martyrs for the Tiger cause, with the connivance of an articulate expatriate lobby, is being shattered, more tragically now than in 1990 and 1995. It becomes all the more important to have in place an institutional mechanism to protect them.

The right way to deal with the problem was to place the primary onus on political means by meeting Tamil aspirations and exposing the Tigers. This has been tried only half-heartedly because of an extremist but vocal Sinhalese minority intent on crushing the Tamils as a political entity, habitually undermining every effort at a mildly federal settlement. They are now in control, with help from the LTTE and its provocations. The Tigers suppressed dissent with harsh repression holding that there should be no criticism of their means until Eelam is attained.

Likewise, Lankan defence spokesmen have branded critics of their often criminal actions as traitors who strengthen the LTTE. While President Rajapaksa tries to reassure the world by saying nice things, masked gunmen on motorcycles or in white vans who began targeting Tamils in 2006 have now become the dread of all Sinhalese who defer. Several journalists have been killed, attacked or have fled the country. The social, political and economic cost of ‘crushing the Tamils with numbers’ is being hid from the Sinhalese. Dissent still survives perilously.

One writer wrote, “Count the number of [disabled] Sinhala youth who are permanently limping around you…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’. [Observe] all those teenage village girls who frequent the Anuradhapura town for a living, waiting to be picked up by vacationing young soldiers.”

A senior left leader said recently, “[President] Mahinda uses this opium [of Sinhalese chauvinism] to drug the masses to forget hunger and misery…” A respected woman columnist warned of mounting repression, ‘The President sounded an ominous note in his Independence Day speech when he said, “We are today a nation that has defeated a powerful enemy (the LTTE) that stood before us. Similarly we should have the ability to defeat all internal enemies that are found in our midst’. That ‘internal enemy’ could be a political opponent, a journalist, a Christian priest…any citizen who questions the regime’s omnipotence.’

This is the culmination of a history in which the State’s violence and obduracy in the face of legitimate Tamil demands for autonomy and security led to the Tamil militant response. The State tried to address this with violence and massacres killing, for a start, 7,000 Tamil civilians from 1983 to 1987, triggering the usurpation of the Tamil struggle by the LTTE for whom negotiation was anathema — a luxury whose terrible cost was imposed on a hapless people. The Sinhalese as a people have learnt much more than they are given credit for. Once the war ends the government would find it hard to sustain present levels of impunity and repression and many Sinhalese would want a fair political settlement for the Tamils.

Meanwhile the challenges before India are immediately to contribute towards the protection of Tamils in the Vanni and to a fair political settlement. Given that the LTTE decimated the Tamil leadership, India would have to ensure the emergence of a new Tamil leadership within a genuinely democratic process. In this regard India’s basic stand that it has no sympathy for the LTTE and at the same time the Tamil people are distinct from the LTTE, and should be protected at all times, is the correct one. But in practice its actions that amount to seeking assurances from President Rajapaksa and promising aid for reconstruction, have no effect on the ground.

To all those who look to India to have a benign influence on the situation, it is important that she maintains its credibility. Today many civilians are afraid to leave the LTTE area because of the government’s record in killing sympathisers and family members of the LTTE, and most civilians have, frequently conscripted, close kin in the LTTE. These are also persons being killed without ever having wanted to fight. President Rajapaksa has after all formally invited Tamil Nadu leaders to come and an all-party delegation could do a great deal of good. Civilians would also have far greater protection if India plays its rightful role in lending its weight and personnel in international efforts to monitor and ensure that proper standards are observed with regard to civilians fleeing the LTTE.

It is India that could prevail upon the Sri Lankan government to return the displaced to their homes expeditiously and not hold them in camps for years to establish Sinhalese settlements on their lands. They are traumatised by their calamity and their future cannot be trusted to the present regime.

Those in Tamil Nadu who use the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils for their narrow political ends, and blindly defend the LTTE, are inadvertently advancing the latter’s doom. Playing to emotions without engaging with the Sinhalese to work for concrete measures has been the bane of Tamil politics on both sides of the Palk Strait. This is a role that civil society and human rights activists in Tamil Nadu could take on by engaging with their counterparts in Sri Lanka, through seeking constructive means to defend the rights of all the communities in Sri Lanka.

Judging by newspaper columns there are Sinhalese opinion makers, who though not sympathetic to Tamil aspirations, do not want to see the Sinhalese branded as barbarians. One suggested a week’s truce to allow the UN to go in, ascertain the plight of civilians and do what they can. Given such sensitivities, there is great scope for India in multilateral action. Every effort should be made to give the unwilling conscripts — prisoners — a chance.

Part of the paranoia in Sri Lanka results from a perception in defence circles that any foreign concern is designed to breathe new life into the LTTE. India and the leaders of Tamil Nadu have a clear position on this and could without any ambiguity make the distinction between defeating the LTTE and criminal actions against unarmed civilians by the state security apparatus, and see that the distinction is observed. That would help to ensure that the cause of democracy in Sri Lanka is not lost.

(This article appeared in New Indian Express of Feb 18th 2009 under the heading "Sri Lanka's Twin Despair".)

Will there be a political solution after Government's military success?

by Jayadeva Uyangoda

With the impending total defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, this secessionist group will cease to be a political force in Sri Lanka. But will there be a political solution to the ethnic conflict in the aftermath of the government’s military success? Events in the coming weeks and months will show the extent to which President Rajapakse can open up a new political process to lay the foundation for a new polity in which the majority as well as the minority communities can live in dignity, equality and coexistence. However, in the short run it is difficult to envisage a situation where the government will give priority to any extension of the existing devolution framework towards greater regional autonomy. Usually, one-sided military victories are not followed by major political reforms.

The present phase of Sri Lanka’s war seems to be coming to an end with the impending defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Even if the remaining LTTE fighters go underground to launch a guerrilla campaign, the Sri Lankan state has become militarily so strong that the armed struggle phase of Tamil politics has now reached an end. Rehabilitation of the LTTE as a post-armed struggle movement does not seem to be possible in the near future. With the defeat, the LTTE will also cease to be a factor in Sri Lanka’s politics. With this significant change of balance of forces in inter-ethnic relations, the future of Sri Lanka’s Tamil nationalist politics might remain uncertain for some time to come.

The ending of Sri Lanka’s long drawn-out civil war poses both opportunities and challenges for the island’s government as well as the people. Many Sri Lankans are likely to breathe a sigh of relief on the possibility of the prolonged bloodshed coming to an end. The war has for the past two and half decades brought immense suffering and misery to the people of all communities. Death and injury for combatants as well as civilians, displacement, outmigration, falling victim to artillery shells as well as suicide or roadside bombs, destruction of communities – all these affected Sri Lankan citizens with no distinction about their ethnic identity. Violence devoured many political leaders belonging to all communities. The democratic process also suffered severe setbacks. Communities became polarised and suspicious of each other. The country’s economic and social progress too suffered. Sri Lanka needs to recover from all these setbacks. Past military as well as political attempts to end the conflict had repeatedly failed. It now appears that the present Sri Lankan government’s determination to crush the LTTE in war has produced a decisive outcome.

Yet, there is probably no direct co-relation between a military triumph over the LTTE and resolving the country’s accumulated problems. The latter requires a range of new initiatives to politically rebuild Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s post-civil war future will depend on how the government succeeds in laying a firm foundation for a pluralistic, democratic and inclusive polity in which war and violence will not be required to highlight either group grievances or suppress resistance to the state emanating from the marginalised ethnic and social groups.

The central question that will occupy the world attention concerning Sri Lanka is: will there be a political solution to the ethnic conflict in the aftermath of the government’s military success over secession? Sri Lanka’s president has repeatedly emphasised that once the LTTE is defeated, his government would introduce a political solution.

However, moving in that direction will not be an easy proposition. A one-sided military victory in an ethnic civil war is not likely to open up new political space for the government to initiate political reforms giving the ethnic minorities any measure of self-rule, which had dominated the agenda of the defeated rebellion. Branding the LTTE insurgency as terrorism and crushing that “terrorism” should not obviate the fact that the secessionist rebellion, despite its defeat, represented Tamil political aspirations for equality and autonomy.

Making the prospects for early political reforms narrow is the influence exercised by the hard line Sinhalese nationalist parties and groups on the policy agenda of the Rajapakse administration. In their thinking, Sri Lanka does not have an “ethnic problem” as such. What exists is a terrorist problem, spearheaded by the “terrorist” and “fascist” LTTE. In their argument, the military victory over the LTTE is adequate to resolve that problem. But very few outside Sri Lanka are convinced of this reading of the island’s prolonged civil war, although major world powers backed President Rajapakse’s own “war against terrorism”. International actors, from India to the US, seem to be very keen that Rajapakse moves quickly to politically consolidate the military gains by offering a “devolution package” to the Tamils. Events in the coming weeks and months will show the extent to which Rajapakse can open up a new political process to lay the foundation for a new polity in which the majority as well as the minority communities can live in dignity, equality and coexistence.

Inter-community reconciliation is the other complex challenge. The war and violence has pulled the three main ethnic communities – the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims – apart. It has also intensely ethnicised visions of political imagination. In the intensity of the conflict, driven forward by violence and more violence, strong arguments had developed on all sides to the conflict for unilateral, zero-sum solutions which only a military victory could ensure. Peace was seen as the outcome of war only. Negotiated peace through compromise, although attempted a number of times, ultimately became a proposition both undesirable and illegitimate. These are positions shared in both Sinhalese and Tamil societies. Politicians, ideologues and the media thrived on reinforcing politics of polarisation and hatred. Now, the State has achieved a unilateral military victory. The challenge facing President Rajapakse and his government is to inaugurate a new phase in the island’s political life, based on the principles of pluralism, inter-group equality and power-sharing. That requires the recognition that the members of the Tamil community, even after having been caught up in an armed rebellion against the State, are citizens of the country with a right to equality and dignity.

Political reform in a framework of ethnic pluralism has not been easy in Sri Lanka. Political parties have never forged a consensus on reforms. Undermining reforms has been a part of the inter-party political competition. In a way, the war and military solution are the direct outcomes of the unwillingness of the Sinhalese political establishment to initiate meaningful state reforms to resolve the ethnic problem. Can an unreformed political system be reformed when the internal pressure for reform is no longer there, or against a backdrop where reforms had been resisted even when a secessionist insurgency had made state reform an urgent historical necessity?
That probably is the question to which India and the international actors should be keen to find a satisfying answer.

Considering the failure of the 2002-03 peace initiative and the LTTE’s agenda of returning to war, the international actors seem to have decided to back the Sri Lankan government’s strategy of defeating the LTTE militarily as a necessary first step towards creating a new “post-conflict” situation in Sri Lanka. Unlike in the past, the LTTE this time around faced a formidable international alliance that backed the Sri Lankan government. The thinking among the international actors seems to be that the LTTE had become the main obstacle to peace, security and development in Sri Lanka. This was a decisive shift from their strategy in the 2002-03 peace process in which they acted on the assumption that the LTTE should be made a co-partner in peace-building.

From the perspective of the internationals, Sri Lanka will now offer a new model of post-conflict peace-building and development achieved by means of a military victory by the State. But, many international actors, including India, would want to link post-conflict development assistance to political reforms to ensure devolution for the Tamil minority. With regenerated nationalism after the military victory over the LTTE, the Sinhalese nationalist forces will carefully monitor the actions of the international actors in Sri Lanka. Can the external actors play a role in reforming the Sri Lankan state through post-conflict economic assistance? The answer is not yet clear. But, what is somewhat clear is that external involvement in state reform can provoke Sinhalese nationalist resistance. In the mid-1980s, the Indian initiative for devolution in Sri Lanka was seized by the radical nationalists to launch a “patriotic” insurgency.

Even while the LTTE is facing military defeat, the civil war is not yet over. The remaining LTTE fighters are likely to continue their fight in the form of a guerrilla war. However, it would be extremely difficult for the LTTE to return as a significant military or political force. On the other hand, even assuming that the LTTE is totally defeated in the coming months, the ethnic problem will continue to remain. The government’s strategy for a post-LTTE Tamil society in Sri Lanka would be to work in alliance with the non-LTTE Tamil parties who are already in, or supporting, the ruling coalition. The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) which has also been fighting the LTTE along with the Sri Lankan army will make strong claims to control the provincial council of the north if the elections are held. The EPDP leader is a minister in the present cabinet.

In the Eastern Province the provincial council elections were held last month. The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP – Tamil Eelam Liberation Tigers), which broke away from the LTTE and then partnered with the army in chasing the LTTE out of the Eastern Province, is running the provincial administration there.

Dim ProspectsAs all this clearly suggests, the question of political solution to the ethnic problem will certainly be approached by the government from the perspective of state security and the unitary state. Thus, in the emerging framework political configuration in post-LTTE Sri Lanka, the government will give utmost priority to the goal of politically consolidating the military gains against the LTTE. The government’s strategy would be to ensure that the administrations of the northern and eastern provincial councils would remain in the hands of Tamil political groups that are loyal to, and controlled by, the Sinhalese political establishment. Therefore, in the short run it is difficult to envisage a situation where the government could give priority to any extension of the existing devolution framework towards greater regional autonomy. Usually, one-sided military victories are not followed by major political reforms. However, in the long run, the Sinhalese political establishment might learn that regional self-rule under unarmed, non-secessionist and integrationist Tamil political parties might not be a bad idea altogether.

While the armed forces of the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE are engaged in what appears to be the last stage of the war, two distinct political outcomes of the war need to be noted. The first is the immense historical setback which the Sri Lankan Tamil people as a community are now compelled to accept as the only major outcome of the 25 years of armed struggle and suffering, the trajectories of which have been largely defined by the LTTE. The second is the reassertion of the unreformed Sri Lankan state with unprecedented strength and global legitimacy, an outcome made possible in the post-9/11 world. Sri Lanka’s ethnic minorities as well those who are committed to multi-ethnic democracy and pluralism in the island need to reckon with the implications of these two developments before launching any new minority rights campaign.

(This article appeared in the Economic and Political weekly of India dated February 14th 2009 under the heading "Sri Lanka sans the LTTE")

Children suffering the most in conflict - UNICEF

Report by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Just nine years old, Thevaki was trapped in the crossfire between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and barely escaped with her life.

"I don't remember anything. I just remember the blood," she said, gesturing to the bandaged shrapnel wound on her head.

After six days in a government hospital in Vavuniya - a humanitarian hub for more than 30,000 ethnic Tamil civilians fleeing southward - she is back with her family in one of 16 transit sites in the northern Sri Lankan town.

But while doctors say her physical wounds will heal, they warn that the memory of what she saw, including 10 days of constant shelling in a "no-fire zone" outside the town of Mullaithivu, could take longer.

Children are suffering the most in the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka, says the UN.

Because of problems of access to the conflict zone where fighting continues, there are no reliable figures of the numbers affected.

"Children are bearing the brunt of a conflict which is not theirs," James Elder, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) spokesman in Sri Lanka, told IRIN. "They are being killed, they are being injured, they are horribly traumatised, and they are short of clean water and medicines," he said.

Until recently, many of the children were living in bunkers and trenches for weeks on end. Many had seen family, including their parents, killed. Others suffered horrific injuries, including burns, fractures, shrapnel and bullet wounds, and lost limbs, Elder said.

Separated children

In addition, there are reports of children being separated from their families during the government screening process in Kilinochchi and Omanthai, the former frontline about half-an-hour's drive north of Vavuniya.

To address this, UNICEF has established a data base to help track separated and unaccompanied adults, but as there is no independent observation of the screening process, it remains a source of concern.

Reports suggest there have been a number of instances when children are placed in one transit site in Vavuniya while their parents are placed in another, as well as the issue of unaccompanied minors arriving.

According to mental health experts, this brings a whole new level of trauma for the children as it is generally the family that can provide the greatest support in the recovery process.

"If we could prevent separation in the first place, that would help a lot," Elder stressed.

UNICEF is working closely with local authorities to reunite families, as well as seeking ways to mitigate the number of families being separated.

In addition, the agency is working to provide play and psycho-social activities at transit sites to give children a greater sense of normality; however, access for UNICEF's implementing partners remains difficult to negotiate.

"These children need a safe and secure environment, which is key to their long-term recovery," Elder said. "What they need most is to be with their families, to know that they will be safe."

Yet while fighting continues and more and more Tamil civilians make their way to Vavuniya, Elder emphasised that much of the Vanni's population are still trapped.

"We mustn't forget that there are tens of thousands of children who are still in the Vanni [in the north] and have to live out this nightmare on a daily basis," he said.

According to government sources, some 100,000 civilians remain in the Vanni while the UN estimates the number to be nearer 250,000.

Forced recruitment

Meanwhile, UNICEF on 17 February raised another concern over reports of a growing number of children being recruited by the LTTE.

"We have clear indications that the LTTE has intensified forcible recruitment of civilians and that children as young as 14 years old are now being targeted," Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF's representative in Sri Lanka, said.

"These children are facing immediate danger and their lives are at great risk. Their recruitment is intolerable," he said.

From 2003 to the end of 2008, more than 6,000 children were recruited by the LTTE, the UNICEF statement said.

UNICEF reiterated calls to the government and the LTTE that civilians, especially children, must be given every protection from the fighting.

February 18, 2009

Kohona says it’s best for MIA to stay with music

In an exclusive conversation, via satellite from Colombo, Sri Lanka, Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona responds to comments about the Sri Lankan government made by Oscar- and Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist M.I.A. during her recent appearance on the Tavis Smiley show.

[Aired on PBS stations on Feb 18, 2009]

Before talking to Sri Lanka's, Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona, Tavis Smiley talked with Ravi Nessman:

Ravi Nessman has been covering events there for the Associated Press. He is the Colombo bureau chief for the AP

Tavis: Let me start by asking, for those here who do not understand what this civil war is all about, what's going on with regard to the back story of this civil war, take a minute or two just to explain to me what this civil war's all about.

Nessman: Sure. There's been ethnic tension in this country for a very long time - since independence, in fact, between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority, who make up less than 20 percent of the population. After independence, there were quite a few laws passed by the Sinhalese majority that the Tamil minority felt marginalized - their culture, their language, their religion.

Basically, it created a situation where, by the 1970s, a lot of independence movements rose up. And right now what we're seeing is the culmination of a 25-year civil war between a militant faction that rose up in this foment of independence in the '70s called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the Tamil Tigers, and the government.

And what the Tamil Tigers have been fighting for is an independent Tamil state in the north and the east of this island.

Tavis: So what's the state of the civil war as we speak? You referred to the culmination of this ongoing war that we are witnessing now, but what's the status of the civil war as we speak?

Nessman: As soon as a couple months ago they used to control quite a large area of the north. They had a basically conventional army with artillery guns, with soldiers, with a small air force and navy. In the past couple of months, though, the government forces have overrun nearly all of that territory, so right now what's left of the Tamil Tigers are sort of boxed into a very, very small area on the northeast coast. It's about 100 square kilometers. Along with them, there are tens of thousands of civilians also trapped in that area.

Tavis: So does that mean that the civil war is about to come to an end?

Nessman: It looks like the conventional phase of this war is pretty close to over. It's hard, though, to write off the Tamil Tigers. This is a group that began as a guerilla group. They've carried out suicide bombings, hundreds of suicide attacks they've been blamed for across the country. They assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

So even if they lose their artillery pieces, they lose their conventional component, they still will be pretty likely able to carry out suicide bombings and other guerilla attacks for at least months, maybe years, to come.

Tavis: And what's the government's response going to be once they, beyond having them boxed in, have succeeded to the point where the civil war is over? What will the government do then?

Nessman: They want a political resolution to the ethnic tension in the country, meaning - traditionally what that's meant is that they devolve some of power down to the provinces, which would let Tamil majority provinces have some form of self-rule within the framework of Sri Lanka.

How that compromise comes about, whether it's enough to satisfy the Tamil people, remains to be seen. You have to remember that these people were angry enough 25 years ago to begin a civil war, and they haven't gotten less angry over the past 25 years.

Tavis: They haven't, Ravi, got any less angry, but to the earlier point you made, they're, in terms of the war, at least, boxed in, to your earlier point, in such a way where it appears, at least, that they can't win this militarily. So if they can't win it militarily, why not accept some sort of power-sharing arrangement?

Nessman: One thing that a lot of people don't recognize is that the Tamil Tigers themselves are not the only representatives of the Tamil community. There are political voices that are not this militant group, and it remains to be seen whether the government, being victorious on the battlefield, will be able to be magnanimous and to give what the Tamil community would see as a legitimate compromise, or will say, well, we've just crushed you on the battlefield; we'll give you the absolute bare minimum, and the Tamil community will find that objectionable.

Or perhaps they'll accept it and, another generation down the road, another conflict like this could flare up.

Tavis: The government there has been accused of targeting civilians. The U.N., in fact, has had something to say about the strategy of the government in Sri Lanka. What's your sense as a journalist of how that part of the story is being covered with regard to these accusations against the government?

Nessman: This is a very difficult story to cover as a journalist. The war zone is a black hole, Tavis. We're barred from going in, most aid workers are barred from going in. So all of these accusations that fly back and forth, a lot of it is based on scattered reports that we're getting - the very few reports we're able to get.

And from what we're able to get from doctors up there who are the very few people with telephones that still work, from some of the witnesses who've fled, some civilians who've left, is that the government appears to be shelling in this very small area with tens of thousands of civilians, and that seems to be causing a lot of civilian casualties.

On the other hand, the Tamil Tigers have been accused by some of the civilians who've fled of shooting at the fleeing civilians. The government says that they're being used as human shields to prevent the government offensive from taking that last bit of land. Both sides deny all the accusations against them, but what seems clear from the reports is that civilians are being killed, and they're being killed by both sides.

Tavis: So given, again, that the Tamil people, at least those who are fighting, are boxed in now to this area in the northeast part of the country, do you have any sense of how much longer it will be before at least the official, if I can use that word, the civil war that's underway, how long before this part of this story is over?

Nessman: We can't get up there, and the information is so scattered that we're getting. We hear reports of battles that are rumored that may or may not even be happening, massive casualties on one side, massive casualties on the other. I can't tell you if the Tamil Tigers even retain a conventional fighting component right now or still maintain a massive army up there. We have absolutely no idea.

The president himself said on February 4th we were just days away, the government was just days away from victory over the Tamil Tigers. But this is more than two weeks later, and there's still fighting going on. So it's very difficult to know what's exactly going on in the north, how long it's going to go on for, what kind of fighting is actually happening, what the capabilities are of both sides.

Tavis: Ravi Nessman is the bureau chief for the Associated Press in Sri Lanka. He's in Colombo, has been there since 2007. Ravi, nice to have you on. Thanks for sharing your insights of a very difficult and tricky story to get your arms around, but thank you for your time, I appreciate it.

Nessman: No problem, Tavis, thank you.

Narayana Murthy declines Sri Lanka offer to become IT advisor

Chief Mentor and Chairman of the Infosys Board N.R. Narayana Murthy, has declined the Sri Lankan government’s offer to be its IT adviser. In a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Mr. Murthy cited “personal reasons” for the decision, an Infosys release said. Mr. Murthy thanked Mr. Rajapaksa for the invitation and for the courtesy shown to him during his Sri Lanka visit.


[N.R. Narayana Murthy]

Mr Murthy's withdrawal comes amidst a widely circulated "on-line petition", that urged the Infosys mentor to decline Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa's offer.

The petition asked Mr. Murthy to decline the appointment and "Remind the Indian IT business and profession that they are connected to people and need to be truly sensitive to human events and act conscionably".

Full Text of the petition as follows:

To: Mr. Narayana Murthy, Chairman of the Board and Chief Mentor of Infosys

Dear Mr.Narayana Murthy, Chairman of the Board and Chief Mentor of Infosys,
It was with great shock and disbelief that we learned of your acceptance of the appointment as International Advisor on Information Technology to the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

This is being addressed to you whose corporation proclaims (http://www.infosys.com/about/who-we-are/default.asp) that its mission is "To achieve our objectives in an environment of fairness, honesty, and courtesy towards our clients, employees, vendors and society at large" and so the hope is that as a global corporation your society at large would include the next door neighbor Sri Lanka.

As is well known the Sri Lankan government presided by Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa is aggressively perpetrating extraordinary violence on hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians under the guise of fighting armed liberation fighters in the island.

This violence, consistent with the pattern of ethnic cleansing involving among other things State-sponsored riots against Tamils since 1958 even before armed struggle was a choice to the Tamils, has already been characterized legally as Genocide by no less a legal expert than Mr. Bruce Fein former Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States. Mr. Fein has already filed a 1000-page model indictment with the US Attorney General's office charging the Defense Secretary of Sri Lanka Gothabaya Rajapaksa and the Army Commander Sarath Fonseka with Genocide, War Crimes and Torture under the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007 of the United States. The indictment chronicles "more than 3,750 extrajudicial killings, approximately 30,000 Tamils suffering serious bodily injury, and more than 1.3 million displacements (a number far exceeding displacements in Kosovo which lead to genocide counts before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia)".

Mr. Fein states in his letter accompanying the model indictment to the U.S. Attorney General: "Count twelve of genocide is indistinguishable from the genocide of 7,000 Bosnian Muslim males in Srebrenica, which had been declared a safe zone by Bosnian Serbs. Count twelve charges Rajapaksa and Fonseka of bombing and shelling 350,000 Tamil civilians into one large “safe area,” and, since January 21, 2009, killing and maiming the Tamils who had amassed there by aerial bombing and artillery. In the month of January, according to the model indictment, 750 Tamils have been massacred and more than 2,250 have been seriously injured. On the BBC, on Feb. 2, Rajapaksa declared that nothing should live or breathe outside the Orwellian “safe area.” Thus, one hospital outside the area has been bombed three times, including by cluster bombs. More than 1,000 Tamils are in detention camps, and reports of rape have already emerged. "

Even India's Supreme Court Bar Association has condemned the Genocide in its resolution dated Feb 4, 2009.

Sri Lanka has been accused of serious human rights violations in general. It lost in May 2008 its bid to retain its seat in the UN Human Rights Council losing even to countries such as Pakistan and the world body Human Rights Watch reports that ( http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/05/18/nobel-prize-winners-tell-un-vote-sri-lanka-human-rights-council ) three Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Adolfo Perez Esquivel had joined International NGOs (including Sri Lanka's own NGOs!) in opposition to Sri Lanka's bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

That the Sri Lankan government has a lot of ugly things to hide is evident from its notorious treatment of journalists, both foreign and Sri Lankan. The BBC reports ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7823729.stm ) that the Sri Lankan government has been accused of encouraging violence against the media by branding reporters seen as critical as rebel-sympathisers and enemies of the state and that Amnesty International has said in November 2008 that at least 10 media employees had been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006. Most recently in January 2009 Mr. Laasntha Wickramatunga, a leading Sri Lankan newspaper editor and fierce government critic who had numerous run-ins with the government, was shot dead by unknown assailants. The murder of Wickramatunga came just two days after after the arson attack against private TV broadcaster MBC networks. No doubt it is said that "Sri Lanka remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for independent journalists".

A latest development is ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/srilanka/4613039/Sri-Lanka-plans-to-hold-displaced-Tamils-in-concentration-camps.html ) that the Rajapaksa government has plans to hold displaced Tamil civilians in barbed wire concentration camps, like the Nazis did the Jews with total loss of privacy and of basic human rights.

Given all this information about the conduct of the Sri Lankan government and of its President and his colleagues, it is clear why the world is dismayed that you have agreed to be the Information Technology advisor to them. Your participation in this will only be like advising Hitler run his concentration camps with better chemical technology for gassing the inmates.

Mr. Narayana Murthy, you have said in an interview to the British newspaper Independent you have "a different world view from most businessmen...they forget they are part of society. I believe that unless we are in touch with reality and the common people, we will not be in a position to add value to society." We are sure you are in touch with reality here right in the midst of a calamity. You have also said in the same interview about how, after seeing the response of the world to the 2004 tsunami tragedy, you felt there was affirmation of faith in humanity.

Here again now in Sri Lanka we have a catastrophic human tragedy and the victims there need affirmation of their faith in humanity and many in the world, who have always believed in your personality as looking beyond mere business, need affirmation in your humanity and your avowed principles.

To that end we the undersigned earnestly call upon you to:

* Remain consistent with your principles and corporate ethics and prove it in this situation
* Reject the offer to you from the Sri Lankan government appointing you as their International Advisor on Information Technology and resign if you already begun serving in that position
* Express your anguish over the situation of the Tamil ethnic minority there
* Condemn the Sri Lankan government over its treatment of the Tamil minority
* Serve as a role model for the Indian IT industry and to all of Indian business
* Remind the Indian IT business and profession that they are connected to people and need to be truly sensitive to human events and act conscionably

You have said in the above Independent interview: "I am relentless. I just do things as if there is no tomorrow. That is why I think I am impatient."

We hope that you will be acting with the same impatience here too as the ethnic minority there in Sri Lanka is writhing in mortal pain with no tomorrow.


The Undersigned

February 17, 2009

MP3 Audio: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Interview with Sonali Samarasinghe-Wickramatunga

SWTC0216.jpgA little over a month ago, Lasantha Wickramatunga was on his way to work in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Just minutes from his office, he was stopped by four men on military-style motorcycles. They smashed through the window of his car and beat him severely. He died several hours later.

Lasantha Wickramatunga was the high-profile editor of the Sri Lankan newspaper, The Sunday Leader. He had a long history of questioning the Sri Lankan Government. His death sent shockwaves across the country. And it sent other Sri Lankan journalists fleeing for their lives. Many of them had been worried about their safety for some time. And for many of them, his death sent a clear message -- they would not be safe in Sri Lanka if they criticized the government.

One of the journalists who fled Sri Lanka was Sonali Samarasinghe- Wickramatunga. She is Lasantha Wickramatunga's widow and a celebrated journalist in her own right who has earned accolades for exposing corruption in Sri Lanka.

[MP3 Audio-"Sri Lankan Widow"]

She is currently in hiding at an undisclosed location. But we were able to reach her for the show. [courtesy: CBC.ca/thecurrent]

Religious leaders ask Secretary Clinton to assert U.S. influence in Sri Lanka

New York, February 16, 2009 -- As the government of Sri Lanka presses its advantage against the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), U.S. religious leaders have expressed alarm that tens of thousands of innocent civilians are trapped in the cross fire.

"It is reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross that as many as 250,000 civilians are trapped between the LTTE who are accused of using the people as human shields and government forces that are bombing and shelling this shrinking conclave with little regard to the cost in noncombatant casualties," the leaders wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask for U.S. intervention.

"No one knows the precise numbers of deaths and injuries because the government has refused independent international observers access to the area and has silenced the national media through various forms of violence and intimidation," the letter said.

The letter was generated by Miriam Young, Director of US Advocacy, US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka and Director of US Advocacy, International Working Group on Sri Lanka; and the Rev. Dr. Paul F. Jahn, Chair, US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, also signed the letter.

"Credible sources report the shelling of hospitals, civilians being fired upon while trying to reach so-called safe zones, life-threatening lack of food, medical supplies, shelter and sanitation," the letter said. "It is reported that Tamil civilians that do evacuate the area are treated as captured enemy, leaving those in the combat zone mistrustful of the Sri Lankan Government's entreaties to make their way to safe zones."

The leaders called on Secretary Clinton to "consider explicit sanctions against the government of Sri Lanka if it does not agree immediately to a ceasefire and to allow the UN and the ICRC to carry out an evacuation operation. The UN must be able to specify the conditions and modalities under which such an operation is to be implemented. In addition, we urge you to call for a discussion in the UN Security Council of the situation in Sri Lanka."

The Tamil insurgency to gain independence from Sri Lanka has been going on for 25 years. "The violence and suffering in Sri Lanka has been a deep concern for all observers," Kinnamon said. "The tragedy of the situation is beyond measure and the pain and misery is a daily reality. I hope Secretary Clinton will bring to bear all possible influence to bring it to an end."

The conflict in Sri Lanka is reportedly nearing an end. According to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the battle is now in the “mopping up” stages.

But the New York Times reports that an end to the fighting will not mean an end to the bitterness that is likely to linger for years. Without outside diplomatic intervention, the situation will remain dangerously unstable.

The full text of the letter to Secretary Clinton follows:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Washington, DC
February 16, 2009

Dear Secretary Clinton,

We are writing to add our voices of concern and outrage over the humanitarian tragedy playing itself out in northern Sri Lanka.

When violence endangered the civilian population in Gaza, the news went out all over the world. Unfortunately, a catastrophe, no less appalling, is taking place in Sri Lanka. Yet this disastrous conflict has received a fraction of the international media attention, allowing the tragedy to unfold without the worldwide scrutiny given to places such as Darfur, Gaza or the Congo.

It is reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross that as many as 250,000 civilians are trapped between the LTTE who are accused of using the people as human shields and government forces that are bombing and shelling this shrinking conclave with little regard to the cost in noncombatant casualties. No one knows the precise numbers of deaths and injuries because the government has refused independent international observers access to the area and has silenced the national media through various forms of violence and intimidation.

Credible sources report the shelling of hospitals, civilians being fired upon while trying to reach so-called safe zones, life-threatening lack of food, medical supplies, shelter and sanitation. It is reported that Tamil civilians that do evacuate the area are treated as captured enemy, leaving those in the combat zone mistrustful of the Sri Lankan Government's entreaties to make their way to safe zones.

We appreciate the public statement of concern you issued together with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband. However, each day brings news of more deaths from bombing and a continued disregard for international humanitarian law. Meanwhile, quiet diplomatic appeals seem to be ignored.

We would ask you to consider explicit sanctions against the government of Sri Lanka if it does not agree immediately to a ceasefire and to allow the UN and the ICRC to carry out an evacuation operation. The UN must be able to specify the conditions and modalities under which such an operation is to be implemented. In addition, we urge you to call for a discussion in the UN Security Council of the situation in Sri Lanka.

This is an opportunity for the new administration to reassert this country's moral leadership on behalf of desperately vulnerable people.

Thank you for your attention to our shared concerns.

Sincerely Yours

Miriam Young
Director of US Advocacy
US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka and Director of US Advocacy
International Working Group on Sri Lanka

Rev. Dr. Paul F. Jahn
US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of Churches USA

New plea for Sri Lanka civilians

The UN and the Red Cross have renewed appeals to both sides in Sri Lanka's conflict to spare civilian lives.

They want troops and Tamil Tiger rebels to let civilians flee the war zone.

Scores of children are among those hurt or killed in the fighting and the rebels are stepping up recruitment of child soldiers, the UN says.

Tens of thousands of people are trapped after weeks of heavy fighting in the north. Another group of wounded civilians was evacuated on Tuesday.


This Tamil child, with part of her leg amputated, was one of 440 wounded and sick civilians evacuated by the ICRC from the combat zone in northern Sri Lanka: pic: Reuters

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that a total of 440 sick and wounded people had now been taken by ferry from the north to the coastal town of Trincomalee for medical treatment.

It is the third such evacuation carried out by the ICRC within a week.


The UN's Children's Fund, Unicef, said children and civilians had to be given absolute protection from the fighting and allowed to move freely to safe areas.

"The reports we are receiving show an increasing number of children have been injured and killed in the past week," said Unicef Sri Lanka spokesman James Elder.

"I have seen some of these injuries - babies with shrapnel wounds, gun shot injuries and blast wounds; children whose mothers' last act was to cover their bodies and take the force of the shelling."

A Unicef statement said there were "clear indications" the rebels were intensifying efforts to forcibly recruit civilians, among them children as young as 14.

"These children are facing immediate danger and their lives are at great risk. Their recruitment is intolerable," said Mr Elder.

Unicef says that it has recorded more than 6,000 cases of children recruited by the rebels from 2003 to the end of 2008.

"Child soldiers suffer physical abuse, traumatic events and face death. Instead of hope, fear defines their childhood," he said.

There was no immediate response from the rebels, who have denied similar accusations in the past.

'Life and death'

Meanwhile, the ICRC says that families continue to arrive in the Putumattalan area of northern Sri Lanka in the hope of being evacuated.

It says that they are in "a state of utter exhaustion and despair".

"But the reality is that there is an almost complete lack of medicine and relief items there," ICRC Sri Lanka head Paul Castella said.

"We did save lives today but many people remain behind, helpless and anxiously waiting to be evacuated. It is now a matter of life and death."

An ICRC doctor who took part in the evacuation operation said that the support of civil and military authorities and that of the local community had ensured the success of the evacuations, but for many more people the situation remained critical because there was a huge influx of patients.

Earlier on Tuesday, aid workers linked to the Tigers criticised the UN for suggesting that the rebels had prevented civilians from leaving the war zone.

The UN had said that a growing number of civilians trying to flee had been shot at and some had been killed.

But the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), which is widely seen as a front for the rebels, said that it was in fact the UN which had failed to protect them.

A statement by the TRO published on the pro-rebel website TamilNet said: "The UN's inability to fulfil its obligations to civilians is explicit. Yet they don't say who is preventing them from their responsibilities."

No independent journalists can reach the conflict zone so claims by either side cannot be independently verified.

About 50,000 soldiers are pressing the Tamil Tigers into a patch of north-eastern jungle after taking the key areas of Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu.

The government has rejected international calls for a ceasefire, demanding the rebels lay down their arms.

The Tigers have said they will not do so until they have a "guarantee of living with freedom and dignity and sovereignty". [courtesy: bbc.co.uk]

Seven lessons to be drawn from the CP, NWP provincial council elections

by Prof. S.W.R. De. A. Samarasinghe

The big winners in the Central Provincial Council (CPC) elections and the North Western Provincial Council (NWP) elections just concluded were President Mahinda Rajapaksa and UPFA. The big losers were Ranil Wickremasinghe and the UNP and the JVP. But the election results tell us few more things than meets the eye about Sri Lanka’s political trends and prospects for the next several years.

First, the results exposed the utter electoral weakness of the JVP. While the JVPs’s electoral fortunes rise when the "capitalist" UNP is in power they greatly diminish when the "socialist" UPFA is in power. In any event the Weerawansa faction of the JVP would have taken some of the JVP supporters to the UPFA camp. In particular for many rank and file JVPers jobs and other fruits of political patronage would be of more practical importance than ideological purity in oppositional politics. The JVP parliamentarians must be dreading the fate that awaits them at the next parliamentary elections if they contest as a separate party.

Second, the results auger well for the (southern) two party system that Sri Lanka’s electoral democracy has got accustomed to. This arrangement can be criticized for many reasons. But the fact is that it generally ensures a reasonably stable government for the country.

Third, the results also signaled the significant weakening of the political base of the CWC in the plantation Tamil community. The results suggest that the UPFA did very well among the Sinhalese voters in the Nuwara Eliya District. The party comfortably won three of the four electorates in the district where the Sinhalese are in majority. But In the "electoral district" of Nuwara Eliya where the Tamil vote is about 60% of the electorate the UNP won 52% to 45%. This suggests that the CWC that together with Chandrasekeran’s UPAF supported the UPFA is losing its grip on the plantation Tamil vote. Moreover, the military victories of the Rajapaksa administration in the north may not be as appealing to the plantation Tamil voters as they are to the Sinhalese voters.

Fourth, in this election in some of the predominantly Sinhalese and rural electorates the UPFA trounced the UNP by a margin of about 70% or more. Wariyapola in the NWP is one example. This demonstrated two important things. First, the enormous popularity of the war policy of the Rajapaksa regime among the Sinhalese voters. Second, rural people are less affected than their urban counterparts by the high cost of living and related economic difficulties. Moreover, a significant number of village families earn an income from soldiering. Thus they have economically benefitted from war expenditure.

Fifth, Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP appear to be the big losers in these two PC elections. But there is something more to it. The UPFA polled 60% in the central province (CP) and 70% in the Kurunegala District (The complete results of the Puttalam District are not available at the time of this writing but the percentage should be similar to that of Kurunegala). The UNP polled 39% in the CP and 27% in the Kurunegala District. These numbers confirm yet again that the UPFA heavily relies on the Sinhalese electorate for its support and that in these elections Sinhalese support has been further augmented by the military success in the north.

But the results also demonstrate the basic electoral strength of the UNP. First, that it can rely on about 25% to 30% of the Sinhalese electorate for hardcore support. Second, these numbers confirm yet again what we have seen in recent elections. The minorities generally favour the UNP rather than the SLFP or a coalition led by the SLFP. For example, in the last presidential election had the LTTE allowed the Tamils in the north to vote freely the result probably would have been very different. The implication of this for future elections is significant. The Rajapaksa administration will have to make a genuine effort to deliver for the Tamils and Muslims in the north and east and elsewhere after the war ends. If not the UNP is certain to mount a formidable challenge to the UPFA in the next "post-conflict" presidential election.

Sixth, S B Dissanayaka has emerged as a credible political leader with national potential. The relatively good showing of the UNP in the Central Province compared to the NWP is largely attributable to Dissanayaka’s candidacy. The victory in the Nuwara Eliya electoral district has a lot to do with the willingness of some breakaway leaders from the CWC to join forces with Dissanayaka. Also he is a person who started his political career in the Communist Party and has not been associated with narrow ethnic politics and racism. Almost certainly he will be seen as a credible leader of the UNP capable of replacing Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Who killed Lasantha Wickrematunge ? Mangala Samaraweera speaks out

by Peter Foster

Back to Sri Lanka today and a full interview with Sri Lanka's foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera who left the Sri Lankan government in February 2007 after falling out with the country's President, Mahinda Rajapakse.

Since leaving office Mr Samaraweera, who was also Mr Rajapakse's Chief Campaign Co-ordinator during his successful 2005 presidential campaign, has become one of the most outspoken critics of a regime he was instrumental in getting elected.

With that important piece of local political background in mind, here's what he had to say about recent events in Sri Lanka, accusing President Rajapakse of seeking to create 'a Sinhala Buddhist supremacist, Burmese-style junta' in Sri Lanka and urging the US and other Western governments to consider travel bans on key figures in the Sri Lankan government for human rights and other violations.

He concludes by highlighting his fears for his own safety.

An interview with MANGALA SAMARAWEERA, former foreign minister of Sri Lanka.

Your reaction to the killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge? Who do you believe was responsible?

The killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge, along with the claymore bomb attack on MTV [a private Sri Lankan TV station] 48 hours prior to it, are a part of a systematic campaign to destabilise democratic institutions and to intimidate/silence and eliminate dissenting voices in Sri Lanka by supporters of the Rajapakse administration. Although there isn't any concrete evidence so far, it is an open secret that extra judicial death squads have been operating with impunity since 2006.

The notorious white van abductions, the murder of Pararajasinham MP, RaviRaj MP, the brutal assault on journalist Keith Noyer (for writing an article critical of [the Sri Lankan Army chief] General. Fonseka), the murder of General Janake Perera have all been attributed to this group called the K9 group and lately this same squad under the name of 'Mahasona group' sent threatening letters to 'unpatriotic elements' (individuals critical of the Rajapase regime) warning them of dire consequences if they do not stop criticizing the Rajapakse regime. Within Army circles these killers are also known as 'Gota's sinha mafia'.

In fact, I, as Foreign Minister raised the issue of such groups operating with impunity with the President in 2006, subsequent to the international outrage over the killing of four students in Trincomalee followed by the execution of 17 aid workers of the French agency Action Contre Le Faim (ACF). He removed me from the cabinet two months later the state media labelled me a ' Tiger [LTTE] sympathiser.'

Lasantha Wickrematunge was also in the process of compiling a dossier on these killer groups operating in support of the state and Lasantha told some of us that he was in possession of a tape giving details about Janake Perera's murder last year. Although Gotabaya [Rajapakse, the Defence Secretary] took an injunction to stop Lasantha from publishing the allegations, Lasantha continued to expose the corruption fearlessly.

At the very beginning of 2006 Lasantha was abused and threatened by the President over the telephone and Lasantha published a transcript of the whole conversation in the [Sunday] Leader the following week. He published numerous other corruption allegations.

Despite many efforts to woo Lasantha by the President in recent times, he continued his mission with an almost religious zeal. Lasantha was perhaps one of the very few journalists who could not be bought up with perks and privileges nor could he be subjugated through fear and intimidation.

With the media-generated euphoria over the so called "glorious victories" in the north, the government seems to have found the moment to stifle democratic dissent in the south. It is also interesting to note that the Government deferred the announcement regarding the fall 'fall' of Elephant Pass on the 6th to 9th January; the morning after Lasantha was killed.

Today democracy is under siege in Sri Lanka and an Orwellian type of nightmare is unraveling here and 1984 seems to be dawning on us in 2009; the Government seems to have fast forwarded that process and some more incidents of this nature closely synchronised with the military push in the North can be expected in the weeks ahead.

If, as seems likely, the Sri Lankan armed forces secure a military victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), to what extend will this resolve Sri Lanka's ethnic divisions?

Despite many significant military victories in the past the war still rages on and has entered its 26th year. The armed forces 'liberated' the whole of the Eastern Province and held local Government elections after many years in 1992; Pooneryn was recaptured in November 1993; in one of the most significant victories, the army re-captured the City of Jaffna on 5th December 1995 when Prabhakaran [leader of LTTE or 'Tamil Tiger' rebels] was using the Kachcheri (the GA's office) as the LTTE headquarters and still remains under government control; Killinochchi was recaptured by the army in September 2006.

Today the government is re enacting the same scenario again, belittling or totally ignoring the earlier victories, using the war to whip up nationalistic fervour and as a smoke screen to hide the unprecedented waste (the worlds largest cabinet etc.), corruption and nepotism. However the most disturbing trend is systematic witch hunt against democratic institutions and dissenting voices in the pretext of fighting terrorism; even diplomats from friendly countries as well as senior UN officials who raise their concerns are called 'Tiger sympathisers' by the state run media.

Unlike in a war with an external aggressor, in a conflict of this nature - a conflict between two ethnic groups within one country, there are no winners and losers. I strongly believe that the only way to defeat terrorism and to usher in a lasting peace is to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people. The majority of Tamils do not demand a separate state; a convincing power sharing arrangement within an undivided Sri Lanka is what they seek. Therefore the most potent weapon in defeating the separatist terror of the Tamil tigers is to come up with political solution acceptable to all the peoples of Sri Lanka. Sinhala chauvinistic politics has always been the raison d'etre of extremist Tamil politics and the openly Sinhala supremacist policies of the present regime are driving even the moderate Tamils to extreme positions. Even if Prabhakaran is eliminated , many more Prabhakarans may have been created by now to continue Sri Lankas tragedy to another generation.

What mistakes do you think the Rajapakse administration have made during their first term? And what things have they done correctly?

The most significant mistake is the squandering the great degree of international goodwill Mahinda Rajapakse had as he assumed power in 2005; he was perceived as a pragmatic leader with a liberal background. However with the advent of Gotabaya Rajapakse as Defence Secretary, the hawks gained the upper hand and today his most trusted confidantes, in addition to his brothers are Wimal Weerawana and Champika Ranawake who are also xenophobic nationalists who advocate a Sinhala Buddhist supremacist authoritarian regime. As a result Sri Lanka has lost the support of many countries who have been supportive for decades and the present regime is gravitating more towards countries with rather dubious democratic credentials.

The single mindedness in fighting terrorism could have been a positive factor had it been accompanied by a strategy to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people. Unfortunately even the All Party Conference [a cross-party group set up by President Mahinda Rajapakse to explore constitutional reform in Sri Lanka] is a charade to keep International - especially Indian - pressure at bay. The very fact that the terms of reference of the All Party Conference specifically states that any recommendations must be within a unitary constitution, precludes any genuine power sharing arrangement acceptable to the Tamil people.

Do you believe that Sri Lanka is currently a free, democratic country? If not, why not?

Sri Lanka, as I said earlier, is a democracy under siege by the all powerful executive Presidency. In a gross violation of the constitution the President has sabotaged the 17th amendment to the constitution in order to paralyse the Constitutional Council. As result the Police force has been completely politicized and the IGP [Inspector-General of Police] and the AG [Attorney-General] have become absolute puppets subservient to the interests of the President. The Election's Commission is also at a standstill. Even the Supreme Court, especially the Chief Justice, is being intimidated and is under severe pressure from the executive. When the present CJ [Chief Justice] retires in June, the President will appoint a person subservient to his interests if the Constitutional Council is not in place by then. That could well be the death knell for democracy in our country.

In the current climate, do you believe that the next round of Sri Lankan national elections (General and Presidential) can be free and fair?

In the context mentioned above, the upcoming elections will certainly not be free and fair. That is why I am pushing for a wider coalition for democracy bringing together different political parties as well as other civil society groups to contest the next General and Presidential Elections. Such a people's movement supported by International monitoring would help to overcome the intimidation tactics which the government will resort to at the next elections.

Do you believe that the international community, particularly the UK and the Commonwealth, has done enough to prevent the current deterioration in fundamental freedoms in Sri Lanka?

The international community certainly could do more; simple statements of condemnation are not enough. Those accountable for the culture of impunity must be made more responsible and answerable. In fact, the principal actor behind this culture of impunity, Gotabaya Rajapakse is a US citizen. Sarath Fonseka [the army commander] is a US resident and a green card holder. The West may have to consider travel bans on such individuals and many Sri Lankans are curious to know what actions the US will take against these people who are systematically undermining Asia's oldest democracy.
Do you think that Sri Lanka's current dealings with China are in the best interests of the country?

Sri Lanka has had very cordial relations with China since diplomatic ties were established in 1957. It in our best interests to maintain and strengthen our ties but it should be handled in a manner which takes into account the Geo-political concerns of our immediate neighbour, India.

Your comment on the handling of the effective re-nationalisation of Sri Lankan Airlines and the Mihin Air budget airline scandal.

The 'renationalzation' of the Sri Lankan is proving to be a costly mistake. The strategic partnership with Emirates, along with the privatization of Sri Lanka Telecom in 1998 were hailed as model privatizations by the World Bank. Already Sri Lankan is struggling to survive and with decreased revenues, the Treasury will have to start subsidising the Sri Lankan again.

Mihin Air, [a lo-cost airline set up by the Sri Lankan government] perhaps is the most scandalous misappropriation of public funds in Sri Lanka's history. Without any accountability to Parliament, millions in State funds (especially money from the Employer's Provident Fund and the Employee's Trust Fund) has been squandered on this budget airline with the President's name in classical Sinhalese.

A budget Airline is needed, but it should be handled by the private sector. As the aviation Minister in 2005, I had agreed to issue three licenses to operate budget airlines to the private sector but when Mahinda Rajapakse became President, he gave instructions to stop the issuing of these licenses. A future administration will certainly have to appoint a commission of Inquiry to look into this.

What more could the international community, including Europe and the US, do to help Sri Lanka at this time?

The President and his brother, the Defence Secretary, must be told clearly that they will be held responsible for the culture of impunity prevalent in Sri Lanka today. Travel bans on key figures, suspected of gross human rights violations can be a strong deterrent and the US can play a more pro active role in pressurising the Defence Secretary, and holding him accountable for the culture of impunity as he is a citizen of USA.

Can you give your version of why you left the Rajapakse government? And why you now regret your role in bringing Mahinda Rajapakse to power?

My relations with the Rajapakse's began to sour after the killings of 5 students in Trincomalee , followed by the execution of 17 [Action Contre Le Faim] aid workers in 2006. As the Foreign Minister, I emphasised the urgency of taking action against the perpetrators of these crimes and on the dangers of allowing a culture of impunity to take root. In one of several meetings I had with the President and his brothers, the Defence Secretary [Gotabaya Rajapakse] actually accused me of trying to demoralise the Army! As my request fell on deaf ears, I finally put down my concerns down in writing and sent it to the President on 13th December 2006. I was removed as Foreign Minister six weeks later and finally removed from the Cabinet on 9th Feb. 2007.

Since then I was again invited to rejoin the Cabinet, by the President himself several times and as well as by intermediaries. In writing I gave a list of conditions to be fulfilled, if I am to join the government but it became obvious that the Rajapakses were not interested in changing their policy direction of wanting to create a Sinhala Buddhist supremacist, Burmese-style junta.

Today, we have a truly evil regime and as the Chief Campaign Coordinator for Mahinda Rajapakse during the Presidential campaign, I too must bear the burden of guilt and shame for unleashing one of the darkest regimes in post-independence Sri Lanka.

Like in all good horror films, the beast I was instrumental in creating, is now prowling to devour me. [courtesy: daily telegraph]

More children victims of the conflict, says UNICEF

Full text of statement by UNICEF:

Colombo, 17 February 2009 – With a growing number of children being recruited by the LTTE and scores of children being killed or injured in fighting, UNICEF today expressed its gravest concerns for children, as Sri Lanka’s conflict enters a new phase.

“We have clear indications that the LTTE has intensified forcible recruitment of civilians and that children as young as 14 years old are now being targeted,” said Mr Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka. “These children are facing immediate danger and their lives are at great risk. Their recruitment is intolerable.”

From 2003 to the end of 2008, UNICEF has recorded more than 6000 cases of children recruited by the LTTE. “Child soldiers suffer physical abuse, traumatic events and face death. Instead of hope, fear defines their childhood,” said Duamelle.

UNICEF also said it was extremely alarmed at the high number of children being injured in the fighting in the northern area of Sri Lanka known as the Vanni. “Scores of injured children have been evacuated in the past week,” said UNICEF’s Duamelle. “Children are victims of this conflict by being killed, injured, recruited, displaced, separated and denied their every day needs due to the fighting.” The main injuries to children have been burns, fractures, shrapnel and bullet wounds. UNICEF reiterates the call it has made time and again to Government and the LTTE – civilians, especially children, must be given every protection from the fighting.

UNICEF, together with other UN agencies and partners, is responding to the needs of 30,000 people who have been able to leave the Vanni and are now receiving humanitarian assistance away from the conflict. UNICEF’s emergency support is in water and sanitation, nutrition, protection and education. UNICEF said it is crucial all civilians in the Vanni are able to leave and reach a safe area where they can be urgently assisted.

February 16, 2009

With the apparent defeat of the LTTE 1976 Vaddukodai resolution laid to eternal rest

By Wilson Gnanadass

The military thrust against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and thereby weakening them, has certainly offered fresh options to the moderate Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil parties have two options. Either join hands together or work separately but with a view to aiming at a common goal – to achieve a substantial political solution to the Tamil minority.

With the apparent defeat of the LTTE, it is no secret that even the Vaddukodai resolution of 1976 is laid to eternal rest.

The infamous Vaddukodai resolution called for a separate state for the Tamils of the North and the East and this prompted the young and the energetic youth to take up to arms. Thereafter, it was an arms struggle which the country has witnessed for the past three decades.

Large numbers of Tamil men, women and children have been massacred during this turmoil period. Besides, even an equal number of Sinhala soldiers and their loved ones had been killed or maimed.

The end result was carnage, divisions, fractions and more confusion and chaos. Today, the Tamil politics is in disarray. Tamil politicians wonder what to do next. Their destination is not clear and their path blurred.

The only hope they pin on at present is on the outcome of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) report that is expected to surpass the present 13th Amendment. Some describe this as ‘13th amendment plus’.
With the APRC report on the verge of being finalised, confusion seems to be reigning again as many Tamil leaders wonder whether this would ever be made a law.

The APRC report as of now seems extremely attractive with the proposal to withdraw the concurrent list. If this is made a reality, then there is a probability of this overtaking the Indian constitution which still has the concurrent list enshrined in it. In India, many court cases demanding for the definition of certain powers devolved to the periphery through the concurrent list are still pending.

According to APRC Chairman and Science and Technology Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s idea to do away with the concurrent list has been due to the Indian experience. He feels if the list is embedded in the Constitution, problems are bound to erupt on and off.

Tamil political party leaders who are carefully following the proceedings of the APRC sittings are anxiously waiting until the report is out to make any comment about their future.
They only know that the final report, may not be the 100 percent solution to the Tamil question that they expect, but something rather substantial.

Prof. Vitharana, with his political experience and knowledge is not leaving room for either the Tamil parties or the main opposition to point fingers at the APRC findings.

According to him the final report, after being submitted to the President for his perusal would be handed over to UNP’s constitutional expert and Former Minister K. N. Chocksy.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which is the largest party representing the North and East Tamils in Parliament will also be given a chance to examine the report and submit its own proposals.

The party has already been critical of the decision by the members of the APRC to abolish the executive presidency. The executive presidency, the Tamil party representatives say is an additional strength to the ethnic minority.

They are also skeptical of the decision of the APRC to withdraw the concurrent list.
In 1993, the Mangala Munasinghe commission also suggested the removal of the concurrent list with both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UNP in unison giving their consent to it. But it never was implemented. So there is more confusion and doubts.

Reasons for doubts

Unfortunately, the manner in which successive governments have conducted affairs in the past, be it political or social, they have all led to doubts and confusion.

Even at present the impression that is given to the South by the politicians is that once the areas held by the Tigers are liberated, the problems faced by the Tamils would also be over. To many Tamil political party leaders, this is absurd
A recap of the history reveals that from the inception there have been hiccups between both the Sinhala and the Tamil communities.

The reasons are not due to racism as widely believed to be so, but political, to a great extent.
For political expediency, many political leaders in the past have interpreted not only the laws but even the Constitution according to their own whims and fancies that have ultimately ended up with clashes between the different communities.

Besides, various actions of the successive governments have also forced the ethnic minority to be suspicious of the majority community.

For instance the Indian-Pakistani Citizenship Act of 1949, that denied citizenship to over a million people in the hill country, was a cause for suspicion.

The 1956 Sinhala Only Act was another piece of legislation that became a matter for suspicion. Nobody dared to think that the Oxford-educated S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who is presumed to have even thought in English would have ever wanted to enact a piece of legislation of this nature. But in the back of his mind was political expediency and not racism.

Then came the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact in 1957 that had features sufficient enough to placate the Tamil community that was clamouring for a change.

But again the UNP that was occupying the Opposition seat in Parliament protested against it. The late J. R. Jayewardene even initiated a protest march (Pada Yatra) to Kandy, in protest against the pact.

Ultimately the pact never was implemented. Again for parochial political convenience the pact was opposed. And no Tamil party leader wants to believe it is for a cause of racism.

Subsequently the Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact in 1965 also did not materialize. The District Development Council (DDC) that was proposed under this pact never saw the light of the day.

The Tamils could definitely have been comfortable with the DDC but mounting pressure from the South, prevented Dudley Senanayake from implementing the Pact. Here again, the Sinhala leaders were careful not to lose their vote base and hence refused to please the minority.

Then came the ethnic riots of 1958, 1977 and 1983 where most of the Tamils were forced to flee the country due to fear. These riots gave the impression to the Tamil community that they were not part of the island nation but aliens.

The events that have unfolded down the line from the inception have frustrated the Tamils and they were forced to believe that there was an unequivocal agreement between both the major political parties in the country - the SLFP and the UNP, to sideline the minority.

No racism involved

If the Sinhala community by and large were racists, then there would not have emerged different pacts in the past, according to many Tamil political party leaders.

The Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact, the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact, the Sirimavo-Shastri Pact and the Indo – Lanka Pact have all attempted to offer something substantial to the minority notwithstanding pressure from some quarters.

Racist elements have tried from both sides of the divide to mount pressure on successive governments to give and not give. But the fact remains that for merely political advantage the majority political parties have denied free and equal life to the minority.

It is no secret that when Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan took up the cause of Buddhism to the United Kingdom, upon his arrival he was taken on a chariot by the Sinhalese, around the country. Even when the late Lakshman Kadirgamar went around the globe and insisted that the LTTE be banned, he was considered a hero by the Sinhala majority.

Ethnic nationalism

Author of many books Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda of the Colombo University calls it ethnic nationalism.
He says Sri Lankan politics has been ethnicised and as a result politicians of various political parties have attempted to take advantage of this feeling.

Sri Lankan politics, according to him is looked at in the context of ethnicity. He describes this as 0-sum game. “It is like this. Either I gain everything or you lose everything. We describe this situation as 0-sum game. This is a bad game to play with the sentiments of the people,” he explained.

He pointed out that people usually have a tendency to give priority to give something extra to their communities and further said that due the ethnic conflicts in the country, ethnicism has been well institutionalized.

“People have started to always look at issues from a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim point of view. Ethnic identity politics has been entrenched in our political culture and politicians and political parties have reinforced this. They appeal to ethnic sentiments and it pays dividends. I would not call it racism but ethnic nationalism,” he said.

He further pointed out that politicians have become reluctant to accept that Sri Lanka is a pluralistic country and added it is pluralistic democracy that should be exercised in order to let different communities live in harmony.

Join or not

Meanwhile serious questions are raised, whether or not, Tamil political parties should join hands now to represent the already battered Tamil community.

Already Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) led by V. Anandasangari, Peoples Liberation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) led by D. Sidharthan, and Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) led by Varadaraja Perumal have coalesced together under one banner.

They will contest all future elections together as one party, named Democratic Tamil National Alliance (DTNA).
These three parties spurned the demand for a separate state after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord was signed. They believed in a reasonable devolution to the North-Eeast where people could live in harmony and enjoy the freedom of movement and expression. They believed in development and genuine security of the Tamils in these regions.

They expected the successive governments to consider Tamils also as part of the state but to them, every action of successive governments had only further distanced the Tamils from the centre.
However, today they still believe there could be a political package that would convince the Tamil minority that they are part and parcel of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Minister Douglas Devananda has already decided to go solo.
Devananda who broke away from the EPRLF, after functioning as the group’s Eastern military Wing Commander opted to fall in line with the main stream of democracy and to date, he has stuck to his parliamentary politics.

Devananda overtly criticized the LTTE and has escaped narrowly several assassination attempts by the LTTE.
From the time he opted to engage in politics he has been under threat.

He says it is not necessary for the Tamil parties to join together provided they worked for a common goal. His ambition is to meet the aspirations of the Tamils through parliamentary democracy. “Otherwise it would be of no use to anyone. We want our rights enshrined in the Constitution. We don’t want separate land but we want our rights honoured and our freedom restored,” he said.
He pointed out that the Tamil parties that decided to eschew violence and the gun culture could not win over the rights of the Tamil because of the several blocks imposed by the LTTE.

“If the LTTE is fully defeated, we can achieve this through parliamentary democracy. This is our goal and dream,” he pointed out.
It is learnt that the EPDP will contest future elections alone. The people in the North are now tired of the presence of the Special Task Force (STF). The presence of the STF, according to Devananda is due to the continuing threats posed by the Tigers.

He sees the necessity of the presence of the STF until elections are over.
“Once the elections are over and the LTTE defeated, I am confident that the STF will not remain here and we can exercise true democracy,” he said.

Different clashes

Clashes within and without political parties are inevitable. However clashes between the different Tamil parties and clashes among the Sinhala parties have distinct causes.

For instance splits among Tamil parties have been due to personality clashes. Almost all the parties, except the LTTE, believe, including the TNA, that it is only a political solution that will finally bring about a settlement.
Based on this philosophy they function at different levels, keeping one goal in mind. The cause for their struggle is one at the end of the day.

But when the Sinhala parties represent the majority community their aims have been towards power. They are not oppressed nor suffer identity crisis. But their aim has been to come to power. In fact even the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurgency was aimed at toppling the incumbent government to come to power.

PLOTE Leader Sidharthan says as the aim of the Tamil political parties remain one, they could easily gravitate towards each other later on for the sake of the community.

His view is that only if all the parties are united then the Tamil community could be strengthened.
“Whether one talks with the EPDP or EPRLF, the same sentiments are expressed at the end of the day. The fundamental question remains the same. This is why I strongly believe that it is essential that we unite together for this particular cause. After all, we do not want Eelam. The party that clamoured for Eelam is slowly but steadily vanishing from the society,” he said.

He said with the defeat of the LTTE, many Tamils feel that their future is over. But added it is only a myth.
“If there is a proper democratic process setting in motion, any Tamil will be willing to participate in that process. And once we are allowed to demonstrate our feelings and sentiments freely, I am sure, all the Tamils will feel that they are part of this country. I call upon all the Tamils not to lose hope,” he said.

Meanwhile TULF leader Anandasangari said no leader can be imposed.
He said if the people are allowed to elect their own representatives and leaders, then there will be no problems in the future.
“The problem here is that leaders are imposed on a community. People are forced to elect someone who they do not have any confidence in. Then problems start. This is what has happened to the LTTE. When Pirabhakaran forced himself to be the leader, the people started to distance themselves further away from him,” he said.

Opportune moment

With the probable elimination of the LTTE, it is possible and easy for the rest of the Tamil parties to take decisions together. If they claim to be the representatives of the Tamils in general, then it is the most opportune time for them to take one cohesive decision.

Through this exercise, they can bring the many scattered Tamils together.
Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga has already identified the problems of the Tamil youth who are returning to Vavuniya from the rebel held areas. He has elaborate plans to set up many vocational training centres to train the youth and then send them back to their homes.

The Tamil parties can be part of this exercise to begin with. This is the time the Tamils need their warmth and guidance.
If parties are going to be again separated for personal reasons, and not show a keen interest on the people whom they represent, then the future of this community is going to be absolutely austere.

February 15, 2009

"Impossible to defend consolidation of Sinhala chauvinism"

By Ramachandra Guha

In a recent essay in the Economic and Political Weekly, the political scientist Neil DeVotta quotes a Sri Lankan Government Minister as saying: ‘The Sinhalese are the only organic race of Sri Lanka. Other communities are all visitors to the country, whose arrival was never challenged out of the compassion of the Buddhists. But they must not take this compassion for granted. The Muslims are here because our kings let them trade here and the Tamils because they were allowed to take refuge when the Moguls were invading them in India. What is happening today is pure ingratitude on the part of these visitors’.

Commenting on these and other such statements made down the years, DeVotta says they form part of a ‘nationalist narrative that combines jeremiad with chauvinism’. In this narrative, ‘the Sinhalese only have Sri Lanka while the island’s other minorities have homelands elsewhere; Sri Lanka is surrounded by envious enemies who loathe the Sinhalese; those living across the Palk Straits in Tamil Nadu, especially those who want to overtake the island; and NGOs, Christian missionaries, human rights groups, and various Western powers and their organisations conspire to tarnish the image of the Sinhalese Buddhists and thereby assist the LTTE. Those who subscribe to this narrative are patriots; the rest are traitors’.

Although DeVotta does not make the comparison himself, in reading the sentences he quotes, as well as his own analysis, I was irresistibly reminded of the rhetoric used by the majority chauvinists of my own country. The main ideologues of the tendency known as Hindutva, such as V. D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, have argued that Hindus, and Hindus alone, were the true, original and rightful inhabitants of the land known as Bharat. In their view, the other communities were late-comers or interlopers, whose presence here was permitted only because of the ‘tolerance’ of the Hindus. Regrettably, these minorities — Muslims, Christians, etc — were often not grateful enough to the majority. Hence the need to periodically issue them a warning.

In the perspective of the chauvinist, a proper, good and reliable Sri Lankan must apparently be a Tamil-hating or at least Tamil-distrusting Sinhala. Change a word or two, substituting ‘Indian’ for ‘Sri Lankan’, ‘Muslim’ for ‘Tamil’, and ‘Hindu’ for ‘Sinhala’, and you arrive, more-or-less, at the core beliefs of Hindutva. The parallels run further still. Consider the strong element of paranoia that characterises the Hindu as much as the Sinhala chauvinist. Thus the Sinhala bigot venerates the memory (or the myth) of a king named Dutegemunu, who back in the 2nd century BC is believed — or alleged — to have defeated a Tamil king. The exploits — real or imagined — of Shivaji and Rana Pratap serve the same symbolic purpose for the Hindu bigot, which is to invoke a militantly nationalistic past in which the foreigner or invader was humbled or killed.

In India, as in Sri Lanka, the myths of the past inform the poisonously practical politics of the present. Thus the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh also rants on about the various Western powers out to demean and defeat Bharat Mata; it also reserves a particular opprobrium for NGOs and human rights groups. But it goes further — singling out, as particular enemies of the Hindu nation, those independent-minded intellectuals whom they deem to be in thrall to the unholy Western Trinity of Marx, Mill and Macaulay. (Since there is no substantial intellectual class in Sri Lanka, the Sinhala bigots can, fortunately for them, claim one enemy less.)

To be sure, similar forms of chauvinism can be found in other countries as well. In South Asia itself, the Islamists in Bangladesh and Pakistan consider their chief enemy within to be the Muslim liberal who engages with the West; and their chief enemy without to be the malign Hindus of India, here accused of conspiring to keep the Islamic umma from claiming its rightful place. Looking further afield, we have those Americans — such as the late political scientist Samuel Huntington — who claim that only those who speak English, celebrate the achievements of the West, and have an allegiance to the Christian creed can count as wholly reliable citizens of the United States of America.

Many years ago, the great Kannada writer Sivarama Karanth insisted that it was impossible to talk of ‘Indian culture as if it is a monolithic object’. ‘Indian culture today’, he pointed out, ‘is so varied as to be called “cultures”. The roots of this culture go back to ancient times: and it has developed through contact with many races and peoples. Hence, among its many ingredients, it is impossible to say surely what is native and what is alien, what is borrowed out of love and what has been imposed by force. If we view Indian culture thus, we realise that there is no place for chauvinism.’

These words need to be read afresh in India. But, as the civil war in Sri Lanka nears its end, they need to be read and heeded across the Palk Straits too. Far from being ‘the only organic race’ of their island, the Sinhala almost certainly migrated there from eastern India. In any case, in later centuries the culture of the island has been influenced and enriched by many races and peoples, among them Tamils, Arabs, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the British, who in religious terms were variously Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Parsi and atheist as well as Buddhist. The LTTE is a terrorist organisation — it is impossible to defend them. However, if their defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan army leads to a consolidation of Sinhala chauvinism, it will be impossible to defend that, too. [courtesy: The Hindustan Times]

Ramachandra Guha is a historian and the author of India After Gandhi

Prabhakaran's Project of Separate Tamil State is Militarily Crushed.

by Kusal Perera

A smiling Valentine was there for the UPFA on 14th February. Elections for the Central and Wayamba (North-West) provincial councils brought a clear victory in both provinces, with Kurunegala district in Wayamba showing how much the Sinhala war psyche works for the Rajapaksa regime. War for the Sinhala people had been won and over. But for analysts, it is not yet. Ashok Mehta, a retired Indian Army General who has served in Sri Lanka , told Al Jazeera after the suicide attack in Visvamadu on 09th Monday,

"It is a matter of time, in fact days, before they [the government] are able to declare mission accomplished." However, he warned that taking control of Tiger territory is "just the end of the conventional phase of the conflict" and not the war.

But the fact is, this armed conflict is not about who is winning the war. It’s about seeking democratic solutions to the long standing issues of the Tamil people in particular on power sharing and the Sinhala South in general on how they would accept a change to their political power arrangement in achieving a democratic secular State that would accommodate all ethnic groups and communities including the Muslims and the plantation sector Tamils. That issue has been looming large and ever growing all through our 61 years since independence and would be the major issue confronting us, after the Head of State, President Rajapaksa declares the “mission accomplished” in a few days or weeks or months to come.

For all those who wouldn’t want to accept that we as a country have a major problem in reforming or restructuring our existing “political power arrangement”, which is mapped out in the present Constitution, this war is an end by itself in eliminating a conflict. Among them, especially among the more emotional Sinhala middle class and the “runaway” Sinhala Diaspora the mood right now is simply hypnotic “glee” and cheer. “Wait till the terrorists are wiped off completely” is their answer to any serious political argument. Yet the painfully bleeding question today is, whether it would be just that fine, “after finishing off the terrorists”.

While I do accept the war would not be completely over in the way it is projected, it is now certain, Prabhakaran's project of establishing a separate Tamil State has been militarily crushed and is over for now. His stubborn military gamble in dragging the Tamil people beyond what was politically possible within a federal system in achieving his Separate Thamil State, not only proved him wrong, it also denied the Tamil people a future with political dignity. Prabhakaran or a section of the surviving LTTE leadership would now live a few more years as a fractured guerrilla outfit. Yet the huge cost he extracted both in human sacrifice and in kind from the Tamil people in return for a separate Tamil State has all been in vain, just for now. His military agenda left no space for political assumptions, fragmented and uprooted the democratically functioning TNA and left the Tamil society without any credible political tool they could use for negotiations on their behalf. As the man who made all the decisions on behalf of the Tamil people all by himself, Prabhakaran would not be able to justify this bloody let down in the face of the present human tragedy, for which he is supremely and solely responsible.

Velupillai Prabhakaran would nevertheless remain in modern history as the leader who raised Tamil nationalism into a political force beyond geographical boundaries. He would remain an elusive man who forced the world to recognise and respect the Tamil people as a nation. But it would not be within Prabhakaran's remaining life time, the next phase of the Eelam struggle would evolve into a strong, popular movement, even if the South denies any sharing of power. With that the position of the Sinhala mindset that claims every thing would be over and fine with a military victory, is what needs to be discussed.

To begin with, the Rajapaksa government is left with immediate and emergency issues at hand in terms of broken human life in the North and with the yet to be determined issues of rehabilitating and re-socialising at least part of the battle hardened military with large numbers of disabilities. From what we know of the International Community (IC), money for all that would never be short. The IC would scramble back to Colombo with aid packages, expertise and consultants. So would the Delhi government in its haste to outplace the Pakistanis (perhaps the Chinese too) and to ease the pressure and pain from Tamil Nadu. They would be mere technicalities, given the scope of the political issues that arise out of this human and political tragedy.

But, the important issue would be to deliver on the promise of raising "Sri Lanka to the dignity of a country that is energetic, powerful, virtuous and wise". A promise made on the 61st independence day of this battered country by the President himself. A promise that endorses in no small words that "freedom and non-servitude, to rise with dignity of a citizen who equally loves the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and all others who makeup our nation." A promise that assures "the sowing of discord belongs to the past. The future belongs to those who sow the seeds of unity. The spread of social injustice is of the past. The future is for the building of social justice."

This heavily worded promise is the ultimate political exam the Sinhala South would have to sit for now, to prove their honesty and decency, if not for the world, then at least to their own "compassionate Buddhist conscience". Unfortunately for them, the syllabus they had studied and learnt these 03 years is not the syllabus that would help them qualify to meet the challenges ahead.

Although the LTTE is now out of the political scene to press for maximum power sharing in a unified Tamil homeland, this country needs, - let me stress on the word "needs" - a more genuine democratic arrangement of power that would re-democratise the provinces, in assimilating long standing Tamil aspirations and allowing for development in all other provinces. That much power to satisfy those Tamil leaders who even agreed to de-merge their own Tamil homeland to stand with this regime in eliminating the LTTE. That much power the Delhi government would feel comfortable with in telling TN politicians, Delhi had played its part in giving the SL Tamils a decent solution in power sharing.

But the war campaign over the past two years has strengthened Sinhala political sentiments that would not accede to such devolution of power. They even object to the implementation of provisions under the existing 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This anti power sharing lobby is also the strength this regime lives on in pushing the war to its brutal victory. It is this Sinhala lobby that gave the Rajapaksa regime the social mandate to dismantle all democratic social structures in crushing every opposition to the war. It is this hardened Sinhala lobby in society that justifies all threats, abductions, involuntary disappearances, torture, killings and even heavy extortions. Even the UNP in opposition preferred to go mum on all those violations fearing this Sinhala lobby.

They created the extreme Sinhala sentiments in society that accepts this war against the LTTE defined as Tamil separatism "at any cost". Such extreme Sinhala sentiments galvanised in support of the war in its own right is against any "devolution of power" on the assumption that "devolution" gives into Tamil politics and Tamil politics including that of the TNA is equivalent to "Tamil separatism". This Sinhala political build up in society makes it extremely difficult for the government to indulge in serious devolution discussions hereafter. It would not be possible to seek a compromise to satisfy Delhi requests and for the Rajapaksa regime, Delhi 's election would therefore provide a satisfying breather.

But how this government works and exists is twofold. It drags on political compromises without either serious commitment or any implementation, yet giving them adequate publicity while the defence establishment and the Sinhala extremist groups, ably assisted by Tamil para military organisations continue with their hard line agenda. In all probability, that seems to be the direction the elected government would keep getting pushed and then treading, in the post 2009 February period. With no other possible post war scenario possible, the yet to be declared rehabilitation package for the displaced people of Vanni, which is almost the total population of the 03 districts, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, gives some indication of how this regime would want the war concluded.

Unofficial so far, the project proposal talks of 05 compact villages in three different locations in Mannar, South of Mannar and in Vavuniya. It is now reported the locations have been earmarked in hundreds of acres. These villages are expected to have semi permanent houses with groups of five families having a single toilet and probably community kitchens. Schools and playgrounds have also been identified as necessary. The concept reminds one of the old Israeli "Kibbutz", but with a difference. Kibbutzim were agrarian communities earning a decent living. But these under the Rajapaksa regime would be carefully guarded enclaves of uprooted Tamil families living at the mercy of a Sinhala government. A Sinhala government living off a social psyche that would not want to trust them any more. The psyche in the security conscious South is any Tamil could be a "Tiger" while all Tigers are "Tamils". Thus the whispered discussions about giving amnesty to deserter soldiers and providing them with land in adjoining areas would explain this Sinhala psyche. All of it talks of a long period of temporary living under watchful eyes. And all of it talks of devolution having a long shelf life. That's a period for the South to learn its own lesson of living in a militarised society. And the executive promise of "freedom and non-servitude, to rise with dignity of a citizen who equally loves the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and all others who makeup our nation.", well, its every one's and any one's guess. Never mind the victory, the wounds would nevertheless fester.

February 14, 2009

Genocide in Sri Lanka

by Bruce Fein

The barrage of media reporting of the grim conflict in Sri Lanka has captured popular imagination, but has overlooked the grisly Sinhalese Buddhist genocide of innocent Hindu or Christian Tamil civilians by a US dual citizen and US green card holder. The two should be investigated and prosecuted in the United States.

Acting on behalf of Tamils Against Genocide, I recently delivered to US Attorney General Eric H. Holder a three-volume, 1,000 page model 12-count genocide indictment against Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka charging violations of the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. Derived from affidavits, court documents, and contemporaneous media reporting, the indictment chronicles a grisly 61-year tale of Sinhalese Buddhists attempting to make Sri Lanka "Tamil free."

Rajapaksa and Fonseka assumed their current offices in December 2005. They exercise command responsibility over Sri Lanka's mono-ethnic Sinhalese security forces. On their watch, they have attempted to physically destroy Tamils in whole or in substantial part through more than 3,800 extrajudicial killings or disappearances; the infliction of serious bodily injury on tens of thousands; the creation of punishing conditions of life, including starvation, withholding medicines and hospital care, humanitarian aid embargoes, bombing and artillery shelling of schools, hospitals, churches, temples; and the displacements of more than 1.3 million civilians into camps, which were then bombed and shelled. This degree of mayhem inflicted on the Tamil civilian population because of ethnicity or religion ranks with the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo that occasioned genocide indictments against Serbs by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

During the past month, a virtual reenactment of the Bosnian Srebrenica genocide of more than 7,000 Muslims has unfolded. Sri Lanka's armed forces employed indiscriminate bombing and shelling to herd 350,000 Tamil civilians into a government-prescribed "safety zone," a euphemism for Tamil killing fields. There, more than 1,000 have been slaughtered and more than 2,500 have been injured by continued bombing and shelling.

As a preliminary to the horror, roads and medical aid were blocked, and humanitarian workers and all media were expelled. During a BBC radio interview on Feb. 2, Rajapaksa declared that outside the "safety zone" nothing should "exist." Accordingly, a hospital has been repeatedly bombed, killing scores of patients. Rajapaksa further proclaimed that in Sri Lanka, any person not involved in fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is a terrorist.

The United States assailed and sanctioned Serbia for noncooperation in apprehending genocide defendants Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, and Ratko Mladic. The United States should be no less scrupulous in prosecuting suspected genocide by its own citizens or permanent residents. Further, under Article 5 of the Genocide Convention of 1948, ratified by the United States Senate in 1986, the United States is obligated to provide "effective penalties" for genocide. That imposes an obligation on signatory parties to investigate and to prosecute credible charges - a benchmark that has been satisfied by TAG's 1,000-page model 12-count indictment of Rajapaksa and Fonseka.

The predictable defense of counter-terrorism will not wash. Not a single Tamil victim identified in the model indictment was involved in the war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The lame excuse of defeating terrorism was advanced by Sudanese President Omar Bashir to a genocide arrest warrant over Darfur issued by chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court. The chief prosecutor retorted that although Bashir's pretense was counterterrorism, his intent was genocide.

The State Department lists Sri Lanka as an investigatory target in the Office of War Crimes. The New York-based Genocide Prevention Project last December labeled Sri Lanka as a country of "highest concern." President Barack Obama has made the case for military intervention in Sudan or elsewhere to stop genocide. All the more justification for the United States to open an investigation of the voluminous and credible 12 counts of genocide against a United States citizen and permanent resident alien assembled by Tamils Against Genocide.

A genocide indictment would probably deter Rajapaksa and Fonseka from their ongoing atrocities against Tamil civilians. There is no time to tarry. [courtesy: Boston Globe]

Bruce Fein is counsel for Tamils Against Genocide and former associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan.

Sinhala and Tamil Ancestors were on this Island for 14,000 Years

By R. Wijewardene

The volume of information on the internet is genu-inely astounding. Of course not all, or even a small fraction of it, is true but a great deal of it is certainly interesting.

The entry in Wikipedia under 'Sinhala people' - makes particularly interesting reading. It says, in reasonably technical jargon, that DNA studies conducted by Stanford University in 2003 indicate that the Sinhala people are not descended from north Indian settlers but rather that they can trace their origins to the indigenous people who populated this island circa 12000 BC.

What this fairly obscure DNA study does therefore is cast doubt on the creation myth central to the identity of the nation's principle ethnic group; the legend that the Sinhalese people are the descendents of a group of marauding North Indians who arrived on the island on precisely the date of the Buddha's death.


While the Vijaya story is understood in terms of a myth nevertheless the assumption that the ancestors of the Sinhalese arrived on this island relatively recently - 543 BC and that the Sinhalese were nevertheless the 'first' of the major ethnic groups to arrive on the island underlies claims of 'ownership' the are central to the broader ethnic conflict.

However what these genetic studies indicate is that where DNA is concerned the people of Sri Lanka, never really arrived from anywhere. This applies to both Tamils as well as Sinhalese as the study found that in genetic terms the difference between the communities was either marginal or non existent.

The majority of DNA - in Tamils and Sinhalese alike appears tobe indigenous which is to say that the bulk of the island's people are descended from natives of this island rather than settlers. What this means is that the Sinhalese do not trace their ancestry to Orissa or North West India as often claimed but instead to Balangoda man - the ancient Paleolithic people who populated this island thousands of years ago - the yakshas and nagas of legend.

While the study is not definitive - the suggestion that the people of this island while identified as Sinhala, Indo Aryans and Tamil Dravidians for linguistic reasons, where ancestry is concerned descended from predominately indigenous stock, is not a new one.


Local historians such as K.M. de Silva, as well as British and European archaeologists and anthropologists working half a century ago began to suggest that evidence of migration from India in and after 500BC was limited and began to find evidence to support the theory that the bulk of the population was of essentially indigenous origin.

The Indo-Aryan language - 'Sinhala' which is often cited as evidence for the north Indian origins of the Sinhalese, is according the genetic study a result of 'cultural diffusion' not settlement.

The Indo Aryan languages Sanskrit and Pali were introduced by monks and possibly a small number of invaders and adopted by the indigenous people as they had no written language of their own.

Rather than being settled by people from India the reality is that a small number of North Indians brought the people a written language and sacred texts the influence of which caused the indigenous population to modulate their speech - and begin speaking an Indo Aryan language.


The old legend that Vijaya displaced the island's indigenous people chasing them into the jungles to become veddahs therefore is rather suspect. It seems rather that the descendents of the island's indigenous pre Vijayan people include most of us on the island today. And the veddahs possibly represent a small group of indigenous people who did not become as thoroughly assimilated into the civilisations brought to the island from India.

Anthropologists have long suggested that veddahs are not a distinct aboriginal race but rather represent an earlier stratum of Sinhala culture, as their language and rituals are closely related to those of the Sinhalese. The DNA of the islands original yaksha inhabitants lives on - not just in the veddahs but in all of us.

Again what is crucial is that the entire population was found to be of largely indigenous descent and the study included DNA samples from 90 Sri Lankan Tamils.

Which means that Tamil the community is either extensively intermixed with the indigenous community or that many indigenous people simply adopted a Tamil identity at times when the island was ruled by Tamil kings.

The Tamil and Sinhala identities are both therefore the result of cultural diffusions rather than distinct racial origins.


Ultimately this genetic evidence casts doubts on established ideas regarding the origins of the nation's major ethnic groups. However by concluding that the Sinhalese and Tamil people are effectively identical, and indigenous the study also provides a basis for unity. What distinguishes the people of this island is not genetics but only languages and religions introduced relatively recently from abroad.

While this is fascinating theory it is despite the genetic component of the research being definitive and does not by any means settle the historical issue regarding the origins of this island's presentinhabitants. What the study does do however is make it clear that there is a need to reopen the debate regarding the origins of civilisation on this island.

While in other parts of the world history has been subject to revision, re-examination and debate, in Sri Lanka history or the study of history has since the mid 20th century been largely stagnant with established versions - the Vijayan legends etc. etched in stone.

The debate, discussion and exploration of this country's history has largely vanished from the public eye and today history is confined to outdated text books and dusty unvisited museums. This is ultimately a great shame as history is vital not simply as the study of a static past but in terms of establishing identity in the present.

The ethnic conflict however has politicized and restricted its study with various established biases serving both warring parties and the ultimate loser has been as ever the people of this country who have been deprived of a fuller understanding of this country's fascinating past.


While theories regarding the origins of the Sinhala and Tamil people on the island invariably lead to heated debate the ultimate objective of historical investigation should not be to propose any one view as definitively right but rather through the analysis of many considered points of view to come to a clearer version of our history. And of course to discover if we really are genetically at least still the nagas and yakshas of 14000 years ago

Tamil nationalist movement must put politics in command

by Kumar David

The LTTE has lost game and set; whether it has lost the match as well, or can reincarnate as a successful guerrilla movement a second time, remains to be seen. However, the thought I wish to pursue today is not that the LTTE in its current avatar as formal army has been routed, rather, the corollary consequence that, at least for now, the quest of the Tamils for a new constitutional dispensation has come to nought.

Only servile opportunists and fond dreamers, for different reasons, delude themselves, or con others, that devolution, ethnic democratisation of the Sinhala State, self-governing arrangements in Tamil regions, or a non-unitary constitution, will see the light of day. Nothing of the sort will happen; when one side loses an ethnic civil war, then, the consequences are etched in stone. There will, of course, be economic inputs into the North more so than the East, facilitated by foreign aid and coordinated by India, but it is moot if the Tamils in the Vanni and the North are so broken in sprit and exhausted by war that this peace dividend will be an adequate substitute for devolution.

The reasons why an ethnic civil war is lost and the consequences of losing an ethnic civil war are different. At first sight they may seem only subtly different but I crave your indulgence to labour the point. The LTTE made strategic blunders and committed crimes over the last quarter century – so did the Sinhala State over a longer period. Nevertheless, the LTTE lost the conventional war, the State won, and that’s decisive for now. Let’s put it another way, even if the LTTE had not committed blunders and fought nice and clean but eventually lost, then the Tamils would still be exactly where they are now. Conversely, even if it fought dirty but won, the national question would have been transformed. This is no amoral case for fighting dirty, perish the thought, it is sober realpolitik.

The Tigers assassinated democratic Tamil political leaders, resorted to terrorism, drove the Muslims out of the North and killed them in mosques in the East scuttling any possibility of an alliance, and worst of all, alienated India by assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. Had the LTTE been of a different genre and refrained from such folly could it have won the war? Well, it would not have so estranged India and the whole world hence it would have fared better politically and militarily. Then, assuming a different military outcome, some form of self-rule for the Tamil regions could have materialised. Secession would not have been possible except at Indian instigation and with international support, but this caveat is not to be confused with the right to self determination, which is a matter of principle not feasibility. At this point I must add that sharing criticism of the LTTE with anyone who does not accept that the Tamils are an oppressed nation is pointless; pointless because such discourse cannot include an agenda to end denied alienation.

Nevertheless, the LTTE’s transgressions are tangential to my thesis; transgressions blunted military fortunes, hence they are relevant, but only tangentially. Tangential because if the Tigers had won (that is fought the State to a standstill and no more), irrespective of the blunders, the political outcome would have been Tamil autonomy of some sort. If defeated, as is the case now, irrespective of the niceties of war, the plight of the Tamils would have been dismal - forgive the repetition. The proof of the pudding is that the State too fought, and is fighting, no more clean and no less dirty than the LTTE, but triumphed. Hence its insignia adorns the skies. The idealism of the feeble intellect, you will observe, is not my forte.

The Tamil nationalist movement since independence falls into two broad periods of about equal duration, 30 years each. The first was a period of democratic procedures, of petitions and agreements (B-C and D-C), of non-violence. This parliamentary, bourgeois democratic phase, ended in disappointment and humiliation in the late 1970s. The 1972 Constitution and the 1976 Vattukottai Resolution mark the fork in the road, 1983 the decisive denouement. Tamil nationalism at the time was hostile to the left, socialism, worker’s struggles and the like; it was wrapped up in the righteousness of its own cause.

The second phase, the armed struggle, reached its apogee when the LTTE eliminated all other armed groups and assumed a monopoly of military and in truth political power as well. What is fundamental about this phase is an exclusive preoccupation with military methods. The single minded pursuit of a military strategy marginalised political activities and engagement with economic, social or democratic issues. The LTTE abjured the Southern polity with its creed: "We don’t care what goes in the Sinhala nation, that’s not our business". (The 2005 presidential election is one of a few isolated aberrations). Nor did the Tigers make any meaningful efforts to build diplomatic bridges with foreign states and India, for which they now suffer unrelenting global isolation.

The political demand for secession and a focus on the armed struggle frequently go together in the modern world. The former is virtually impossible without the latter (ex-Yugoslavia, Kashmir, Sudan, the two Georgian enclaves, Turkish Kurds and scores of others). The converse though does not always hold; armed movements can prosper without a relationship to secessionist issues – Mao, Castro, Nepal. In the case of the LTTE the secessionist demand and an exclusive focus on military practices were symbiotic. Could the LTTE nevertheless have been persuaded to settle for less than a separate state? There were moments in the negotiating process in the mid-1990s and at the ISGA time when, in my assessment, it may have been possible, but mistakes were made on both sides.

Tamil nationalism, indeed the Tamil community as a whole, subcontracted the national question to the LTTE during this period. Confidence in ‘the boys’ and the acclaimed military prowess of ‘thambi’ (later thalaivar) persuaded the community at home and more so in the diaspora to sit back and subcontract out the national liberation struggle. Exclusive reliance on military methods was the consequence; it was not just an error of LTTE, it was also a failure of Tamil nationalism. I do not say this without sympathy. One must bear in mind the bitter humiliation piled on by the Sinhala State, wide public involvement in the 1958, 1977 and 1983 pogroms, and the difficulty of containing a powerful force like the LTTE.

The community in its majority supported the LTTE but had no control over it; the power relationship was a one way street.

Both phases of the liberation struggle have ended in defeat. I use the term ‘liberation struggle’ advisedly. National question, the core question of the democratic revolution and national unification, remains in shambles in Lanka and the Tamils remain an oppressed minority; hence their pursuit is for liberation. But the defeat of two different approaches since independence to this undertaking must give us pause.

Dr. S. Chandrasekharan, a retired senior officer of Indian intelligence posted a paper a few days ago entitled "Alternative Conflict Resolution – The Case of Nepal" on the website South Asia Analysis Group. While armed insurrection in Nepal won, the LTTE did not; the differences between the two cases will not be lost on anyone. Extracts, much edited for abbreviation follow.

"How does one explain the remarkable success of the Maoists in capturing power within a space of ten years? First and foremost the leadership had political skill. It understood that the military campaign had its limits and cannot go it alone without political initiatives at every stage. They were in touch with political leaders of all hues including those who were opposed to their campaigns and methods. Leaders at every level - village, district and centre - were in touch with political leaders, bureaucrats and ministers; they even had a channel of communication with the Palace. The civilian leadership was in command. The PLA chief was fourth or fifth in the hierarchy and was accountable to the party politburo; the party commanded the gun".

"There was consensus in decision making. They differed but at the end of the day, the party resolution was adhered to. The most important aspect was collective leadership; Prachanda was the supreme leader, but never pushed down his decisions".

"When the Maoists hit a wall they did a "debono" of going round it. Though militarily strong and capable of prolonged war, they realised the futility of a military solution and instead supported the democratic movement. They encouraged civic bodies to take the lead. Thus they were able to make the people’s movement a success in getting rid of the monarchy".

"Finally they understood the importance of India. They never targeted India outwardly and left the Indian business community relatively free. Indian trucks were freely allowed in and out of the valley. They never abused the Indian leadership openly though in internal documents they referred to India as an expansionist power".

Surely there is no need to spell out ‘what next’ word by word. The national liberation struggle of the Tamil people must continue until the fundamental nature of the state in Lanka is transformed, but it must be prosecuted by methods starkly different from those of both the Chelvanayagam and the Prabaharan eras. I will not be so presumptuous as to pontificate a full-fledged alternative methodology at this point, but the essential immediate step is clear. The Tamil nationalist movement must put politics in command and engage with broad struggles on social and economic issues. It must join the current campaign to preserve democratic rights (right to life, right to dissent) and link the demands of national liberation into these tasks. Emphatically, this is not the same as ‘joining the democratic mainstream’, the phoney approach that the regimes new found hangers-on, jaded left-opportunists and recently articulate petty-bourgeois quacks postulate. It is as different as Rosa Luxemburg is from Anadasangaree; though no offence meant to this respected gentleman.

The middle way between recognition of reality and striving for balance

by Dayan Jayatilleka

How do we describe our country, Sri Lanka, and how is our country described by others? As an island in the Indian Ocean, just south of or off the Southern shores of India. All descriptions of Sri Lanka are a variant of this because no other is possible. We are defined by our placing, and that placing is in relation to and proximate to India.

The unique importance of the Indian factor in Sri Lanka’s external relations is best evidenced in the fact that Sri Lanka is simply indescribable without reference to India.

The inevitable asymmetry inherent in the Indo-Lanka equation is similarly evidenced in the fact that India is easily describable without reference to Sri Lanka.

Our relation to India is almost unique. This is most easily understood with reference to another tropical island proximate to another big power: I refer to Cuba, ninety miles from the world’s greatest power, the superpower power or hyper-power as Fidel Castro puts it, the USA. Contrary to the romantic illusions of some on the Sri Lankan ultra-left, Sri Lanka is not to India what Cuba is to the United States.

Cuba is defined not only by her proximity to the USA. She is an island in the Caribbean, which consists of many others states and societies. Secondly she is a Latin American country, a country which is a member of the large family of Latin American nations. This is why Latin America was referred to by Jose Marti as "Our America". Thirdly, Cuba is a member of the Hispanic community, the community of Spanish speaking nations.

The USA is not the only America. There are two Americas, North and South; Anglo and Latino. There is however, only one India. Cuba has neighbors other than the United States. Cuba has family. Sri Lanka has none. There are no neighbors to the south of Sri Lanka or around it except for the Maldives, and a federation even with the Maldives is a non option because of the religio-cultural differences. Only the Indian Ocean surrounds us right down to Antarctica.

Unlike the Spanish language and Christianity which unite Cuba with Latin America, there is no other landmass in which Sinhala is spoken by a community. Buddhism, especially Theravada Buddhism is not practiced in any adjacent land area, the closest being Myanmar, Thailand and Indo-China.

Thus, in geographic and cultural terms, Sri Lanka stands alone, next to the giant India.

We have been constituted by our relationship with India in terms of migration, religious diffusion/transmission, as well as military interference and power play, incursion and resistance. We are defined by the dialectics of our relationship with India.

India inheres in the very fabric of our country, or to change the metaphor, Sri Lanka is an inverted and miniaturized mirror of India: the belief system of the majority in the Southern two-thirds of the island derived from the teachings of and is identified with the greatest son and sage of India, Gautama the Buddha, while the minority in the Northern third of the island shares the same language and ethnicity as those in the South of the Indian subcontinent.

Even if the Tamil factor did not exist, our relationship with India would be our most vital external relationship. However, inasmuch as the Northern part of Sri Lanka ethnically mirrors the Southern part of India and is separated only by a narrow strip of water; insofar as there exists a demonstrable and felt ethnic kinship between the Tamils of Northern Sri Lanka and those of the Tamil Nadu state of India, the relationship with India is a vital constituent of our management of our internal ethnic relationships, just as our relationship with the our own Tamil minority is intrinsic to the management of our larger and essential relationship with our sole and giant neighbor India.

Given the demographic reality of an ethnic group that cross cuts the borders of India and Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s Tamil issue is not only a domestic problem for Sri Lanka, it is a domestic problem for India as well. It is for Sri Lanka, an internal problem with an external dimension while for India it is an external problem with an internal (Tamil Nadu) dimension.

An unresolved problem with Sri Lanka’s Tamils can and probably will jeopardize Sri Lanka’s relations with India, while a bad relationship with India will deprive Sri Lanka of one of the instruments which can help safely regulate our relations with our Tamil minority.

Given our aloneness on India’s doorstep, we cannot afford to sustain a negative strategic relationship with India. For this reason too, we have to resolve our problem with our own Tamil minority.

Similarly, given the fact that the Tamils and Sinhalese have to live together on a small island, we have to resolve our problems, and for this we need India’s leverage; therefore we need good relations with India.

There is thus an existential imperative of dual co-existence: Sri Lanka’s co-existence with India, and Sinhala co-existence with the Tamils. Co-existence would be unsustainable and impossible, if it were to be purely on the terms of one or the other – India or Sri Lanka, Tamils or Sinhalese.

How then to coexist? What are good relations and how are we to maintain them? I would argue that it is by adhering to that crucial concept known to classical antiquity but which we inherited from India’s greatest philosopher and teacher the Buddha, namely the concept of the Middle Path, eschewing the extremes.

What are the extremes that must be eschewed? On the one hand, supine dependence, the posture of being a puppet of India or Tamil Nadu or utilizing India as a patron for the assumption of political power. On the other hand the posture of xenophobic bellicosity towards India or any of its constituent components.

The first posture of dependence stems from an underestimation of Sri Lanka’s strength and an overestimation of India’s in relation to Sri Lanka. It underestimates the internal factor and overestimates the external factor.

The second posture of inflexible hostility and confrontation stems from the overestimation of Sri Lanka’s strength and the underestimation of India’s. It overestimates the internal factor and underestimates external realities.

These extremes manifest themselves with regard to Sri Lanka’s ethnic question as well. One posture demands the acceptance by Sri Lanka of the Tamil minority’s and Tamil Nadu’s stand on the issue or the mechanical adoption of India’s internal political model.

This position overestimates the strength and resolve of the Tamils, (local, sub-regional and global) while it underestimates the resolve of the Sinhalese (especially the Sinhala Buddhists) who are an overwhelming majority on the territory of the island. It fails to comprehend that just as objective realities confer rationality on India’s claims to preponderance or pre-eminence in the regional space, and on the USA’s claims to leadership in the world, the same factors render rational the Sinhalese claim to pre-eminence on/leadership of the island. It fails to recognize that power relations on the island cannot but be asymmetrical.

The second extreme posture ignores India’s views of the island’s ethnic problem, rides roughshod over Tamil sentiments and aspirations and attempts to settle the issue unilaterally, on Sinhala terms, in keeping with the fears and prejudices of the Sinhala Buddhist majority. This posture stems from the overestimation of the Sinhalese and underestimation of the Tamils; an overestimation of the cultural core of the country and an underestimation of its strategic periphery. As Samir Amin points out, systems begin to unravel at their peripheries.

What then constitutes the Middle Path, in the intertwined, intersecting and interacting domains of Indo-Lanka and Sinhala–Tamil relations?

The Middle Path would, I submit, be constituted by and between two boundaries: the recognition of reality and the striving for balance.

The recognition of reality consists of grasping the statics and dynamics of the situation. The statics, constants or structural factors are those geographic and demographic realities of our location, marked by massive presence and absence – the presence of India and the absence of other neighbors and linguistic or religious kin.

The dynamics, variables or conjunctural factors are twofold. Firstly the recent surge of India’s power, making it an emerging global player in its own right, and one of the two main power centers of Asia, the continent projected as the rising planetary power. Secondly, the fact that if it is a choice between Sri Lanka and India, no other Asian or world player will risk its relations with India. The USA refused to do so in the 1980s. Today it is aligned strategically with India, while Russia, China and Iran all value their relations with Delhi. These will always put their own national interests ahead of India’s or anyone else’s, but they will certainly place their equation with India above that with Sri Lanka. Cuba had the USSR to help it balance off the USA. We have and had no equivalent. We had no US card to play in the 1980s and we have no China card to play today. Sri Lanka cannot hold out against the region’s superpower and world’s sole superpower, still less the crystallizing bloc of the two.

As for Pakistan, a close and true friend, we can only pray that it survives its present travails. Sri Lanka’s capacity to balance India off to some degree with our relations with the Islamic world, will stand jeopardized by the rising anti Muslim chauvinism of its smaller, racist and xenophobic political parties.

The necessary recognition of reality must surely include the basic calculus that a vulnerably positioned and solitary ethnic group which numbers 18 million (the Sinhalese), cannot take a stand which is hostile to or alienates 80 million Tamils, 1.5 billion Muslims, 2 billion Christians, and 1 billion Indians. The internal cannot be imposed upon nor hold out forever against the external.

However, the recognition of reality is a two way street. The tragedy of India’s experience with Sri Lanka in the 1980s, not to mention those of Russia in Afghanistan and the USA in Iraq, must surely remind the world community that no solution or model imposed from outside, devoid of the consent of the Sinhalese – a solid majority with a long continuous history, existence and consciousness— can stand. The external cannot substitute for the internal, nor can a minority for the majority.

The other boundary of the Middle Path is the search, ideally for synthesis but minimally for balance. This is a synthesis of or balance between the interests of India and Sri Lanka, and the Sinhalese and Tamils.

Balance is objectively feasible because the Sinhala preponderance on the island is checked by Indian preponderance in the region, and vice versa. Crudely put, the Sinhalese are a majority on the island but a minority in the sub-region, while the Tamils are a majority in the sub-region but are a minority on the island. The objective situation therefore is structured in such a way as to provide checks and balances. What we – all parties and players— have to do is to adopt policies and practices that reflect that objective demographic reality.

India’s is an ethnically multi-polar mosaic which is safely accommodated by a federal framework. Sri Lanka’s is an ethnically bipolar model, the bipolarity of which must not be aggravated — especially given the pull factor of the adjacent Tamil Nadu — by a federal system. The Sinhalese majority will resist this, as it has for half a century and as it fought separatism for a quarter. Conversely, a unitary system with no serious devolution of power, in a state that is non-secular and gives a privileged place to one language and one religion (the disallowance of Islamic attire in the schools in secular France in vastly different from it being done in non-secular Sri Lanka), cannot be imposed on the Tamil minority, which let us recall, is not a minority in the sub-region, has leverage upon New Delhi through Chennai, and on Washington DC through the Diaspora.

India cannot afford recrudescent Tamil Nadu separatism which thrives on the charge that New Delhi is insensitive to Tamil Nadu’s feelings for their ethnic kin in Northern Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu must not be viewed through the lenses of Sinhala racism. It is an important and influential component of the Indian Union, and when push comes to shove, carries far more weight than Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese, in New Delhi, Washington, Moscow and Beijing. If faced with a serious strategic choice, Delhi will choose Chennai over Colombo. It is up to Sri Lanka to prevent matters coming to that.

Sri Lanka needs to countervail and neutralize the anti-Sinhala extremists in Tamil Nadu and the Diaspora. It can do so only by satisfying at least the anti-Tiger Sri Lankan Tamils and the no less anti Tiger Tamil Nadu elite fraction of the all-India power-bloc. (This fraction is visibly represented by The Hindu newspaper grouping). This requires a threefold solution: a credible dedication to non-discrimination, the credible dispelling of any suspicion that Sri Lanka is attempting to dismantle, delay or dilute the full implementation of the 13th amendment, and a credible commitment to move beyond it (to 13th amendment plus) as chalked out by the APRC and permitted by the parliamentary balance as well as Constitutional rigidities.

Sri Lanka may soon — very soon — have to choose between a needless "draw" or drawdown in the war and devolution. As the Indian election draws near the price we have to pay will increase. It is far better to settle for the lower price of devolution, and a lower priced devolution, sooner. If there is a ceasefire of any sort before complete, total and final victory, the Tigers will declare a triumph (as they did after the IPKF left) and having regrouped , rested and re-armed (or been rearmed) launch a counteroffensive on our demoralized armed forces.

Even if we avoid such a scenario and as is probable, win the quasi-conventional war in this quarter, a bitter ethnic polarization and socio-economically ruinous protracted occupation is unavoidable unless sufficient political space is opened up at the periphery and our Tamil allies are truly empowered. Tamil (sub) nationalism cannot be contained by the status quo of the unitary, un-devolved, non-secular Sri Lankan state structure and concomitant centralist political culture.

The balanced solution of fullest autonomy within a unitary framework may be opposed by smaller extremist forces among the Sinhala majority. The grim reality though, is that even at their most disruptive and violent, these forces can do much less harm to the Sri Lankan state than a decision by India, under mounting Tamil Nadu pressure, to tilt against Sri Lanka, and a corresponding decision by India’s partner the USA to mount economic pressure Sri Lanka through multilateral institutions and agencies. Under the unlamented Bush administration there was daylight between the positions of the US and the EU. Under the new and universally welcomed Obama administration there may be no daylight between the positions of the US, EU and India.

(Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is Sri Lanka’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. These are his strictly personal views.)

Sri Lanka plans to hold displaced Tamils in 'concentration camps'

By Dean Nelson

Officials have confirmed they will establish several "welfare villages" to house the estimated 200,000 Tamils displaced from their homes by the Sri Lankan army's "final offensive" against the LTTE's stronghold on the north of the Island. Senior officials have however confirmed that those housed in the villages will have no choice on whether to stay in the camps.


Sri Lanka plans to hold displaced Tamils in 'concentration camps' Photo: AP

The villages, which will be based in Vavuniya and Mannar districts and will include banks and parks, will be compulsory holding centres for all civilians fleeing the fighting. They will be screened for terrorist connections and then held under armed guard, with only those with relatives inside the camp allowed to come and go. Single youngsters will be confined to the camps

It remains unclear how long displaced Tamils will be forced to remain in the camps. Officials had originally planned to detain civilians there for three years but, following an outcry from humanitarian groups, said they hoped to resettle 80 per cent within a year.

Aid groups, senior opposition leaders and Britain's Department for International Development have all denounced the plan, which was on Friday compared to Hitler's demonisation of the Jews in the 1930s.

Former Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera, a former close aide to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said it was part of a police to paint all Tamils, even moderate opponents of the Tamil Tigers, as potential terrorists and to silence all Tamil voices.

"It is amazing and terrible. A few months ago the government started registering all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that they could be a security threat, but this could be exploited for other purposes like the Nazis in the 1930s. They're basically going to label the whole civilian Tamil population as potential terrorists, and as a result we are becoming a recruitment machine for the LTTE. Instead of winning hearts and minds of the Tamil people, we're pushing even the moderates into the arms of the LTTE by taking these horrendous steps," he told The Daily Telegraph.

A spokesman for Britain's Department for International Development said:"We are aware of the Government of Sri Lanka's plans for civilians displaced by the conflict in the Vanni. We do not believe current plans represent a sufficient solution by international humanitarian standards. Prolonging the displacement of this very vulnerable group of people is not in anyone's interests.

"There is no UK Government money going into the camps. The UK is supporting international agencies on the ground like the Red Cross, who are in constant touch with the Government of Sri Lanka to find an acceptable solution for those affected. It is important to note that the Government of Sri Lanka has consistently followed a speedy resettlement policy and the experience in the East has been positive in this regard." [courtesy: Daily Telegraph]

Minority fears can only be allayed through devolution and power sharing

by Shanie

"Laws-of-war violations by one side never justify violations by the other. The government and the LTTE appear to be holding a perverse contest to determine who can show the least concern for civilian protection." In last week’s column we quoted these words of Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. Since then, the plight of the civilians trapped in the Vanni has only worsened. Except for a few clergy and some aid workers, there is no one left to care for these civilians. Medical facilities are virtually non-extent and, according to reports, no food has reached these people since 29th January. Because of continuing artillery fire, they are now huddled in makeshift bunkers.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has expressed outrage at the unnecessary loss of hundreds of lives and the continued suffering of innocent civilians inside the LTTE-controlled areas. Without respect for international humanitarian law by both parties, their spokesperson has said, the bloodshed will continue. "We are calling upon both the Government and the LTTE to halt indiscriminate fighting in close proximity to large concentrations of innocent people in the so-called safe zone." He also added that the "safe zone" was not mutually recognized by the combatants nor did it meet any of the necessary international pre-requisites, leading to violations by both sides and putting the safety of the trapped civilians at even greater risk.

This week at an army centre receiving civilians fleeing the war zone, a suicide bomber blew herself up killing twenty soldiers and eight civilians. Suicide bombings are a trade mark of the LTTE, and there can be no doubt that this was the work of an LTTE cadre. As the Amnesty International has stated, suicide bombings violate the international prohibition on perfidious attacks that expose civilians to increased danger and are therefore totally unacceptable. It is a cowardly act deserves the strongest possible condemnation. On the same day, some civilians fleeing the fighting had come under fire and many have been killed and scores injured. Both sides blame each other for this act. In the absence of any independent verification, it is difficult to apportion blame; but it reflects the danger faced by the civilians, their utter helplessness and the lack of concern for their safety by the two sides.

The Defence Secretary so nonchalantly makes the outrageous statement that the Government was now not responsible for the fate of the civilians still in the LTTE held areas, echoing words of President Jayawardene just before the 1983 pogrom that he was not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people; "now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or of their opinion about us." Many in the South seem to agree with the Defence Secretary now, just as they did with President Jayawardene’s statement twenty-five years ago. The truism of the statement made this week by President Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) is all too plain: "Civil war generates frightening emotions of hatred and revenge that are immensely destructive."

Timor-Leste is a country that emerged in 1999 from a protracted and violent conflict to win independence from Indonesia. But years of warfare have left the country scarred and violence again erupted in 2006. So President Ramos-Horta’s words have the wisdom of history and experience. He has stated, referring to the situation in Sri Lanka today, "Those who speak glibly of an end to conflict, however, show little understanding of history, human nature or what constitutes real peace. There will be no long term peace in Sri Lanka if this war is prosecuted by either side to the bitter end without regard to human dignity." Tomor-Leste has established a Commission of Truth and Friendship with the basic aim of promoting reconciliation among its people.

In a post-war scenario, we need to shed the war rhetoric and talk the language of reconciliation. With a military victory over the LTTE, and hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamils and Muslims, the temptation to dismiss the political problems and treat the minorities as less than equal citizens will be strong. Already we have had nationalists close to President Rajapakse making pronouncements to that effect, although it must be said to his credit that he himself has been making reconciliatory statements.

But will he have the will and the strength to resist those elements? If he is to do so, he will need the solid support of the seniors in the SLFP, who have been marginalized to an extent by the dominant forces in the Rajapakse administration. President Rajapakse must bring the seniors back into the mainstream if the military victory is to be consolidated by real peace which can only come about by a pluralistic approach to our political problems. War-mongers and majoritarian supremacists cannot bring about sustainable peace.

The majoritarian agenda is to change the demographic pattern of the North and East on the basis of the specious argument that ethnic conflict arose because of the concentration of minorities in a geographical area. If the Rajapakse administration unwisely goes along with this agenda, the ethnic conflict is not going to end with the military defeat of the LTTE.

There has to be a recognition of minority aspirations; their fears can only be allayed through meaningful devolution and power-sharing. That is the only way to promote national integration and inclusive democracy. M J Akbar, the Indian journalist, once wrote: "Where there is no democracy, the question of minorities as such cannot arise. If the state is totalitarian, or autocratic, or monarchic, the voice of the dominant authority will be supreme. But in a democracy each element has a claim and what is more important, the right to preserve its identity… Minorities are thus essentially a phenomenon of democracy."

Over the years, the LTTE has destroyed whatever political space was available to the Tamil people by the assassination of Tamil dissidents that also silenced moderate Tamil voices. The Jayawardene administration contributed to that but we have seen a resurgence of that in the last couple of years with the assassination and intimidation of moderate Tamil parliamentarians and journalists who were seen as sympathetic to the LTTE. The task before the non LTTE Tamil people now is to re-assert themselves.

Their leadership may have been eliminated but there are still democratic forces among the Tamils who can step in to provide a new leadership. It will be premature and unrealistic to expect the Tamil people at this stage to embrace either of the two major national parties. That can come about only if both UNP and SLFP show a willingness to shed fifty years of ethnic politics and come up with a consensus constitutional and administrative political solution to minority grievances.

The Tamil people must also be prepared to shed the mindset created by the LTTE and be willing to compromise on a national solution (like President Kumaratunge’s 2000 proposals which the LTTE in their arrogance rejected) and also to enter into an alliance with other minority parties (like the SLMC) and even to accept the leadership of the SLMC in such an alliance. (It is significant that last week, the Muslims of Batticaloa and Kattankudy, despite bitter experiences with various Tamil armed groups, collected and sent over Rs 1 million to assist the internally displaced Tamils of Vanni.)

It is natural for the minorities for the preserve their separate identity, particularly in view of the majoritarian supremacist agenda that seeks to equate being a Sri Lankan with being a Sinhalese and a Buddhist. President Rajapakse has to make a conscious effort, not just limited to words, to draw in the minorities with meaningful power-sharing where they would be treated as equals.

It is only then that the people of the North and East would feel truly ‘liberated’. If elections are to be held for the Northern Provincial Council, it must be fair with all parties being able to campaign freely and the voters given a democratic choice to elect a party of their preference. Any other course would be a continuation of the LTTE style of politics and have tragic consequences for the future of our country.

(This column by Shanie titled "Notebook of a Nobody" appeared in "The Island" under the heading "The worsening plight of Wanni civilians")

February 13, 2009

In Sri Lanka, Tamil women suffer the worst of war

By M.R. Narayan Swamy

In one of the biggest hospitals in Sri Lanka's north, many women patients wonder why they survived the fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the military that killed so many of their friends.

A woman in her late 40s frequently breaks down as she lies on a bed in a hospital in Mannar, clutching her son of two-and-a-half years who has lost a leg. Her two other children are missing, residents in the region say.

She was among the large number of Tamils escaping from Kilinochchi, the former political hub of the Tamil Tigers, last month when a shell probably fired by the army exploded, ripping apart her son's leg below the knee.

Losing no time, she handed over her other two children, a six-month-old son and a daughter of seven years, to a friend as she tried to find help to save her bleeding and wailing son.

She managed to reach the hospital in Mannar, where she remains warded. She has no idea where the other children are - and whether she will see them ever again.

She also has no news of her husband, who left their home long ago after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ordered him to serve their civilian militia.

Another patient at the hospital is a girl of 16 years who is left with only her upper torso. A resident of Mullaitivu district, both her legs came off in an aerial bombing seemingly targeted at the LTTE.

There is also a 22-year-old woman, seven months pregnant. Half her body got burnt when her house in Kilinochchi caught fire in aerial bombing. Her breasts are charred.

Remarkably, all these women are officially under detention at the hospital although some cannot even stir on their own. Since they came from areas the LTTE ruled for years, the doctors have been forbidden from discharging them.

Human suffering shows no signs of abating in Sri Lanka's bleeding war. Most of the pain is being borne by Tamil civilians, many of whom are destitute after repeatedly fleeing their homes.

As the Sri Lankan military remains poised to seize the last stretch of land held by the LTTE in Mullativu, civilians are fleeing from there in hundreds, desperate to get away from it all.

Medical personnel say that many of the patients in Mannar are traumatised after seeing scores of bodies along the road as they fled the fighting. Many bodies were torn apart.

Many of the injured, reports say, simply bled to death because no help was available.

One woman told the doctor: "It is worse than the tsunami. At that time many came to help us. Now there is nobody."

Hospitals in the northern districts of Mannar and Vavuniya every day receive dozens of wounded civilians. The really critical cases are sent to Anuradhapura, at the edge of the war zone.

Most victims are children, women and elderly men. While the Vavuniya hospital has all kinds of patients, the ones at Mannar are mostly amputees - those without hands and legs.

Once out of the conflict zone, and left with nothing but the clothes they are in, the injured are dependent on the military and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for survival.

There appears to be no precise count of how many have been wounded in aerial bombings and shelling. Tamils from outside have no access to army-seized Kilincochi where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Tamils from Mullaitivu have taken refuge.

Civilians who have not been injured are taken to detention centres in Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna to find out if they are indeed non-combatants or LTTE fighters in disguise.

--Indo-Asian News Service

US Newspapers record "fasting for peace" by members of "People for Equality and Relief in Lanka" (PEARL)

Starving for Peace:

On February 2nd, eight Americans began a fast, renouncing all food in support of civilians under attack in Sri Lanka. Their campaign for peace has received wide coverage in newspapers in Massachusetts, Texas, Missouri and North Carolina:

Rosha0212.jpgSenthan0212.jpgTasha0212.jpg [Pics: courtesy of PEARL]

Boston Globe: Teen fasts to publicize plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka

It's been eleven days since Priya Suntharalingam, a Winchester High School junior, has eaten a meal.

The petite 17-year-old is the youngest of eight ethnic Tamils in the country who are fasting to call attention to the plight of their countrymen in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the coast of India where some 300,000 members of the Tamil minority are trapped in the fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebel army.


Winchester High School student Priya Suntharalingam, whose parents are from Sri Lanka, has gone without food for 11 days. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

"They are struggling to survive and I am trying to protest," she said in a telephone interview.

Her friends have tried to talk her out of it. But she has pressed on, subsisting on water, vitamins, and Gatorade as part of a protest called Starving for Peace, organized by members of People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, or PEARL.

"I was lucky enough to be born here, away from the bombs, away from the death, and away from the extremist government that treats you like a second-class citizen because of the language you speak," she said. "If my family wasn't lucky enough to get out of the country . . . I might have been suffering the same fate."

Suntharalingam was born in Boston, but her mother moved to the United States from Sri Lanka in 1989 with her husband, eventually joining roughly 350 Tamil families in the Boston area. Suntharalingam learned to speak Tamil before she could speak English, and her mother cooks Tamil food every day.

Suntharalingam stays connected to Tamil culture by participating in the Boston Thamil Association of New England, and through the stories her mother and uncles tell, Suntharalingam said. Three years ago, she traveled to Sri Lanka to attend one of her uncle's weddings.

"I've grown up purely Tamil," Suntharalingam said. "It kind of runs through me."

Tens of thousands have died in the conflict between the Sinhalese majority, which makes up 74 percent of Sri Lanka's 21 million people, and the Tamil minority, constituting about 10 percent.

Tension between the two groups has existed since Sri Lanka became independent from the British in 1948, but the situation erupted into all-out war in 1983, when the rebel Tamil Tigers began fighting for a separate homeland using suicide bombings as a tactic. The Sri Lankan government responded with a brutal crackdown on ordinary civilians.

In 2002, the government and the Tamil Tigers formalized a cease-fire. But last month, the Sri Lankan government began a massive offensive that has shrunk rebel-held territory - once estimated at 7,000 square miles - to just 80.

In recent weeks, hundreds of noncombatants are believed to have been killed in the fighting; the Sri Lankan government has reportedly bombed hospitals, and a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew herself up at a refugee camp. The Sri Lankan military has been reluctant to let World Food Program convoys into the war zone, insisting that a humanitarian pause would let the rebels regroup or escape.

That prompted Suntharalingam and other youths involved with PEARL to plan a hunger strike to pressure the United Nations and the Obama administration to help the Tamils.

At first, her mother did not believe she would be able to last very long because she loves to eat. Now she worries aloud that her daughter will grow so thin she will "disappear." But her mother supports the cause.

"As a mother it's difficult," said Suntharalingam's mother, Suba, who is vice president of the Boston Thamil Association. "Even though she was born here and lives here, she was feeling for others' suffering. You have to be proud about it."

Suntharalingam's last meal, a Burger King Whopper, was at midnight Feb. 2. Since then, the gnawing in her belly has not been nearly as bad as she expected. Her mind is not as sharp in class, however. She has taken to watching her step dance practice after school, rather than joining in. When she gets home in the afternoon, she runs upstairs and shuts the door, to keep out the smell of her mother's wonderful cooking. Every other day, she joins a supportive conference call with the others who are fasting. She has blogged about her experience on PEARL's website.

"It would be nice for people to understand that if our people are gone and our country has disappeared, then there won't be a Tamil culture to go to," she wrote. "We all have to take action immediately to save our country, our people, our language, our identity."

Suntharalingam's group plans to fast until they have forfeited 10,000 meals cumulatively - each meal representing 30 of the estimated 300,000 Tamils trapped in the war zone. On PEARL's website, people can pledge to fast a meal themselves, deducting from the total. So far, more than 1,100 Americans, including dozens of Bostonians, have pledged to forgo meals.

Suntharalingam, who wants to become a doctor, plans to travel to Sri Lanka after graduation. For now, she said, her fast will continue.

"As long as I can. I'm hoping a month," she said.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Houston Chronicle: Going hungry for the children

By Barbara Karkabi

It was the third day of Ahilan Sivaganesan’s hunger strike and he was feeling a little light-headed.

Sivaganesan, 21, knows that the third day of a fast is always the hardest, so he wasn’t too concerned. As a Hindu, he has participated in brief fasts for religious ceremonies.

But the reasons behind his fast, to focus attention on the ongoing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, are keeping him strong, he said.

The first-year student at Baylor College of Medicine has joined seven other young Americans fasting to draw attention to the plight of Tamil civilians. They are members of People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, a human rights group.

According to reports from news organizations and Amnesty International, more than 300,000 civilians are trapped in the northeastern Wanni region of Sri Lanka, as fighting between Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the army continues.

Sivaganesan and his family are members of the Tamil Hindu minority in Sri Lanka. The majority population is Sinhalese and Buddhist. The family fled their country in the 1980s, part of an estimated 1 million Tamils who have fled in the last 25 years. He grew up in Cincinnati, and is a Rice University graduate,

“Most of my family left as refugees,” he said. “But I actually had the chance to visit as a tourist in 2005, before college. I visited an orphanage for Tamil girls, spent time and grew to have a bond with those girls.”

In 2006 Sivaganesan learned that 50 of the girls were killed when, he said, the government dropped 16 bombs on the orphanage.

“That’s when I decided to get involved in the Tamil minority,” he said. “I don’t know how many of the girls I met died because there is very little communication. They were having a first-aid training camp and the government claimed there was military involvement. But the United Nations went in and saw no evidence of that.”

Each meal that the eight students sacrifice represents 30 Tamil refugees trapped in the country’s north east corner of Sri Lanka, Sivaganesan explained. The group is asking others to join them in giving up at least one meal. So far, 45 Houstonians have pledged to do that, as have more than 700 nationally.

The situation has escalated in the last two weeks, he said. On Thursday, Sivaganesan learned that the last hospital in the Wannui had been bombed and closed down.

The eight students say they will continue their fast until medical supplies and western media are allowed into the area. Or when they reach a goal that represents support of the 300,000. Each meal pledged reduces the length of their fast.

Though he is not eating, Sivaganesan is drinking fluids, taking a daily vitamin and continuing his schedule of classes.

“I am feeling some effects. I was in anatomy class and I was a little slower that the other students,” he said. “Lots of my friends know what I’m doing and some of the teachers. They were a little surprised because medical school is pretty intense and adding to the stress is difficult. Luckily, I have a few weeks until my next test.”

But Sivaganesan, is more interested in the fate of the children than his hunger pains.

“I felt that if I didn’t do something drastic, I might wake up one day and they would all be gone,” he said. “Giving up something for a goal is part of my Hindu values.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Washington University in St Louis ~ Student Life: Law student ‘Starves for Peace’ in Sri Lanka

by Sophie Adelman

While some students enjoy a Bear’s Den half-and-half every day, Sadena Thevarajah will not.

Thevarajah has not been eating at all since Monday, and may continue her fast for up to one year.

The second-year Washington University law student is abstaining from eating for something she feels is more important than food—she’s part of “Starving for Peace,” an initiative meant to bring attention to Sri Lankan refugees.

Sri Lanka—a country torn apart by decades of brutal civil war—is the site of a slow and methodical genocide of the Tamil people, a mostly Hindu ethnic group from southern India. The Tamils are being targeted and destroyed by the Sri Lankan military, which has been shelling 300,000 refugees in a supposed safe zone since it initiated an intensive military offensive this past September.

On Wednesday, the last hospital in the region was abandoned, leaving no medical care for the thousands of refugees.

“Genocide is most effective when it happens with a complicit silence and when it happens with a whimper and not a bang. This is exactly what has happened in Sri Lanka,” Thevarajah said.

Thevarajah, along with eight other young Americans across the country, has vowed to fast continuously for a total of 10,000 meals. Each meal will represent 30 refugees. Supporters can pledge to fast for meals in order to lighten the load of the eight full fasters online at the organization’s Web site, pearlaction.org.

PEARL, or People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka, is an advocacy group composed of more than 1,800 Americans devoted to promoting perspectives about the decades-long conflict in Sri Lanka. The group was founded in 2005 after volunteers there witnessed numerous human right violations and the devastation caused by years of civil war between the two factions.

Thevarajah met her fellow fasters and other PEARL members through the close-knit community of Sri Lankan immigrants in the United States.

“The first time I met each of them, it felt like an immediate family,” she described. “I guess once I knew how deeply each of us was committed to helping Tamils, it became a shared story even though we had different upbringings.”

The PEARL members came up with the idea of fasting for the refugees together.

“When we thought of it we were so excited because we needed something exactly like this to express our anger at the situation,” Thevarajah said. “We can talk about it everyday. It’s something that’s always on our minds.”

“The day I packed up all of my food and gave it to my upstairs neighbors, I thought, ‘This is going to be really hard,’” she said. “It was really scary.”

Although starting the fast was daunting, for now Thevarajah remains unfazed and determined.

“I don’t feel that bad. Times like this, when I get excited, my heart races. Other than that, I just need to nap and stay hydrated.” [courtesy: The Student Life]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Raleigh News & Observer: Sri Lankans' plight

by Brittany Fletcher

On Feb. 2, eight Tamil-Americans began "Starving for Peace" in a desperate attempt to turn the world's attention toward the 250,000 civilians trapped between the advancing army of the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an unapologetically violent separatist group. In recent days, at least 420 other Americans have joined them. In North Carolina, 30 students and professionals across the state are already fasting as well, and it's spreading.

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama pledged that America would be "a friend of ... every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity." The citizens of Sri Lanka are giving him a chance to prove it. As Sri Lanka's biggest trading partner, the United States must use its leverage to pressure the Sri Lankan government to allow medical supplies, food and international journalists into the war zone. For more information about the conflict or to join us, visit http://www.pearlaction.or g/fast/blog/

Sinhala and Tamil realists must forge realistic compromise together

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Victory is within our grasp. The Tigers are about to be completely overthrown, the entire national territory re-unified. That victory will be definitive but not final, total and complete until the leadership cadre of the LTTE is hunted down and destroyed. No one must be allowed to “mediate” an end to the war, because that would deny us victory, provide the Tigers an exit and keep them intact as a player.

There are those who argue that as long as there is guerrilla activity the war is not won, and that as long as it is the national territory rather than the peoples who are (re)unified the victory would be partial and in some sense hollow.

Such criticisms are a-historical. For years after the victory of the Union armies in the American Civil War the defeated South remained deeply disaffected. Guerrilla bands such as Quantrill’s Raiders, which combined banditry with murderous violence towards emancipated slaves, continued for years. The notorious policy of Reconstruction was in order to reintegrate the South – a policy that prevented for a century, the full integration of the emancipated Southern blacks. None of this meant that the war against the Confederacy’s secession should not have been waged full-bloodedly or that the victory of the North was not real and historic.

Prissy criticisms have been recently leveled at President Rajapakse for the invocation of three great Sinhala kings, Dutugemunu, Vijayabahu and Gajabahu, in his 61st Independence Day speech. This criticism too is a-historical. I know of no country or people under threat or reawakening after overcoming a challenge , which does not make reference those points in its past when it stood tall. Examples include the rehabilitation of Peter the Great by the USSR during World War II, the partial rehabilitation of Stalin in today’s Russia, the invocation of Joan of Arc by de Gaulle, the recall by Fidel Castro of Maceo, Manuel Cespedes and Marti, and Barack Obama’s references to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Why should Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese and Mahinda Rajapakse be any different?

President Rajapakse’s Independence Day speech is also criticized by the politically correct for its absence of a reference to the 13th amendment. His speech was made while the Sri Lankan armed forces were fighting back against the Tiger thrust of Sunday February 1st, spearheaded by three suicide truck bombs. There was good reason that the Marshall Plan was not unveiled or even conceived of while the Allies waged the Battle of the Bulge, fighting back the Nazis’ last offensive spearheaded by the formidable Tiger tanks. What effect would that have had on the rank and file Allied soldier?

The LTTE’s daring if ultimately abortive counterpunch of February 1st proved a boon for the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces. The counterpunch was prepared during the 48 hour lull unilaterally declared and implemented by the Sri Lankan side for humanitarian purpose and in response to an Indian request. The LTTE’s characteristically opportunistic aggression steeled the State’s resolve never to repeat the gesture. As for the Armed Forces, after the initial setbacks the Tiger lunge provided the chance of inflicting heavy casualties in the counterattack.

While the war is reaching its climax, it is time to be clear about what should come after. Let’s lay it on the line: forget the fantasies of both sides, of a dramatic resurrection of Tamil separatism aided by tens of thousands of volunteers from Tamil Nadu marching to MIA’s rap tunes, or of Sri Lankan generals being judged by History to be the equal if not superior of Vietnam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap who beat two imperialist armies including that of the world’s mightiest superpower. What can happen is that both sides engage in mutual deadlock at best and mutually assured destruction at worst, the Sinhalese holding down the Tamils, the Tamils dragging down the Sinhalese.

Is that what we want? That can very well happen, unless we make another choice, a different one. That choice is simple: a convergence in one form or another of the moderates, or more to the point, the Realists of both sides, Sinhala and Tamil. This also means marginalizing the extremists on both sides of the ethnic divide. But who are the moderates/realists, and who are the extremists? That is easier to define than it might seem. I would argue that the Realists are those who agree that the way forward is the actualization of the 13th amendment, thereby realizing the full potentialities of the Sri Lankan Constitution. Who then are the extremists? Those who oppose the full implementation of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. These include Sinhala forces /elements who think that the 13th amendment is too much and the Tamil elements who hold that the 13th amendment is too little.

A Tamil realist understands the need to reintegrate into the national political and social mainstream, while a Sinhala realist understands the need for that mainstream to reform so as to facilitate such reintegration. A Tamil realist understands that the international community is not going to secure Tamil Eelam or federalism while a Sinhala realist realizes that Sri Lanka cannot prosper in isolation from the world community and that isolation can be prevented only by the speedy and full implementation of the 13th amendment.

Hopefully for the last time, let me set out why there is no federal option, only a federal fantasy:

1. The balance of social forces does not permit it. According to all non-state public opinion polls (Research International Pvt ltd, CPA’s PCI, FCE, NPC) some conducted in tandem with foreign universities, for over a decade now, the overwhelming majority of the overwhelming majority (95% of the Sinhalese) are against it.

2. The balance of political forces does not permit it. The Federal party could not achieve federalism after decades of peaceful agitation. Even President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the height of her popularity as the “peace candidate” could not implement a quasi federal ‘package’, let alone a fully federal transformation, and had to water it down to the 1997 and 2000 drafts, which themselves could not be pushed through.

3. There is no internal political force which can propel federalism successfully. If any mainstream party advocates it, it will lose the majority of the majority and thus the election. No minority party or parties can come up with the numbers. And even if they do, the federal proposition will lose massively at a national referendum.

4. No military struggle can push it through: the Tigers, “the most lethal” guerrilla movement in Asia according to Barbara Crossette, couldn’t extract anything from the Sinhala state beyond the 13th amendment, and that too was thanks to India. Any one else will meet the same fate. The Sinhalese will always be the overwhelming majority on the island and the massive attendance at “Deyata Kirula” shows that the Sri Lankan army will always have a huge, motivated recruitment base for the foreseeable future.

5. No external force can implement federalism: 70, 000 Indian troops could only under-gird provincial autonomy.

6. There is no logical or rational basis for a federal slogan for Sri Lanka: 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu have obtained only quasi-federalism, not full federalism as in Canada, so why should a small fraction of that number of Tamils feel entitled to federalism in Sri Lanka? And if the IRA representing the Irish Catholics of Northern Ireland can settle for the devolution of power within a unitary state, why are the Tamils of Sri Lanka entitled to more?

Luckily there are at least two Tamil political personalities who understand this reality. The excellent three page feature in the New Indian Express on the post Prabhakaran prospect offers these perspectives among several others:

“The Tamils feel defeated because a large number have for long felt the LTTE is their sole and most effective representative, even the anti-LTTE Tamils. Moderates think the LTTE is responsible for their plight. If it had not positioned itself as the sole representative of Tamils and not annihilated all other players, the Tamils could have bargained from a position of unity. The LTTE has killed more Tamils than any Sinhalese government. It killed even those who went helped it in its early years, people such as A Amirthalingam, the Tamil United Liberation Front chief, and former President R. Premadasa.Without the LTTE, Tamil bargaining power is weak. But with Indian help it may get Colombo to implement the devolution package contained in the 13th amendment to the Constitution. The Tamils may have to view any future settlement realistically. “Something is better than nothing” should be their attitude towards a settlement.” - D Sithadthan, a former MP and leader of the PLOTE

“The complete annihilation of the LTTE is necessary for Tamil survival. As a one-time gun-toting militant and now a mainstream parliamentary politician, I can say that militancy and the armed struggle have only brought misery and poverty. The main problems of Tamils are poverty and deprivation. Prabhakaran is completely blind to this. By continuing the armed struggle (I gave it up after the 1987 accord), the LTTE has only worsened the plight of Tamils. I believe they need not take to arms for their rights in a united Sri Lanka. They can use the parliamentary system to secure their demands, not at one go, but step by step. This can be achieved with help from India, which indirectly authored the 13th amendment, by the 1987 accord. The Tamils and the LTTE lost a golden opportunity to settle the problem, by rejecting it.” -- Douglas Devananda, EPDP leader and Cabinet minister

The danger of agitation and pressure, domestic and foreign respectively, for a federalization of the state is that it will be seized upon Sinhala ultranationalists as a weakening of the country and a sellout of the gains of the war for which so much has been sacrificed by so many. The resonance this has may tilt the national balance of forces in the most regressive way imaginable and shunt political development onto a different path, one which Sri Lanka and India – alone in the region-- had eschewed. Political adventurism by Tamil nationalists and external actors could dangerously destabilize the democratic civic order and the equilibrium between various institutions, with “Caeserism” or “Bonapartism” the outcome. Any superficially clever calculation that this would polarize the situation, reinstating the viability of secession, would be yet another blunder by those who were certain that an internationally less plugged in Mahinda Rajapakse administration would be an easier target for Tamil separatism. Deeply alienating though it would be to someone of my sensibility and temperament, the degree of national-popular consent for, and the strength of the passions unleashed by populist-plebeian Praetorianism enjoying priestly sanction, must never be underestimated.

The history of the Sinhalese is a history of long duration. It reveals that they will eventually throw up a vanguard personality and throw out an appeasing, ineffectual or treacherous personality, when there is a feeling of danger and humiliation in the deepest recesses of the collective psyche. Deeply embedded in the Sinhala consciousness are the ideas that the Sinhalese are a minority in the neighborhood especially in relation to 50 million Tamils across a narrow strip of water; that the island is the only place the Sinhalese inhabit as a majority and on which their language is spoken as a native tongue; that ethnic Tamils or Tamil speakers have a second home in the linguistic state of Tamil Nadu and are also present in large numbers as far a-field as Malaysia and Mauritius.

Those ideas transmitted from generation to generation, are reflections, however exaggerated or distorted, of existential reality. This is why the Sinhalese will never give up the island or allow it to be dismembered, shrinking the state. The island is just too small, the Sinhalese just too big a majority on it, and a hostile Tamil Nadu just too close, to permit two states, two armies, two capitals. The centrifugal and the irredentist are unaffordable risks, posing mortal dangers. Sri Lanka cannot afford bi-polarity and must always remain politico-militarily uni-polar, though there can be the downward dispensing and divestiture of power to ‘peripheral centers’. The devolution of power within a unitary state is as good as it can get.

Intervention, interference or the application of coercive external pressure on the island is counterproductive. The more besieged the Sinhalese feel themselves to be, the greater the hardships they will put up with and the more radical the vanguard and the methods they will choose as instrument of resistance and re-conquest of their unique island home.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer)

February 12, 2009

Call to protest against anti conversion bill

While attention in Sri Lanka and the world at large is focused primarily on the on going war in Northern Wanni against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the religious chauvinist Rajapakse regime has quietly embarked on a devious project to suppress freedom of religion in the Country.

There is a tacit alliance between the neo-fascist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and Mahinda Rajapakse on this.

We reproduce below an open letter being circulated by concerned people about this devious exrcise. The letter notes with concern the conspicuous silence maintained by mainstream Christians over this issue and appeals to people in general and Christians in particular to engage in democratic protest about this disturbing development.

The letter is given below:

"Dear All,

Many of us might not be aware that the "Prohibition of Forcible Religious Conversions Bill" or the Anti-conversion Bill has been given the green light to be referred back to Parliament for the final vote, in February!

Once passed (which is highly likely as the Christians and moderates are quite unaware and / or silent), this act carries a fine of Rs 150,000 and a 5 year prison sentence for someone convicted for 'converting' someone!

According to the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) THIS BILL can be EASILY ENACTED BY FEBRUARY! (They have also decided to muster the support of the Catholic Church at the JHU Central Committee meeting held this month).

The stark truth is that the Christians as a community, are completely silent over the whole deal, unlike in 2004 when the Roman Catholic Church and NCC Churches (Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Salvation Army, Church of South India & Christian Reformed Church), along with free churches, came out strongly against the BIll.

Although the "Sinhala Only Act of 1956" was 'innocent' in its outlook, it led to so much bloodshed in the country, that majority of peace-loving Sri Lankans do not want to see another blood bath, this time on religious grounds.

So please engage in the following both individually and collectively.

1. Fast and / or Pray along with your Church.

2. Commence letter and fax campaigns, to His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa, (Fax no-2777204), Senior Presidential Advisor Hon. Basil Rajapaksa MP, (2438045), Hon. Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe MP, (2777285), and as many other decision makers of Our Motherland as possible, requesting them to put a stop to infringement of the rights of the Christian minority, which is coming at a crucial time when the Armed Forces are waging a war to eliminate the terrorism problem once and for all.

3. Individually and along with Churches request the Parliamentarians of your seat to vote against the Bill.

4. Request your Sri Lankan friends overseas, to petition Sri Lankan embassies abroad.

5. Send letters/ emails to ALL local media (especially Sinhala media which have become very anti-Christian since of late) expressing your views against the Bill.

Thank you & God bless you!

Jesus said, "If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father."
"Without Him, I am nothing but with Him I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me." Phillipians 4:13

Lankan Govt. plans to detain Wanni IDP's in Vavuniya concentration camps for three years

by Jeremy page

Sri Lanka was accused yesterday of planning concentration camps to hold 200,000 ethnic Tamil refugees from its northeastern conflict zone for up to three years — and seeking funding for the project from Britain.

The Sri Lankan Government says that it will open five “welfare villages” to house Tamils fleeing the 67 sq mile patch of jungle where the army has pinned down the Tamil Tiger rebels.


[Tamil refugees wait in the town of Vishvamadu to be sent to government camps-Reuters, via Yahoo! News]

The ministry in charge says that the camps, in Vavuniya and Mannar districts, will have schools, banks, parks and vocational centres to help to rehabilitate up to 200,000 displaced Tamils after a 25-year civil war.

It also says that it will be compulsory for people fleeing the area to live in the camps until the army — which will guard them — has screened them, hunted down the Tigers and demined the area. The camps will be ringed with barbed wire fencing and, while those with relatives inside will be allowed to come and go after initial screening, young and/or single people will not be allowed to leave, it says.

It originally proposed holding them for up to three years, but after protests from the UN refugee agency now says that it hopes to resettle 80 per cent by the end of the year. “Of course, it will not be voluntary — we need to check everyone,” Rajiva Wijesinha, the Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, told The Times. “This is a situation where we’re dealing with terrorists who infiltrate civilian populations. Security has to be paramount.” He said that it was the only way to prevent Tiger suicide attacks like the one that killed 20 soldiers and eight civilians on Tuesday.

Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil MPs expressed outrage and urged the international community not to fund the camps without direct oversight and independent media access. “These are nothing but concentration camps,” said Raman Senthil, an Indian Tamil MP. “Why should they be in camps? If they are citizens they should be rehabilitated straight away.”

Mano Ganeshan, a Sri Lankan Tamil MP, said: “I don’t want to say concentration camp yet, but they’re already detention camps and military grilling stations. They should be run and monitored by the international community.” Suren Surendiran, of the British Tamils Forum, said that the camps were “like the detention centres where the Jews were held in World War Two”.

Robert Evans, a Labour MEP who has visited Sri Lanka as chairman of the European Parliament Delegation on Relations with South Asia, said: “These are not welfare camps, they are prisoner-of-war cum concentration camps.” Human Rights Watch called the camps “detention centres” and said that they violated UN guidelines on internally displaced people, which say they can only be detained or interned under exceptional circumstances. “The Sri Lankan Government has not demonstrated that such circumstances exist,” said Charu Hogg, a Human Rights Watch spokeswoman.

Amnesty International said that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obliged Sri Lanka to refrain from arbitrarily depriving any person’s right to liberty. “The Government wants international assistance but not international standards,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty’s Sri Lanka expert.

President Rajapaksa said last week that the army was within days of defeating the Tigers, and rejected international calls for a ceasefire. The Government says that 32,000 civilians have fled the conflict zone in the past week and are being processed at 13 temporary camps. Amnesty describes those as “de facto detention centres” and accuses the army of taking hostages by allowing people to leave only if a relative stays behind. The Government says that Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and international aid agencies are prejudiced towards the Tigers.

For that reason, Professor Wijesinha said, the Government would limit aid groups’ access to camps and allow journalists to visit only on government tours. He said that President Rajapaksa’s office drafted the original proposal two weeks ago and circulated it to foreign embassies and aid agencies to raise funding. “There’s talk that the British will provide a couple of million pounds,” he said.

Britain’s Department for International Development denied that, saying: “Prolonging the displacement of this vulnerable group of people is not in anyone’s interests. There is no UK government money going into the camps.”

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said that the Government revised its proposal after concerns were raised over the three-year detention period. A new version was committed to resettling people as soon as possible, said Sulakshani Perera, a UNHCR spokeswoman. She said Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s brother, had said it would not be compulsory for anyone to enter the camps. [courtesy: timesonline.co.uk]

February 11, 2009

"Are the Lions Following the Footsteps of the Tigers"?

By M. S. Shah Jahan

Ondi, Jakarta’s motor cycle- taxi driver, uttered the above words on the announcement that Indonesia was preparing to carry out the death sentence of Amrozi, the ‘smiling bomber’ convicted of carrying out the 2002 Bali attacks that killed 202 people.

The above title and the article written by me in another newspaper on July 6, 2006 — which mainly dealt with Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination — came back to my mind when I received the following SMS : "Editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge shot and injured a short while ago — Ada Derana"

It was 11.11 a.m. on January 8. I was attending the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’ — Indian Diaspora Convention at the Chennai Trade Centre, Chennai as part of Sri Lankan delegation of 30 members, of businessmen, professionals, ministers of the government with a former minister as the head. The inaugural session was over as Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh delivered his address, after Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had read his own English text flawlessly.

It was after tea break and we were waiting for the plenary 1 to start with the title "India as an Emerging Power: The Diaspora Factor." The Chief Guest was Minister of External Affairs, Pranab Mukherjee. Guest of Honour was Former Minister and President of Malaysian Indian Congress, Malaysia, Dato Seri Samy Vellu; and in the Chair was India’s former candidate for UN Secretary General’s post, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, with four panelists from USA, Singapore, Canada and The Netherlands.

The message shocked me

My Nokia E90 vibrated. No doubt the message shocked me; but did not surprise me. He was a deer (dear to lovers of freedom of expression) in a jungle where lions and tigers were prowling freely. I have been a devotee of his newspaper’s investigative reporting and commented to my overseas friends, "If Lankans were sensible, one issue of The Sunday Leader would be enough to topple any government." I had no personal contact with him as my acquaintance with media moguls is little.

He called a spade a spade but the black crows under the guise of white doves were not happy from the time he started his paper. As a result he faced risk to his life and encountered a few physical attacks and destruction of his press too, in a country where Lord Buddha’s teaching of, "even an ant should be spared not harmed," is preached. But the question is — is it practised?

In the Chennai Trade Centre, seated in the front row was a consul for an Indian Ocean nation in Sri Lanka, to whom I rushed with my cell phone. His face was saddened reading the text. Soon the news spread to the Sri Lankan delegates.

Only two days before had I received an SMS in the early hours of the morning about the attack on the MTV/MBC station. I wondered whether Lanka was sliding back to the status of Mao Tse-Tung’s China, from Deng Xiaoping’s China.

Did not surprise me

This news upset me but it did not surprise me as powerful people have been calling this institution by different names that signalled, the wolf was waiting. I called our family doctor in Chennai — one of the senior doctors in the city — and gave him the message as he knew the said family member from his infancy, and asked him to keep the Chief Minister — his buddy — informed. The irony was, Tamil Nadu’s prestigious English daily had said nothing about the MTV/MBC attack.

There was devastation in Sri Lanka. It struck me that I should bring this killing to the notice of the Indian Minister of External Affairs who was on the dais. I approached his chief security officer with a note and asked him to pass it to him. He said he would give it in the car. I returned to my seat.

When the session was over and Pranab Mukerjee was walking down, I rushed to him despite the tight security cordon and said "Sir, there is news from Sri Lanka that the Editor of The Sunday Leader has been shot and killed." "Oh, my God when was that?" "Only few hours ago." "Convey my condolence to the family and I too would ask my office to send a message."


Mukerjee took my phone to his hand and read all messages. "Editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge shot and injured a short while ago — Ada Derana" "Rumored to have died. Not confirmed." "Looks like he is dead. Shot and then cut with a sword. Inside sources say. No official word." "He is still fighting for his life. No news yet." "Editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge has died due to gun shot injuries — Hospital sources."

Though media personnel were after Pranab Mukerjee on the Pakistan question, he spent some time with me talking about the ever smiling, handsome martyr.

The next day January 9, the Plenary IV was scheduled after lunch with the title; "Indian Diaspora: Preservation of Language and Culture." The Chief Guest was former Governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra and Principal Secretary to Madam Indira Gandhi and later to Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Ministers, Dr. P.C. Alexander. The Guest of Honour was K. Shanmugam, Minister of Law and Second Minister for Home Affairs, Singapore, while the Keynote Speaker was Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu Group, N. Ram; and in the Chair was MP and Chief Minister’s daughter Kanimoli Karunanithy.

On the panel were Prof.Rajesh Chandra from Fiji Islands, Dr. T.P. Naidoo of South Africa, Dr.Alok Mukherjee of Toronto Police Service, Dr.M.K. Gautham of the Netherlands, and Shireen Sarojini Mudali Munasamy of South Africa.

It pained me

After this session was over I met Ram and said "It pained me to see your paper not carrying any news," he interrupted "You mean yesterday’s incident?" "No, the MTV/MBC station attack." Deccan Chronicle published in the front page with a picture of the ruined studio captioned "Tamil owned studio attacked." "I will check. There is speculation about yesterday’s" he said. I laughed. "What speculation..." "Who?" (Do you think he was so ignorant?) "The one who..." No name mentioned. Then we chatted about other matters and parted.

On Friday, January 10, GOPIO, Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, an international network of people of Indian origin (PIO), of which former Sri Lankan Minister P.P. Devaraj is the international president, had their convention at the Breeze Hotel and it was attended by members from all over the world. Two executives from SLBC were present.

A speech relevant to Lanka was delivered by former Indian envoy to Burma, Fiji Islands and later to the UN, T.P. Sreenivasan. He was in Fiji when Major-General Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka staged a military coup in 1987 to reassert ethnic Fijian supremacy, following the 1987 election which had brought an Indo-Fijian (ethnic Indian) dominated government to power.

Indian community agitated

As the Indian community agitated and the Commonwealth expelled Fiji, Rabuka faced problems. He one day said to the Indian envoy "You were in Burma. Military rule is accepted in Burma. Why do these Fiji Indians revolt?" Sreenivasan replied "Burma is of Buddhists who take every thing as Karma but the belief of Hindus is different." "OK, if so," said Rabuka jokingly and continued "you take all the Hindus and give me Buddhists." Lankan peace pundits better take note! What’s good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Rabuka, while visiting Gujarat, India for medical treatment in 2006 told Ahmadabad Newsline that he regretted having executed the coup, which he described as "democratically wrong." History is such that every tyrant at one stage would regret his tyranny. Even in Lanka 35 years ago ‘the strong man’ who detained many unjustifiably under CJC, spent his final days with Bible in hand — preaching.

Well, who killed Lasantha? He was The Leader on Sundays. The opinion in the air is those who aspire to be leaders from Monday to Sunday did not like a (or, the) Leader on Sunday. So he was silenced, while many liked his contribution, for otherwise he could have closed shop. Napoleon said he feared the pen. Of course he was accused of nepotism.

Suppressing dissent

Suppressing dissenting voices by violence is LTTE’s agenda. Are the southerners following the foot steps of the Tigers? Gandhi has said that the intention as well as the method should be honourable. Prophet Muhammad stood up in respect for a hostile Jew’s passing funeral. Frankly, if it is justifiable to attack an institution or kill a person for provoking one’s interest, this Buddha’s land will become a cowboy land. The perpetrators who did the dirty job on Lasantha and the MTV/MBC station in ‘Rambo’ style had no qualms about either.

But for the invisible ‘Dr. No,’ Lasantha was the right person to kill — MTV deserved a hit. Alexander the Great wanted his two hands to be kept outside his coffin, so that the world could see he took nothing finally. Yes, that is why Lord Buddha preached to shun greed for power, wealth, fame etc. — all fountains of all evil. When will the art of pricking flowers with thorns end? Suppressing dissenting voices by violence is LTTE’s agenda. Are the Lions following the foot steps of the Tigers? [courtesy: The Morning Leader]

Tamil people may have only two major options after LTTE's defeat

by Jayadeva Uyangoda

Endgame for the LTTE.” That is how the media described the Sri Lanka Army’s entry into Mullaithivu town, seemingly the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It is clear that the LTTE’s military backbone has been broken decisively by the advancing military forces of the Sri Lankan state.

At the time of writing, the remaining LTTE cadre, trapped in a small area in the Mullaithivu jungles, seem to be fighting a losing battle. Many thousands of civilians are also trapped along with the LTTE. There does not seem to be any respite for these civilians, all of them obviously struggling in absolute fear and in extremely precarious and terrifyingly harsh conditions. The warring sides have also been playing politics out of the fate of these helpless civilians. The international actors, other than making pious statements, are waiting and watching how the “endgame” will end a civil war they have come to view as an unwanted and unending headache.

Branded by the media as Eelam War IV, the present phase of Sri Lanka’s prolonged civil war began in early 2006. When one recalls the way in which the government and the LTTE resumed large-scale hostilities despite an internationally monitored Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) being in force, one cannot ignore the fact that both sides, for different reasons, wanted an early return to war. The LTTE appeared to be impatient to get back to war as early as possible, while the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa was more subtle in its agenda of war, at least by appearing to explore the negotiation option first.

Soon after coming to power in November 2005, President Rajapaksa initiated talks with the LTTE. Two rounds of talks were held in Geneva in early 2006, but they served no purpose except producing arguments for both the government and the LTTE to justify their commitment to resuming the war. The LTTE also gave enough reasons for the Rajapaksa administration to make the claim that the war was thrust upon the new government by the war-hungry Tigers themselves.

The LTTE’s assassination attempts on Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and the military provocations in the Eastern Province in 2006 were good enough reasons for the government to make a convincing case to resume the war. Until early 2008, they engaged in an escalating and “undeclared” war of attrition. When the government withdrew from the CFA in January 2008, the war was already at a point of no return.

In a way, the resumption of the war in 2006 was the inevitable outcome of what had occurred during the previous few years in relation to the peace efforts. When Rajapaksa assumed office Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict was at a peculiar stage where a strong argument for returning to war at the expense of resuming negotiations commanded support and legitimacy both in Colombo and in Kilinochchi.

In Sinhalese society, particularly among the Sinhalese political and media establishments, the assessment of the 2002-03 peace initiative between the United National Front (UNF) government and the LTTE was an exceedingly negative one. There was almost a consensus that both the negotiations and the CFA had favoured only the LTTE while endangering national security and state sovereignty and damaging the dignity of the majority Sinhalese community. The LTTE’s assessment was that the peace process had weakened it internally, brought economic benefits to the state and produced no tangible advantage to the Tamils.

Thus, influential actors in Sri Lanka’s politics viewed the outcome of the 2002-03 peace process from ethnicised perspectives of unilateral gains and losses. For them, the peace process was an aberration, an unfavourable state of affairs that needed to be reversed. Neither the domestic civil society nor the international actors could intervene effectively to prevent Sri Lanka’s relapse into war. War was the logical option available after a failed peace attempt in a conflict that operated within a binary framework of war versus peace.

Only the tsunami of December 2004 could delay the inevitable return to large-scale hostilities. In a way, what Rajapaksa did as President, in opting to go to war, was not his own choice. It was a choice prepared for him by others – his predecessors in government, his partners in his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition, his media and intellectual well-wishers and, of course, his adversary, the LTTE.

Military offensive

It is against this backdrop that a fairly appealing argument also developed among policy circles in Colombo that only a military solution would lay the foundations for a sustainable and durable political solution to the ethnic conflict. In their analysis, negotiations as well as the strategy of militarily weakening the LTTE to force it to come to a peace settlement had failed in the past. What was new in the Rajapaksa administration’s approach was the goal of defeating, as opposed to weakening, the LTTE militarily and then making the LTTE irrelevant to any political solution to the ethnic conflict.

The most surprising outcome of this war is not the LTTE’s impending defeat, but its inability to achieve its objective of a battle-ground stalemate. From the government’s point of view, the military objective was very clear: to defeat the LTTE militarily in a prolonged, sustained and multi-pronged offensive. The Rajapaksa government was also determined, unlike previous governments, to insulate the progress of the war from extra-military factors such as international pressure, domestic politics and humanitarian concerns.

But the LTTE could not have a goal of military victory over the Sri Lankan state. The LTTE probably thought that by successfully resisting the advances of the military forces, it could force a military stalemate on the government. It was not clear what that stalemate would have offered the LTTE in terms of political space. One guess is of re-internationalising the conflict in a post-George Bush world where the global war against terrorism might lose its cutting edge. The Sri Lankan government probably knew this strategic objective of the LTTE. There appeared to be a firm determination to reach Mullaithivu by mid-January 2009.

Factors against LTTE

In the coming weeks and months, analysts will offer explanations of the LTTE’s failure to avert a military defeat and the Sri Lankan government’s march to victory. Among many, four specific factors seem to have worked against the LTTE. First, being forced to defend a vast territory with a population, the LTTE had to fight a defensive conventional war whereas the Sri Lankan state had a decisive advantage in offensive warfare in terms of resources, legitimacy, international support and sustainability.

Second, this time around, the LTTE could not turn the tables on the government, as it did in the past when pushed against the wall. The LTTE had no allies, no friends, at home or abroad, whose support was crucial to secure a strategic advantage over the Sri Lankan state.

Thirdly, the LTTE’s sole reliance on war and violence to achieve political objectives is so out of tune with the times that little did the LTTE leaders realise that they were fast becoming victims of their own past successes in war and violence.

Fourth, the LTTE’s armed struggle and violence was a remnant of the past, of the world of the 1960s and 1970s, which had become totally incongruous with the post-9/11 world.

The role of the international actors in Sri Lanka’s conflict, the war-ending and post-civil war processes, is an exceedingly relevant and complex theme. In 2002-03, the international actors facilitated the ceasefire and the negotiations, promising generous economic assistance for what were described at the time as post-conflict rebuilding and development.

When the peace talks came to a standstill in early 2003, the promise of enhanced economic assistance was made to induce the LTTE to return to negotiations. When those attempts failed came the tsunami of December 2004. International promises of massive post-tsunami economic assistance failed to revive the peace process in 2005 too.

Support for Rajapaksa

In 2006, the conflict entered a phase in which both the LTTE and the government acquired a great deal of autonomy from the international factor in charting their agendas to resume the war. In the international game, if one can describe it that way, the Rajapaksa government succeeded by aligning itself with the global discourse of “war against terrorism”. The international players did not seem to do anything that would alter the war trajectory in Sri Lanka. Some of them were active in supporting the government.

Obviously, all the supporters of a negotiated peace in the previous phase – from Canada to the United States via Norway – were convinced that they could do very little until the war between the Rajapaksa administration and the LTTE came to some form of a conclusion. Now, that conclusion appears to be round the corner. They will want to influence the political settlement process and be partners in post-conflict development efforts in the North and the East.

Some donors have already earmarked money for what they call post-conflict work.

For the Sri Lankan government, the post-conflict economic assistance, if it arrives as promised, might help manage the impact of the global recession and the world financial crisis. Meanwhile, no one would want to question the very idea of “post-conflict”.
Whither LTTE?

What will happen to the LTTE? After a possible defeat in Mullaithivu, the remaining LTTE fighters might engage in a low-intensity guerilla war for some time. The Eastern Province can be the main theatre of such sporadic attacks. However, it would be extremely difficult for the LTTE to re-emerge as a military or political force to be reckoned with. The anti-LTTE Tamil groups, particularly the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), will occupy the political space available in post-LTTE conditions. They will also enjoy the blessings of the government and some political parties in Colombo, as long as they operate within the parameters defined by post-LTTE Sri Lankan politics.

If the experience of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) offers any parallel, only a new generation of leaders, without carrying the historical burden of the armed struggle and the mistakes of the founders of the movement, would even be able to make an attempt to return to Sri Lankan politics as a legal, electoral entity. But the hostility that Sri Lanka’s major political actors seem to share towards the Tigers is so intense that a peaceful rehabilitation of the LTTE is beyond the realm of early possibility.

Meanwhile, many in Sri Lanka are likely to heave a sigh of relief on the possibility of the prolonged civil war coming to an end. The war has, for the past two and a half decades, brought immense suffering and misery to the people of all communities. Death and injury for combatants as well as civilians, displacement, out-migration, falling victim to artillery shells as well as suicide bombers or roadside bombs, and the destruction of communities – all these affected Sri Lanka’s citizens with no discrimination regarding their ethnic identity. Violence devoured many political leaders belonging to all communities. The democratic process also suffered severe setbacks. Communities became polarised and suspicious of each other. The country’s economic and social progress, too, suffered.

Sri Lanka needs to recover from all these setbacks. Yet, there is probably no direct correlation between a military triumph over the LTTE and a resolution of the country’s accumulated problems. A lot will depend on how the government succeeds in laying a firm foundation for a pluralistic, democratic and inclusive polity in which war and violence will not be required to highlight group grievances or suppress resistance to the state.

Political challenges

Assuming that a post-LTTE Sri Lanka is in the making, it is important to acknowledge that such a scenario will pose significant political challenges to the Rajapaksa government. The most formidable among them would be finding a political solution to the ethnic conflict. Paradoxically, the military victory over the LTTE might carry a political cost; by severely narrowing down the political space, it is crucially important to recognise that even after the war with the LTTE is basically over, there still remains the political problem that requires a political solution.

Unless Rajapaksa recognises and convinces his political allies that the military victory is only one part of a solution process and that the other part requires a political solution that guarantees equality, dignity and self-rule to the minority communities, the ethnic problem will remain unaddressed. This is where the terrorism diagnosis of the ethnic problem should not be overstretched.

The dilemma that Rajapaksa will face sooner rather than later is that even if he is personally convinced of the need for a political solution to the ethnic conflict, his coalition partners might not be ready to concede on the political front. Rajapaksa put together a Sinhalese nationalist and anti-terrorism coalition to lead successfully the war against the LTTE. The same coalition may not be the best political vehicle for him to work out a political solution to the ethnic conflict. He may be compelled to forge a new political coalition in order to re-configure the country’s balance of political forces conducive to opening up a new, post-civil war political process that can effectively address the minorities’ grievances.

The military victory over the LTTE is a unilateral one. However, a political solution will work better if it is worked out through a multilateral process. There already exists a forum for such a process in the form of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). One option that Rajapaksa might want to consider seriously is relaunching the APRC with the full participation of the UNP, the JVP, the Tamil parties, including the TNA, and all the Muslim parties.

The APRC mechanism or any other institutional process for a political solution would invariably face new challenges and difficulties. The main challenge will come from the Sinhalese nationalist political forces, particularly the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the JVP, and ideological groups and the media. One of their key positions on Sri Lanka’s contemporary crisis is that what exists in Sri Lanka is not an ethnic problem but a terrorist threat to the territorial unity and sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state. In this view, the primary task of any government is defeating the “LTTE terrorism” by military means and then restoring the integrity, indivisibility and the unitary character of the Sri Lankan state. In this approach, any step towards power-sharing with ethnic minorities would be inimical to state security and national sovereignty. This hard-line majoritarian position is very likely to find a new momentum and robustness once the LTTE is defeated militarily.

The JVP has already begun to move in the direction of mobilising resistance to any new attempt at a political solution, putting forward the new argument that India is pressuring the Rajapaksa administration to implement a political solution based on devolution.

In the post-LTTE Sri Lankan politics, some Sinhalese nationalist groups will need to invent a new enemy. They are very likely to honour India with the status of the new “enemy”. Actually, for Rajapaksa to move in the direction of establishing sustainable peace through inter-ethnic reconciliation and much-needed political reforms, he will need new allies, moderate forces, domestically, regionally and internationally.

Such a reworking of political forces is necessary because the post-civil war political situation might run the risk of being unclear and unstable despite the strengthening of the Sri Lankan state in an unprecedented manner. In a scenario in which the LTTE is either totally defeated or rendered irrelevant to Tamil politics, there are a number of possible political responses in Sinhalese society. Some are moderate and accommodative and the others are hard-line and triumphalist.

Hard-line responses

The contours of Sinhalese hard-line responses are quite visible. Some see the military victory over the LTTE as a victory of the Sinhalese over the Tamils. They also see it as a rare occasion of the island being unified by a Sinhalese ruler long after such unification by military means occurred in the pre-colonial medieval times.

In this perspective, the military defeat of the LTTE has at last reaffirmed the structure of majority-minority ethnic hierarchies in Sri Lanka. Some others have already begun to advocate a policy line for breaking up the Tamil “mono-ethnic” nature of the Northern Province. Alteration of the ethnic demography in the Northern and Eastern provinces in order to prevent future ethnic minority rebellions against the state is an objective of these policy prescriptions.

The moderate responses would be based on the understanding that winning the war is only one part of a long process towards resolving the ethnic conflict. After eliminating the military threat of secession, there is the political part of the solution process. It entails the addressing of the minority grievances, those of the Tamil as well as Muslim communities, within a constitutional framework of pluralism and political framework of inter-ethnic accommodation. The moderate response also emphasises inter-community reconciliation as a pre-condition to rebuild a peaceful and democratic Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the war ending by military means.

Meanwhile, the way in which the war has come to an end has created deep wounds in Sri Lankan Tamil society, and a prudent Sinhalese leadership should take extra care not to rub the wounds of the Tamil community. This calls upon Rajapaksa to stand above the thinking of many of his political allies and advisers and show the world that dignity, honour and self-respect can be enjoyed by the vanquished as well in a military victory by the state in a domestic civil war. This, not the military victory alone, will ultimately prove the statesmanship of Rajapaksa.

Finally, all Tamils, in Sri Lanka as well as abroad, must be finding it hard to come to terms with what the 25 years of armed struggle has given them in a backdrop of so much suffering, deprivation and sacrifice. It might offer them an asymmetrical and loser’s peace. They might also feel that the “liberation” war has re-affirmed their second-class status. It is perhaps the case that Sri Lanka’s inter-community balance of power has now changed and the bargaining power of the minorities has weakened decisively.

Tamil people’s options

The ultimate losers of the LTTE’s 25-year-long armed struggle are the Tamil people. For that the LTTE should also bear the historical responsibility. By excessively militarising the Tamil people’s struggle for equality, the LTTE only depoliticised and in the end led along a blind alley the struggle of the Tamil people.

With the LTTE’s defeat, the Tamil people may have only two major options. The first is to accept the magnanimity, generosity and political philanthropy of the Sinhalese political leadership. The second is the creation of an entirely new political movement that can continue to fight for equality and rights by democratic, peaceful and non-violent means. But, once again because of the war, there has been no space in Sri Lankan Tamil society to produce such a new and democratic political movement. Only after the dust of the LTTE’s military defeat settles will the Sri Lankan Tamil community get an opportunity to assess where it is, the nature and extent of the political space available and what shape its politics could take. •

(Prof. Uyangoda teaches Political Science at the University of Colombo and is a prominent member of the Sri Lanka Social Scientists’ Association.This article appeared in "Frontline" magazine of Feb 14 - 23 under the heading "New Configurations and Constraints")

February 10, 2009

For Some Sri Lankans, Dissonance in M.I.A.’s Music

By Thomas Fuller

To many Americans, Maya Arulpragasam, known as M.I.A., is the very pregnant rapper who gyrated across the stage at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.

Yet in Sri Lanka, where she spent her childhood years, M.I.A. remains virtually unknown. And some who do know her work say she is an apologist for the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels fighting in the country’s long-running civil war.

[M.I.A. arrived at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday-NY Times.com]

M.I.A. — who has been nominated for an Oscar for the song she co-wrote for the hit film “Slumdog Millionaire” — has branded herself through music videos and interviews as the voice of the country’s Tamil minority. In the video for her song “Bird Flu,” for instance, children dance in front of what looks like the rebels’ logo: a roaring tiger.

“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,” she said in an interview on the PBS program “Tavis Smiley” last month. “There’s a genocide going on.”

But her political views rankle some people at a time when most Sri Lankans are clutching to the hope that the rebels, branded by the United States and European nations as a terrorist group, are on the verge of military defeat by government troops.

“Frankly, she’s very lucky to get away with supporting, even indirectly, perhaps the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world,” said Suresh Jayawickrama, a songwriter based in Colombo.

Mr. Jayawickrama is from the country’s majority Sinhalese ethnic group, and his reaction is similar to that of many Sri Lankans who know M.I.A.’s music. But he also said that M.I.A. deserved credit for her artistry and the fame she had achieved. “She really should have a little more recognition in this country,” he said.

Despite decades of conflict, music has remained largely free of political messages or overtones in Sri Lanka, perhaps because audiences are seeking entertainment and escape from the daily reminders of civil war.

“Compared to other countries, people don’t write many songs here about what is going on politically,” said Dillain Joseph, a singer who is of mixed Sinhalese and Tamil parentage.

Meanwhile, M.I.A.’s claims that the government is carrying out a genocide against Tamils place her on the outer fringe of opinion about the conflict.

Although the government has brutalized and killed Tamil civilians over the past 25 years, human rights organizations spread the blame around, estimating that 70,000 people on both sides have been killed in the fighting.

“This is a conflict in which both sides have terrible human rights records,” said Yolanda Foster, a specialist on Sri Lanka with Amnesty International in London. “The Tamil Tigers have a long history of child recruitment, hostage taking, forcing civilians to the front lines. It’s complicated to assign blame.”

[M.I.A. performed at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles]

M.I.A. was born in Britain but moved to Sri Lanka when she was 6 months old so that her father, an engineer and a leader in the Tamil separatist movement, could help fight for an independent Tamil homeland. Her childhood took her across northern Sri Lanka, wracked by insurgency, to India and back to Britain, where her mother and siblings settled into a public housing project outside London. Her father remained in Sri Lanka. She now calls New York home.

Sri Lankans who have seen her videos say they interpret some parts as showing support for the Tigers, or at the very least glorifying their cause. But for those not familiar with the conflict, they might come across as generic third-world scenes.

“I kind of want to leave it ambiguous for my fans,” she said in the PBS interview, referring to the lyrics of her song “Paper Planes,” which was nominated for record of the year at the Grammys but did not win.

“Paper Planes,” which compares international drug dealing with selling records, drew a reaction from DeLon, a Sinhalese rapper based in Los Angeles, who made a video remix in which he interspersed images of people being blown up by Tamil Tiger bombs and subtitles about M.I.A. being a terrorist.

M.I.A. responded that she did not support terrorism.

Despite those tensions, which played out largely on the Internet and abroad, musicians in Sri Lanka say the music scene has remained ethnically diverse, with members of the country’s numerous ethnic groups and religions often forming bands together.

“There’s a lot of mixing and matching going on,” said Rienzie Pereira, a guitar player. “It’s basically like sports. No matter what ethnic group you are from, people can play cricket together.” [courtesy: NYTimes.com]

Amnesty: Civilians paying the price in a war with no witnesses

Statement by Amnesty International:

More civilians are being killed in north-east Sri Lanka, as the fighting continues between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

A female suicide bomber is reported to have killed 28 people and wounded dozens of others on Monday, when she blew herself up at a checkpoint for civilians fleeing the conflict zone. According to the Sri Lankan military, the woman was dressed as a civilian.

The attack happened in the Vishwamadu area of Mullaitivu district, as soldiers searched civilians trying to enter a government-declared safety zone. Thousands are said to be trying to cross to safety every day.

The LTTE have a long history of using suicide bombers and have, in the past, targeted civilians. They have not assumed responsibility for this attack.

Such tactics violate the international legal prohibition on perfidious attacks and expose civilians to increased danger.

"Blurring the distinction between civilians and combatants means that thousands of ordinary people, desperate to flee the conflict area, are at greater risk of reprisals and getting caught in crossfire," said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's Sri Lanka expert.

"The Tamil Tigers must immediately and publicly disavow the use of tactics such as suicide bombers disguised as civilians."

Yolanda Foster added that it was important to remember that the use of such attacks by one party to an armed conflict did not excuse unlawful attacks in response.

"The Sri Lankan security forces must still make sure that their actions are directed against military targets and not civilians," said Yolanda Foster.

There is reported to have been ongoing shelling in the government-declared safety zone – an area 7km long and 4km wide, declared by the government on 21 January.

According to information received by Amnesty International, 48 people were killed and 174 injured during heavy shelling on 6 February. Mahtalan, Thevipuram, Suthantirapuram, Moongilaru, Udayarhaddu and Vallipunam were shelled all day. Amnesty International cannot confirm where the shells originated.

On Saturday, 126 civilians including 61 patients were killed and 238 persons were fatally injured, when shelling was directed on the Puthukudiyirupu area. Some shells fell on Ponnampalam Memorial hospital killing the warded patients there. The area was also subjected to aerial bombing and cluster bombs fired from cannons.

Shelling and cannon firing was also directed on the people displaced from Suthanthirapuram area, resulting in the death of 80 civilians and fatally injuring 198 persons.

“Hundreds of civilians have now lost their lives. The situation for families trapped in between the fighting parties is horrific. Both sides should stop their operations long enough to allow the civilians to leave and aid to reach those who can’t leave”, said Yolanda Foster.

The government has restricted media access to conflict areas making it impossible to verify accounts of what is happening on the ground.

The BBC World Service said on Monday that it was suspending the provision of FM radio programming to Sri Lankan national broadcaster SLBC, because it was selectively leaving out programmes and news reports in English, Sinhala and Tamil.

According to the BBC, parts of programmes have repeatedly been blotted out with music. Sometimes whole programmes have been blocked.

"In a war with no witnesses, it is the civilians who pay the price for both parties' disregard for international humanitarian law," said Yolanda Foster.


At the beginning of a New Terror in Sri Lanka

by Chirosree Basu

Shortly after Sri Lanka’s 61st independence day celebrations on February 4 and his rousing speech on the occasion, President Mahinda Rajapakse was photographed intently watching a snake-charmer at an exhibition in Colombo. In the north-east of the country, his men in battle fatigues are doing the work of the snake-charmer, but with a minor difference. Their deadly opponents are not being incarcerated, but are being systematically obliterated from the face of the earth. And the success of the army in that job has been so overwhelming that the Rajapakses cannot but watch with bewilderment. A much-enthused Gotabaya Rajapakse, the defence secretary and brother of the president, has even wondered aloud why no one had done this before — “crush them with numbers”.

It is not as if the idea hadn’t occurred to leaders of previous dispensations. In fact, it was the persistent lure of watching the majority (Sinhalas) swamp the minority (Tamils) that has pushed Sri Lankan politics onto a rather tragic path. The numbers game may be the cause of the war in Sri Lanka, but not the reason its government is winning it now. The acquired ability of the army to best the fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at their own game of guerrilla warfare and the ruthless bombardments from the sky that make no distinction between Tiger hideouts and schools and hospitals are the two main reasons behind the success of the Rajapakse government’s military operation. The numerical advantage Gotabaya talks about remains undiminished. In the days ahead, it can be expected to play itself out in much the same fashion as it did during the days of the Bandaranaikes, J.R. Jayewardene and even Chandrika Kumaratunga, when jointly-agreed pacts were dumped to respect the majority sentiment. But before that happens, there is a minor play to be staged with the much-lauded concept of devolution of powers to the war-ravaged parts in the north and the east — an assurance for which India has fallen hook, line and sinker.

Ever since the Rajapakse government’s all-out effort to exterminate the Tigers became apparent and started to be questioned because of its severity, it has held out the carrot of devolution to ward off unsolicited interventions from outside the country. An all party representative committee, minus representation from major Tamil parties as also the Opposition, was hurriedly constituted in 2006 before the military offensive started. In its interim proposal, the APRC suggested full implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution (which followed the India-Lanka accord of 1987). This meant “maximum and effective devolution” of powers to the north and east.

Two years later, when the nation seems to be teetering on the brink of a major breakthrough, the APRC is still in no hurry to finalize its proposals, and can only think of offering the provincial councils “a little more power” than originally planned. Without fiscal and police powers, this amounts to hardly anything.

For the president, however, this is no worry. In his scheme of things, devolution comes last, that is, only after demilitarization, democratization and development (in that order). As he puts it, “It is useless to give them devolution when they are not ready to accept it or you can’t implement it.” Meanwhile, the basic criterion of the devolution, that was the merging of the northern and eastern provincial councils, has been done away with following their de-merger on the basis of a supreme court verdict in 2006. The government has made no appeals to the court or tried to work around the problem. For it, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna-instigated demerger removes a major worry over the threat that a merged province would have posed to the country’s unitary structure in case the conjoined province became restive.

So far as the administration is concerned, the problem with the Eastern council has been neatly resolved. Following the provincial council elections last year, amidst widespread allegations of foul play, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal, a breakaway Tiger faction, has been put in power. The armed TMVP militia ensures that the writ of the central government runs here. The greatly thankful, newly appointed chief minister, Pillayan, can only hope that the government relents and grants him enough powers “to implement policies that [they] would like to for the benefit of the people” since even basic development projects are carried out by the central government.

But then the challenge had been different in a multi-ethnic Eastern province that has a substantial Muslim presence. It is quite another for a mono-ethnic, mono-lingual province like the Northern. The threat perception from it is so severe that a major campaign is already under way to create awareness of this security threat and force the government to consider each district in it as a distinct unit of administration, and hence of devolution, instead of considering the province as a whole. The fervent hope is that the crumbs of office will effectively forestall the power-hungry leaders (and Tamils can be no exception to the rule) from throwing in their lot with the Tigers again.

Threat perception. There it goes again. It is because of the threat perception that the newly liberated, and democratized Eastern province continues to be under siege. There are “mini-fortresses with earth embankments, look-out towers made of old railway sleepers and ammunition boxes, and roll after roll of razor wire”.

The Northern province, given its compromised status, could look even worse when it is re-populated. With the original inhabitants killed in the crossfire or tucked away in high-security camps, where they will be sifted from suspected Tigers by the State’s ingenious methods, the threat could be minimized by bringing in settlers. And there are seemingly credible reports already that the process has started.

Another threat perception that NGOs are in cahoots with the Tigers had made the government hound them out of the country. That attitude is not going to change in a hurry. This means that the millions displaced by the war will continue to be at the mercy of the Sinhala-majority government. This is probably what Rajapakse has in mind when he repeatedly assures the world that he will “personally” take care of the rehabilitation of the internally-displaced population.

For the Tamil population elsewhere, especially in the capital, which will be more vulnerable to LTTE suicide attacks than ever before, the burden of proving innocence will be heavier. But this burden of proof will no longer be shouldered by Tamils alone. This is probably where the most enviable victory for Sri Lanka will turn into its worst defeat. As the country turns into a police State to quell the threat perception, each citizen will become suspect in the eyes of the administration and of his neighbour unless he can prove his nationalist credentials. The foremost criterion is to show support for the government’s war efforts. Already, the cloud of mistrust and suspicion is darkening the horizon in the urban space. The ministry of defence has reportedly asked all citizens to register online, and people no longer feel confident to talk freely on the mobile in public. The vicious killings of mediapersons, the attacks on the media, the threat of being “chased out” are evidence of the shrunken tolerance for balanced, independent opinion. Gotabaya Rajapakse has warned that the war strategy will change after the Tigers are decimated, and “intelligence” will become a crucial part of this. Another reign of terror, State-sponsored quite obviously, is in the making.

Two factors will determine how extensively this terror is perpetrated — international pressure and pressure from within Sri Lanka. The last will depend on how effectively the Opposition, that is the United National Party under Ranil Wickremesinghe, shapes up its pro-freedom, pro-rights and anti-corruption agenda. But if its campaign for the forthcoming elections in the Central provinces and Wayamba is any indication, it is clearly stumped by the war propaganda. A proactive judiciary could be Sri Lanka’s saviour if it could push through the establishment of the constitutional council. The council, in which the Opposition will also sit, and which will have powers to regulate appointments in the police, judiciary and government, could curb police excesses and corruption.

As for foreign powers, it is unlikely that India will manage to have a lever in the internal reorganization of Sri Lanka now that it has shown its hand. Too much meddling may be counter-productive as it will antagonize the ultranationalist Sinhala parties. What it can do is pledge assistance in relief efforts and hope it will be accepted. The Co-Chairs of Sri Lanka’s donors, the United States of America, the European Union, Japan and Norway, too, could concentrate on the post-war rehabilitation without sending out confusing signals by insisting on amnesty for all Tigers. [courtesy: The Telegraph, Calcutta, India]

Sri Lanka risks becoming next Zimbabwe, widow warns

by Randeep Ramesh

Sri Lanka is on the road to a "Zimbabwe-style dictatorship or rule by a military junta like that of Burma" committed to snuffing out dissent, according to the widow of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the crusading Sri Lankan editor who was shot dead last month.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, Sonali Samarasinghe told the Guardian she had had to flee the country after the government "did nothing" to catch her husband's killers.

A month after he was murdered on his way to work by a gang on motorbikes, the police have still not published a description of the murder weapon or asked for help in tracking down the assassins, she claimed.

"I was increasingly under threat. His murderers knew me. They saw my face. They knew I was working with Lasantha on investigations. I went into hiding and then decided to leave Sri Lanka. It was too poisonous and dangerous to stay," she said.

Almost 30 journalists have left Sri Lanka after being "threatened". Reporters have been detained without charge and last month the biggest private television station was ransacked for not beaming enough "patriotic broadcasts".

Samarasinghe said the government was determined to wipe out Tamil Tiger guerrillas and bring an end to the 26-year-old civil war but had also embarked on a campaign to silence criticism.

"We are being labelled traitors and terrorists by state media for expressing concern for civilians killed in a warzone. Sri Lanka is sliding towards some kind of mono-ethnic dictatorship where minorities and dissent is not welcome. It could soon be Zimbabwe or Burma," said Samarasinghe.

Her husband edited the Sunday Leader, a newspaper that had been a fierce critic of the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and questioned the cost of the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists. Yesterday, a female Tamil Tiger suicide bomber killed 20 soldiers and eight civilians as fighting flared in the north of the country.

Wickrematunga had known the president for decades but it was only last summer that the two became close – brought together by a "soothsayer" called Eliyantha White who claimed to have mystical healing powers. Samarasinghe said: "It was mumbo-jumbo but Lasantha trusted him, said he had helped with high blood pressure. Before that Lasantha had refused to meet the president but this quack convinced him to go and see Mahinda."

Despite the burgeoning friendship, Wickrematunga continue to expose corruption and human rights abuses – especially by the defence ministry run by the president's younger brother, Gotabaya . It was after Wickrematunga's last dinner in December with the president that he became "worried and anxious".

Samarasinghe said her husband had told the president he had proof of who had killed a decorated war hero turned politician, Major General Janaka Perera. The former soldier and one-time diplomat had entered politics and become a determined foe of the government's "total war" strategy. He and his wife died in a bomb explosion in October.

"Lasantha was being taken to court by the defence ministry. He told the president he had evidence against the defence ministry about who killed the general and he would use it in open court and then be able to report on it as it would be part of trial proceedings. He told the president that taking him to court was a mistake," said his wife.

However, Wickremetunga had become agitated in the weeks that followed and believed his life was under threat. He attempted to shield himself by inviting the president to his wedding reception in late December but the president never attended.

"He had serious threats from the government, which he had communicated to me. He was upset about the court case. More than ever, I had never seen him so upset. He was angry and deeply worried but he knew who killed the general. We invited Rajapaksa so that people would know we had friends. But he never came."

The evidence about the general's killing, said Samarasinghe, was with a lawyer in Colombo. She said her husband wrote the "finger from the grave" editorial in which he said if he were murdered the government would be behind it.

"Lasantha was killed on Thursday and on Friday a colleague found it on his computer in the office," said Samarsinghe. "I decided to put it on the front page. It was a fitting reply." [courtesy: The Guardian]

Refugees eager to join LTTE

RAMANATHAPURAM: [Feb 9], A number of youngsters in the refugee camps here prefer to go back to Sri Lanka and join the LTTE in the war instead of living in India ‘as slaves’.

According to sources, the young refugees who have access to various daily newspapers and news channels are enraged over the atrocities committed by the Lankan army and are willing to strengthen the LTTE.

Most of the refugees lead a miserable life at the camps and feel that they were enslaved by the various rules and regulations. Also they find it hard to live with the government’s monthly dole of Rs 400 for the head of a family, Rs 279 for other family members and Rs 188 for those below 15 years. The government also provides rice at 55 paise per kg, five litre of kerosene for Rs 45 and half a kilo of sugar at Rs 8 for the inmates of the camp. To supplement their income, the refugees also do construction works and fishing.

Many of the refugees allege that the camp staff demanded bribe whenever they came late to the work spot or during family functions. Also during VIP visits to the district, they are not allowed to go out of the camp. A refugee from Vavunya said that they escaped from the Lankan army only to be chained in the camps with various rules and regulations. “We are not terrorists”, he added.

Pirasanth (name changed), hailing from Jaffna, said the youth cannot lead a peaceful life here and wanted to go back to Sri Lanka.

According to intelligence sources, the influx of refugees has reduced to a large extent after security was tightened along the sea route. An intelligence officer said no one had sought permission to return to Sri Lanka till now and he denied any talk among the refugees regarding their willingness to join the LTTE. However, he added that the movement of the refugees in the camps was being carefully monitored.

February 09, 2009

Sonali Samarasinghe: A widow on the run

by Andrew Buncombe

There had been previous incidents, threats and warnings scrawled in red paint. And on that very morning, when they had driven before work to the chemist's shop, two sinister-looking men on a large black motorbike raced past their car. Lasantha Wickrematunga, a newspaper editor, and his wife, Sonali Samarasinghe, were convinced they were being tailed.


Sonali Samarasighe, wife of wounded newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, arrives at the hospital where her husband was being treated in Kalubowila, a suburb of Colombo-AP pic]

Back in their home, Mrs Wickrematunga, who is also a journalist, pleaded with her husband to stay at home. But it was a Thursday – a vital production day at her husband's Sunday newspaper – and he had to go. "See you in the office," she said as he left. Thirty minutes later she received a phone call telling her he had been fatally shot as he made his way to the office on the outskirts of Colombo. She rushed to the hospital and found her husband on a trolley, blood seeping from his mouth and ears. Doctors struggled to save him, but there was nothing they could do.

Mrs Wickrematunga has been forced to go into hiding through fears for her safety. But in the first interview she has given since her husband's assassination last month sparked outrage across Sri Lanka and around the world, she told The Independent: "I don't feel anger, truly. I feel grief, I feel despair.

"But I know that there is only one mission for me. I have to take forward what he was fighting for. His death cannot have been in vain."

Lasantha Wickrematunga edited The Sunday Leader, a newspaper that had persistently highlighted the civilian toll of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist guerrillas. The newspaper has also campaigned on other human rights issues, highlighting the soaring number of attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka since the President took office in late 2005. Sonali, Mr Wickrematunga's second wife – they had been married just two months, though they had been a couple for several years – is editor-in-chief of The Morning Leader. In the aftermath of Mr Wickrematunga's death, his newspaper published a remarkable editorial written by him perhaps just days earlier: he said that if he were ever to be murdered the finger of blame should be pointed at the government. His wife agrees with that assessment and believes the authorities are involved in a cover-up. Even now she has yet to be handed the results of her husband's post-mortem examination.

"There is a phrase cui bono? – who benefits?" she said. "Well there is no doubt that it was the government that stood to benefit. He was a thorn in their side week after week. I do not yet have any evidence of complicity, but their actions afterwards suggest there was some complicity."

She added: "The Defence Secretary [Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, younger brother of the President] was asked by the BBC about the murder. He just giggled. He said 'I'm not concerned'. This is the man who is in overall control of the police. What message does that send to the police?" Mrs Wickrematunga, who last year received the Global Shining Light Award for investigative journalism, said that when she rushed to the hospital and saw him, fatally injured, she saw deep cut marks on his side yet no bullet wounds. The cause of death, however, was officially listed as a gunshot wound.

Mrs Wickrematunga said doctors told her they found no such wounds but did discover a large injury to his head, consistent with having been viciously attacked with a metal bar. She said no one reported hearing any gunshots. "A month has passed, yet there has been no proper investigation – no appeal for people in the area, no call for anyone who saw people on motorbikes," she said, speaking from a location she asked not to be identified. "All they have done is to question the people who stole his mobile phone."

The assassination of Mr Wickrematunga took place against a determined military operation by government forces to crush the LTTE separatists who have been engaged in a vicious guerrilla war for the past three decades. Up to 250,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in the north of the country where the fighting is taking place. Aid groups say hundreds have been killed and wounded after being caught up in the crossfire. Campaigners say there has been a parallel operation by the government to silence its critics, with at least 15 journalists killed since 2006 and another 29 having fled the island after receiving death threats. Many journalists have been held without charge and the premises of media organisations critical of the government have been attacked.

Among those who have fled is Mrs Wickrematunga. "It was out of fear," she says. "You cannot live in a place where the [government] says that any dissent is treason and that if you are against you are a traitor." She stresses that while she and her husband have been critical of the government, neither of them supported the methods of the LTTE.

"When you talk about the LTTE, it is the most ruthless terrorist organisation of our time," she said "It's an insult to the Tamil people that all they have to represent their cause is the Tigers. Lasantha and I fully support the view that in a civilised world there is no room for the LTTE or al-Qa'ida." What they were also opposed to, she said, was civilians being driven from their homes in the effort to crush the LTTE.

Mrs Wickrematunga insists that a military defeat of the LTTE will not solve Sri Lanka's problems. The minority Tamil population must receive a political settlement and be treated as equals rather than inferior to the Sinhalese Buddhist population. As an example of lack of willingness to treat Tamils as equals, she points to a comment from the army commander, Lieutenant-General Sarath Fonseka, that minorities "can live in this country with us. But they must not try to – under the pretext of being a minority – demand undue things".

"Reconciliation will take such a lot of work," she said. "We have wounded a section of our society to such an extent. Scars are lasting. This problem is not going away."

A death foretold: Wickrematunga's last article

Just before his murder, Lasantha Wickrematunga wrote an article which he said should be published if he was assassinated. Here are some extracts:

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...

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 ... 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 ... 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. [courtesy: The Indepedent.UK]

BBC suspends FM broadcasts via Sri Lankan national broadcaster SLBC following “interference”

BBC World Service is suspending its FM programming to the Sri Lankan national broadcaster SLBC from Tuesday, February 10 due to deliberate interference of its broadcasts by the Sri Lankan network.BBC programmes and individual news reports in the English, Sinhala and Tamil languages have been blocked by SLBC and have not been broadcast to listeners in Sri Lanka.

The BBC noted 17 instances of interference to BBC Tamil and eight similar instances to BBC Sinhala broadcasts between November 27 and early January. Sometimes whole current affairs segments of BBC programming were not broadcast on SLBC. The BBC expressed its concern directly to SLBC Chairman Hudson Samarasinghe in a series of letters and meetings throughout December and early January.

The BBC made it clear to SLBC that such interference and blocking meant that BBC programming was being editorially compromised by SLBC’s actions and this was contrary to the BBC’s contractual agreement with SLBC.

Despite the warnings, last week there were several further instances of interference to BBC programming in all three languages being broadcast on SLBC. There have been three instances of interference on BBC Tamil output, one on BBC Sinhala and two instances on the English language programming in the past 10 days.BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman says: “We are dismayed that the BBC’s programmes in the English, Sinhala and Tamil languages have been interrupted on the SLBC network. We are equally disappointed to see that our programmes continue to be interfered with even after our representations.

“We have no choice but to suspend broadcasts until such time as SLBC can guarantee our programming is transmitted without interference,” he says. “In order to cover news events in the most comprehensive and balanced way for our audiences, the BBC adheres to specific editorial values that include impartiality, editorial independence and seeking a relevant range of views on any topic. In this way we can meet our audiences’ high expectations and maintain our reputation as the world’s most trusted international broadcaster.”

He said: “The BBC has had a very cordial and effective partnership with the SLBC since 1998 – part of a strong relationship with listeners in that country that goes back to the 1940s. We are keen to keep this relationship going provided that SLBC adheres to the agreements we have with it. But at the heart of these agreements is the guarantee that our programmes in English, Sinhala, and Tamil are broadcast uninterrupted. If this can not be guaranteed we can not continue our relationship.“We are prepared to have further discussions to resolve this issue and will investigate any specific detailed complaint SLBC may have about BBC output. So far, no specific complaint has been raised,” he says.

The BBC’s services in all three languages remain in Sri Lanka via short wave; on bbc.com/news, bbcsinhala.com and bbctamil.com via the Internet; and news bulletins in English are available via the Sri Lankan commercial broadcaster MBC.Editor’s notes These are the short wave frequencies and timings to hear BBC services in Sri Lanka: BBC Tamil

15:45-16:15 GMT = 21:15-21:45 Local Time 6135 kHz (49 mb), 7205 kHz (41 mb), 9540 kHz (31 mb) BBC Sinhala
16:30-17:00 GMT = 22:00-22:30 Local Time 7345 kHz (41 mb), 9615 kHz (31 mb) BBC World Service in English

Details of BBC World Service programmes and services in English can be found at


Mainstays of the 24 hour a day coverage (but mainly daytime) are 17790 kHz (16 mb) and 15310 kHz 19 (mb). Evenings: 11915 kHz (25 mb), 9740 kHz (31 mb), 7355 kHz (41 mb), 5975 kHz (49 mb) Ends For more information please contact: BBC World Service International Publicity
+44(0)207 557 2944; wspublicity@bbc.co.uk

India’s Sri Lanka Problem: Keeping the fingers crossed

By B. Raman

The success of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in inflicting a series of defeats on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since the middle of 2006 and in restoring the writ of the State over 95 per cent of the territory in the Tamil majority Eastern and Northern provinces, which was under the control of the LTTE, has been greeted in India with a mix of satisfaction and concern.

The satisfaction arises from the expected total defeat of the LTTE’s insurgent force, which had succeeded in virtually establishing a State within a State with its paraphernalia of an administrative structure and a so-called Army, Navy and Air Force. Its naval and air capabilities posed a threat not only to the national security of Sri Lanka, but also to the security of India and the region as a whole.

India’s concerns over the naval and air capabilities of the LTTE were magnified after the terrorist attack in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008, by a group of 10 sea-borne terrorists from Pakistan belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). The success of the LET terrorists in Mumbai brought to India’s mind the similar success of a group of sea-borne terrorists of the LTTE who clandestinely landed in India’s southern coast in 1991, found their way to Chennai and assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, at the venue of an election meeting In May ,1991.

Whatever ambivalence might have been there in India’s policy-making circles over the advisability of openly supporting the counter-insurgency operations of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces was removed after the Mumbai terrorist attack. There was a realization that terrorism in any form by any group for any reason should not be tolerated and that double standards in dealing with terrorism would only play into the hands of the terrorists. When India was demanding that Pakistan should act strongly against terrorists operating from its territory, it could not have criticized the counter-insurgency operations of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces against the LTTE.

No tears have been shed in India over the defeat of the LTTE as an insurgent force. Even before the Mumbai terrorist attack, India had been quietly helping the Sri Lankan Armed Forces by supplying defensive equipment such as radars and by training Sri Lankan personnel in the use of this equipment. Indian intelligence, which has a long history of co-operation with its Sri Lankan counterpart since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, stepped up this co-operation further since 2006 and willingly shared with the Sri Lankan authorities intelligence of value in dealing with the LTTE. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces should be the first to acknowledge that their success in severely damaging, if not destroying, the commercial shipping capability of the LTTE was to a considerable extent facilitated by precise intelligence from India. One of the reasons for the defeat of the LTTE was its inability to replenish its stocks of arms and ammunition through clandestine shipments from abroad. Intelligence supplied by India contributed significantly to disrupting these clandestine shipments.

Indian policy-makers have no reasons to regret such limited assistance provided by them. This assistance was in mutual interest. India, which has itself faced serious insurgent situations in its North-East and in Jammu & Kashmir and has dealt with them strongly and effectively, could not have viewed with equanimity the success of a dreaded insurgent-cum-terrorist force such as the LTTE in its neighbourhood. The LTTE is now a dying horse, but not yet a dead horse. Its final demise as an insurgent-cum-terrorist organization, when it comes about, should be a matter of satisfaction to all those opposed to terrorism.

India’s concerns are not over the impending demise of the LTTE. They are over what next. Many questions ought to be bothering the minds of Indian policy-makers. It has been India’s experience since its independence in 1947 that whenever any Government in Colombo felt itself strong enough not to need Indian assistance in any matter, it has shown a troubling insensitivity to India’s security concerns. One saw this before and after the Sino-Indian war of 1962. While pretending to take a neutral stand in the border dispute between India and China, it took a position which was perceived in India as more sympathetic to China than India. In the months preceding the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, which facilitated the birth of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi, in retaliation for the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Lahore by two Pakistan-instigated terrorists from J&K, banned all Pakistani flights to the then East Pakistan over Indian territory. Sri Lanka went to the help of Pakistan by allowing Pakistan Air Force planes carrying troops and equipment to East Pakistan to refuel at the Katunayake airport. A furious Indira Gandhi warned the Sri Lankan Government that she considered this an unfriendly act and threatened to retaliate against Sri Lanka. It was only after this that Sri Lanka stopped the refueling of the PAF planes. After the Indian nuclear test of 1974, India was concerned over a reported move of the US to set up a huge set-up of the Voice of America in Sri Lankan territory. Indian intelligence had told her that the US intelligence agency, which is responsible for technical intelligence, would have a presence in the VOA set-up to collect intelligence about India’s nuclear and space establishments in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. When the Sri Lankan Government repeatedly ignored Indian concerns on this subject, Indira Gandhi decided to teach it a lesson by extending political, moral and diplomatic support to the Sri Lankan Tamils.

In recent years, successive Sri Lankan Governments have been showing sensitivity to India’s security and strategic concerns because they had been rendered weak by the success of the LTTE in establishing its control over large parts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Now that they are on the verge of defeating the LTTE after re-establishing their writ over the Tamil areas, will they continue to show the same sensitivity in future or will they go back to their past reflexes of playing India against Pakistan and China, whenever it suited them. Even during its present counter-insurgency operations, the Sri Lankan Government has expanded its economic and military supply relations with Pakistan and China. This trend could pick up momentum after they succeed totally in their operations against the LTTE.

The other Indian concern arises from the emotional dimension of the problem. Tamils constitute the overwhelming majority of Tamil Nadu, the southern coastal province of India. Ethnically, linguistically and culturally, they are close to the Sri Lankan Tamils. The political aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils and their difficulties in the unitary state that Sri Lanka is have an echo in Tamil Nadu. India had never supported the LTTE’s objective of an independent Tamil State in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to be called Tamil Eelam, but it has strongly favoured since 1987 the transformation of Sri Lanka into a genuine federal State with a separate State for the Tamils with considerable political and economic powers similar to the powers enjoyed by the States in the Indian Federation.

Successive Sri Lankan Governments have repeatedly assured their own Tamils as well as India of their intention for the devolution of powers to the Tamil provinces and to grant the Tamils the same status as enjoyed by the majority Sinhalese community with no discrimination on ethnic grounds. Will the Government in Colombo honour this promise once it feels it has destroyed the LTTE once and for all. The LTTE was the strongest of the Tamil political movements. Other Tamil political organizations, which are presently collaborating with the Government against the LTTE, are weak with limited following. Presently, the Government is giving them importance as proof of its intention to treat the Tamils as equals of the Sinhalese in all respects. Will it continue to do so once it succeeds in defeating the LTTE?

Policy-makers in India also ought to be concerned over the already evident signs of the recrudescence of Sinhalese extremism and intolerance not only in the civil society, but even in the Government and the Armed Forces. The intemperate remarks of Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka,the army commander, highlighting the Sinhalese character of the State (though denied subsequently), the attacks on journalists, who criticize the military operations and the criticism of humanitarian relief organizations which highlight the plight of the Tamil civilians are disturbing indicators of the revival of Sinhalese extremism as the Armed Forces near their final victory over the LTTE. This does not bode well for the future.

India is keeping its fingers crossed as it awaits the final defeat of the LTTE.

(The writer served as an analyst in the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency, from 1968 to 1994 and in the National Security Advisory Board of the Govt. of India from 2000 to end-2002. He is presently Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. He is the author of four books---- “Intelligence---Past, Present and Future” published in 2001, “ A Terrorist State as A Frontline Ally” published in 2001, “The Kaoboys of R&AW---Down Memory Lane” published in 2007 and “Terrorism--- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” published in 2008. All the four have been published by the Lancer Publishers of Delhi---www.lancerpublishers.com . E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

February 08, 2009

Are they coming or, have they come ?

by Kusal Perera

It was one lazy Saturday morning, after the 61st Independence Day celebrations held under heavy security. I was online, reading President Rajapaksa's address to the nation from a bullet proof glass podium at the Galle face green, once a free and a casual expanse for any and all who flocked to Colombo.


Sri Lankan army soldiers fire off an artillery shell during the island's 61st Independence Day celebrations in Colombo, on February 4-Via Yahoo! News-AFP/Ishara S. Kodikara

"This 61st anniversary of independence has given us the opportunity to realize the pride and dignity of our freedom. The time is now ready for the battle to raise Sri Lanka to the dignity of a country that is energetic, powerful, virtuous and wise. Let us as patriotic Sri Lankans achieve success in that battle too, without delay. Let us dedicate ourselves to bequeath this true freedom to our country." the President was saying towards the conclusion of his address, when the bell rang at my gate. Irritated, I got up and walked out to see who was there. Two stray dogs on the road were barking at the foursome waiting at the gate, still ringing the bell.

The very brief dialogue as I wasn't interested in getting into any verbal brawl with them, is as follows.

Me – What's it ?

A young man at the gate – Don't you know to come when the bell rings ?
(Meanwhile another young man was holding out a printed note for me to collect.)

Me – Why can't you wait patiently till some one answer the bell ?

The first young man – We don't have time to waste in front of gates

Me – You could have dropped that into the mail box then.

Policeman – We want to inform personally. Otherwise you will tell, you didn't get the notice.

Me - Ok (What if there was no one in the house, was what I should have asked)

All youth were very much from the "rustifying" culture. None I could remember seeing in the area, which is nevertheless no proof they are not from this area. None looked refined and cultured, to even pose any question to. The four of them including the very young policeman went off to the next gate, while I walked back reading the notice.

It was a notice to attend a "Civil Defense Committee" (CDC) meeting that had been arranged to meet the next evening at the Buddhist temple. I wondered whether they could not think of any other venue to allow some comfort for the Christians and the Muslims who would attend the meeting. There are no Tamils in this area, as far as I know.

What was this CDC, I then wondered. Who comprises this and what mandate and authority do they have ? There were no signatories, no address from where the committee operates, not even an imprint to the printed note, no contact number for any clarification or for more information. It said the ASP of the area would be present to provide a briefing on the "defense plan".

Yet they seemed to have an unwritten authority to tell the people to "come to the meeting". The authority of the notice is derived from the fact that it is being distributed to households with a policeman in attendance. From the information it carries about the ASP briefing the meeting. The authority was in their body language and in the tone they answer back any basic query. In how they behave in front of gates of others, in an environment of white vans, unidentified gunmen on mobikes and heavy security, all over.

Over a year ago, I read a book, "Nobody Told Us We Are Defeated" written by Rory McCarthy (ISBN 0-701-18056-0). It wasn't an accident that made me remember this book. It had ingrained in me the type of rule Saddam Hussein, considered a benevolent Dictator and a Socialist of modern Iraq had installed on the lives of the ordinary Iraqis who wouldn't utter a word against this great nationalist, till his huge statue in the Baghdad city centre was pulled down by an American GI. And Rory, who was figuring out what it was in Iraq before that, met with a liberal nationalist, Fariz al-Khattab. The man who had run a news paper called "Wadi al-Rafidain" before the Americans came.

This Khattab tells Rory, in a conversation between the two, "The majority of commitments of a Ba'ath were concentrated on the districts and for that there was a complete coverage of all Iraq. It was a shield on the security side and stopped hostile elements from making espionage networks. The Ba'ath knew all the details of each Iraqi household, the Iraqi streets, the Iraqi universities, the Iraqi mosques, the Iraqi churches. We were in every house. The father or the brother or the mother, one of them if not all, were members of the party. There was an eye on every one and an eye for every one."

Just two nights before, a State owned TV channel carried a news item which said, the police was called into quell a student unrest at the Kelaniya University. The police had fired tear gas into the university and of course baton charged the students. A bunch of university students were taken into custody and it was later revealed, two of the detained had been lecturers and therefore released. Well, on the face of it, it's just the Sri Lanka we knew before. But deep within it, there is some thing brutal.

First, the two lecturers had in fact tried to tell the police who they are, for which the police had no time and no reason to listen to. So, they were also bundled into the police truck. Two, the visuals carried by the State owned channel wasn't worried they were showing off police brutality, when they showed clips of how the students were dragged into the vehicle by their hair and limbs. It was "you asked for it. So take it" attitude and the signals sent out or displayed, was also that.

It's the power of the State and its daring implementation, with "patriotism" as a license against any form of dissent.

Now, do I see any thread running along all of them ? Has the people been muted in many ways they don't talk for their rights ? Has the war given an undue authority to the repressive organs of the State and beefed them up with "social left-overs" ? What's happening ? Are they coming, or, have they come ?

February 07, 2009

Tamil People Crushed Between Rebels and Military

By S.Ratnajeevan. H. Hoole

The 35-year Sri Lankan civil war has reached a critical point, with the government taking control of all major towns in its harsh war against the Tamil Tigers, who demand a separate state. The Sri Lankan government has achieved these massive territorial gains by not caring about the welfare of Tamil civilians in battle zones.

A Jan. 29 news release from the International Committee of the Red Cross stated:

"Hundreds of [Tamils] 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. 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 from operating ... The terrified population is in need of protection, medical care and basic assistance."

Such recognition of our plight is better late than never.

This mistreatment of Tamils has been ongoing. In December, I visited Vanni and heard the shelling. I heard testimony that as the Tigers lost land, they forced the population along as human shields and for forcible recruitment. Those who crossed over into government land were held in guarded camps as Tiger infiltrators.

It has been easy to manipulate the Western media that is barred from war zones. The Tigers say the civilians went with them in fear of the government. The government says the Tigers are using Tamil civilians as hostages and that the government is not bombing designated fire-free zones. Facing the true facts and the cooked-up counter-claims from the different parties, Western media are silent or report both versions, saying that the stories could not be independently verified.

Take the shortage of food in the Vanni. Tiger sources would say there was no food. The government, however, reports that there was plenty. But the elusive truth was that there was plenty of food — and the displaced, who had been moved several times as the Tigers lost territory, had no money to buy food.

The facts have always been there for all to see, from independent local sources such as the government's medical doctors. The church has issued statements setting them out. Church elders from the Sinhalese side confirmed in December that a Tamil orphanage was bombed, but fortunately no one was injured. Public pleas were made asking the government not to bomb civilians and to the Tigers to release the civilians to go where they please. The Tigers are preventing about 300 severely injured civilians from leaving. Used by the Tigers as a shield and unable to run, about 30 Tamils die daily and hundreds were maimed this month due to government bombings of hospitals and refugee camps, according to the University Teachers for Human Rights, who get reports from the war zone.

Why did Western media not trust these sources — public servants and men of the cloth from both sides? I have written about what I saw and reliably heard to newspapers to no avail.

Why was the Kosovo genocide noticed and acted on but not the Rwandan and Sri Lankan? Two weeks ago, my editor Lasantha Wickrematunge of an English language weekly — I wrote features for him — was brutally murdered for writing against war atrocities. Laudably, there were editorials in Western media. But previously, editors of Tamil language dailies were also murdered with no one taking notice. Must one write in English to have one's murder noticed, one's life valued?

Now that Europeans have been allowed into the war zone, post-conquest, Western press reports of the ongoing calamity are trickling in at last.

The Tamil people are being eliminated — some through bombings by the government (with the Tigers ensuring that civilians will be killed to serve their propaganda machine) — but the vast majority, on seeing how we are treated by the government and the Tigers, by leaving the island or becoming Sinhalese, the majority group. The army commander has said that we Tamils are welcome in Sri Lanka but only on their terms.

For how long will the world not hear our cries? As the Red Cross says, we need protection. A neutral outside force guaranteeing safety and free elections is the only way out.

(S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole is professor of engineering and science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Hartford. He was previously vice chancellor and University Grants Commission member in Sri Lanka. He fled Sri Lanka after receiving death threats from the Tamil Tigers for his stand on human rights. This piece appeared in the “My View” section of the “Hartford Courant”.)

What's your view? Make it known with a Letter to the Editor: www.courant.com/writeletter

February 06, 2009

The Curious Case of Ajantha Mendis

by Nirgunan Tiruchelvam

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is likely to win Oscars this year. In this film, Brad Pitt plays a man who was born old and becomes younger as he grows up. The Sri Lankan team is a real life version of Benjamin Button.\

The young players, such as Kandamby, Mathews and Mendis are unfit. The old, such as Murali, Dilshan and Jayasuriya are agile. The fourth ODI was the last straw. There were several dropped catches by the young brigade. Kandamby (26) specialized in bokkus. Angelo Mathews, who at 21, is almost half the age of the 39 year-old Jayasuriya, was seen dodging the ball. In the earlier matches, Mendis (23) and Kulasekera (26), escorted the ball to the boundary.

In contrast, the three oldest players (Murali, 36, Jayasuriya and Dilshan, 32) were flinging themselves in the field. No one can fault their enthusiasm. Their alertness in the field makes them indispensable.

There are several causes for Sri Lanka’s appalling loss in the Indian ODI series. The foremost reason is that India is a far better side. They have unearthed an awesome combination, who have mastered the local conditions. The rise of Twenty-20 has created a generation of players who contribute in all three dimensions. Sehwag, Yuvraj, Raina and Yusuf Pathan are free-flowing batsman, who are niggardly spinners. They field with alacrity. When they bat, they accumulate runs by working the gaps. They can also blast the ball out of the ground, when the situation merits.

Sri Lanka’s batting, in contrast, has been two paced. At the start, Sri Lanka throws caution to the wind and bats in the Jayasuriya mould. In the middle overs, they resort to crease bound defense.

Another reason is Mendis’ poor form. Ajantha Mendis has risen from the obscurity of the second division of Sri Lanka’s Premier League to super star status. His face adorns many billboards in the island. Bandula Warnapura has called him the Bradman of bowling.

Such lavish praise is premature. People are getting carried away by his meteoric success in the Asia Cup and in the Indian Test series. Mendis is yet to play a single Test outside the sub-continent.

Barely six months after he burst on the scene, Mendis is no longer a slender youth. Spoilt by the fanfare, his waist has expanded and he is the team’s clumsiest fielder. It is difficult for Mahela to hide him. Mendis’ batting stance is that of a roadside softball player. The basics of cricketing technique have escaped him. The guard is taken a yard outside the leg-stump, exposing the stumps.

Since he burst on the scene last year, there have been comparisons to the mystery spinners of the past. The closest predecessor is Jack Iverson, a tall Australian, who had a similarly peculiar grip.

In the 1950-51 Ashes, Iverson confused England in his debut series. Iverson, then a 35-year-old war veteran, took 21 wickets at 17 a piece. Sadly, he disappeared as suddenly as he rose. An injury derailed him for the next season and his wicket-taking ability deserted him.

Apart from a stunning debut, there are other parallels to Mendis. Like Mendis, Iverson had barely played in his country’s first-class tournament at the time of his debut. The humble Iverson was shocked by his own success.

Other unusual spin bowlers have debuted phenomenally, only to retire as forgotten men. Indian leg-spinners Narendra Hirwani and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, like Mendis, lost their lustre after their novelty wore off. Hirwani took 16 wickets in his first Test, but never had a 5 wicket haul again. Hirwani was also a liability on the field and with the bat.

Perhaps, Mendis should be restricted to Tests, where his failings in other departments can be camouflaged. Expectations will need to be managed, for Mendis to evade Iverson’s fate.

An ugly incident in the fourth ODI led play to be held up for half an hour. An idiot in the crowd, allegedly threw a pebble at Indian fielder Pragyan Ojha. Perhaps, this irate cricket follower was actually aiming the pebble at Mahela Jayawardene, who was then at the crease!

The shocking incident is a grim reminder of the public’s annoyance with the team’s preference for the IPL riches, over national duty.

Seduced by the Indian Premier League (IPL) riches, Mahela is intent on curtailing Sri Lanka’s international commitments to no-hopers like Zimbabwe. After the Asia Cup win, he led a campaign to cancel the English tour. Politicians were begged. Cricketers turned into agitators. The board’s finances needed the US$1.5m guarantee money from the tour. But Mahela denied the board that windfall. The tour was scrapped.

One of the few positives from the defeat is that it has brought the cricketers down to earth. They can no longer dictate terms. On Friday, the second IPL auctions saw no bidders for Chamara Kapugedera. His starting price was US$150,000, a paltry sum by IPL standards. Hopefully, this will convince the cricketers that playing for the country is their foremost platform.

Despite the pitiful performance, the pendulum can swing rapidly in ODI cricket. A fortnight ago, Sri Lanka had trounced Pakistan in Lahore.

The rise of the Jayasuriya-Dilshan opening partnership provides hope. Opening is proving to be Dilshan’s salvation. His style of play suits the opener’s role. The ball comes on to the bat and allows him to feast on the quicks. Dilshan’s cross batted shots are powerful and instinctive. Mahela is finally finding his touch, though he maybe preparing for the IPL.

For a recovery, better fielders must be picked from the bench. Udawatte and Mubarak can’t be worse batsmen than Kandamby or Matthews. Importantly, they are far superior as fielders.

But the biggest priority is to manage Mendis’ career, which is now at an awkward stage. Otherwise, he may become old before his time.

Demise of the Opposition and Sinhala future in nation building

by Kusal Perera

What should eventually happen, did happen. The UNP finally curled up meekly to make an official statement on 27th January which said, "The United National Party salutes the Sri Lankan armed forces for its military victories in the North" adding that the UNP acknowledges it was "the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers who were responsible for overseeing the conduct of these military operations".Although the then acting PM and FM of India, Pranab Mukherjee is not known to have met Wickramainghe during his hurried visit, the pre-written statement of the UNP was read out to the media by Ranil Wickramasinghe personally, few hours after Mukherjee met with President Rajapaksa in Colombo. Wickramasinghe sealed the UNP position on the war, erasing all ambiguity there was in the past year. Accused by the JHU, the JVP and Weerawansa of allowing the LTTE to control land, Wickramasinghe admitted by allusion, he gave the LTTE armed control of areas in the North when he says in his statement, "Key towns that have been under the armed control of the LTTE have been re-taken after a lapse of many years." He then hastens to add, "The sovereignty of our nation has been protected and the country's territorial integrity restored." His statement in fact should have best suited the President to address the nation, after Mullaitivu fell. He now confirms, what ever he had been saying all these years has to be trashed as those said by some one who had mixed up Mullaitivu and Mulleriyawa.

Wickramasinghe's attempts at saving himself with a Sinhala face are also mediocre. "We remind the government that there are formidable hurdles to be crossed. A genuine political solution to bring long lasting peace, is one such hurdle." says this Opposition Leader. He's forgotten that President Rajapaksa keeps saying he would not stop with defeating Tiger terrorism militarily, what ever his brother Defence Secretary's and the Army Commander's plans are. President Rajapaksa has repeatedly told the international community and India, he would work out a consensus on the solution to the Tamil problem through his APRC, which the UNP opted to avoid. This political leadership at the helm of the Executive has also proved it would only project such solutions when opportune to its survival and withdraw same there after. This regime is based on the ideological power of establishing a "Unitary" Sinhala State that others are expected to tolerate, what ever else it may feel profitable to say. What then is this reminder by the UNP ?

This is a reminder the UNP is no more the responsible Opposition it ought to be. It reminds that within the Sinhala society, there would be no alternate platform to facilitate a discussion on the next phase of the military outcome. It reminds finally, that in general, the Sinhala political parties are all chauvinists, playing for Sinhala votes to gain political power without a programme and leaves the society without any opposition to the politico military programme of the Rajapaksa regime.

It comes when all non State actors who were bidding for a negotiated solution to the ethnic conflict has also either gone the "Wickramasinghe" way, or have opted to mark time, expecting the LTTE to turn up with something that could change the picture. There are different reasons to this "peace confusion". Wickramasinghe is caught in his own trap of scheming and manipulating within the party to remain its leader, instead of working to be a leader of the people, the party would not part with. The non State actors have lost track of what they had learnt in conflict resolution. The military had removed the important armed contender who was a formidable and a necessary partner at the negotiating table. Without that LTTE, what negotiations now ?

All these years, why past governments stayed within the process of negotiations in working out a solution were because, no government could avoid or eliminate the LTTE in Tamil politics. With their armed ability to strike any where and very hard, no government could ignore the LTTE in working out any solution to the ethnic conflict. With their armed power, the LTTE had convinced themselves they could push Sri Lankan governments to accept their stand of "self determination" in their homeland. The fact that they never compromised on that issue and was able to hold the SL army at bay with expanding land areas, convinced the SL Tamil Diaspora also that one day, the LTTE would succeed in its project of establishing a separate Tamil State, or one, almost as good within a single country.

Such a broad promise with expectation of "liberating" the Tamil polity on one side gave the LTTE as an organisation immense power and authority over Tamil politics, marginalising other political parties and groups, who either compromised with the LTTE to survive, or with the GoSL, also to survive. Such unchallenged power, perhaps made Prabhakaran to believe he could change the face of SL politics on his own conditions, as he did before. Hence Prabhakaran's decision that allowed Mahinda Rajapaksa to be elected as President with only Sinhala voter participation. A decision that now proves fatally wrong. His calculation on how the Rajapaksa government would intervene in the conflict was a gross under estimation of the capacity of a Sinhala government to mobilise the Sinhala society on its ideology. His calculation on how he could bend the international community too was a miscalculation.

Contrary to LTTE estimations, this Rajapaksa regime proved itself as ruthless as the LTTE in meeting them on the battle field. Accusations on HR violations were not issues the Rajapaksa government were taking seriously; from what ever quarter they come. Civilian casualties in battle are all what this government would leave for the LTTE to answer. All Tamils who die in the war were made into "terrorists" and all who speak against this dastardly war are "terrorists", "terrorist informants" or at the least "unpatriotic" elements against whom death in any form is justifiable. The biggest human tragedy that's evolving is not what the Sinhala South would protest about now, when they are told the government is fighting a "patriotic war" in saving the country from a ruthless "terrorist".

For the first time, the LTTE was hitting its head against a government that thinks the same way as the Tel Aviv regimes. A government that raised the Sinhala cry for blood, in saving the Sinhala nation. For the first time, the LTTE was up against a government that wasn't bothered about international protests and condemnations, for they had other foreign allies in Iran, Pakistan, China and even Russia, who wouldn't bother about HR violations. For the first time the LTTE was made to realise India would negotiate Tamil politics in Chennai to support a SL government that proves it could defeat the LTTE, no matter what pain the Tamil people go through and how violent TN would become.

All that, no doubt at a very high human cost not worth it though, has left the UNP bewildered and sulking. It has peace campaigners left without alternate strategy. It has created an equation that has only one side of the equation, the opposite cumulative unit to be decided by the military strategists themselves. Will it have space for peace lobbyists and what would the path be, for any final compromise on the long standing Tamil aspirations?

When President says, "let us extend the co-operation of the entire nation to the people of the North and the East who suffered under the grip of separatist terror for many years, to once again step towards satisfaction and freedom in life. Let us come forward both in word and deed to bestow upon them the kindness, friendship and prosperity they deserve." should have to be taken in the context that his brother also the Secretary Defense Gotabhaya and the Army Commander who all these years were publicly promulgating policy on how the government fights the LTTE, were never denied that right by the Rajapaksa presidency and they continue to do so. Gotabhaya thus went on record saying no media would be allowed "dissent" as dissent, according to his definition only means "giving another breath" to the Tiger terrorists who are cornered in Mullaitivu.

Such political context in which any solution the government offers and the Indians would market as "solutions" to the Tamil people would restrict discussions to suit the needs of the ruling regime without 'dissent'. Those Tamil groups working with the SL military establishment and individuals like Sangaree who play for a niche in the political power structure would be brought in to discuss government proposals. They, in any case have no other choice lurking in the shades of the military for their own survival. Douglas, Karuna and Sangaree would be the type who would be made to sit at APRC negotiations, to fill the vacant Tamil slot. The peace lobbyists would then agree such is reality; the only option is to ask for a full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Rajapaksa regime has already put together a vociferous bloc against any further devolution through Champika, Weerawansa and Karuna. India would again be left to choose between their own baby the 13th Amendment as it is implemented now, with a puppet Northern PC similar to the one in the East and supporting a Rajapaksa regime that dismantled the military power of the LTTE at the cost of hurting TN votes. That any way would have to be taken care of by the next Delhi government and Mukherjee would be shuttling between Colombo and Delhi to see how many of those disgruntled TN votes could be lured by his shuttling for a Congress victory.

If the post 2009 February period turns out that way, the South would have to learn for the second time that political aspirations of a people who are held together on a culture of their own can not be militarily wiped off, like wiping off an organization. The two are not the same though they walk alongside each other. Yet it would take time for the South to realize they have been taken to where they were, when the Jaffna Public Library was burnt and the DDC elections in the Jaffna peninsula were put under Sinhala goon attacks. The post 2009 February period would thus gradually turn out as a period with space for the emergence of a new and more youthful brutality to take charge of Tamil aspirations that would still be crying and bleeding, left stranded by the LTTE after all the sacrifices the ordinary people were forced to live through. Another long wait in establishing a nation State that accepts and respects plurality on this soil.

Recent Articles by Kusal Perera:

- Winning the war and losing the future for the Sinhala South

- Battle for Eelam shifting to battle for Tamil Nation State

LTTE ex-arms procurer “KP” made new global Tiger Chief

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

With the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) being cornered militarily in Northern Sri Lanka, there has been much speculation about the future of the movement that has been the determining force in Sri Lankan politics for more than two decades. [Click here to read the article in full ~ in the Daily Mirror.lk]

Warmongering Sinhala chauvinism is opium of the masses in Lanka

by Dr.Vickramabahu Karunaratne

I am thankful to Tissa and other organizers for making this event a reality. As a present day leader of the Sama Samajist movement which made a special contribution to the independence struggle, I have neither shame nor fear to step into this stage to speak of freedom. At this time there is a celebration in Colombo, a shameful event where Lion flag is hoisted to cover up genocidal killings, abductions, corruptions, fraud and ransom taking. Ruling group led by Mahinda is using the Lion flag, the pride of Sinhala for 3000 years, as loin cloth to cover up their nakedness. Lion flag has become a cover to wrap the dead bodies of foul killings and to hide sinful frauds.

This is a time for weeping. From Point Pedro to Devundara, the island is soaked in blood and tears. Pardon me Hakim and Tamil leaders, for talking only of Sinhala youth that are killed in a distant unknown land, a deserted land. Buried without much ceremony in other peoples land. Thousands died while tens of thousand are suffering in crowded hospitals. Colombo ceremony is to cover up all these. We are told that by killing and destroying, bombing and blasting, Tamil struggle is brought to an end. At the same time we know that those who challenged and criticized this operation are classified as traitors and punished.

Such Media men are killed or wounded and others are driven out of the island. Some Media houses are burned and crushed. We do not see an end to the problem, but we see pushing it underground while harvesting it in Tamil Nadu and in all cosmopolitan cities of the world. At this moment there is a hartal in Tamil Nadu and massive demonstrations are taking place in all big cites of the world. Effigies of President Mahinda are carried and burned shouting slogans against killings, corruptions and plunder. All Lankan embassies are given special protection while ambassadors live in fear. These protest acts are carried out with the support of left and democratic forces in respective countries. War has created more hatred and in coming generations , we could harvest the produce in several folds.

Bandaranayke signed a pact with the Tamil leader Chelvanayagum and wanted to solve the problem by devolution of power. Then Dudley tried to go further and after a similar pact took Tamil leaders into the Cabinet, while planning devolution. President Jayewardene called an all party conference and tried to devolve power by the system of provincial councils. In this endeavor he was supported by Colvin, Bernard, Vijaya and other left leaders. I myself was among them.

At least a nominal provincial council for the Tamil homeland was established and for the first time in history after Sankili, Tamils had a Tamil ruler for the Tamil land. Finally, Prime Minister Wickramasinghe arrived at a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE leader Piribhaharan and wanted to go for a serious political solution. All these leaders from Bandaranayke up to Wickramasinghe and the left leaders, who supported them, were with education from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and MIT etc; with massive libraries for reference, were supposed to be guided by the principles of kindness and mercy. Were they all fools and frightened imbeciles? Are they all traitors who wanted to deal with the foreign masters behind Tamil terrorism? On the other hand, is the 'fearless leader' who smashed and killed, silenced critiques and poisoned Sinhala people with chauvinism and hate, the hero?

Every time since the time of Bandaranayke, when ever an attempt was made to arrive at a solution on the basis of power sharing among all communities, terror of Sinhala chauvinism was unleashed and barbarism ruled the streets. Recently when President Jayewardene devolved power under 13th amendment for the NE province, Sinhala chauvinist terror was unleashed on every body associated with devolution of power. Killers did not come from Mars or Moon.

Chauvinist gangs of Champika, gangs of Mahinda and gangs of Weerawansa under the name of patriotism attacked and killed. They killed 23 of my party. I got a bullet passing through my body leaving a hole of 3 inches at back I survived only by shear luck after suffering in hospital for months. Nearly 1000 of other leftist became victims while nearly 8000 UNP members and supporters were killed. Most of them unarmed ordinary people loyal to old UNP leaders. In addition these "patriots" wounded tens of thousand and burned hundreds of houses.

When Prime Minister Wickramasinghe a signed a pact with the LTTE, again Sinhala chauvinist did every thing to sabotage the attempt for a solution.

We of the left appreciate the attempt to bring a settlement to this human issue of language and nationalities. But we differed on other issues with these rulers. I have fought on such issues affecting workers and peasants and languished in prisons of Bandaranayke, Jayewardene and Wickramasinghe. Nevertheless I have come here today as I respect the commitment of the UNP leader Wickramasinghe to communal harmony and democracy. Resolving national and communal problems needs mercy and kindness.

All religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamism, and Christianity, advocate kindness and compassion for human existence and to dispel barbarism. When Marx spoke of opium of the masses he did not mean basic ethics of human existence. But the war mongering Sinhala chauvinist campaign is definitely opium to the masses. Mahinda use this opium to drug the masses to forget hunger and misery and to dance naked waving Lion flags. Thus he has taken the country towards barbarism.

For this country this it is the hour of Saturn, the moment of Mahasona the barbarian. At this hour vultures are roaming. We have come together to stand up ad fight for freedom again.

(Text of the speech of Bahu at the meeting held by the platform for freedom held at Kundasale on 4th F eb)

February 05, 2009

Govt, Tigers must declare temporary truce and open humanitarian corridors to get civilians out, aid in

Amnesty International Press Release

The Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should immediately declare a temporary humanitarian truce and create humanitarian corridors, Amnesty International said today. This would allow more than a quarter of a million civilians trapped in the Wanni region to escape the ongoing war and also let food, water, and medical assistance reach these civilians who cannot leave.

Amnesty International also demanded that the Sri Lankan government ensure that displaced people who have fled the conflict zone to transit centres do not face improper restriction on their movement and are kept safe. Less than 6,000 people from the Wanni have sought shelter in government held areas since December. They are held in de facto detention centres and are vulnerable to abuses by government forces.

“The situation for civilians in the Wanni is unacceptable. People cannot move safely, even to collect the bodies of dead relatives, and the injured have no hospitals,” said Yolanda Foster. “A quarter of a million people are suffering without adequate food and shelter while shells rain down upon them. Most of those who have managed to escape the conflict have not received adequate hospital treatment.”

The last shipment of food to reach the civilian population, which is totally dependent on outside aid, went in on 29 January. Community-based organisations fear thousands of civilians are in critical danger in a rapidly deteriorating situation as the Sri Lankan armed forces attempt to regain all territory from the Tamil Tigers.

Amnesty International urges the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to immediately:

• Declare a temporary truce in the fighting to allow for the evacuation of civilians along humanitarian corridors and the introduction of humanitarian aid to those remaining;

• Ensure civilians in the conflict zone are given adequate information about the location of aid corridors and can reach these corridors in safety;

• Allow aid agencies to carry out their relief responsibilities and assist civilians and allow international monitors full access to these areas, so that they can monitor the human rights situation in the area and observe the implementation of the truce;

• Ensure reception arrangements for displaced people fleeing the combat zone meet international standards;

• Ensure displaced people housed in transit centres in government-held areas have freedom of movement and are accessible to independent humanitarian aid and observers;

• Allow an interagency assessment team from the United Nations to investigate conditions on the ground and the deployment of human rights monitors in the areas affected by the fighting.

"The most important issue right now is to focus on immediate unimpeded humanitarian assistance for those families trapped between the conflicting parties," said Yolanda Foster. "The government wants international assistance but not international standards.”

The Tamil Tigers have prevented civilians from leaving the conflict zone by instituting a pass system to restrict freedom of movement. The Tamil Tigers have forcibly recruited civilians, including children, to build bunkers and serve as troops.

Fears for Safety of Civilians in Government-controlled Centres

The Sri Lankan government has held civilians who have already fled LTTE-held areas since March 2008 at so-called welfare villages. These camps are located at Kalimoddai and Sirukandal in Mannar district and Manik Farm and Nellumkulam in Vavuniya district. The Sri Lankan armed forces have severely restricted the ability of the displaced people held at these camps to move.

“The last operational hospital in the conflict zone has now closed and there are no proper facilities for the critically injured,” said Yolanda Foster. “Even the government-operated hospital at Vavuniya is unable to provide adequate medical treatment.”

Although the government has allowed some displaced people out of these camps for education, livelihood and health purposes, they are required to leave a family member in the camp as a safeguard against them escaping. This policy violates the international legal prohibition of hostage taking.

The Sri Lankan government is keeping displaced people coming out of the Wanni in new temporary sites being created in Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna districts.

While the ICRC and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have been allowed limited access to the existing centres, the government has not allowed other humanitarian agencies access.

Amnesty International has received reports that Sri Lankan armed forces screen civilians who have fled the Wanni area, and have detained several people in police custody.

Given past experiences, there are credible fears among civilians that those confined in transit centres could be vulnerable to enforced disappearances or extrajudicial executions, as well as increased targeting of persons, including arbitrary detention and harassment on an ethnic basis. There have been reports of several hundred cases of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka since 2006, many of them in government-controlled areas.

Sri Lanka is legally obliged to refrain from arbitrarily detaining any persons. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (the international framework for the protection of displaced people) provides that, consistent with the right to liberty, internally displaced persons “shall not be interned in or confined to a camp.” The Principles recognize that “exceptional circumstances” may permit confinement only for so long as it is “absolutely necessary,” but the Sri Lankan government has not demonstrated that such circumstances exist.


Tamils: Yes We Can

YeswcTC0205.jpgby Arvalan

“where we are met with cynicism and doubt and fear and
those who tell us that we can't,
we will respond with that timeless creed that
sums up the spirit of the American people
in three simple words
-- yes, we can. – Barack Obama

The Tamil Tigers (LTTE), who have been waging an armed liberation struggle to liberate the Tamil Homeland in the North East provinces of the Island of Sri Lanka has suffered unprecedented military debacles in the last few years and are on the back foot for the first time in their history spanning over 30 years. This is quite a contrast to the Politico-Military Balance of Power they enjoyed at the start of this millennium, which lead to the Norwegian brokered ceasefire and peace talks in 2002.

The minority Tamils have paid a colossal price in human and economic terms by waging a liberation struggle against the Sinhala Buddhist state. Whilst the Sri Lankan state enjoyed unparalleled support from almost every country on the earth, the Tamils relied on their own pockets and population to fight against the military might of their opponents. Outnumbered and overpowered Tamils deployed innovative military strategies to gain the Balance of Power in 2001. The fourth phase of the Eelam war which has been raging since 2006 has been a disaster for the Tamil Tigers and the Tamils, who pinned their hope on the LTTE to deliver Tamil Eelam.

The Sri Lankan state has declared that it is in the brink of victory and the powers of the world (USA, EU, Japan, Norway and even India) has called upon the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms. It is an irony that it is the same powers of the world which persuaded the Tamil Tigers to enter into negotiations in 2002, which resulted in the Sri Lankan government strengthening its military from near brinkmanship, the LTTE being split, LTTE’s overseas operations curbed and LTTE’s logistical operation crippled.

From a Tamil perspective it is time for a review and rethink of their political strategy for the well being of their future generations. Tamils have scarified nearly three generations of lives in pursuit of liberation; from Sivakumar, Iraikumaran to Thamil Chelvan, Balraj, we have lost dedicated geniuses.

The three major reasons for the armed Tamil liberation struggle for an independent Tamil homeland not achieving success, so far, are

1. Failure of the Tamil leadership to secure the support of a single nation of the world, particularly losing the support of India which trained and armed the Tamil militants in the 1980’s.

2. In the post Sep 11 2001 era, sadly even legitimate armed struggles against states are viewed as terrorism.

3. Lack of unity amongst the Tamils. The history of the liberation struggle is full of inter Tamil rivalry, treachery and splits within the liberation movements.

After the failure of the 1987 Indo Lanka accord LTTE became the “sole representatives” of the Tamils in the Political front and engaged in negotiations with successive Sri Lankan governments and international community. They negotiations spanning over 20 years have failed to achieve their stated goal of neither an independent Tamil Eelam nor a peaceful solution to the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people. During this time the alternate Tamil leadership (from Amirthalingam to Maheswaran) was eliminated by violent means by parties with vested interest. With the LTTE being confined to a narrow strip of land and having been banned as a terrorist organisation in over 30 countries there is a need for an authentic Tamil Political leadership to arise. This should not be the leaders and parties who are associated with the Sri Lankan government, namely Devananda, Karuna and Anandasangaree. This new breed of Tamil leadership should come from the Tamil Diaspora, as it is in the safety of the democratic countries which they live are conducive for political activities. Any such attempt in Sri Lanka will be brought to an end with a single bullet.

The Tamil Diaspora should forge together to form a political body, let us call it Tamil National Congress (TNC) to establish channels of communications with the LTTE, Sri Lankan Government, Tamil Nadu and International community. TNC is not about isolating the Tigers, but it is about providing a legitimate political voice for the Tamils in the current context.

It is a fact that the Tamils have miserably failed in their attempts to convince India and the rest of the world to recognise an independent homeland in the Island. Therefore TNC should pursue an alternate to the independent homeland which effectively addresses the legitimate grievances of the Tamils. One of the salient features of the past negotiations has been the failure of the Tamil side to submit a proposal at the negotiations. The ISGA proposals formulated by the LTTE didn’t get an opportunity to be negotiated as well.

I believe the starting point for the negotiations should be the 1995 Devolution proposals formulated by Prof. G.L.Pieris and Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam. These proposals were vindicated by LTTE’s Chief Negotiator Late Dr. Anton Balasingham as well. Dr. Anton Balasingham made a startling disclosure about the devolution package formulated by the late Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam at a press conference on March 12, 2003 in Kilinochchi. The Jaffna based Tamil daily Uthayan of March 13 2003 carried extensive details of what the Tiger Chief Negotiator had to say. Speaking within the context of the long search for a negotiated settlement, Balasingham made explicit reference to Thiruchelvam. This is what he purportedly stated “Neelan Thiruchelvam presented in 1995 a draft amending the constitution. That was a correct draft. That was acceptable”.

The unit of devolution in these Devolution proposals were Regions. There is a controversial statement in these proposals as it specifies the need to re-demarcating the existing boundaries of the present North-East Province in full consultation with a view to reconciling Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim interests. These proposals empower the region with Land, Finance, Internal Security and Higher Education authority.

Significantly the ISGA proposals formulated by the LTTE as a framework for an Interim Administration are very similar to the Neelan Pieris Devolution proposals. A review of the ISGA and the Devolution proposals could be found in the following website. http://federalidea.com/focus/archives/283

The Tamil Diaspora driven TNC should convince the International Community to endorse their proposals for devolution of power, with entrenched constitutional protection. The protection in the constitution is vital as evidenced by the Supreme Court ruling the P-TOMS (Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure) and SIHRN (Sub Committee for Immediate Humanitarian Rehabilitation Needs) Proposals “ultra vires”. Also it safeguards against a future Sinhala regime changing the constitution as witnessed in the case of North East provinces being demerged by the Mahinda Rajapakse regime.

Based on an overly hopeful assumption that devolution proposals are enacted in the constitution and peace prevails in the country, the Tamil Diaspora should invest their mind and money in developing the Tamil region. The Indian state of Punjab, which waged an unsuccessful liberation struggle for separation in the eighties, is currently the leading state in India in terms of economic power according to a recent survey. The Tamil Diaspora should emulate that example and make the Tamil region the economic powerhouse of the Island of Sri Lanka. This will be a constructive effort to regain the pride of the Tamil race which has been bruised due to military defeats.

Tamil region’s Universities should become the hub of intellectual activities producing world class professionals from Information Technology to Tamil literature. The LTTE has demonstrated the capability of the Tamil brain by developing a naval arm with Submarines and an Air force capable of striking targets. This “brain power” should be deployed in a constructive manner to demonstrate to the world the worthiness of the Tamils.

In conclusion the fate of the future Tamil generation is in the able hands of the Tamil Diaspora. It is time for the Tamil Diaspora who has provided material support to the liberation struggle to engage politically. This is in no way to undermine the LTTE, but to safeguard the loss of Tamil lives (both LTTE and Civilians) and the Tamil nation getting destroyed (Example Killinochi).

More importantly it is about providing an opportunity for the next generation of Tamils to live in peace and prove the worthiness to the international community which has betrayed us.

My dear fellow Tamils,
where we are met with cynicism and doubt and fear and
those who tell us that we can't,
we will respond with that timeless creed that
sums up the spirit of the Tamil people
in three simple words


Strategic Miscalculation by the LTTE

By Shanaka Jayasekara

In recent history there is only one example of an absolute victory over a terrorist group, that too from South Asia. The Indian forces completely destroyed the Khalisntan terror groups in Operation Blue Star in 1984. Today the Khalistan terror groups are limited to a few diapora supporters in Canada, US and UK.

Currently, Sri Lanka is at the threshold of being the second example of an absolute victory over a terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The defeat of the LTTE is much a success of the Sri Lankan military as it is a grave miscalculation by the LTTE.

The beginnings of the collapse can be traced to changes in LTTE strategy from 2004 onwards. In October 2004, a delegation of the LTTE headed by Suppayya Pramu Tamilselvan undertook a month long tour of Europe and held high level meeting with senior officials of Foreign Ministries in ten European countries. The meetings were arranged by Norwegian diplomats in each of these countries.

The LTTE had by this stage undergone a paradigm shift in thinking, after many years of pursuing a military strategy, they had come to believe the next phase towards statehood was the progressive achievement of international acceptance. The LTTE believed direct diplomatic access in Europe had paved the way for “Proto-State” status in the corridors of Western powers.

The LTTE for the first time had shifted from power broking in Tamil Nadu politics as the means to pressure Sri Lanka, to building a more ambitious Western led diplomatic offensives against the Sri Lankan government. The LTTE were either misinformed by the influx of diaspora advisers or were under an illusion that access to Foreign Ministries equated to a foreign policy shift on Sri Lanka. It is likely that it was a combination of both, over ambitious diaspora advisers and LTTE delegations flattered by overseas experiences.

At the time, the LTTE considered primary obstacle to greater international acceptance was the UNP links (Ranil-Moragoda) with the liberal-conservative side of politics globally. The former LTTE ideologue Late Anton Balasingham accused the UNP of building a global safety net to the detriment of the LTTE.

At the Presidential elections in November 2005 the candidates of the two main political parties had taken very different positions on the path to a political solution to the conflict. The UNP candidate Ranil Wickremasignhe in his manifesto stated, he will pursue a political settlement based on the Oslo Communiqué to explore a federal solution. (pages 16 & 17 UNP Peoples manifesto). The candidate from the SLFP/JVP coalition Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his manifesto stated that the unitary structure of the State would be preserved. (Mahinda Chnthana English version page 32). The candidates had clearly indicated the type of devolution offered to the LTTE.

The UNP the only national party to have an elected representative from the Jaffna district, traditionally on a two party preference poled better among minority groups.

The LTTE had control of the Vanni region in the Northern Province and capability to influence the Jaffna peninsula. The primary objective of the LTTE was to achieve diplomatic parity and the main obstacle was the Ranil-Moragoda connections. The LTTE had become over confident of its military capabilities and was ambitiously pursuing a strategy of diplomatic successes. Towards this end, the LTTE had already assassinated former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, thereby creating a dearth of internationally recognized personalities in the SLFP/JVP coalition. The LTTE were convinced that they would be favored over a SLFP/JVP coalition Presidency by the international community and this provided a better chance of achieving a level of legitimacy for the organization.
Realizing that UNP candidate Ranil Wickremasignhe may win the Presidential elections if the minority Tamils voted, the LTTE imposed a complete boycott of the Presidential elections in the Northern Province. As reported in the EU Election Observer Mission Report (Nov 2005), the LTTE successfully enforced a total boycott of the elections in areas controlled by them.

The final results of the Presidential elections, Mahinda Rajapaksa received 4,887,152 votes and Ranil Wickremasignhe 4,706,366. The SLFP/JVP candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidential elections by 180,786 votes. The registered voters in the Northern Province that were prevented from voting by the LTTE exceed 400,000 persons.

As Sun Tzu in his book, Art of War writes “the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself”. Indeed the LTTE being over confident of its military capabilities had grossly miscalculated strategy. It blatantly disregarded the capacity of the Sri Lankan state to mobilize a military campaign, and banked on diapora advice for a diplomatic offensive against Sri Lanka.

The LTTE began mounting an international diplomatic campaign was gaining ground following the collapse of the Geneva peace talks, the cancellation of the Millennium Challenge grants, Senator Leahy amendment restricting military assistance, loss of seat at the Human Rights Committee and the EU GSP+ coming under scrutiny, demonstrated the international strengths of LTTE activists . At this crucial stage Anton Balasingham the only accurate representation of the LTTE outside Sri Lanka died in December 2006. It was Anton Balasingham that acted as the channel of communication for the LTTE with foreign governments. To the LTTE he was indispensable, in fact officials of the EU and several other governments traveled to London regularly to meet with Balasingham. The LTTE had no replacement for Balasingham and the ambitious diplomatic victories fast faded out.

The LTTE strategy had not factored the arrival of Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the United States, the elder brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Gotabaya a retired Colonel in the Sri Lanka Army actively participated in the battles of Vaddamarachchi in 1987. Gotabaya assumed office as Secretary of Defence and set about a strategy for the elimination of the LTTE drawing on his own experience on the battlefield. The “Gotabaya Strategy” was three pronged, the first priority was to enhance the manpower strength of the military. Between 2006-2008 the security forces expanded by 70,000 soldiers and the auxiliary civil defence force by 40,000 persons. The second element of the strategy was to destroy the weapons supply capability of the LTTE. In this regard the Navy played a pivotal role by destroying almost the entire shipping fleet of the LTTE. The Navy targeted these floating armories in international waters sinking seven large merchant vessels operated by the LTTE. The third element of the strategy was closer cooperation between the three armed forces. In the absence of a structured coordination process, Gotabaya used his personal relationships with senior commanders of the three services to ensure effective coordination at the operational level.

When the LTTE blocked the Mavil Aru reservoir in July 2006 preventing irrigation and water supply to rice fields downstream, the government was ready to use military force to evict the LTTE from the Eastern Province. The defection of LTTE Eastern leader Karuna had factionalized the LTTE in the Eastern Province. The security forces after one year of battle had totally liberated the Eastern Province with the final battle of Thoppigala in July 2007.
In February 2008, the security forces embarked on clearing the Northern Province, commencing with the battle of Madhu Church. Security Forces pursued a strategy of capturing coastline on the North Western and Eastern coast. This strategy of progressing along the coast prevented the LTTE from landing supplies, limited the operational space for the Sea Tigers and prevented and outflow of refugees to India. The Army had established several offensive divisions which spearheaded the forward thrust, while defensive divisions were tasked with consolidation newly liberated territory. The Army adopted innovative battlefield strategies that out maneuvered the LTTE defences. Special Forces teams actively operated in enemy territory disrupting the mobility of the LTTE.
In ten months the security forces had reached northern most town of Pooneryn on the western flack and had come almost to Mullaitivu on the Eastern flack. The three main offensive divisions were supplemented with additional manpower strength by establishing three more semi-strength divisions.

At the time of the Kilinochchi battle three full divisions and three semi-strength divisions (Task Force) were positioned for attack from six directions. The Gotabaya Strategy of crippling the weapons supplies had prevented the LTTE from replenishing ammunition stocks. The LTTE could not prevent the advance of the security forces due to a serious shortage of ammunition. The LTTE had expected to receive a consignment of weapons which they procured in July 2008 from Ukraine. However, only one trawler load managed to breach the naval cordon and reach the coast at Mullaitivu. This consignment helped the LTTE stall the military advance for a short period resisting the fall of Kilinochchi. This was when LTTE sympathetic defence writers suggested that Kilinochchi was the “battle of Stalingrad” and the LTTE elite fighting units will reverse the battlefield fortunes.. However, with six flanks closing in on the LTTE, the defences at Paranthan north of Kilinochchi collapsed (01 January 2009) following a string of attacks by the security forces the LTTE was evicted from their prestigious stronghold of Kilinochchi (02 January 2009) considered the de-facto capital of the LTTE.

After the LTTE defences at Elephant Pass collapsed (08 January 2009) two additional divisions stationed in the Jaffna peninsula reached the battle ground on the mainland. At present, one division (55 Division) is moving south from the Jaffna peninsula, three full divisions (57 Division, 58 Division & 59 Division) and three semi-strength divisions (Task Force 2, 3, & 4) are positioned from the south and south-east. A four ring Naval cordon is positioned off the coast of Mullaitivu. The Security Forces entered Mullaitivu (25 January 2009), the last major town held by the LTTE. The LTTE had constructed several underground command & control facilities, fuel dumps and ordnance factories in areas surrounding Mullaitivu, all of which have now been captured by the Security Forces. The capture of the 67,000 litre diesel storage facility at Dharmapuram has caused an acute mobility problem for the LTTE and power shortages for communication equipment. The LTTE has retained the hardcore fighters for the final battle. However, the manpower strength of 4 Divisions and 3 semi-strength Divisions approaching on seven flanks is more than what the depleted LTTE can resist.

Military Position as at 29 January 2009

As the government continues to encircle the LTTE, the civilian population that has been displaced due to the conflict which numbers around 200,000 persons will need to be protected. Accorditing to Human Rights Watch Report titled “Trapped and Mistreated” December 2008, the LTTE is using the displaced population as a human shield and preventing them from leaving LTTE terrirtory. The Government has demarcated a Civilian Safe Zone and have air dropped leaflets informing the populations to move to this area. The government will need to take extra precuations to minimise civilian casualties, especially be cautious of deceptive LTTE intelligence that could result in an embarresing humanitarian debacle for the government.

Territory Controlled by the LTTE

The survival of the LTTE is completely dependent on the survival of its elusive leader Velupillai Prabakran. The LTTE is structured around an all powerful leader to whom all must take an oath of allegiance, and has no second-in-command. Therefore, the elimination or exile of Prabakaran will create a power vacuum among the key commanders all of whom are of equal rank in the organization. There is a strong likelihood that elimination of Prabakaran could splinter and factionalize the LTTE with key commanders operating independently of each other. In the current situation the fate of Prabakaran can take three scenarios.

The contracting territory of the LTTE will make Prabakaran more vulnerable. In fact over the last few weeks the human and technical intelligence on LTTE movements has increased several fold. On 12 January 2009, a former bodyguard of Prabakaran was captured by the security forces and two underground hideouts of Prabakaran were targeted with bunker-buster bombs. Therefore, the first scenario is that improved intelligence may lead to a surgical air or ground strike killing Prabakaran in the next few weeks.

The second scenario is Prabakaran fleeing into exile. The Tamil diaspora has been actively attempting to facilitate Prabakaran’s escape from Sri Lanka. It is possible that Prabakran may attempt to seek refuge in a South East Asian country. It is suspected that LTTE weapons procurement chief Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) for whom several INTERPOL arrests warrants have been issued lives safely in South East Asia. Therefore, it is plausible that Prabakaran be transported clandestinely to a South East Asian destination. The Tamil diaspora is of the view that Prabakaran even in exile can provide inspirational leadership to remaining elements of the movement locally and overseas.

The third scenario is a mutiny within the LTTE in which Prabakaran is killed by one of his own commanders. It is possible that some commanders and combatants may contemplate a life after LTTE. Already, the security forces are making overtures to senior LTTE commanders to defect. The success story of Karuna as a head of political party and now a member of Parliament may be viewed as incentives for defection.

Whatever the fate of Prabakaran, the LTTE as a conventional force has been completely annihilated. The LTTE will no longer control territory and not have the capacity to launch conventional style battles again. It is possible that factional and splinter groups may reorganize themselves as guerrilla outfits attempting to engage in internecine attacks to destabilize the Northern Province.

The most likely scenario is that the international network of the LTTE which remains active and strong will continue the battle for Tamil Eelam in exile. They will follow the same path as the Khalistan groups which have an active diaspora movement but do not have a commensurate local military campaign

Shanaka Jayasekara is Associate Lecturer, Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (PICT) Macquarie University Sydney, Australia

Who is Lasantha ?, queries Gotabhaya

BBC correspondent Christopher Morris who was on special assignment in Sri Lanka left the country following hostile allegations made against him in the media by Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

We provide below a link to a BBC clip showing Mr.Gotabhaya Rajapakse being interviewed by Christopher Morris. The highlight of the interview is Gotabhaya's query "Who is Lasantha " in hectoring tones.

The short clip is quite revealing and we leave it to readers/viewers to draw their own conclusions about what is going wrong or right in Sri Lanka

Who is Lasantha ?, queries Gotabhaya

Sixty-One Years of Independence and the Tamils of Sri Lanka

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Sri Lanka celebrates sixty-one years of Independence from Britain today. The country known then as Ceylon, obtained full freedom on February 4th 1948.

For any people free of colonial bondage this would be a day of joy and happiness.

But that is not so for the Tamils of Sri Lanka right now.

Even as I sit penning my thoughts, two lines from an old Tamil film song keep throbbing. They are from the song "Unnaikkandu Naan Vaada" sung by AM Rajah in "Kalyanapparisu".

"Oorengum Nadakkum, Aanantham Namakku, Kaanaatha Thooramada, Kaanaatha Thooramadaa". (the festive joy in the village is at an unseeing distance, for us an unseeing distance)

[Sri Lankan army tanks roll along the sea-front promenade during the island nation's 61st Independence Day celebrations in Colombo-pic via Yahoo! News -AFP/Ishara S. Kodikara]

In Colombo , President Mahinda Rajapakse addressed the nation in a restricted ceremony held amidst tight security. In the North and East, the lion flag was raised proudly in military installations. [click here to read the article in full, in dbsjeyaraj.com]

February 04, 2009

Time has come for LTTE to end the war that it is not winning

by Col. R. Hariharan

The moment of truth appears to have arrived for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Its fall could not have been more dramatic; a few days ago a few thousand people of Jaffna, on whose behalf the LTTE says it is fighting, wanted it to release the civilian population held as a human shield in a small area in the northeastern corner of the Northern Province.

Far from saving the lives of over 2.5 lakh Tamils there as it claims to be seeking to do, the LTTE has put them in the line of fire that is directed against itself.

There were two other jolts for the LTTE. In Chennai, Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leader and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi reiterated that he does not support the LTTE that had weakened the Tamil resistance.

The European Union, Japan, Norway, and the U.S., the four co-chairs of the Oslo peace process 2002, called upon the LTTE to lay down weapons and surrender after accepting the amnesty offer put forth by the Sri Lanka government and prevent further loss of civilian life. It is an irony of fate that in 2002 the very same co-chairs had tacitly accepted the LTTE as the spokesman of the Tamil population at peace talks.

Unfortunately, instead of vigorously pursuing the objective of getting the best devolution package through the talks, the LTTE focussed on building its armed strength with the trappings of a government — its own police, judiciary and administration. It did not matter that the LTTE had to leave to the Sri Lanka government the tasks of providing health care and supplying essential goods for the people living in areas under LTTE control.

Even while speaking of its own legitimacy to take over the administration of the north and the east under the interim self- governing authority proposal, the LTTE’s pistol groups went around killing scores of people, including Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and a General of the Sri Lanka Army.

When the tsunami came on Boxer Day 2005, thousands of Tamils perished. Their plight touched the whole world and money came pouring in from everywhere. It is true that the Sri Lanka government should share the blame for its failure to implement its agreement with the LTTE with respect to tsunami relief.

But even as the LTTE was complaining loudly about that, it was trying to strike deals worth millions of dollars with illegal arms dealers abroad to procure advanced missile systems and other weapons. This came to light during a sting operation carried out by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation a year later.

The LTTE enjoyed an unprecedented level of support and goodwill among the people of Tamil Nadu during 1983. Despite its record of killing Tamil militant leaders of repute such as Sri Sabharatnam of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and hundreds of cadres of other groups including the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), the Prabakaran mystique persisted and many Tamils ignored his seeming character aberrations.

However, the LTTE started dissipating its goodwill in India when it colluded with its “sworn Sinhala enemy,” President Ranasinghe Premadasa, to get the Indian forces off its back and send them out of Sri Lanka. However, the LTTE did not use its newfound bonhomie with the President for the benefit of Tamils. Instead, it killed Premadasa after carrying out a bloodbath of thousands of cadres of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). Their only sin was that unlike the LTTE, they had accepted the Indo-Sri Lanka accord.

The LTTE relentlessly pursued the members of the EPRLF leadership who had taken refuge in India and killed many of them in Chennai. The final act of killing Rajiv Gandhi, the man who had proactively intervened in Sri Lanka to help Tamils, also killed Prabakaran’s equation with India. No amount of political or parochial rhetoric is going to repair the damage done to the LTTE’s image, particularly in Tamil Nadu, by that act.

Its failing fortunes in the present war have pushed the LTTE back to the position in which it was in 1987 — under mortal danger from the Sri Lanka security forces. It was India that rescued the LTTE then. Now that the LTTE is fighting for survival once again, its propaganda machine is asking the people of India to save Tamils in Sri Lanka. There is no sign of contrition on Prabakaran’s part for killing Rajiv Gandhi — which would have been the logical first step for mending fences with India.

But the LTTE, it seems, works on its own logic. Otherwise how do we understand its broadside against India even at this, its hour of need? The pro-LTTE TamilNet quotes an article saying, “It is an open secret that the present Indian Establishment, run by Sonia Congress, is waging its own proxy war in the island of Sri Lanka, concurrent to Colombo’s war against Tamil Nationalism. In its frustration arising from its incapability of achieving anything positively, India is not only heading for maintaining perpetual trouble in Sri Lanka, but also is inviting turmoil to a part of its own country.”

Prabakaran seems to have forgotten his own statement on India in his last Heroes Day message wherein he said: “Our people always consider India as our friend. They have great expectations that the Indian superpower will take a positive stand on our national question.” Is it all changed now when the LTTE talks of “India inviting turmoil to a part of its own country”?

The LTTE has to come to terms with the reality all over the world now. The world has lost its patience with terrorism. Most nations consider the methods used by organisations like the LTTE to be terror tactics. That was one of the main reasons for the LTTE’s downslide in the present war.

The time has come for the LTTE to give up war. It has to help the people rebuild their lives shattered by 25 years of war. Already hundreds of civilians have died in the artillery bombardment because the LTTE has not made up its mind to end the war that it is not winning. Prabakaran should act now and free them.

The way out for the LTTE is clear: Prabakaran should remove the fetters on the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), its political proxy in the Sri Lankan Parliament, and allow them to make meaningful contributions to bringing about peace. The LTTE probably knows that its final act will be over with an offensive launched by five to six divisions of the Sri Lanka security forces on its redoubt. Before that happens, the LTTE can do one act of goodwill by letting free the hapless population it is holding today.

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

"War on Terror" has become license for state terror against minorities

By Rajan Hoole

The capture of Kilinochchi in late December and the Mullaitivu ‘command hub’ in late January by government forces marks another milestone in the unending saga of Tamil refugees.

From mid-2007, the bulk of the LTTE was confined to the Vanni, fighting in the last block of land under its control.

By now, this war running 30 years, during which the social fabric of the engaged societies has been shredded, has been shown to be futile.

The war had nothing to do with honour or the good of the people.

The Colombo government has been conducting the campaign under a blanket of severe censorship, enforced less by regulation than by physical attacks on journalists, in an attempt to hide the figures of troops dead and maimed. But had the government just put forward a political settlement and assured security for Tamils — both those living under its control and those escaping from the LTTE — the rebels’ defeat could have been secured politically, rather than through an excess of blood and repression.

In the absence of a political vision to win over the minorities and unite the country, the ‘war on terror’ has become a licence for state terror against them, and for long-term impunity in general. Already, since early 2006, over 1,500 Tamil civilians have been killed by hit squads operating under state intelligence services. Several of these victims had children in the LTTE or gave the rebels food in order to help a young person risking his or her life.

From the time the LTTE forced a large section of civilians living in Jaffna into the Vanni in 1995, it placed severe restrictions on their leaving the area, introducing an elaborate pass system and forcing military training on both schoolchildren and adults. From 2006, it ruled that every family must send at least one fighter to the LTTE forces, a diktat it began to enforce by raiding homes and abducting minors as they reached their 17th birthday. If the victim had already been sent into hiding, they took a proxy. As things became desperate in 2008, the required number of inductees per family was increased depending on its size — two from a family with four children, while one with an only child was officially exempt.

Mostly young, unwilling, barely trained conscripts were being sent into the battlefield. Yet no political means of rescuing these conscripts was ever contemplated by Colombo officialdom.

Even as it pulled back, the LTTE’s main hope was to inflict maximum casualties and wear down the government’s ability to protract the war.

Casualties in recent months have indeed been high. Many of the soldiers being killed are poor, unemployed victims of a mismanaged economy and a massively self-perpetuating defence budget; they had not been told that, after training, they would be sent into a veritable mincing machine.

Perhaps inevitably, desertion levels grew significantly. Meanwhile, the LTTE is holding civilians under worsening conditions, their movement restricted and subjected to regular bombing and shelling. Rather than move to government-controlled areas, most of them earlier preferred to either flee to India or remain in the LTTE areas. Of course, the situation in India is little better. Over the years, many refugees have engaged in perilous sea crossings, only to return out of desperation, get beaten again, lose their family members and property, and dissolutely re-make the journey to India. After several such experiences, these individuals inevitably become desperately poor and bereft of will.

In northern Sri Lanka, by the end of January, up to 35 civilians were dying in government bombing and shelling every day. Mullaitivu district government agent Emelda Sukumar, out of sheer desperation perhaps, told Reuters, “When people occupy particular places, the LTTE sends shells from that area, and then the army also targets the same area.” That dual callousness too is a long-running, unspeakable aspect of the Tamil saga.

We should explore the links between ideology, displacement, and political and military strategy. First is the Sinhalese nationalist extremist viewpoint that the island belongs to the Sinhalese, and is sacred to Buddhism. Any assertion of the northeast as the homeland of the Tamils had to be confronted by ‘Sinhalising’ the region — ie, by planting Sinhalese settlements. As it happened, this was accomplished by violent means and displacement. A direct result of this strategy was to facilitate the LTTE’s brand of extremism in order to take control of the Tamil liberation struggle.

Second, there is the Tamil nationalist extremism. Although having violently marginalised the opposition among the Tamils, the LTTE was no match for the resources of the Sri Lankan state. The rebel force raised the stakes by making Prabhakaran into a demigod, and using its monopoly over propaganda to recruit children and women. Yet its inability to deliver despite several rounds of ‘final war’ left it politically vulnerable, and unable to survive in a quasi-democratic environment. It had to continue ratcheting up the rhetoric, emphasising that a separate state was the only viable settlement. This meant that negotiations were purely tactical and insincere, leading to the organisation launching an indefinite series of ‘final wars’ whose only results were displacement, refugees, loss of habitable territory and loss of population, the latter to both death and emigration. The diaspora that resulted from this loss of population also served as the potent mafia arm of the LTTE, able to maintain a phenomenal supply of weapons, thus bringing greater misery to those at home.

An important factor has been the persistent absence of mature political leadership in the Sinhalese south.

The LTTE’s malicious provocations of the Sinhalese are undoubtedly calculated to weaken the enlightened sections among them. Even though the war continued, Colombo governments until the Rajapaksa presidency did not formally tamper with the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces under the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. While formally committed to a political settlement, all governments from 1990 kept the North-East Provincial Council dissolved, which was a disturbing sign that powerful sections in the south continued to harbour the Sinhalisation agenda.

Just as the LTTE believed that its strategy of negotiations and war would finally push things in its favour, the Sinhalese extremists figured that, given the LTTE’s military limitations (particularly following the Karuna split), opposing any political settlement and pushing for a military solution would ultimately work in their favour. The LTTE’s provocations and abuse of negotiations helped their cause. Their agenda was Sinhalese hegemony over the minorities, which included their displacement and Sinhalese settlement.

In 2006, President Rajapaksa found it expedient to claim that he stood for a political settlement, and thereupon set up the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) to work out one.

Although India had been disengaged since the withdrawal of the IPKF in 1990, New Delhi insisted on a political settlement. But in 2006, Colombo began to dismantle the consensus reached under the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, and moved the Supreme Court to annul the northeast merger, which in principle recognised a Tamil-majority region. Indian policy lacked the focus and vision to counter the government’s wiles in these actions and appears to have been caught napping. Two years later, in January 2008, after deliberate delay, President Rajapaksa was to go back on his solemn pledges and instead impose his own draft proposals on the APRC chairman. These proposals were a feeble reflection of what was envisaged under the Indo-Lanka Accord, with no pretence at addressing the political aspirations of the minorities. New Delhi announced that the sham proposals were a “welcome first step”, suggesting that it was giving the Colombo government free run in combating the LTTE, without doing anything meaningful to secure the rights and security of the Tamils.

From 2006, the government began to do what would have been unthinkable after 1987. Intense shelling and deliberate displacement of Tamil populations became integral to its military strategy. Starting in August 2006, it drove the Tamils out of Mutur East and Vaharai through intense bombing and shelling, during which 300 civilians were killed. It then declared Sampoor, a culturally important Tamil area, as the location for a thermal power station to be constructed by India. Even while survivors were in refugee camps, the government began to destroy houses and build roads — direct echoes of the mid-1980s plans to establish Sinhalese settlements, which had been shelved after the Indo-Lanka Accord.

During previous rounds of war, precedents had been set in which the army took areas without displacing the civilians, such as by asking civilians by radio to move temporarily into schools and places of worship until the troops arrived. But a distinctly new strategy was clearly at play when the army cleared Mutur, Mutur East and Vaharai, where the military forced civilians to run for their lives under fire. In the Muslimmajority town of Mutur, 50 civilians were killed when indiscriminately fired government shells struck mosques, churches and schools, where civilians had taken shelter after the LTTE occupied the town.

Thereafter, Tamil civilians, including elderly and children, fled south on foot. Wherever they stopped they were bombed and shelled. In Kathiraveli, with no LTTE provocation, the army shelled a school with refugees, killing over 40. Once the civilians reached Vaharai, the LTTE prevented them from moving further south. In December 2006, the army rained shells into Vaharai, and by the middle of that month about 10,000 civilians had placed themselves in and around Vaharai hospital, as their last hope, until a shell struck the hospital.

Civilians began fleeing, in defiance of the LTTE. At this stage, the LTTE fired at army lines from among the civilians, goading the army into firing back and preventing the civilians from fleeing. A number of witnesses assert that people died due to firing by both sides, and that the LTTE fired at people whose desperation had finally exceeded their fear of the Tigers.

Quite a few drowned trying to ford the Vaharai lagoon, or when overloaded boats capsized during attempts to flee by sea. This scorchedearth policy towards Tamil civilians was later to be repeated in the Vanni.

Tamil civilians in the east were deliberately displaced and then confined to refugee camps far from their homes. Their resettlement was very slow. In Sampoor and the surrounding environs, the land was converted into the high security zone from which civilians are still barred.

When troops were withdrawn from their area in 1996, these civilians had no choice but to live under LTTE control. Inevitably, they have children and relatives who had served in the LTTE, mainly under duress.

Once displaced and confined to refugee camps, their movements were not restricted; however, several of them were followed by government death squads and either shot on the streets or abducted from their camps.

These people are often very poor, and only the few who had relatives elsewhere willing to accommodate them were able to move out and find relative security.

In the Vanni, those who fled the LTTE were confined to detention centres, officially misnamed as ‘welfare centres’. One aspect confirming the prison status of these camps is the fact that families are not allowed to seek shelter with host families, hitherto a common arrangement for the displaced in Sri Lanka. People who had made arrangements to go abroad before they were displaced — such as young women whose fiancés were waiting for them — were also not allowed to leave. (After some delay, however, university students have been allowed.) Such a situation is completely unprecedented. People of all ages are treated as detainees, yet of course there are no criminal charges. The people of the Vanni are now divided into three main groups: those who have escaped to India; those confined to camps south of Vanni by the government and kept in isolation; and the estimated 2,50,000 within the shrinking LTTE-controlled area, living without proper care and shelter, and regularly subjected to army bombing and shelling.

Recently some have also begun escaping north to the Jaffna Peninsula — an open-air prison.

In Jaffna, the attitude of the government is reflected in the enormous restrictions on movement, such as the arbitrary closure of roads for several hours to allow an army convoy to pass. Long bureaucratic delays, of weeks or months, are required to gain permission to leave the peninsula and fly to Colombo. This has brought the economy to a standstill. By imposing a debilitating security regime on the Tamils, the government is virtually forcing the Tamils to go elsewhere.

In the final analysis, there were ways in which the Colombo government could have won over the Tamil population. All it would have had to do was to acknowledge that irrespective of the LTTE, this long-suffering community has political rights, and the authorities should have used the international machinery to safeguard human rights and maintain humanitarian norms. That would have resulted in minimum loss of life and damage to the economy as a whole.

Guided instead by Sinhalese extremists, the Rajapaksa regime took the course of inflicting maximum destruction on the northeast, breaking the spirit of the people and using media repression to hide the costs from the Sinhalese masses.

Over the past three decades, the handling of the situation in the east and north has thoroughly alienated the people of these areas. If Sri Lanka is to be put back on its track, there needs to be a political solution that offers genuine devolution. The militarisation of the administration and the arbitrary interference with the people’s right to movement must end.

So must the pall of xenophobia under which international engagement has been crippled. The people of Sri Lanka need genuine democracy — not the sham democracy that has been put in place in the east, to be managed by killers of the security forces and their armed Tamil proxies masquerading as political parties.

(Dr Rajan Hoole is with the University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna (UTHRJ). This article appears in the New Indian express of Feb 4th 2009 under the heading "A people forever on the run")

Tamils must sell something Sinhalese will be willing to buy at affordable price

By Dayan Jayatilleka

On this 61st Independence Day the country and its peoples face a complex challenge. It is complex because it consist of seemingly contradictory aspects and calls for apparently antinomian qualities. This Independence Day needs to generate a tremendous emotional charge of popular support which can carry our Armed Forces like a tsunami over the last and toughest Tiger defenses, crushing all armed resistance and sustaining the military effort until the LTTE is destroyed as a fighting force.

We must also redouble our resolve that no outside force will prevent us from completing this task of reunifying our territory while eliminating the secessionist-terrorist enemy. Though there are manifest attempts to create a Kosovo type artificial “humanitarian catastrophe” via the Western media, potentially interventionist forces are overstretched militarily and financially or otherwise preoccupied with terrorist threats of their own.

We must commit to memory those who stood in our way and strove to prevent us from finishing this war which has plagued us, calling for a ceasefire even at this terminal stage, a slogan which can only serve the cause of the survival of the Tigers. These are fickle friends of Sri Lanka if they are friends at all. They are certainly not allies. On the other hand we must remember those states and agencies which did not attempt to retard, impede or prevent the liberation of our little island from terrorism, or bemoan our effort to do so. Except for some elements in the sub-region, we have been supported by the region and the vast continent we belong to, not to mention most of the global South and at least two permanent members of the UN Security Council. The support, from the tangible to the tacit, that we have received at this decisive moment in our long history shows us where we belong and who we are.

It is inevitable that national sentiment and public opinion will accord a post-conflict role to those who extended support to and solidarity with us, while disallowing or limiting the role of the hostile and the unhelpful, in the post conflict order.

The Tigers are shifting their centre of gravity overseas, to Tamil Nadu and the West. In that context, India and Sri Lanka must reinforce their security cooperation, now more than before. Any state which permits the assassin of a former Prime Minister and grandson of a legendary founding father, go unpunished, runs the risk of being perceived as a soft state and becoming a magnet for terrorist attacks. We must both learn the lessons of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The shared ideological provenance, the mutual interaction and cross-border commingling of the Afghan Taliban in retreat and the fledgling Pakistani Taliban, has triggered a revival of terrorism in Afghanistan and a surge of terrorism in Pakistan. Unless India cracks down hard on Tiger infiltration, infrastructure and influence in Tamil Nadu we are both at risk. If the West for its part chooses to permit the display of Tiger propaganda and cocoon Tiger terror cells, it does so at its peril, risking the osmosis of deadly example.

The Sri Lankan side must be realistic enough to recognize that the political price for cooperation with India cannot but be the full implementation of the 13th amendment.

What of the morning after victory? Once we win the quasi-conventional, large unit war, and while saturating the jungles with hunter-killer teams to ferret out the residual terrorists, we need to shift gear.

What is needed is a mutual realization on the part of both major communities. The Sinhalese must know the limits of the victory achieved, while the Tamils must recognize the extent of the defeat sustained. There must be no illusions on either side. The state – sustained by the majority-- has beaten the hard power of the Tamil separatist or ultranationalist cause. It has not yet beaten the soft power of Tamil separatism, which is global in scope and scale. One MIA may make up for thousands of Tigers KIA.

The only way in which the Sri Lankan state can beat the soft power of the Tamil separatist cause is by repairing its international profile as a law-governed model pluralist democracy, restructuring itself so as to offer the Tamils a political space regarded as fair by the bulk of the Tamil community as well as the outside world, especially India, while restoring economic growth throughout the island and for all social classes.

While Tamil separatist hard power could only be beaten by repression, by military means, its soft power can only be beaten by reform, by political methods. Is the state and are the Sinhalese capable of this shift of mode?

The State and its supportive majority must realize the importance of the global, the international as a unit of analysis, and the external as a dimension of reality, while the Tamils have to realize the importance of the national, the local, the island-wide as a unit of analysis and dimension of reality.

Which of the two are more important? Though each aspect- the international and the national—assumes a different importance over time and subject, the most important in the final analysis is the national, the local, the specific. Mao explains the importance of the internal over the external by saying that a hen may sit on a stone but it will never hatch, while an egg will, even if the source of heat is external. The external, says Mao, can only operate through the internal. As far as the internal factor goes, the preponderance of the Sinhalese and the predominance of the state must be borne in mind.

The Tamils have to sell the Sinhalese something they would be willing to buy at a price they would be willing to pay. The military defeat of the LTTE is not only the defeat of Tamil separatism, it also leaves no space for the older, underlying project of Tamil nationalism, namely that of Federalism. The inability of the old Federalism to stand up to armed separatism, indeed the continuum of Tamil federalism and separatism (Vadukkodai, the TULF), means that there is no life for the federalist project after the failure of the Tigers. It has to be recognized that not only has Tamil separatism failed, so have almost six decades of Tamil federalism.

This does not mean however, that the cause of Tamil autonomy has been defeated or that the case for devolution has no space. Tamil political discourse has to rediscover the heritage of Tamil progressivism. That progressive past had three generational layers: the Jaffna Youth Congress, the Marxist Left from the LSSP to the Maoists, and the Eelam Left. The Tamil Left of the earlier generation thought only of the island as whole but not as much as it should have of the Tamil majority areas. The Eelam Left thought of both the North and East and also of the island as a whole, which is why the term they chose was Eelam, not Tamil Eelam—for which they were criticized by the Tigers and the TULF.

What is necessary is the revival of two aspects of these three generations of Tamil progressivism. It is almost totally forgotten that the Tamil Marxists of the LSSP, CPSL and CCP (Trotskyite, Muscovite and Maoist) all critiqued and rejected the policies, ideology and slogans of the Federal party. Unfortunately, Tamil progressives today, mainly in the Diaspora, have forgotten this critique and the reasons for it, and have converted to federalism.

Also forgotten is the no less important fact that the Communist trend within the Tamil Left, which was the preponderant trend unlike within the Sinhala or Southern Left (an interesting asymmetry), stood precisely for regional autonomy, and after the founding of the Federal Party, indeed counter-posed regional autonomy to federalism.

While the Eelam Left could realistically conceive of an alliance only with an internationalist Southern vanguard or proto-vanguard (in reality, focos), the earlier Tamil Left, especially the Communists had conceived of its demand for regional autonomy as part of a programme for the broadest possible national democratic united front of anti-imperialist forces. It is this latter understanding of the need for integration with the Southern anti-imperialist, nationalist and progressive mainstream, that has now to be revived by a realistic Tamil politics.

The politics of exile hardly works in a functional if damaged and distorted democracy. If Diaspora-driven or off-shore sourced (Tamil Nadu), Tamil politics will remain a virtual reality or theme park. If they are pro-Tiger, para-Tiger or Tiger proxy projects rather than authentically post-Tiger/non-Tiger projects, they will be legitimately suppressed by the Sri Lankan state. What is needed is a grassroots, from the ground up, Tamil political project which is reformist, autonomist and simultaneously integrationist.

Tamil politics after Prabhakaran’s defeat must be governed by stone-cold Realism. Realism dictates that Tamil political leaders identify the political space actually open to them; understand its contours and boundaries. This is the political space on the ground in Sri Lanka , not in the suburbs of Chennai, London or Toronto , which are irrelevant except for the emotional gratification of the Diaspora. Tamil Nadu agitation shows no evidence of causing a relaxation of the resolve of the Sinhalese and/or the state; on the contrary it hardens opinions and shrinks space. As the case of Cuba demonstrates, a blockaded island finds unaffordable, concessions and compromises containing the slightest risk of the centrifugal.

The optimal conditions for the Tamil nationalist project were when the Sri Lankan state had morally discredited itself after July 1983, and India (not just Tamil nadu) was supportive of the Tamil armed movement. Those conditions have not been present for decades and are unlikely to return. Even in those highly favourable circumstances the maximum that could be obtained for the Tamils was the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, making for Provincial autonomy. Nothing further was possible, despite 70,000 Indian troops being on Lankan soil. Today and tomorrow, the struggle must be for the preservation of these gains. All Tamil politics must be in the context of the full implementation of the 13th amendment. Any slogan which goes further will not only be Utopian but may provoke a backlash and a rollback of even this space.

Tamil politics must concentrate on the electoral space that will re-open at all levels. This re-enfranchising of the Tamil people in a system of proportional representation will give Tamils considerable representation in Parliament. If they opt wisely to form a coalition with Mahinda Rajapakse, they can neutralize and even outweigh the influence of the Sinhala hard-line parties, ensure the full implementation of the 13th amendment, prevent any unjust legislation, push for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and accelerate the economic development of their areas. If they ally with the unpopular, unelectable Rightwing Opposition of Ranil Wickremesinghe they will further damage his political prospects as well as their own.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer)

February 03, 2009

Sri Lanka: Disregard for Civilian Safety Appalling

Tamil Tigers Also Preventing Civilians From Fleeing Fighting

Statement by HRW

A Sri Lankan government statement that it is not responsible for the safety of civilians who remain in areas controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) indicates an appalling disregard for the well-being of the civilian population and is contrary to international law, Human Rights Watch said today. There are continuing reports of high civilian casualties in the fighting between government forces and the LTTE in the Mullaittivu district of the northern Vanni area.

A Ministry of Defense statement issued on February 2, 2009, states: "While the Security Forces accept all responsibility to ensure the safety and protection of civilians in the Safety Zones, they are unable to give such an assurance to those who remain outside these zones. Therefore, the government, with full responsibility, urges all civilians to come to the Safety Zones; and also states that as civilians who do not heed this call will be among LTTE cadres, the Security Forces will not be able to accept responsibility for their safety."

"The Sri Lankan government knows full well that the civilians caught up in the current fighting are dangerously trapped," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government shows callous indifference by saying civilians should not expect the government to consider their safety and security."

Under the laws of war applicable to the fighting in Sri Lanka, parties to a conflict must take all feasible precautions during military operations to minimize loss of civilian life. Disregarding the distinction between civilians and combatants, as the government statement suggests, violates a fundamental principle of the laws of war. Combatants who order or conduct deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians are responsible for war crimes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local health workers have expressed considerable concern over civilian deaths and injuries from artillery shelling. The ICRC reported that over the past weekend, the hospital in LTTE-controlled Puthukkudiyiruppu, known as PTK, was hit three times by artillery during a 24-hour period, causing at least nine deaths and numerous injuries. The hospital was struck a fourth time on February 2, killing three people and wounding 10, resulting in the hospital's partial evacuation.

Under the laws of war, hospitals are strictly protected from attack unless they are being used for military purposes and ample warning is provided. Because the Sri Lankan government has denied independent journalists and human rights monitors access to the area, Human Rights Watch has not been able to conduct its own field investigations into the conduct of hostilities by government forces and the LTTE.

Human Rights Watch also reiterated its deep concerns that the LTTE was placing civilians at grave risk by preventing them from leaving conflict zones. The political leader of the LTTE, B. Nadesan, recently told the media: "Of course our people can move wherever they want." However Nadesan's assertion was not borne out by reports from sources on the ground, Human Rights Watch said. Civilians in LTTE-controlled areas have consistently been prevented from fleeing the battle zone to reach safer areas under government control.

The laws of war require a party to an armed conflict to remove civilians from areas where they are deploying their military forces. Combatants who deliberately use civilians as "human shields" to deter attacks on their forces are responsible for war crimes (http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/12/15/trapped-and-mistreated-0 ).

Human Rights Watch again called on the Sri Lankan government to stop detaining civilians who manage to flee LTTE-controlled areas, including entire families, in government camps, and to permit them to move in with relatives and host families. Both sides should permit impartial humanitarian agencies to have full access to the population at risk (http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/12/22/besieged-displaced-and-detained ).

"Laws-of-war violations by one side never justify violations by the other," said Adams. "The government and the LTTE appear to be holding a perverse contest to determine who can show the least concern for civilian protection."

US and UK call for a temporary no fire period in Northern Sri Lanka

The United States of America and United Kingdom made a joint appeal for a temporary no fire period in Sri Lanka to help besieged civilians move away from conflict - ridden areas in the North.

The appeal was issued by US secretary of State Hilary Clinton and UK Foreign affairs minister David Miliband.


[David Miliband shakes hands with Hillary Clinton after a 'detailed, substantive and friendly' meeting in Washington Feb 3, 2009 ~ Photo courtesy: AFP]

The official presss release issued by the US state dept is given below:

United States and United Kingdom Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Situation in Sri Lanka

February 03, 2009

Public Affairs
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC

Following is the text of a joint statement on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka issued today, February 3, 2009, by the United States and the United Kingdom, following the meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Foreign Secretary David Miliband at the Department of State in Washington, DC.

Begin text:

Earlier today at a meeting, Secretary Clinton and U.K. Foreign Secretary Miliband discussed their serious concern about deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka caused by the ongoing hostilities. They affirmed their insistence on a political resolution to this longstanding conflict. The time to resume political discussions is now and we will continue to work with the Tokyo Co-Chairs, the Sri Lankan government, and the UN to facilitate such a process.

Secretary Clinton and Foreign Secretary Miliband call on both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to agree to a temporary no-fire period. Both sides need to allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies.

We welcome today’s statement by the Tokyo Co-Chairs (Norway, Japan, US and EU) jointly expressing their great concern about the plight of thousands of internally displaced persons trapped by fighting in northern Sri Lanka. We join the Co-Chairs and call on the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka not to fire out of or into the safe zone established by the Government or in the vicinity of the PTK hospital (or any other medical structure), where more than 500 patients are receiving care and many hundreds more have sought refuge. We also call on both sides to allow food and medical assistance to reach those trapped by fighting, cooperate with the ICRC to facilitate the evacuation of urgent medical cases, and ensure the safety of aid and medical workers. The LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka must respect the international law of armed conflict.

Terrorism developed because minorities felt discriminated against

by Rajiva Wijesinha

The 4th of February this year will be a very special occasion. It will mark the first occasion in about two decades when Sri Lankan sovereignty will extend over practically the whole country. From 1987, when the Tigers rejected the Indo-Lankan Accord and began their battle against the Indian army, then acting in concert with the Sri Lankan government, they held sway over a wide swathe of territory. That was reduced but, when they were on the verge of extinction, different opinions in India as well as the Sri Lankan government coming to terms with the Tigers gave them a new lease of life which was accompanied by control again over substantial areas.

Though the Kumaratunga government managed to regain Jaffna in 1995, its other offensives were less successful. The loss of camps at Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu led to domination of those two districts, an arrangement officially accepted in 2002 with the Ceasefire Agreement. Indeed that Agreement led, though that could not have been the intention of the government that signed it, to an extension of LTTE control over several other districts, and the decimation of other Tamil groups that attempted to resist this hegemony.

All that changed from 2006 when the Tigers withdrew from Peace Talks, and launched their two intensive assaults in North and East respectively, expecting that the extent of their infiltration during the CFA, the arms they had brought in and stockpiled, the strongholds they had built up, made their victory inevitable. The forces however managed to resist and repulse them, both in Muttur and in Muhumalai, and then proceeded to ensure that they would never be subject again to such sudden surprise assaults.

I will not attempt to comment on the brilliance of the strategy that was employed, the intensity of the concentration, the excellence of the discipline that contributed to so signal a victory. There will in time be enough experts in military history to write about the most successful struggle against terrorism in recent years by a small country subject to so much pressure to allow others to dictate as to how it should conduct itself. The achievement of India against Sikh terrorism, the achievement of Russia against Chechen terrorism, were impressive, but no one would have dared to interfere with India or Russia.

I think we have learned lessons from those two operations too, the need to be firm against terrorists, but ensure that we do not engage in othering, that we work together with moderate forces amongst the minority group that sought separation. We must acknowledge that terrorism developed because those minorities felt discriminated against, and we must work together with those amongst them committed to a united country to remove all causes of complaint. But there should be no compromise on our sovereignty, because we saw in the case of Kosovo how urges to compromise, on the basis of guarantees, lead to splintering, with guarantees forgotten in a paean of self-righteousness.

So I believe that, on this the 61st anniversary of our independence, we have reason to be immensely proud of what might be termed our regained sovereignty. But there is more too, for we can also congratulate ourselves - despite what seem last ditch efforts to stymie this - on what might be termed a renewal of independence too.

Sri Lanka is used to such variations on the theme of independence. There are those who say we did not really get our independence in 1948, because we still had British bases on our territory. The Soviet Union certainly thought so, and vetoed our membership of the UN for several years, though in fact they yielded well before the Bandaranaike government politely asked the British to take away their troops, from Trincomalee as well as Katunayake.

But then there was the fact that we continued as a Dominion, with the Queen still our titular Head of State. That problem was got over only in 1972, with the proclamation of the Republic. So, if you read the rather facile notes reproduced year after year by tutors of politics for the Advanced Level, you have assertions that we only got independence properly in 1972 (or in 1956, because that was when we got a government that got rid of British bases).

Personally neither of those deficiencies strikes me as serious, because in both cases there was no question about who made the decisions, the British government very properly agreeing promptly to both our requests to remove themselves. Contrariwise, I believe we were in much greater danger in recent years of losing our independence, to a very strange mindset that developed after the CFA, and which sadly we allowed to hold sway without challenge.

I refer to the fact that, after the CFA, the impression grew that somehow there were two equal parties in Sri Lanka, between whom some sort of balance had to be maintained. Unfortunately the CFA lent itself to this type of approach, and the then government failed to insist on interpretations that would have accorded with its position as an elected government, willing to negotiate with a terrorist grouping for the sake of peace. Indeed, had it not been for the Americans asserting their own principles about terrorism and not allowing the LTTE to attend the 2003 Washington Conference, there is no doubt that by the end of that year the whole world would have been thinking of the LTTE as an equal partner of the government.

Fortunately for us the LTTE, encouraged by the indulgence shown them by others, turned intransigent after this supposed insult, and refused to attend further talks, making clear what their final goal was. This allowed President Kumaratunga to attempt to restore some balance, and the electoral support she then received made it clear that the country at large had no sympathy at all for the appeasement practised by the Wickremesinghe government.

But, if the country owes President Kumaratunga an enormous debt for her courage in dismissing first a Defence Minister and then a government that had allowed our sovereignty to be eroded, characteristically she then lost the plot and allowed a commensurately serious challenge to our independence. This occurred after the tsunami, when a whole host of NGOs were permitted to come in without proper procedures for ensuring accountability or even governmental supervision.

Emergency needs at the time perhaps justified this, and certainly many of the NGOs did much good work, with funds which they collected abroad and devoted to the welfare of hard hit Sri Lankans. Over the next couple of years however the situation changed. We had accepted the presence of what is termed OCHA, the UN body that is supposed to coordinate Humanitarian Aid, but having come in for the tsunami, it stayed and began to think it had a major role with regard to the conflict too.

Worse, it set up what it termed the Inter Agency Standing Committee, based on a UN General Assembly decision to set up such a body in New York. Unfortunately our Foreign Ministry at the time did not put a stop to this, nor comment on the fact that the so-called IASC in Sri Lanka is nothing like the body envisaged in documents, not as yet ratified by the UN, that suggest the setting up of what are termed IASC Country Teams. The current decision makers at the Foreign Ministry are aware of the problem, and have tried to make some adjustments. However, despite what seems understanding on the part of current UN officials too, the International NGOs who are resentful of what they see as diminishing influence keep trying to flex their muscles. And this is not surprising, because the way OCHA works means that these NGOs benefit by funds that are raised in country, from bilateral or multilateral donors, in terms of UN prepared plans. Far from bringing in funds they have raised on their own, as happened initially during the tsunami, they can benefit from a large pot, on which they are able to lay claims more easily than local NGOs.

But to continue to derive these benefits, they have to claim that they are indispensable. Thus the ridiculous claim in Britain that, with the departure of Save the Children, education in the Vanni had collapsed - though thankfully then the Sri Lankan office issued a categorical statement that they only supplemented the work of the government. But, while some corrections might be made, as a matter of course they have, like Emily Dickinson's Somebody, to proclaim their importance to the surrounding bog.

Thus, a recent report by UN staff who took assistance into the Vanni was described as a report by an IASC team. The UN Resident Coordinator, who was extremely positive about the visit, to the extent of saying that Sri Lankan Health and Education authorities deserved prizes for the manner in which they had kept services going, could only grant that the introduction of the term IASC was a mistake. It could not have arisen purely out of carelessness however, since the government had made it crystal clear that, while it welcomed UN assistance and would facilitate UN personnel accompanying convoys, there could be no question of international NGOs being given similar concessions.

But it is not only in their own interest that the term IASC keeps recurring, that these NGOs are considered so vital to external involvement in what is presented as a continuing conflict situation. Very simply, the introduction of bodies that are not accountable in any way to the Sri Lankan government allows for an erosion of sovereignty, setting up what might be termed a parallel system of authority. Thus, two years ago, there were attempts to draft what was termed an agreement on Modes of Operation for assistance, which suggested that those providing assistance held the balance between government and terrorists. When the offending clauses were resumed, interest in this agreement seemed to lapse.

Again, what is termed the Common Humanitarian Action Plan has for the last few years not been monitored by government. The UN has now accepted that the clause suggesting the plan was to be monitored by the IASC should be removed but the very fact that, for several years, it was suggested by implication that the government was not in charge of all projects and programmes undertaken for the Sri Lankan people, is a measure of how dependent we had become.

All that now seems to have changed. But to ensure that insidious interference does not continue, we need to be firm about asserting the primacy of government in the relief operations that are essential. We have failed to give proper publicity to the magnificent work of the Commissioner General of Essential Services, who kept commercial supplies going up to Jaffna as well as to the Vanni despite desperate LTTE efforts to disrupt these, by attacking food ships, by withdrawing guarantees from the ICRC after their first stab at assistance, by restricting the number of days on which the A9 northward from Omanthai was kept open. We have failed to record the dedicated work of our Ministries of Health and Education that provided to areas under LTTE control better services than most countries at our economic level provide to citizens in their capital cities.

And above all we have allowed continuing slurs on our armed forces, who have a better record in terms of humanitarian commitment than any others in similar situations. The conditions for Internally Displaced Sri Lankans in centres that they have set up recently are much better than those in centres that are supposed to have benefited from international assistance for a decade and more. But we allowed the claim that these were not up to what were termed international standards, which allowed the LTTE to claim that the people they were forcibly holding back had other reasons too not to flee to the safety of government controlled areas. And we continue to be subject to sanctimonious pronouncements about proportionality when there has been no claim ever that anything other than that principle has been apparent.

Independence celebrations this year will I hope herald our ability to put a stop to all this nonsense. Of course this must be accompanied by clear indications that we can look after ourselves, and deal seriously with the real problems we have. Unsolved killings in the south, instances of torture, must be dealt with firmly, and we must welcome all assistance in the training, both in principles and in professionalism, that will help us to avoid such incidents. But we must not allow those deficiencies to be used to prevent us from eradicating terrorism and working together with our fellow Tamil citizens to promote a prosperous and pluralistic future for an independent sovereign united country.

[Rajiva Wijesinha is Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, Sri Lanka]

Why am I setting myself on fire over the Eelam Tamil issue?

By Kumaresan Muthukumar

"My dear working Tamils........


At a time when you are busy getting to work, I am pained that I have to meet you in this way. But there is no other way. My name is Muttukumar. I am a journalist. At present I am working in a newspaper in Chennai.Like you, I too have daily read the news reports and the internet of the daily killings of our fellow Tamils in Eelam.


[Funeral procession of Ku. Muthukumar, pic:puthinam.com]

Like you I am also one of the countless Tamils who have been unable to eat or sleep.Senth Thamizh Nadu has given life to those who have come to it, but our blood relations in Eelam are dying. When we raise our voices and call for an end to this killing, the Indian imperial government says neither yes nor no and grows silent. If the Indian government’s war is just, then it should engage in that war openly. Why does it do it in secret and with deceit?

The Indian ruling establishment is eager to annihilate a very large population by using Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in order to satisfy the vengeful and selfish goals of a few individuals. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were not the only ones alleged to be involved with the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. The Jain Commission Report held that the people of Tamil Nadu were also guilty of this murder. If so, are you also the murderers who killed Rajiv Gandhi

They say the British killed people in Jallianwallahbagh, but what are they doing in Mullaiththeevu and Vanni? Look at the children being killed there. Aren't you reminded of your children? Look at the women being raped? Don't you have a sister in that age? When Rajiv Gandhi was killed why were frontline leaders of the Congress not with him? Why did Jayalalithaa, an alliance partner, not go to take part in such a massive rally that Rajiv took part in?

Such questions are not being raised, and they are not being answered by them either. People, please think. Are they your leaders? What is the guarantee that these people--who indulge in politics through their money and muscle power--will not target us tomorrow? If they turn against us tomorrow, who will be on our side?

Kalaignar [Karunanidhi]? Even at that point of time, he will make an announcement that the members of parliament will resign. Then, he will say that he understands the Central Government. Then, he will once again request for a right decision, and pass a resolution in the Legislative Assembly - like actor Vadivel's comedy in the film Winner where he claims that no one has touched him until a particular month, a particular week, a particular time.

People! A paper will not achieve anything! Now, the Election-time Tamil Kalaignar, who wants to be the leader of the worldwide Tamils and who desires to transfer all the money in Tamil Nadu to the coffers of his family, has hidden himself in the hospital afraid of bearing the brunt of people's anger.

This paper tiger staged such major fights in order to get the required cabinet portfolios for his ministers, but truthfully, what has he done for Tamil or for the Tamils? He has himself admitted once, "Will the honey-gatherer remain without licking the back of his hand?" If we look at his puppet-shows, it looks as if he has done a lot of licking.

Law college students who have entered the field through your hunger strike.

As a fellow Tamil, I wish you all success. I also regret that I am unable to join you. Not only the Eelam Tamils problem, but even the protests seeking water for Cauvery, any protest in support of Tamil Nadu, you, and lawyers, are the first ones to fight. Even this time, only these two sections were the first to voice their protest even four months back.

I have a suspicion that only in order to destroy your Tamil feeling, the Indian intelligence would have systematically instigated caste-feelings among you and paved the way for the skirmish that occured at Ambedkar law college. It is the caste of students that takes the initiative in people's revolutionary struggles all over the world. Likewise, even in Tamil Nadu, an earlier generation of students in similar circumstances took to the streets before the Indian repulic day and chased away national parties, including the Congress from the Tamil land.

So, an historically important juncture has again reached your hands. Normally, such things don't take place in world history. Like it happened last time, don't let selfish people steal the fruits of your labour. The DMK that came to power riding high on the efforts of your struggle, first made a law that students should not take part in politics.

After capturing power, it blunted Tamil feelings, and turned the entire Tamil population into a petitioning tribe. Smash that tradition. Don't believe anybody who asks you to submit a petition. This is the juncture when we should burn the differences of caste and religion between us. Throw away your fasting and enter the field.

In reality, the Indian military's role in Sri Lanka is not just against the Tamils. It is against all Indians. They tried the sexual techniques they learnt from Sinhalese soldiers with innocent Assamese women! They learnt the strategies of how to crush the Tamil Tigers from the Sinhalese and they applied it to crush the fighters in the north-eastern states!

As if this were not enough, what do we learn from the fact that the Indian and Sri Lankan peacekeeping forces were deported from Haiti because of sexual misdemeanour? That the India-Sri Lanka alliance is not an ideological alliance, but a sexual one! So, because the alliance between the Indian and Sri Lankan armies is against the fundamental human rights of the Indian people, try to rally students and democratic organizations towards your cause on a national level.

It is possible for people to do all this. However, they lack the right leadership. Make leaders from among yourselves. Change this protest from law college students, to students of all colleges. Let your frenzy and people's fury change the history of Tamil Nadu. Thrash and throw away muscle power, money power and power craze. This is possible only by you.

"We are Tamil students, we are the life of Tamil Nadu. If Tamils are allowed peace, we will read magazines. Otherwise, we will surge like volacanoes." Convert these lines of poet Kasi Anandan into your intellectual weapon. The police force will try to lay my body to rest. Don't allow them to do that. Capture my dead body, don't bury it, and use it as a trump card to sharpen your struggle.

Students of the Tamil Nadu medical colleges who will treat me, or conduct my post-mortem, I should have done some virtuous deed to be cut at your hands. Because, while upper-caste medical students in the rest of India were fighting against reservation, you were standing alone and fighting in support of reservation in medical education. What you do to me can remain aside. What are you going to do for our brothers, the Eelam Tamils, from your side?

Tamil Eelam is not the need of Tamil Eelam alone, it is the need of Tamil Nadu also. Because of the fishermen of Rameswaram. There are laws in the world to protect goats and cows.

But, are the Tamils of Rameswaram and the Tamils of Eelam lower than cows and goats? The Indian media carries on a systematic campaign that Tamil fishermen who cross [maritime] boundaries are attacked because of the suspicion that they might be Tamil Tigers. Don't they ever read newspapers?

Often, Taiwanese fishermen are arrested at Chennai because they lost their way at sea. If it is possible for people from Taiwan, which is thousands of kilometers away to lose their way, can't they believe the fact that the Tamil fisherman from Rameswaram, which is just 12 miles away from Lanka strays away from his route?

Brothers of other states who are living in Tamil Nadu.

You will have known from experience that Tamil Nadu is the only state where you can enjoy greater peace and protection when compared even with your home-state. Today, we are facing a major crisis. Our government is killing our brothers in Eelam by using our name, our Indian identity. The Indian government wants us to be isolated in this struggle.

We don't want that to happen. So, please tell the Central Government that you too support our brothers who are fighting. It is my opinion that this will not only strengthen the hands of your leaders who are part of the Government at the Center, but is will also prevent the danger of a Navnirman Sena, or a Sena from being formed within Tamil Nadu in the future.

Youth belonging to the Tamil Nadu Police Force.

I have great respect for you. Irrespective of what other people did for the sake of Tamil, you are making Tamil live by using Tamil words in everyday contexts, such as calling employees as 'ayya'. I believe that you would have joined the police force with noble intentions of serving the people and weeding out anti-social elements. But, does the ruling class allow you to do that? By allowing you to commit minor mistakes, the ruling class hides its major crimes.

It converts you into its trained henchmen, and makes you fight against the same people whom you wanted to serve. It is the Tamil Nadu police who guard Delhi's Tihar Jail. One of the oldest police forces in India, the Tamil Nadu police is one of the very best. But, are you given that respect by the Indian government? When Union Minister Chidambaram returned to New Delhi following his Chennai visit, Central Government security agencies have refused to handover his security arrangements at the Chennai airport to you. When asked why, they have derided your capabilities and said that they are aware of how you protected Rajiv Gandhi.

While it is true that the Tamil Nadu police could not save the life of Rajiv Gandhi, it is equally true that the majority of those who died with him were only innocent policemen. Your dedication is unquestionable. But it was later exposed that this Indian intelligence had been careless even after coming to know that there were threats to Rajiv's life.

Even if you have been against innocent people all this while, you are one of the pride of Tamil Nadu. At this historical juncture, only if you stand on the side of the people, you can regain the respect that you have lost among the people. Just once try to dedicate yourself to the fellow Tamils. They will carry you in golden plates. The feeling of gratitude among Tamil people is immeasurable. Because somebody spent his own money and built a dam, the Tamils on the Mullai river in Madurai built a temple and name their children after that man.

All that you have to do is, when Tamil Nadu is boiling, you should refuse to cooperate with the Central Government officials, and you should reveal to the Tamil people who are the ones working for R.A.W and CBI. Do at least this. The people will take care of the rest.

People of Tamil Eelam, and Liberation Tigers....

All eyes are now in the direction of Mullaiththeevu. Tamil Nadu is also emotionally only on your side. It also wants to do something else. But what can we do? We don't have a true leader like you have... Please don't leave hope. Such a leader will emerge from Tamil Nadu only in such desperate times.

Until then, strengthen the hands of the Tigers. Because the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation was placed in the hands of a few selfish people, the history of Tamil Nadu has been dragged to the stone ages. Please don't do that mistake.

Dear International Community, and our hope Obama...

We still have hope on you. But, there is no guarantee that a sovereign republic will not torture its people through ethnic discrimination. It is possible to cite instances from America's own history. After all, boxing hero Muhammed Ali said, "The little white in my community would have come only through rape..."

As long as you remain silent, India will never open its mouth. Perhaps India may break its silence after all the Tamils have been killed. Until then, are you going to keep looking at India's mouth?

They say that the war in Vanni is against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. They say that the Tigers are using the people as a human shield. If that is true, why does the Sri Lanka armedforces come into the safety zone declared by the Government and kill people? This one evidence is enough that irrespective of whether the Tamil people are dependent on the Tigers or on the Government, they are going to be killed for the sole reason that they are Tamils. Is this not genocide?

If India, Pakistan and China are supplying arms, Japan is giving economic aid, and moreover India is supporting Sri Lanka and thus killing Tamils, why don't you realize that you are also committing the same murder by your silence and your blindness? Nobody becomes a terrorist simply by taking up arms. Our Thiruvalluvar has said: Arathirke anbucar penpa ariyaar/ marathirkum akthe thunai (The ignorant say that affection is appropriate only to righteousness, but it will also inspire heroism to be restrained).

Jayalalitha says that the Tigers should lay down arms--as though the problem arose because the Tigers took up arms. In reality, the Tigers were formed because of the genocide of Tamils in Eelam, and they are not the reason for it. They are not the reason, just an outcome.

As long as Indian Government's involvement was not exposed, it kept saying that this problem was an internal affair and that India could not interfere. It also said that it was aiding Sri Lanka in order to prevent China, Pakistan and America from gaining supremacy in Sri Lanka.

Yet, to kill Tamils, it joins hands with Pakistan that has killed scores of Indians and was responsible for the attack on the Indian Parliament, the serial-blasts in Mumbai and the recent strikes in Mumbai. If that is so, we suspect that Pakistan's terrorism in India is a mutually agreed-upon concept created by both sides in order to exploit and squander their respective citizens.

Now, they say that the LTTE is a terrorist organization, hence the war. It says they killed Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi is not a councillor or a district secretary. When a Sinhalese attempted to kill him in Sri Lanka, he was not interrogated. One of my demands is that the Sinhalese soldier who tried to kill him earlier must also be included in the list of the accused and he must be interrogated again.

The Tigers might have been sad with Rajiv, but they wouldn't have been angry with him. Because Rajiv was Indira's son. Indira, is next to MGR among the small gods who populate Tamil Eelam.

It has been clearly exposed that India is opposed to justice form the fact that it often changes the explanations that it offers. In such a situation, Sri Lanka said, Why don't you directly interfere, the Tigers are making use of the ceasefire to stock up weapons. Chandrika, or Ranil, or Mahinda were not gods in the past, they have not even behaved as human beings.

Just because they agreed to the ceasefire in view of their compulsions, how could it be argued that the fighters should lay down their arms, or that they should not involve themselves in reconstruction activies. Only by bringing about the faith and confidence that you will behave honestly and truthfully, you can make the fighters lay down their weapons. No government in the past has honoured their promises. For instance, Ranil-Karuna. But the Tigers have not used the ceasefire to simply acquire weapons, but they have created a governmental administrative structure. Is this terrorism in the eyes of the world?

India is trying to ingratiate itself by saying that it is fighting in order to save the innocent Tamils. Only sophisticated weaponry and spy planes from India are going to Sri Lanka; can they show a single paracetomol tablet that has gone from India? In such a state, they want us to believe that the Sri Lankan government will provide all the amenities for the people of Eelam, and that India will support this endeavour.

Now, they are attacking the ambulance of the International Commitee of Red Cross, are they also Tamil Tigers?

They killed 17 aid workers from France, were they Tamil Tigers? China's tanks, India's spy planes, Pakistan's artillery... not only these kill our people, but the silence of the International Community also kills them. When will you realize this--after a people who greatly desire justice are totally wiped away from the face of the earth?

If you are interested in adding us to the list of Aborigines, Maya and Inca peoples, each day one of us will come in front of you and kill ourselves, as it comes in one of our myths.... Please leave our sisters and our children alone. We are unable to bear this. We are fighting with the sole hope that one day we will watch them laugh whole-heartedly. Even if we accept for the sake of rhetoric that the LTTE should be punished, we must realize that both India and Sri Lanka lack the moral ground to hand out any punishment.

Justice derailed is worse than justice denied.

The International Community must condemn India and force it to immediately withdraw its troops from Sri Lanka, and be prevented from helping Sri Lanka through satellites and radars. Even unimportant discussions between the Governments of India and Sri Lanka should take place through the International Community. India should publicly apologize before the people of Tamil Nadu and the people of Tamil Eelam scattered across the world.

Because the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is always functioning with a bias towards his homeland China, he must not be given the power to take any decision regarding Eelam.

All the countries who have banned the LTTE based on the request from Sri Lanka should immediately revoke the ban and unconditionally release all those who have been arrested because they belong to the LTTE.

Members of the LTTE should be forgiven for their passport related mistakes, and they should be immediately released.

The industries which have been banned based on the allegation that they are connected to the Tigers, should be given the licenses once again, and they should also be adequately compensated.

Rajiv Gandhi's murder should be investigated by the InterPol and the real guilty must be exposed.

Pranab Mukherjee, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Chandrika, Udayanakkara, Kekaliya Rambukawela, Basil Rajapakse, Mahinda and Fonseka should be subjected to narco-analysis.

While the International Community shall have the right to recognize Tamil Eelam which is going to be formed, only the people of Tamil Eelam shall have the right to decide under whose leadership it should be formed.

When the Tigers were weakened militarily, the Upcountry Tamils were targetted, and it is feared that in the future that area might be subjected to a major genocidal pogrom. So, a referendum must be conducted among the Upcountry Tamils to know whether they want to join Tamil Eelam. In this matter, the decision of the Upcountry Tamils shall be final.

Douglas Devananda, who was punished by the courts for firing at innocent Tamil people in Chennai escaped to Sri Lanka before the period of imprisonment was completed. He must therefore be arrested and handed over to the Tamil Nadu police.

Everyone responsible for the murder of journalist Lasanta should be punished.

The Sinhalese journalists who have sought refuge in Tamil Nadu must be given adequate protection.

The Sinhalese couple who came as refugees to Tamil Nadu must be recognized as refugees, and the charges of passport-doctoring against them must be dropped.

The livelihood of families of Tamil fishermen shot dead should be secured.

With eternal love,

Your brother against injustice,

Ku. Muthukumar

Kolathur, Chennai 99

(Kumaresan Muthukumar, the 31 year old Taml Nadu youth who self - immolated himself over the Sri Lanka/Tamil Eelam issue wrote a 4 page letter in Tamil explaing his position and also issuing an emotional appeal. This is an English Translation of that last letter )

Editorial: The anguish of Sri Lanka Boston Globe, Jan 4, 2009 

The Obama administration ought to ask for a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire, and the Asian powers providing military assistance to Sri Lanka - China, India, and Pakistan - should exert their influence on the government to halt the shooting.

Reminiscences: Serving with the Indian Army in Sri Lanka

By Col. R. Hariharan

Meet this Army officer. He is the man who killed our son,” the middle aged man pointed at me as he introduced me to his wife. My wife was shocked. But I knew his pain, so I was nonchalant. It happened in 1989 in my own home in Chennai. I knew them quite well in Jaffna. In fact, their house was the first one I visited when I set foot on the red earth of Jaffna on August 5, 1987 as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. His 18-year old son was also there. The handsome young fellow was a “Tamil Tiger” of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In Jaffna everybody called them “Boys.”

When quite unexpectedly our war with the Tigers started a few months later, I learnt the young fellow had gone to Mannar to fight against our troops. So I had told our men to take him alive and not kill him. “He is a Tamil Tiger so he may chew the cyanide capsule. Don’t allow him to do it,” I had warned. But what happened was quite tragic.

When the clash took place, he swallowed the cyanide capsule and dropped dead even before our troops got to him. How can I explain all this to his father in distress? But the boy’s death hurt me like hundred other incidents I faced in Sri Lanka as Military Intelligence chief for three years. As a Tamil I had a professional advantage there, but emotionally it was a torture daily to see innocent Tamil civilians dying in the war. The unhappy experience left deep scars in me. I sympathize with the Tamil struggle for equal rights with majority Sinhalas, but I do not accept taking up arms as the means to gain them.

My involvement with the Indian forces in Sri Lanka came unexpectedly. I was the senior most MI officer among the handful of Tamil MI officers at that time. Some relatives of our extended family lived in Jaffna and Colombo; so I was familiar with the Tamil issue. The Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was conceived in haste and executed without thinking through a long term strategy. Ostensibly it had two goals – to preserve India’s strategic security interests and to help out Sri Lankan Tamils get their just rights while maintaining the unity of Sri Lanka. These were political and diplomatic goals rather than military one. To top it all, Indian Peace Keeping Force had no written mandate. Some oral instructions went even beyond our goals - we were told to be ready protect Sri Lanka President Jayawardane from possible backlash to the Agreement from Sinhalas and Sri Lanka army!

When I reached Chennai on August 2, 1987 the Southern Army Commander Lt Gen Depinder Singh told me to be ready to go to Jaffna to assist Indian troops tasked with the implementation of the Agreement. Sri Lanka had asked for Indian troops help in disarming the Tamil militants. “You will be required to be there for about 3 days, I guess. Nobody knows. I have no clear cut mandate. But I expect Prabhakaran to follow others and deposit his arms,” He said. That was how I reached Jaffna three days later with two pairs of uniform and nothing else. Gen Depinder could not have been more wrong on both counts. Prabhakaran never fully accepted the Agreement or gave up his goal of creating an independent Tamil Eelam. And I returned formally back to India only after three years. So much for our readiness for war in Sri Lanka!

The first two months were the best period of peace and tranquility we had, though the LTTE was dragging its feet in surrendering arms and accepting the proposed interim administration set up for the Northeast Province. I could see the trouble brewing. Even as we landed in Sri Lanka, Rajendra, our family friend and retired civil servant of Sri Lanka who had served under Jayawardane had warned me. “Rajiv Gandhi is a baby in politics. The wily Jayawardane is going to eat him up for breakfast. His idea is to make you fight the Tigers by October. You just wait and watch.” I passed on his assessment to New Delhi. Rajendra did not live to see his deadly forecast come true when we went to war. He was killed when a bomb burst near his house in Jaffna in the first week of war.

The LTTE confrontation with Indian army reached a new high when Thileepan, one the young LTTE leaders, went on a fast unto death on September 15, 1987 over “India’s failure to implement the Agreement.” The LTTE organized widespread anti-Indian public protests all over Jaffna. New Delhi chose to ignore the worsening situation and left it to the army to handle sensitive political and diplomatic issues for which the army had no competency or expertise. Thileepan never broke his fast and died on September 26, 1987. It only worsened our increasingly bitter relationship with the LTTE.

But the breaking point came on October 3, 1987 when Sri Lanka Navy apprehended senior LTTE leaders Pulendran, Kumarappa and 13 other members when in mid sea off Point Pedro when they were returning from Tamil Nadu coast. The two leaders were found carrying arms. They were kept in custody in Sri Lanka Army base at Palaly. President Jayawardane wanted to fly them to Colombo to face a number of criminal charges pending against them for involvement in some of the major LTTE attacks in which a number of civilians were killed. (Pulendran was accused of masterminding the attack that killed 139 pilgrims in Anuradhapura.) India tried to persuade President Jayawardane to release them as a goodwill gesture to preserve amity. However he did not budge. Probably he saw trying them as a political opportunity to regain some of the lost popularity among Sinhalas. We believed he would never allow them to go back alive.

I was present at the air base on October 5, when the Sri Lanka army decided to forcibly fly them to Colombo. I knew Major General Jayaratne, Jaffna Commander of Sri Lanka, who had done an army course with me in India. He made a last ditch effort to persuade Colombo to hand them over to Indian custody. But he failed; “President says no and out they go” he told us unhappily. The Sri Lankan officer standing next to me said, “My god, it is going to be war all over again.”

We were watching as the Sri Lankan troops dragged the cadres out just as they bit cyanide capsules. The LTTE leader Mahathia had smuggled cyanide capsules when he visited them earlier. They were carried dying, frothing at the mouth and their limbs twitching as the Sri Lankan troops loaded them in ambulances. Some of the soldiers kicked the dying men. It was one of the saddest moments in my life to see them dying so needlessly, when peace was so near, just to satisfy the egos of two leaders. My colleague Capt Chandok had tears in his eyes. I had always felt India’s failure to act strongly in that incident was the point of no return for LTTE’s decision to go to war.

Next day the Sri Lankans handed over the 12 bodies to us. (Three cadres had escaped death thanks to effective first aid.) Senior LTTE leaders Mahathiya and Yogi came to collect the bodies. The atmosphere was gloomy. I saw Koteeswaran, the legal advisor of LTTE, who was known to me with them. I requested him to persuade Prabhakaran not to get into armed confrontation with the army. “We don’t want to fight Tamils; we came to help them. And our army is huge and can fight for the next 20 years. We have been doing it in Nagaland for 30 years. So kindly put some sense in Prabhakaran’s mind,” I added. The able attorney looked sad. “Col sir, you are right but who can talk sense to Thambi,” he said. Mahathiya was grim. “Now you are handing over 12 bodies of our cadres. You will collect 1200 bodies of your own soldiers,” he said as the bodies wrapped in white shroud were loaded in LTTE vans. Mahathiya was so prophetic; we lost 1255 soldiers in our war with the LTTE. Only he could not predict his own death later when Prabhakaran killed him for being a RAW agent. And my friend the soft spoken Koteeswaran was also shot dead by unknown persons before we left. What a waste!

Mankind has always glorified war. They are so depicted in epics. I have seen three major wars and at least ten other insurgency conflicts in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The truth is wars are tragic because death visits us everyday. I have lost so many people known to me in wars during nearly 30 years of my army service. They belonged to different armies and insurgent groups. They fought for a cause and died. But was it worth it? I wonder. I remember Major Gopalakrishna, the only son of a widowed mother from Madurai. Just before the India-Pakistan war he was to be sent to Soviet Union for special training. But war became imminent and he was unloaded from the plane. Next day, two days before the war, he was killed when a single bullet from somewhere hit him when a few of us were moving around the border area.

Once in Trincomalee I got information that the LTTE had sent two assassins to kill Padmanbha, leader of the EPRLF (Eelam Peoples Liberation Front) which was supporting us. I called him at 3 AM to warn him about it. Padmanabha laughed at the information. “Col Sir, don’t wake me up for this. Don’t lose your sleep also over this. I died the day I took up arms to fight for my belief,” he said and went back to sleep. I could not do so. Though he survived then, sadly death in the form of LTTE did not spare him. They killed him in Chennai after the war was over.

I had my own brush with death a few times in wars. In Sri Lanka it was in 1989 I think. I had gone with Lt Gen AS Kalkat, our commander, in a helicopter to visit our troops fighting in a LTTE stronghold in Nithikaikulam in Mullaitivu district. Just as we stepped out of the helicopter, a LTTE rocket whizzed past us and hit the helicopter which burst into a ball of fire. Death missed us by a whisker. We jumped over a bund nearby to take cover as another rocket hit set one more helicopter standing there on fire. Our escort helicopter gunship hovering over us for our protection fired a few rockets at our foes. We were spared our lives. It was on that day that wars lost their glamour for me, not out of fear of my life, but at the utter futility of it all. Why was Gopalakrishna killed by a lone bullet even before the war started? And why we were spared even by rocket fire in the thick of war? I don’t know the answers.

(Col. R Hariharan, 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)

India and Sri Lanka in post LTTE scenario

By Pranay Sharma

It will never be easy to find closure in what has been 26 years of war. More so with an adversary as dedicated and deadly as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). As the Lankan army swept through Mullaittivu—the last urban sprawl to remain under LTTE control—and pressed forward, fears about unconscionable civilian casualties had begun to mount. Estimates from the battle zone in Sri Lanka's northern tip suggest thousands of civilians are holed up in the surrounding jungles and marshes. A substantial percentage of them are being used as human shields by the LTTE. As we go to press on Thursday evening, the Lankan government agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire to allow civilians "safe passage". MEA sources said the offer was double-edged, a final ultimatum to the LTTE to surrender.

If the situation is allowed to fester as it is, the 333 sq km still under the LTTE's control could turn into a veritable killing field. Doctors in the area reported 300 civilian deaths and about 1,100 wounded in the past week alone. The Red Cross has reported that its attempts to evacuate some 300 injured civilians was thwarted by the LTTE.

The mounting civilian casualties have, naturally, roiled emotions in Tamil Nadu. The DMK government is under attack, which in turn has frayed the coalition tempers at the Centre. An apprehensive foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, dashed off to Colombo to hold talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The 48-hour ceasefire, sources say, was wrangled out in the talks keeping in mind domestic Tamil sentiments on the issue.

Pranab's immediate predecessor K. Natwar Singh told Outlook, "It's a complex issue.For the first time, the LTTE is on the backfoot. But the fear of rising civilian casualties can't be ignored since it's a sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu...you'll have to take the TN government with you."

Till now, India has made no attempts to intervene in the war in Lanka. The Pranab-Rajapaksa talks saw the Lankan government issue fresh assurances, including more 'safe zones' for civilians. They even invited TN chief minister and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi and his arch rival, AIADMK leader J. Jayalalitha, for talks in Colombo. With just 333 sq km still out of its control, the Lankan government wants the Indian leaders to help convince the Tigers to surrender and bring a quick end to the conflict.

Jayalalitha promptly turned down the invitation, saying there was a greater chance of the LTTE accepting a ceasefire appeal if it came from Karunanidhi. The man has remained mum, but both the Congress leadership and the Tamil political spectrum are already speculating on the impact the Eelam war will have on India. As political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan puts it, "Jayalalitha has made the issue central by raising the question about Karunanidhi's patriotism...hinting at his links with the Tigers."

Officials present during Pranab's talks with Rajapaksa say the Indian leader stressed on his government's growing difficulty in ignoring the civilian casualties, especially in what is a crucial election year. The foreign minister also pointed out how Indian security forces operating in Kashmir have been given strict instructions on avoiding non-combatants in their battles against terrorists. Rangarajan, meanwhile, points to another issue arising from the LTTE's capitulation: "In the event of a total victory by the Lankan army, a large number of displaced Tamilians may end up seeking shelter in TN. The implications are huge."

Now if Colombo ignores India's advice, New Delhi can do little. This is of course linked to the flux in which the India-Lanka-LTTE triangle has always been. New Delhi first trained and financed the LTTE, then sent the IPKF to fight it, and ultimately adopted a hands-off policy in Sri Lanka following the Rajiv Gandhi assassination in 1991. As Natwar says, "Sri Lanka is an extremely important neighbour and our involvement there should have been much more than what it has been in the past few years."

India's decision to remain aloof from the messy affairs in Lanka inspired Pakistan and China to expand their influence in Colombo. A few years ago, there were even alarming reports of Pakistan supplying arms to Lanka. Others argue that India should have retained some influence there through the LTTE, particularly as it represented the resistance of the minority Tamilians against the domination of the majority Sinhalese.

South Block officials, however, dismiss such arguments. "Do we really want the LTTE to be our only source of influence in Sri Lanka?" asks a senior MEA official. New Delhi's hands were tied also because the LTTE was banned following the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. Could India logically support such an outfit, even as it tackled terrorism fomented from Pakistan in Kashmir? Worse, by then the LTTE had assassinated a lot many of its opponents in the community as well as Sinhalese politicians, including a head of state. A rising India couldn't possibly be seen as irresponsible by supporting a terror outfit. Says the senior MEA official, "The question to ask is: is it in India's interest to stop this war, especially when it is being waged against a terrorist outfit like the LTTE?"

Three factors, then, have determined the Indian diplomatic tightrope walk.Delhi wants to protect its strategic interests and counter China and Pakistan there. Second, it can't be a mute spectator to the plight of Tamilians there. Third, it agrees with Colombo that no peace is possible as long as Prabhakaran is alive and the LTTE remains a formidable fighting unit. The tightrope walk entailed supplying "non-offensive defence equipment" to Sri Lanka, training its army and providing the intelligence that was a crucial factor behind Colombo acquiring a decisive edge over the Tigers. Simultaneously, it seeks to nudge Colombo to address the grievances of the Tamilians. India will remain satisfied as long as its strategic interest is protected there. (For instance, as long as China and Pakistan are not allowed to build bases.) Unless, obviously, the situation spirals out of control in TN.

Tamil Nadu can get tricky as long as Prabhakaran remains alive. Until his dead body is produced or he surrenders, the LTTE supremo will continue to inspire fighters. "He will never surrender, he'll never wave the white flag, he'll never compromise," says M.R. Narayan Swamy, commentator and Prabhakaran's biographer. The LTTE cadre, he feels, will mix into the civilian populace for another deadly guerrilla war.

So even as India believes the war is likely to end mid-April (the estimate is based on information Lanka has shared with India), it will still take months for the island's north to experience some kind of normalcy—one that Colombo considers good enough for elections, and introduction of the devolution package (autonomy under the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution). The experiment has happened in the Eastern province, but it wasn't painless. Once the LTTE was routed here, elections were held in early 2008 and the people have chosen a Tamilian CM (ex-LTTE member S. Chandrakanthan who had rebelled against renegade Tiger Col Karuna). This process could be replicated in the north, though it must be said the people there are more committed to Prabhakaran. It could consequently take quite long to restore the democratic process.

A major problem in the north would be to find qualified people to fill the political vacuum. The LTTE has systematically wiped out almost all its political opponents, so there is a dearth of effective, astute Tamil politicians. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), so far seen as a mouthpiece of the Tamil Tigers, may be an option. But South Block isn't sure whether the TNA can reinvent itself. There's also the issue of whether it is capable of taking effective steps to meet the aspiration of the Tamilians.

"We must remember that the LTTE did not create the Tamil problem, rather it was the failure of the Sri Lankan government to meet the demands of its Tamilian minority that created the LTTE," says Narayan Swamy. "The ethnic war in Lanka can only come to an end if Colombo succeeds in creating a proper nation-state instead of a Sinhalese majority state."

What’s the area still under the Tiger’s control?

As of January 26, 333 sq km, of which over 50 per cent is thick forest. Fairly contiguous, the largest forest cover is between two roads—A35 and A34—northwest of Mullaittivu. A smaller, thinner jungle lies northeast of the A35, extending north.

Where is LTTE supremo Prabhakaran?

Most experts feel he’s in the 333 sq km area, and they dismissed rumours that he took a boat or an LTTE plane to Southeast Asia.

Where could he be in the 333 sq km?

Most likely, experts say, in a large civilian settlement, where people are (a) willing to hide him; (b) not flee at the first opportunity; and (c) would willingly act as a human shield to him.

Wouldn’t it be better if Prabhakaran stayed in the forest?

Human settlements here are small and close to the roads. With Special Forces scourging the jungles, it’s not wise to hide there.

What is the total population in this 333 square kilometres?

Different UN estimates say between 2,30,000-3,00,000, who are his human shields.

Will the conflict end soon? What is a realistic date?

By 2009-end, the Lankan president said in December. Could now be much earlier. But Colombo can’t claim complete victory unless Prabhakaran is found, dead or alive. Till then, expect guerrilla war.

Will he be caught alive?

The man who has ordered many to bite the cyanide capsule should prefer death. Yet nobody will believe he’s dead unless his body is produced.

Why is India worried about the conflict in Lanka?

It fears that rising civilian casualties could roil sentiments in Tamil Nadu. Remember, this is an election year and the state sends 39 MPs.

What does India want done?

Colombo should initiate the political process at the earliest and jumpstart reconstruction efforts. [courtesy: Outlook India]

Kill Them All

TA0303.jpg Kill them
Kill them
Till you
Embrace your idea of a drawing
In cold blood


In the deep North corner of bleeding Sri Lanka
Palestinians in the pockets of suffering Gaza
Shias, Sunnis and Kurds in conflicting Iraq
Kill them
Kill them
You say
They all are terrorists
Who cares?


They may be infants or rattling old people
Kill them
Kill them
Till you think-
They now enjoy
Smell of democracy
Through the barrels of guns.


Kill them
Kill them
To this-
Fill your war jets
You bought
From your friendly oppressors
With cluster bombs
If you run out clusters…
Why not fill your killing machines
With shits as
Sri Lanka ’s brave Sinhala warriors
Exampled history (in 1990’s)
Against the Northern Tamils?


Who cares for human concerns?
Who opens ears for human sufferings?
Kill them
Kill them
Till you
Establish your empire
With blood.


Lord Buddha
Almighty God is on your side
And then-
Kill them
Kill them all
Till they
The one truth-
Killers will not go silence
Resistance challenges sky. - by A.R.M. Imtiyaz


The writer, A.R.M. Imtiyaz is a Visiting scholar, Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA; this is his first poem in English

Tamils Are Bodily Down But Undefeated In Spirit

by Elangai Naganathan

With the end of the war in sight Sinhala opinion on the next step of the Nationalities Question (or “ethnic issue”, if you will) is firming up. At best it is in favour of the implementation of the 13th Amendment with the Concurrent List being devolved without conditions. At worst it is for the unitary state intact and inviolate.

I have had intimations from several quarters some of them being my very dear friends that Sinhala opinion is hardening on this issue. “Well”, they seem to say “you Tamils have tried your worst to destabilize our Sinhala state and our position in it as the de jure and de facto rulers of the country. Terrorism and conventional warfare have failed you. Now take what is offered and be done with it”.

The Nationalities Question, however cannot be put away so easily. I know that the term “nation” is denied by many sections of Sinhala opinion to the Tamils of the North and East. Instead “community” is offered as an alternative. “Nation” it seems is a concept reserved for the Sinhala people in Sri Lanka. This school concedes that the Tamils the world over are by the standard definition of the term entitled to nationhood, but their land space for exercising that claim is Tamilnadu - not Sri Lanka.

An interesting feature of this belief is that ironically its most vehement proponents are precisely the leaders of those communities whose inhabitancy of the island does not go back further than the 15th century. I refer to the K, the S, the D and all those artisan communities scattered over the south and west of the country whose “ge” names are redolent of a Dravidian origin and who began settling in this country in the latter stages of the Kotte era.

The iron laws against miscegenation installed in the Sinhala social system have guaranteed that these latter - day additions to the Sinhala stock remain as pure-blooded and red-blooded Tamils as ever their forebears were. They may have been acculturated but not assimilated.

There is, therefore, a paradox in the Sinhala persona. The pluralism of Sri Lankan society is more complex than generally thought to be. It is intrinsic in the very concept of “Sinhala”. Who, indeed, is a “Sinhala”? As we have seen, there are several levels of Sinhala and some of them are vicarious if not spurious, but contain elements that are proportionately ferocious in their Sinhala-ness. This is the central dilemma facing particularly the more educated members of this group and which some of them have sought to sublimate by an intense anti Tamil paranoia.

This is true of the “Gang of Four” who broke up the consensus of the Special Panel on Constitutional Reform by their minority dissenting report and by carrying tales about the functioning of the panel to their leader. But as we have seen their role as presidential advisors-in-extra-ordinary is in question. Are they “Sinhala” ? Therein lies the rub. All this, however, begs the question of whether this group of advisors or their leader want a settlement of the question, whether constitutional or otherwise.

The Tamils of the North and East may be “down” now, but they are not “out” yet. Bodily they maybe overcome, but in spirit they are not defeated. Like the Jews after 40 years in the desert of the Negev, the present generation of Tamils in the North and East have emerged after 30 years of warfare as hardy and warlike people, like the Sabras of Israel.

Some Sinhalese may believe that the fragmentation of the Tamil body politic in the East today, is an omen for the rest of the Tamils, providing the government with more pawns for its political chess board. But this view ignores the most important stake - holders in the game, namely, the Tamil people. With the onset of normalcy the Tamil man thus far voiceless will once again take charge of his political destiny.

Quite simply the Tamil man, woman and child will place their trust in the Grand Old Party, the Federal Party or its successors of today, as they did in the last general elections at which they freely voted in 1978, having returned a full slate for the TULF from all the Tamil constituencies, thus making Mr. Amirthalingam Leader of the Opposition.

“But what about the Muslim factor?” some may be heard to ask. This approach ignores the realities. Firstly, both in the north and east, relations between Muslims and Tamils have always been good. In fact the retrenchment of the LTTE from the political scene erases the last barrier between the two parties by permitting the 5 lakhs of Jaffna Muslims who have been IDPs for the past two decades to return home.

The Muslims not only of Tamilnadu but of all South India have traditionally enjoyed good relations with their Hindu neighbours. The Sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda and their feudatories straddled across much of present - day Andra Pradesh and Karnataka, extending to Tamil Nadu as well eg. the Nawabates of Arcot and the Carnatic.

Tamil is a recognized language of the Holy Koran and its commentaries. It is taught at the famous Al Aqsar university in Cairo. Prominent Muslims both lay and clerical have been reputed for speaking Tamil as eloquently as the best Tamil speakers. Interested parties seeking to create discord between the Tamils of the North and East and the Muslims will be sadly mistaken.

The more relevant question is where will military victory leave the Sinhala people and government. The tide of anti-Sinhala sentiment is rising high in Tamilnadu and will reach the proportions of a tsunami. The favourite hunting ground of any South Indian state on the rise has been Sri Lanka - South India’s back yard. That syndrome remains unchanged.

The recent Bombay bomb attack has shown that Central India is as vulnerable as the North. Pakistan is a ticking time bomb waiting, to explode at any moment. She is implacable as long as the right of self determination of the people of Kashmir is denied.

The Congress Party’s resolution for Hindustani as the sole national language, instead of Hindustani and Urdu as the joint national languages of independent India created Pakistan. Urdu has been and still is in South India the lingua franca. It is the old story of “Two languages one nation; one language two nations”. When will the Sinhala ruling class ever learn?

The days of North Indian hegemony are numbered. Indian helplessness for two whole days with her 200 commandos facing just 12 Islamic youth in the Bombay bomb attack is unworthy of a great power. The Union of India will not survive such shocks and surprises for long.

An Irredentist movement in the North and East of Sr