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March 31, 2009

Prabhakaaran's son Charles Anthony injured in battle

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran’s eldest son , Charles Anthony has sustained injuries in the on going battle against the Armed forces of Sri Lanka.

According to reports from the northern mainland known as Wanni 23 year old Charles Anthony’s injuries are not life threatening.

Charles Anthony it is learnt has been wounded on his shoulder and fore arm.

He is now receiving treatment at the clinic run by the LTTE medical unit at Valainjarmadam.

Charles Anthony reportedly incurred injuries a few weeks ago when LTTE fighters clashed with soldiers of the 58 division in the Puthukkudiyiruppu south area.

The 58 is commanded by Brig. Shavendra Silva.

According to informed sources Charles Anthony was part of a 600 cadre contingent that breached military defences near the Puthukkudiyiruppu junction and succeeded in pushing back the army from positions held along the Paranthan – Mullaitheevu road known as A – 35 highway.

The tiger cadres who participated in this operation was “Col” Sornam.

It is learnt that Sornam too was injured in this operation.

Subsequently the army wrested back the lost positions through counter attacks.

The LTTE leader though a Hindu had named his first born , Charles Anthony after his close friend and deputy.

Charles Anthony alias Seelan a.k.a Aaseer who hailed from Trincomalee was one of the original group that founded the LTTE on Mat 5th 1976.

Seelan regarded as a close friend of Prabhakaran was part of a triumvirate that ran the LTTE in the north when the tiger leader was away in India. The other two were Mahathaya and Ragu.

Charles Anthony alias Seelan was the man who shpt dead two soldier on KKS road in Jaffna. The incident which took place in October 1981 was the first instance of army men being killed by the LTTE.

He was later appointed the military commander of the LTTE and led the attack on Chavakachcheri Police station in 1982.

Charles Anthony alias Seelan was killed on July 15th 1983 at Meesalai in Thenmaratchy sector of Jaffna peninsula.

Seelan, Aruna and a new recruit Anand were in a hideout in a coconut grove when the army surrounded it. There was a shoot – out in which Anand was killed.

Though Seelan and Aruna fought their way through , the former was injured seriously.As soldiers gave chase , the wounded Seelan ordered Aruna to shoot him dead and get away with the guns.

After some argument, Aruna obeyed Seelan and shot Seelan dead and escaped.

Prabhakaran was sad and mad about Seelan’s fate and in revenge ordered the army abush at Thirunelvely post office junction on Juky 23rd.

Thirteen soldiers were killed and the incident triggered off the anti – Tamil violence of July 1983.

Prabakharan got married to Mathivathany Erambu in 1984 and Charles Anthony was born in 1985.

The tiger leader named his son after His friend and deputy.

Later when the tigers formed an infantry brigade , it was also named after Charles Anthony.

Prabhakaran’s son apparently has taken after his namesake and according to reports received special training in commando tactics.

Charles Anthony began fighting on the battlefront during the current Wanni war and received his baptism of fire in the battle for Mallavi last year.

With Prabhakaran keeping a low profile the son was often seen moving around in the embattled Wanni.

It is presumed that Charles Anthony will be out of the battlefront for some weeks at least.

Wanni civilians and the humanitarian catastrophe

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

A “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding in what’s remaining of territory controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Also , there is the very real danger of the conflict escalating to a level where massive loss of human life and limb could occur. [click here to continue reading on dbsjeyaraj.com]

Back to blogging after a brief interlude

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

It was with the dawn of year 2009 that I launched this blog with lots of hope and enthusiasm.

This was how I described my aims in my inaugural blog titled “Beginning to blog after 32 years of journalism” [Click here to continue reading on dbsjeyaraj.com]

CTC pleads for greater Canadian involvement in Sri Lanka to prevent catastrophic situation escalating

Statement by Canadian Tamil Congress to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs

March 25, 2009

Good Afternoon Honourable Members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

My name is Harini Sivalingam, and I am a lawyer by profession and Policy Director with the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), a registered non-profit organization that has advocated for the interests of the Tamil Canadian community since 2000. Along with me is Mr. David Poopalapillai, the National Spokesperson for CTC and Ms. Sharmila Rajasingam, CTC member from Montreal.

First, we would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to appear before this Committee on a topic that is of grave importance to the 300,000 Tamil Canadians across this nation. We appear before you not only as members of the Tamil community who are deeply concerned about the plight of Tamils in the NorthEast of Sri Lanka, but more importantly as Canadians who share in promoting our national values of peace and justice around the world.

For over 60 years, Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka have faced oppression, discrimination and violence unleashed upon them by successive Sri Lankan governments. Today, the 25 year armed conflict has reached a crossroads. Due to intense fighting that resumed after the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) unilaterally broke a six year old ceasefire in January 2008, over a quarter of a million Tamils are entrapped within a small sliver of land in the midst of the conflict zone between the GoSL and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Thousands have been killed due to arbitrary shelling by the GoSL into so-called “safe zones”.

Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, mostly women and children are on the brink of starvation. Hospitals have been deliberately attacked by shelling, and convoys transporting the sick and wounded have been targeted. Human rights defenders, aid workers, and journalists are at risk for speaking out against human rights abuses perpetrated by the GoSL.

Despite calls for an immediate ceasefire by the highest officials of the United Nations such as Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, international NGOs, and foreign governments such as Canada, the GoSL has refused to consider a ceasefire and is vigorously pursuing an aggressive military campaign against the Tamil population in an effort to “wipe out the Tamil Tigers” – in effect, they are wiping out the remaining Tamil population in the Northeastern Sri Lanka.

Not only has the GoSL rejected the international calls for a ceasefire, the
government is also blocking international humanitarian aid from reaching civilians
trapped in the conflict area in direct violation of international humanitarian law. In
September 2008, in preparation for its military onslaught in the Tamil areas, the
GoSL ordered all international aid workers to leave Tamil areas with only the ICRC and World Food Programme remaining today.

With the escalation in violence the ICRC has stated they are prevented from effectively operating in the area. The GoSL is also accusing international aid groups operating in Sri Lanka, such as CARE International of supporting terrorism and perpetuating the armed conflict as reported on the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense
website.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian catastrophe in Sri Lanka is deteriorating each day leading to gross and systemic human rights violations. The ICRC has stated in its latest operational update dated March 17, 2009, that “tens of thousands of people confined to a rapidly-shrinking area have headed for the coast to escape the fighting, in search of safety, food and medical care. But numbers in the coastal belt held by the LTTE have increased drastically over recent weeks, and clean water is scarce. The area is affected by shelling every day, and the cramped conditions and the lack of water and proper sanitation are putting people at risk of epidemics.”

The Government Agent for the Mullaithivu District stated in a letter requesting much needed food rations, dated March 5, 2009 that “Everyday the IDPs come to us and are pressurizing us for the food, but we are not in a position to give them a correct answer. These innocent people including children and women are in a pathetic condition and very soon they will die due to starvation. The Regional Director of Health Services, Mullaitivu has informed us that 13 people have already died due to starvation.”

The breakdown of the rule of law in Sri Lanka is also apparent. According to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, Sri Lanka has the highest number of disappearances in the world next to Iraq. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr.
Mangala Samaraweera was quoted in the Sunday Leader, admitting that a person is abducted every five hours in Sri Lanka. He went on to state that “Kidnappings, abductions and killings have become common incidents.”

Sri Lanka is also ranked the most dangerous place in the world for journalists and media workers. Amnesty International reports that 15 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006. The most recent attack on the media occurred last month with the so called “arrest” of Mr. N. Vithyatharan, the editor of the only functioning Tamil daily in Northern Sri Lanka who continues to be detained to this day. Mr. Vithyatharan has a brother living in Canada and was recently in Canada last fall speaking out about the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka.

This is the bleak reality that faces Tamils in Sri Lanka. Each passing day, as we hear the news of more deaths and destruction on the island, Tamil Canadians are at a loss as to what to do. Debate about the Sri Lankan-Tamil conflict is not simply an academic or political exercise for the Tamil Canadian community. These are not just statistics and numbers for our community, rather these are our loved ones, our family and friends who are suffering immense hardships, day in and day out.

Over the past several months Tamil Canadians from all walks of life, from infants, to senior citizens, from Vancouver to Halifax have taken part in demonstrations, rallies, human chains, and vigils to bring awareness of the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and to call for an immediate ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid to reach those entrapped in the conflict zone.

During the Committee proceedings on Monday, several members referred to the role of the Tamil Diaspora in this conflict. The role of the Tamil Diaspora, in particular Tamil Canadians, is vital. However, there is a deep sense of frustration amongst Tamil Canadians. We were able to leave the brutality and persecution that we faced back home and seek refuge and safe haven in the welcoming arms of Canada.

Those we have left back home are silenced and voiceless. We are here today to carry their voices in the hopes that the international community will take action. Our voices have not gone unheard. The Canadian public is well aware of the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, thanks to local media coverage. Canadian parliamentarians are also listening. During the Emergency Debate held in Parliament on February 4th this year, Honorable Members from all political parties denounced the violence perpetrated against Tamil civilians in the NorthEast. Today in this Committee room, you are hearing our pleas.

We are here today to plead for greater Canadian involvement in order to prevent an already catastrophic humanitarian situation from escalating further. Canadian influence in international forums such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations are necessary to pressure the Sri Lankan government to conform to international humanitarian and human rights laws.

Why Canada? Canada is a leader in promoting international human rights and peacebuilding. Canadian doctrines such as “human security” and “responsibility to protect” (R2P) are the driving force for international human rights discourse.

Renowned Canadians such as Louise Arbour, Steven Toope, Alan Rock, and Steven Lewis are at the forefront of the international human rights movement. If there is any one nation that can make a significant difference in brining about a solution to the Sri
Lankan conflict, surely it is Canada.

The GoSL lacks the political will to initiate a negotiated solution on its own accord. History shows this is the case, from the rejection of repeated attempts to politically negotiate settlements to the conflict, from the Bandaranayake Chelvanayakam Pact to the India-Lanka Accord, to the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA), to the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS), all of which were abrogated by the various Sri Lankan governments. However, with increased international pressure, including economic isolation such as trade sanctions, Sri Lanka can be compelled to find an alternative to the war against Tamils.
A quote that comes to my mind is that “peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of tranquility”. According to this definition of peace, there has been no peace in Sri Lanka for decades. Long before the LTTE even existed there was political turmoil and oppression of the Tamil minority. Even during the ceasefire period, the threat of the resumption of violence loomed overhead.

What Tamils in Sri Lanka and around the world yearn for is a lasting and just peace; one that takes into account the legitimate aspirations of Tamils in their homeland to determine their own political destiny.

In this regard, the Canadian Government can take the following measures:

1. Urge the GoSL to immediately suspend military operations directed at civilians, undertake a ceasefire and return to the negotiating table to mediate a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka.

2. Urge the GoSL to immediately allow the free flow of humanitarian aid to the conflict zone and allow international aid workers unimpeded access to affected areas.

3. Urge the GoSL to allow journalists into the conflict area to report on the current situation in the North and East and to respect press freedom

4. Urge fellow Commonwealth Member States to consider removing Sri Lanka from participating in and receiving any benefits from being a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

5. Impose economic and diplomatic sanctions against the GoSL for violations of the Geneva Convention and gross human rights violations.

An entire generation of Tamil children and youth has grown up knowing nothing but war and violence. Over a million Tamils have been externally displaced around the world, while another million remain internally displaced. This armed conflict has claimed over 80,000 lives, the vast majority Tamils killed by the Sri Lankan government. It is our hope that together we can prevent another generation from being lost in this conflict.

Before I conclude, I would like to invite you all to attend a powerful exhibit “Understanding Sri Lanka’s War” being held here on Parliament Hill on April 1st, in the Commonwealth Room (Rm. 238) from 2pm to 6pm in order to obtain a more thorough understanding of the Sri Lankan-Tamil conflict.

Considering the current deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka, this powerful exhibition serves as a much needed reminder of the tragic circumstances that led over 300,000 Tamil Canadians to uproot their lives from Sri Lanka, leave their friends and family, and embrace Canada as their home.

Thank you.

CTCTC0331.jpg

Christian Human Rights activist arrested at Katunayake

Mr. Santha Fernando (63) Executive Secretary Commission for Justice and Peace –National Christian Conference ( former Secretary APAY, member of IDC , APRRN and NCC Sri Lanka National Board member National YMCA) has been taken in to Custody at Colombo International Air Port on 27th march 2009. He was handed over by Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of Sri Lanka. Mr. Fernando has served as the secretary of CJP-NCC SL for four years.

He was arrested after airport security found some documents related to conflict in Sri Lanka in his hand luggage. According to unconfirmed reports documents he had in his possession were on humanitarian crisis in Vanni, downloaded form the internet. He was on his way to attend a two day workshop organized by Delhi based The Other Media group on Sri Lanka situation.

The work shop was held on 28/29th in Delhi. Santha’s Wife was asked to come to the police section where he is held. A lawyer who visited the police section was informed him that they will let him know by two or three days time where they will allow lawyers to visit him. They only allowed family members to visit him. Upto now no lawyer has been allowed to visit him.

A lawyer has contacted the Director of the unit and raised concerns over his age and health and they informed the lawyer that he is well looked after.

It is understood that Ministry for Defence (MOD) has issued a detention order for 30 days to keep Mr. Santha Fernando in the TID.

Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne, General Secretary of NSSP has called for the immediate release of Santha Fernando, Executive Secretary Commission for Justice and Peace –National Christian Conference:

Release Christian Council Secretary Shantha Fernando immediately

Social activist, Human Rights campaigner and the General Secretary of National Christian Council is detained by the Terrorist Investigation Department claiming to be a “LTTE terrorist”. This incredible action of the government displays the callous attitude of the government towards local Christian society and the international Christian community. The government in a most high handed manner stopped this reputed Christian leader from participating in a democratic conference to be held in New Delhi. Clearly the government is afraid of the truth about human sufferings in Lanka.

We demand that the government release Mr. Shantha Fernando immediately and make a public apology to the world Christian community.

Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne
President, Left Front
General Secretary
Nava Sama Samaja Party

30 March 2009

Arundhati Roy is irresponsible and lame

courtesy: india.ca

Arundhati Roy has written an especially arrogant and irrelevant editorial in the Times of India. She makes sweeping statements condemning the government and Sri Lanka and prescribes the world to return like Jesus and somehow fix everything. The government’s not going to turn around and be like, wow, we’re genocidal maniacs, thanks for pointing that out. The ‘world’ is not going to a) exist in any real sense or b) come and occupy Sri Lanka. All she’s doing is intellectual masturbation. It might make her feel better but it helps no one.

All the people I see actually doing something on the ground speak moderately and do small things when and where they can. And they work with the government, and they don’t needlessly antagonize people. People are working on sending basic medical supplies to the Vavuniya hospital this week for example. There is hopefully a truck going up on Friday. I bought some surgical gloves. I’m not waiting for the world police, no matter how loud Arundhati Roy blows her own horn.

I have spent years railing against the government without actually leaving my comfort zone. Life was much simpler then. Since I’ve tried to become more active I’ve discovered that things no longer seem so black and white. When the point is to just rant it’s very easy to make sweeping pronouncements. However, on the ground you discover that you need to compromise. To actually help people you need to go through government agents and government hospitals and calling them genocidal and tyrannical is both counterproductive and untrue.

For example, I think Arundhati Roy’s article in the Times of India (reproduced on TransCurrents) is both ill-informed and counter-productive.

From the little information that is filtering through it looks as though the Sri Lankan government is using the propaganda of the ‘war on terror’ as a fig leaf to dismantle any semblance of democracy in the country, and commit unspeakable crimes against the Tamil people. Working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise, civilian areas, hospitals and shelters are being bombed and turned into a war zone. Reliable estimates put the number of civilians trapped at over 200,000. The Sri Lankan Army is advancing, armed with tanks and aircraft.

Meanwhile, there are official reports that several ‘‘welfare villages’’ have been established to house displaced Tamils in Vavuniya and Mannar districts. According to a report in The Daily Telegraph (Feb 14, 2009), these villages ‘‘will be compulsory holding centres for all civilians fleeing the fighting’’.

Is this a euphemism for concentration camps? The former foreign minister of Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraveera, told The Daily Telegraph:

‘‘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.’’

What we are witnessing, or should we say, what is happening in Sri Lanka and is being so effectively hidden from public scrutiny, is a brazen, openly racist war. The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government is being able to commit these crimes actually unveils the deeply ingrained racist prejudice, which is precisely what led to the marginalization and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the first place. That racism has a long history, of social ostracisation, economic blockades, pogroms and torture.

Several of us including myself, who should have spoken out much earlier, have not done so, simply because of a lack of information about the war. So while the killing continues, while tens of thousands of people are being barricaded into concentration camps, while more than 200,000 face starvation, and a genocide waits to happen, there is dead silence from this great country.

It’s a colossal humanitarian tragedy. The world must step in. Now. Before it’s too late."

What I find deeply irresponsible about her article is that she both admits that she’s ill-informed and yet sees fit to basically accuse the whole Sinhala south of prosecuting this as a racist war. Well, WTF. I don’t agree with the war and I didn’t support it but I understand that some response is necessary when there are a constant bomb attacks in Colombo, when the Foreign Minister is killed, when people are banned from voting, etc.

I actually agree with her on many broad points, but her tone is so sweeping and broad that it’s frankly insulting. There are certainly racist elements in the government and everywhere, but on the whole this is actually a war against the LTTE. Her sources, however, are thrice removed articles from foreign papers (even though we have available media here she could read if she looked a bit more) and quotes from Mangala Samaraweera who, whatever side he’s on now, is still a cunning liar who helped get Mahinda elected in the first place.

Any yet, based on a cursory reading of British papers she sees fit to judge a whole complex, decades long war into a simple genocide/asshole dichotomy and recommend that the ‘world’ step in to… do what? These magical realists who invoke the world or world intervention as a solution don’t realize that this is about as pointless as asking Jesus to step in. The ‘world’ doesn’t exist in such a concrete political sense such that it can step into this island and fix everything. It is only the arrogance of irrelevance that would lead Ms. Roy to judge a conflict so simply and pronounce such a simplistic solution.

Seriously, what positive action does she think is going to come out of calling the Sri Lankan government racist and genocidal and asking the world to come in and do what? Overthrow our government? Save the LTTE? What? Is the LTTE mentioned even once? Reading the editorial it seems like the Army is just bombing random Tamil villages. Where does she get off?

I supported peace before and I support the people suffering in the North right now, but I think Arundhati Roy’s editorial is just irresponsible and lame. Wow, you read something in the Telegraph and felt bad. Get a blog.

In reality, the only people who can actually pause this conflict are the LTTE by laying down arms, accepting amnesty and letting those people go. The UN, US and UK actually called for this realistic position saying - “We suggested the idea of some kind of humanitarian pause to allow that to happen and to allow the civilian population to leave,” he said. “This is an extremely worrying situation, and therefore our first appeal is to the LTTE to let the civilians out in a safe and orderly fashion.”

If you want to actually effect change you have to compromise. If you’re not doing anything I guess you can divide some other country into good and evil, call in the world cavalry and call it a day. But make no mistake, it does nothing for anyone in Sri Lanka and it does nothing for the people suffering in the North. If anything it makes things harder. If you want to help, people are trying to send some medical supplies up now, to the government hospital in Vavuniya. Arundhati Roy and the world police aren’t actually helping anyone. [indi.ca]

Shiva Pasupathy appeals to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Former Sri Lankan Attorney - General , Mr.Shiva Pasupathy has written to UN Human Rights High Commissioner Ms. Navanetham Pillay about the plight of Civilians in the Northern mainland of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Pasupathy has urged Ms. Pillay to ensure that all citizens are allowed to remain wherever they want to stay and that none should be compelled to move to detention camps against their will.

Mr.Pasupathy now resident in Australia has written this letter along with three other co - signatories.

The former A-G is currently chairperson of an organization called Australians for Human Rights of the Voiceless.

The Full Text of Mr. Pasupathy's appeal is given below:

We are Australian citizens who share a deep concern about the escalating civilian crisis in Sri Lanka. We appeal to you to bring about an immediate cease-fire between the Sri Lankan Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and to induct a United Nations Peace-Keeping Force, to ensure a cessation of hostilities. We also urge that, in the meantime, diplomatic personnel, non-government agencies and independent journalists, be allowed access to the affected areas, so that urgent relief could be provided and there could be a true and independent disclosure and assessment of the prevailing situation.

Foreign and local media have been banned from entering the conflict zones since January 2008, when the government unilaterally withdrew from the Cease-fire Agreement and commenced its military offensive. In fact, the local media have been banned from publishing reports adverse to the government and media persons not complying have been killed or subject to assaults and threats. In the absence of independent reporting, it has not been possible to distinguish between facts and propaganda, disseminated by the parties to the conflict.

We are deeply concerned about the lack of medical staff and personnel of aid agencies, serving the estimated around 300,000 civilians trapped in the conflict zones. In September 2008, the Sri Lankan government evicted United Nations and international aid agencies from these areas.

The departure of the only international and independent witnesses from the conflict areas, has removed the accountability of the parties to the conflict. The Sri Lankan government has also issued orders to doctors and other health staff to leave the conflict areas immediately. We appeal to you to take steps to allow international monitoring and to allow medical and aid agencies unrestricted access to the conflict zones immediately.

In direct violation of the Geneva Convention, civilian hospitals in the conflict zones have repeatedly come under aerial bombing and shelling. Furthermore, on 2 February 2009 the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary, Mr Gotabaya Rajapakse, stated that every place outside a government declared “safe-zone” is a military target and no exception will be given to any places providing medical facilities. We urge you to require the Sri Lankan government to stop the aerial bombing of hospitals and that both parties ensure the safety of the civilians, until a cease-fire becomes operational.

As you are aware, the detentions centres setup by the government, have been described by recognised human rights organizations as concentration camps, in view of the ban on person interned to leave the camps and access to the camps being denied to relatives, media and international organizations. Further statements made by internees who are subject to intense pressure by the armed forces, have been disseminated as voluntary and credible statements.

We, therefore , appeal to you to take such steps as you deem appropriate, to allow citizens to remain where they wish to, instead of compelling them to enter detentions camps and to allow access to them by the United Nations representatives, international aid agencies and the media.

Signed by

1) Former Attorney General of Sri Lanka & Chairman of Australians for Human Rights of the Voiceless Hon Shiva Pasupati

2) Sudar Eswaran – Councillor, Strathfield Municipal, Australia

3) Dr Mano Mohan – Consultant Cardiologist & Chairman Australian Medical Aid Foundation

4) Mr R Mahendran – President Durga Hindu Devasdanam, Sydney, Australia

Most pressing concern remains the safety and security of large number of civilains

by John Holmes

Thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity to brief members of the Council about the current humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. I also welcome the presence of the Permanent Representative of the Government of Sri Lanka.

Mr. President, since I briefed the Council on 27 February, the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka, or the Vanni, has unfortunately deteriorated further. The Government security forces have continued their advance in the present combat area, so that the front line in some places is reportedly only a few hundred metres away from the coastal ‘no-fire zone’ declared by the Government. Meanwhile, the LTTE continue to reject the Government’s call to lay down their arms and let the civilian population leave, and have significantly stepped-up forced recruitment and forced labour of civilians.

Mr. President, the most pressing concern remains the safety and security of the large number of civilians trapped in what is now a very small area indeed – not much more than fourteen square kilometers. Our most recent estimate is that there are approximately 150,000 to 190,000 civilians squeezed into this area, whereas the Government continues to estimate that the number is less than 70,000. Some 200 UN and NGO staff and dependents remain with the displaced population in the ‘no-fire zone’, although others have been evacuated by the International Red Cross. We have received reports that at least two UN staff, three dependents and eleven NGO staff have been subject to forced recruitment by the LTTE in recent weeks.

Our information suggests that the civilian casualties continue to be tragically and unacceptably high, even if we are not in a position to verify the exact numbers. We believe that on average several dozens of people have been killed everyday in February and March, and inevitably larger numbers injured, with many of these casualties occurring in the ‘no-fire zone’. In recent days, as population density has increased further, risks from both heavy and light weapons fire have also increased.

The Government has promised on several occasions to refrain from using heavy weapons and to uphold a ‘zero civilian casualty’ policy. However, there are continuing reports of shelling from both sides, including inside the ‘no-fire zone’, where the LTTE seems to have set up firing positions.

Mr. President, risks from malnutrition and disease are also growing rapidly, not least for the thousands of children still in the area. Humanitarian access to deliver relief items for the civilian population remains limited to the sea route. Food shipments virtually stopped during February, with only 150 metric tons of food reaching the trapped civilians. From 1 to 17 March, 1,080 metric tons of food have been delivered by boat. This is a significant improvement but nothing like enough. The WFP is pushing for a larger delivery, totaling 1,000 metric tons, and we hope this will be shipped by the end of this week.

Health services are now concentrated at three makeshift medical points inside the ‘no-fire zone’. According to the information available to us, approximately 5,000 individuals are reporting daily to each medical point. However, due to the limited medical supplies available, treatment is limited to first aid and triage. There are increasing reports of minor injuries that result in amputations due to inability to treat them. Acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, chicken pox and scabies have been reported. Four shipments of medical supplies were made since 18 February, with the largest on 22 March. Unfortunately, the quantities are still far from enough, and key needs such as anesthetic are still not included.

Heavy rains from 8 to 11 March made conditions even worse, as large areas inside the ‘no-fire zone’ were flooded and many temporary shelters damaged. This, together with virtually non-existent sanitation facilities, is exposing the population to serious threats of disease. The situation with regard to clean water is equally worrying, with the 500 functioning wells sufficient to cover no more than one fifth of estimated needs. In order to address these urgent needs, the Humanitarian Country Team is working with the Government to include basic items such as chlorine tablets, tarpaulins and emergency health kits in the relief shipments, in addition to food and medicine.

The International Red Cross continues to evacuate by sea severely wounded and sick people, including pregnant women. Approximately 300 to 400 persons can be evacuated by each ship, out of which about 200 people are usually patients and the rest family members. There have been twelve evacuations between 11 February and 23 March, which have brought out a total of 4,128 people. Demand for evacuation exceeds current capacity, reinforcing the need to increase the frequency of evacuation ships.

Mr. President, there are continuing reports that the LTTE is making every attempt to hold the remaining civilian population hostage, including firing on those fleeing, limiting fishing and sabotaging boats that might be used to escape. Nevertheless, some 45,000 people have managed to escape since late January, including over 5,000 in the past week, as the Sri Lankan forces’ frontline has approached the no-fire zone. To accommodate and look after those fleeing, the UN and NGOs are working closely with the Government, particularly in the area around Vavuniya, on reception arrangements. Given the current flow of arrivals and potential for tens of thousands more, there is an urgent need to step-up this reception capacity further.

Given this dire humanitarian situation, the United Nations has continued to intensify its engagement with all concerned. The Secretary-General has repeatedly called for the conflict to be brought to a speedy end without further loss of civilian life, and for a temporary cessation of hostilities to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone. In particular, the Secretary-General has called on the LTTE to remove weapons and fighters from areas of civilian concentration, to allow the civilian population to leave freely, to cooperate in all humanitarian efforts, and to cease immediately forced recruitment, in particular of children. I have echoed these calls, as has the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We have also called on the Government of Sri Lanka to do more to avoid civilian casualties and to respect fully international humanitarian law. It is high time for all these calls to be fully heeded.

Since my own visit to Sri Lanka one month ago, the Secretary-General and I have maintained close contact with the Government to remind them of our deep concerns, and to follow up the assurances that were given. In particular, we remain very anxious to ensure that IDP treatment is fully in line with international standards and principles, including the need for transparent screening and registration processes, the removal of the military presence from inside the camps, freedom of movement for the IDPs, and commitments to ensure their speediest possible return to their places of origin. We urgently need to see practical progress in these areas.

Mr. President, a number of attempts are being made to persuade the LTTE to do more to stop further suffering of the civilian population, particularly by allowing them rapid safe passage, as part of a peaceful end to this tragic situation. I strongly urge the LTTE to show genuine readiness to cooperate with these efforts. It is also important for the Government of Sri Lanka to continue to show flexibility, for example, to make clear in both word and deed not only that the safety and security of all civilians will be guaranteed once they reach Government controlled areas, but also that all those laying down their arms will be treated fully in accordance with the rule of law.

Meanwhile the presence of international actors, in particular UNHCR and ICRC, to ensure transparent screening and registration processes, and to monitor the movement and condition of IDPs at all stages, is essential. Access by the media to the camps would also improve confidence. Additional confidence building measures are also needed both domestically and internationally, not least further meaningful steps by the Government of Sri Lanka to show their seriousness in addressing the underlying causes of the conflict, for example through showing readiness to introduce a genuine devolution of power and stronger action to protect minority rights.

Mr. President, in my previous briefing to the Council, I emphasized the importance of the international community closely monitoring the situation, and speaking with one voice in favor of humanitarian action. Today, my key messages remain the same, but with even greater urgency. What we need now are concrete and immediate steps towards saving the lives and mitigating the suffering of the trapped civilian population. More aid, and real humanitarian access to those in the trapped areas, for example through a short cessation of hostilities, would be such steps. These could help to create a situation where agreement would become possible on a suspension of hostilities to allow the civilian population to leave and a peaceful end to the conflict. Otherwise, each day will see dozens more civilians die, and more and more suffering from injuries, malnutrition and disease. And the risk of an even more tragic and bloody conclusion to this conflict will also continue to grow day by day.

Mr. President, I therefore urge members of the Council to continue to follow the desperate humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka with very close concern, and to keep up the international pressure in favor of steps such as those I have outlined and a speedy and peaceful end of the conflict. In particular, I call on all who can exert any direct or indirect influence on the LTTE, for example through the Tamil Diaspora, to use that influence now to persuade them to give people the choice to leave, and to stop forced recruitment and the use of civilians as human shields. I also appeal again to the Government of Sri Lanka to refrain from actions that threaten civilian safety, to be ready to take any steps which would increase the possibility of the civilians being able to leave the current danger zone safely, and to refrain from any final assault which could lead to the bloodbath we are all so desperate to avoid.

(Full text of John Holmes brief to the UN Council: Briefing on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka John Holmes, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator 26 March 2009)

Two Sri Lankan Tamils in Forbes Billionaire List

by Rifat Halim

Two people of Sri Lankan Tamil origin were named in the Forbes Billionaire list, released on 11th March 2009. Forbes magazine presents an annual list of the world's richest people. Both are major investors in their country of origin.

Mr.T Ananda Krishnan, a Malaysian of Sri Lankan Tamil origin, was named the 62nd richest person in the world and the richest Malaysian. The 70 year-old Harvard Business School graduate's personal fortune was estimated at US$ 7 billion.He was previosly ranked 119th richest person in the world. Though Mr Krishnan has risen in the rankings, the credit crunch has taken its toll on his personal wealth. His fortune fell by US$400 million, which is a lot smaller than the losses suffered by others in the Billionaire List.

Mr. Ananda Krishnan's father Mr. Tatparanandam, a Malayan civil servant, hailed from Vaddukkodai in Northern Sri Lanka. Last year, Mr. Krishnan acquired a controlling stake in Sri Lanka Telecom for US$300 m, representing his first foray in his country of origin.

His holdings include Maxis Communications, Malaysia's largest cell-phone service provider, with more than six million subscribers; now entering the Indian cell-phone market. His Measat satellites help telecoms and broadcasters reach customers and audiences across Southeast Asia, China, South Asia and Australia. He also controls racetrack betting and lottery systems in Malaysia via Tanjong Public.Last year, he sold Excel, the exhibition venue in London’s Docklands, and bought a 20% stake in Johnston Press in London.

Mr. Raj Rajaratnam, the New York-based founder of the Galleon hedge fund, made his first appearence in the Forbes Billionaire list. He was ranked the 559th richest person, with an estimated fortune of US$1.3 billion. Mr. Rajaratnam is a major investor in the Sri Lankan stock market. The Sri Lankan-born investor recently held over 10% of the shares in John Keells Holdings, Sri Lanka's leading conglomerate. Mr. Rajaratnam is the son of David Rajaratnam, former Managing Director of Singer (Sri Lanka) and a graduate of Wharton Business School

March 30, 2009

Toronto's Global Medic Lands In Sri Lanka

Their job: train those affected by the ongoing war to help themselves.

Global Medic is a sort of Toronto-based version of the Red Cross. It doesn't matter where the world's trouble spots are, they respond with whatever help is needed. The group is near the war-torn region in Sri Lanka, training those trapped in the endless battle to help care for the people back home.

CityNews anchor Gord Martineau has gone along for the trip. See his report below.

[courtesy: citynews.ca]

Human Rights Council 10th session ends without anticipated assault on Sri Lanka

by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

The tenth session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva has come to a close without the anticipated assault on the Sri Lankan state. This had been on the cards for quite some time, beginning with the motion against Sri Lanka that had been put forward three years ago. Fortunately some concerted diplomatic action, involving regular briefings of all states who were genuinely interested in the country, saw that motion scratched in 2007, and since then there was much less pressure.

This year however was different, for the LTTE saw this as their best hope of internationalising the issue. Hence the hordes of LTTE sympathizers who turned up, to buttonhole various ambassadors, to brief the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to make aggressive interventions during the debate. They were aided and abetted by a number of Non-Governmental Organizations, some genuinely if foolishly idealistic, others closely associated with the LTTE, still others not perhaps keen on the LTTE in itself but so bitter about the government that they had no qualms about the LTTE benefiting from their performances. Hence indeed the ludicrous situation of Nimalka Fernando, representing her grand sounding organization with its dead treasurer and its absence of accounts for years, joining with the London head of the TRO to denigrate Sri Lanka to a Navanethem Pillay harassed by a surfeit of e-mails.

The reason I find Nimalka's dead treasurer so fascinating is that the finances of all these organizations are very shady. I am not talking here only of the TRO and suchlike, which have been recognized in several places as LTTE fronts. What is equally worrying is the fact that so many of our local NGOs are funded by countries that want to criticize us, and then use the findings of these NGOs to claim that we deserve criticism. Thus the European Union funded an organization that then claimed elections in the East would be bad, whereupon the EU, claiming it had objective evidence, had the gall to call in our ambassador in Brussels and tell him that having elections in the East would be undemocratic.

Why is the EU so prejudiced against Sri Lanka? I should note that this is not true of all member states, indeed most are sympathetic or could not care less, but their leader has now got into the habit of claiming to speak for 27 states and their candidate members too, and whether these statements are carefully researched or not means little to most of the rotating leadership. Indeed we found the ignorance of some of them startling.

One Minister asked about a complaint he had received from a young Tamil lady resident in his country, who had claimed that babies were torn out of the wombs of mothers and killed before their eyes, though he at least had the grace to ask us if this story could be true, since he needed to respond to his Tamil fellow countrywoman. Sadly his Ambassador for Human Rights has not as yet responded to my query as to how they had responded once we had briefed them. And more absurd was the much younger Minister from another country who wanted to know whether our forces had stopped using child soldiers.

Such nonsense. Much of it springs of course from assiduous LTTE propaganda, but assuming these are intelligent people one realizes that they have to play along because they need votes. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of the small number of British MPs who scream about us come from marginal seats where the Tamil vote is quite influential. Indeed one Tamil Labour Councillor told what seems to be a local Harrow paper called the Leader that Harrow MP Gareth Thomas 'could be a goner at the General Election… if Harrow Tamils changed their allegiance.

At the same time, leaving aside folly and self interest, there is a streak of sanctimonious self-justification amongst some of the European politicians who criticize us, just as there is in the Nimalkas of this world. After they hold forth, they get very upset when they are accused of amorality themselves, in playing up to the Tigers in a manner that can only precipitate greater suffering for the Tamil people. In some cases indeed one senses an attempt to convince themselves that they are the standard bearers of all civilized values, even as they come to terms with the fact that Europe is no longer at the top, no longer indeed second or even third, as Russia revives and the Asian giants leap ahead. And when they are lectured back, with more logic and knowledge of facts than they can command, they can sometimes get very testy.

Of course economically they still call the shots, and will continue to do so for some time yet. But that has never been enough for the heirs of Greeks and Romans, and hence the attempt to assert a different sort of leadership with a country they think is small enough to knuckle under. Elsewhere I will look at the factors they bring up, and show that they have no evidence at all for the moral superiority they affect, and that in the end all their complaints boil down to the fact that there are civilians still trapped by the Tigers in the small area under their control, and that these civilians will continue to suffer so long as the Tigers continue in action. But my point here is simply the relentless self-righteousness of people who will not utter a word against the excesses of other countries to which they owe allegiance, including their fellow members.

So, as a couple of the Europeans themselves told us, there had been an attempt to have a special session on Sri Lanka. When that failed, encouraged perhaps by Ms Navanethem Pillay's increasingly strange statements about us, they wanted her to make a statement on Sri Lanka to the Council. There were attempts too to place the matter on the Agenda of the Security Council in New York. And, when we were advised of this by several nations that thought all this excessive, and made this clear to the European tribe, the story sprang up, as it had sprung up in 2007 when the European motion lapsed, that we had been saved by undemocratic nations.

When I heard this I was reminded of an African comment at a meeting of the Dutch Third Chamber, when a sanctimonious journalist said that he had been frightened by the Chinese presence in Africa. His argument was that they would prop up undemocratic regimes, but he was reminded of the various regimes the West had propped up when they were exploiting the place shamelessly. Human Rights now seems a tool to ensure the domination of regimes acceptable to the West, whereas some competition for influence might actually be more beneficial than the old monopoly under another name.

Certainly people change, and one must hope that there is some genuine feeling in some of those who pronounce. But remembering the support rendered by the West to that most racist and undemocratic of regimes, the Jayewardene government under which the Tamils suffered so much, one cannot help feeling that this strange coalition, ignorant European Ministers and characters like Nimalka - and Sunanda Deshapriya - who feed their ignorance, along with extraordinarily able and focused Tigers, is really rather disgusting.

(Prof Rajiva Wijesinha is secretary , ministry of disaster management and human rights and Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process)

Building blocks needed for building a "new" Sri Lankan nation

by Kalyananada Godage

With the penultimate phase of the conflict now drawing to a close, it is indeed gratifying to note that the President has gone on record as stating that this country belongs to all of us, whether we be Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Burghers, Parsis or Sindhis, all of whom have come to call this their home. This is indeed a most heartening statement coming as it does from the Executive Head of the government, who certainly has the power to see that this expectation does come true, namely that all minority ethnic groups in particular, come to feel that this is indeed their homeland as it is of the majority community.

Let us make them all feel proud to be Sri Lankans. The realization of this laudable goal would ensure for the President a permanent place in the history of our land, as a farseeing leader who ended the terrorist menace and brought peace to this land. The foremost issue we need to address at this critical juncture is the divisive polarization of the different communities who inhabit our country. The language policy of the country and the manner of its implementation is of particular import in this regard, which needs to be sensitively reformulated and boldly readdressed.

What are the building blocks that need to be in place to build a new nation of Sri Lankans? The 1972 Constitution took away Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution; to my mind this was a dreadful mistake, we need to have Constitutional protection, not in the form spelled out in the present Constitution but in a more inalienable form. I recall how Minister/ Professor GL Peiris wanted to introduce legislation to ensure the equality of all citizens —- could that act not be reintroduced? The language policy of the country needs to be readdressed. Should not the Constitution recognize the reality of the existence of ethnic minorities and ensure that they be constitutionally brought into the decision-making process at the highest level? Yes this Constitution needs to be changed in the country’s interest and with it the electoral system which is a caricature of what it should be.

Building a new Sri Lankan Society.

Building a new Sri Lankan society would of course require not only values that would bond us closely, but equally importantly, it would require all our people to be in a position to communicate with each other? Once again the President has, with practical foresight, paved the way for such a transformation to begin by declaring this year as the year of English and IT. This is indeed a momentous decision. English is today THE Language of all facets of international relations. As it is no longer the language of the English people alone, and being now the widely accepted language of international communication, the President would be equipping our children in a meaningful and practical manner by making it possible to have English taught to all children, from the age of five upto the age of eight, after which they could be made to study in their mother tongue along with English.

Surely, we can find the teachers to teach English to little kids of five, six, seven and eight? The government could also make it a ‘fun thing’ by establishing language laboratories in all schools equipped with computers to enable children to play computer games and engage in practical learning exercises. I have no doubt that countries which have been helping us over the years in our development efforts would surely come in enthusiastically on a project like this, to help build a new Sri Lanka. If only our different ethnic groups could communicate with each other, as our own generation did as we had the good fortune of learning English, then our current differences would be better appreciated and to that extent be alleviated. We should ensure that all our people are uniformly endowed with this ability. Language has divided us and I am convinced that such measures will above all, act as the strongest bonds that would unite our people. Yes, the child to be taught in English in the first three years and thereafter for the child to study in the mother tongue whilst continuing with the study of English as a subject would ensure the rapid breakdown of the cleavages that exist at present among the different communities. The education system needs to be most decidedly re-vamped if we are to achieve the cherished goal of building a new Sri Lankan nation.

Of equal importance are values, social, religious and cultural, which inculcate discipline, tolerance and social cohesiveness. Newspapers have reported that students of a school in Balapitiya assaulted their Principal! I consider it to be a slap on the face of the nation. Is it not a damning indictment on our society? I believe religion though taught as a compulsory subject in schools has failed —- what is the purpose if the products of this education system hold nothing sacred? We have never heard of such horrible happening in our time. ! What we need most is a total transformation in our value systems if our society and our country are to be saved from the current spate of violence and lawlessness rapidly deteriorating into a state of anomie.

We need, in the first place, to make the teaching profession an attractive, respected and noble one, drawing quality people into its fold. Aspiring teachers should, in the first instance, be tested for the required ‘aptitudes’ and, those seeking to enter the teaching profession only to obtain employment, should never be recruited as teachers. We need to effect a revolutionary change to save our society and our country. We need to make the teaching profession a noble one; it should be a Service that attracts the best human beings —- persons worthy of being entrusted with the task of moulding the minds of our children, persons able to inculcate values; persons who would be living examples to the students to take to the teaching profession. To make the profession attractive, the salaries of those who have been trained for at least two years and have been tested in every sense of the word, should be equal to that paid to an executive in the Public Service.

The Public Service.

The Public Service should be thoroughly professionalized if the efficiency expected of it is to be consistently maintained, equally important is the matter of putting the spine back of the Public Servant who has today become a servant of the politician. A professional public servant must be afforded the security necessary to enable him to give of his or her best. The Public Service Commission should be enthroned and made absolutely independent as was envisaged in the 17th Amendment. It was the first Srima Bandaranaike government, after the attempted Coup in the early 1960s, which took political control of the Public Service.

The 1972 Constitution sanctified this control and the Public Service became a ‘kept’ service after that; The micro minded politician would of course prefer this arrangement little realizing that having the independent and impartial advice of professional executives would be in his own interest, as most politicians nowadays are essentially men of rather poor calibre whose thinking is mostly centred round narrow notions of self love and self interest as the beginning and the end of human motive! A complete transformation of the Public Service is indeed of vital interest if we are to move meaningfully towards the objective of building a new Sri Lankan nation.

Reform of the Criminal Justice System.

As much as I was shocked to read of the brutal assault on the Principal of a school quite recently,I was also shocked to read of the conviction of a Magistrate on the charge of a felony! and of another Judge who is said to have embezzled and committed fraud and has been sentenced to 45 years in jail. What a disgrace for the once respected judiciary of our land. It is indeed time that we sat up and addressed the much delayed question of the reform of our Judicial System. Has our Criminal Justice System ensured the security of all citizens of this country? A survey commissioned some years ago by the Marga Institute, titled ‘A System Under Siege", indicated that the majority of those surveyed expressed the view that they had no confidence in our judicial system as it was not always fair or impartial.

Furthermore, they felt that it was susceptible to corruption, not easily accessible and hardly ever affordable, while at the same being far too slow. That was indeed quite an indictment! Although many years have gone by since that survey, I have reason to believe that the situation quite apart from improving, has deteriorated further. Although, a Presidential Commission on Law and Order was appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunge and its report was officially submitted to her, the report has sadly, never seen the light of day! I am reliably informed that this report had advocated far reaching reforms to the entire Criminal Justice System which would amount to a complete revamping of the system and the substitution in its place of an alternative system that would :

1)Make the Criminal Justice System more responsive to the communities it serves.

2)Enable the Criminal Justice System to function as a coherent whole,ensuring greater co-ordination with the established structures of the component agencies while safeguarding the independence of the judiciary and the prosecution.

3)Strengthen the management of performance of the system in service delivery, by instituting reporting structures in consultation with the concerned agencies,with clear lines of responsibility.

4) Initiate reform of the Criminal Justice System and its law regime, ensuring thereby a co-ordinated approach of the agencies to meet the objective of law and order by gearing the process towards its clear legal function of getting at the truth, consistent with justice, by balancing the system in favour of the victim and the community.

Policing

Another imperative need is to change the concept of Policing; the emphasis must change from mere enforcement to community policing. The Police department has indeed an important role to play in the building of a Sri Lanka nation. Today most minorities in particular dread to visit a Police station, this situation must change. Sri Lanka needs to have a truly Sri Lankan Police Force. The government could consider even requiring all youth over the age of eighteen to undergo a period of three months Police training as apart of national service, just as some countries, including Singapore, require all youth to undergo military training as a part of national service. This would not only discipline our youth but also promote camaraderie and would also help the Police to maintain law and order more effectively.

A respected lady who once held office with integrity wrote to me and stated that she "strongly feel examples must be set by the very top leaders in Government and the private sector; they must profess sincerity, honesty and integrity, those with poor track records must never be nominated for high office and leaders must set the tone for good governance and institutional honesty and stability...and this should be reflected in a world-class education system which is accessible to all children; that is how countries like Singapore prospered"

In conclusion, I can do no better than quote from a recent statement put out by a group of eminent citizens of our country, invited to a brain storming session by the Marga Institute, "Managing the future that is emerging requires a profound transformation of our politics and a full commitment to the core human values of a just society. The challenges we face transcend the narrow partisan agendas of gaining or retaining political power". Let us dedicate ourselves to this worthy cause.

March 29, 2009

Silence in India on the horrors of Sri Lanka war is inexcusable-Arundhati Roy

Government of Sri Lanka is using the propaganda of the ‘war on terror’ as a fig leaf to commit unspeakable crimes against the Tamil people and is on the verge of committing what could end up being genocide, writes Indian writer Arundhati Roy, in The Times of India of Monday, March 30th, 2009:

The silent horror of the war in Sri Lanka

by Arundhati Roy

The horror that is unfolding in Sri Lanka becomes possible because of the silence that surrounds it. There is almost no reporting in the mainstream Indian media — or indeed in the international press — about what is happening there. Why this should be so is a matter of serious concern.

From the little information that is filtering through it looks as though the Sri Lankan government is using the propaganda of the ‘war on terror’ as a fig leaf to dismantle any semblance of democracy in the country, and commit unspeakable crimes against the Tamil people. Working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise, civilian areas, hospitals and shelters are being bombed and turned into a war zone. Reliable estimates put the number of civilians trapped at over 200,000. The Sri Lankan Army is advancing, armed with tanks and aircraft.

AR0329tcn.jpg

[Indian writer and activist Suzanna Arundhati Roy (born 24 November, 1961); she won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things, and in 2002, the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize]

Meanwhile, there are official reports that several ‘‘welfare villages’’ have been established to house displaced Tamils in Vavuniya and Mannar districts. According to a report in The Daily Telegraph (Feb 14, 2009), these villages ‘‘will be compulsory holding centres for all civilians fleeing the fighting’’.

Is this a euphemism for concentration camps? The former foreign minister of Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraveera, told The Daily Telegraph:

‘‘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.’’

Given its stated objective of ‘‘wiping out’’ the LTTE, this malevolent collapse of civilians and ‘‘terrorists’’ does seem to signal that the government of Sri Lanka is on the verge of committing what could end up being genocide. According to a UN estimate several thousand people have already been killed. Thousands more are critically wounded. The few eyewitness reports that have come out are descriptions of a nightmare from hell. What we are witnessing, or should we say, what is happening in Sri Lanka and is being so effectively hidden from public scrutiny, is a brazen, openly racist war. The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government is being able to commit these crimes actually unveils the deeply ingrained racist prejudice, which is precisely what led to the marginalization and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the first place. That racism has a long history, of social ostracisation, economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The brutal nature of the decades-long civil war, which started as a peaceful, non-violent protest, has its roots in this.

Why the silence? In another interview Mangala Samaraveera says, ‘‘A free media is virtually non-existent in Sri Lanka today.’’

Samaraveera goes on to talk about death squads and ‘white van abductions’, which have made society ‘‘freeze with fear’’. Voices of dissent, including those of several journalists, have been abducted and assassinated. The International Federation of Journalists accuses the government of Sri Lanka of using a combination of anti-terrorism laws, disappearances and assassinations to silence journalists.

There are disturbing but unconfirmed reports that the Indian government is lending material and logistical support to the Sri Lankan government in these crimes against humanity. If this is true, it is outrageous. What of the governments of other countries? Pakistan? China? What are they doing to help, or harm the situation?

In Tamil Nadu the war in Sri Lanka has fuelled passions that have led to more than 10 people immolating themselves. The public anger and anguish, much of it genuine, some of it obviously cynical political manipulation, has become an election issue.

It is extraordinary that this concern has not travelled to the rest of India. Why is there silence here? There are no ‘white van abductions’ — at least not on this issue. Given the scale of what is happening in Sri Lanka, the silence is inexcusable. More so because of the Indian government’s long history of irresponsible dabbling in the conflict, first taking one side and then the other. Several of us including myself, who should have spoken out much earlier, have not done so, simply because of a lack of information about the war. So while the killing continues, while tens of thousands of people are being barricaded into concentration camps, while more than 200,000 face starvation, and a genocide waits to happen, there is dead silence from this great country.
It’s a colossal humanitarian tragedy. The world must step in. Now. Before it’s too late. [courtesy: Times of India]

The psycho - social condition of civilians in the Wanni war zone

by Dr.J.Sivamanoharan and Fr. S.Edmund Reginald

A very intensive and fierce war is currently being fought between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam, in Wanni in the North of Sri Lanka. As a result of this intense war more than 330,000 internally displaced people are forced to live in a very narrow coastal stretch which is roughly twelve kilometers long and one and a half kilometers wide. This coastal area, stretching from Maththalan to Mullivaikkal, has been unilaterally declared by the Sri Lankan Government as a ‘no fire zone’.

TC0325P.jpg

[Inside 'no fire zone'-Mar 25, 2009]

More than 3000 people have already been killed and more than seven thousand have been injured as a result of shelling which includes artillery, multi barrel, cluster and mortar shells and long range gun fire carried out by the forces of the Sri Lankan Government into the so called ‘no fire zone’. The number of casualties caused by the shelling is quite high since a population which is more than 330,000 is forced to live in a very small area which is less than 30 square kilo meters. It is admitted that this coastal belt is inhospitable and quite unfit for human habitation.

The situation of the civilians living in this war-torn area is further affected by the acute shortage of food prevailing in the same area. The people living here depend totally on food items brought into this area by the ICRC. Sixteen civilian deaths caused by starvation have already been reported by the hospital at Maththalan. The medical institutions functioning in this area are unable to treat the hundreds of civilians who are injured by shelling which takes place within the no fire zone daily as hardly any medicine is available at this makeshift hospital.

It is a very challenging task to assess and to articulate the psychological and the psychosocial impact of the war on the civilians living currently in Wanni. Many families have already lost one or more of their loved ones due to shelling and air attacks. Thousands of civilians have been wounded by shelling and more than five thousand wounded civilians have already been transferred to hospitals in Government controlled areas for further treatment.

Since indiscriminate shelling is carried out within the ‘no fire zone’, the civilians here live with continuous fear of being either killed or being injured by the explosion of artillery and other type of shells. Most of the people spend their days and nights in safety bunkers in order to protect themselves from the horrifying shelling carried out in this area.

State of Children

Sixty five thousand school going children are being affected by this prolonged war as 288 schools failed to reopen in Wanni from the beginning of the current year. Roughly 7800 children who should have been admitted to grade one this year have lost the chance of beginning their education while 13,000 pre-school children have lost the opportunity of gaining pre-school education.

Parents who are affected by the present war situation tend to vent their stress on their children. Spanking of children has increased since many children have become restless due to lack of educational facilities and play activities. Leaving behind their homes, schools and friends has deeply affected these children. Children seem to have outgrown their youth state. The games they play have military connotations and this is a very unhealthy symptom.

Due to scarcity of food and especially due to lack of nutritious food normal physical and mental development of children are affected. Because of the traumatic experiences that mothers go through as a result of the war there is the danger of many children being born in the future with many physical and mental deficiencies. It is recorded that infant mortality rate is high in Wanni. As far as the hospital records are aware of, number of children admitted and dismissed as dead in the period between 1st January, 2009 to date is 128. But the fact remains that many children have not been admitted to hospital and have met their deaths in their own homes and have been quietly buried. In a sense the hospital records are incomplete.

Many children are traumatized by witnessing their loved ones either being killed or being injured by shelling. Many families and children were not able to express their grief normally when their loved ones were killed by shelling since they had to hurriedly leave those places in order protect their own lives. It is important to remember that the Tamil society has elaborate rituals to help people grieve the loss of their loved ones. The most remarkable observation is that all forms of religious burial services have been given up totally.

Care of the elderly and people with special needs

The elderly have become very vulnerable to disease because of the acute shortage of food and lack of medical facilities. Due to the intense war many elderly people have been abandoned by their children and many families are separated permanently resulting in social chaos.

There are several institutions in Wanni that care for children, the elderly, unwed mothers, people with learning disabilities and the mentally ill. In spite of the ongoing war these institutions were doing their best in taking care of their members. But Currently those who manage these institutions are struggling to provide adequate food and other necessities to those in their care. Even these institutions are undergoing military attack indiscriminately.

It is quite important to take into consideration that we are dealing with a society which has already been affected by a three decade long war and the Tsunami which devastated the coastal belt of South Asia and Sri Lanka in December 2004. People who had their own houses are now forced to live a subhuman life under tarpaulin sheets, exposed to extreme heat, in an area that is not at all conducive for the existence of a large number of people.

Having gone through multiple displacements in a short period of time, the people in Wanni are left with depleted financial resources. The people here pass each moment fearing the explosions of destructive shells. They are forced to witness their loved ones being killed and injured. There is no medicine and no medical facilities to treat the injured. Due to acute scarcity of food the prices of food items have skyrocketed and finding food has become a very challenging task. This is a looming starvation situation.

The unending war, indiscriminate shelling, acute shortage of food, lack of medicine and medical facilities and the inability to fulfill the basic needs of life such as having proper toilette facilities have deeply affected the physical and psychological wellbeing of civilians now living in this war zone. A strong sense of frustration has crept in among the people living in Wanni as they are forced to face an extremely trying situation.

Due to stressors caused by this ongoing war, the people have become quite anxious and impatient and manifestation of mutual anger and irritation are easily observed on the roads, in public places and in family relationships. Many civilians have been treated for clinical depression and for anxiety disorders at the mental health unit at Maththalan hospital. Many are losing their zest for life and suicidal ideations are widely found among these patients. Since many are going through traumatic experiences, there is the danger of more patients to be identified with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

In addition to the untold hardships faced by the Tamil civilians living in the war zone, what is most painful for these people is the failure of the international community to intervene effectively in this conflict and the failure to bring an end to their suffering. The question that haunts the minds of these 330.000 people facing the brunt of war is “ whether a humanitarian catastrophe faced by them is deliberately ignored by the international community and whether the instruments of humanitarian intervention have given up Wanni people for good?

1st Asia Media Award for Press Freedom: In Memory of Lasantha Wickrematunge

By Lynette Lee Corporal'

Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge, widow of slain Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, would have wanted to be at a media conference here to accept an award on behalf of her late husband. But fresh threats to her life have prevented her from doing so.

"Yes, I am under serious threat. I have been strongly advised that my life and liberty are in serious jeopardy so I live from day to day assessing the situation," Sonali told the Asia Media Forum via email. She remains, as of this writing, at an undisclosed place.

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[PEN Canada, Empty Chair for Lasantha Wickramatunga pic by: by Ramya Jegatheesan]

In a brief but solemn ceremony, Lasantha's colleague at 'The Sunday Leader' Dilrukshi Handunnetti, editor of Investigations Desk, accepted the 1st Asia Media Award for Press Freedom on Solani's behalf. The event was one of the highlights of the 'Asia Media Conference 2009' being held here in the Thai capital until Friday.

Wickrematunge, the hard-hitting 'Sunday Leader' editor-in-chief, was shot several times at pointblank range while on his way to work on Jan. 8, 2009 by still unidentified motorcycle-riding assailants. His death evoked outrage among local and international media and press freedom advocates. Suspicions pointed to pro-government groups as being behind the killings, despite the Sri Lankan government's condemnation of the assassination.

In a statement thanking the AMF for the award, Solani said that despite numerous threats and physical attacks before his death, Lasantha continued his work undeterred. "His publicly stated motto was, 'Unbowed and unafraid," said Solani, a lawyer who is also former editor-in-chief of 'The Morning Leader'.

Of the conference, she said: "Lasantha would want this. More conferences. More action. More voices to emerge. He had many dreams. A classless society. Media that existed in the public interest. Politicians that worked for the public interest. Peaceful and negotiated solution to conflict. Lasantha died in pursuit of his dream. So did Martin Luther King."

Before she went into hiding, Solani reported seeing a pair of motorcycle-riding persons in black fatigues, black helmets and dark bandannas -- similar to the ones that followed Lasantha on the day he died -- watching her home on Feb. 13, a month after her husband's death.

"Another person has forcibly taken photographs of the inside and outside of my home, brushing aside any protests by the domestic aide and my elderly mother who were present at the time," she added.

According to her, the government believes she has access to some "sensitive information" that her late husband could have had possession of.

"My husband and I, for our work, have been constantly labeled as traitors to the Sinhala nation... However, Lasantha and I strongly and completely opposed and condemned terrorism and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). We only advocated a peaceful solution. We were only against a country bombing its own civilians, (as well as the violation and abuse of thousands of innocent civilians, and the idea of a Sinhala Buddhist state to the exclusion of others," she wrote in her email.

"My husband only asked that every human being be treated equally and with respect," she added.

Since 1983, the South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka has been torn by conflict between the state and the Tamil Tiger rebels who want a separate homeland for minority Tamils. The conflict has already claimed the lives of about 70,000 people, and has displaced hundreds of thousands more.

"My husband, in addition to being outspoken on human rights issues, espoused a peaceful negotiated resolution of the conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities and was strongly critical of corruption within government. Lasantha was physically attacked three times by armed men, and on one occasion his house was sprayed by machine gun fire," Sonali said in her statement.

In a letter to the Inspector General of Police dated Mar. 15, 2009, Sonali reiterated her previous requests for "an independent investigation into the killing with an international team of inquirers and forensic experts". She also asked that the investigation be transferred to the Criminal Investigations Department.

She also made an appeal that the government follow through on its Jan. 28 media statement, where it said it had information about the identity of her husband's killers and promised that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse himself would release a statement about it on Feb. 15.

"It has been over two months since my husband was killed and there has still been no credible breakthrough in the investigation. No murder weapon, no suspect, no post-mortem report has still been made public," wrote Sonali in her letter.

In her closing statement for the award, Sonali urged journalists to use the power of their pens to urge Rajapakse to finally allow an independent inquiry into her husband's death and 16 other media workers who have died under the present government.

"I can only but implore you... to see through the face of democracy panted by President Rajapakse and his government, to the failing democracy in Sri Lanka...," she said.

The full text of Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge's message to the Asia Media Forum in accepting the 1st Asia Media Award for Press Freedom on behalf of her slain husband Lasantha Wickrematunge is given below:

"Core members of the Asia Media Forum and the Asian Resource Foundation of Thailand. Organisers of the Conference, fellow journalists and media practitioners.

"For reminding the world of the circumstances of his death, the cruelty of war and the horror of intolerence, thank you. For reminding the world that freedom of the word is freedom of the soul, thank you. Lasantha would have been proud to have received this award. Journalism was his call to conscience. Journalists everywhere his brothers and sisters in arms.

"My husband, in addition to being outspoken on human rights issues, espoused a peaceful negotiated resolution of the conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities and was strongly critical of corruption within government. Lasantha was physically attacked three times by armed men, and on one occasion his house was sprayed with machine-gun fire.

"'The Sunday Leader' and 'Morning Leader' presses were attacked and burned down twice, in 2005 and 2007. None of these much publicised attacks—widely acknowledged to be the handiwork of the government—was followed by a meaningful police inquiry and no suspects were ever arrested. Nevertheless, Lasantha continued with his work undeterred: his publicly stated motto was, 'Unbowed and unafraid'.

"Sixteen journalists have been murdered in Sri Lanka in the past three years. Lasantha knew he was on the government’s hit list, but felt it cowardly to take precautions against an attack. He felt it was impossible to protect himself against the resources of the government, short of abandoning his career as a journalist and fleeing the country he loved. In addition to the 16 journalists who have been killed in the past three years, dozens of others have disappeared, been imprisoned without charge or been forced to flee the country.

"I thank the Asia Media Forum for honouring Lasantha with this special Award. He would have been proud. I know that the road ahead is steep for us who continue to fight for freedom. But we have to move on. We must. For Lasantha Wickrematunge, for Daniel Pearl, for all journalists killed in the line of duty. We must. For ourselves and the future of our children.

"Lasantha would want this. More conferences. More action. More voices to emerge. He had many dreams. A classless society. Media that existed in the public interest. Politicians that worked for the public interest. Peaceful and negotiated solution to conflict. Lasantha died in pursuit of his dream. So did Martin Luther King."

"For myself I can only but implore you as a fellow traveller with all the emphasis at my command to see through the face of democracy painted by President Mahinda Rajapakse and the government, to the failing democracy of Sri Lanka, and urge through the mightiness of the pen, President Rajapakse to allow an independent inquiry into the deaths of Lasantha and the other 16 media workers who have died tragically on his watch. [courtesy: Asia Media Forum]

March 28, 2009

Liberation war and the abhorrent violent culture

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The prevailing violent culture or barbarism as seen from the recent midday abduction in front of St. Mary’s Girls College, Trincomalee on March 11 and subsequent brutal killing of the kidnapped 6-year old girl Varsha Jude Reggie is the direct result of the violent activities since the late 1970s following the civil riots and uprisings, which not only destroyed lives and property but also human values. The impact on the Tamil society became ruthless after the LTTE’s campaign to establish their outfit as the sole representative of the Tamils in N-E Sri Lanka . Widespread killing of political rivals (and ‘traitors’ to their cause) was the norm. Many Tamil intellectuals, politicians, professionals and youths were killed in this campaign.

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[6-year-old student Miss Varsha Jude Reggie]

The authorities heedlessly turned a blind eye to the violence when the victims were all ethnic Tamils or Muslims. The State too contributed to the emergence of the violent culture. It responded violently to the non-violent protests of ethic Tamils against racial discrimination and instigated violent attacks against Tamil civilians – as in the case of the July 1983anti-Tamil pogrom.

Varsha’s mutilated body was found dumped in a roadside drain on March 13. The mastermind behind the kidnapping was Osprin Mervyn Rinousan, an owner of a computer centre in Trincomalee. He is reported to be a member of the Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan’s security squad. He is also a computer instructor, known to the victim’s family. On arrival at the school gates on March 11 in an auto-rickshaw, he had told Varsha that her mother was sick and persuaded her to get into the vehicle with him. Before leaving, Varsha told her classmates that she was going home with a “Computer Uncle”. This information helped the police to arrest the suspects.

According to media reports, Varsha’s death was caused by strangulation. Her throat was slit, she was blindfolded, her hands and legs had been tied, and her mouth had been taped over. There were burn marks on her body. The unfortunate girl lived with her mother in a suburb two km from Trincomalee town. Her father is employed in Qatar in the Middle East and Varsha was abducted for ransom. As there was no sign of immediate payment, the conspirators decided to kill the young Grade 1 girl. The way she had been executed as seen from the reports in the Sunday Times March 15 and Sri Lanka Guardian March 23 is very nauseating. The main suspect was shot and killed while trying to escape from police custody. Another suspect Janarthan known as Jana committed suicide by consuming cyanide, when the police took him to a place to recover a weapon used in a previous crime. According to SL Guardian report Jana, a TMVP cadre .was a wanted person in connection with three killings.

The Chief Minister Pillaiyan, an LTTE defector is currently the leader of the TMVP, the newly formed political party led initially by the ex-LTTE ‘colonel’ Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman. Pillaiyan was formerly Karuna’s deputy. .He dissociated his party from the alleged ransom demand. He told the media that “the suspect Jana was neither a local party leader nor a member. He only supported the party during the last election”. (Daily Mirror 21 March 2009).

Lanka-e-News, reported on March 26, 2009 that United National Party (UNP) MP Lakshman Kiriella said at a press conference, the Tamil People's Liberation Tigers (TMVP) has not only cyanide-swallowing cadres but also suicide cadres. Taking the full responsibility of the statement, he said that a councilor of the TMVP told him that the government sought his support to form a suicide group. MP Kiriella has also said that the six year old Varsha abducted for ransom was killed in a TMVP office.

Foreign media reports have exposed the involvement of Tamil paramilitary groups in the abduction saga. For details, SBS Dateline Program on 15th March 2009 on Sri Lankan issue. Besides the LTTE, other Tamil groups are responsible for the abhorrent violent culture in the society. Anti-Tiger cadres operate even in Jaffna . The government has not at all been concerned about their unlawful activities as these were not against the military. The office of the local paper Uthayan has been targeted many times. The government’s prime objective has been to crush the Tamil revolt at any cost.

Many children are among the casualties in the current phase of the gory war now confined to a small area in the Mullaitivu district. This is agonizing to all civilized humans and both the warring sides are responsible for the dastardly acts. The democratically elected government committed to observe the established laws and uphold law and order should not act like a guerrilla outfit. The emergency laws and the Prevention of Terrorism Act do not permit the State to violate human rights and suppress media freedom ruthlessly. The full extent of the losses and sufferings of the survivors of the fierce battle cannot be concealed for ever. The government’s decision to stop reporters and foreign aid workers entering the conflict zone has helped both the warring parties to ignore civilian lives.

PTI reported on March 26, according to UN officials in Sri Lanka there are at least 49,000 widows in the war ravaged Eastern Province . About 35,000 of them are below 30 years. Many are in need of regular income. There is some apprehension that left in the lurch, some could become suicide bombers. According to Nawaz Rajabdeen, National director UNIDO Sri Lanka, "many of these women are widows of LTTE fighters ". There are also 8,000 TMVP cadres who are now unemployed and this is a serious issue which has to be addressed sooner than later. Many women in the region also lost their spouses during the Tsuanami in December 2004. Resettlement in their home towns and villages and rehabilitation of war-affected civilians and ex-militants has not proceeded swiftly.

Regaining the lost civilized culture is not easy. Determined and concerted efforts are needed by civil society and religious leaders. Educational facilities and general standard were high in Jaffna for decades. This is not the case now. Another tragic loss to the society is the decline in the quality of education. There are many challenges in the social, cultural and economic fields for the present and future Tamil leaders. This is also one major reason for some self-governing powers to the regions.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

The moderate Muslim: An endangered species?

by Nazeeya Faarooq

There is an endangered species out there – strangely it is not an animal, or bird or plant but is in fact a human being - it is the moderate Muslim.

Many hundreds of years ago, the moderate and modern Muslim was alive and well and vocal. It was they who engineered and flourished in the great Islamic empires of old. Education, Science, literature, astronomy, architecture, travel, mathematics and other spheres of knowledge blossomed and prospered under the moderate thinking Muslim. Today, the moderate Muslim has either died out or in danger of dying out. They are in fact under threat. And what is worse is that the threat comes from within their own community.

What has replaced the moderate Muslim is a pernicious breed of human beings who would like to be called the only true guardians of the faith. This invasion of extremists, vocal in their righteousness target the moderate or modern Muslim as being un-Islamic and are in fact the criminal hunters of ijtihad, thought, reason and rationale. It is said that they are well funded by the Saudi government who export Wahhabi versions of Islam for the growth of religious extremism throughout the Muslim world.

Look at any country in the world that has a thriving population of radical Muslims and you will find the Saudi’s behind the madrasahs, the mosques, the community networks. They encourage the development of powerful intellectual, political and other networks which explains how a small minority of radicals can influence and control large numbers. Sri Lanka is no exception. While radical Islam can be defined in many different ways (and of course they would never see themselves as being radical, but simply being true Muslims) a constant feature of radical Muslims is their arrogant self-confidence that it is their interpretation of the religion (Quran, Hadiths, Shariah,) that is correct. There is absolutely no other interpretation in their eyes that could also be Islam. How ironic that attitude exists in a religion that says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256]

While around the world Muslims like: Chandra Muzaffar in Malaysia, Tarik Ramadan in Europe, Maulana Waheeduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer in India, Khalid Abul Fadl and Louay Safi in the US, Karim Soroush and Muhammad Khatami in Iran are vocal and committed moderate Muslims, we in Sri Lanka have consistently lacked a strong moderate Muslim voice.

What exactly is moderate Islam? It is in short the aspiration for a society within a Muslim framework that will treat people with dignity and respect. Ijtihad, which is, independent reasoning to articulate Islamic law is used to allow Islam predominant place while allowing the mind to experience freedom of thought. A moderate Muslim is one who while recognizing the importance and necessity of faith, cherishes reflective, self-critical, pro-democracy and pro-human rights contemplation. In fact the two are not an either or option, but co-exist harmoniously complimenting all aspects of life in a moderate Muslim.

What we need are the moderate Muslims of Sri Lanka to speak out at every opportunity, give sermons at Friday jumma, write their opinions, in short not be afraid to speak their minds. Intellectuals, artists, performers, housewives, professionals, students, activists, farmers, fishermen, carpenters, salespeople all have a role to play.

There is no qualification in being a moderate Muslim other than in believing that Islam is more than terrorism, gender inequality, intolerance, violent, rigid and judgemental. Islam is one of the few religions where the believer has a direct relationship with Allah. There is no necessity for mediators, no role for priests. Therefore, keeping quiet, is allowing others to speak for you. Taking no action is allowing other to hijack your belief.

It is important that moderate Muslims participate in the definition of what Islam is, instead of allowing others to define it for them. It is ironic but some non-Muslims who may not have Islam’s interest at heart and radical Muslims both have the same agenda – and the victim for both will be the moderate Muslims. While perhaps those particular non-Muslims would like to see a watered down version of a Muslim, similar to the nominal or non-practicing Christian or Jew, the radical Muslim would like to see only one type of Muslim – rabid, unyielding, and judgemental. This is therefore a plea. If you don’t want to see Islam being practiced in a manner that is inherently contrary to the spirit of Islam – speak up.

You have nothing to be afraid. Your religion has everything to gain and you have nothing to lose.

(This article published exclusively on "groundviews" is reproduced here with due acknowledgement)

Related article: Pseudo-patriotism that claims this country belongs to Sinhala Buddhists By Shanie

US, China and the war in Sri Lanka

by Peter Symonds

Diplomatic skirmishing in the UN Security Council between the US and China over the war in Sri Lanka underscores their growing rivalry in every corner of the globe. Both powers are intent on staking out their claims in Colombo as the 25-year conflict on the island reaches its climax.

Last week UN Security Council members Austria, Mexico and Costa Rica, backed by the US and Britain, called for an informal briefing on the humanitarian crisis facing tens of thousands of people trapped by the war in northern Sri Lanka. China, supported by Russia, blocked the move declaring that it was "an internal matter" for Sri Lanka and was not a threat to international security.

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[China's President Hu Jintao shakes hands with Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sanya, Hainan province, April 10, 2008-Reuters pic]

None of this diplomatic posturing should be taken at face value. All of a sudden Washington has begun to express concern about the plight of tens of thousands of civilians caught in fighting as the Sri Lankan army closes in on the remaining pocket of territory held by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The US media is now peddling a similar line. The New York Times, for instance, published an article on Sunday about the plight of refugees and the "challenges of peace". American ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake declared he was worried that the government was dominated by "certain hard-line Sinhalese elements" and appealed to President Mahinda Rajapakse to "reach out to the Tamil and Muslim communities".

The article described the "cold peace" in the island's eastern province, which has been firmly under army control since mid-2007. In Batticaloa, there are "army checkpoints in the town centre, armed thugs prowling back streets and continuing reports of abductions and disappearances."

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the president's brother, justified such police state measures, saying: "The war is like a cancer. Even after curing a cancer, there is a period for radiation treatment. It is the same with the war on terrorism."

Until recently, however, the US has quietly backed President Rajapakse, the war and the military's gross abuse of democratic rights. But as the army made rapid advances into the LTTE's remaining territory from early January and the defeat of the LTTE appeared likely, the US made a tactical shift. It began to call for a "political solution" to the conflict—a deal, not with the LTTE, but with sections of the Tamil elite to temper the decades of anti-Tamil discrimination that gave rise to the war.

Washington's concern is that ongoing communal tensions will not only destabilise Sri Lanka, but neighbouring India, which has become America's key economic and strategic partner in the South Asia. New Delhi is worried about the potential for political unrest to spill over in southern state of Tamil Nadu where Tamils have historic ties with Sri Lanka. The "humanitarian" issue has been raised as a means of pressuring the Rajapakse regime to make concessions.

India and the US share another common concern—the growing influence of China in Sri Lanka. While India has had to be cautious in its support for the Sri Lankan war, China has provided military and financial aid to Colombo with no questions asked. Chinese sales of arms including fighter jets, sophisticated radar, anti-aircraft guns and other military hardware and munitions have helped tip the balance in the country's protracted civil war. Visiting last month, Defence Secretary Rajapakse thanked China for its "steadfast support" in strengthening the "war on terrorism".

China's decision to block a UN Security Council discussion was also welcomed by the Sri Lankan political establishment. An editorial in last weekend's Sunday Times denounced the mounting pressure "from the Western countries where there has been heavy lobbying by Sri Lankan expatriates and a group of international ‘bleeding hearts'. These moves in the UN, it declared, "have been shot down by Sri Lanka's steadfast ally in its war on terrorism—China."

Like the US, China's manoeuvring in the UN is guided by self-interest. Beijing conveniently forgot about its principle of "non-interference in internal affairs" when it came to the US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the case of Sri Lanka, it has used the argument to curry favour in Colombo by blocking a UN debate and to defend its unconditional support for the government and its criminal war.

The pay-off for Beijing has been a $US1 billion deal with Colombo in 2007 to construct a major port facility in the southern town of Hambantota. The first stage of the project, being built by Chinese corporations and largely with Chinese finance, is due to be completed at the end of 2010. When completed it will include a container port, a bunkering system, an oil refinery, an airport and other facilities that are expected to transform Hambantota into a major transshipment hub.

The importance of the project for China is obvious. Hambantota on the southern tip of Sri Lanka is just six nautical miles from the main east-west trade route across the Indian Ocean. Around 70 percent of China's oil imports is shipped via this sea lane from the Middle East through the Strait of Malacca to Chinese ports. Acutely aware that its shipping would be vulnerable in the event of any conflict, especially with the US, Beijing has been expanding its navy and developing a "chain of pearls"—port facilities along this trade route. Hambantota, like the Chinese-built port of Gwadar in Pakistan, is one such pearl.

The US and India are intent on countering China's strategy. Thus under the guise of humanitarian concern, India has sent a military medical team to Sri Lanka. Earlier this month the US proposed to send a Marine Expeditionary Brigade to northern Sri Lanka to evacuate refugees—an offer that appears to have been turned down.

Like the diplomatic posturing in the UN Security Council, none of these moves—by either side—is motivated by concern for working people in Sri Lanka who have born the brunt of 25 years of war. Rather the small South Asian island, like other parts of the world, is being drawn into the international rivalry that is intensifying as the global economic crisis deepens and foreshadows far more catastrophic conflicts. [wsws.org]

UK writer follows Lord Rama's footsteps to Sri Lanka

by Lakshmi Kumaraswami

Martin Buckley embarked on many a train journey while travelling across India more than 25 years ago.

Like many of us, he would pass the time reading a book. "As soon as I would take out my book, the other passengers' eyes would immediately light up. That's when I knew that this was no ordinary book, but something much deeper," he recalls. The book Buckley was reading was the country's very own epic Valmiki's Ramayana. Eventually, he fell in love with India and decided to work as a sub-editor at Business India magazine in Mumbai. During his time in the country, he travelled to many places from Allahabad and Rishikesh to Bodhgaya. But the tale of Rama never left him. So when he returned in 2005, he travelled from Ayodhya to Sri Lanka like Rama a journey documented in his book, An Indian Odyssey.

At the launch of the book at Madras Terrace House on Friday, Buckley spoke about the people's relationship with the epic. "I think it's fascinating that this book that was prehistorically written is still worshipped," he says. He adds that Valmiki's version of the story is very real, with the characters going through various emotions.

Although the book talks about his life in India and his journey in Rama's footsteps, Buckley also intersperses it with the story of the Ramayana and his version appears more contemporary. For instance, Hanuman doesn't build a bridge using boulders to cross over to Lanka, but wades and swims across during a low tide. "There are no monkeys in my book. I describe them as forest dwellers, comfortable living amongst trees," he explains.

So does he believe the Ramayana took place in real time or is it a figment of people's imagination? "I think Rama is a character that is an assortment of people that really lived. The epic tells the story of guerilla warfare, fought by indigenous people," he says. However, he thinks the academic's view is nonsense. "Some even say that the notion of Lanka being in the South is false!" he exclaims.

Buckley feels the spirituality in India and has had a spiritual experience himself. "One of the wonders of this country is that you can meet an intellectual who is also deeply spiritual," he says. He is impatient with the smug secularism of certain people in the country. "India's culture is what it is. It's wonderful to live in a place where every minority has a voice, but let's not forget the totality of Indian culture," he states.

Through his book, he wants to give the Western audience a message that it is ok to talk about spirituality, without turning to strange music or drugs.' But is he not worried about how the book might be received in India? "The book has its own identity and is a universal story now. I'm sure some people might find it offensive, but it should be read with an open mind," says Buckley, who plans on writing his version of the Ramayana in the future. [courtesy: Times of India]

Presidential Secretariat Replies to TNA Letter

The Sri Lankan Presidential Secretariat has responded to the letter released by the Tamil National Alliance outlining reasons for turning down an invitation extended by President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Here is the full text of the Presidential Secretariat news release:

"The call by the TNA to halt armed operations by the Security Forces is singularly unfortunate since it results in manipulating the plight of civilians trapped by the LTTE in this tiny sliver of land, to launch a last-ditch effort to save the terrorist leadership and remaining rank and file, which will be the outcome of any letup in the humanitarian operation to free these civilians from the LTTE’s clutches. We note that no allocation of responsibility upon the LTTE, for the entrapment and confinement of these innocent civilians, is made by the TNA. This appears to the Government to be a startling omission.

In considering and responding to the plight of innocent civilians trapped in the “Wanni pocket”, the TNA will recall that, from September 2008, the President and members of his Government have been earnestly requesting the LTTE to enable civilians to leave the northern theatre of conflict. The underlying reason for this call was the Government’s genuine concern for the civilians’ safety and security in the light of impending and intense armed conflict between the Sri Lankan forces and LTTE cadres.

The TNA was non-committal at that time as they, and some others supportive of the LTTE, were seemingly confident of the ability of the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE’s) military formations” to prevent the rapid advance of Sri Lankan security forces. When civilians were repeatedly positioned by the LTTE at locations in which they were at greater risk, the TNA remained silent. When the LTTE placed its artillery in a corner of the original No-fire Zone adjacent to the A35 highway and fired into the zone and at the armed forces from these locations, the TNA did not utter a word of condemnation. When the President made a final appeal to let the civilians leave at the end of January this year, the TNA was again silent, as they were when the LTTE forcibly caused the movement of these civilians to the narrow strip of land they now occupy after preventing the escape of civilians who heeded the President’s call. The Government, in recognition of the need to ensure the safety and security of the civilians, declared a second No-fire Zone in early February.

Since then the Government has sent in over 1,250 MT of food and medicines and is to send another 1,020 MT over the next few days. The Government did so with the support of the World Food Programme and with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross. At the meeting with Tamil political representatives, the President undertook a personal commitment to ensure that food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies would be sent to uncleared areas of the Wanni in sufficient quantities to ensure that there will not be a shortage of essential goods.

Therefore, the TNA can rest assured that the Government of the President will do its utmost, as it has consistently done in the past, to alleviate the suffering of these civilians trapped by the LTTE. His Excellency informed the Tamil and Muslim representatives that he was well aware that some of the humanitarian assistance, including food and medicine meant for civilians, was forcibly taken by the LTTE. Despite this, the Government is committed to supplying its people with their basic needs.

Some of the specific issues raised by the TNA are the allegations that the “Sri Lankan armed forces have been bombing the Safe Zone areas by air and artillery fire, killing on an average between 40 to 50 civilians on a daily basis and causing grave injuries to civilians many times more.”

As the President informed the Tamil and Muslim representatives on Thursday, the armed forces are exercising maximum restraint in the current phase of the humanitarian operation. We reiterate that Sri Lankan armed forces do not fire any artillery or any such heavy weaponry into the Safe Zones where civilians have gathered. Neither is there any aerial bombardment of these areas by the Air Force. However, there have been instances where the LTTE has fired missiles at our helicopters from within the No-fire Zone. The figure of 40 to 50 civilians being killed daily is, we believe, a total exaggeration. It is not possible to state with any certainty that the so-called civilian casualties are not in fact LTTE cadres who have been killed or injured in combat The LTTE’s reticence to issue numbers of cadres killed and injured gives credence to the assertion that some of the so called “civilians” are fighting cadres.

The TNA also alleges that “despite the grave humanitarian crisis prevalent in these areas, the government has evicted all international humanitarian organizations and has since imposed restrictions on supplies to these areas tantamount to an embargo on food, medicine, shelter and other basic humanitarian items”. This allegation is patently false. International organizations were asked to move out of this area and relocate to Vavuniya in September 2008 because of the prospect of fighting between the Armed Forces and the LTTE and we could not guarantee the safety of these personnel in such circumstances. Concurrently, the Government invited civilians to move to this area as well, so that these agencies could provide them with assistance, complementing the Government’s efforts to care for all their needs. There has been no restriction on food, medicine, shelter and other basic humanitarian items. As stated earlier, large amounts of food have been sent to the Mullaithivu area where the civilians are said to be gathered.

The TNA also states that “no independent media is permitted access to this area to report on the situation really prevailing in this area.” As in the case of humanitarian agencies (except the ICRC) media cannot be permitted to go to areas where there is fighting between the Armed Forces and the LTTE as the Government cannot guarantee their safety. With LTTE’s track record of placing the responsibility on the Armed Forces even when the LTTE kills civilians, allowing the media to have access to these areas will not be prudent. However, the Government has facilitated several visits by local and international journalists to Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and the IDP centres in Vavuniya. As the situation improves, these visits will be increased.

It is also claimed that: “No functioning hospitals remain in the Vanni as government bombing campaigns have destroyed all such facilities. There are gross shortages of medicines….. [as] the government has failed to send adequate medicine. People have died recently as a result of complications which could have been easily treated had there been proper health facilities and medicine.” Not a single hospital has been destroyed by aerial bombing or any other artillery fire from Sri Lankan forces. All the hospitals are intact except in some locations where the LTTE has removed all the fittings and fixtures and rendered these institutions unusable. There is ample evidence to demonstrate this destruction by the LTTE. As reiterated above, people have been repeatedly requested to come to the government controlled areas. However, as the LTTE prevents them from coming over, by threats or sometimes the use of lethal force, civilians have been forced to undergo hardship and the government is aware of their suffering. This is why the Government has sent in several consignments of medical supplies for use by the doctors who remain in uncleared areas to treat urgent cases. It is the desire of the Government to help remove the civilians from the clutches of the LTTE, thus ending their suffering.

The allegation is made that “internally displaced persons do not have any form of toilet facilities. The government has banned all construction materials into the area and as a result building of temporary toilets has not been possible.” They also state that “the government has not allowed shelter materials into the area”. The supposed lack of sanitation has been highlighted many times and fearsome predictions of the spread of epidemics have been made from time to time which have all proved groundless. There are strict restrictions on sending any construction material because the LTTE will use all such material to build bunkers and bunds to strengthen themselves militarily to impede the advance of the armed forces. Similar restrictions have been imposed on shelter material which can be converted for military uses by the LTTE. However, the Government notes that the TNA themselves state that there are 240,000 persons living under tarpaulins which are a form of temporary shelter used in humanitarian situations worldwide.

The allegation is made that “Even though there are around 300,000 civilians in the relevant areas, the government insists that there are only about 70,000 civilians in the area. This position …. is inconsistent with the assessment of UN and other international agencies who estimate that there are around 200,000 displaced civilians in this area.…. food aid and medicine and other essential humanitarian supplies sent is grossly inadequate … the civilian population is starving to death due to unavailability of medical supplies…. within the last month, several people have died of starvation. The dead have included many children.” The number 300,000 is a gross exaggeration. Even the TNA admits of three different figures in its communication. Even UN and INGOs dropped their estimates during the past month by 100,000 – when 56,000 persons managed to escape. It is obvious that there has been a gross over-estimation of persons. Food and medicine that have been sent were based on the reasonable estimates available. The accusation that people have died of starvation cannot be accepted because those civilians that come to the government controlled areas seem to have been adequately fed. Those civilians have informed that there is no shortage of food as stated by the TNA.

Finally, the TNA states that “Since the beginning of this year alone, over 3000 civilians have been killed in ….. ‘safe zones’ by bombing campaigns [and] well over 8000 civilians have been gravely injured. …… civilians are being deliberately targeted. …. food and medicine are being used against the Tamil civilians as a weapon of war.”

The government has never used food and medicine as a weapon of war. Indeed the Sri Lankan State is one, if not the only, nation that has fed an armed group who is trying to dismember it by violence. No one can confirm the numbers that have been killed or injured and it is impossible to determine who is an injured or killed combatant when the LTTE, who are not in uniform, mingle with the civilians and fires on Sri Lankan forces from their midst. The LTTE is also stepping up forced recruitment including that of children. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces have very clearly stated that their operations are conducted in such a manner to as to ensure that no civilians are killed or injured. That is why their advance over the past few weeks has been so slow. His Excellency’s instructions to the Armed Forces have been to ensure 100 percent civilian safety. If the allegations of indiscriminate attacks and disregard for civilians were true, the Sri Lankan forces would have overrun the LTTE and liberated the uncleared areas weeks earlier. The Government remains committed to the safety and welfare of civilians. As such, we continue to appeal to the LTTE to free all civilians who are held hostage by them so that the civilians can go to safe areas and IDP villages that are being maintained under the care and control of the Government.

The President was clear in his intention to restore democracy to the Northern Province, just as elections had been held and civil administration restored in the East. He informed the Tamil and Muslim party leaders that it was his intention to conduct local government polls in the Jaffna peninsula as early as possible. Responding to a proposal by Leader of the PLOTE, D. Sidharthan, and the President also assured the political representatives of his willingness to look into the possibility of holding local polls in the Vavuniya District. The President said it was his wish that the people of the North should be empowered to choose their own, freely elected, representatives and encourage political parties to participate in the electoral process. Every assurance of adequate security to conduct an election campaign would be given to every individual and group that comes forward.

The President called on the political leadership of the Tamil people to unite eschewing narrow personal or party agendas and work with the Government to improve conditions for the people in the North and East.

March 27, 2009

Pseudo-patriotism that claims this country belongs to Sinhala Buddhists

by Shanie

In a self-critique of the Muslim community. Nazeeya Faarooq has written a very thoughtful article lamenting the failure of moderate Muslims to speak out against the extremists within the community who are presenting a wrong picture of Muslims and Islam to the rest of the world. "What has replaced the moderate Muslim", says Faarooq, "is a pernicious breed of human beings who would like to be called the only true guardians of the faith.

This invasion by the extremists, vocal in their righteousness, target the moderate or modern Muslim as being un-Islamic, but are in fact the criminal hunters of ijtihad, thought, reason and rationale…. What we need are the moderate Muslims of Sri Lanka to speak out at every opportunity, give sermons at Friday jumma, write their opinions, and in short not be afraid to speak their minds. Intellectuals, artists, performers, housewives, professionals, students, activists, farmers, fishermen, carpenters, salespeople all have a role to play. There is no qualification in being a moderate Muslim other than in believing that Islam is more than terrorism, gender inequality, intolerance, violence, rigidity and judgmentalism."

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[British High Commissioner H.E. Dr. Peter Hayes visited a historical mosque in Kalmunai and had a discussion with the community there about the problem face by Muslim community in January 2009-more pics]

Faarooq’s self-criticism, while being refreshing and welcome, however applies not only to the Muslim community but to Sri Lankan society as a whole. The moderates among the Sinhalese and Tamil communities have also been silenced by the extremists and ultra-nationalists within their own communities. Truth be told, there are outstanding voices of moderation among all the communities, the Muslims not excluded. But sadly, the dominant trend today is extremism of the most pernicious kind which is destroying the dignity not only of individual communities but of the country as a whole.

Faarooq goes on to define what Islam stands for and thereby what Muslims should stand for. "It is in short the aspiration for a society within a Muslim framework that will treat people with dignity and respect. Ijtihad, which is independent reasoning to articulate Islamic law is used to allow Islam predominant place while allowing the mind to experience freedom of thought. A moderate Muslim is one who while recognizing the importance and necessity of faith, cherishes reflective, self-critical, pro-democracy and pro-human rights contemplation. In fact the two are not an either/or option, but co-exist harmoniously complementing all aspects of life in a moderate Muslim."

Truly, this definition has equal validity for Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity and to what the adherents of all those great religions should be standing for. This is the tragedy of today’s Sri Lanka. The noble traditions and values of all our religions have been hijacked by vocal and violent extremists whose false propaganda threatens to undermine all religions and society as a whole. It is this that is leading to intolerance, hatred and vengeance against those who differ from their own narrow nationalism. It is this that creates a pseudo-patriotism that claims that this country belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists and the minority groups must accept this hegemony and the majority, in their graciousness, will give them ‘reasonable’ rights.

Sinister pseudo-patriotism

Nothing is more symbolic of this than a recent article by a well-known Sinhala nationalist. After arguing that the past Tamil political leadership had failed the Tamils and the present were only relics of the past, he suggests that the patriotic Sinhalese must support a Tamil political leadership (a la Karuna Amman?) that will emerge after the Tamils are integrated with the Sinhalese. "An integrated entrenched community will be less likely to seek disintegration."

This then was the time for the patriotic Sinhalese to address the legitimate grievances of the Tamils. "People admire the patriots who took them on the proper path and produced results. It is in them the public have trust and faith. They can carry Sinhala intelligentsia beyond the reach of the devalued politicians. The time has come for the patriotic forces to extend their frontiers to fight for the legitimate grievances of the Tamils to inculcate a truly Sri Lankan identity." He concludes with the statement, which on the face of it appears liberal, pluralistic and democratic: "The finest hour has arrived for the nationalistic leadership to display their commitment to the country by being in the forefront of the struggle to combine a divided nation where the minority rights are fulfilled and the majority rights are safeguarded."

Significantly, he does not spell the grievances which he, as a patriotic Sinhalaya, thinks are legitimate and how these grievances should be addressed and minority rights fulfilled. But a hint of what he has in mind is revealed when he states, "The patriotic Sinhala majority fought within the weapons of democracy to discard the infamous Package, saw to the liquidation of the Equal Opportunities Bill, abandonment of the Sudu Nelum and Tawalama the anti war mind cleansing operations, rejection of the 2000 Constitutional amendment, dismantling of Tsunami Structures, jettisoning of Peace Talks process, de merging the North East and easing from the CFA."

He began the article with the statement, "Will you put up your hand to elevate the Tamil people or the Tamil politicians? Sinhalese will raise both hands with sincerity in favour of the Tamil people. Not merely raise hands; they will clap with both the hands in support." So the patriotic Sinhalese fought off devolution and power-sharing proposals because those were presumably not legitimate grievances; presumably also those proposals would not have elevated the Tamil people.

He is silent as for what proposals the patriotic Sinhalese are going to raise their hands or clap with both hands. In different times, this would have been laughed off as the comic and convoluted mind-set of someone on the lunatic fringe of ethno-nationalism. But, today, in the mood of ethno-triumphalism and an upsurge of extremist nationalism, it is going to be touted as being gracious and magnanimous.

It is but a clever yet sinister attempt to further articulate the Defence Establishment view that this country belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists and that the minorities will be treated well provided that they did not make ‘unreasonable’ demands. Nazeeya Faarooq’s self-criticism applies with equal or even greater force to the extremists among the Sinhala and Tamil nationalists.

We still hear voices of sanity

But Faarooq need not feel despondent. Although many voices of moderation have been intimidated into silence, there still are courageous men and women from all communities who are willing to speak out, sometimes putting their own lives at risk. It will be embarrassing to mention names but the more discerning of readers will be able to identify Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim journalists, writers, human rights activists, academics, lawyers, religious and civil society leaders and a host of others who have and continue to speak out with great courage.

One such academic has been Dr Liyanage Amarakeerthi who represents the best of Sinhala Buddhist culture and intelligentsia. In a recent critical tribute to Dr Gunadasa Amarasekera on the latter’s eightieth birthday, Amarakeerthi pays a handsome tribute to Amarasekera as being an authentic intellectual. "There is none in the University whose stature as a public intellectual equals that of Amarasekera." But Amarakeerthi however faults Amarasekera for his inaccurate and indefensible promotion of a ‘National Thought’ (Jathika Chinthanya). Amarakeerthi’s critique is worth quoting at length because it is evidence that there are still courageous voices of sanity in our country.

"His (Amarasekera’s) Jathika Chinthanaya has ended up creating a kind of cultural relativism that easily translates into something like, "Humans in this country are only Sinhala Buddhists." That cultural relativism, instead of producing any Buddhist science or Buddhist theory of development, which takes the planet earth as our co-being rather than a bundle of nature to be mastered by modernity, has resulted in producing hypocritical middle class consumerists as social beings and racists as political beings. Consumerism and racism nicely synthesize in Sri Lanka’s new Buddhist.

There is another legacy of Amarasekara’s Jathika Chinthanaya: many children of 1956 turned their own inabilities into a form of Jathika Chinthanaya. For example, those who do not know any language other than Sinhala elevated their mono-lingualism into a form of being "Jathika." These days universities are full of those ‘national thinkers.’ Some others who are afraid of engaging with the most serious thinkers of our time argue that the Buddha has taught us everything we need. According to them, Jataka Pota is enough, and we do not need Derrida’s Grammatology or Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, for example. The Jataka Pota, to be sure, is a very good book. But it is hardly enough. Those who claim that The Jataka Book is enough cannot read Derrida or Foucault and they cannot deal with such rigorous thought, so they disguise their inability as Jathika Chinthanaya.

One cannot begin to describe how the sublimation of mediocrity has destroyed this country. Thousands that surround Amarasekara are such "national thinkers." About Amarasekara’s voyage with these fellows I can only say this: "Good luck to you, Dr. Amarasekara".

Those who really can engage with Amarasekara are the ones who are called, of course by Amarasekara himself, "enemies of the nation", "agents of the West" and "imitators of the West". Over the years Amarasekara has successfully taught his followers such name-calling which shuts down any form of intellectual dialogue.

My Wittgenstein, of course he is Western, has taught me that conversation is the essence of humanity. An entire school of mediocre ‘thinkers,’ masquerading as national thinkers, (Jathika Chinthakayas) is constantly at work to rid our society of genuine conversation. In any institution; including the private sector, the people of average skills and knowledge are the most nationalist calling any innovative and energetic person "non-nationalist". For these disciples of the Jathika Chinthana school, being productive and creative means being Western.

Therefore, those who have done nothing substantial for the Sinhala nation are the most vocal defenders of it. Rajitha Dissanayake’s new play, "Apahu Herenna Bee", beautifully depicts certain qualities of these "friends" of the nation. I hope very much that Dr. Amarasekara will live long enough to see the destruction his theories have resulted in. And I hope the poet in him will still be honest on that day to regret his mistake." [courtesy: The Island]

End the War on civilians in Sri Lanka-Amnesty International

AI0327TC.jpgA briefing on the humanitarian crisis and lack of human rights protection

A human rights crisis is unfolding in Sri Lanka where tens of thousands of people are trapped in the middle of heavy fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lanka Armed Forces in the north eastern Wanni region. The Tamil Tigers, swept by Sri Lankan forces from much of their de facto state in eastern and northern Sri Lanka, are now confined to a 35 square kilometer sliver of coastal land. With them—in many cases, involuntarily—are thousands of civilians, nearly all ethnic Tamils, caught between the sea and two fighting forces with records of serious human rights abuses. Most independent observers estimate there are between 150,000 to 200,000 civilians still confined in this area; the Sri Lankan government has claimed that there are “only” 50,000 to 60,000 civilians there. What is indisputable is that these people face grave risk of harm from military action, lack of food and health supplies, and the outbreak of disease. They must be immediately evacuated from the conflict zone and provided with shelter and support.

Most of the civilians now caught up in the conflict have already been forced to flee their homes in multiple waves of displacement during the 25-year-war in Sri Lanka, as well as after the Indian Ocean tsunami. They now face a potential humanitarian catastrophe as the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government continues to disregard their well-being. The Tamil Tigers have used these civilians as a buffer against government forces, as well as a steady source of income, forced recruitment (including of children), and involuntary labor. For its part, the Sri Lankan government, buoyed by its initial rapid military advances, has pursued a conclusive military end-game without fulfilling its obligations for the fate of the civilians trapped in the conflict zone. Even as the fighting rages on, the Sri Lankan government has sought significant international financial, material, and technical aid from various countries as well as international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, without agreeing to international standards or international monitoring. In these circumstances, the United Nations and Sri Lanka’s international donors should do all they can to protect the tens of thousands of Sri Lankans facing disaster away from the eyes of the world.

As a matter of utmost urgency:
--the Tamil Tigers must immediately allow all civilians to leave the conflict area, and any parties in a position to exercise influence over the Tigers should urge them to do that;

--the Sri Lankan government must ensure that civilians trapped in the conflict area receive sufficient humanitarian assistance, while those civilians who seek to leave have safe passage out of the conflict zone;

--the Sri Lankan government must ensure that displaced people receive adequate shelter and assistance, and are allowed to resettle quickly and voluntarily, in conformity with international standards;

--the UN and Sri Lanka’s international donors should ensure that their assistance is used in compliance with international human rights law and standards, and does not support abusive government policies.

Glimpses into the Wanni

The exact situation in the Wanni is unknown due to the restrictions, imposed by the government of Sri Lanka, on access to the conflict zone for UN agencies, humanitarian, human rights and other non-governmental organizations, and national and international journalists. But the available information consistently and credibly suggests that both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan authorities regularly violate the laws of war, and in particular, the core principles of distinguishing between combatants and civilians and avoiding intentional harm to civilians and civilian objects.

The government of Sri Lanka has declared a so-called safe zone in the conflict area for civilians, but the LTTE has not agreed to the designation of these areas as safe. Meanwhile, reports from the few remaining UN staff, aid workers and civilians able to contact the outside world speak of regular, heavy bombardment of the safe zone, including hours-long artillery barrages. Both sides have been guilty of the indiscriminate use of violence. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the only aid agency with a permanent albeit limited access to the warzone says that hundreds have been killed and injured in the past few weeks alone. A 13 March statement from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights cited credible reports that more than 2,800 civilians had been killed and more than 7,000 injured since January 20th. Unicef reports that hundreds of children have now died in the conflict. On 18 March, Care International reported that one of its humanitarian workers was killed inside the safe zone. The makeshift hospital inside the ‘safe zone’ at Puthumathalan is not functioning as there are no drugs or bandages in the hospital. Thousands of people in the combat zone have no access to medical care. ICRC-chartered ferries have started evacuating the sick and wounded to Trincomalee by sea, including 1,400 who needed surgery, but the ICRC itself notes, “it is essential that evacuations take place regularly and without interference”. The ICRC has not received adequate security assurances from both sides to continue its work unimpeded.

The Sri Lankan government has vociferously rejected these claims as inaccurate or exaggerated, but it still refuses to allow any independent journalists or monitors to provide impartial and accurate assessments of the situation. This lack of access is compounded by a climate of fear in Sri Lanka where the rights to freedoms of expression and association have been violated over many years. Those who report on human rights abuses or express critical views of the government or the LTTE in Sri Lanka are at great risk of intimidation, threats, harassment and in some cases violence and unlawful killings. After the assassination of prominent journalist Lasantha Wickramatunge more than 10 journalists left the country in fear of their own safety.

Not only are the displaced caught in the line of fire but when they cross to government held territory they face yet more violations of their rights and dignity. Sri Lankan authorities have now set up 13 sites in Vavuniya District—euphemistically called “welfare villages”—hosting over 40,000 displaced people. These camps in many instances operate as de facto detention centers without independent oversight. Sri Lankan authorities prevent the displaced from leaving the camps, to return home or resettle in another part of the country, in contravention of international standards. Despite assistance from INGOs and governments such as India, the camps lack sufficient supplies of healthcare, food and water. Civilians held at these camps suspected of Tamil Tiger sympathies are particularly vulnerable to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, both tactics that the government and its allied militias have been known to employ in significant numbers over the past few years.

Possible violations of international humanitarian law by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces

Amnesty International has received credible and consistent reports that the LTTE has forcibly displaced civilians and pushed them into areas under their control in the Wanni where they are effectively kept as hostages and used as a buffer against the Sri Lankan armed forces in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. The LTTE reportedly prevents civilians from leaving their territory with a pass system that restricts freedom of movement. The LTTE is also reported to have deliberately attacked civilians, including by shooting at civilians that have tried to flee areas under their control. Such attacks would constitute war crimes.

The LTTE has carried out attacks from areas densely populated with displaced Tamil families under their control, exposing the trapped population to injury and death as a result of government ripostes. The LTTE appears to have made no effort to protect civilians from attacks in violation of customary international humanitarian law. On the contrary, with their refusal to allow civilians to leave from the shrinking territory under their control, the LTTE have put civilians at risks from attacks. The LTTE has forcibly recruited civilians, including children, to build bunkers and serve as troops - acts which constitute war crimes.

Reports from eyewitnesses, aid workers and civilians in the conflict zone strongly suggest that both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces have failed to take necessary precautions as required under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian objects from attack. Furthermore, reports indicate that both sides may have deliberately attacked medical facilities and hospitals. International humanitarian law prohibits the deliberate targeting of civilians or civilian objects , as well as indiscriminate attacks, i.e. attacks by whose nature strike military objectives and civilians or civilians objects without distinction. Hospitals, medical facilities and personnel enjoy special protection and cannot be attacked unless they are used to commit a hostile act and even then only after appropriate warnings have remained unheeded.

The main hospital in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in the Wanni was shelled on 4 February 2009. Hundreds of patients and medical staff were evacuated from the building. The hospital, which was subjected to several attacks in previous days, was bombarded by shelling for 16 hours. None of the warring parties took responsibility for the shelling. This was the last hospital to remain open in Puthukkudiyiruppu.

The government of Sri Lanka has intensified the suffering of the people by cutting off international humanitarian assistance to those trapped in the Wanni, despite lacking the capacity to meet the needs itself. In September 2008, the government expelled international humanitarian agencies from the region citing security concerns. The government of Sri-Lanka has argued that it is not safe for aid workers to operate in the Wanni, an assessment not shared by the humanitarian agencies themselves. According to doctors inside the Wanni, the Ministry of Health instructed all doctors and health workers to leave LTTE-controlled areas on 10 February 2009. In early February 2009 hundreds of injured civilians in the region were left with no proper medical facilities, doctors were performing operations without anaesthetics and patients had to wait up to a week for urgent treatment. A letter from the Office of the Regional Director of Health Services in Mullaitivu notes that since January 2009, more than 500 civilian deaths have been registered at hospitals. Dr. Varatharajah and Dr. Sathiyamoorthy note that access to basic medicines has been restricted by the government’s lengthy security clearance procedures.

The continued refusal by the government to allow international humanitarian operations into the Wanni, and the restrictions placed upon doctors and health workers have precipitated an acute humanitarian crisis. Government convoys and shipment by sea of food and medical supplies have alleviated some of the gaps but is inadequate for the needs. Tens of thousands of people are living without adequate food, shelter and medical care. The deliberate denial of basic services and assistance such as health care and food is prohibited by international humanitarian law.

Under international humanitarian law, the parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian relief. Temporary restrictions to the freedom of movement of relief personnel can only be allowed in case of imperative military necessity. Given that the government has thus far failed to provide for the basic humanitarian needs of the population in violation of international law, it must allow aid agencies that have experience of operating in conflict zones to make their own assessment as to whether it is too dangerous for them to operate in the Wanni.

Organisations such as Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that the critically injured were not getting the assistance they needed because ambulances did not receive adequate security assurances to move across frontlines to evacuate the wounded. MSF has offered to send medical staff and supplies to the Wanni, however, despite several requests from Ministry of Health staff still in Wanni, MSF has been denied access.

Amnesty International recently called upon both parties to the conflict to immediately declare a temporary humanitarian truce and create humanitarian corridors in order to allow those people who are trapped to escape the conflict zone and let urgently needed humanitarian assistance reach those who cannot leave. However, these calls have been rejected by both sides. The government must declare a temporary humanitarian truce and urge the LTTE to abide by this in order to allow civilians to evacuate. If the LTTE declines to observe such a humanitarian truce this would expose their willingness to continue to put civilians at grave risk.

Amnesty International repeats its call to:

--both sides to immediately declare a temporary humanitarian truce and create humanitarian corridors in order to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and let urgently needed humanitarian assistance to reach all those civilians in need;

--the LTTE and the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka to allow full and unimpeded access for international and national humanitarian agencies and to guarantee safe passage for humanitarian convoys;

--the LTTE and the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka to provide access to an independent multi-agency needs assessment team, including protection experts, to identify needs and gaps in assistance for the civilian population in the Wanni;

--the LTTE and the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka to respect the prohibitions of hostage taking, targeting of civilians and launching indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that are prohibited under international humanitarian law.

The need for security and protection of displaced people

Civilians who try to flee the fighting run a gauntlet between the Sri Lankan armed forces and LTTE fighters. Many civilians risk their lives to reach government controlled areas. The Sri Lankan government has claimed that Tamil Tigers have fired upon civilians seeking to escape the conflict zone. Amnesty International has received several credible reports over the past few months that the Tamil Tigers have threatened violence against civilians who wish to leave, or their family members who may stay behind in Tiger-controlled areas. There are reports that the Tamil Tigers have interfered with evacuation attempts by the ICRC by applying a pass system even on the seriously wounded. The Tamil Tigers’ efforts to prevent civilians from leaving the desperate conditions of the conflict zone could constitute a war crime.

Civilians who exit areas of fighting, often exhausted, traumatised and sometimes badly injured, face an ordeal once they enter government-controlled areas. The Sri Lankan government, which is ultimately responsible for the rights and welfare of the displaced population, has shown itself incapable of addressing the logistical demands of the displacement crisis, a situation likely to get significantly worse with the expected exodus of tens of thousands of civilians out of LTTE-held areas. International humanitarian and human rights law guarantee the displaced fundamental rights and protections. Displaced individuals do not forfeit the rights of the rest of the population as a result of displacement. While the government has a primary obligation to provide security and assistance to the displaced, it should do so in ways that respect and protect their human rights. Sri Lanka is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and other human rights treaties, yet reports indicate that the government is failing to protect the rights of the displaced.

De facto Detention camps or “welfare villages”

Once the displaced pass through an initial check for weapons at Killinochchi they are taken to Killinochchi hospital and then transported to one of the heavily militarised temporary transit sites in Vavuniya or Jaffna. The Sri Lankan authorities have established a number of centres for the displaced in the past and have indicated that the long term plan will be to house the entire displaced population in these “welfare villages.” Notwithstanding the use of the term “villages”, these facilities are in reality heavily militarised, suffer from inadequate facilities, and operate essentially as holding pens surrounded by barbed wire.

The majority of the recent influx of over 40,000 displaced people, are currently housed in one of the 13 transit sites set up by government of Sri-Lanka in Vavuniya District, most of which are converted educational facilities such as schools or colleges. These facilities are seriously overcrowded and there is an immediate need to address the conditions of these sites. One aid worker reports that in one camp, “there can be 600 people living in a large basketball court”. Approximately 8,000 IDPs have been taken to the semi-permanent camp in Menik Farm. In preparation for a further large influx, emergency shelters are also being constructed in another area of Menik Farm. Heavy rain has affected the area around Menik Farm this week and many of the temporary tents are flooding.

Previous research by Amnesty International demonstrates that the government has a poor track record on the protection of the rights of displaced people in government run centers and urgent action is needed to ensure security and protection of basic human rights. Displaced people that have arrived in government territory since the escalation of the conflict in 2008 have been held in centers located at Kalimoddai and Sirukandal (Mannar district) and Menik Farm and Nellumkulam (Vavuniya district). In some camps in Vavuniya and Jaffna the displaced are held in de facto detention, not being allowed to leave the camps. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces have severely restricted the ability of the displaced held in these “welfare villages” and other camps to move freely. In some camps, such restrictions amount to deprivation of liberty and arbitrary detention.

In Mannar, the displaced who have been held in Kalimoddai and Sirukandal camps for almost a year have been allowed out of these camps for education, livelihood and health purposes, but have been required to leave a family member in the camp as a safeguard against them not returning Young single men with no family members to act as their guarantor have not been allowed to leave the camps.

In Vavuniya some of the displaced have been allowed to leave camps to live with host families, or allowed out of the camps for specific purposes. This has been largely limited to the very elderly, those requiring hospital treatment or particularly vulnerable people like mentally or physically disabled individuals. The reported government decision to allow all the displaced over the age of 60 to leave has not been comprehensively implemented. The probable extended nature of existing and planned “welfare villages” and the lengthy confinement of the displaced threaten to undermine the right to voluntary return or resettlement in safety as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist.

The civilian character of these camps is also at risk and military personnel, soldiers or military police, are still a visible presence inside the sites, often reported to be questioning the displaced and, in some cases are still engaged in camp management activities, raising protection concerns arising from continued presence of military inside the sites. If security is needed for the camps it should be provided by the police and they should be located outside the camp perimeters with no role in managing the camp or distributing assistance.

The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (the UN Guiding Principles) reinforce the rights to liberty and security of person and to freedom of movement which are set out in Articles 9 and 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights respectively. The UN Guiding Principles provide that the displaced “shall not be interned in or confined to a camp.” While it is recognized that “exceptional circumstances” may permit the short term confinement of the displaced this must only be for as long as it is ‘absolutely necessary’- it is questionable whether such exceptional circumstances exist in Sri Lanka to warrant the widespread detentions of Tamils displaced.’ Furthermore the Sri Lankan government has made no progress in demonstrating or justifying that “exceptional circumstances” exist.

In order to clarify conditions an independent needs assessment mission must be allowed to visit all the camps. Human rights and international humanitarian law prohibits arbitrary detention. Detention must not be arbitrary, and must be based on grounds and procedures established by law (see article 9 paragraph 1 of ICCPR.) Persons must be informed of the reasons of their detention, and they must be allowed to challenge the legality of their detention before the courts. The UN Guiding Principles on internal displacement recognize the rights of liberty and freedom of movement guaranteed in the ICCPR, and consistently with the above standards, state that: “internally displaced persons have the right to move freely in and out of camps and other settlements” (see Principle 14, paragraph 2.).

In a 2008 report of his mission to Sri Lanka, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (SRSG) underlined the obligation not to subject the displaced to arbitrary periods of unsupervised and restricted confinement. The SRSG stated that; “while the need to address security may be a component of the plan [to receive IDPs], it should be humanitarian and civilian in nature. In particular, IDPs’ freedom of movement must be respected, and IDPs may not be confined to a camp”.

The lack of consistent international supervision (and monitoring) of the transit sites and so-called “welfare villages” run by the government continue to put the displaced at risk of human rights violations by the security forces. There is no standard individual registration process for the displaced coming out of the Wanni. Although UNHCR, the ICRC and some INGOs and NGOs have been granted limited access to these centers for distribution of assistance, there is still lack of adequate protection safeguards, and the displaced are vulnerable to further serious human rights violations such as extra judicial executions, torture, cruel and inhumane treatment (including sexual and gender based violence), and enforced disappearance. Furthermore, safeguards to ensure the right to a family life is preserved has not been implemented, the lack of systematic registration process in place means family members are being separated. Very little progress has been made on establishing procedures for tracing and reunification of separated families, including for unaccompanied and separated children. Lack of privacy for women in the centers is reported to be a problem – in some centers men and women were compelled to sleep together and there is a lack of private bathing places for women.

Amnesty International calls upon the Sri Lankan government to:

- respect and protect the human rights of displaced people, including the rights to freedom of movement, liberty and security of person, right to health, education and to adequate standards of living. All human rights must be guaranteed without discrimination;

- with assistance of the international community, immediately formulate plans and policies that aim to provide long term durable solutions for displaced people. Any decisions affecting displaced people must comply with international human rights standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Displacement, including the right to return home or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country. Displaced people must be given information on their rights and possible relocation options and they must be able to make informed choices about the future;

-ensure that “welfare villages” for displaced people are of a civilian character, and the camp administration must ensure that security and human rights are guaranteed and protected. All IDP settlements, of whatever kind, must be situated at a reasonable distance from areas of conflict, away from military targets and land mines or unexploded ordnance. Camps must be accessible to existing services and infrastructure, including education, medical and social welfare facilities;

- ensure that the right to education and to family reunification are protected for all children, including separated or unaccompanied children. The human rights of all children as recognized in the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Sri Lanka is a party, must be respected and protected and the best interest of the child must inform any decisions affecting children;

- Special protection must be provided in order to ensure that women are protected from gender based discrimination and sexual or other forms of violence and mistreatment both in government run IDP camps and during any future resettlement process.

Government screening of displaced people

Amnesty International recognizes that the Sri Lankan government has legitimate security concerns that armed elements are mixed with displaced populations. In such situations, governments are responsible for ensuring that the displaced are housed in camps that are civilian in nature and that they are protected from armed elements. The Sri Lankan government has a duty to respect and protect the human rights of the displaced from both its own Sri Lankan Armed Forces and members of the LTTE. The government also has a responsibility to bring all persons suspected of crimes under international and national law to justice in trials that meet international standards of fairness.

The government of Sri Lanka must not use the need to screen for LTTE fighters as an excuse to discriminate against large groups of ethnic Tamils and to detain civilians, including entire families, the elderly and children, for indefinite periods of time or hold them in camps with very limited freedom of movement, and in conditions which violate their human rights.

At checkpoints and in transitional and “welfare villages” the government is reported to be screening the civilian population in order to identify suspected LTTE fighters. There is currently no standard registration process for the displaced coming out of the Wanni. Although the government has previously recognized the urgent need to establish a process for displaced people documentation, the current government screening procedures do not conform to international human rights standards.

The SRSG on Internal Displacement, reporting back to the UN Human Rights Council on his mission to Sri Lanka from 14 to 21 December 2007, observed some of the human rights concerns that relate to government screening of the displaced, and used the process in the East of the country as an example:

“often screening was conducted by military in the presence of masked men… confidence in the security forces is undermined by routine disregard of procedures for arrest and detention, including notification of family members of the reasons for and location of the individual’s detention. The fact that women simply do not know where their son or husband is, who he is with, or why he was taken, turns their fear into terror”.

Forced family separations have been reported as part of the screening process. Women who may go through screening procedures are at greater risk of gender based discrimination including verbal harassment, sexual violence including rape and other forms of exploitation and mistreatment.

Previous research by Amnesty International indicates furthermore that those persons who are suspected by the government of being members or supporters of LTTE are at grave risk of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Previous research indicates that human rights violations are perpetrated by the government to punish former LTTE fighters.

The government with the assistance of the international community must:

- Ensure that the screening process is carried out in ways that guarantees the human rights and dignity of all those involved, and allow independent monitoring of the screening process; special attention should be paid to ensuing that women, children, the sick and the elderly are protected during the screening process and guaranteed humane treatment.

-Anyone who is detained on suspicion of involvement with the LTTE must be promptly charged with a recognizable criminal offence and be brought to justice in proceedings that meet international standards for fairness, without recourse of death penalty, or released. While in detention, individuals must not be held incommunicado or in secret or unofficial places of detention where they are vulnerable to extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearance. Detainees must be allowed access to lawyers, families and doctors, and have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

A climate of Fear

Both the government and the LTTE have routinely used harassment, threats, enforced disappearances, violence and killings to silence critical voices and hamper the work of journalists, and domestic and international NGOs over the course of the 25 year conflict in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. The LTTE never brooked dissent and systematically assaulted free expression in the areas under its control, frequently through threatening, and carrying out, violence against critics—in particular, voices within the Tamil community that disagreed with the Tamil Tigers’ often abusive behavior.

Disappointingly, Sri Lanka’s once vibrant civil society, and in particular its media, has faced severe threats to freedom of expression over the past few years in Sri Lanka. There have been increasing instances of physical attacks on the media and other critics, including the recent assassination of the editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunge. Human rights defenders and journalists across the island report increased attacks including death threats. 14 journalists have been killed since 2006 and over 10 journalists have fled the country this year alone for safety. The perpetrators of such human rights violations have never been brought to justice.

These attacks take place against a backdrop of official government statements against critical voices, accusing dissenting journalists or human rights activists of treason or supporting the Tamil Tigers. The government’s frequent vitriolic responses to any criticism only serve to erode its legitimacy on the international arena, but within Sri Lanka, such rhetoric serves to implicitly support, if not actually encourage, physical attacks on government critics.

-The government and the LTTE must publicly condemn all unlawful killings, torture, threats, violence, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearance. Journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs must not be subject to harassment, smear campaigns or intimidation. The government must respect and protect the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association;

-The government must ensure prompt, effective, independent and impartial investigations by competent authority into reports of unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, or of harassment and that the perpetrators are brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty.

Duties of the international donor community

The humanitarian and human rights crisis in Sri Lanka must no longer be allowed to play out beyond scrutiny. The urgent protection needs of the population can only be met if there is immediate independent supervision and technical assistance in northern Sri Lanka. There is an immediate urgent need to provide independent verification of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Wanni and in government run “welfare villages.” The Sri Lankan government has recently approached individual donors as well as international financial institutions for financial, material, and technical assistance. Most significantly, the Sri Lankan government has approached the International Monetary Fund for a US$1.9 billion short-term loan to offset the government’s heavy expenditures on its war effort and the country’s general economic problems. The attempt to secure an IMF loan highlights the government’s precarious economic situation, as a number of donor states have cut or reduced assistance to Sri Lanka as a result of the country’s poor human rights record.

A number of donor states have already expressed their concern at the situation in Sri Lanka For example, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid has condemned the escalating humanitarian catastrophe in Sri Lanka. The United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation, a government funding agency, cut nearly $600 million in funding in 2007 as a result of the serious deterioration in the country’s security and human rights situation, while in the same year the US Senate imposed a ban on military assistance to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s dire human rights record has also prompted the European Commission to question whether it should extend preferences for Sri Lankan exporters under its Generalized System of Preferences for developing countries (GSP+).

A number of countries raised issues of civilian protection in Sri Lanka during the Human Rights Council session in March 2009 including Japan, a significant donor to Sri Lanka who noted “the serious damages and casualties surrounding internally displaced persons and other civilians in the north of the country”. On a visit to Washington in March 2009, Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon highlighted India’s concern with civilian protection in Sri Lanka.

Although the primary obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights of people in Sri Lanka lies with the country’s government, Amnesty International believes that those governments that provide international assistance should ensure that the assistance is used in a manner consistent with human rights. This includes the obligation under international human rights law for donor states acting abroad to contribute to, or support, and not to undermine, the development of an environment that ensures the protection of human rights. States should assess the likely human rights impact of their international assistance and to monitor the actual impact.

The Sri Lankan government has turned to the international community to provide the financial and technical assistance necessary to provide short term responses to the displacement crisis in the Wanni, and will surely require greater international assistance to address the massive problems of the areas recently taken over from the Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan government’s attitude so far has been to seek international assistance while rejecting international standards or scrutiny. In September 2006 the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donor Conference (Norway, the European Union, the USA and Japan) urged “guarantees for the safety of NGO workers and for ensuring access for NGOs and international organizations to help citizens and communities in need of essential humanitarian assistance and valuable reconstruction and development work”. . There has been little progress in these areas and the donor community should act immediately to avert further humanitarian and human rights crisis in the Wanni.

The Sri Lankan government has also tried to avoid any scrutiny by the United Nations, even as the cost of the campaign in terms of damage to civilians rises daily. The government of Sri Lanka has correctly pointed out that the LTTE have a long record of gross human rights abuses, and have tried to use the LTTE’s poor record to avoid opprobrium. Amnesty International welcomes the strong public statements from various United Nations organs, including the Secretary General and the 13 March statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the grave human rights situation in Sri Lanka. It is now time for the United Nations to act more vigorously to resolve the humanitarian catastrophe in the Wanni and to prevent the creation of a long-term crisis of displacement for those who have survived the fighting in eastern and northern Sri Lanka.

-Donor governments should offer technical assistance to Sri Lanka to assist in the protection of displaced populations. They should ensure that the assistance they provide is used in a manner consistent with human rights and they should set clear benchmarks to monitor the impact of their assistance on displaced people;

-The Human Rights Council should act on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka without delay. It should also urge the government of Sri Lanka to authorize the establishment of an international human rights monitoring presence without further delay to monitor and publicly report on the human rights situation of displaced people;

- The Security Council must request regular briefings on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The Council must call for an immediate humanitarian truce, emphasize the need for all parties to fully observe their obligations under international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, stress the need to bring to justice those responsible for violations thereof and must keep the situation in Sri Lanka under constant review;

-All international and national humanitarian and human rights workers must be protected from attack and harassment and have full access to all IDP camps and government screening procedures. These workers must be guaranteed full freedom of movement and the power to seek and receive information from any source and to report its findings to the government and the UN.

End Notes

The Vanni is an area encompassing the two districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu and parts of Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya districts in the north. It is difficult to gain accurate statistical information as much of the population is constantly on the move and due to the lack of independently verified information. Civilians have been trapped since the intensification of hostilities from July 2008 as the offensive pushed people eastwards as they fled aerial bombardment.

‘SRI LANKA: Clinton raises security fears for IDPs in north’, IRIN news, 26 March 2009, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=83490.

http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/srilanka_hpsl/Files/Media%20Centre/Press%20Releases%20And%20Statements/LKP0111_UN%20Sri%20Lanka%20Statement_2009FEB16.pdf.

'Serious violations of international law committed in Sri Lanka conflict: UN human rights chief’, Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 13 March 2009, Geneva.

‘Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman on the situation in Sri Lanka’, Unicef Press Release 17 March 2009, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/media_48749.html.

‘CARE aid worker killed in conflict’, Care International, 18 March 2009, http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/SODA-7Q9L2A?OpenDocument&rc=3&cc=lka.
Sri Lanka – ICRC Bulletin No: 02/2009, 17 March 2009.

‘Amnesty International, Sri Lanka: Silencing Dissent’, (Index: ASA 37/001/2008), 7 February 2008. On 11 March 2009 the Indian government sent a 52 member team to help with medical aid and the treatment of the displaced coming from the war zones in Wanni, 24 March, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/India-may-expand-hospital-facility-in-Lanka-war-zone/articleshow/4309797.cms.

Both parties to the conflict are bound by Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions and applicable principles of customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflicts. International humanitarian law includes rules protecting civilians and other non combatants, as well as rules regulating the means and methods of warfare.

See ‘Civilians Trapped by Armed Conflict’, Amnesty International Web Feature, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/civilians-trapped-sri-lanka-conflict-20090128.

The forcible displacement of civilians is prohibited under customary international law. See, Rule 129 (b), ICRC Rules. It is also a war crime under Article 8(2)(e)(viii), ICC Statute. See: also Principles 6(1) and 6(2)(b) of the UN Guiding Principle on Internal Displacement (hereafter UN Guiding Principles). The prohibition of hostage taking is set out in Common Article 3 (1)(b) to the Geneva Conventions and Rule 96, ICRC Rules. On human shields see Rule 97, ICRC Rules.

The United Nations Country Team in Sri Lanka statement on 16 February 2009 reports that a growing number of people trying to leave the Wanni, have been shot at, and sometimes killed by the LTTE, http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/JBRN-7PBHEJ.

Article 8(2)(e)(i)ICC Statute and Rule 1, ICRC Rules.

Under customary international law parties to a conflict must avoid, to the extent feasible, locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas. See: Rule 23, ICRC Rules.

Under customary international law parties to a conflict must, to the extent feasible, remove civilian persons and objects under its control from the vicinity of military objectives. See: Rule 24, ICRC Rules.

Rule 95, ICRC Rules prohibits uncompensated or forced labour. See also: Article 8(2)(e)(vii) ICC Statute, Rule 137, ICRC Rules, Principle 13(1) UN Guiding Principles.

See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I: Rules; Rules 1 and 7 (hereinafter “ICRC Rules”) and Articles 8(2)(e)(i) of the Rome Statute.

See ICRC Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume 1: Rules (hereafter ICRC Rules),
Rules 11, 12 and 13.

Article 8(2)(e)(iv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Rules 7 and 25 of ICRC Rules.

An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representative said of the attack: “At least nine people were killed and at least 20 others injured as a result of the first three shellings. The hospital sustained direct hits three times in less than eight hours: twice between 3 and 4 p.m. local time, then again at 10.20 p.m. local time. On Monday evening at 6.40 p.m., the hospital was hit a fourth time. On Sunday the hospital's kitchen was hit first, then its church and later a ward with women and children. On Monday it was another ward. It is likely that there were casualties outside the hospital, too, but we do not have the exact figures yet. Despite the shelling, people injured in the ongoing fighting continue to arrive at the hospital. When it was hit the third time, more than 800 people, including 500 in-patients, were sheltering in the hospital. See, Sri Lanka: Vanni hospital shelled”, http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/sri-lanka-news-0102.k.

Letter from the RDHS Mullaitivu & RDHS Kilinochchi,Dr. Varatharajah and Dr. Sathiyamoorthy, 16 March 2009. Amnesty International, ‘Civilians trapped by Sri Lanka conflict’, 28 January 2009, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/civilians-trapped-sri-lanka-conflict-20090128. Rule 55, ICRC Rules. Article 7 (2)(b)of the ICC statute sets out that for the purpose of demonstrating crimes against humanity (which are widespread and systematic in nature), “extermination” includes the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia, the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population”.

Sri Lanka: 250,000 Civilians Trapped in Intense Fighting MSF Denied Access to Assist Victims in War Zone , 28 January 2008, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=3372&cat=field-news.

Amnesty International, Call for a Truce in Sri Lanka as the Humanitarian Situation Deteriorates, 6 February 2008, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/call-for-truce-sri-lanka-humanitarian-situation-deteriorates-20090206

Principle 1, UN Guiding Principles. International human rights law continues to apply in Sri Lanka alongside international humanitarian law.

Sri Lanka is also a party to Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, CERD, CAT, CMW and CEDAW The government has a legal obligation to ensure that all people in its territory or under its jurisdiction, including the displaced, benefit from the protection of these treaties.

As of 16 February 2009, official figures indicate 37,420 people have crossed from LTTE held territory into government-controlled areas in 2009, with nearly 35,000 people crossing over in the first 16 days of February 2009.

Amnesty International Report, ‘Sri Lanka: Waiting to go home - the plight of the internally displaced’, (Index: ASA 37/004/2006), 28 June 2006. Common Article 3(1)(b).

‘Barbed wire villages raise fears of refugee concentration camps’, Jeremy Page interviewing Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights, The Times, 13 February 2009, http://www.nowpublic.com/world/sri-lankas-refugee-concentration-camps.

See John Holmes statement to the UNSC. Rule 132, ICRC Rules; Displacement should last no longer that required by the circumstances, Principle 6(3), UN Guiding Principles.

The UN Guiding Principles provide an internationally recognised framework for the protection of IDPs and they provide guidance for states as to how they can ensure the protection of binding international human rights and humanitarian law within the context of internal displacement. Principle 12(2), UN Guiding Principles. See, also Annotations to the Guiding Principles, (2008), pp. 58-61.

See: Report of the secretary-general on human rights on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Mission to Sri Lanka, UN Doc. A/HRC/8/6/Add.4, 21 May 2008. Centre for Policy Alternatives, ‘Report of the situation of IDPs leaving the Vanni’, forthcoming, February 2009. 2006-2008 have been characterized by impunity for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Soaring human rights abuses included hundreds of enforced disappearances, unlawful killings of humanitarian workers, arbitrary arrests and torture. See Amnesty International

Annual Report on Sri Lanka 2007, http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Regions/Asia-Pacific/Sri-Lanka. Rule 131, ICRC Rules. Principle 18(2), UN Guiding Principles. The UN ICESCR to which Sri Lanka is a party also protects human rights such as the right to food, to health, and to an adequate standard of life.

Perera. R, Dr & Fernando M. 2009, Draft report of the first phase of consultations in the development of a national action plan of action for the promotion and protection of human rights, Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Sri Lanka.

A/HRC/8/6/Add.4, 21 May 2008, Point 41. Urgent Action for Krishanthy Kumarasamy (f), aged 18, student,"Disappearances", 20 September 1996, UA 222/96. There are reports that some of the displaced, particularly young men, are screened on more than one occasion often at different locations.

‘Army Commander calls journalists traitors’, http://freemediasrilanka.wordpress.com/2008/01/04/army-commander-calls-journalists-traitors/.

Brussels, 29 January 2009, Press statement, Louis Michel condemns the escalating humanitarian catastrophe in Sri Lanka and calls for life to be respected, http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do reference=IP/09/189&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en.

Congressional notification of the suspension of MCC funds to Sri Lanka.http://www.mcc.gov/documents/cn-121307-eligiblecountries.pdf

The EU provides Sri Lanka with a range of support. On trade, Sri Lanka benefits from GSP+, giving the country duty free access to the EU which is the world’s largest single market. The GSP+ (General System of Preferences for LDCs, is a special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance and covers 14 countries and has been in place in Sri Lanka since 2005. The EU-Commission (COM) initiated an investigation with respect to the effective implementation of certain human rights conventions in Sri Lanka to decide whether to temporarily withdraw the preferential arrangement. The Government of Sri Lanka applied to join the new scheme in October 2008. COM is now investigating Sri Lanka’s adherence to key treaties (Convention Against Torture (CAT), ICPPR).

Oral Presentation during Article 4 at the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 16 March 2009, Shinichi Kitajima (Japan).

Statement by the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donor Conference on Reconstruction & Development of Sri Lanka, 12 September 2006, http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/srilanka/catalogue/Files/Media%20Centre/Press%20Centre/PR75_Co-Chairs%20of%20the%20Tokyo%20Donor%20Conference.pdf

United Nations Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/srilanka_hpsl/Files/Media%20Centre/Press%20Releases%20And%20Statements/LKP0122_Pressrelease06032009.pdf

Serious violations of international law committed in Sri Lanka conflict: UN human rights chief’, Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 13 March 2009.

World Tamils Forum Conference in London Reaffirms Tamils’ Aspirations

British Tamils Forum, assisted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T), hosted an international conference, titled "World Tamils Forum", on Thursday, 26 March 2009 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in London.

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[Rev Jesse Jackson at the "World Tamils Forum"]

Tamil academics, professionals and Tamil Youth from 22 countries attended the conference, at which Rev Jesse Jackson from the USA was the key-note speaker. The 45 delegates gathered over two days to discuss and draw up a declaration addressing the humanitarian tragedy facing Tamils in Sri Lanka, exposing the Genocidal War, reinforcing the need for a political process and the role that international actors would need to play.

The Former Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister's Special Envoy to Sri Lanka Rt. Hon. Des Browne, Former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) Member Mr Mike Griffiths, Entertainer and Charity Worker Sir Jimmy Savile, Members of Parliament from the UK and Sri Lanka, Dignitaries and Civil Servants also attended the conference.

All non-Tamil speakers at the conference commented that the Tamil Diaspora by grouping up in one place have demonstrated their formidable strength and the significance of the democratic approach to concluding their aspirations. They also commented that what is happening in Sri Lanka for the Tamils is unique and unacceptable. Unlike in the case of Darfur or even Gaza, the Sri Lankan Government expelled humanitarian agencies and international media long before the war intensified paving the way for a Genocidal war without witnesses.

Prime Minster’s Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, Rt. Hon. Des Browne, in his address highlighted that the often quoted figure of 70,000 killed is a gross underestimation of the lives that have been lost as a result of war in Sri Lanka. He further highlighted that the pressing need is the humanitarian crisis facing Tamil civilians remaining in the conflict zone. During his speech, Mr Browne acknowledged that the largest number of casualties continues to be in the government declared safety zone and strongly condemned these acts of violence.

He conveyed that the UK government was doing everything it could to bring about a ceasefire ever since Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for it in the Parliament. In reference to his appointment as UK’s special envoy to Sri Lanka, Des Browne explained that the intention of the appointment was to focus on alleviating the humanitarian crisis and facilitating a permanent solution. He expressed grave disappointment at the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to reject his appointment and reiterated that all parties to the conflict would need to be included in any peace settlement.

He further said that unlike what the Government of Sri Lanka said after his appointment was announced, the British Government did consult the President of Sri Lanka and only announced after it was mutually agreed. “It is difficult for us to understand why they did this” He stressed that the idea of his appointment is to bring to bear his previous experience in the conflict in Northern Ireland. He also stressed that it is not the British Government’s wish to enforce any solutions to the problem however he said that the parties to the conflict should resolve. Mr Browne emphasised that the conflict cannot be solved by military means and drew parallels to the Northern Ireland experience.

He said that he has been engaged with the US State Department, Norway and Japan. Indiahe said needs to play a major role as the super power of the region. He further said that “today’s meeting is significant” and that he will be reaching out to the Diaspora and the media. At the end of his speech he said that “the nature of my job as a special envoy means that I must be neutral, so I will not answer all comments”.

In his keynote speech, Rev Jesse Jackson emphasised his strong commitment to establishing a ceasefire in Sri Lanka and the need for there to be dialogue between Tamils and the Sri Lankan Government to establish a permanent solution.

The world renowned Rights Activist highlighted the urgency in increasing international awareness of the crisis and expressed his support for upholding international law, human rights, economic development assistance and the right to self determination.

Rev Jackson stressed that he does not believe that violence is the way forward in any situation. He drew parallels between the freedom struggle of the African Americans in the United States of America and the Tamils of Sri Lanka. He asked everyone to see beyond the current circumstances and difficulties and have a vision of how things should be in the future; “Everyone must have hope and believe peace and justice is possible. Hope matters a lot.”

Rev Jackson said that the international community has a moral obligation to act to stop the killing of innocent civilians. He stressed the importance of co-existence against co-inhalation. Rev Jackson received the same standing ovation upon his exit, as he did when he entered into the conference room.

Other speakers included Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, who also answered many questions from the delegates. He suggested that the Westminster-style model was not suitable to the Sri Lankan circumstances where there is a long standing history of the majority suppressing the Tamil ethnic minority.

Mike Griffiths recognised Tamils’ right to self determination and Sir Jimmy Savile expressed his support to the British Tamil community. APPG-T Parliamentarians Siobhain McDonagh MP, Keith Vaz MP and Simon Hughes MP, also addressed the conference supporting the Tamils right to self determination and supported the holding of a referendum. They all stressed the need for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and for immediate relief efforts to be made by the international community.

At the conclusion the Tamil delegates passed a resolution by show of hands unanimously.

The text of the resolution is as follows:

We, the 45 delegates from 22 countries at the Conference of World Tamils, having met and deliberated in London on the 25th and 26th day of March 2009:

• Are severely shocked and deeply concerned by the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in the Vanni and lack of any substantive reaction by the international community;

• Recognise that the Sri Lankan state is engaged in a genocide of the Tamil people of the island;

• Recognise that the Tamil people have the inalienable right to determine their own destiny;

• Recognise that the Tamil people have mandated the establishment of a free, sovereign state of Tamil Eelam as the only enduring solution;

• Recognise that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are the authentic representatives of the Tamil people;

And hereby we resolve that; 1. All killings and attacks of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan state must cease immediately;

2. Unimpeded humanitarian assistance to those in need in the Vanni must be allowed;

3. The United Nations, International Non-Governmental Organisations, and the ICRC must have unfettered humanitarian access to the Tamil population and be permitted to re-establish a permanent presence in the Vanni;

4. There must be an immediate ceasefire; and

5. Negotiations for a political solution to the conflict must begin immediately after

(This is a Press Release issued by The British Tamils Forum)

What is required urgently is humanitarian assistance to suffering people and an end to war

Letter to Senator John Kerry: by P.Shanthikumar

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[John Kerry, a director of the Vietnam Veterans against the War, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations committee April 22, 1971-pic:boston.com]

Senator John Kerry
Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, D.C

26th March, 2009

Dear Senator Kerry

First and foremost many thanks for taking the trouble to hold a hearing on the genocidal war waged against Tamils in the Tamil homeland of Sri Lanka. Your interest in the plight of Tamils is gratefully acknowledged.

However, despite international community’s severe and repeated admonitions to the Sri Lankan government the massacres of Tamil civilians in the safe zone continue unabated. Every day on average over 50 civilians, including women and children, are being slaughtered by the marauding Sinhala Army. As I write this comment today, already 131 civilians, including 32 children, have been killed in the safe zone. This is not an untypical scenario in the safe zone these days.

Schools, hospitals and places of worship too have been bombed and destroyed, in the Vanni. People are dying of starvation. There is no food, water and medicine reaching those hapless people, for months. Sanitation is non-existent. The government is using food and medicine as a weapon of war, against Tamil civilians. There have been deaths owing to starvation in the safe zone. Lack of sanitation also presents a breeding ground for all kinds of epidemics such as dysentery, cholera, hepatitis, viral fevers, to mention but a few.

The Sinhala Political Establishment has always had genocidal intent against Tamils at its heart. It is not only JR Jayawardene who is guilty of it when he unleashed his premeditated pogrom against Tamils in July 1983. The genocide he and his senior colleagues in government unleashed is the culmination of years of genocidal thinking. Ever since 1983 it has become easier for the Sinhala Political Establishment to vent their genocidal urge in a civil war.

The relentless vilification of Tamils by the Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist fraternity has led to the belief even by ordinary Sinhala masses that Tamils do not belong to the island – Tamils belong to Tamil Nadu and not to Sri Lanka is what the Sinhalese are made to believe.

This belief has resulted in steadily intensifying persecution of Tamils, from colonising their homeland with Sinhala ex-convicts and ex-servicemen to denial of education and employment opportunities to Tamil youth, not to mention the devastation wrought by the Sinhala Only Act of 1956, which continued to widen the gulf between Tamils and Sinhalese ever since.

It is this presumptuous belief that Tamils are second class citizens and that they don’t belong this island that led to successive Sinhala governments ordering the Sinhala Army to invade Tamil homelands without any hesitation or compunction whatsoever, to prosecute a brutal war.

For over quarter of a century now successive Sri Lankan governments have continued to hoodwink the international community with the promise of rapprochement with the Tamils, when the real intention is to buy time to kill as many Tamils as possible with the funding, military and diplomatic assistance of the international community. The misplaced belief by the international community that Sri Lankan sovereignty is being threatened by a bunch of Tamil terrorists followed by the West’s war on terror have all connived so far to undermine the Tamil Liberation Struggle for self-determination, for the last quarter of a century.

Prior to that, all peaceful efforts by Tamil politicians have been met with violence on the part of the government. This state of affairs has eventually led to the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976 by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) to escalate the Struggle to demand separate state of Tamil Eelam! This declaration was based on the historical fact that it was the British colonial government in Sri Lanka that unified two different nations of Sinhalese and Tamils under one government for administrative convenience in 1831.Not only that, the British failed to develop the Tamil homeland economically which left the Tamils economically dependent on Sinhala south.

Standing in the 1977 Parliamentary elections on a separate state platform the TULF won a resounding mandate to demand secession, from the Sinhala Sri Lankan state.

It is also during the declaration of Vaddukoddai Resolution that the leader of TULF, S.J.V Chelvanayagam, further declared that no solution to the Tamil National Question could be found within the legal and constitutional framework of Sri Lanka. And, thus effectively blessing an armed uprising by Tamil militants against the fascist state of Sri Lanka. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is quite clear that the Sinhala Sri Lankan state is pouring out every drop of its poisonous genocidal venom against Tamils. Tamils in safe zone are worst affected as they are concentrated in a small area.

Hence, there is only one source of terrorism in Sri Lanka, which is the state terrorism – which again is the mother-of-all terrorisms! No less a person than former Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Howard Debenham would support my contention:

Little hope of an enduring end to Sinhalese victimisation of Sri Lanka's Tamils ~ by Howard Debenham

As far as I can tell, the LTTE works with two clear goals in mind: the first is to free the Tamil people from the oppression of fascist, genocidal, terrorist state of Sri Lanka; second of course is the upliftment of Tamils as a independent nation.

Sir, what is urgently required is the end to war and humanitarian assistance to reach those people who are starved, deprived of medicine, sanitation, and to cap it all are massacred in large numbers by relentless bombing and shelling by the fascist Sinhala Army.

What business does the fascist Sinhala Army have in Tamil homeland? When are the fascist Sinhala government going to demilitarize Tamil homeland?

But, first I urge you kindly to canvass opinion amongst the international community to put an end to this unending war and provide humanitarian assistance to those Tamil people who have been repeatedly displaced and have suffered untold hardships for over two decades or more, as a matter of urgency.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank: Secretary Hilary Clinton for having a strong word with President Rajapakse on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of suffering Tamils; Senator Richard Lugar for taking interest in the welfare of Tamils; Ambassador Richard Boucher for insisting that there is such a thing as a Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka and that the Tamils have an inalienable right to self-determination, when the Sinhala racists denied its existence whilst their Tamil sycophants looked on; Dr Susan Rice for endeavouring to have a Security Council debate on Sri Lanka to highlight carnage unleashed on Tamils by the genocidal Colombo Sinhala government to the world; many of your fellow Senators and Congressmen who have shown consistent support over the years to end the war and negotiate a peaceful settlement; and above all President Obama, despite busy schedule of work moving so quickly and so early on in his presidency to address the issue of Sri Lanka.

God bless America!

Yours sincerely

P Shantikumar
London

Senior Economist Says Credibility of Central Bank is Eroded

By Namini Wijedasa

A senior economist has warned that the Central Bank’s reactive, defensive and combative role in “talking up the economy” has eroded the credibility of the institution.

In a presentation at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC last week, Muttukrishna Sarvananthan maintained that the “permissive culture of denial and falsehood by the Central Bank” was a “moral hazard”. For instance, whenever institutions like Standard & Poor’s or Fitch revised the country’s credit ratings downwardly, the regulator immediately issued a press release disputing their assessments.

CBGOVTC0327.jpg

[Governor Nivard Cabraal-pic: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg News]

“No IMF bailout” - Central Bank

Sarvananthan cited other examples of the Central Bank’s “culture of denial”. On 19 January 2009, the regulator issued a press release refuting reports that Sri Lanka will have to seek an IMF bailout package. In it, the regulator shot down claims by economists that the current reserves position was similar to that which prevailed during the controlled economy in 1976. The statement claims that current levels of gross official reserves were well above those that prevailed before 1977 and even above levels at the end of 2004.

Revealing four steps that had been taken to increase reserves, the statement adds significantly that: “The Central Bank is confident that above measures will help build up official reserves to a substantial level and therefore the claims made by certain persons that there would be a significant devaluation or that Sri Lanka will soon apply for an IMF bailout are erroneous and misleading”.

But on 4 March 2009 — six short weeks later — the Central Bank issued another press release confessing that Sri Lanka had started negotiations with IMF for a standby loan of US$ 1,900 million.

Even this communiqu‚ is misleading, Sarvananthan states. “The Central Bank attempts to justify seeking an unprecedented huge quantum of external assistance saying they need money for urgent ‘...resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the Northern province, and the continued rapid development of the Eastern Province’,” he asserts. “The fact is, any financial assistance from the IMF does not enter the national budget and, therefore, cannot be used for the said purposes.”

“This is yet another attempt by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to mislead the general public,” he continued. “Such falsehoods have been the norm of the Central Bank in recent years.” The regulator issued sovereign bonds worth US$ 500 million in October 2007, claiming the government would use this to finance infrastructure projects in the South. The government later publicly admitted that a bulk of that money was used to retire their short-term borrowings. Commenting on declining foreign reserves, Sarvananthan says there has been a galloping trade deficit of almost US$ 6 billion at the end of 2008. Foreign exchange reserves have been drained mainly due to oil and food price increases in the international markets during the first quarters of 2008. He also blames Central Bank interventions in the foreign exchange market to prop up the rupee, forestalling depreciation. The government has withdrawn foreign investments in government securities and other short-term portfolio investments since October 2008.

Meanwhile, garments exports have been declining since last quarter of 2008 as a consequence of recessions in two major export markets — the US and UK. There has been a dramatic drop in tea prices since the last quarter of 2008, from US$ 3 per kilogram to less than US$ 2 per kilogram.

Sarvananthan says that domestic sector fragility remains. Not only have economic reforms been stalled, there has been a rolling back of reforms undertaken by previous regimes — for example, a re-nationalisation of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), SriLankan Airlines and the Thulhiriya Textiles Mills. There has been wasteful expenditure on projects like Mihin Lanka and the Weerawila international airport; on efforts like the resurrection of the bankrupt Pramuka Bank into a state-owned savings bank; and on things like the jumbo cabinet and the fertiliser subsidy. On the positive side, however, state subsidies on wheat and fuel were removed in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

The privatization or reform of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Department of Railways, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Sri Lanka Transport Board are long overdue, Sarvananthan emphasizes. (A bill to restructure the CEB was recently passed in parliament but the details are yet to be fully explained to the public). But Sarvananthan appreciates that work on the Norochcholai coal power plant — put off by successive governments since 1979 — is underway.

Separately, there has been a resurgence of economic nationalism after 30 years of liberalization and reform. For instance, on 17 March 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said: “We will not pawn or sell our motherland to obtain monetary aid....Neither will we bow down to any conditions or transform our land to a colony....” He was referring to ongoing negotiations for standby credit with the IMF. In spite of economic fragilities, vulnerabilities and turbulence, however, “there has been hardly any public unrest due to unrelenting battlefield successes resulting in feel-goodness,” Sarvananthan says. This was demonstrated through resounding victories in five consecutive provincial council elections between May 2008 and February 2009, he notes, calling this the “political war dividend”.

“Thus, psychological feel-goodness has triumphed over economic rationalism and prudence among the politicians, policy makers and, above all, the masses, including businesses,” the economist observes. Consequently, he predicts, the current economic turbulence is unlikely to develop into the type of economic crisis experienced in 2001.

Sarvananthan emphasizes there are challenges as well as opportunities in the political war dividend. “After all,” he asserts, “Sri Lanka is not under a military dictatorship as in Sudan, or Pakistan (until recently) nor is it Zimbabwe”. He stresses that national policy makers should use growing popular support to the government to inculcate “economic rationalism or economic prudence”. He encourages the government to undertake long overdue economic restructuring and reform.

“This is a golden opportunity that should not be missed,” he concludes. “It is up to the politicians, their advisers and policy makers to make the strategic choice.

Policy advice is free, but policy choice is pricey

Sri Lanka has sought IMF funds only five times since 1983. Three of these loans were solicited in times of great economic distress: in 1991; in April 2001 when standby credit of US$ 253 million and an additional US$ 250 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) was approved; and in March 2009, when Sri Lanka has sought IMF assistance to the tune of US$ 1.9 billion.

According to the Central Bank’s own figures, the money sought by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government is 300 per cent of Sri Lanka’s current IMF quota. It is largest loan ever to be solicited from the IMF by Sri Lanka. Negotiations are ongoing and expected to be concluded by the end of March.

The other times Sri Lanka requested IMF funds were in 1987 and 2003, when the economy was performing relatively better. The IMF was shown the door in 2006 after the installation of Ajith Nivard Cabraal as governor.
[courtesy: LakbimaNews]

The Referral system in Test Cricket

by Michael Roberts

Hasty Disapproval

For years cricket has been beset with poor umpiring decisions. Some of these decisions have impacted on the course of a game and swung the outcome in favour of one side. In the past decade or so the evidence of new technologies has revealed such flaws in all their nakedness. Despite such evidence some cricketers continued to bury their head in the sand and claim that poor decisions in their favour evened out. This was arrant nonsense because the balancing out did not necessarily occur within the same match.

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[Sri Lankan batsman Thilan Samaraweera, center, plays a shot as Pakistani fielders looks on during their second cricket test match at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan on March 1, 2009-pic: AP]

In this context the Referral System was introduced on a trial basis by the ICC for good reasons, reasons that I will specify in detail in the second part of my essay. The trial referral scheme, alas, has generated a series of knee-jerk reactions of distaste from a range of voices. The negativity is absolutely mind-boggling. Among the voices are a number of captains directed by the immediate circumstance of this or that decision or the weight of referrals going against their team. Kumble in Sri Lanka in 2008 as well as Vettori and Gayle in New Zealand in 2009 are examples of such a response.

There are also the usual suspects from within the die-hard conservative order. Some are from the umpiring fraternity defending the regime of on-field umpires. Daryl Hair, predictably, is one such voice, with Malcom Conn, equally predictably, serving as sidekick trumpet (Australian, March 2009).

What I find most disappointing is the critical interpretations served out by normally insightful commentators, such as Sambit Bal and Tony Cozier. Cozier’s reaction appears to be prompted by some terrible interventions by the third umpire during the ongoing West Indies-England series. But the third umpire at several such moments was Daryl Harper who has an unenviable record of terrible or poor decisions as on-field umpire (with Murali and Sri Lanka at the sharp end of some of these not-outs) – confirming that any monitoring system is only as good as its personnel. I have not seen the TV versions of these contentious decisions of referral so I cannot comment further.

However, I was present through most of the India-Sri Lanka Test Series in July August 2008 from the same vantage point in the press box as Sambit Bal and my verdict is diametrically opposed to his: in my view the referral scheme is among the best recent innovations in cricket. This is not because Sri Lanka was favoured by the weight of such referrals. That weightage, after all, arose in part because in Ajantha Mendis they have a bowler who bowls wicket to wicket and in part because the Sri Lankans used the scheme judiciously.

There was reason for my verdict. Some fair decisions were reached with the aid of the Referral System on occasions when it would have been impossible for the on-field umpire to have reached a conclusive verdict. A case in point was Tendulkar being given out caught – quite brilliantly by Dilshan at leg-slip – at the SSC ground after the ball went pad to glove and curled back over Dilshan’s shoulder. From the vantage of press box above and behind the wicket I immediately thought it was out. It would have been virtually impossible for the main umpire to discern the series of effects. He rightly denied the call. The fielders knew that it was a definite catch and called the referrals into play. Replays enabled the third umpire to communicate with the on-field umpire and restore justice.

This sort of restitution of fair decision, whether in favour of the batsman, or, alternatively, the fielding side, will occur in other games. My impression is that it has happened fairly often during the trial of the Referral System though I have not kept count. It is vital that batsmen given out caught behind off a nick on shirt or hip should be permitted to bat on through corrections with the aid of referrals. Likewise, especially with hot-spot now added to the review scheme, referrals enable a fine-tuned assessment of nicks, off pad, or non-nicks, to close-in fielders; or lbw decisions where there is a suspicion of a prior edge off bat.

Two recent incidents during the Third Test between Australia and South Africa provide strong evidence in support of the Referral System. The left-hander Hughes was given out lbw by Bucknor to the left-hander Harris’s break moving in. The decision was not challenged, but the TV commentators adjudicated that a referral would have led to a reversal because the point of contact was not quite between wicket and wicket. Two days later, on 21 March, Bucknor gave Harris out to Katich’s googly breaking from off and clearly heading for the stumps. Harris challenged the verdict through a referral and was reprieved.

These were replica cases within the same match. They underline the value of the Referral System. In neither instance was Bucknor’s initial verdict a poor decision.

That is, his erroneous verdict was an understandable line-ball call, a Category C error as distinct from Category B, viz., Poor Decision and Category A, Horrendous Decision. In no way was the reversal in Harris’s case an indictment of on-field umpires. Rather Bucknor should be pleased that he was able to participate in reversing an understandable line-ball error.

The different types of line-ball decisions are the realms where controversy has developed. One strand of criticism leveled at the referral scheme concentrates on line-ball lbw decisions dependent on verdicts as to whether the ball pitched on the imaginary lines between wicket and wicket on the leg-side. The referral that saved Michael Hussey in South Africa recently is one such example. As part of a general argument about lack of consistency, Justin Langer argues against this reversing act.

“Replays showed it pitched about a quarter of a centimetre outside leg stump. It looked plumb but was shown to just a smudge outside the line. If you can’t give that out, you can’t give anything.” (Australian, March 2009).

This verdict moves from one specific type of case that has promoted malcontent voices to a generalization about all referrals. Note that Langer’s strident voice ends with a gross exaggeration – marked here in bold letters. There are many lbws, occasionally even those challenged by a batsman’s referral, where it is shown conclusively that the ball pitched within the mat, so, here, Langer is spitting s..t. It is important to stress in counterpoint that there are some reversals of Category C or Category B decisions because the slow-motion replay with aid of photographic mat has revealed that the ball pitched outside the mat.

Those are the lucid cases of re-evaluation of decisions. The controversial arena is where the review shows that the ball is partly in and partly out. That is, the problem arises because the technology is so precise, indeed, very, very precise [in contrast to seeming bump-ball catches where the camera actually obscures clarity]. Surely, then, the answer is for the ICC to consult a body of umpires and then to proceed towards a ruling: say, where over 50 percent of the ball is on the edge or, alternatively, where it is even a smidgeon on the mat, then, the batsman is deemed out.

In brief, we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is evident that the detractors are demanding hundred per cent accuracy in the Referral System and deeming it flawed because such a rate has not been secured. But we should be pleased that the scheme has improved the status quo and done so quite measurably. That is why I regard the litany of complaints to be quite extraordinary.

In fine-tuning the system of referrals, then, what the cricketing world needs to have now is (1) a statistical table of the various categories of referrals that have been made, reversed and confirmed; and (2) an accompanying video series that assembles all the cases in a series of types so that a proper evaluation can be made of each type.

This review should also mark out errors in a scale of categories. The classificatory marking scheme that I advocate would have three scales: Category A would indicate a horrendous umpiring blunder; examples would be Bucknor deeming Symonds not out when he nicked the ball in such manifest fashion at Sydney against India; or Koertzen giving Sangakkara out in his 190s at Bellerive during the Second Test vs Australia. Category B would be “poor decisions” of a less obvious character; and Category C would be line-ball decisions of an understandable character such as those outlined above (Bucknor in South Africa and Tendulkar not out at the SSC).

Gross Problems within the Previous Dispensation
The hyper-critical commentary directed against the ICC’s Referral System of umpiring adjudication has been typically one-eyed. It focuses on specific instances and then condemns the whole system. Worse still it argues its case without any reference to the pre-existing scheme of things and its many shortcomings. Calls for the rejection of the Referral System would mean a return to the bad old order.

Before challenging some of the criticisms hurled at the Referral System, therefore, let me set out the weakness in the previous regime of decision-making that was dominated, for the most part, by the two on-field umpires. I attend to this in point-form for ease of cross-reference.

A. In the previous era it was feasible for teams to intimidate the umpires by a chorus of voices or a whole process of questioning of decisions (the latter an art-form perfected by Shane Warne). The pressure of voices was sometimes orchestrated by dint of constant practice gained at lower levels of the game and even perhaps instilled by coaches. This is a form or professional one-upmanship that can be quite cynical. In any event those nourished in these fine-tuned dramatic performances and those who have eleven players well-versed in English-speak are at a distinct advantage in securing advantageous decisions from umpires over the course of a match or series.

The Aussies have benefited for years from this skewing of the level-playing field. If one drew up a list of Category

A blunders by umpires in the last five years, my suspicion is that the beneficiaries with the single biggest majority of cases would be the Australians (I recall two from Aleem Dar in addition to those by Koertzen and Bucknor; and one can add Bucknor vs Dravid at Sydney to that list – from just the few games I have watched).

B. There has been no consistency in the process of decision-making. Thus we have a system prone to inconsistency, inconsistency across different umpires and sometimes even inconsistent evaluations by the same umpire.

C. There have been some matches where gross blunders of the Category A type have swayed the results of the match overwhelmingly towards one side. The Test Match between India and Australia at Sydney on 2-6 January 2008 was an outstanding instance because two of Bucknor’s howlers hurt India severely. Add Michael Clark’s catch and we had three horrendous blunders. Australia’s victory was as hollow as horrid to non-partisan watchers; but it stands in the record books and statistical sheets.

Criticisms of the Referral System

One of the common criticisms of the Referral System is that there has been no consistency in adjudication. Maybe; but then the same problem is integral to the pre-existing system. So we are fifty:fifty on this point. Any system, after all, is only as good or consistent as the personnel working it.

Another strident complaint is that it takes up too much time. This grievance has been raised on air and is also one of the principal motifs in Malcom Conn’s lamentations. This is a remarkable gripe. Here we have a game played over a whole day (ODI) or over five days (Tests) and people -- well, not people, but cricket buffs – complain that umpires take time to get a decision right!

There is a cultural underpinning to this litany. Many people in the Western world mostly at a frenetic pace: just compare the walking pace of an average Westerner with that of an average Asian stroller. The emphasis on energetic procedural action even extends to office work. This tendency translates into impatience with dilly-dallying. Referrals do involve some dilly-dallying. For good reasons: a wrong decision can swing a match one way or another. Impatience among the influential commentators on such occasions is a monumental crime in such situations. Our TV pontiffs must turn introspective and look to another God at these moments.

Refinements Required

I urge the ICC to retain the Referral System, but to refine it further. The arguments for the system are contained in the bevy of reasons summed up above as Points A and C through a summary of the outstanding criticisms of the previous dispensation. I further advocate a return to the scheme permitting a side to use three referrals per innings.

But more fine-tuning is required. Ian Chappell raised a pertinent point on radio-air a few weeks back. What about the skewing of match after a side has used up its quota of referrals? That is, what if an on-field umpire commits a howler, whether Category A howler or a Category B howler, at such periods? After all, such a blunder can conceivably turn the course of match.

My suggestion is that, once referrals are used up, the Third Umpire in review box should be authorised to immediately signal “blunder” to the official-on-field through some buzz system; so that the latter can then initiate a referral himself and review the decision with the aid of the Third Umpire. In brief every effort must be made to rid the game of monumental blunders by umpires. The umpiring task is an exacting one and we now have the technology to assist these intrepid fellows. My suspicion is that most top-level umpires today -- other than those who think they are God – would actually favour the new scheme of things.

Recently, 22 March 2008, one witnessed the advantage of the Referral System -- boosted as it is now by the use of hot pot. As Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Macdonald bravely fought to save Australia from an innings rout, Bucknor gave the latter out caught bat pad off Harris by Villiers. Macdonald immediately called for review (though he surely knew ….!!!). My first impression after seeing the slow-mo replay was that it had missed the bat. But another angle convinced me that there was a nick. Then hot spot came into the review technology. That clinched matters. Mark Nicholas yelled out in excitement: there was a nick from bat to pad. Justice was done. Bucknor’s reading of this line-ball decision was spot-on -- hot spot on!

Yet the previous day, two of the TV commentary team (I cannot recall whom: Wessels and one other maybe) had cast aspersions on the Referral System by noting that it had led to a reduction in on-field confrontations between batsmen and fielders (that is my point A above, the reduction of intimidation of all types and a distinct advance in cricketing sportsmanship). This positive improvement was said to be a loss: our TV guides missed the excitement of face-to-face confrontations around the batting pitch!

This type of virulent confrontation , as we know, is intertwined with attitudes and processes that heap pressure on umpires. Just occasionally, too, this argie-bargie serves up scenes of snarling bowlers, man as animal, confronting batsman. Of course, at such moments, the TV commentators will adopt a holier-than-thou attitude and speak of players going beyond the limits. But some cricketers press the limits and bend the rules because this policy pays dividends. Verbal intimidation can disturb a batsman and prise a wicket, or, alternatively, orchestrated verbal pressure can induce an umpire to err in their favour. It is cynical sportsmanship designed to skew the principle of a level playing field. The Referral System now provides one corrective.

There are other correctives too that could weed out bad sportsmanship. But the ICC is too weak-kneed to follow the rugger and soccer codes and institute a system of sin-bins during a match in order to eradicate cheating and/or verbal intimidation of a gross character.

March 26, 2009

Judicature act was part of re-arrangements accompanying new constitution of Sri Lanka

TCHJV.jpgBy R.T. Vignarajah

In Sri Lanka, the Judicature in its historical setting dates back to the period of ancient kings centuries before the Portuguese, Dutch and British occupations. The king was the fountain of justice and every subject, however humble his station in life may have been, had the right of personal access to the King to obtain redress for his grievances.

Dr. A. R. B. Amarasinghe, a former Judge of the Supreme Court has in his invaluable treatise titled “The Legal Heritage of Sri Lanka” included an interesting section as to the appellate Jurisdiction of the monarch. It is revealed that in ancient Sri Lanka we have had an elaborate system of Administration of Justice, spreading to different levels of hearing which served the needs of the people. It was based on an initial decision at village level by an official known as “Grama Bhojaka” and thereafter an appeal to a provincial Judge described as “Janapada Bhojaka”. Later to a final appeal to the King himself.

The Mahavamsa records that there was a “Justice Bell” “Vanischaya Ghanta” which was tied to the head of the bed of King Elara, who ruled this country for 44 years and which could be rang by means of a rope that was tied to the palace gate by anyone who suffered injustice.

Court hierarchy

During the time of the last of the Sri Lankan monarchs, there was a hierarchy of Courts. There were the village councils or the Gamsabhawas, comprised the elders of each village, the District Councils or the Rata Sabhawas composed of the leaders of the villages, the Courts of the Government Officers, such as the Courts of Vidana, Liyanarala, Koralas and Arachchis, Mohottalas, Wanniyas and chiefs of Uda Rata, Dissawas and Adigars. From these Courts an appeal was finally granted to the King who exercised supreme appellate powers. The Gamsabhawa or Village Council was the lowest Court in the elaborate judicial system during the time of the Sri Lankan kings. It is presumed that the Gansabhawas must have existed from about 425 B.C. which is approximately the date on which King Pandukabhaya established village boundaries over the whole island.

This Court which met at the Ambalam or under a shady tree heard cases involving debts, petty thefts and boundary disputes.

The essential feature of this Court was the endeavour made to settle amicably the disputes between parties. The procedure was simple and there was an appeal to Rata Sabhawa or the Koralas and ultimately through the hierarchy of various Courts to the King.

The Gamsabhawa presided over by the Vidane functioned during the Portuguese period. They functioned also during the Dutch times.

In Kandyan Kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka the Gamsabhawas continued until the British conquest in 1815.

Charter of Justice

The system that we have now commenced with the Charter of Justice introduced by the British in the year 1801, which established the Supreme Court with two Judges; the Chief Justice and one other Judge. This brought about for the first time a separation between the Governor who exercised executive and legislative power and the Courts which exercise judicial power. Thus a firm tradition of separation of power was established which forms the bedrock of the rule of law. The Charter of the April 18, 1801 also established a Court of record styled the High Court of Appeal with jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from any Courts of Justice in Ceylon except the Supreme Court of Judicature.

The Judges of the High Court were the Governor, the Chief Justice, the other Judge and the Secretary of State or any two of them. This Court had its own seal. There was to be an ultimate appeal to the King in Council. By the proclamation of the August 20, 1801 English was made the official langauge of the Courts.
The Charter of 1833 while completely reorganizing the Courts system and creating an exclusive jurisdiction both civil and criminal in the newly established Courts and the new Courts which the Charter of 1833 set up throughout the country enjoyed a superior prestige.

Village tribunals

In 1871, the Village Communities Ordinance No. 26 of 1871 was enacted giving recognition to village tribunals which began to exist as the smallest court of first instance in the island. The Presidents of these Courts were assisted by councillors and the Government Agent exercised a sort of paternal control both judicially and administratively. The Government Agents were empowered to sit with the President and councillors and generally from time to time to report such proceedings to the Governor. An appeal was provided to the Government Agent and from the Government Agent to the Governor. There was no provision for legal representation. The persons who were appointed as presidents were not professional men but were the products of Kachcheri training.

The courts Ordinance that came into force on August 2, 1890 consolidated the laws with regard to Courts and their powers and established the Magistrate’s Court, the District court and the Supreme Court. This structure continued till the Administration of Justice law was enacted in 1973. Before dealing with the changes in 1973, it is essential to consider the changes occurred in village tribunals which existed as the smallest Court of first instance in Ceylon.

Rural Courts

The Rural Courts Ordinance became law in 1945. Under this Ordinance the President of the Rural Court began to function alone without the assistance of assessors. These Courts which were being treated as subsidiary departments of the Kachcheri now began to function as independent people’s Courts of small causes.
But the Ordinance sought to keep the essential feature of these Courts by preserving its main function, namely, to effect amicable settlements of dispute between parties.

In the modern history of Ceylon legal system, the Conciliation Boards Act No. 10 of 1958 stands out as a bold experiment. The Act was intended to encourage the amicable settlement of “petty village disputes” and thus avoid bad blood, costly and time - consuming litigation, and crime inspired by such petty quarrels.

The Court’s structure came into force on 1890 continued till the Administration of Justice Law which was enacted in 1973, which established for the first time the High Courts in this country.

The High Courts thus established functioned in the respective zones throughout the country and were not rested with appellate jurisdiction but exercised only the original criminal jurisdiction hither to exercise by the Supreme Court.

In 1978, all Conciliation Boards in existence were dissolved and the Conciliation Boards Act was repealed by the Judicature Act No. 02 of 1978.

Judicature Act

The Judicature Act was part of the constitutional re-arrangements which accompanied the new Constitution of Sri Lanka. The Courts of first instance set up under this Act made a considerable departure from the existing Courts.
The Judicature Act introduced a new court called the Family Court with some original jurisdiction in respect of matrimonial disputes, actions for divorce, nullity and separation, damages for adultery, claims for maintenance and alimony, disputes between spouses, parents and children as to matrimonial property, custody of minor children, dependant’s claims, guardianship and curatorship matters, claim in respect of declaration of legitimacy and illegitimacy and marriage, adoptions and applications for amendment of birth registration entries, claims for seduction and breach of promise of marriage.

By the Judicature (Amendment) Act No. 71 of 1981, the Jurisdiction in respect of claims for maintenance was transferred to the Magistrate’s Court.

A new concept of an officer known as a Family Counsellor was introduced by Section 26. Section 26 has now been amended by the Judicature (Amendment) Act No. 71 of 1981 attaching the Family Counsellor to a judicial district instead of to an individual court thus making him available also to the Magistrate’s Courts within that District.
This was necessary because of the transferring of the jurisdiction in respect of claims for maintenance to Magistrate’s Courts.

The Judicature Act also introduced a new Court called the Primary Court whose jurisdiction included original civil jurisdiction where the debt, damage, demand or claim does not exceed Rs. 1,500 and exclusive criminal jurisdiction in respect of such offences as may, by regulation, be prescribed by the Minister.

Court of Appeal

The Section 34 of the Judicature Act is amplified by Section 31 and 44 of the Primary Courts Procedure Act No. 44 of 1979. The next change came with the enactment of the present Constitution in 1978. It established for the first time the Court of Appeal.

The appellate jurisdiction hither-to exercise by the Supreme Court was vested in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court was vested with Constitutional jurisdiction and jurisdiction as the final appellate court.
A two tiered appellate structure was thus created with the first appeal to the Court of appeal from any original court to be availed of as of right by an aggrieved party and a second appeal to the Supreme Court to be exercised only with leave to be granted in respect of substantial questions of law or where the matter was considered fit for review by the Supreme Court (Article 128 of the Constitution).

This innovation of the establishment a Court of Appeal to which all appeals then pending before the Supreme Court stood removed brought about a delay in the process of disposing of appeals.

The fact that there was another appeal to the Supreme Court made it incumbent on the Court of Appeal to deliver considered judgements on all matters that were decided upon slowing down the pace of disposal to a point where the court accumulated a backlog of nearly 19,000 appeals by the year 1993.

Several steps were taken over the years to relieve the burden of the Court of Appeal. Quite apart from the inordinate delay, the exercise of appellate jurisdiction by the Court of Appeal, based only in Colombo has other negative factors, they are:

(i) Litigants from far removed parts of the country, form Jaffna to Hambantota, have to trek to Colombo for the purpose of their civil appeals.

(ii) They have to retain Counsel in Colombo and incur a higher overall cost than at provincial level.
Gradually steps were taken to transfer the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to the High Courts. The process commenced with the 11th Amendment to the Constitution effected on June 5, 1987, which amended Article 111 (1) of the Constitution by deleting the reference to the High Court as being a Court of original jurisdiction. This paved the way for the High Court to exercise Appellate jurisdiction, in addition to its original jurisdiction.

Provincial Councils

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution effected on November, 14, 1987 established Provincial Councils, as a measure of devolving power directed at a settlement of the ethnic problem and the ongoing conflict. Article 154P of the 13th Amendment vested an appellate jurisdiction in the Provincial High Court in respect of Magistrate’s Courts and Primary Courts within the Province.

It also vested a writ jurisdiction in the Court with regard to matters set out in the Provincial Council List. Article 15 (c) left an opening to widen the jurisdiction of the Provincial High Court by stating that the Court could ‘exercise such other jurisdiction and power as Parliament may by law provide.’

It is in pursuance of this provision in the in the Constitution that the High Courts of the Provinces (Special Provisions) Amendment Act No: 54/2006 was enacted by Parliament and certified on December 28, 2006.
This Act amends the previous Act NO: 19 of 1990, which vested in the High Court of the Provinces appellate jurisdiction in respect of orders of Labour Tribunals and those made in terms of Sections 5 or 9 of the Agrarian Services Act.

Section 5A of the Act No. 54 of 2006 provides that High Courts established by Article 154P of the Constitution shall exercise Appellate and Revisionary jurisdiction in respect of judgements, decrees and orders delivered and made by the District Courts or Family Courts, within such Province.

Section 5A of Act No: 54 of 2006 referred to by me previously vests in the Provincial High Court with a concurrent jurisdiction with that of the Court of Appeal in regard to appeals and applications in revision from District Courts within the Province. Section 58 provides that such jurisdiction has to be exercised “by not less than two judges of that court sitting together as such High Court.”

This is a significant safeguard introduced by law, so that these matters would be considered by a minimum of two judges and where necessary three Judges if there is a division of opinion.

Explicit provision

Thus the first matter to be addressed as to jurisdiction is fully answered in the explicit provision contained in Section 5A (1) and the appointment of Judges made as required. However the jurisdiction is concurrent with that of the Court of Appeal.

The vesting of concurrent jurisdiction carries with it certain drawbacks of “forum shopping” of a party to a proceeding going to a Court of his choice and to as to the manner in which pending appeals are to be disposed of. These matters are addressed in Section 5D of Act No: 54 of 2006.

Section 5D (2) empowers the President of the Court of Appeal in consultation with the Chief Justice to issue directions from time to time transferring pending appeals and applications in revision for hearing and determination by the appropriate High Court.

The measure of expedition that has been introduced could be seen from the fact that as at December 2006 there were only two courts at Colombo hearing civil appeals, whereas now three courts in Colombo and almost 12 courts in the Provinces would be hearing such appeals.

It had been contended in the past that if a Court is vested with the appellate and revisionary jurisdiction it carries with it a right of a party to invoke, such jurisdiction. In the case of Martin vs Wijewardena 1989 2 SLR page 409, a Divisional Bench of the Supreme Court considered this question, and it was held that;

Right of appeal

“A right of appeal is a statutory right and must be expressly created and granted by statute. It cannot be implied. Article 138 is only an enabling Article and it confers the jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals to the Court of Appeal. The right to avail of or take advantage of that jurisdiction is governed by the several statutory provisions in various legislative enactments.”

In relation to the High Courts of the Provinces as well, there should be a specific right of appeal in a party. Section 5A (2) of Act No. 54 of 2006, addresses this issue and provides that the sections in the Judicature Act No. 2 of 1978 (Sections 23 and 27), which deals with the right of appeal to the Court of Appeal would be read and construed as including a reference to the Provincial High Court and that “any person aggrieved by any judgment, decree or order of the District Court or Family Court may invoke the jurisdiction of the Provincial High Court established for that purpose.”

Similarly, as regards Revision this section provides inter alia that Section 753 of the Civil Procedure Code which deals with the revisionary power of the Court of Appeal would apply to the Provincial High Court.
Thus the legislative scheme of Act No. 54 of 2006 avoids a laborious exercise of enacting a new law with regard to the right to invoke the jurisdiction and adopts a simple methods of making the same law as in relation to the Court of Appeal applicable to the High Courts.

As stated above Section 5A (2) of Act No. 54 of 2006 makes all the relevant provisions of the Civil Procedure Code and Rules of the Supreme Court being written law in terms of the definition in Article 170 of the Constitution) applicable in relation to Court of Appeal to be operative in relation to the Provincial High Courts that is now vested with concurrent jurisdiction.

Long process

This would avoid the long process of argument which arises when new procedures are created. The procedures have been applicable for more than two decades in regard to the Court of Appeal and the law that has been settled by several judgments would facilitate easy disposal of matters in the Provincial High Courts without undue delay arising from arguments with regard to matters of procedure.

I would now deal with certain general matters with regard to the basis of review exercised by the Appellate Court. The underlying principle is that a judgment will not be reversed or varied solely on the basis of any error, defect or irregularity. The Appellate Court has to consider its impact.

The proviso to Section 5A (2) of Act No. 54 of 2006 contains the same provision as in the Constitution, that no judgment or decree of the District Court be reversed or varied on account of any error, defect or irregularity which has not prejudiced the substantial rights of the parties or occasional failure of justice.

As regard the review of findings of fact the decision in De Silva and others vs Senaratne 1981 2 SLR page 7 contains useful guidelines as to when findings on questions of fact can be reversed by the Appellate Court. There are also such guidelines contained in the judgment in the case of Collettes vs Bank of Ceylon 1984 2SLR253.

Civil appeals

In conclusion, I wish to state that I have taken pains to set out some of the vital matters with regard to jurisdiction and procedure at a juncture when we shift the hearing of civil appeals hitherto based only in Colombo to the Provinces.

If these measures can be implemented with dedication by the respective judges, the members of the Bar and of course the litigants in the same spirit that authorities have planned and implemented the transition, the problem of delay at the appellate level which has plagued us for nearly quarter of a century would be a thing of the past.
Even the problem of delay at the Court of first instance would be a thing of the past if Section 7 of the Mediation Boards Act No: 72 of 1988 is fully implemented large number of cases will be referred to Mediation Boards and thus the Courts of first instance would find more time to dispose the remaining cases quickly that comes before the Court for adjudication.

That is why I say if everybody concerned is determined to implement Section 7 of this act then there will be meaningful progress in the administration of Justice in Sri Lanka.

(Excerpts from the keynote address of Jaffna High Court Judge R. T. Vignaraja at the Orientation Program to the Law students organised by the Department of Law, University of Jaffna at the Courts Complex, Jaffna on March 15, 2009 )

John Holmes of UN reiterates concern for trapped Sri Lankan civilians

Civilians continue to flee fighting in the north of Sri Lanka

The top United Nations relief official today repeated the world body’s concerns over the safety of civilians – numbering as high as 190,000 – trapped by fighting in northern Sri Lanka between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Addressing reporters after an interactive Security Council discussion on Sri Lanka, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, characterized the situation as “extremely worrying.”

Forced recruitment continues within the combat zone, and the LTTE is not allowing civilians out of the area, he said.

According to the UN, the conflict zone shrank from 300 square kilometres to nearly 58 square kilometres in February, with many civilians – Mr. Holmes today put the number between 150,000 and 190,000 – sheltering in a 14-square kilometre “no-fire” zone in the Vanni region.

“Our first appeal is to the LTTE to let the civilians out in a safe and orderly fashion,” Mr. Holmes said.

He also called on the Government to do all they can to avert civilian casualties and to not use heavy weapons in the area.

The official said he also reiterated a call for a “humanitarian pause” in fighting to allow much-needed relief in and to allow people to leave.

Those uprooted by fighting who are trapped in the no-fire zone have limited access to food, safe water, sanitation facilities and medical assistance, with the International Red Cross delivering a two-week supply of medicines aboard a ship to the zone and the World Food Programme (WFP) preparing to send 1,000 tons of food to the area by the end of the week.

Since January, over 40,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have escaped the conflict zone into makeshift camps, located mostly in Vavuniya, as well as Mannar and Jaffna, and nearly 4,000 shelters have been constructed at various IDP sites in Vavuniya District, where the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is setting up a temporary medical facility.

“We have a separate set of concerns over the situation in the camps and transit centres,” Mr. Holmes said today, calling for conditions in these sites to meet international standards.

Following a visit to Sri Lanka, he told the Security Council last month that movement into and out of these camps is “currently highly and unacceptably restricted.”

Thousands of civilians under attack as fighting intensifies

Statement by Amnesty International

Tens of thousands of people, trapped in 'safe zones' in the north eastern Wanni region are at increased risk from the escalation in attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, Amnesty International said today.

As the fighting intensifies and the number of casualties goes up, Amnesty International called for an immediate humanitarian truce, to allow aid to reach trapped civilians and ensure the safe passage for all those that wish to leave. The organization also called on the United Nations and international donors to put pressure on Sri Lanka to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access to camps for the displaced people in the region.

"The deliberate firing on civilians by either side constitutes a war crime," said Sam Zarifi, Director of the Asia Pacific region at Amnesty International. "We cannot stress enough the importance of an immediate pause to allow the displaced to leave before thousands more are killed. The UN and international donors must put pressure on both parties to end this major humanitarian catastrophe."

The organization has received credible and consistent reports that the LTTE has forcibly displaced civilians and pushed them into areas under their control in the Wanni, where they are effectively held hostage and used as a buffer against the Sri Lankan armed forces – a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. Most independent observers estimate there are between 150,000 to 200,000 civilians trapped in the midst of the heavy fighting. The LTTE is also reported to have deliberately attacked civilians that have tried to escape from areas under their control.

The Sri Lankan government has intensified the suffering of the displaced people by cutting off international humanitarian assistance to a region where there are no longer any functioning hospitals.

Those people that risk their lives and flee face further ordeals when they enter government-controlled areas. Amnesty International has received information that the government is using the screening process at checkpoints and in transitional "welfare villages" as an excuse to discriminate against large groups of ethnic Tamils and to detain families for indefinite periods of time.

Reports show that the "welfare villages" established by the authorities are overcrowded and have inadequate facilities. In camps in Vavuniya and Jaffna the displaced are held in de facto detention, not being allowed to leave. There is also a continued military presence inside the camps which puts the civilians at further risk.

"The Sri Lankan government's attitude so far has been to seek international assistance while rejecting international standards or scrutiny" said Sam Zarifi. "The United Nations and donor government must ensure Sri Lanka acts on its obligations and ends the discrimination and suffering of the displaced people."

To address the human rights crisis in the Wanni region, Amnesty International is calling on:

- The Tamil Tigers must allow all civilians to leave the conflict area and any parties in a position to exercise influence over the Tamil Tigers should urge them to do that;

- The Sri Lankan government ensures that civilians trapped in the conflict area receive sufficient humanitarian assistance, while those civilians who seek to leave have safe passage out of the conflict zone;

- The Sri Lankan government ensures that displaced people receive adequate shelter and assistance, and are allowed to resettle quickly and voluntarily, in conformity with international standards;

- Sri Lanka's international donors, including the UN, ensure that the assistance they provide is only used when international human rights law and standards are met, and cannot be used to support abusive government policies.

Tamil National Alliance declines President Rajapakse invitation to meet

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) comprising 22 Parliamentaans have declined the invitation extended by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse for a meeting. The TNA which contested Parliamentary polls in 2004 under the house symbol of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) arrived at this decision after prolonged discussions in Colombo.

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[Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan speaks during a news conference in Colombo March 26, 2009, Reuters pic via Yahoo! News-by Buddhika Weerasinghe]

The full text of the TNA letter replying the President is reproduced below:

H.E. Mahinda Rajapakse,
President of the Democratic
Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,

Presidential Secretariat,
Colombo 01.

Your Excellency,

INVITATION TO MEET WITH THE TAMIL NATIONAL ALLIANCE

We thank you for the letter sent by your Secretary dated 20 March 2009, inviting us and all the other Members of Parliament belonging to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for a meeting chaired by you, to be held on 26 March 2009 at 6.30 p.m. at Temple Trees to discuss the prevailing political situation in the country.

We observe that you vaguely state that you desire to discuss the prevailing political situation in the country without any specific reference to the political issues that need to be discussed. There is also no reference to the grave humanitarian crisis prevailing in a part of the Mullaitheevu District, relating to around 300,000 internally displaced Tamil civilians. After the government designated certain areas as safe zones, these displaced Tamil civilians largely moved into these areas.

We consider it necessary to state certain facts pertaining to this grave humanitarian crisis relating to the displaced Tamil civilians.

1. The fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE’s) military formations is said to be taking place on many fronts some distance away from the said government designated ‘safe zones’. Yet the Sri Lankan armed forces have been bombing the safe zone areas by air and artillery fire killing on an average between 40 to 50 civilians on a daily basis and causing grave injuries to civilians many times more.

2. Despite the grave humanitarian crisis prevalent in these areas, the government has evicted all international humanitarian organizations and has since imposed restrictions on supplies to these areas tantamount to an embargo on food, medicine, shelter and other basic humanitarian items.

3. No independent media is permitted access to this area to report on the situation really prevailing in this area.

4. No functioning hospitals remain in the Vanni as government bombing campaigns have destroyed all such facilities. There are gross shortages of medicines. Despite numerous requests by the few remaining medical officers in the Vanni, the government has failed to send adequate medicine. Diseases related to overcrowding, poor nutritional intake, a lack of sanitation and exposure to the elements are becoming prevalent.. People have died recently as a result of complications which could have been easily treated had there been proper health facilities and medicine.

5. The Internally Displaced Persons do not have any form of toilet facilities. The government has banned all construction materials into the area and as a result building of temporary toilets has not been possible.

6. More than 60,000 families (240,000 individuals) are living in open areas with shelter made from tarpaulin. Due to the very hot weather conditions, staying in these shelters has become intolerable. The government has not allowed shelter materials into the area.

7. Even though there are around 300,000 civilians in the relevant areas, the government insists that there are only about 70,000 civilians in the area. This position of the government is inconsistent with the assessment of UN and other international agencies who estimate that there are around 200,000 displaced civilians in this area. In doing so the quantity of food aid and medicine and other essential humanitarian supplies sent is grossly inadequate and as a result the civilian population is starving to death or dying due to unavailability of medical supplies. It should be noted that within the last month, several people have died of starvation. The dead have included many children.

8. There is also a complete inadequacy of drinking water. Water Bowsers from Puthukuddirruppu are used for transporting water. This water is dangerous to collect due to continuous shelling and bombing of the area by the Sri Lankan armed forces. To compound matters, lack of fuel for the Bowsers and the water pumps is also hampering water collection and delivery. The situation regard to non drinking water (toilet, washing, cooking, etc) is that it is almost non-existent.

9. Since the beginning of this year alone, over 3000 civilians have been killed in these so-called ‘safe zones’ by bombing campaigns carried out by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Well over 8000 civilians have been gravely injured. The fact that the armed forces have been bombing these areas suggests that the civilians are being deliberately targeted. It is also our submission that the government’s failure to permit adequate food and medicine into these areas demonstrates that food and medicine are being used against the Tamil civilians as a weapon of war.

The TNA has made public this grave humanitarian situation and appealed to the government to take necessary steps to ensure that the Tamil civilian population is not harmed. The international community has similarly made strong appeals to the government on behalf of the Tamil civilian population. The government has not responded to these appeals. If the military attacks now taking place, and the deprivations caused by the embargo on food, medicines, shelter and other humanitarian needs continue, a grave humanitarian catastrophe affecting the Tamil civilian population will before long occur in this area.

We consider it our primary duty to protect and safeguard the displaced Tamil civilian population from this grave humanitarian catastrophe. We have to therefore earnestly request :

- That the military attacks be stopped immediately.

- Ensure that adequate supplies of food, medicines and shelter are sent immediately to sustain a civilian population of around 300,000 so that the displaced Tamil civilian population is not denied urgent humanitarian needs.

- Urge that UN agencies, the ICRC and other international NGOs are able to freely function in this area, and thereby ensure the fulfillment of the humanitarian needs of these displaced civilians.

We should also point out that the international community has with one voice urged the government to swiftly take action on the aforesaid lines.

It is in the background of this grave humanitarian crisis relating to the Tamil civilian population that we have received your invitation. The Tamil people and our party are strongly of the view that the utmost priority must be given to the resolution of this humanitarian crisis before it assumes catastrophic proportions, and that any political discussions to be purposeful and meaningful must follow such resolution.

Since you have hitherto consistently followed a policy of ignoring the TNA in regard to all political issues in the Northeast, we are glad that you now wish to engage in discussions with us, recognizing even though belatedly, that we represent the Tamil people.

We will extend our cooperation to any credible political process that seeks to evolve an adequate, acceptable and durable political solution to the Tamil question.

We would strongly urge that you take necessary steps to address forthwith the grave humanitarian crisis pertaining to the displaced Tamil civilian population.

Yours sincerely,

R. SAMPANTHAN M.P.
TNA Parliamentary Group Leader

MAVAI SENATHIRAJAH M.P.
ITAK

N. SRIKANTHA M.P.
TELO

SURESH PREMACHANDREN M.P.
EPRLF

G. G. PONNAMBALAM M..P.
ACTC

Keheliya Rambukwella and the assassins of Lasantha Wickrematunge

The wife of slain Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader, Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge in a letter to Inspector General of Police (IGP), Jayantha Wickremaratna last week, has asked that he record a statement from Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella to ascertain the identity of her husband Lasantha Wickrematunge's assassins.

Ms. Wickrematunge in a letter dated March 15, has requested the IGP to record a statement from Rambukwella for a breakthrough into the murder of her husband as the Minister at a press briefing held on January 28 had stated that he and President Rajapakse "were aware of the identity of the murderers and that the President would make the facts known on February 15."

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[Lighting candles for Lasantha-pic:IPS Correspondents]

Ms. Wickrematunge states, "However, despite over six weeks having passed since Mr. Rambukwella's statement, no announcement has been made; neither have any suspects been named or apprehended."

She has further stated that although it has been over two months since her husband was killed there has been no credible breakthrough up to date; no announcement has been made; no murder weapon, neither have suspects been named or apprehended and no post mortem report has still been made public.

The police on Friday (20) told The Sunday Leader that there is no necessity to record a statement or to question Minister Keheliya Rambukwella over a statement made by him in connection with the assassination of the Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Police Spokesperson SSP Ranjith Gunasekera when asked as to what action the police would take based on Ms. Wickrematunge's request to the IGP, told The Sunday Leader that the police do not have a right to question a minister over a public statement made by him.

"This is just a statement made by a minister at a press briefing. Although Wickrematunge's wife has made a request to the IGP to record a statement from Minister Rambukwella there is no necessity to do so as it was a simple statement made by him. It was the responsibility of the journalists to question the Minister over that issue but not the duty of the police to do so," he said.

M.I.M. Ameen PC appearing for the late Editor's wife Sonali Wickrematunge has made an application to the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate's Court to hand over the investigations either to the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) or to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).

"It was disheartening to note as to how a police constable from the Mirihana Police informed the court that they are capable of conducting special investigations and to retain them to carry out the investigation into Wickrematunge's assassination," Attorney-at-law Mizbath Sathar told "The Sunday Leader" newspaper.

The Mirihana Police have been ordered by courts to produce a progress report into the investigation at the next hearing date.

The case last called on Thursday, March 19, was further postponed to April 2.

[Click Here for-MS Word Doc-The letter sent by Ms. Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge]

Srinithy Nandasekeran Honored with U.S. Embassy’s Women of Courage Award

Colombo, March 26, 2009: U.S. Ambassador Blake recognized Magistrate Srinithy Nandasekaran on 24 March as a South Asian Regional Finalist for the Secretary of State's Women of Courage Award. “Women of Courage” is an honor bestowed by the U.S. Department of State on women who demonstrate exceptional courage and leadership

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[U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake presenting recognition to Magistrate Srinithy Nandasekaran]

In recognizing Ms. Nandasekaran, Ambassador Blake said, “Throughout her career as an attorney and magistrate, Srinithy has shown exemplary commitment and courage in the dispensation of justice to Sri Lankans of all ethnic groups, often while serving in the country’s most difficult conflict-torn areas.” Ambassador Blake noted especially Magistrate Nandasekeran's tireless efforts on behalf of Sri Lanka's children.

U.S. Embassies around the world annually select outstanding women leaders to receive “Women of Courage” recognition. This year, U.S. Embassies worldwide nominated over 80 exceptional women by for their extraordinary work in areas such as advancing human rights and advocating for the promotion of women’s issues. Srinithy Nandasekeran was a Regional Finalist for South Asia. The Secretary of State selected eight recipients to receive International Women of Courage Awards at the Department of State in Washington, including women from Niger, Russia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatamela, Uzbekistan, and Malaysia.

[US Embassy Colmbo~Press Release]

India has duty to use global influence to speak out on human rights-Navanethem Pillay

Distinguished Members of the National Human Rights Commission and State Commissions,
Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to sincerely thank the Government of India for its kind hospitality during my visit, and the National Human Rights Commission for organising this important gathering.

I am very pleased to be with you today and to share some thoughts on the occasion of my first visit to India as High Commissioner for Human Rights. I feel a profound affinity with this great country and its people not only because my ancestors hailed from here, but also because, as a non-white South African who grew up under the apartheid regime, I, too, have endured oppression and multiple forms of discrimination. I, too, have known poverty and the unrelenting bite of prejudice and brutality.

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Navanethem Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights

Thanks to the leadership and inspiring determination of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, both of our peoples were able to shed colonialism and the repressive rule of the few. We leaped out of the crippling disadvantage of dependence and successfully pursued our dream of self-reliance.

In India and South Africa we truly stand on the shoulders of those two giants. They taught us that ideals and aspirations can prevail over the constraints of seemingly immutable circumstances, violence and oppression. We owe them the formidable, empowering change that has transformed geopolitics, the landscape of social relations, and our very lives. We owe them our trust in the power of dreams to reinvent reality and make the world a more just and hospitable place for all.

Their vision and legacy has inspired and now permeates a thick grid of human rights laws, institutions, mechanisms, global advocacy campaigns, and grassroot networks. Indeed, there is a direct correlation between the ideals that sustained the freedom movement in India, and those that in 1948 were enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such ideals continued to bolster the quest for liberty and rights of oppressed people all over the world.

Dear Colleagues,

Today, the strength of India's democratic and legal institutions, as well as that of a highly engaged civil society and a free press, rests on solid foundations. Indeed, India must be proud of its national protection system, which includes the National Human Rights Commission. The Commission has played a prominent leadership role among national institutions at the regional and international level.

Together with state-level commissions and specialised bodies on women, caste, and tribal issues, this Commission is a catalyst in providing redress and sensitizing administrative and law enforcement bodies on human rights. The National Action Plan it is developing should provide a framework for bringing a rights-based approach to all government policies and programs.

In this context, I wish to also commend the adoption of the landmark Right to Information Act of 2005 which increases accountability and transparency through the disclosure of information requested by rights holders regarding the conduct of government.

For its part, India's judiciary strives to enforce human rights, to provide relief to individuals, and ensure that government implements constitutionally guaranteed rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, as well as women's rights.

In groundbreaking judgments, the Supreme Court of India has interpreted the right to life to include nutrition, clothing and shelter. In another case concerning the issues of inadequate drought relief and chronic hunger and under-nutrition, the Supreme Court has directed the government to implement food relief programs to halt starvation, supply schools with mid-day meals, and provide subsidized grain to millions of destitute households.

I am also impressed with the Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan case which, I am sure, is well known to many of you, as it encapsulated and addressed some of the challenges of multiple forms of discrimination, as well as violence against women. Let me simply recall here that in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of a lower tribunal which had acquitted the five aggressors of a rape victim because the tribunal did not find it credible that upper caste men would sexually abuse a lower caste woman. The woman appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled in her favor on the ground that the local government had neglected to protect her constitutional rights. Crucially, the case engendered legislative changes benefitting working women and promoted greater enforcement of women's rights.

Yet despite all these gains, the challenges that India faces, as is the case in many other countries, are manifold. Some of these challenges concern execution; some are rooted in structural national problems; others yet can be ascribed to the responsibilities (and public expectations) that pertain to an influential global player such as India. Allow me to expand on these topics.

Challenges in Execution

Economic liberalization and rapid economic growth have transformed many sectors of Indian society, but benefits and dividends have not always been shared equally. Poverty is still a grinding reality for millions of people in India. Deep, widespread and longstanding asymmetries in power, participation and wealth are now exacerbated by the global economic crisis. These inequalities are also compounded by the persistence of gaps in the implementation of the higher courts' decisions, of the recommendations of the NHRC, and of national laws and policies that promote and protect human rights and seek to support the most vulnerable. Such gaps are reflected in the work of the NHRC and human rights defenders in various states where the administration of justice and economic development has produced uneven results.

These discrepancies and shortcomings in implementation have emerged in the course of the Universal Periodic Review process (UPR) conducted by the Human Rights Council, the pre-eminent intergovernmental body which is mandated to promote and protect human rights. The UPR is a mechanism that allows for the examination of all UN Member States' records regarding human rights. It is based on information provided by governments, intergovernmental bodies and civil society. India underwent such review in April 2008. Remarkably, a group of 200 Indian nongovernmental organizations forwarded a joint submission for the UPR, underscoring the significance of the review and its potential to mobilize public opinion towards spurring positive change.

I urge India to pay heed to the recommendations that stemmed from the UPR. It should also welcome the visits of independent experts, known as special rapporteurs, who can help the government identify and address pitfalls in implementation, as well as structural obstacles standing in the way of human rights.

The country's protection toolbox could also benefit from the ratification of optional protocols to human rights treaties, including those which have "complaint procedures." These are mechanisms that can be used by individuals to report their human rights concerns by engaging those international bodies which are the custodians of human rights treaties and which monitor their implementation. I urge India to accede to such important instruments.

Moreover, India should repeal those dated and colonial-era laws that breach contemporary international human rights standards. These range from laws which provide the security forces with excessive emergency powers, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, to laws that criminalize homosexuality. Such legal vestiges of a bygone era are at odds with the vibrant dynamics and forward thrust of large sectors of the Indian polity.

Structural National Problems

As the Supreme Court has pointed out, India is "a country of people with the largest number of religions and languages living together and forming a nation." This diversity—and its potential for igniting competing claims and even strife­—makes closing protection gaps and leveling the implementation playing field all the more important.

Although India enjoys an array of laws and institutions designed to combat all forms of discrimination, religious and caste-based prejudices remain entrenched. In many states long-standing grievances of minorities, lower castes, or the poor have turned into violence.

Of particular concern is caste-based discrimination which is still deplorably widespread, despite efforts by the government and the judiciary to eradicate this practice. I note that in 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly condemned the practice of "untouchability" and compared it with apartheid. Moreover, Dalits, as well as tribal peoples, continue to live in abject poverty. Policies and measures that have been established to ensure relief for these groups, their access to justice, and accountability for perpetrators of abuses against them, have neither sufficiently alleviated their conditions, nor have they satisfactorily curtailed the climate of impunity that enables human rights violations. This is an area where India can not only address its own challenges nationally, but show leadership in combating caste-based discrimination globally.

Both internal and external terrorist threats have led to counter-terrorist measures that put human rights at risk. The horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai has also polarized society and risks stoking suspicions against the Muslim community. It is imperative to counter violent religious extremism of any kind by insisting on peaceful coexistence, tolerance and acceptance of diversity.

In the past two decades, hundreds of cases of disappearances have been reported in Kashmir. These cases must be properly investigated in order to bring a sense of closure to the families who for far too long have been awaiting news—any news.

I am aware of the landmark report by the Sachar Committee on the socio-economic status of the Muslim minority, and I encourage the Government to follow up on its important recommendations. An important step in this direction would be the adoption of a new Equal Opportunities Bill. The legislation would establish an ombudsman system to deal with grievances of "deprived groups" in line with the Sachar Committee recommendations, and would be a first step towards establishing a broader system to uphold equality of opportunity for women and other groups.

Finally, let me point out that progress in women's rights must be defended. Sixty years ago, as the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights got down to work, it was the Indian delegate, Hansa Mehta, who ensured that women's equal entitlement to human rights would not be merely subsumed under the "rights of all men" catch-all expression. She knew that a gender-implicit reference might be interpreted to the exclusion of women.

Since then, the space for women's rights in India has expanded in law and practice. Thanks to the vigorous advocacy of women's groups, in 2005 India adopted the innovative Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, which recognizes marital rape as a form of domestic violence. While criminal law has still not been amended to enable women to file rape cases against husbands or sexual partners, victims are given access to new remedies, including protection orders or injunctions against abusers. There is, however, pressure on the part of conservative groups to undermine the applications of the Act. Such pressure must be resisted. At the same time, women's vehicles of recourse, as well as the menu of available remedies, must be widened.

Another empowering factor has been vibrant activism, especially by young women and newer constituencies, against attempts to constrain their sexuality and conduct on the basis of obscenity laws. Not surprisingly, also on this topic, advocates of traditional values and anti-secular forces have engineered a significant backlash against women. This phenomenon is not unique to India. Here—as elsewhere—urgent countermeasures are required to bolster the rights, participation, and position of women in society.

India's economic growth has drawn many women from all backgrounds into the public and economic sphere, thus contributing to their visibility, economic empowerment and participation. I commend initiatives such as SEWA, the Self-Employed Women's Association. SEWA's network of women's cooperatives, pursuing the Gandhian ideal of self-help and self-sufficiency, should be an inspiration to those who seek efficient and just ways to promote women's entrepreneurship and resourcefulness.

We must now ensure that the current financial and economic crises are not used as pretexts to undercut gains in women's empowerment that make a society grow as a whole. There are already indications that in some countries recession is hitting harder those sectors where women are the predominant component of the workforce. Measures to respond to the economic downturn must not crowd out women's interests. Rather, they should strengthen women's participation through farsighted policies and public investment in areas where women's skills could either be brought to fruition or retooled. Crucially, such measures must take into account women's ideas and initiatives to alleviate hardship and jumpstart recovery.

Responsibilities of a Global Player


As the largest democracy in the world, India plays a commensurate role on the international scene. With influence, of course, come responsibilities. An immediate opportunity for powerful advocacy is fast approaching in the human rights calendar. In less than a month the Durban Review Conference on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance will take place in Geneva.

I have called for participation of all UN Member States in this important world conference. I have appealed to all States never to lose sight of the overall goal of the conference, that is, an assessment of implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action to combat racism and intolerance (DDPA) which States adopted by consensus in 2001.

Stepping up efforts and accelerating the pace of compliance with the DDPA is of paramount importance. The goal of attaining discrimination-free societies must override differences and reconcile diverse perspectives. As the Chair of the Asian Group within the Human Rights Council, India must exercise all its leverage to ensure that the outcome of the review conference is successful.

As it acts in its influential regional capacity, India should, at the same time, exercise its independent and individual judgment as a leading member of the Human Rights Council whenever appropriate and necessary.

I encourage India to speak out on its own, as well as in concert with others, whenever the human rights agenda that it cherishes and seeks to pursue domestically becomes of concern elsewhere. I urge India to continue to support freedom and rights wherever they are at stake, and particularly regarding the alarming situations in its own region, such as those in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

­Ladies and Gentlemen,

The years to come are crucial for sowing the seeds of an improved international partnership that, by drawing on individual and collective resourcefulness and strengths, can meet the global challenges of poverty, discrimination, conflict, scarcity of natural resources, recession, and climate change.

Allow me now to briefly illustrate my Office's own contribution to fighting these threats and work for the universal affirmation of all human rights.

If the Human Rights Council is the premier intergovernmental body for the promotion and the protection of human rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as part of the United Nations Secretariat, is the leading international advocate and independent champion.

As the UN Secretary-General noted, since its creation in 1993, the Office of the High Commissioner has grown to become a powerful engine for change. It has expanded dramatically, elevated the profile of human rights all over the world, provided expertise for capacity building to States and within the United Nations system, and preserved the autonomy of judgement and scope of action that are indispensible to human rights work and advocacy.

Today, OHCHR is in a unique position to assist governments and civil society in their efforts to protect and promote human rights. The expansion of our field offices and presence in 50 countries, as well as the increasing and deepening interaction with UN agencies and other crucial partners in government, international organizations and civil society that my Office has undertaken, are important steps in this direction. With these steps we can more readily strive for practical cooperation leading to the creation of national systems which promote human rights and provide protection and recourse for victims of human rights violations.

Dear Colleagues,

Let me conclude by emphasizing that I intend to seek every opportunity to work closely with India on national, regional and global human rights concerns and priorities. In this pursuit, I will be guided by Mahatma Gandhi's appeal to responsibility and initiative. To put it in his immortal words: "We must be the change we wish to see."

Thank you.

(Statement by Navanethem Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights at the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi, 23 March 2009)

Foreign policy in New Delhi does great disservice to Indian aspirations

by Harsh V. Pant

India is realizing it’s difficult to be out of the limelight after getting used to it. For the last eight years under the Bush Administration, India occupied a pride of place in the strategic calculus of the US. India was wooed as a rising power, it was seen as a pole in the emerging global balance of power, it was acknowledged as the primary actor in South Asia, de-hyphenated from Pakistan, and then it was given what it had long desired -- a de facto status as a nuclear weapon state. From a problem state that could never say yes, India emerged as a state that the US could do business with. It was all too good to last for long. And now one of the architects of the US-India strategic partnership during the Bush period, Shyam Saran, who was the Indian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy during the negotiations over the nuclear pact, is asking India to hedge its bets in light of what he views as Sino-US strategic convergence.

Clearly, the new Administration in Washington has little time for New Delhi. From a nation that was just a few weeks back seen as an emerging power that can provide answers to global problems, India is now viewed primarily as a problem that the Obama Administration needs to sort out. It is instructive that the only context in which Obama has talked of India yet is the need to sort Kashmir out so as to find a way out of the West’s troubles in Afghanistan. Most astonishingly, the Obama Administration has asked India to make the first move towards peace in the region by pulling back troops from its Pakistan border. This is just so that the US can get more Pakistani support when it decides to launch a bigger military offensive in Afghanistan in a few months time. The talk of a strategic partnership between the two democracies, meanwhile, has all but disappeared. The new Administration is so busy fighting day to day battles that it has little time for grand strategy.

Moreover, whatever foreign policy hands it has displayed so far reveal an Administration that actually has little time for friends. Growing emphasis on US ties with China has alarmed Japan. A letter to Russia suggesting a bargain whereby the US would not go ahead with missile defence in return for Russia helping to convince Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons programme has alarmed Poland and Czech Republic. An eagerness to negotiate with Iran has alarmed the Gulf States and Israel.

Asia is clearly emerging the new pivot of US foreign policy but it doesn’t look like India has a place in the new priorities. When Clinton decided to make Asia her first destination as Secretary of State, the original Policy Planning Staff transition memo apparently suggested that India should be included in the itinerary. But it was an idea not deemed worthy of execution.

The Bush Administration had started looking at India as part of the larger Asian strategic landscape. The new Senior Director of East Asia, Jeff Bader, who will now be looking at India is a China expert and knows little about India and/or South Asia. While the previous Administration’s love-fest with India was driven by Bush himself, Obama seems to have little interest in South Asia beyond the obvious in getting US troops out of Afghanistan at the earliest. Hillary Clinton was seen as the great hope for India, but it was she who made it clear early on that the most important bilateral relationship in the world is the US-China relationship. Richard Holbrooke went to India as part of his effort to carve a new policy for Afghanistan and howsoever Indians would like to think that India and the US share a common interest in tackling terrorism and extremism from the turbulent territory between the Indus and the Hindu Kush, the US has so far been lukewarm to the idea of involving India in its larger strategy towards Afpak.Meanwhile, the appointment of Ellen O. Tauscher as the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security will have implications for India on the proliferation front. She has described India as a "country with a dismal record of non-proliferation" which had been "denied access to the market for three decades and for good reason."

What this sudden change in tone from Washington indicates is that despite what the media and strategic elites in India would have liked to believe, India is nowhere near the kind of profile that China today enjoys in global polity. While China has been enjoying double digit growth rates for the last two decades, the Indian story is not even a decade old. Moreover, the tragedy is that the Indian government’s inability to responsibly manage the economy when the going was good may have put India’s future growth prospects at risk. Defying initial expectations that India can remain immune from the global economic slowdown, the Indian economy is witnessing a downward trajectory with the Asian Development Bank warning that India’s large fiscal imbalance poses daunting challenges of economic management before the nation in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the chaos that passes for foreign policy in Delhi does a great disservice to Indian aspirations. The dithering in New Delhi over the US–India nuclear deal made it clear that the Indian polity stands divided on fundamental foreign policy choices facing the nation. Left in the fray are serious doubts emerging about the nation’s ability to leverage the present economic and strategic opportunities to its advantage. India’s response after the Mumbai terror attacks may have garnered some kudos for the restraint but it also revealed a nation that is happy to outsource its security to other powers, denting Indian military credibility from which it will not be easier to recover anytime soon.

Even as Indian elites have been talking of a chimerical Chindia, China has been expanding its global presence from Africa to Latin America and even in India’s own backyard. China is today viewed indispensable in solving global problems from North Korea and Iran to the financial turmoil. The NATO is reportedly even planning to ask for China’s help in Afghanistan. The fact remains that India is of little help to the US in addressing its immediate foreign policy priorities. Yet, it would be exceedingly short-sighted of the Obama Administration to ignore India in searching for a balance of power in Asia. India, however, needs to put its own house in order before crying hoarse over the changing winds in Washington. Global reassessment of India is primarily predicated on its recent economic rise, but India’s rise will remain incomplete in the absence of a credible vision with a larger purpose. It’s that vision that India needs right now. The rest, including the Obama Administration, will follow on its own. The tragedy, however, is that the current Indian political class seems utterly incapable of providing the kind of leadership that this moment in India’s history demands.

(Harsh V. Pant teaches in King’s College, London.This article appeared in "Outlook India" under the heading India's new found irrelevance")

March 25, 2009

Central Bank " Indifference " on Protecting Interests of the Public

By Dr A.C.Visvalingam

About twenty years ago, a number of finance companies failed almost simultaneously. Even Mercantile Credit Ltd, which was very highly regarded at the time and was also one of the largest, not only failed to pay most of its depositors but went into oblivin, with all the shareholders moneys, too, going into a bottomless pit. Did the officials of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) learn any lessons from these failures and press succeeding governments for more effective legislation to minimise the frequency of similar occurrences?

It is conceivable that they may have made some mild noises in this regard, for record purposes, but all the indications are that they went back to sleep immediately thereafter. The number of finance establishments, particularly the unregistered ones, which continue to founder has not shown a significant decline. Indeed, the scale of the moneys lost by poor and not-so-poor depositors has shown a giant leap upwards - Sakviti, Danduwam Mudalali, Golden Key and so on. The explanation given by the CBSL - namely, that they have warned the public by notices in the newspapers about the advisability of investing funds only with registered financial institutions - is just a pitiful excuse to cover up over two decades of indifference to the interests of the public.

Instead of merely giving warnings through paper notices and stopping at that, the CBSL, which would have had a lot more information than the general public on these matters, should have pressed the Minister of Finance to enact laws that would have minimised, if not prevented, people being taken for a ride repeatedly by unscrupulous or incompetent financial institutions.

The cavalier handling of moneys belonging to members of the public, either directly or through the state machinery, has not been confined to unlicensed finance companies and pyramid schemers. The public know that the Director of Bank Supervision remained totally inactive for years whilst the Bank of Ceylon and the Peoples Bank lent vast sums to many businessmen without adequate security being obtained. Our recollection is that each of these two CBSL registered, state-owned banks had non-performing debts totalling Rsl0-20 Billion each at a time when the rupee was worth several times what it is today. How much of these debits have been recovered is anybody’s guess.

The senior officers of these banks and the defaulting customers appear to have come to some cosy settlements, such as drastic re-scheduling of loan repayments and write-offs of interest and capital, all of which would have involved massive losses to the public, who are the owners of these banks. We cannot even begin to speculate on how much would have been earned under the table by the more adventurous bank officers concerned whenever they took decisions which were designed to let defaulting debtors off the hook.

Recently, when we found that the Bank of Ceylon had permitted the giving of extended overdrafts to an ill-conceived state enterprise, although the latters previous overdrafts had not been cleared, we of the Citizens Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) recognised it to be a clear violation of the CBSLs own rules, and banking laws and practices.

We then wrote to the Director of Bank Supervision asking him why he had permitted this gross infringement. He replied that banking secrecy laws prevented him from answering our query. What this amounts to is that, when the CBSL has done something wrong or failed to do what it should have done, it takes cover very conveniently behind bank secrecy. Have the officers of the CBSL ever offered any suggestions to the Minister of Finance to permit the bank secrecy rules to be waived in the case of persons who have cheated the State or wantonly wasted public assets? Obviously not. For our part, there is no question that banking secrecy should not apply to those cases where cheating and/or blatant waste are in evidence. It is time the CBSL took the initiative in preparing appropriate legislation.

And where does our wonderful Department of Inland Revenue (DIR) stand? It has the convenient habit of losing massive numbers of files whenever serious investigations are started either by the Criminal Investigation Department, the Fraud Bureau, the Permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (PCIABC) or even Parliament. A goodly number of senior officers at the DIR (and some who have retired) must be very happy that a wayward LTTE plane recently helped to destroy a lot more embarrassing files.

Taxpayers are aware that the DIR started computerisation a long time ago. Knowing full well that electronic back-up copies of all taxpayer information could easily have been kept elsewhere, the DIR did not pay any heed to this fundamental security precaution, as evidenced by the VAT fiasco. Given the massive amounts of moneys spent on getting expert advice to computerise the operations of the DIR, is it not curious that no serious effort was made to ensure the security of all taxpayer documentation?

This kind of lacuna is, in our view, deliberately contributed to by officials of the DIR (and, similarly, some other departments) who are called in to advise on legislation, so as to leave enough room for their discretionary manipulations, just as the original draft of the 17th Amendment was emasculated by politicians so as to leave intact a number of openings for political interference, which was exactly what the promoters of the Amendment were trying to eliminate.

In the final analysis, one is compelled to conclude that civil society will have to gear itself to monitor independently the work of the CBSL, DIR and other key institutions. For a start, we should press for a Right to Information Law, such as in Switzerland and/or Sweden, where any member of the public may call for a copy of the Income Tax Return of any other citizen, or at least a law somewhat close to it.

There should also be a law which stops any company - not only public limited liability companies - continuing to do business if, within six months of the end of its financial year, it fails to submit its accounts to the DIR. This new precaution is considered necessary because the fines which the Registrar General of Companies could levy are not large enough to worry the really big crooks.

Many will object to this proposal on the grounds that the free dissemination of information about one’s financial position may encourage extortion, blackmail or kidnapping. Accepting that this a valid point, the Sri Lankan version of such legislation could be made a little less wide-ranging but there is no getting away from the fact that an effective Right to Information Law will enable socially-responsible citizens to keep an eye on the working of those government institutions which rely on archaic secrecy laws to keep the public in the dark in matters involving large-scale corruption that robs the State of its assets.

We know that there is a version of the Right to Information Law that is ready for processing by Parliament. Even though this version lacks sufficient teeth, our legislators should get at least this one passed into the statute books as soon as possible.

(Dr A.C.Visvalingam is President of Citizens Movement for Good Governance)

Responding to Growing International Concerns on the Eelam War

by Col R Hariharan

This note updates issues raised in earlier, “Tamil Expatriates Have Moral Responsibility To Make Peace Possible” and“War gets dangerously close for trapped civilians”:

Is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) easing its rigid stand on talking peace in the last few days? It would seem so from the political head of the LTTE, Balasingam Nadesan’s e-mail interview published in the Sunday Times, London on March 22. He spoke of the insurgent group’s readiness for talks with the government “without pre-conditions.”

The Sri Lanka government was quick to turn down the offer. Its defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the government was not prepared for any ceasefire talks with a terrorist organization banned in Sri Lanka; but if the LTTE wanted some kind of response from the government the rebels would have to first let the trapped civilians go. However, significantly he added, “We are not asking the LTTE to surrender or lay down arms at this time. We will take care of that later.” This was also a positive sign, a slight departure from earlier Sri Lankan stand.

But given the complexity of the issue, it would be too early to draw any conclusion. Apart from the LTTE’s overflowing cup of misery, developments in the international environment notably in the UN Security council (UNSC), USA, UK and India, could have “persuaded” the Tamil insurgents to respond more positively to the question of peace talks. To be realistic, even if there is some progress after mediation efforts, it might be too late to save the 100,000 to 150,000 (depending upon whose statistics one goes by) civilians in the LTTE’s 26 sq km domain as the Sri Lanka security forces close in further.

The war situation could not be worse for the LTTE. Sri Lanka military machine is moving forward relentlessly regardless of casualties. In fact the inevitability of end results is making more sacrifices of LTTE lives futile. Apparently this gloomy scenario had caused the LTTE chief Prabhakaran to briefly appear in public to boost up the morale of Tamils under fire.

The LTTE had been under heavy flak from the UN agencies during the last two months for its inhuman attitude to the plight of civilians in the war zone. It is no consolation that Sri Lanka had also come under fire for the same reasons because it is the LTTE that is losing the war. The civilians in the area of LTTE control have been getting restive and are trickling out in larger numbers. Sea Tigers efforts to prevent them have not been successful due to navy’s domination of the seas.

The members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the pro-LTTE group into parliament, are already having second thoughts on their continued support the LTTE, which is rapidly losing its clout and muscle power. Things in Tamil Nadu are no better for the LTTE. After the parliament elections have been announced, the major parties which are no friends of the LTTE, have seized the Sri Lanka card from the minor pro-LTTE parties. And the minor parties are in a scramble for winning the support of the big brothers to get a few berths in the elections. So regardless of who wins, fortunes of the LTTE are unlikely to improve greatly in the state.

Under these adverse circumstances, there had been some encouraging international developments for Sri Lanka Tamils, who had been agitating for action to save their Sri Lankan brethren suffering in Wanni. In UK, though the government had been lukewarm to the idea, the Tamil issue was coming up before the House of Commons. (In fact, Nadesan’s interview was published on the eve of the Commons debate.)

In the recent months, the US had been trying to find ways to get the trapped civilians out of the war zone in Wanni. Last month it wanted to employ the Marines to carry out a “consensual evacuation” of the civilians; but dropped the move when even India did not support the idea. In any case it would have found no takers on both the warring sides for different reasons. President Barack Obama had built up a lot of expectations among the Tamil expatriates on the US policy on the Sri Lanka war and plight of Tamils. And they had been lobbying for a discussion in the UNSC on the issue of civilian killings in the war in Wanni. These appear to have borne fruit at last.

The US has come out in strong support when three non-permanent members of the UNSC - Austria, Mexico, and Costa Rica started trying for an “informal briefing” of the issue in the UNSC. The US envoy to the UN Ms Susan Rice supporting the move said, "The United States feels strongly, and concerned, about Sri Lanka, and we support the provision of it to the Council -- a full and updated information on the humanitarian situation.” But nothing may come out of the move as the UNSC is divided over the issue and China has expressed its strong objections to such a discussion. But that does not matter because the Sri Lanka Tamil issue has already been brought to the international limelight putting Sri Lanka on the defensive.

Moreover, Ms Navaneetham Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had come down heavily on both the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE on the death of civilians in the war zone. She had also said some of their actions could constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Ms Pillay’s pronouncements have come at an inconvenient time for Sri Lanka as the issue was already threatening to spill over to the UNSC. Moreover, some Tamil expatriates have been exploring ways to take Sri Lanka before the International Criminal Court for acts of genocide. So not surprisingly, Sri Lanka has reacted strongly to her statement.

In this environment, it would be logical for the LTTE to help the Tamil expatriates and pro-LTTE lobbies everywhere by taking some positive action. And Nadesan’s Sunday Times interview was probably meant to meet this immediate international need. However, at the same time it does provide a small opening for bringing the two sides to the peace table, though Sri Lanka may put the whole issue in the cold storage till the LTTE is driven out of its last toehold and loses its bargaining capacity.

Sri Lanka government is sitting pretty awaiting the LTTE to run out of blood to shed in the battlefields. But the more the “final victory” is delayed the more is its discomfort as the war is an expensive proposition and the economy is creaking dangerously close to a halt. However, the government has managed to get the International Monetary Fund to agree to lend $ 1.8 billion. Politically, the President Rajapaksa basking under the glow of military victories seems to be comfortable, as he appears to face no major challenge in the near horizon. The main opposition party - the United National Party (UNP) - is having pains of a rebirth to make itself strong to face the ruling coalition. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) mauled in the recent provincial elections is also largely on the defensive.

The ruling party’s efforts to win over individual members of the TNA who are in a survival dilemma appear to have met with some success. President Rajapaksa’s invitation to them for talks has met with positive response of some responsible members of the TNA. This raises some hopes of a possible political rapprochement between the Tamil and Sinhala polity.

The political churning up in India before the general election has prevented the Indian government from taking any major initiative on critical and time bound developments in Sri Lanka although the issue did figure in discussions between the US Secretary of State and the secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs. Thus India has painted itself into irrelevance in Sri Lanka, probably much to the comfort of the latter. This will make the job of redemption and building up of India’s relations with Sri Lanka a little more difficult, particularly if an unviable coalition comes to power in New Delhi. Sri Lanka is probably hoping that its “final victory” would be a fact of life by the time a new government is sworn in New Delhi. So for the time being the India factor is put to sleep, except for the genre of Sri Lanka politicians hunting for imaginary Indian designs on Sri Lanka.

But the international glare of publicity on Sri Lanka’s poor human rights record appears to have offended the nation strongly. So its propaganda arms are systematically running down international NGOs accusing them of colluding with the terrorists. This is not the first time the LTTE had used the gullibility of INGOs in handling terrorism related issues and organisations to its advantage. In the past, the LTTE had infiltrated such bodies with some success even overseas. And it will continue to do so because it is fighting a war of survival. Despite this the Sri Lanka government appears to be taking the steps to improve its falling credits on the human rights scorecard. It has agreed to ease its restrictions on the entry of INGOs in the North. Till now only UN and ICRC relief agencies have been permitted entry. When the A9 road is opened fully for public traffic, the restrictions on them are likely to be progressively eased further.

Sri Lanka government appears to have been shaken up at the possibility of the Sri Lanka human rights issue coming up before the UNSC even as an “informal discussion.” China’s strong, timely support to Sri Lanka in the UNSC is sure to improve its standing in Sri Lanka. And it is likely to positively impact the relations between the two countries over the long term. In similar circumstances in the past, China had baled out Sudan and Myanmar in the UN, and the bonding of their relations with China had become even stronger. This is a strategic development that India would be watching carefully.

Sri Lanka can permanently keep the human rights issue from the unsavoury international attention by taking proactive measures to improve its standards, and they are closely connected with good governance. With the war nearing a close, the sooner Sri Lanka starts on this exercise the better. It would be welcomed not only by Tamils but all sections of Sri Lanka society.

(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.)

Indian Suspected in Lahore attack on Lanka’s team charges "Dawn"

By Zulqernain Tahir

According to a forensic report, four rocket-launchers and nine explosives seized from the scene are factory-made and used by Indian forces.

Forty grenades, 10 sub-machine guns (SMGs), five pistols, 577 live rounds of SMGs and 160 bullets of pistols were also found there. The terrorists had fired 312 bullets, two rockets and detonated two bombs.

‘No suicide jacket was found at the scene, suggesting that they were not on a suicide mission. The SMGs used in the attack are of Russian, German and Chinese made,’ an investigator told Dawn on Monday.

Six policemen and a Pakistan Cricket Board van driver lost their lives when a group of a dozen terrorists ambushed Sri Lankan cricketers’ convoy near the Liberty roundabout in Lahore on March 3. Six of the Sri Lankan players suffered injuries.

Although none of the 12 terrorists involved in the gory act has been arrested so far, investigators have come up with a claim based on ‘positive leads’ that none of the militant organisations in the country had the capacity to carry out the attack without the help of a state agency.

‘The ammunition and communication network is the base of our claim that a state agency is also involved,’ said the investigator. He said that law-enforcement agencies had taken over 100 suspects into custody, but yet to arrest any of the terrorists.

’Unfortunately all terrorists (involved in the attack) managed to flee to the tribal belt (probably Waziristan) owing to ‘belated’ response by police to go after them soon after the attack,’ he said.

Investigators are now convinced that the mastermind of the attack had four objectives:

(1) To sour Pakistan’s relations with Sri Lanka,

(2) to stop foreign teams from coming to Pakistan,

(3) to destabilise Pakistan and

(4) to tell it (Pakistan) that its state agency is more capable than its (ISI) in carrying out such attacks even in the midst of huge security presence.

Investigators however clarify that the attackers did not want to hijack the cricketers’ bus as they wanted to meet the above objectives ‘Hijacking often takes place when culprits want to secure the release of someone,’ they said.

A four-member police team, headed by Punjab’s Additional Inspector-General of Police (Investigation) Salahuddin Khan Niazi, and another joint investigation team comprising officials of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB), have been investigating the matter.

March 24, 2009

We must be hard on the Tigers as we are soft on the Tamils

By Dayan Jayatilleke

The eyes of the world are upon us. This means two things: Sri Lanka must not blink on the fundamentals, whatever the pressures brought to bear, while at one at the same time Sri Lanka must be open and flexible on that which is non-fundamental, tactical and secondary. We must be resolute and tough, steel-like on the issue of the Tigers and pluralist, liberal and moderate on the politics that comes after. The closure of the conflict, the construction of the new Sri Lanka and the transition from one to the other requires that rare combination of characteristics: steel and water; yin and yang.

We must be as hard on the Tigers as we are soft on the Tamils; as open on the Tamils as we are closed on the Tigers. But are we getting it right?

Rohana Wijeweera survived the 1971 insurgency and commenced a second bloodier one in 1986. Once he was killed, the JVP abandoned the path of armed struggle. The leaders of Peru’s Sendero Luminoso and the Kurdish PKK, Abimael Guzman and Abdullah Ocalan remain in captivity and both insurgencies have been rekindled.

The Angolan government forces killed the legendary leader of UNITA, Jonas Savimbi, and almost overnight, a decades-long insurgency drew to a close. In Chechnya, Russian forces and their local allies killed separatist leaders Djokar Dudayev and Shamil Basayev, and the brutal secessionist insurgency began to wither away. On the other hand, in 1982, the Israeli forces permitted the evacuation of the Palestinian leadership from Beirut to Tunisia. And most famously, the US forces took their eye off the ball in Tora Bora, which permitted the leaderships of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to slip across the border.

The lessons for Sri Lanka are very clear: while strict rules of engagement must be laid down which are in consonance with International Humanitarian Law (both because it is intrinsically right but also because there are powerful actors out to get us), nothing and no one must be permitted to prevent the Sri Lankan armed forces from destroying and decapitating the LTTE. Nothing must stand between Prabhakaran and the meting out of justice.

The pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora has emerged as a highly organized, mobilized and lavishly funded formation which has to be taken seriously as an adversary. Increasingly it is replacing the LTTE’s military force on the ground as the most important element in the separatist-terrorist cause. So far the mobilization reveals a political monopoly of the Tamil Tigers and open identification with that organization. The moderates, democrats or progressives have not emerged as a trend.

If this new threat to Sri Lanka is to be faced and defeated Sri Lanka has to change. It has to make a change similar to that which enabled us to come this far in the war, namely the coming together of the best, the most committed to the cause. However, since it is a vastly different battlefield, we must also change many things about the way we are; undo and learn quite a bit.

Pro-Tiger Tamil students, mainly from Canadian campuses are walking from Toronto to Chicago in order to get on the Oprah Winfrey show. Now that’s a pretty neat gimmick. They have a well designed website. The Sinhala students who have the sophistication to pull something like this off are uninvolved in the struggle because they are alienated by the elements that tend to dominate equivalent networks, while those who are heavily involved in the "patriotic" struggle do not make the most Oprah-friendly material.

If we are to compete and win internationally, we have to catch up, and in order to catch up we have to transform from within. But what kind of transformation should it be?

Nation-building

This brings us to the heart of the matter: Sinhala and Tamil nationalism and Sri Lankan nationhood. The Sinhala hyper-nationalists like to brush aside Western criticism or even examples, by taking comfort in our Asian location, identity and values. However, the shortcomings of that ultra-nationalism is best revealed when we reflect on the fact that they choose to ignore the clear cut views of Asia’s Wise Old Men and most respected figures. They have ignored the doctrine of modernization practiced by China, the Far East and ASEAN and India, so which Asia are they talking about and identifying with— an imaginary religious bloc that does not exist as an entity in Asian affairs, let alone world politics?

Nobel Prize winning economist Joe Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, author of ‘Globalization and its Discontents’ and "How to make Globalization work’, currently head of the expert panel on the Economic Crisis set up by Fr Miguel D’Escoto, President of the United Nations General Assembly, almost gushed last week that China had the most successful economy in the midst of the global economic downturn. While the architect of the Chinese economic miracle is undoubtedly Deng Hsiao Peng, it just be recognized that China retained as senior advisor on economic affairs, Former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew. One of the pioneers of the Asian economic miracle which has caused a fundamental shift of global power in favour of Asia, Lee Kwan Yew returned to the lessons of Sri Lanka in a speech earlier this month:

"Singapore’s multi-racial peoples will never be united if we had used Mandarin as our common language. All non-Chinese, 25% of Singaporeans will be disadvantaged. The result will be endless strife, as in Sri Lanka, where Singhalese was made the national language and the Tamil-speaking were marginalized. We made the right decision to use English as our common language. We also retained the teaching of mother tongues".

The advice that Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed had for Sri Lanka is contained in the speech he delivered at the CIMA convention a few years ago, in which he argued for a ‘grand bargain’ or social trade-off, in which the majority must share political power with the minority while the minority must share economic wealth with the majority.

It is a positive sign that young Sri Lankans are already beginning to examine and re-examine Sinhala nationalism and matters of identity. In a seminal essay ,revaluating Gunadasa Amarasekara on his 80th birthday, Peradeniya university’s Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi (formerly of the faculty at Cornell), produced a double-edged critique which deserves to be quoted in extenso:

"…But only a few of NGO operatives could be called authentic. Writing mainly in English, they could not really reach out to the monolingual masses. Therefore, some of them sound like highly paid parrots talking to themselves in an unknown tongue, living in comfortable cages.

Only a few among those intellectuals could deeply respond to or engage with literature and art produced by Sinhala- speaking people- to focus on my own native language group. The bilingual intellectuals associated with NGOs are more or less ignorant or cynical of Sinhala literary and works of art...Without genuine and authentic connections with vernacular cultural life, some important work by NGO intellectuals had very little impact on the masses. In addition, their failure to produce a sustained critique of LTTE violence during the last three decades even created a certain resentment of them among the masses...

…Many children of 1956 turned their own inabilities into a form of Jathika Chinthanaya. For example, those who do not know any language other than Sinhala elevated their monolingualism into a form of being "Jathika." These days universities are full of those ‘national thinkers.’ …Those who claim that The Jataka Book is enough cannot read Derrida or Foucault and they cannot deal with such rigorous thought, so they disguise their inability as Jathika Chinthanaya. One cannot begin to describe how the sublimation of mediocrity has destroyed this country…

…An entire school of mediocre ‘thinkers,’ masquerading as national thinkers, (Jathika Chinthakayas) is constantly at work to rid our society of genuine conversation. In any institution; including the private sector, the people of average skills and knowledge are the most nationalist calling any innovative and energetic person "non-nationalist". For these disciples of the Jathika Chinthana School, being productive and creative means being Western. Therefore, those who have done nothing substantial for the Sinhala nation are the most vocal defenders of it…

…For me, Sri Lanka’s true national quality has to be found in its rich diversity- not in an unbroken Sinhala- Buddhistness. There are many ways of being Sinhala and Sri Lankan. In addition, it is impossible to recover the pure Sinhala person who ‘got lost’in a confluence of other cultures; that moment of past purity is a creation of the present and when we look behind the layers of time what me see is yet another meeting of many
cultures, thought and modes of being. If there is any cultural ‘essence’, it is always in the making, shifting and shaping itself making it impossible to pin down the essence. For one thing, the essence is no longer the essence when we find it…

It is said that the ‘total military defeat of the LTTE’ is just a few weeks away. At least after that we need to remind ourselves that Sri Lanka is an extremely diverse country where multiple modes of thought or ‘Chinthanayas’ coexist, and there is no one ‘Chinthanaya’ or one basa". Our generation has the challenge of finding the best ‘structures’ that simultaneously nourish many thoughts, many modes, many voices, and so on…"

With this essay Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, one of, if not the finest critical mind of the younger generation of Sri Lankans, has begun the conversation. He has also sketched the beginnings of a manifesto for postwar Sri Lanka.

(Writer states these are strictly his personal views)

President Rajapakse Launches “Yal Devi Friendship Railway Track” Project

BTC0324.jpgThe most appropriate response to the often posed question as to how to protect the freedom achieved in the North in the near future is the return journey of Yal Devi to Jaffna after 20 years, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said.

Addressing a function held at the Presidential Secretariat last afternoon to mark the launching of the rebuilding project of the northern railway line titled ‘Yal Devi Friendship Railway Track’ President Rajapaksa said the re-construction of the northern railway line and return of Yal Devi express train to Jaffna will not only resume the normal train services to the north after 20 years but will symbolize the liberation of northern people from LTTE terrorism and return of democracy to the north.

[mp3~Yal Devi~bridging the nation-nostalgic song by Vaseeharan/Norway]

An official website for the said project was launched by renowned Cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan on President Rajapaksa’s invitation.

Speaking to a representative gathering on the occasion President Mahinda Rajapaksa requested all patriotic citizens to join in building the rail track.

“Every single sleeper on this rail track should show the love for a united country. All those who love the country should join to build this track. “ he said

“I wish that the Yal Devi rail track that would be constructed would show to the entire world the desire of our people to live in one country,” the president said. By reconstructing the Yal Devi Railway line we are defending the North, he said.

“Yal Devi resonated with the pulse of the Sri Lankan nation. In a sense, Yal Devi is a cultural messenger,” he added.

The President requested the Transport Minister to run the Yal Devi train at least five more kilometres beyond Vavuniya by April 23 next and consolidate the nation’s resolve.

The President while promising to donate his April salary to the project called upon all patriotic citizens to contribute to it.

“The reconstruction of the 28 railway stations between Vavuniya and Jaffna would be undertaken by the people in the southern districts.

“The Hambantota district has already undertaken to rebuild the Jaffna railway station.

The President also called upon India, China. Pakistan, Japan and other countries that helped Sri Lanka in the struggle against terrorism to come forward and assist in the reconstruction so that terrorism would not be able to raise its head again.

After President Rajapaksa promised to donate his April salary towards the project. Several others, including President’s Office staff, Artistes Deepika Priyadarshini Peiris, Parliamentarian Puthrasigamany, Malini Fonseka, Ravindra Randeniya and philanthropist Jayantha Dharmadasa made their donations to the fund.

Speaking further the President said -

“The coming of Yal Devi express train to Jaffna is our response to show how we are going to safeguard the newly won freedom in the North by our heroic soldiers. We will win the hearts and minds of the people in the north by resuming the regular train services to Jaffna,”

There was a time when public servants working in Colombo took the night express train from Fort to Jaffna on Friday and reach Jaffna early morning the following day. They return to Colombo using the Jaffna – Fort night train on Sunday. The tooting of the Colombo-Jaffna express train was the sound of heart beat of the nation at that time. President Rajapaksa stressed.

The LTTE terrorism brought to an end the inter-racial friendship, understanding and respect for each other by its barbaric acts. The terrorists have damaged the railway track and blew up and set fire to trains several occasions. But the Railway Department despite colossal financial and material losses continued to run trains to the north regardless.

The terrorists knew that they cannot damage the cultural, religious and trade links between the two nations as long as the train link is existed. Their final blow on Yal Devi came on June 13, 1990 when they set fire to Yal Devi at Kilinochchi. There were no train services to Jaffna from the south since June, 1990.

“We rejoin and regroup a divided nation with friendship and confidence. The tooting of Yal Devi which symbolizes the chirping of a cuckoo will also herald the arrival of the Northern Spring to the north,” President Rajapaksa noted.

Transport Minister Dallas Alahapperuma said the Yal Devil will take the pride and self respect of the people of north back to them. The tooting of the Yal Devi will reflect the freedom of Tamils.

The reconstruction of northern railway line is not an easy task. For instance, Rs. 2.5 billion is required to lay sleepers on a 159 kilometers stretch of the damaged track from Vauniya to KKS.

The number of bridges to be restored is 85, culverts 28 and stations 28. But the government is determined to reconstruct the entire line in a record period of time, what ever expense may have to be borne, Minister Alahapperuma said.

Vice captain of the Sri Lanka National Cricket Team Muttiah Muralitharan launched the ‘Uturu Mituru’ web site of the ‘Yal Devi Friendship Railway Track Project’ on the invitation of President Rajapaksa.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa donated his March salary to the project and followed by a number of participants at the function including several artistes.

A large number of ministers, service commanders, Police Chief and public officials were present at the ceremony.

[Compiled from newspaper reports]

Jaffna Train Station, Jaffna, Sri Lanka. July 2004

[Jaffna Train Station, Jaffna, Sri Lanka. July 2004-pic: Jadhu Nadarajah

Following is the text of the Address by President Mahinda Rajapaksa:

My dear friends,

There is a question that many ask today. It is how the North can be protected after it is liberated.

It is possible for me to easily answer this in words and satisfy a minority in Colombo that is always pleased with questions and answers. Yet, I believe that what is greater is to implement a program, rather than answering questions and doing nothing.

I could easily answer this in words and satisfy a minority in Colombo who are always pleased with questions and answers. Yet, I believe it is better to implement a program as a response, rather than answering questions and keep doing nothing.

Therefore, friends, this is how we defend the North that we have liberated. By reconstructing the Yal Devi Railway Line we are defending the North.

(In Tamil) Many years ago all of us travelled together in the Yal Devi.

The unfortunate events of the recent past brought this to an end. We participate today in the new launch of Travel in Freedom in the Yal Devi.

It is the undeniable reality that in the past the sound of the Yal Devi was akin to the heartbeat of the nation. (Tamil ends)

Three years ago we not only explained how we would liberate the North and East but also how we would defend the liberated areas. We stated in the Mahinda Chinthana our intention to reconstruct the Northern Railway Line to the Jaffna peninsula and Mannar Line. Within three years we are ready to carry out this pledge in a memorable and honourable way.

I would say again that the rhythm we heard from the Yal Devi was not the sound of a train but the pulse of the nation. Then the Yal Devi train had 11 compartments. Public servants from Jaffna who worked in Colombo all left for home every weekend by the Yal Devi. Every Sunday night they would return also by the Yal Devi, to carry on the work in government offices. The SLFP was then very strong in Jaffna. As the party’s youngest MP I went to Jaffna by Yal Devi to meet our party leaders there. Yal Devi was a symbol of a single and undivided country.

Like the emblem of State, the Yal Devi was also a resource which contributed to the effective functioning of the public service throughout the country. It symbolized public administration spread far and wide.

Friends,

That is why the LTTE terrorists took revenge from the Sri Lankan nation by attacking the Yal Devi. An attack on a train such as the Yal Devi contributes much more to the breakup of friendship between two communities than an attack on an Army Camp or a Police Station. On January 1, 1985, the LTTE terrorists by attacking the Yal Devi for the first time, at a place between Mankulam and Murukkandi, began damaging the friendly relations between our communities. The attack destroyed all 11 compartments of the train. The terrorists again attacked the Yal Devi at Paranthan in March, 1986. The same month they set fire to the Yal Devi at Omanthai. Again, in the same month, they laid a land-mine targeting the Yal Devi between Puliyankulam and Vavuniya. Yet, the friendship train between the nation’s communities did not stop running.

It continued to run for the people of Jaffna, braving bomb attacks and arson. Again in 1987 the terrorists destroyed the rail rack between Vavuniya and Kilinochchi. We repaired the track and replaced the compartments and the Yal Devi continued to run. The terrorists would have then realized that they would not be able to divide the country as long as the Yal Devi ran. The Railway Department incurred an annual loss of Rs. 600 million due to repeated terrorist attacks on this particular train that symbolized unity. In June 1990 Yal Devi stopped running.

(In Tamil) It was the intention of the terrorists to break up the friendly relations among our communities by attacking the Yal Devi.

They knew that our friendship would remain strong as long as the Yal Devi ran. During this time there was good friendship among our people in the northern and southern ends of the country.

The people of both the North and the South eagerly wait to see the Yal Devi get on track again. The new sound of the Yal Devi will augur the arrival of the Northern Spring to the people of Jaffna. (Tamil ends)

Friends,

As I told you earlier the Yal Devi resonated with the pulse of the Sri Lankan nation. In a sense, Yal Devi is a cultural messenger.

How many songs and poems were composed about the Yal Devi since the termination of its run? Why could not our artistes fail to avoid Yal Devi when composing poems and songs on Sinhala – Thamil friendship? I remember our Governor of the North Central Province also lamenting about the Yal Devi in one of his popular songs.

In some regions the friendship between some countries ends with the termination of a railway line between them. One ethnic group kills members of another group and sends the bodies by train to the other country, which ends the train services. That is the story of the Last Train. However, the Yal Devi had no such communal catastrophe linked to it. Therefore, the people of Jaffna still love the Yal Devi. The people of both the North and the South are eagerly awaiting the resumption of the Yal Devi run.

The Jaffna people should consider the sound of the Yal Devi as the sound of the Cuckoo bird that precedes the arrival of the Northern Spring. It was on April 23, 1956 that the Yal Devi was introduced on the Northern Railway Line.

Today, I request the Transport Minister to run the Yal Devi train at least five more kilometers beyond Vavuniya by the coming April 23, and consolidate the nation’s resolve that our war heroes have done. It would show our resolve for co-existence. What we are attempting now is to breathe new life into the heart of the nation; to start the journey that would unite the entire nation after 19 years.

The entire nation should unite for this journey. I asked the Transport Minister who is keen to revive this line, how many railway stations will have to be rebuilt from Vavuniya to Kankesanturai. There are 11 major stations and 13 sub-stations to be developed from Vavuniya to Jaffna alone, and a total of 28 stations.

These 28 railway stations are not a burden to the growing friendship between our communities. I decided to rebuild the Jaffna station employing the people of my own village, Hambantota. Engineers, masons, carpenters etc. from Hambantota would go and rebuild the Jaffna station. Likewise people from other districts should contribute and participate to build the other stations.

When we do so, the Tamil people would realize that the terrorists are there to destroy them, while we are there to assist in building up their lives. On this occasion I call upon India, China. Pakistan, Japan and other countries that helped us in our struggle against terrorism to come forward and assist us in this reconstruction, so that terrorism would not be able to raise its head again. In the struggle against terrorism we realized that you are our genuine friends.

(In Tamil) Friends, today we see a new link that joins the Palmyrah tree of the north with the Coconut tree of the south.

Let us all be united in building this friendship.
Let us all go forward to achieve this unity, as the children of one mother
We can rise strong when we are united. (Tamil ends)

Friends,

This is the moment when we are trying to unite. This is the moment in which the Sri Lankan territory forcibly divided by the terrorists, is being brought together. This is the moment when territories won by the heroic troops are being merged. Your support at this moment will be a tower of strength to us. “Uthuru – Mithuru” – Northern Friendship – is the joyous ring of unity. Therefore, I have decided to donate my April salary to this noble mission.

The Secretary to the President has informed me that the entire staff of the President’s Office is also donating their April salaries for this great cause. I believe all citizens of the world who love peace and co-existence, and oppose terrorism, would contribute to this mission.

Every single sleeper on this rail track should show the love for a united country. All those who love the country should join to build this track. I wish that the Yal Devi rail track that would be constructed would show to the entire world the desire of our people to live in one country. That is the great commitment we could make to see that there would not be a last train journey in our country any more.

I take this opportunity to express the gratitude of the Government to the Transport Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, the Transport Ministry, and to the Railway Department for coming forward to accomplish this mission.

I wish you all a bright future!

March 23, 2009

HRW: Letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Sri Lanka's Emergency Support Loan Request

March 23, 2009

International Monetary Fund
700 19th Street NW
Washington, DC 20431

Re: Sri Lanka Emergency Support Loan

Dear Executive Directors:

We are writing regarding Sri Lanka's request to the International Monetary Fund for a US$1.9 billion emergency support loan to cover the costs of immediate government functions and to pay for post-conflict resettlement.

Based on our recent field research on the humanitarian situation in the northern Vanni area, we are deeply concerned that an emergency support loan for post-conflict resettlement will not achieve its intended objectives unless the Sri Lankan government takes serious steps to safeguard the rights of internally displaced persons and ensure an effective humanitarian response to the immediate conflict and post-conflict situations.

HRWTC0324SH.jpg

[Sri Lanka: Shelling of Civilians-click for more pictures on HRW.org]

As you may be aware, the current humanitarian situation in the Vanni is dire. Since early January 2009, civilian casualties in the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have skyrocketed. More than 2,800 civilians are believed to have been killed and another 7,000 wounded in the past two months alone. Approximately a quarter of a million people have been displaced by the recent fighting, of which some 35,000 are now at government centers.

According to a March 13 statement by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay: "Certain actions being undertaken by the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE may constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. We need to know more about what is going on, but we know enough to be sure that the situation is absolutely desperate." On March 17 the Sri Lanka delegation head of the International Committee of the Red Cross stated: "The humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day. Many of these people are forced to shelter in trenches. They are in considerable physical danger."

Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on laws of war violations by both government forces and the LTTE during the recent fighting. The LTTE has unlawfully prevented civilians from fleeing to safer areas and deployed their forces amid the population. Government forces continue to fire artillery indiscriminately into areas they have declared to be safe zones. Both sides have resisted calls from intergovernmental bodies and states to permit a humanitarian evacuation of the population.

We have also raised concerns regarding the treatment of internally displaced persons, which has direct relevance to the post-conflict resettlement for which the government is seeking funding. The plight of internally displaced persons has been exacerbated by the Sri Lankan government's decision in September 2008 to order most humanitarian agencies out of the Vanni. The government's own efforts to bring in food, medical supplies, and other relief with a minimal role for the United Nations have been insufficient. Internally displaced persons who escape LTTE territory to what they hope is safety within government-controlled areas have been placed in "welfare centers" that are effectively detention camps. All internally displaced persons who cross to the government side, including entire families, are sent to internment centers, which are military-controlled, barbed-wire camps where there are no rights to liberty and freedom of movement. Humanitarian agencies have tenuous access, but do so at the risk of supporting a long-term detention program for civilians fleeing a war.

We also have serious doubts that the government will honor its pledge to allow the vast majority of internally displaced persons to return to their homes by the end of the year, or to resettle in other areas of their choosing. Long-term displacement of civilians has been a major problem throughout the 25-year-long civil conflict in Sri Lanka. Besides the thousands who have remained refugees abroad, many internally displaced persons have simply not been permitted to return home or resettle; for instance, many Muslims forced to flee their homes to escape fighting in 1990 remain in "welfare centers" to this very day.

The Sri Lankan government says that the aim of the IMF loan is to "continue with the resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the Northern Province, and the continued rapid development of the Eastern Province," which it considers essential "not only to uplift the living standards of the people in the areas affected by the decades long conflict, but also to successfully implement the government's efforts to bring a sustainable solution to the conflict."

Unfortunately, the government's current policies and practices are counterproductive to the intended goal of the IMF loan. First, the government's continuing disregard for the rights and well-being of civilians in the Vanni, who are almost entirely ethnic Tamil, erodes the trust of the Tamil population generally, making post-conflict stability and a lasting political settlement less likely. Manifestations of this disregard can be found in the government's preventing humanitarian access to the Vanni, continuing indiscriminate shelling of civilians trapped by the LTTE, and the indefinite detention civilians in camps.

Second, successful resettlement, reconstruction, and rehabilitation is conditioned upon the government respecting and facilitating the right of internally displaced persons to return to their homes. The government's apparent distrust of the displaced population, evidenced by the tight military control over camps and even hospitals, and past practices raise serious questions about the government's intentions with regards to returns.

Human Rights Watch believes that unless the government addresses these basic concerns, the emergency funds sought will not achieve their intended humanitarian purpose. To ensure that funds provided are not wasted or misapplied, appropriate safeguards should be put into place. These would include, as set out below, immediate steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and longer term safeguards attached to the post-conflict reconstruction that this loan will support.

Human Rights Watch calls on both parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka to abide by international humanitarian law and take urgent measures to permit the humanitarian evacuation of civilians from the conflict area in the Vanni. Specifically, the Sri Lankan government should immediately take the following steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis:

- Rescind the order of September 15, 2008, restricting international humanitarian agencies from conducting relief operations in the Vanni.

- Ensure that camps for displaced personsin the northrespect the basic rights of those residing there.The camps should be under civilian authority, residents shouldenjoy the right tofreedom of movement due all Sri Lankan citizens, and impartial humanitarian agencies should have access to the centers without unnecessary restrictions.

The Sri Lankan government should also adopt the following longer term measures to address post-conflict reconstruction. Consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Sri Lankan government should:

- Establish conditions that would allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity to their places of residence, or be allowed to resettle elsewhere in the country. The government should ensure the full participation of displaced persons in the planning and management of their return.

- Assist internally displaced persons in the recovery of their property and possessions, and, when this is not possible, assist in obtaining appropriate compensation or other redress.

- Grant and facilitate the participation of international humanitarian organizations in assisting internally displaced persons in their return or resettlement.

We appreciate your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Brad Adams

Executive Director
Asia Division

Rohitha Bogollagama and RAW - Indian Espionage Agency

Interesting information has been revealed in the Indian media about the “connection” between Sri Lankan Foreign affairs minister Rohitha Bogollagama and India’s espionage and intelligence agency the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

According to an article written by Saikat Datta in the prestigious Indian newsmagazine “Outlook India” the Sri Lankan minister’s daughter was admitted to an Indian higher educational institution to pursue medical studies through the efforts of RAW.

Though RAW got Ms. Bogollagama admission through its influence it was unable to ensure high grades in examinations for the ministerial off – spring and hence her dismal academic record threatened her continuance there.

Bogollagama had also rented out his house in Colombo to a RAW agent , Ravi Nair with whom the minister quarrelled later due to disagreement over purchasing expensive furniture.

Bogollagama allegedly “fixed” the RAW official by framing him as having links with a Chinese spy. Ravi Nair was recalled to India and it was only later that a discovery was made about Bogollagama having orchestrated the entire episode.

There is also a reference in the article about Indian High Commissioner Alok Nath’s displeasure about a woman RAW official stationed in Colombo who is allegedly overstepping her limits.

The Indian envoy is demanding that New Delhi recall her immediately.

RBTC0323.jpg

[file pic-Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama]

The full article is reproduced here , courtesy of “Outlook India”:

There's A Spy In My Soup

The new RAW chief takes over at a time when morale is at an all-time low and 'recall' cases are rising by the day

by Saikat Datta

Foreign Locales, Phoren Attitudes

* Berlin: RAW officer asked to return due to poor quality of intelligence and differences with his Intelligence Bureau counterpart.
* Colombo: Ambassador wants officer out for breach of protocol and meeting senior Sri Lankan officials/leaders.
* Brussels: Officer recalled after allegations of financial bungling and misappropriation of funds. Inquiry pending.
* Beijing: RAW operative recalled for allegedly "mishandling" her junior and compromising security by using the office computer to surf the Net.

In February this year, K.C. Verma, a 1971 batch police officer from the Jharkhand cadre, took over as chief of India's external intelligence agency, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), and with it inherited the problems that have plagued the organisation for years.

In the last year or so, RAW has seen some of the highest recall rates of its officers from foreign postings, causing much embarrassment. Now a few more Indian ambassadors/high commissioners have written to the government complaining about RAW officers posted at their embassies/high commissions and seeking their recall. Last year saw the return of P. Hanniman, a joint secretary-level officer, from Brussels after allegations of financial bunglings and siphoning of secret funds surfaced.

This year there are pending requests from the Indian ambassador to Germany, Meera Shankar, requesting that a RAW officer, K. Jha, be recalled. Similarly, the Indian high commissioner in Sri Lanka, Alok Prasad, has complained about P. Rao, a woman officer posted in Colombo. Prasad feels that Rao's meetings with senior Sri Lankan dignitaries were an embarrassment. A similar request has been received from the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan.

Last year saw the sudden return of two RAW officers from Sri Lanka and China. Ravi Nair came back home from Colombo under a cloud, while Uma Mishra, a director-level officer posted in Beijing, was recalled after allegations of an affair between her subordinate and a Chinese interpreter surfaced. Mishra was accused of mishandling the entire affair as well as compromising security with a senior visiting IB officer accusing her of using his computer to surf the Net.

For Verma, these are issues he'll have to resolve quickly. His appointment comes after a three-year hiatus for him: he spent it outside the Indian intelligence community for health reasons. In between, he had bypass surgery and had taken over as Narcotics Control Bureau chief where he worked with P. Chidambaram, then the finance minister.

The P. Hanniman case will now be top priority. Hanniman is currently posted in Delhi and the inquiry against him for siphoning off secret funds in Brussels has been completed. Strangely enough, Hanniman seems to have survived till now because the inquiry report was kept pending by Gurinder Singh, a special secretary with RAW who has been sent abroad now as special security advisor to the government of Mauritius. Singh sat on the inquiry file for almost a year before sending it back without taking any decision, days before he left for Mauritius. RAW officers allege that Singh did it to protect a fellow IPS officer.

Meanwhile, the Indian high commissioner to Lanka has demanded that the lady officer posted in Colombo be recalled immediately. According to several officers familiar with the case, the high commissioner took umbrage on protocol issues saying the lady officer was overstepping her brief by independently meeting senior Sri Lankan officials.

In Germany, differences between an IB and RAW officer have led to the latter facing the prospect of being sent home in the next few weeks.A similar fate awaits the RAW officer in Kabul with the Indian ambassador there reportedly unhappy with his performance. Incidentally, this isn't the first time that India's RAW station in Germany has come under a cloud. Another IPS cadre officer was accused of forging the letterhead of the Pakistani ambassador to Germany a few years ago and passing fake letters/memos as intelligence gathered. When detected, he was immediately repatriated to his parent cadre state, Uttarakhand. He is currently facing a cbi inquiry in a corruption case.

What irks officers within RAW is the way these "requests" for withdrawal are treated by the government. Last year, when Ravi Nair was pulled out of Colombo, there were allegations of him being associated with a "Chinese spy". However, a subsequent inquiry revealed that the charges were blatantly false. Instead, it came to light that Sri Lankan foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama had orchestrated the whole episode.

Apparently, Nair was Bogollagama's tenant in Colombo and had refused to pay for expensive furniture that the minister had ordered for the house. This dispute became a full-blown crisis when Bogollagama's daughter's continuance in AIIMS, Delhi, was threatened due to her dismal academic performance. (RAW had organised her admission but couldn't ensure the medical degree.) As differences came out into the open, Nair was immediately recalled, only to be proved innocent of the charges later. A similar dispute between the RAW officer in Germany and his IB counterpart led to the present impasse. The Indian ambassador, unimpressed with the quality of reports the officer was generating, raised the issue with the MEA, leading to the officer's imminent recall.

For Verma, these are tricky issues since a similar episode last year led to the resignation of RAW's China expert, Jaidev Ranade. A career intelligence officer, he was literally hounded out by the earlier secretary, Ashok Chaturvedi, on grounds that Ranade had not sought permission for his wife's employment with the World Bank. Embarrassed by Ranade's resignation, the pmo stepped in and issued orders to promote him to the post of additional secretary even though his resignation had been accepted.

RAW has always been bogged down by experienced officers leaving, citing harassment and nepotism. Sandip Joshi, who had done extensive work to break up the Khalistan movement, quit two years ago, while Vijay Tewatia, a joint secretary, was forced to take voluntary retirement after his wife, a doctor, took up an assignment with the UN.

Simultaneously, RAW has failed to attract new talent. It has recruited only six officers in the last eight years and continues to depend on officers on deputation who leave soon after completing a lucrative foreign posting. This has led to a severe drought of expertise and has left the ras cadre, raised specially to man the agency in the 1970s, demoralised and languishing in ignominy.

(Some names have been changed to keep identities secret)

No Let-Up in Army Shelling of Civilians

HRWTC0324.jpg Tamil Tigers Unwilling to Release Their Hold on 150,000 People

(New York, March 23, 2009) – The Sri Lankan army, despite government denials, is indiscriminately shelling the “no-fire zone” in northern Sri Lanka where thousands of civilians are trapped by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Human Rights Watch said today, citing new information from the region. More than 2,700 civilians have reportedly been killed over the last two months, and the number of casualties rises daily.

“We receive reports of civilians being killed and wounded daily in the ‘no-fire zone, while the Sri Lankan government continues to deny the attacks,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Tamil Tigers’ use of civilians as human shields adds to the bloodshed.”

A doctor at the makeshift hospital in Putumattalan, inside the government-declared “no-fire zone,” told Human Rights Watch over the phone early today that dozens of dead and wounded civilians were being brought to the hospital daily. The interview was interrupted by shelling, audible over the phone; the doctor later explained that an artillery shell had struck approximately 250 meters from the hospital, killing two civilians and wounding seven others. Another shell struck about a kilometer from the hospital, also killing and wounding civilians. (To view a map including the affected areas, please visit: http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/srilanka_hpsl/Files/Geographic%20Maps/Miscellaneous%20Maps/LKM0286_COL_Northern_SEC_Northern%20Area%20map_SEC_V4_16Feb09com.pdf )

When Human Rights Watch spoke to the doctor at about 5 p.m., he said the hospital had received 14 bodies and 98 wounded that day. He told Human Rights Watch that the shelling appeared to come from the direction of government positions three kilometers to the west.

The doctor described another artillery attack inside the no-fire zone on March 21, 2009:

“Between 10 and 11 a.m. on March 21, a shell hit a shelter about 200 meters from a church in Valayanmadam [three kilometers south of Putumattalan]. When I went to the site in the evening, two bodies were still lying at the site, while three bodies had already been buried. Nine people had been injured.”

The Sri Lankan government continues its official denials of any attacks in the no-fire zone, including in discussions with top international officials. For example, in his phone conversation with the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, on March 17, President Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed that “no firing whatever was being carried out on the No Fire or Safe Zones declared by the security forces.” (For more information, please visit: http://www.slmfa.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1663&Itemid=75 ).

Collecting accurate information from the conflict zone is extremely difficult, as the government continues to block access for media and independent observers.

Civilian casualties in the 25-year-old armed conflict with the LTTE have skyrocketed since January. According to a UN document reprinted in the media, the UN country team in Sri Lanka has documented 2,683 civilian deaths and 7,241 injuries in the six weeks from January 20 to March 7 (http://www.innercitypress.com/3832_001.pdf ). A copy of the patient list from the makeshift hospital in Putumattalan on file with Human Rights Watch contains the names of 978 people brought to the hospital from March 1 to March 10. According to the list, 79 adults and 40 children died, while 646 adults and 213 children were injured.

Human Rights Watch said that the LTTE continued to prevent 150,000 Tamil civilians from leaving the conflict zone and effectively used them as human shields. During the last two months LTTE only permitted about 4,000 injured civilians and their caretakers to be evacuated by ferryboat by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

In one incident reported to Human Rights Watch, a local employee of an international aid agency was wounded and several of his family members killed by a shell that hit a shelter in Putumattalan on March 21. According to information that the aid agency received from its staff on the ground, the employee sustained serious head wounds and his situation is considered critical unless he receives medical treatment. Despite several days of negotiation, however, the LTTE has refused to allow the ICRC to evacuate the man.

On March 17, another aid volunteer was wounded as a result of shelling in the no-fire zone. He did not get needed medical attention and died. (For more information, please visit: http://www.care.org/newsroom/articles/2009/03/srilanka-CARE-aid-worker-killed-20090318.asp?s_src=170960110000&s_subsrc= ).

The situation of the civilians trapped in the conflict zone is aggravated by the acute shortage of food, sanitary facilities, and medication, as international humanitarian agencies cannot deliver sufficient supplies to the conflict area.

A volunteer at the hospital today told Human Rights Watch: “It is really difficult for people to find food, and you can see that over the last four weeks people have lost weight and they get sick because of lack of nutritious food, [lack of adequate] bathing and toilet facilities, as well as lack of medicines in the hospital. We are in a very, very desperate situation. People are suffering.”

Top UN officials, including the secretary-general, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, and the high commissioner for human rights, as well as a number of concerned states, have called on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to make protecting civilians a top priority and to take all necessary measures to halt the spiraling humanitarian disaster.

“The Sri Lankan government has responded to broad international concerns with indignation and denials instead of action to address the humanitarian crisis,” said Adams.

Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council to put Sri Lanka on its agenda and to address urgently the deteriorating situation. It also called on Sri Lanka’s key bilateral partners, such as Japan, the United States and India, to make the safety of the trapped civilians a top priority in any discussions of financial assistance.

Last week, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to members of the board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about the government’s request for a US$1.9 billion loan to address its financial crisis and, according to the Sri Lankan Central Bank’s request, to “continue with the resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the Northern Province.” It has asked the IMF to finalize negotiations on the loan by March 31.

In its letter, Human Rights Watch emphasized that the government’s current policies and practices are counterproductive to the stated goal of the IMF loan and urged that IMF board members discuss concrete action the government needs to take to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the north.

To read the February 2009 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/reports/2009/02/19/war-displaced

To listen to an audio recording of a telephone interview with Human Rights Watch that was interrupted by shelling near Putumattalan in Sri Lanka, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/en/audio/2009/03/23/civilians-take-cover-sri-lanka

For photos of the aftermath of shelling in the vicinity of Putumattalan and Valayanmadam, Sri Lanka, please contact Ella Moran in New York: morane@hrw.org

For more information, please contact:

In New York, Anna Neistat (English, Russian): +1-212-377-9491; or +1-443-812-9640 (mobile)
In New York, James Ross (English): +1-212-216-1251; or +1-646-898-5487 (mobile)

Senator John Kerry Urges Sri Lankan President to Protect Civilians

(Mar 23) WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry sent a letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressing his grave concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in that country and its government’s failure to allow humanitarian groups full access to provide relief. Senator Kerry and Senator Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Committee, released a statement last month calling on both the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to protect the lives of displaced civilians and facilitate humanitarian access.

"I’m deeply troubled by the Sri Lankan government’s failure to protect its citizens from the ravages of a brutal campaign,” said Chairman Kerry. “Increasing numbers of civilians have been killed or wounded in the ‘no-fire’ zones, and both the Tigers and the government forces share responsibility. The Tigers are a terrorist organization with a quarter-century of blood on their hands—but the government of Sri Lanka has a responsibility to protect the lives of all of its citizens.”

SJKTC0323.jpg

[Senator John Kerry-pic: CAP]

The text of the letter is as follows:

Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka
‘Temple Trees’
Colombo 3
Sri Lanka

Dear President Rajapaksa:

I am writing to express my grave concern regarding the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. As you may know, on February 24th, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia held a hearing on the crisis in Sri Lanka. During this hearing, witnesses described horrific atrocities by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), including the use of civilians as human shields. The LTTE’s blatant disregard for human life underscores why the United States designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organization. Let me personally convey my condolences for the innocent victims of the March 10th bombing outside a mosque in southern Sri Lanka and of other incidents of terrorist violence.

While the Tamil Tigers have committed egregious acts, I am also alarmed by reports about actions taken by the government of Sri Lanka, especially in the north and east. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that 150,000 civilians are still trapped in the Vanni region, caught between the forces of the government and the Tigers. According to the ICRC, even those fortunate enough to have escaped the fighting remain confined under poor conditions in government internment camps. There are also reports that government troops have shelled civilians and hospitals in the so-called “government safe-zones;” humanitarian agencies and aid workers have had only limited access to provide emergency food, medical aid, and relief supplies; and journalists have been banned from the north, imprisoned, and even murdered.

This situation jeopardizes the international standing of Sri Lanka and its relations with friendly countries. On February 2nd, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member, Senator Richard Lugar, and I issued a statement urging you to immediately take all necessary steps to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access. We also urged your government to protect all of your citizens and conduct swift, full, and credible investigations into attacks on journalists and other non-combatants. I understand that you recently spoke with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who made similar points. Let me once again emphasize the urgent need for the Sri Lankan government to take all necessary steps to protect civilians, allow humanitarian access to the displaced, and credibly investigate human rights violations by all members of government security forces.

As military operations against the LTTE wind down, the people of Sri Lanka will seek your leadership in finding a way to move the country forward after a quarter-century of conflict. You will have the opportunity to start down the path toward a durable and lasting peace through a political solution that acknowledges the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankans. As a friend of Sri Lanka, the United States will continue to closely monitor the situation—and will stand ready to facilitate a return to the peace and prosperity so earnestly desired by all of its citizens. I appreciate your personal efforts to bring a quick end to this crisis.

Sincerely,

John F. Kerry
Chairman

March 22, 2009

How Long Can India Especially Tamil Nadu Remain Silent About Sri Lanka?

By Prof. V. Suryanarayan

The Sri Lankan media prediction that the war against the Tigers will soon come to a successful conclusion has not happened. It is becoming a protracted struggle. What is more, the war is taking a heavy toll of innocent civilians, who are trapped between the ruthless army and inhuman Tigers.

Since media and humanitarian agencies have no access to the war zones, the estimate of casualties naturally is only guess work. According to UN agencies the number of civilians in the Wanni area is 200,000, whereas the government puts the figure at 50,000. The people have no access to fresh water, food and medicines.

According to UN Under-Secretary General, John Holmes who visited Sri Lanka recently, dozens of people are being killed every day and many more are wounded.

TC0322CH.jpg

[Vanni Hospital-12 Injured Childrn were brought to Mathalan hospital on Mar 16-more pic]

There had been repeated appeals for a ceasefire in order to facilitate the rescue of the civilians. The Government of Sri Lanka has turned a Nelsonian eye to these appeals; obviously Colombo wants to pursue its military strategy relentlessly and wants to deal with Prabhakaran only on the basis of surrender.

On the other hand, despite serious reverses, the Tigers are determined to raise the costs of war. They have no regrets if the civilians suffer more. Their only concern is to put Colombo on the dock and accuse it of committing war crimes. (The irony of the situation is that while many countries, including India, are sympathetic to the Tamil cause, they hesitate to support it openly because the Tamil cause has been hijacked by the Tigers, so much so that support to the Tamils is seen as support to the Tigers).

What is worse, the Tamils who have been able to escape are kept in 'relief centres,' a euphemism for "concentration camps." There is a popular Tamil saying - people would prefer to coexist with wild animals in the forests rather than being ruled by a tyrannical king. How true it is of Sri Lanka today!

Can India, especially Tamil Nadu, remain silent when a human tragedy of monumental proportions is taking place in its southern neighbourhood?

Can New Delhi continue to subscribe to the argument that what is happening in Sri Lanka is a domestic affair and there are serious limitations to what India can do to resolve an internal problem. Recent progressive trends in the realm of International Law deserve closer scrutiny by the policy makers in New Delhi and Chennai.

The fact has to be highlighted that sovereignty is not absolute. Sovereignty does not mean a license to kill. On the contrary, as the Sudanese scholar Francis Deng has pointed out, sovereignty should be viewed not as 'control,' but as 'responsibility.'

When the state fails in that responsibility, through either incapacity or ill will, a secondary responsibility to protect falls on the international community. Therefore, when ethnic cleansing, genocide, mass killing and other crimes against humanity take place, all within the state's borders, there must be an immediate global response leading to effective international action to put an end to these crimes.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) can take many forms - political, diplomatic, legal and economic. And if all these options fail, the international community, as a last resort, can even resort to military means.

R2P gathered momentum during the last decade. Unfortunately it suffered a setback after 9/11 and consequent preoccupation with combating terrorism. Despite these hiccups, an international instrument was approved by the UN General Assembly at the World Summit in 2005. R2P is opposed only by few states like China, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, countries notorious for violating human rights.

The situation in Sri Lanka is extremely grim. The Tamils are being killed by savage bombings. Bombings have taken place even in hospitals and safety zones. And as mentioned earlier, those who have been lured into welfare centres virtually live in concentration camps. The conditions in non-conflict zones have also taken an ugly turn.

The torture of the detained, the 'disappearances' of those who are opposed to the regime, killing of independent journalists - all these have made Sri Lanka a living hell. On the other side are the inhuman Tigers, who will not shed a single tear if a Jalianwala Bagh takes place in the Wanni Jungles.

I strongly feel that India should take an immediate initiative to mobilise international opinion against the continuing violation of human rights. Colombo and the Tigers must be pressurised to declare a ceasefire. They must be compelled to accept an international mechanism, so that the civilians are rescued from the war zones. And, what is more, these civilians should be settled in welfare centres, manned by the UN agencies.

A time bomb is ticking in Sri Lanka. If India does not take the initiative, the island will continue to be one of the notorious killing fields of the world. Let not posterity judge that the land of the Mahatma remained silent when untold sufferings took place in its neighbourhood. As Maya Angelou, the Black American poet wrote a few years ago, "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but, if faced with courage, need not be lived again."

(Prof. Suryanarayan is a Senior Research Fellow, Center for Asia Studies, Chennai.)

Need for a paradigm shift in mindset of Tamil leaders and people

by a Tamil Patriot

ANTECEDENTS. During British colonial times from about mid nineteenth century to independence in 1948, Tamils from north and east enjoyed an advantage over other communities by having a large majority of government jobs. This was partly due to more favourable educational facilities, especially in the north through missionary schools. As such the average Tamil man who came from a harsh climate and barren landscape in the north prospered in the only way he could through education and employment in public service. It was the Permanent Pensionable Public Service that was their utopia and created what was known as the Money Order economy for the north.

JCTC0322.jpg

[Students and teacher in a college in Jaffna-late nineteeth century (or thereabouts)-pic courtesy of: ambrett]

All this changed radically after independence with enactment of Sinhala as the one official language and soon after, introduction of Swabasha education, resulting in scrapping of English education replaced by local languages, Tamil and Sinhalese, which had a very adverse impact on youth employment prospects in both north and south. As a result the major life line of the Tamil man had been closed for ever. Tamil politicians agitated for parity of status for Tamil language which was slow in coming, but acceded in 1987 under the Indo-Lanka Accord. By then the damage had been done and the rebellion of the youth in the north had reached maturity under LTTE and Prabhakaran. The war against government in the south has continued since then with a short break from 2002.

Agitation by Tamil politicians led by Chelvanayakam for a Federal state was rejected by government in the south and implementation of Sinhala language in government was firmly entrenched from early sixties under Mrs. Bandaranaike coupled with strong discrimination against minorities in the public sector. Also, Tamils were progressively overlooked for admission to universities from early ‘70s under a policy known as Standardization. Sinhala nationalism prevailed for several decades culminating in the pogrom of 1983 against Tamil civilians in the south. The 1972 Constitution which eliminated all protection for minorities was enacted. The Vaddukoddai Resolution by TULF of 1976 further polarized both communities, when Tamil politicians resolved to fight for a separate state for the Tamils in the north and east.

All this gave fuel to an armed conflict sponsored by Prabhakaran and LTTE who became firmly entrenched in the north and east and slowly carved out a quasi state, with substantial funding by the international Tamil diaspora. They eventually eliminated all opposition by other Tamil groups and called themselves the "sole representatives of Tamil people".

What has been conveniently forgotten by the Tamil politicians, diaspora and the rebels, is that from almost the time of introduction of Sinhala language in the state sector, the Public Service became a poisoned chalice, i.e., government jobs ceased to be lucrative due to their inability to keep pace with inflation. In fact employment in Public service was a matter of great disappointment and frustration to a majority of people so employed, due to inadequacy of salaries to keep pace with growing inflation. Also, there was a privileged class being created in the south by introduction of so called International schools, with facilities for English education at a price not affordable to majority of youth. Furthermore, the agitation for recognition of Tamil language was irrelevant and unproductive, as it was not a solution for an unemployed youth population or development of the north and east.

The sequence of events since independence, Sinhala nationalism accompanied by chauvinism from about the late fifties, resulting in counter claims by Tamil politicians until the late seventies and the rise of Tamil nationalism from the early seventies resulting in an extended civil war, have all caused considerable and irreparable damage to the country, especially the people of the north and east. It has polarized the two sections of the community to a point of extreme hostility and isolated a large section of Tamils from the mainstream of life and progress in the country. The resulting mass migration of Tamils to greener pastures has fostered the continuing insurgency and civil war at a very high cost with destructive results.

The euphoria of unlimited power enjoyed by the Sinhala majority after with aspirations of poorer sections of the majority community who were independence, couple isolated from mainstream colonial society for generations, fostered onset of Sinhala nationalism, resulting in excesses in policies and actions by governments and their agents. This in turn gave rise to Tamil nationalism with devastating consequences. Tamil leaders and society were unwilling to accept their change of status after independence from an affluent and influential minority during colonial times, to one that was being marginalized by changes introduced to give greater recognition and benefits to majority Sinhalese.

What has been overlooked in this entire process is that the causes of conflict that prevailed over fifty years ago are not relevant in terms of needs and aspirations of Tamil society today. Tamil leaders also need to appreciate that a culture of confrontation and hostility generated over a long period of time against a majority community had adverse impact on their people and isolated them from the mainstream society.

The mistake made by Tamil politicians in the post independence and pre-LTTE period was to demand recognition of Tamil language on equal footing with Sinhala, which would not have been a solution for employment of Tamil youth in the long term. As evident over the last four decades, recognition of Sinhala language in administration of government departments and agencies had only marginal impact on youth unemployment, resulting in two insurgencies in the south. Also, the agitation for a Federal state was designed to transfer power from government in the south to a regional or provincial one. While there are merits in such demand it was and is not a solution for displacement of English education, fueled by nationalism in the north and south, which has been the major setback for education and employment in the post independence period.

Devolution of power is a means to an end and not an end in itself. There was a need for Constitutional reform which had not been looked at constructively by politicians in the south as well as north. What were needed were not only safeguards to protect minority rights, but also allow for greater participation of minorities in central government. The Constitutions of 1972 and 1978 did not address this need for greater inclusion of all sections of the community in government. In fact they did just the opposite and eliminated any semblance of minority rights enshrined in the Soulbury Constitution.

Rather than persuading politicians in the south for reform of central government, Tamil politicians had a single minded purpose of agitating for autonomy in the north and east based on a Federal state, which gave rise to suspicion of plans to divide the country. It was this culture of confrontation against government by Tamil politicians that has progressed into an armed conflict by the LTTE, which has devastated the country, especially people and landscape in the north and east.

TAMIL GRIEVANCES. In respect of language, education and employment, there were and are grievances among Tamils, especially the youth in the post independence period due to not only discrimination in policies but also in actions by the government, both by politicians and its agents. However, these are dwarfed by the lack of foresight and action by Tamil leaders over several decades in not addressing the genuine problems of people in the north and east for economic and social development and for reform of education, especially restoration of English education.

There is also a perception among not only the Tamil politicians, but also the community, that there is only one avenue for progress and prosperity, and that is through employment in the Public sector. We also need to look at grievances of other minorities such as Muslims, Indian Tamils, Malays, Burghers, Borahs, Parsees etc, and consider to what extent minorities have been marginalized since independence. Evidently, it is largely the Jaffna Tamil community in the north and to a lesser extent east that has claims against government on grounds of discrimination. While they are the largest minority, they are disappointed by loss of power and influence in government and employment opportunities enjoyed in colonial times.

The demand for self determination by Tamil leaders is based on the assumption that Tamils have a homeland in the north and east and can manage their affairs more effectively without interference and importantly, discrimination by central government. While there is a valid argument for doing so, and hopefully the matter can be resolved after the dust has settled after conclusion of the war against LTTE, it is also important to realize that a large section of Tamils in the north have migrated to the south, the concept of a Tamil homeland has lost some credibility. It is also unrealistic to expect sympathy for such a proposal from the south in view of polarization of society created by war and conflict. At this stage in the history of this strife torn country it is more important to unite the country under one leadership. More importantly what the people in the north and east need is emancipation from war and conflict, from hunger and poverty, and from absolute despair as in the case of thousands of refugees. Only a strong central government with cooperation from all sections of the community can achieve this. Transfer of power from centre to provinces is unlikely to address the urgent needs of people for rehabilitation, reconstruction and development, which has to be the responsibility of central government.

What is also conveniently ignored by Tamil leaders is that there has been considerable progress in business and industry in the south, resulting in a high level of industrialization through transfer of technology, formation of new industries such as in the garments sector, especially in the Western Province. It has brought the country to the threshold of NIC status. If only there is a period of unbroken peace, all such advances could be extended to the north and east, together with growth of tourism for which there is unlimited potential in the east. There are several Tamils who have set up businesses and prospered in the south for several decades.

Also, LTTE had no serious intention of negotiating with government for any kind of autonomy within a united Sri Lanka. As one Tamil nationalist and LTTE supporter quoted Mao Tse Tung, "power flows from the barrel of a gun" and any thought of a negotiated settlement was pure fantasy. Any overtures made such as the Oslo accords between Balasingham and G. L. Peiris were never seriously pursued. The limitation of this strategy, as shown in recent developments, is an all or nothing mindset, which also makes a major sacrifice on the civilian population, who have lost their lives, have their homes and lands completely devastated by war and conflict. Moreover, it has polarized the entire Sri Lankan community, where there is considerable animosity between majority Sinhalaese and Tamil sections of society.

A large section of the Tamil community both in Sri Lanka and overseas appear to be isolated from the main stream society due to the long period of war and conflict. Several generations of Tamils have grown up assuming that Sinhalese are their enemies. It has given rise to a culture of supporting a war as the only option and a people who are very reclusive and antagonistic towards the majority, without a proper understanding of the causes of such a conflict and not looking for solutions out-side an, armed struggle.

No doubt, the major mistake made by successive governments and politicians in the south was to abandon English education, which was probably the highest standard in the British Commonwealth at time of independence. It had devastating consequences for youth of the country, resulting in high unemployment and frustration due to very limited scope for employment of Sinhala and Tamil educated people. It resulted in two insurgencies in the south and the very costly war in the north and east.

The real grievances of people in the north and east have been clouded by several decades of war and conflict. The major sacrifice made by the international Tamil Diaspora was to finance an unproductive war in the north and east that has devastated the country, especially the north and east. It will be mind boggling to know the total amount of funds allocated for such an operation by the Tamil Diaspora. It will easily exceed one billion US dollars, i.e., one thousand million dollars. If only a fraction of that was allocated for development of the north and east without resorting to an armed conflict, it could have yielded unimaginable prosperity for people of that part of the country and enriched the entire country to even surpass Malaysia and Singapore as Asian economic tigers and not the destructive tigers in the battle field.

In summary, the grievances of Tamils that existed over fifty years ago, such as need for greater opportunities in public service, recognition of Tamil language and admission to universities are no longer valid. Government service is the least lucrative source of employment. There are universities in Jaffna and Batticaloa. Tamil language is not and has never been a passport to employment of youth. Incidentally, Tamil has enjoyed equal status as a national language since 1987, but not been properly implemented. So, what are we fighting for?

Yes, there has been and is discrimination by government, which has been greatly aggravated by an unproductive war and culture of confrontation, organized by Tamil politicians and LTTE for over half a century. Government and Sinhalese politicians need to be magnanimous at this time of victory over the rebels and open their hearts and doors to the poor Tamil people and give them a fair go in rebuilding their society.

Time is a great healer, and people from all sections of society need to give time for reconciliation. I propose government appoints a Truth Commission to investigate problems, atrocities committed by both sides in the conflict and consider submissions for solution to problems created by a long period of conflict. We can also consider submissions by other minorities and whether they have similar grievances.

Government needs to make a major commitment for economic and social development in the north and east, supported by the business sector for commencement of factories and businesses in that part of the country. There is a need for Constitutional reform for greater inclusion of minorities in government. Most importantly, there is a need for a paradigm shift in mindset of Tamil leaders and people to accept their position as part of Sri Lankan society and work towards emancipation from war and conflict, hunger and poverty, and new hope for the coming generations. There is a need to end not only violence and conflict but also the polarization in society that has divided our beautiful country for so long.

March 21, 2009

Legendary American Jesuit Fr. Henry Miller Leaves Batticaloa for New Orleans

FHMTC0322.jpgBy Maura O’Connor

On a recent quiet afternoon as a breeze began to blow through the large windows of his office located in the attic of St. Michael's College, Father Henry Miller looked back on a life-time in Batticaloa."I have been able to do things that no one would dare to do; I could go and raise a clamour and I’ve done that many times," he mused from behind his desk, littered with pencils, sea shells, and rusty staplers.

For over six decades, Father Miller has acted as priest, protector, educator, and witness to generations of Batticaloans. On Sunday, he left Sri Lanka to return home to New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States for a six month extended leave. He said he has not decided whether to return.

"It’s reached a stage now that there is no structure through which I can make a difference. There was a time when I could write a letter to the president or assemble senior police officers. None of those things would make a difference now."

In addition to what he sees as the shrinking sphere of his influence, Father Miller said there is also his advanced age to consider. When he arrived in Sri Lanka at the age of 23, it was by ship and the journey took one month. It was September 1948 and Sri Lanka had just months before celebrated its independence from colonial rule for the first time in over 400 years.

Now 84-years-old, Father Miller sometimes asks children at St. Michael's which of the four houses named after Jesuit Fathers they belong to.

"Miller House!" some respond.

"Who's Miller?" he asks them, curious.

And they shrug their shoulders.

But Father Miller's contributions to the people of the Eastern Province are hardly forgotten by all. In the week leading up to his departure, a steady stream of visitors arrived at his office door to bring gifts and best wishes for a safe trip, but also pleading with him to return as soon as possible.

"It's very sad," said one. "I told him to come back quickly. We need him here." Father Miller was born and raised in New Orleans to a devout mother and father who raised their children to attend Mass daily. Indeed, throughout his junior education, Father Miller said he attended Mass twice every morning, once with his family and once when he reached his Jesuit school.

At the age of 16, he decided that he wanted to join the order, a decision that followed in the footsteps of his older brother. In all, six of his seven siblings would become Jesuits or nuns. "My other sister called herself the ‘white sheep of the family’ because the rest of us wore black clothes," he said with a chuckle.

Upon joining, Father Miller became the youngest in the class but the decision, in spite of his youth, was final. "No one joins the Jesuits and doesn’t say, ‘This is for life,'" he said. He studied for seven years and received a degree in physics before volunteering to be sent abroad.

At that time, the French Jesuit numbers in the East of Sri Lanka had been depleted by two world wars and the Vatican had requested the New Orleans Province to help fill the ranks and aid in operating the dozens of schools in the area. Father Miller was among five Jesuits who were placed in Batticaloa.

He taught physics, English, history, and coached the soccer team, whose offense consisted of Tamil and Muslim forwards, Burgher midfielders, and Sinhalese wingers. "There were no signs of war in 1948, nobody fighting against anybody else," he said.

From 1959 to 1970, he acted as rector of the school and shortly after he stepped down from the position, the government took over the administration and curriculum.

Around the same time, Father Miller became instrumental in setting up forums for community leaders and religious figures to engage in dialogue with one another, eventually helping to start a peace committee. As the conflict and its effect on the people of the Eastern Province worsened, he also became a repository for thousands of human rights abuses and disappearances.

"What I have been able to do is, at least on the part of Jesuits, is put forward a full picture of what the people need here," he said looking back on his work. "Understand the thinking between them, the gross grievances. But bridging that gap, no one has done it yet."

By 1990, only two of the original five who travelled by ship from New Orleans to Colombo were left in Batticaloa, Father Miller and Father Eugene John Hebert. But that year, during a rescue attempt of priests and nuns in Valachchenai--where Tamils feared Muslim retaliation over recent massacres--Father Hebert disappeared. He was believed to have been killed by a rioting crowd outside Batticaloa.

"I suppose I could have left at that time," Father Miller said. "But I just figured I was here for life."

These days, Father Miller seems to have undergone, if not a change of heart, then a realization that times have changed even from the stark days of the early 1990s. "I don't see anyone on the horizon who I can talk to, to get anything done. Meanwhile, people continue to disappear, rights are more and more eroded, and there is no sign of improvement. So, I think, maybe I need a holiday."

Resentments in Sri Lanka Reflect Challenges to Peace

by Seth Mydans

BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka — The homeless Tamil refugees camped in shanties here provide a hint of the difficulties and divisions that lie ahead as the Sri Lankan government fights what it says is a final battle to end a 25-year separatist insurgency.

Ethnic Tamils who fled an earlier round of fighting three years ago, the refugees still live in uncertainty, surrounded by barbed wire, and their resentment against the majority-Sinhalese government has grown.

“If they won’t let us go back to our land, then cancel our citizenship and send us to another country,” said Chitharaval Somasundara, 55, who was once a farmer.

“For us Tamils, this is the way it is,” he said. “For Sinhalese this would not happen.”

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[Barbed wired centres under construction in Manic Farm, Vavuniya-pic by: drs. Sarajevo]

Though it appears to be on the verge of crushing the insurgency on the battlefield, diplomats and other analysts say, the government’s military offensive may only be causing more resentment among the Tamils and sowing the seeds of future unrest.

And many say the government, by using fear and violence to quash a free press and civil liberties in what it says is part of its war effort, is undermining democratic freedoms and transforming Sri Lanka into a more repressive and intolerant nation.

To end the violence and secure a more stable peace, political analysts say, the government must do more than it has to address the long-running grievances and ethnic antagonisms that lie at the heart of the conflict.

Its first challenge is the endgame, they say: a military offensive that spares civilian lives and a resettlement program for tens of thousands of displaced people that will not breed further resentment.

The government must fill a power vacuum in the north, the Tamils’ base, with a credible local administration that can keep the peace while overseeing huge reconstruction projects after 25 years of war. And, some say, Sri Lanka must fully put into effect a largely dormant law on regional autonomy that would allow Tamils and others a degree of flexibility in meeting local needs.

“It is yet unclear how the government and the Sinhala-dominated military will deal with these issues,” wrote Nadeeka Withana, an analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, in a commentary last week. “Confidence-building measures will take years to be effective and requires resources and a strong political will.”

Most broadly, the analysts say, the government must find ways to ease divisions between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, who make up 12 percent of the population of 21 million and have been marginalized by laws on language and religion and by ethnic preferences in education and government jobs.

The war, which began in 1983, has taken an estimated 70,000 lives as the government has battled a brutal insurgency by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or L.T.T.E.

“My hope,” said the United States ambassador, Robert O. Blake, “is that with the end of fighting the president will really reach out to the Tamil and Muslim communities and give his vision of a united Sri Lanka that will include a measure of dignity and respect and a level of autonomy for them in the geographic areas in which they predominate across the country.”

“The concern is that with military success there is a growing Sinhalese chauvinism and certain hard-line Sinhalese elements in government that say the government does not need to devolve any power to the Tamils,” Mr. Blake said. “Essentially, to the victor go the spoils.”

Batticaloa, a city on Sri Lanka’s eastern shore, was freed from Tamil control two years ago and is an example, in the eyes of the government, of postwar reconstruction.

Infrastructure is being rebuilt and central government control has been restored. But it is a cold peace, with police checkpoints in the town center, armed thugs prowling back streets and continuing reports of abductions and disappearances.

A largely Sinhalese police force patrols a Tamil population, often unable to communicate in a common language.

“The fear is there,” said a woman who owns a guesthouse and insisted that her name not be used. “Even now I am scared to speak.”

In the short term, at least, it appears that the government will keep Sri Lanka on something of a war footing, guarding against possible violence by remnants of the insurgency as well as against opposition by the press and civil society.

The Defense Ministry announced this month that no public gatherings could be held without its approval.

“Once this terrorism problem, which lasted for 30 years, is completed, we have to enter the next episode of it,” Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said March 12. He is a brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“The war is like a cancer,” Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said. “Even after curing a cancer, there is a period for radiation treatment. It is same with the war on terrorism. After crushing terrorism, we have to embark on the next mission of creating a situation where incidents such as the one that occurred in Akuressa should not happen.”

He was referring to a suicide bombing two days earlier in southern Sri Lanka, far from the conflict area, that killed 15 people and wounded at least 40, including a cabinet minister. It seemed to show that even with their fighters under pressure in the north, the Tamil rebels continued to be able to mount terrorist attacks elsewhere.

The fear among many people here is that the government’s “radiation treatment” will become permanent.

“It would be against all known norms of human nature to put the gun down when it’s the easiest way to curb dissent or alternate views,” said Lal Wickramatunga, the managing editor of The Sunday Leader, an English-language weekly newspaper.

Two months ago, six former American ambassadors wrote to President Rajapaksa, urging him to pursue democracy and national reconciliation as the country builds a postwar society.

“We fear that, even as Sri Lanka is enjoying military progress against the L.T.T.E., the foundations of democracy in the country are under assault,” they wrote.

[courtesy: NY Times.com] [Email Seth Mydans]

With UNP becoming chauvinist minority votes in PC polls may go to left parties

by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

All parties are eagerly looking forward to the provincial council elections. Anyone looking at these campaigns might conclude that all the parties are committed to the provincial councils and the devolution of power. If these institutions are not equipped with sufficient power to rule, it is futile for anybody to spend millions of rupees to get into them. But all the same, these dandy candidates of both bourgeoisie parties parade on pages and pages of daily and weekend papers and have become a nuisance to TV viewers with their mini Dancing Star-like impressions. Then in the evenings we see the participation of candidates in urban gardens and rural villages, with supporters garlanding them in every corner accompanied by tremendous cheers and lighting of crackers.

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[Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranil Wickremasinghe ~ art by Tamer Youssef]

The most remarkable thing is the campaign of the ruling party. It is amazing because most of the parties in the ruling front are opposed to the very idea of devolution. Of course, there are a few opportunists who hang on claiming that they are there to fight for the implementation of certain power sharing schemes. It is not clear whether they want to go beyond what J R Jayewardene proposed in 1987 or not. But in private discussions these gentlemen assure the faithful that they are in the government for the sake of devolution and nothing else.

There cannot be any other wish, with Mahinda becoming the most ardent supporter of World Bank guru Manmohan Singh. However, it is strange how these gentlemen see Mahinda to be more democratic than the opposition leader Wickramasinghe. Wickramasinghe is no better. But at least, while serving the global capital in the same strength, the latter arrived at a peace agreement and wanted to discuss further devolution as a way out in the Tamil national problem. Still the truth is, within the government, apart from these Left-y gentlemen who have really lost track, all others including the Sinhala war hero Mahinda, are against the devolution setup.

Fuming

The JVP is fuming that some in the government are even thinking about devolution. In fact as far as they are concerned the greatest crime of the present government is the surreptitious tendency to link with devolution. JVPers are not much concerned with the plight of the people caught in the economic disaster nor about the enslavement to global capital. What bothers them primarily is the tendency to yield to a political solution. In spite of red banners and pickets, the JVP remains the most reactionary Black Angel. However they are very keen to get some foothold in this business of the provincial councils. I remember well that as elected members of the Western Provincial Council they participated and made a significant contribution to strengthen the PC setup. They indirectly confirm that these councils are useful and beneficial to the people. Their hate for devolution and provincial councils arises out of pure Sinhala chauvinism. They cannot stand the Tamils, Muslims and Christians and local communities sharing in the power mechanism.

Validity

In Colombo district elections, the validity of devolution will be the primary concern of the people. It is a district of Tamils, Muslims, Christians and other smaller communities. At the same time it is the red base of the Sinhala racist petty bourgeoisie. The UNP did well in the past because of the faith of Tamils, Muslims and Christians that it was more tolerant than the SLFP. But in the recent past, particularly after the last presidential elections, the UNP did not stand up for the rights of minorities as expected. Many have turned away and are looking for an alternative.

This is where the Left could benefit if they could agree to a Left party. Within the UNP, suddenly, an anti-Wickramasinghe group has developed on a chauvinist platform. Rukman, a descendent of the founder of the UNP has taken the ancestral sword into his hand to chop the head of the present leader. He talks loudly but how powerful is he? In any case the clamour this guy created has made the Tamils and Muslims, who think that the UNP is their safe house, shiver. On the other hand all those who are carried away by the chauvinist campaign of the government are delighted by Rukman - another Parakramabahu from Bothale Walauwa to rescue the landed gentry from the unscrupulous post modernist Ranil Wickramasinghe! Rukman has created a mini war inside the UNP to imitate the true battle taking place in the Mullaitivu jungles.

In Mullativu, it is claimed that still nearly 200,000 people are committed to face the last struggle. Here in Colombo in this mock battle, just how many are prepared to die for Wicky the great?

Quo vadis, Tiger, Tiger?

By Namini Wijedasa

Will the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam soon retract their claws and slink away dejectedly after decades of bloody, mutinous warfare against the Sri Lankan state? Not really, say military and political analysts.

Restricted to a shrinking sliver of scorched earth in the Mullaitivu district, the Tigers are fighting with their backs to the wall. It has been an excruciating and costly battle for both sides, in terms of men and money. But for first time in recent history, a conventional defeat of the LTTE seems likely.

Guerilla warfare

The battle will now shift to a different level, warn these observers. And it is not a contention that the government disagrees with. “I think the high-intensity conflict will end this year with the LTTE losing territorial control,” reflected Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist and analyst who has long observed Sri Lanka’s internal war. “But the low-intensity conflict, the hit-and-run guerrilla warfare, will continue for an indefinite period.”

“The LTTE military cadres will go underground and resort to guerrilla and terrorist attacks based on good intelligence,” agreed Hiran Halangode, a retired brigadier with widespread experience fighting the Tigers. “They have money and will buy anything to cause havoc. Because of their 25-year background there will be method in their madness. I feel that sympathisers in Tamil Nadu and the Tamil diaspora headed by such fronts as the World Tamil Movement will provide funds and propaganda to keep the Eelam dream alive.”

In the immediate future, Halangode expected the LTTE to bury or conceal any remnants of their military hardware and to merge with civilians, “pretending to be innocent”. G Y de Silva, a retired air vice marshall, also maintained that the LTTE will return to guerrilla warfare, attacking everyone from politicians and military to innocent villagers. “They will target any Tamil who will support the government,” he added.

Terrorism

Asked whether the country could see an increase in terrorism, he replied in the affirmative, saying there would be hit-and-run attacks or suicide bombings. “The LTTE will create panic to prevent economic development taking place, particularly in tourism and foreign investment.”

In a recent interview, Rohan Gunaratna, an international terrorism expert also predicted: “The LTTE is a guerrilla group. The LTTE has been able to infiltrate its members into other parts of the North and East. A counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operation takes longer than expected.” He said that, with a significant support base overseas, a concentrated effort to dismantle the LTTE’s shipping, procurement, financial, propaganda and other structures overseas was vital.

“The war which we have been fighting for the past 30 years will end,” said Laxman Hulugalle, director of the Media Centre for National Security. “Everyone said we can’t win. Successive presidents tried and failed. But we took on the challenge and the end may come in two weeks or less.”

Nevertheless, the Tiger will not change its stripes. Hulugalle said attacks like those in the US, Mumbai, Lahore or even London in 2005 were “unavoidable”. They can happen at any time, anywhere. “I’m not talking only of LTTE terrorism,” he explained. “We have definitely beaten and defeated them but there could be a terrorist attack in ten years. Somebody might ask why we can’t control terrorism but tell me who has done that so far? Nobody.”

Asked how long a renewed spell of guerrilla warfare would last, Sarvananthan felt it would depend on how quickly the security forces eliminated the LTTE’s top leadership. He declined to name them but the main surviving Tiger top guns are considered to be Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman and Soosai, all of Velvettithurai in Jaffna.

Angola

As an analogy, Sarvananthan drew comparison with UNITA — the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola — that fought the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the Angolan War for Independence from 1961 to 1975 and in the ensuing civil war of 1975 to 2002. Despite a 1995 peace agreement, UNITA soon returned to conflict but disintegrated after leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in a military ambush in 2002. UNITA then abandoned armed struggle and participated in electoral politics, winning 16 out of 220 seats in 2008 parliamentary elections.

“The next thing,” Sarvananthan continued, “is to wean away the Tamil population that may still be supportive of the LTTE. This means putting forward a viable, acceptable political solution.”

Still, not everyone agrees with the contention that the LTTE will return to — and succeed in — renewed guerrilla warfare. “They usual answer is that the LTTE will take to guerrilla warfare as they did in the beginning,” reflected Jayantha de Silva, a retired army officer. “But will they?”

Situations have changed

De Silva said the situation today differed from the 1980s when the Tigers were able to coerce the support of the Tamil population, merging with civilians after their attacks. “The Tamil people in the North and East no longer support them,” he opined. “Consequently, our intelligence will be better placed to obtain intelligence of their presence, and more importantly, of their intentions. A guerrilla force survives on the largesse of the people. If the people are against them, they cannot survive.”

A guerrilla force also needs leaders, de Silva observed. And, if they cannot hide among the civil population, they need a base to operate from. “The security forces know this because they, too, are trained in anti-revolutionary warfare or anti-guerrilla warfare,” he noted. “They will take action to deny such bases to any leftover groups. They will go after the leaders and any communications they have. Without the support of the population, leadership and communications, the guerrilla bands will be forced to disband.”

De Silva pointed out that the LTTE and 32 other groups formed by Tamil politicians (based on the decision they took at the Vadukkodai meeting in 1976) all came from criminal underworld gangs and smuggling rings of the Jaffna peninsula. Only four of the groups were from universities and Tamil intelligentsia.

“The disbanded LTTE will now try to merge back into the underworld and smuggling rings and revert to being criminals and smugglers,” he said. “A few who still have some ammunition may form their own gangs and do what some army deserters have been doing, kidnapping for ransom and may perhaps even hold up banks and shops. But this should not last more than a year or so before they are all arrested or destroyed by army patrols.”

What will remain of the LTTE are the overseas fundraising and arms purchasing cells, he foretold. Once the LTTE leadership is destroyed, these too will collapse. “The individuals who ran them will want to look after themselves and will take what funds they can and open up legitimate businesses such as restaurants and shops and try to manage the rest of their lives,” de Silva elaborated. “There is also the fear that the LTTE will resort to suicide bombing in our major cities. While this may happen through suicide teams that have already been dispatched, these will not last long as they will disappear through attrition.”

De Silva clarified his comments by saying they were based on a pragmatic assessment of what is possible in “a normal military context”. “Unfortunately the LTTE has never conformed to norms,” he said. “They have been writing their own book. As such, the above should be considered as a point to consider and not gospel.”

Never again — Gotabaya

In an interview, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaks on how the LTTE would transform itself after losing its territory, Excerpts:

On guerrilla warfare:

“Everybody says the LTE will return to the guerrilla form of warfare but we are taking precautions. A main feature of our military campaign has been learning from the past so that weaknesses of previous military efforts are rectified. We were able to defeat them militarily this time.”

On prevention:

“We have now anticipated what they are going to do. If they plan to infiltrate in small groups and start trying to behave as in the 80s, we have means to cater to that. We will not allow jungles to be isolated. We will deploy troops and dominate each and every place. We have recruited enough people and will continue recruitment. We have strengthened the home guards, the military, the STF and police. We will not allow them to regroup in the jungles. It’s a myth that the LTTE will return as a guerrilla force because we won’t let them.”

On support for LTTE:

“The Tamil people will realise that following this military path is useless because for 30 years Prabhakaran tried to secure Eelam but got only destruction. They can see from the quantity of arms and ammunition the LTTE have been amassing that all the money collected went towards strengthening the terrorists and not towards the welfare of the people. The end result has been a destruction of youth, culture and lifestyle. The Tamil people will not support a continuance of war and the LTTE cannot do anything without this backing.”

On hardcore cadres:

“A few hardcore types may exist in small groups but we will gradually eliminate them.”

On the diaspora:

“The LTTE have developed a strong diaspora outside Sri Lanka. These people are unaware of the effects of terrorism. They live comfortably in countries like Cananda and USA. Their children go to good schools and they have good jobs. Once in a while they give money to the LTTE, collected either voluntarily or by force, they attend rallies and so on. The LTTE has money with which to lobby governments and politicians. They also try to lobby other Tamils, not just Sri Lankan Tamils. These efforts can be defeated through the resettlement and development programme, dealing with the humanitarian angle. The LTTE will not be allowed to infiltrate through political means.” [courtesy: Lakbima News]

Artillery pounds wounded Tamils trapped on beach

by Marie Colvin

MCTC0324C.jpgMarie Colvin, recognized as Best Foreign Correspondent in many of the British Press Awards, was wounded when she was fired upon in Vavuniya by the Sri Lankan Army in April 2001.

A THOUSAND amputees were among the wounded and dying waiting to be rescued from a beach in northeast Sri Lanka yesterday, according to aid agencies.

Frightened Tamil families, the latest victims of the country’s 26-year civil war, were hiding in makeshift trenches as they came under artillery fire while waiting to be evacuated from Puthumathalan beach.

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[Artillery in Maththalan-Vanni-more pics]

Last week the International Committee of the Red Cross removed 460 injured and their families from the area, using local fishermen to carry the wounded on wooden dinghies to the Green Ocean ferry leased for the operation. The ferry was due to return last night to rescue more of the injured.

Sophie Romanens, a Red Cross representative in Sri Lanka, said the scene was desperate. “The capacity for evacuation is far below the need,” she said. “We have to decide to take the casualties who are more badly injured and leave behind the ones who are less badly injured.” They are among 150,000 civilians trapped in an area of 13 square miles after fleeing a government offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers.

More than 300 civilians were being killed every week in artillery or air attacks, or were dying for lack of medical care, food or water, aid agencies said. The Tamils are desperate because the last hospital in the area was forced to close after twice being bombed by the Sri Lankan army.

The only medical treatment available is in a makeshift clinic at Puthumathalan, where the injured lie under tarpaulins with drips suspended from tree branches. The numbers trying to escape via the beach had “increased dramatically over the past week”, the Red Cross said.

The United Nations said 2,800 Tamils, mostly civilians, had been killed since the offensive began in January in the predominantly Tamil region of the island off the coast of India.

In an interview yesterday with The Sunday Times Balasingham Nadesan, the political leader of the Tamil Tigers, pleaded for an urgent ceasefire. He said the Tigers, classified as a terrorist organisation in Britain because of their use of suicide attacks, would enter negotiations with the government “without pre-conditions”.

The daily bombing and shelling was described by Nadesan as “geno-cidal warfare”. “We call for a ceasefire, loudly and clearly,” he said. “Continuous denial of humanitarian access to the civilian population, and non-stop artillery and aerial attacks, are creating an unbearable situation.”

He called for international monitors to see the situation, adding that the Tigers would respect the outcome of any referendum on an independent Tamil state as long as it was held “once people were allowed to return to their homes”.

Some civilians have managed to cross government lines to find safety at a hospital in the northern town of Vavuniya. The only foreign surgeon there, Hugues Roberts of Médecins Sans Frontières, said 960 casualties had been treated, most of them wounded by shells, landmines or gunshots. The victims ranged from a child of three to men and women in their seventies. “The ones dead, or gravely injured, we don’t see them,” said Roberts.

Joan Ryan, a Labour MP, said: “If the Sri Lankan government does not respond to this call for a ceasefire within 24 hours, Gordon Brown should call for the suspension of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth.”

A Commons debate on Sri Lanka is scheduled for Tuesday. [courtesy: The Sunday Times]

MCI0324.jpg

[London Times reporter Marie Colvin visitng Iraq mass graves, lost her eye in a grenade attack by Sri Lanka Army in 2001.-cbc.ca/Courtesy Hot Docs.

Who is a terrorist? confounding Canadian law

by Lesley Ciarula Taylor

At least some of the Tamils who rallied in downtown Toronto earlier this week consider the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam a liberation movement, not a terrorist group, and their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, a freedom fighter.

Flying flags of the Tamil Tigers – or ones that looked very similar – they demanded that Ottawa help establish a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.

"The Tigers are my freedom fighters," rally organizer Aranee Muru, a Canadian-born York University student, told The Star.

On the other hand, Hasaka Ratnamalala, a spokesperson for the Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada, declares that Prabhakaran "is a psycho who has killed thousands of people in Sri Lanka."

When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

WDCTC0322.jpg

[At the awareness rally in Washington DC, Feb 20, 2009-pic by: Muhun]

That question is at the heart of Federal Court rulings on whether refugees should get landed status or citizenship.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, introduced in the post 9/11 climate of November 2001, deliberately gave the minister of public safety very broad powers to decide if a refugee should stay or go because of terrorist connections.

It has turned into an agonizingly slow process that leaves people in limbo for years, even decades, because the Federal Court decisions just send the cases back for another ministerial ruling, which can again be appealed.

The cast of characters in a dozen cases examined by The Star in Greater Toronto ranges from an accordion player with the Tamil Tigers to a border guard alleged to have worked for the KGB to a Somali economist to a young Palestinian who joined Fatah not long after the Six Day War.

A man who was a Sandinista prison guard in Nicaragua in the 1980s came to Canada in 1991 and is still fighting deportation.

The law raises three big issues:

• Are all violent liberation movements terrorist?

• Is every part of a terrorist or violent organization suspect?

• Does something that happened a long time ago count?

The rulings, spread over the past year, deal with people accepted as refugees a decade or more ago, in many cases precisely because of their connection to a terrorist or violent group. When they try to become permanent residents, several layers of bureaucracy kick in to decide if their past trumps their future in Canada.

"They don't apply (the law) to everybody," said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. "If they did, it would simply not function. Under the law, Nelson Mandela is inadmissable to Canada, or any of the other members of the ANC. But they are allowed in.

"One of the speculations is that the government is wilfully doing this, hoping that the person will die or go away. In the 1990s, the predominant mood was that nobody would make any decisions at all. They didn't want something appearing in the National Post about someone with dubious connections that would embarrass them, so they let people moulder."

A 55-page government document spells out what the law says. There's also a proviso that the minister of public safety or the minister of immigration can introduce regulations to spell out criteria still further, making the system more transparent and objective. Ultimately, the law hangs onto its "maximum flexibility and capacity to respond quickly" to changing circumstances.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act has two pivotal sections: one that excludes people involved in espionage, subversion, crimes or terrorism or for whom there are "reasonable grounds to believe" they belong to an organization that may have been involved. The second covers violations of human rights and crimes against humanity. Both carry an exception, letting the minister decide that someone being in Canada "would not be detrimental to the national interest."

Are all violent liberation movements terrorist?

The question of how history transforms a once-terrorist organization into a freedom-fighting one bedevils every level of decision-making in these cases.

Salah-Eddin Ramadan, born in Palestine but a Jordanian citizen, won refugee status in 1997 because he had been tortured by Jordanian security over his membership in the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In trying to stop his permanent residence application, the government argued that while the PLO is now a legitimate representative of Palestinians, it wasn't when he belonged. Perhaps, said the court, but the important question is whether Ramadan, who has lived and worked here for 11 years, is a threat to Canada. The case goes back to the minister.

"Fatah is now an organization with whom we have diplomatic relations, considered to be the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," said Ramadan's lawyer, Lorne Waldman. "He is being penalized for his membership long ago."

Liberation movements came into play, too, in the case of Edd Abdi Ismeal, who "has lived in Canada since March, 1998, is self-supporting and has never come to our adverse attention," an immigration officer reported in 2003.

But he had been an agitator for the insurgent Oromo Liberation Front in Ethiopia. He won refugee status, but when he applied for permanent residence years later, up went a red flag. The court allowed a new hearing.

Youssef Kanaan has given up and left Canada, 16 years after he arrived from Lebanon, even though the Federal Court has declared the decision by the minister of public safety to deport him "unreasonable."

In his original claim, Kanaan said he had lived all of his life in a Palestinian refugee camp, where he was forced to join the Abu Nidal Organization, considered the world's most dangerous terrorist organization in the 1980s. He later recanted, saying he told that story on the advice of a translator to improve his chances of staying.

While his various applications went through the system, "he became increasingly freaked out," said his lawyer, Andrew Brouwer. He had never seen a daughter, who is now 16. The refugee camp the family had lived in was destroyed; his wife and children were living in a parking garage in Tripoli.

The case is back a third time before the minister, now Peter Van Loan, and Kanaan is out of the country.

"The government casts a ridiculously wide net" in its definition of reasonable grounds to believe someone belongs to a group involved in terrorist activities, said Brouwer. "Not every liberation movement is a terrorist group."

The Kanaan decision has turned into a precedent for other rulings. The court in Kanaan derided the "simplistic view that the presence in Canada of someone who at some time in the past may have belonged to a terrorist organization abroad can never be in the national interest of Canada."

Is every part of a terrorist or violent organization suspect?

Cases often hinge on what "member" of a terrorist organization means. Mohammed Reza Sepid admitted he recorded videotapes, made photocopies and distributed flyers about the political agenda of MEK, one of the 40 entities "listed" by the Ministry of Public Safety and described as an Iranian terrorist organization dedicated to overthrowing the Iranian government. The court rejected his argument he was merely a "supporter."

Timing tipped the balance for Mozafar Chogolzadeh, who had a "long standing past membership" in MEK, which even arranged immigration to Canada for him and his family. He broke with the Iranian terrorist organization, but only when it sided with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein against the Iraqi Kurds. Since that was too little, too late, the court said, his review was denied.

MHQTC0322.jpeg

[Muhammad Hassan Qureshi's past involvement in Pakistan's MQM party is thwarting his bid for Canadian residency. (March 4, 2009)-pic by Rick Eglinton/Courtesy of: Toronto Star]

Muhammad Hassan Qureshi joined the Muttahid Qaumi Movement, or MQM, as a student in Pakistan, fleeing to Canada because he feared for his life from other political parties. The MQM is a socialist political party and part of the current government. It has been called a terrorist group by Canadian government lawyers.

An Immigration and Refugee Board hearing found Qureshi "complicit in crimes against humanity" and didn't believe he couldn't have known of MQM's violence, rioting and torture.

The federal court said there was no evidence Qureshi engaged in terrorism and that it was unreasonable to conclude he was complicit in crimes against humanity. But the court agreed he was definitely a member of MQM. It turned down his appeal but encouraged him to apply for ministerial relief.

"A lot of Pakistanis accepted in the 1990s were members of MQM, and this is coming back to bite" the government, said Max Berger, Qureshi's lawyer. "MQM is no better or worse than any other political party in Pakistan."

Qureshi, a 34-year-old security guard in Toronto, said in an interview he was "working for a cause, a good cause" in Pakistan to fight poverty, joblessness and unjust quotas. "Everybody was supporting MQM in Karachi."

It was only when he came to Canada, he said, that he heard about its dark side.

Zubair Afridi, a Toyota assistant sales manager in Brampton, arrived in 1998 on the run from security forces in Pakistan he believed would kill him. He had belonged to the MQM, as had most of his family, as a political organizer.

As in most of the cases, Afridi asked for "ministerial relief" and was refused. The court overturned the minister's decision, which means it goes back to the minister for a second verdict.

The legal language is too vague, lawyers say.

"It becomes a question of: `Do we like your movement?'," said Raoul Boulakia, who represented a Sri Lankan case.

"We need a definition, not loose impression," said Brouwer.

"Hezbollah is a good example," noted Berger. "It has a wing of suicide bombers and a wing that just does charitable work. Under the current law, a doctor working for Hezbollah would not be admissable."

Imad Uddin Jilani, who said he joined the MQM to do social work, belonged for 16 years before coming to Canada in 2003. Whether or not he engaged in terrorism, the court said, MQM did. His appeal was also denied.

MQM has several branches in Canada, including Toronto. Stephen Harper had his picture taken with MQM-Canada leaders in 2006, when he was Conservative leader.

Abdullahi Mohamed Yahie had been a human resources director in a ministry of the Somali government. Ottawa argued Yahie worked for it during the height of the government's atrocities. But was he a senior official? No, said the court.

"Sometimes it's pretty obvious," said lawyer Waldman, who represented Yahie, now a socioeconomist at the African Development Bank in Tunisia hoping to be reunited with his family north of Toronto.

"If you were a member of the cabinet of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust or the Pol Pot regime during the killings in Cambodia, that's one thing.

"A lot of people work in government, but that doesn't mean they're complicit in the atrocities committed. In some cases, they're trying to ameliorate the situation."

Three cases involve the Tamil Tigers, which Canada clearly defines as terrorist. Mary Antanita Savundaranayaga, who played accordion in the cultural wing, and Kanapathy Murugamoorthy, a reporter with a Tiger-controlled newspaper, won their reviews because there was no evidence of direct involvement in crimes.

Raveendran Rajadurai, who admitted to having dug bunkers, hung posters and supplied food for the Tigers, lost.

"Everything armies do in war can be considered terrorism," said Boulakia, Savundranayaga's lawyer. "There are very few wars where the rule of law is obeyed."

Does something that happened a long time ago count?

In the case of Basheer Kablawi, who had belonged to the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party for two decades before arriving in Canada in 1995, the court said the minister was right "to be skeptical about Mr. Kablawi's claimed ignorance of the SSNP's history of violent behaviour" even though he had been law-abiding and was well-established in Canada and had three daughters at the University of Western Ontario.

Jaime Carrasco Varela, who spent six years with Nicaragua's Sandinista military in the 1980s, argued that the Managua Accord led to a general amnesty when the fighting against the U.S.-backed Contras ended.

"Mr. Carrasco's participation in a death squad and the treatment of the prisoners was so grave" that he should not be part of the pardon, the court said.

Carrasco is still fighting to stay in Canada. [courtesy: The Toronto Star]

Lesley Ciarula Taylor is the Immigration Reporter for The Toronto Star

Protect Civilians to Facilitate Long-term Peace

by Lisa Curtis and Nicholas Hamisevicz

The Sri Lankan army's recent military success against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is being diminished by international concern over the deteriorating human rights situation surrounding the fighting.

The Sri Lankan army has been able to drive out the LTTE, designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State, from its strongholds in the north of the island and from Kilinochchi, the city the LTTE used as a capital. The army is on the verge of military victory, having forced the Tigers into a small patch of jungle in northeast Sri Lanka. Over the long term, the likelihood of the Sri Lankan government uniting the nation will be diminished if massive civilian suffering accompanies its military victory.

Humanitarian Concerns

The fighting has had dire consequences for civilians in the region and prompted international concern that the Sri Lankan government is not taking adequate action to protect non-combatants. On March 13, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to express the United States' deep concern over the deteriorating conditions and increasing loss of life in the designated "safe zone" in northern Sri Lanka. Clinton stated that the Sri Lankan army should not fire into the civilian areas of the conflict zone and urged the president to give international humanitarian relief organizations full access to the conflict area and displaced persons camps. Some health officials say more than 500 patients in the war zone have died since January due to a lack of medical supplies.

Although some civilians have been permitted to leave the conflict areas, the Red Cross believes there are at least 150,000 civilians still trapped in Tiger-held areas. Human rights organizations are reporting that designated "safe zones" for civilians have been bombarded by artillery fire.[1] Additionally, the United Nations reported that cluster bombs were used against the last working hospital in northern Sri Lanka.[2] However, after an attack on Puthukudiyiruppu, the last town controlled by the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government claimed it captured the hospital allegedly shelled by the Sri Lankan military.[3]

The Sri Lankan government has set up "welfare villages" (refugee camps) to house displaced persons from the conflict region and to monitor civilians until the fighting is over, but there have been questions over the treatment of these persons. Reports state that barbed wire surrounds the camps, which are guarded by the army. Rumors persist that the Sri Lankan government will not allow people to leave the camps unless one of their relatives remains behind. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has protested against the conditions of the camps, which prompted the Sri Lanka government to claim it will resettle 80 percent of the people in the welfare villages by the end of 2009.[4]

As the LTTE loses ground militarily and is no longer able to fight conventionally, it will likely step up suicide attacks in other parts of the country and could engage in guerilla war fighting for years to come. Indeed, on March 10, a LTTE suicide bomber killed at least 14 and injured 35, including Postal Services Minister Mahinda Wijesekera and Culture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, 100 miles south of Colombo in the town of Akuressa.[5]

Journalists Under Threat

The government of Sri Lanka has banned journalists from traveling to the conflict areas and has cracked down on media dissent against its military campaign. Journalists reporting on the conflict have noted numerous threats and acts of intimidation.[6] On January 6, the control room of Sri Lanka's largest independent broadcaster, Sirasa TV, was destroyed by an explosive device. After Lasantha Wickramatunga, a prominent newspaper editor and critic of the government, was shot and killed on his way to work in January, his newspaper ran a posthumous editorial in which he had declared that the government would kill him.[7] The government of Sri Lanka firmly denies any involvement in the killing of journalists, but Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said publicly that dissent or criticism during a time of war would be considered treason.

Turning to the Chinese

The human rights concerns in Sri Lanka are limiting U.S. engagement with the country's leadership and leading the Sri Lankans to depend increasingly on Chinese aid. Already, the U.S. has cut off development funding for Sri Lanka by "de-selecting" the country for access to Millennium Challenge Corporation funding, citing "ongoing security concerns" in 2007.[8] The U.S. also cut off direct military assistance to Sri Lanka in 2008 because of human rights concerns, and financial assistance has decreased from $20.65 million in 2005 to an estimated $7.4 million in 2008.[9] Sri Lanka has begun to look increasingly toward China for assistance since Chinese aid comes with no strings attached. In fact, China has become Sri Lanka's largest donor, providing almost $1 billion in aid last year.[10] Chinese fighter jets, weapons, and radar have also been vital to the Sri Lankan military victories over the LTTE.[11]

Recommendations

The U.S., along with other concerned countries in the Tokyo Co-Chairs group (Japan, U.S., Norway, and the European Union) should advocate for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to be able to screen and record each person in the camps or "welfare villages."[12] Allowing the ICRC to record and monitor people being placed in the camps would reduce the Tamil population's fears of human rights abuses. Additionally, the U.S. should continue to urge the Sri Lankan government to allow international aid agencies to deliver aid and supplies directly to the camps.

The U.S. and other concerned countries, such as India, should also stress to the Sri Lankan government the importance of addressing Tamil minority concerns as part of a longer-term approach to promoting reconciliation and peace in the country. If the government forces defeat the LTTE militarily, they will need to quickly take steps to promote a post-war reconciliation process that addresses Tamil grievances. The U.S. and other nations should stress that Sri Lankan government efforts to promote a reconciliation process would help shore up Sri Lanka's international reputation and allow for resumption of assistance that was curtailed due to human rights concerns.

Toward a Unified, Prosperous, Democratic Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government must increase its efforts to protect civilian human rights and Tamil citizens not connected with the LTTE. It is in the U.S. interest to see Sri Lanka maintain standards of democracy and accountability, even as the country stands on the verge of militarily defeating the LTTE. An apparent disregard for human rights would damage Sri Lanka's international reputation as well prospects for sustaining peace once the current military operation ceases.

As in many other areas of the world, in the short term, a policy sensitive to international standards of human rights opens the door to Chinese diplomatic exploitation. But time will show that it is the U.S. and its like-valued friends who have Sri Lanka's real interests at heart. Recognition of this fact by the Sri Lankan government is essential to achieving victory over the LTTE—the kind of victory upon which a unified, prosperous, and democratic nation can be built. [courtesy: heritage.org]

Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center and Nicholas Hamisevicz is a Research Assistant in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.



[1]Ranga Sirilal, "Sri Lanka Troops Kill Tamil Tiger Finance Chief," Reuters, March 12, 2009, at www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSCOL467908 (March 12, 2009).

[2]Los Angeles Times, "U.N. Cites Sri Lanka Cluster Bomb Use," February 4, 2009, at www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-fg-srilanka4-2009feb04,0,
7560986.story
(February 10, 2009).

[3]Sirilal, "Sri Lanka Troops Kill Tamil Tiger Finance Chief."

[4]Jeremy Page, "Barbed Wire Villages Raise Fears of Refugee Concentration Camps," The Times, February 13, 2009, at www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article572163
5.ece
(March 9, 2009).

[5]"Sri Lanka 'Suicide Bomber' Kills 14," BBC, March 10, 2009 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7934095.stm(March 12, 2009); "Fifteen killed in Sri Lanka Suicide Bombing: Police," Agence France-Presse, March 10, 2009, at www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hlaMrWBgavYA1xHQq
CLpFqYhs0oA
(March 12, 2009).  

[6]Ibid.

[7]Chris Morris, "Sri Lanka Journalists 'Risk Death,'" BBC, February 3, 2009, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7866253.stm (February 10, 2009). 

[8]K. Alan Kronstadt, "Sri Lanka: Background and U.S. Relations," CRS Report for Congress, January 22, 2008, at http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL31707_20080122.pdf (March 18, 2009); Millennium Challenge Corporation, "Sri Lanka Compact-Eligible Report," November 2007, at www.mcc.gov/documents/csr-srilanka.pdf (March 18, 2009).

[9]Emily Wax, "Sri Lanka's War on Several Fronts," The Washington Post, February 22, 2009, p. A-12, at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02
/21/AR20090222101806.html
/21/AR20090222101806.html/21/AR20090222101806.html/21/AR20090222101806.html (March 18, 2009); Thomas Lun, "U.S. Foreign Aid to East and South Asia: Selected Recipients," CRS Report for Congress, October 8, 2008, p. 34, at http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL31362_20081008.pdf (March 18, 2009).

[10]Somini Sengupta, "Take Aid from China and Take a Pass on Human Rights," The New York Times, March 9, 2008, at www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/weekinreview/09sengupt
a.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/i/International%20
Relations
(March 10, 2009).

[11]Brahma Chellaney, "China Fuels Sri Lankan War," Japan Times, March 4, 2009, at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20090304bc.html (March 12, 2009).

[12]Jeffrey Lunstead, former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, recommended this idea in his recent testimony before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee. See Jeffrey Lunstead, "Statement on the Situation in Sri Lanka," testimony before the Subcommittee on South and Central Asian Affairs, Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senate, 111th Cong., 1st Sess., February 24, 2009, at http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/2009/LunsteadTestimony090224p.pdf (March 20, 2009).

Tamil Canadian Legal professionals want Ottawa to invoke "Responsibility to protect" doctrine in Sri Lanka

Full Text of Letter to Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean Governor General of Canada: 

We, the Tamil Canadian Legal Professionals, seek to bring to your attention the savage situation in the North of Sri Lanka, which further compounds a humanitarian crisis, and has threatened to annihilate the entire Tamil civilian population trapped in the arena of war. The alarming situation is agonizing to Tamil Canadians because they are fellow-humans and are members of our Tamil fraternity. We are emotionally disturbed because thousands of our families and friends are among the multitude who are caught in the conflict zone and convulsing in the throes of famine, death and destruction.

We submit that the unfolding scenario in the North of Sri Lanka has the frightening features of an impending carnage. Unfortunately, the international community has opted to remain a mute spectator. We respectfully urge you to use your good offices and take timely action to address our concerns as a matter of paramount importance and urgency. The bare facts are as follows:

1. In the face of advancing security forces, bombing and shelling, over three hundred thousand Tamil civilians have been dislodged from their homes and habitats. They are squeezed into tiny strip of land in Vanni, bereft of basic necessaries including food, shelter and medicine. Day-to-day hundreds are dying and hundreds are wounded in artillery shelling, rocket attacks, cluster bombing and cross firing. James Ross, Legal and Policy Director at Human Rights Watch has recently said: "Sri Lankan forces are shelling hospitals and so-called ‘safe zones’ and slaughtering the civilians there" (Human Rights Watch-"Sri Lanka: End ‘War’ on Civilians", February 19, 2009). Even the few doctors who opted to stay and take care of the wounded civilians in make-shift hospitals have been providing medical care under primitive conditions, without adequate facilities, equipments or sufficient stock of drugs. Many wounded civilians have bled to death.

2. Hundreds of civilians who had managed to survive artillery or aerial attacks have died of starvation. They include women, children and the aged. Their kith and kin are always on the run and have no time to bury the dead or care for the injured. Scores of people have died inside bunkers due to shock and starvation. The field report of Medecins Sans Frontieres dated Feb. 26, 2009 recount how a "family spent days in a bunker without food and water, out of desperation and despite the shelling, they left their bunkers to get some food when three out of the 15 family members were killed on the spot."

3. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and those who fled the Vanni war theatre are kept in Sri Lankan army detention camps at different locations and internment centers in Vavuniya, besides the wounded at the Vavuniya hospital. There are reliable reports of pervasive violence and human rights abuses committed against these Tamil inmates. Since these camps are designated high security camps humanitarian workers are denied access and systematic violations take place with impunity.

4. We note that there was a discussion on Sri Lanka in British Parliament on Tuesday, February 24, 2009. According to the Hansard Report on the discussion, members have expressed concern that the Sri Lankan government is "quite prepared to go ahead with acts of genocide". We strongly suspect that the intent of the Sri Lankan government is to "resolve" the Tamil ethnic question by committing genocide. As against independent estimates by humanitarian agencies that there are around 250,000 civilians trapped in the conflict area, the government falsely claims that only 70,000 Tamil civilians are left behind in the area. The government has been deliberately fudging facts and figures for the purpose of executing its evil design. By the time, the civilized world wake up to condemn the carnage, it will be a fait accompli. The government’s early moves to eject the NGOs, humanitarian agencies and media persons etc. were not acts of aberration or arrogance. These innocent people in their thousands live in the shadow of death. The egregious acts of the Sri Lankan government in violation of the International Humanitarian Law are unrelated to its security concerns or military logistics. It is of utmost importance that the International Community should intervene decisively at least by now, and not to ruefully ruminate later after hundreds of thousands have perished.

5. In these circumstances, when a State fails to protect a section of its own population and, in deed, commits acts of genocide against such people a responsibility to protect the Tamils in Sri Lanka falls squarely on the International Community, acting primarily through the United Nations, to initiate political, diplomatic, economic and legal preventive measures. We note that, at the end of 2001, the Canadian Government-sponsored International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (I.C.I.S.S.) formally presented a report entitled "The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)" to UN Secretary General and the United Nations. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was embraced by an unanimous declaration of the World’s Heads of Member States of the U.N. at the United Nations World Summit in September 2005 and reaffirmed in April 2006 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1674: ‘The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict’. We strongly believe that the Canadian Government together with UN will assume its shared ‘Responsibility to React’ to the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka though international or regional actors, including the UN, have failed in their ‘Responsibility to Prevent’.

6. We salute Canada for its endorsement of R2P. We respectfully urge the Government of Canada to apply the R2P doctrine in a meaningful and productive way to address the ominous threats faced by the Tamils in Vanni and to prevent gross and systematic violations of Human rights in Sri Lanka. Further, we urge the Government of Canada to appoint Special Envoy to visit Sri Lanka to assess the humanitarian situation in the conflict zone and the humanitarian needs of the Tamils, who have fled the conflict zone and are now living in army-controlled internment centers and detention camps in Mannar, Jaffna and Vavuniya. In the context of reports of abuses by security personnel against the IDPs, it is crucial to ensure that they are treated and protected in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, 1998 adopted by the UN.

7. We urge the Government of Canada to call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to invoke the World Summit Outcome Document Endorsement of R2P and develop a strategy to implement R2P effectively in the Sri Lankan crisis on an emergency basis.

8. Further, we submit that the Canadian Government has Obligations Owed to All people under the different Geneva Humanitarian Conventions. As an immediate measure, we urge our government to assume its legal obligation under Article 1 of the Genocide Convention, 1948 adopted by the Member states of the United Nations and to call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to invoke Article VIII of the Convention.

On behalf of the Tamil Canadians we thank you for your indulgence and earnestly request early action.

Yours truly,

Tamil Canadian Legal Professionals Association

cc:

(1) The Honourable Stephen J. Harper, P.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Canada

(3) (2) The Honourable Michael Ignatieff, M.P. Leader of the Opposition

(4) The Honourable Gilles Duceppe, M.P. Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Caucus

(5) The Honourable Jack Layton, M.P. Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada

(6) The Honourable Elizabeth May Leader of the Green Party of Canada

(7) Ms.Navanethem Pillay High Commissioner for Human Rights

(8) Ms. Michele Griffin United Nations Secretariat, Department of Political Affairs

(9) Mr. Matthew Neuhaus, Director, Commonwealth Secretariat

(10) Mr. Pedro Serrano, Head Office of the Ambassador, Council of the European Union with the United Nations

(11) Ms. Laura Dolcikannan, NGO Liaison Officer, OHCHR Civil Society Unit

____________________________________________

Tamil Canadian Legal professionals Association

Ms. D. Gunarajah, Barrister & Solicitor-President
Mr. S. Navaratnam, Barrister & Solicitor-Vice President
Mr. R. Maharajah, Barrister & Solicitor-Secretary

210-2401 Eglinton Ave East - Toronto – Ontario – M1K 2N8 – Phone: (416) 207-1773 - Email: tclpa2009@gmail.com

"White man" bashing is becoming hallmark of the Rajapakse presidency

by Dushy Ranetunge in London

If Indian bashing was a hallmark of the Premadasa Presidency, the "white man" bashing is a hallmark of the Rajapakse presidency. INGOs, human rights bodies, diplomats or anything else that moves which happens to be even remotely connected to the "white man" is fair game.

The "white man" is viewed as being "colonial", standing in the way of ``Sinhalese’’ sovereignty (note the emphasis), unity and territorial integrity of "Sinhalese" Sri Lanka and obstructing its victory over terrorism. I refer to "Sinhalese" Sri Lanka, because "Tamil" Sri Lanka does not have such a view of the "White man".

CMBTC0322.jpg

[Colombo Airport~pic: Geraint Owen]

Not long ago it was the "Indians" who were viewed as being "colonial", standing in the way of "Sinhalese" sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of "Sinhalese" Sri Lanka and obstructing its victory over terrorism. "Tamil" Sri Lanka did not have such a view of the "Indians" either.

The latest "white man" in hot water, is actually a woman. An officer of Her Majesty’s government who happened to be on duty at Bandaranaike International Airport, formerly an airbase of the Royal Air Force, during those "colonial" times.

The fracas related to the presence of a "white woman" inspecting passports and visa’s to advise the airlines of their authenticity. Some view this as a subjugation of sovereignty.

It must be pointed out at the outset that refugees from Sri Lanka, are certainly not "beggars" and are not the cause of the tightening of entry regulations in Europe and North America. The laws of common decency and also those that govern refugees have granted and continue to grant asylum status in many civilised countries. Even today in Colombo there are refugees from Central Asia and South Asia waiting to gain refuge in other countries. They are being processed by UN agencies in Colombo.

Lasantha Wickrematunga was also offered safety by these countries although he refused to accept the offers, later becoming a victim of those who claim to be patriots while bludgeoning our fragile democracy. These same foreign governments have also offered refuge to many Sri Lankan journalists more recently.

The real villains, who have made things difficult for Sri Lankan passport holders, are those who abuse asylum and immigration laws, in some cases even those who granted a diplomatic passport under a false name so that an alleged war criminal could travel to European countries. This alleged war criminal who was then apprehended and locked up at Her Majesty’s pleasure was later, shamelessly, made a Minister in the Rajapakse government.

It must be hastily pointed out that the new minister’s wife and children are safely ensconced in the Queen’s country using or may it be, abusing, asylum laws, giving a bad name to genuine Sri Lankan travellers. Hemantha Warnakulasuriya should take note and raise issue by firing off letters.

Now getting down to the crux of the matter, an aide of Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Italy, Hemantha Warnakulasuriya, had attempted to board a Sri Lankan airlines aircraft without a visa to Italy, but with an Italian Foreign Ministry ID document. The airline had sought the advice of the British Visa officer present. Considering the precedent of Karuna’s or (was it Kokila’s) diplomatic passport issue, the lady may have chosen to err on the side of caution. Who could blame her? It is doubtful if at the time, she would have even dreamt that she would be accused of colonialism, and the subjugation of Sri Lankan sovereignty.

On the advice of the lady, the airline had refused to allow the man to travel to Italy, and letters were allegedly fired in all directions, including one to the President, with the incident being declared a subjugation of sovereignty.

On Tuesday (17), Mr. Luca Fraticelli, the First Secretary of the Italian Embassy in Colombo stated that it was a minor matter and that it was ironed out the following day. He was not even aware that it had made the news. He confirmed that the Sri Lankan aide might travel to Italy on the Italian Foreign Ministry ID, without a visa.

Ambassador Ravinatha Ariyasinghe in Brussels, confirmed this when he stated on Wednesday (18th) "when we come to the EU, even the domestics are given a resident permit card, which is what establishes our residence in the Schengen area. For instance, I only had a three month valid visa and when I returned from abroad, it was the resident permit card that got me in.

Mr. Fraticelli also informed the Island that the Italians had trained the Sri Lankan Airlines staff with regards to authenticating travel documents. It seems that despite this training, the airline staff had referred the issue to the British officer present perhaps because even they would have found it unusual that someone was attempting to travel without a visa.

Once suspicion was aroused, telephone calls from Warnakulasuriya or even the President would not have made a difference. British civil servants are less prone to bending under pressure, unlike their Sri Lankan counterparts. The British like to follow procedure especially when there is doubt, and telephone calls to override are rarely successful.

A request to unload Sri Lankan Airlines passengers to make way for the President and his party was not quite obliged by Peter Hill, the former British CEO of Sri Lankan Airlines.

The Sri Lankan government cancelled his visa, but that would make no difference to Peter Hill. Only the Government was perceived as being bullies, not a favourable signal to send out, if Sri Lanka wants to attract foreign capital. Emirates pulled out. The nationalists among the Sinhalese Diaspora only wave flags and promote the nationalist gospel of ignorance and hate, but when the cash strapped Rajapakse government last month went around shaking the kitty, it ended up being less than full. Now its blasphemy, as the shaking kitty has had to be taken to the IMF of the "white man". How the cookie crumbles!

Although the newspaper report claimed that Ambassador Warnakulasuriya had fired off letters of protest all over, the Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona on Tuesday (17) stated that he has still not been informed of this.

Ambassador Warnakulasuriya had also allegedly stated that ALOs (Airline Liaison Officers) appointed by Embassies are harassing Sri Lankans working in the EU. This is a mischievous and political statement made to provoke in his favour.

The EU is no longer a favourable labour market for Sri Lankans to obtain employment. Priority is given to EU citizens and there is a large labour pool available from the new EU nations from Eastern Europe. A work permit is only provided for non-EU citizens for employment if it can be proven that EU citizens with similar skills are not available for employment.

If an employer in the UK for example, employs someone who does not have the legal rights to work in the United Kingdom, the Employer faces a large fine and a criminal conviction.

With unemployment rising in the EU zone, even existing work permits for non-EU workers are being reviewed.

But, is the presence of foreign immigration officers at BIA a subjugation of Sri Lankan sovereignty?

Similar facilities are found in Europe. For Example there is a very visible French Immigration post in Folkestone, United Kingdom checking passports of those embarking into the Eurotunnel train service. The British too have a similar facility in France.

Neither France, nor Britain regards the presence of foreign immigration officers on their territory as a subjugation of their sovereignty.

There is a cost involved in deploying an immigration officer from one country to carry out checks in another country. Such a cost is deemed justifiable only based on the risk of immigration and criminal fraud. France and Britain have deployed their immigration officers in each other’s ports and the Eurotunnel terminals and not Heathrow or Charles De Gaulle airport, based on their risk assessments. Sometimes a particular flight from a particular country is targeted. Similarly, if European nations have deployed officers at BIA at substantial cost to themselves, it is based on their risk assessments of that particular port or flight.

The issuing of diplomatic passport to an alleged war criminal to travel to Europe unlawfully under a different name only results in a revision of such a risk assessment to a more heightened state. This results in more checks and more inconvenience to ordinary passengers.

Most countries now impose heavy fines on airlines that carry passengers without lawful travel documents and in addition require that they be removed in some cases at the airlines cost. These costs are in turn passed on by the airlines to the passengers as increases in airfare.

Today that cost of an airline ticket from London to Colombo return, is cheaper that one from Colombo to London return.

If the presence of foreign immigration officers is removed from BIA, the cases of fraud and, in turn, fines on airlines will increase. The passing on of these costs will result in an increase of air travel costs to Sri Lankan passengers and even some airlines pulling out from Colombo altogether as they have in the recent past.

The network of Sri Lankan Airline results in the BIA becoming a hub, and passengers from other countries such as South and Central Asia board direct flights to London and other European cities from Colombo.

It must be noted that European immigration officers at BIA do not have the authority to stop anyone from travelling. They merely advise the airline that the travel documents of a passenger may be suspect. It is up to the airlines to decide if it wants to take the risk of a fine being levied at the other end and carry the passenger.

March 20, 2009

Chile President Michelle Bachelet’s love for Tamils

It was Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet’s love for Tamils that made her to accept the honorary doctorate degree from the University of Madras, according to S. Ramachandran, Vice-Chancellor of the University.

PMBTC0320A.jpg

[Chilean President Michelle Bachelet takes part in a meeting organized by one of India's leading trade bodies,the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), in Mumbai, India, Thursday, March 19, 2009-pic:AP Photo/Gautam Singh via Yahoo! News]

Recalling that President Pratibha Devisingh Patil was conferred the degree by the University of Chile in Santiago in April last year, Dr. Ramachandran said that the Indian authorities decided to reciprocate the gesture when the tour programme of Dr. Bachelet was prepared. About a month ago, the Madras University mooted the proposal when representatives of the University of Talca were here to work out the modalities for signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU). “She could have chosen to accept the honorary degree from other universities such as Mumbai but she selected the University of Madras as there are approximately 1.5 lakh Tamils living in Chile,” the Vice-Chancellor said.

He added that when Dr.Bachelet’s predecessor Ricardo Lagos visited India four years ago, he did not come to Chennai.

The Pro-Chancellor and Director of International Relations in the Chilean university Antony Raj was an alumnus of the Madras University. Before Dr. Bachelet was given the honorary degree, the University of Madras and the University of Talca signed a MoU.

Noting that the Talca University was the first South American University to enter into the MoU with the Madras University, Dr. Ramachandran said there would be cooperation in frontier sciences such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and bioinformatics. [courtesy: The Hindu]

D.S. de Silva may not last long as Sri Lankan cricket head

DSDESTC0320.jpgby Nirgunan Tiruchelvam

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been dismissed by his critics as a puppet. The opposition claim that he is a powerless figurehead, who is controlled by the Congress Leader Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.

As Dr. Manmohan Singh faces elections, a puppet may have been made the head of Sri Lanka Cricket. DS de Silva was appointed as the Chairman this month. He will lead yet another interim committee. Some people fear that DS may be a proxy for others.

The cricket administration resembles that of a Latin American country in the 70s.

There are frequent coups. This has ensured that every administration will be short-lived. Even if an election is held, it is unlikely that it will last more than a year.

That DS was briefly Sri Lanka’s captain and a superb leg-spinner is not widely remembered. DS de Silva is a long forgotten cricketer. Having retired in 1985, no member of the present team has watched him play.

His brief spell as captain for the 1983 tour to New Zealand tour may give us some clues to DS the administrator. The captain Duleep Mendis and his deputy Roy Dias were injured. The team was already depleted, having lost several players to the rebel tour to South Africa. DS was named the stand-in captain. The Kiwis were strong, particularly at home, with Richard Hadlee in his prime.

DS had no independent authority. He was captain only in name. Mendis and Dias, though sidelined, were not sent back. They stayed in the pavillion and looked over DS’s shoulder. Abu Fuard , the manager called the shots. Fuard was a dictator, whose word could not be questioned.

Unsurprisingly, Sri Lanka were trounced in both matches. The players were rudderless. In the second test, Rumesh Ratnayake jolted the Kiwis with his slinging pace. The teenaged Ratnayake, who was 23 years younger than his captain, broke the veteran batsman John Wright’s nose. He claimed four wickets.

However, the Sri Lankans squandered a 39 run first innings lead and lost the match by a huge margin. The basic problem was DS did not have power on the field. He was undermined.

It is a pity that he has not got more recognition as a player. DS was a standard-bearer for leg-spin bowling. Apart from Abdul Qadir, there were no other leg-spinner in international cricket. He bowled at a quick pace, like Anil Kumble.

Though he lacked Kumble’s height and bounce, DS could turn the ball.

He was considered the least talented of the three spinners who appeared in the inaugural test against England in 1982. Ironically, he was the only one who excelled at the highest level. Ajit de Silva and Lalith Kaluperuma shamed the country, soon after making their debut. They went on the rebel tour to South Africa and were banned for 25 years.

In his short test career of 12 tests and 41 ODIs, DS troubled the game’s best batsmen. Greg Chappell struggled against him. He nearly bowled us to our first test victory in Pakistan in 82. Allan Border was another who could not read him.

DS was supremely fit, despite making his test debut when he was almost 40. The others in the team were hard pressed to match his athleticism and his fearless attitude. He was inventive with the bat, scoring two fifties in tight situations.

He was also an honest man, who was not tempted by the money of the apartheid regime. As the only professional in the team and an ancient player, he would been ideal for the rebel tour. However, DS chose not to sell his soul.

Despite his fine pedigree, his adminstrative skills are limited. In fact, his record as Bloomfield’s and the under 19 team’s coach suggest that he is quarrelsome. He may not get along with the players. Ranatunga, another former player, failed to do so.

So, a long spell at the helm will elude him. It will take a brave man to bet that DS lasts more than a year. That is the way of Sri Lankan cricket, especially its puppets.

Journalist Tissainayagam tells courts that he was forced to sign dictated "confession"

By Susitha R. Fernando

Detained journalist J. S. Tissainayagam said at one stage of his struggle against human rights violations he had also assisted the Organisation of Parents and Family Members of Disappeared (OPFMD).

Making a statement from the dock, he said President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was then a MP from the Opposition and the Presidential Advisor Vasudeva Nanayakkara were members of the OPFMD.

[J. S. Tissainayagam in August 2008]

Vasudeva Nanayakkara and His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa gave political leadership to this organization and took the documents to Geneva, he said.

But this part which he included in his statement to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) was removed completely by its officers under duress and he was forced to sign a dictated statement despite his protest over factual inaccuracies there.

High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara issued summons on Presidential Advisor Vasudeva Nanayakkara to appear in court to give evidence on behalf of the defence on the next hearing on March 23.

Tissainayagam also said while he was working for a UNICEF project undertaken by ‘Medium’ - an independent organization, he found about children who had become orphans due to actions taken by the LTTE, JVP, the Indian Peace Keeping Force, EPRLF and other paramilitary groups but this too was not included in the statement which was later made his confession.

In his statement, Tissainayagam also said his first language was English and that he was made to write in Tamil by the TID officers Sergeant Razik, for the first time since he left school.

“The police officer dictated to me and forced me to write the statement which has now become my confession. I did not make this voluntarily but I was forced to do so by the police officer,” the journalist said.

In fact while recording the statement, Sergeant Razik told that I should corporate with him by writing down exactly what he said. He checked with a document and said what to write and I was forced to write, the journalist said.

He further said the police officer told him that if he corporated with him he would be released fast.

“When I found that there were factual inaccuracies I protested and he threatened me. Since I had no other option I continued to write,” Tissainayagam testified. The TID officer also has told the accused that his statement would be sent to the Supreme Court to expedite his release.

The journalist said it was unfair that he was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism of Act (PTA) for the alleged offence said to have been committed by him at a time when such law was not in operation due to the Ceasefire Agreement signed in February 2002.

During this period Tissainayagam also had traveled to the North as a journalist for journalistic purposes only. “During my visit I spoke to many religious leaders, NGOs, LTTE and lots of relatives of disappeared persons,” he said and emphasized that he was not the only journalist who visited the North and East during the said period.

“I am not someone who condones violence or terrorism. I have spoken against terrorism and all its forms. I stood up for victims of human rights violation and worked hard for peaceful resolution and all my writing as a journalist and as a researcher was to resolve conflict peacefully and not to provoke any type of disharmony,” continuing his statement Tissainayagam said.

J. S. Tissainayagam said that at one stage he intervened in releasing a Sri Lankan military person who was in LTTE custody by assisting the Organization of Parents and Family Members of Disappeared as he was able to talk in Tamil.

During his statement to open court Tissainayagama said that his father was a government servant who worked for the Sri Lankan government and retired as a director at the Department of Information in 1978.

“I was brought up in a multi ethnic environment in Colombo where my friends were from Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim and Burgher ethnic groups,” Tissainayagam said. This was continued in his school and university life at the Peradeniya University where he read for a degree in Political science and English.

Later he joined newspapers as a journalist. While attached to Marga Institute which conducted projects and researches Tissainayagam worked on various issues involving social sciences and during late 1980s he was worked in a project to bring about peace and ethnic harmony through a political solution to the war in the North and the youth insurrection in the south.

While in Marga Institute, Tissainayagam has helped the Organisation of Parents and Family Members of Disappeared and this was to find a peaceful solution to the insurrection where the youth from the south rebelled against the state.

“I was involved in collecting information of families and disappeared in preparing reports and making translations. Some of these translations were sent to overseas and human rights organizations like Amnesty International,”.

At that time the political leadership used these reports to speak about human rights abuses which were taken up then and Vasudeva Nanayakkara and his Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa who was at that time a parliamentarian from the Opposition were members of the organization.

Continuing his statement to the court, J. S. Tissainayagam said he was involved in a workers’ right and when there was an agitation for better pay. Subsequently Tissainayagam had initiated an action in the Labour Tribunal where he was ordered to pay compensation.

Following this he joined an organization called ‘Medium’ together with few others who left Marga Institute and undertook certain projects by organizations like UNICEF.

Working on this project Tissainayagam had toured to North and East which was also allowed under the Ceasefire Agreement.

The journalist categorically denied having had any contact with the LTTE or giving any money.

“North-East Monthly’ was a magazine available in book shops like Vijitha Yapa and Markeen and an account number was issued with the magazine to subscribe to the magazine,” he said.

“I am not a person who condone violence and support terrorism at any time in this country and promote communal disharmony,” J. S. Tissainayagam concluding his statement said.

In this case journalist J. S. Tissainayagam was indicted for an offence said to have been committed during the period between June 1, 2006 and June 1, 2007. He was charged for committing an offence of creating racial or communal disharmony through the printing or distribution of the publication North Eastern Monthly magazine, an offence which is punishable under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

He was also charged for committing an offence by contributing or collecting or obtaining information relating to or donating funds for the purpose of terrorism through the collection of funds for the magazine, which is an offence punishable under the Emergency Regulation. [courtesy: Daily Mirror]

Governments must not only enforce rule of law but also adhere to it

by Shanie

"In the face of our acquiescence to anti-democratic tendencies within the community, our plea for democracy becomes a meaningless exercise. Many individuals and young persons who voiced criticism of the political forces have been victimised, driven away, or killed while we looked on."

The above is an apposite comment on the state of our society today. But in fact it was written over twenty years ago in a public statement issued by over fifty academics of the University of Jaffna.

It was the precursor to the founding of the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) on the initiative of Rajan Hoole and Rajani Thiranagama, both of whom were also signatories to that statement. Within a couple of years of the issue of that statement, Hoole was forced to go underground and Thiranagama had been brutally assassinated. Many of the other signatories had been terrorised into acquiescing with the very anti-democratic tendencies which they were protesting. The statement went on: "Thus if the people are to regain their lost self-will and dignity, they will have to move towards a collective response. We have to assert universal values to which we are both emotionally and intellectually committed. It is the lack of such commitment that enabled us to come to terms with murder, when it concerned others’ sons, and then, watch helplessly in panic when the cancer, allowed to grow, threatened our own sons.’

The Jaffna academics were voicing the same sentiments about the fascist forces in the North as did Lasantha Wickrematunga about the fascist forces in the South when he quoted in his final testament the celebrated lament of

Pastor Martin Niemoeller about the Nazis:

"When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent; I was not a communist.
Then they locked up the social democrats.
I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
Then they came for the trade unionists.
I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out; I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me."

Today, what our country needs are not apologists for the violators of human rights but men and women of courage who can stand up and speak out against violence and injustice to their fellow human beings, even to those they themselves disagree with. We need men and women like Rajani Thiranagama, the twentieth anniversary of whose assassination falls in September this year. Shortly before her assassination, she wrote: "A state of resignation envelopes the community. The long shadow of the gun has not only been the source of power and glory, but also of fear and terror as well. In the menacing shadow play, forces complementing each other, dance in each other’s momentum. The paralyzing depression is not due to the violence and authority imposed from outside, but rather to the destructive violence emanating from within the womb of our society." Thiranagama was talking about the fascist LTTE in the North then, but it applies with equal force to the fascist clones of the LTTE in the South today.

The culture of impunity

M C M Iqbal is a human rights advocate who functioned as Secretary to Commissions on Disappeared Persons. He is now one among many who have now fled the country following threats to their lives. In a recent statement, he states: The modus operandi of the widespread abductions and disappearances we witness in Sri Lanka today is similar to what we saw in the late 1980s and early 1990s. President Rajapakse, who was a Member of Parliament then, was in the forefront of the struggle against these incidents. Now his regime has become one of the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances. The government has demonstrated an utter lack of resolve to inquire and investigate into these incidents. It downplays the problem, denying the scale of the incidents and blaming unknown persons for them. Lawyers and other human rights defenders who assist victims are branded as traitors or otherwise penalised. Even UN officials and Parliamentarians who espouse their cause are named as supporters of the LTTE."

The LTTE must be held responsible for many abductions, disappearances and extra-judicial killings mostly in the North and East and in the border areas. But sadly the government has to take responsibility for the culture of impunity that now prevails on respect of several abductions, disappearances and extra-judicial killings that have been taking in the recent past and for which para-military and pro-government fascist forces are believed responsible. It was chilling to hear the reported interview given by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse to the SBS, an Australian Broadcasting Station. In respect of the recent arrest of Vidyartharan, the editor of the Sudar Oli Tamil newspaper: "He is involved in the recent air attack and I am telling you if you try to give cover-up for that person you have blood in your hands. And if someone says he is arrested because he is in the media, that person also has blood on his hands." And it was the Defence Secretary who told a local broadcasting station soon after the attack on the MTV Studios that it was an inside job. He is a public official holding a responsible position. If he is making a responsible statement, it must be made not on surmises but only after the investigations have been completed. Is that, in truth, the position?

The Rule of Law

There is no substitute for a strict adherence to the rule of law and for transparency in all actions. That is the only way to uphold democracy even while engaging in a war on terrorism. The ruling party in Pakistan has just learnt to its cost what lack of transparency and political skulduggery can cause. Street protests have forced it into an embarrassing climb down after resisting norms of democratic rule. In Sri Lanka too, the open violation of the rule of law has spread itself into all areas. The brutal slaying of an abducted six year old child after a ransom demand was repulsive by any standard of morality. What makes it even more revolting is the growing suspicion that it was not one depraved individual who was behind it but a group with political connections. This was not the first time in recent years that young children have been killed by scoundrels with no scruples.

This violent trend in society can only be arrested by the government and the law enforcement authorities not only enforcing the rule of law but themselves adhering to it. Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressing the UN General Assembly five years ago stated: "The vision of ‘a government of laws and not of men’ is as almost as old as civilisation itself. In a hallway not far from this podium is a replica of the code of laws promulgated by Hammurabi more than three thousand years ago in the land we now call Iraq. Much of Hammurabi’s code now seems impossibly harsh. But etched into its tablets are principles of justice that have been recognised, if seldom fully implemented, by almost every human society since his time…. Yet, today the rule of law is at risk around the world. Again and again, we see fundamental laws shamelessly disregarded – those that ordain respect for innocent life, for the civilians, for the vulnerable, especially children….

"All over the world, we see people being prepared to further such acts (of violence) through hate propaganda directed at Jews, Muslims, against anyone who can be identified as different from one’s own group. No cause, no grievance, however legitimate in itself, can begin to justify such acts. They put all of us to shame. Their prevalence reflects our collective failure to uphold the rule of law, and instil respect for it in our fellow men and women. We all have a duty to do whatever we can to restore that respect….

"The rule of law starts at home. But in too many places it remains elusive. Hatred, corruption, violence and exclusion go without redress. The vulnerable lack effective recourse, and the powerful manipulate laws to retain power and accumulate wealth. At times even the necessary fight against terrorism is allowed to encroach unnecessarily on civil liberties…

"Throughout the world, the victims of violence and injustice are waiting. They are waiting for us to keep our word. They notice when we use words to mask inaction. They notice when laws that should protect them are not applied. I believe we can restore and extend the rule of law throughout the world. But ultimately that will depend on the hold that the law has on our consciences. This Organisation was founded on the ashes of a war that brought untold sorrow to mankind. Today we must look again at our collective conscience, and ask ourselves whether we are doing enough.

"Each generation has its part to play in the age-old struggle to strengthen the rule of law for all – which alone can ensure freedom for all. Let our generation not be found wanting."

How a cat named Rupee came to Calgary from Giritale

by Naomi Sanderson

We found her when we were on holiday in Sri Lanka. She came out of a pile of garbage on the roadside, running as quickly as her little legs could carry her. She was in distress and was crying out loudly. As she stared at us she sat on Menno’s foot and with that her fate was sealed! There was no way that we could leave this tiny, pathetic little creature all by herself on the side of a busy road. We cancelled our walk and carried her back to the hotel. She was so small that she fitted into the palm of my hand.

CatTC0320.jpg

We found her when we were on holiday in Sri Lanka. She came out of a pile of garbage on the roadside, running as quickly as her little legs could carry her. She was in distress and was crying out loudly. As she stared at us she sat on Menno’s foot and with that her fate was sealed! There was no way that we could leave this tiny, pathetic little creature all by herself on the side of a busy road. We cancelled our walk and carried her back to the hotel. She was so small that she fitted into the palm of my hand. We asked the hotel if she belonged to anyone. They said that her mother was hit by a car and killed and that she was an orphan. We tried to give her to one of the workers but there were no takers. She was in a pretty rough shape at the time – filthy, hungry, flea-infested and her eyes were covered in goop! I took her to the hotel room, rinsed her eyes and gave her some food. I set her in a box but this free spirit refused to be contained. Instead she crawled out and planted herself firmly on top of my backpack so that we wouldn’t sneak away without her.

For the next two weeks of our holiday, Rupee travelled with us. Although we never announced at the hotels that we had a kitten with us, for fear that they would turn us away, our fears may have been unfounded because nobody ever complained when I sneaked off with food or when they could hear her meows through the door! During her time with us Rupee grew healthier. I rinsed her eyes, picked the fleas off with my tweezers, gave her regular meals and most of all – LOVE. She slept cuddled up besides Menno and myself every night. As soon as we sat down at the end of the day she would crawl on our laps, heads and chests.

When we got to Colombo we immediately started working towards getting the necessary permits to take Rupee back to Canada. We were told there should be no problem to put her on the flight with us. But two hours before we were to leave for the airport the airline called and said that she was too young to fly and a permit could not be obtained. I was besides myself with distress. It was then that I called a committee member of The Animals’ Welfare and Protection Association - Mrs Manel Jayasekera - and her daughter Madri. They readily agreed to take Rupee and care for her until she was fit to travel. Manel had to take her twice to the quarantine office and she got the certificate to send her. Her food of soup and water was frozen and prepared for the flight. She was in transit in Hong Kong and had almost a 24-hour journey.

What Manel and Madri did to help us is the nicest thing that anyone has ever done and we will be friends for life because of Rupee.

(Naomi Sanderson is resident in Calgary, Canada)

A profile of human rights and humanitarian issues in the Vanni and Vavuniya

Report by Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA):

Executive Summary

This report focuses on the human rights and humanitarian situation resulting from the conflict in the North of Sri Lanka, between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), currently concentrated in the Mullaitivu District. This report is the result of a field trip undertaken by CPA to Vavuniya on 7-8 February, as well as follow up interviews, reports and articles, and a discussion held in Colombo on 13 February. By highlighting critical issues and putting forward recommendations this report aims to increase public engagement on the issue and support efforts to address the needs and rights of the affected population.

VMTC0320.jpg

[In Maththalan, Vanni]

1.1 Situation in the Vanni

Over the last three months the fighting has intensified with the security forces forcing the LTTE to retreat into a smaller territory which is currently estimated to be under 30 square kilometres. The majority of the civilian population of the Vanni is currently trapped in this small territory where fighting rages. Estimates of both civilian casualties and the actual number of displaced in the Vanni are difficult to confirm, given the heavy fighting and the lack of independent verification. The fatalities for the period from January 2009 are reported to be higher than 2,000, but this figure has been contested by the Government. The total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Vanni is also challenged by the Government which insists that there are only 60,000 IDPs. United Nations (UN) Agencies on the other hand initially calculated 200,000-250,000 and are currently in the process of examining if the figure is between 130,000 - 150,000. The District Secretaries of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu put the figure at around 400,000. Nevertheless with only around 32,000 arriving into government controlled areas in 2009 the fate of the majority of the Vanni population hangs in the balance.

The majority of those displaced are trapped in the Vanni. The LTTE has imposed stringent restrictions on IDPs leaving the Vanni and has even shot at some IDPs attempting to flee while subjecting those trying to escape with severe repercussions, including torture. By restricting the IDPs freedom of movement the LTTE is using the civilians as human shields. The LTTE is also accused of carrying out other human rights violations including firing weapons from locations close to civilian spaces such as hospitals or welfare camps, as well as forcibly recruiting adults and children into its ranks. The fact that significant numbers persevere in crossing over every week despite these horrific threats they risk in attempting to escape, is a testimony to the shocking conditions in the conflict area.

Civilians within the Vanni are at great risk as evidenced by the reports of daily fatalities and injured as a result of aerial bombardment, multi-barrel rocket launcher and artillery attacks, gun-fire and mines. Both the Government and the LTTE stand accused of carrying out attacks which have targeted civilians. The Government has unilaterally announced the creation of safe / no-fire zones within LTTE-controlled areas but both sides are accused of carrying out attacks within these zones. The Government has also been accused of firing at civilians.

These attacks have been identified as possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in her recent statement in March 2009.

Access to the Vanni for humanitarian actors has been a critical issue. With the outbreak of the war in late 2006 the Government imposed restrictions on access to Vanni and in September 2008 the Government demanded that all INGOs be evacuated from the Vanni. Only the ICRC was permitted to continue operating in the Vanni. The LTTE refused local personnel from the Vanni and their dependents the right to leave and in recent weeks has forcibly recruited some of these individuals. The Government is not willing to accord these local personnel the protection due to them as humanitarian workers. Instead it is arguing that they should be treated as normal Sri Lankan citizens. One ICRC worker was killed in the Vanni, highlighting the lack of protection for humanitarian actors.

Conditions within the Vanni are steadily deteriorating. The safe zones are ill equipped to deal with the large influx of people. With civilians being concentrated in an area that is constantly shrinking, there are severe shortages in terms of shelter and basic facilities. Food stocks within the Vanni are depleted and highly priced, mainly due to lack of production in the Vanni and the fact that food convoys have not been able to access the Vanni by land, forcing supplies to be sent by sea, without guarantee that it will reach the various communities in the area. There are reports of civilians suffering from malnutrition and starvation, even resulting in deaths. The loss of livelihoods has further diminished any potential purchasing power, further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. Further, recent weeks have witnessed direct attacks on the few hospitals and medical centres in the conflict area, resulting in civilian casualties. Severe shortages in basic medicine have also made the situation worse.

There is clearly a desperate need for humanitarian convoys. However facilitating such convoys has become increasingly difficult. Logistical difficulty and the fact that some convoys have been fired upon means that only 11 convoys have gone into the Vanni by road since September 2008. Increasingly the only options are for convoys by sea both to bring in humanitarian assistance and also to take out the injured, sick and other vulnerable groups. The need for a ceasefire and an evacuation of civilians from the fighting areas is critical and an immediate need.

Click for Full Report: Full_Report (pdf* format - 785.1 Kbytes)

March 19, 2009

Brother seeks answers in Sri Lanka arrest

by Stewart Bell

MARKHAM, Ont. -- Suba Nadesapillai has hardly slept for three weeks, not since the night he learned his younger brother, a prominent newspaper editor, had been forced into a white van in Sri Lanka.

NVTC0318.jpg

[Vithyatharan Nadesapillai, the editor-in-chief of Uthayan and Sudar Oli newspapers, has been arrested and is being held for questioning in Sri Lanka]

Now, when night falls on his newly minted subdivision, Mr. Nadesapillai gets on the phone to Colombo, hoping to prevent his brother, Vithyatharan Nadesapillai, from becoming another casualty of Sri Lanka's civil war.

"It's a nightmare, actually," said the Markham civil engineer, whose minivan sports Stop the Genocide bumper stickers, in protest of what he views as a government campaign against Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority.

Vithyatharan, 49, is editor-in-chief of the Uthayan and Sudar Oli newspapers, both staunch advocates of Tamil interests - which has made them targets for bombings, grenade and gun attacks as well as threats and police grillings.

Shortly after Vithyatharan was taken away on Feb. 26, police said he had been abducted but later confirmed he had been arrested for questioning about phone calls he made on Feb. 20, the night two Tamil Tigers rebel planes were shot down over Colombo.

Following the arrest, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa called Vithyatharan "a terrorist" during an interview with Dateline, a current affairs show on the Australian network SBS. "He's involved in the recent air attacks," the Defence Secretary said. "We have definite information on that."

On Wednesday, a Sri Lankan court gave police permission to detain Vithyatharan another 90 days while they question him further.

Reporters Without Borders issued a news release that day calling on the UN Human Rights Council to intervene.

Bandula Jayasekara, the Sri Lankan Consul General in Toronto, said the case remains under investigation and Vithyatharan will be released if he is cleared and charged if police find evidence of crimes. The fact that Vithyatharan is a journalist was irrelevant, he said. "Nobody is above the law."

But Mr. Nadesapillai said the suspicions were the result of a police mistake. He said on the night of the rebel air raid, a friend was scheduled to arrive from France. When the Colombo airport closed due to the attack, Vithyatharan had called Paris to find out where the friend's flight had been diverted.

Police listening in on Vithyatharan's phone misread the discussion and suspected he was helping the rebel planes, he said. "They thought that they were talking in code words," Mr. Nadesapillai said.

The editor is also accused of communicating with the spokesmen for the Tamil Tigers, which are banned in Sri Lanka, but his supporters say that as a journalist, Vithyatharan's job was to talk to all sides and the phone calls are simply an excuse to silence a journalist who refused to toe the line.

On Monday, thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils demonstrated in downtown Toronto, some of them waving flags bearing the militaristic emblem of the Tamil Tigers, a banned terrorist group under Canadian law because of their frequent suicide bombings and their extortive fundraising methods in Toronto and Montreal. A smaller number held counter-demonstrations, holding banners that read: "Protect Canada! Stop the Tamil Tigers."

Mr. Nadesapillai was among those who took part in the former protest. A few days later, he sat in his living room in Markham, his phone ringing constantly, and recalled how his brother started out in journalism in Jaffna, where he studied law and played goalkeeper for soccer clubs.

In 1985, Vithyatharan helped found Uthayan in Jaffna City. After a sister paper, Sudar Oli, was launched in Colombo in 2000, he moved south to run it, while still managing Uthayan from afar.

As the papers endured threats and attacks, Vithyatharan took to travelling only by motorcycle, reasoning that in a car he would be a sitting duck in the Colombo traffic.

Family and friends urged Vithyatharan to leave Sri Lanka. Norway apparently offered him refuge. But during a visit to Toronto last fall, Vithyatharan told friends to stop asking him to flee.

"If he wanted, he could have lived in any other country, but he preferred to stay there," Mr. Nadesapillai said. He figured if he left, there would be nobody to publish news from a Tamil perspective. "He is a very determined person."

courtesy: National Post

U.N. Human Rights Council must convene special session on Sri Lanka

by Sunanda Deshapriya

Thank you, Mr. President.

FORUM-ASIA and ALRC would like to call for the attention and urgent action of the Human Rights Council on the human rights catastrophe in Sri Lanka. As the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Pillay expressed in her press statement dated Friday 13 March 2009, “we know enough to be sure that the situation is absolutely desperate. The world today is ever sensitive about such acts that could amount to war crimes and crimes again humanity.”

The grave concern of the international community is not only limited to the current situation of civilians in northern Sri Lanka. The core problems of discrimination and impunity have been allowed to go unabated throughout the country in the past years.

The grave concern of the international community is not only limited to the current situation of civilians in northern Sri Lanka. The core problems of discrimination and impunity have been allowed to go unabated throughout the country in the past years.

We have witnessed a sharp increase of the uninvestigated killings and disappearances against human rights defenders and prominent religious personalities. Since 2006, 18 journalists and media workers have been killed. The most recent case was in January 2009 Lasantha Wikramatunge, the editor of the popular English weekly Sunday Leader. A series of attacks on those lawyers appearing for the rights of victims and the Tamil detainees manifest a collapse of the rule of law in the country.

The conflict in Sri Lanka has reached a critical juncture, and whilst noting that military gains to counter-terrorism have been made, it is however at the expense and undermining of the rule of law. In order to strengthen the rule of law, it is absolutely essential to de-politicize the public service as well as the institutions of law and order and human rights protection. In this regard, we call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to:

Sincerely implement the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and appoint the independent commissions; and· Immediately halt all threats, harassments, abductions and attacks against human rights defenders including media practitioners and outlets, and undertake complete, transparent and timely investigations into the murders and death threats against human rights defenders and their families.

Mr. President,

We call upon this Human Rights Council to include the human rights situation of Sri Lanka into its agenda on a regular basis and immediately send an international mission to assess the needs of those civilians in the conflict affected areas with any unhindered access. On the same front, FORUM and ALRC strongly urge the Human Rights Council to hold a Special Session on the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

As recognized by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her latest press statement, 2,800 civilians have been killed, more than 7,000 injured since 20 January 2009, and currently a total of 150,000 to 180,000 civilians remain trapped in the Vanni region. The grave situation and plight faced by the civilians has been further intensified with the lack of access and independent monitors, humanitarian workers and the media.

It is of paramount mandate for the Council to respond promptly to human rights emergencies. The crisis in Sri Lanka has been repeatedly highlighted by the UN Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures mandate-holders and Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta, President of Timor Leste as well as by the various UN agencies, and by the ICRC.[3] What further grounds does the Human Rights Council still require in order to convene its Special Session?

I thank you, Mr. President.

(Joint oral statement delivered at 10th session of UN Human Rights Council on March 17th 2009by Sunanda Deshapriya on behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), supported by International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR))

Sri Lanka Is one of World's worst Perpetrators of Enforced Disappearances

by M.C.M.Iqbal

The modus operandi of the widespread abductions and disappearances we witness in Sri Lanka today is similar to what we saw in the late 1980s and early 1990s. President Rajapakse, who was a Member of Parliament then, was in the forefront of the struggle against these incidents. Now his regime has become one of the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances. Members of the security forces, police and pro-government groups are alleged to be involved in these incidents.

The government has demonstrated an utter lack of resolve to inquire and investigate into these incidents. It downplays the problem, denying the scale of the incidents and blaming unknown persons for them. It is being said that since the government is in the midst of a war, it did not want to demoralize the soldiers by investigating into incidents of this nature. Consequently these incidents continue with impunity often at, near or between security check points, or during curfew hours in the North, leaving no doubt as to who the perpetrators are. Some persons so abducted had been later found in detention centres or in police custody. Others remain disappeared.

Lawyers and other human rights defenders who assist victims are branded as traitors or otherwise penalised. Even UN officials and Parliamentarians who espouse their cause have been named as supporters of the LTTE.

Sri Lanka is unique in that virtually all the major parties represented in parliament, have at some stage or the other, been collaborators or perpetrators of disappearances. None of these parties seriously want to deal with the perpetrators or put an end to this sordid practice. Successive governments appear to have found causing the disappearances of individuals who oppose them or who could pose a threat to the government in power, a convenient tool in their hands. It is therefore no wonder that none of these political parties are serious in putting an end to disappearances or punishing perpetrators. Consequently, the families of the victims of disappearances have no one to look up to.

In the circumstances there is an urgent need to take immediate measures to ensure that speedy and effective remedial action is taken against those who commit these acts with impunity. Despite recommendations from all the previous Presidential Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances, the causing of a disappearance of a person is still not an offence in the Penal Code. Besides, no steps have been taken to ratify the Convention on Disappearances of Persons though Sri Lanka was one of the countries that proposed such a Convention, initially.

The primary responsibility of any state is to maintain law and order in the country. But the government in Sri Lanka is a dumb witness to widespread abductions, torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances of persons taking place systematically. The judiciary is unable to play its role in checking the occurrence of these incidents. The Emergency Regulations provide legitimacy to some of the incidents through allowing the disposal of bodies without inquiry and so on.

The National Human Rights Commission is not in a position to check these incidents due to inherent flaws in the Law that created it and the political nature of the appointment of its members. The government has not taken any meaningful steps to deal with the perpetrators of disappearances in the past identified by previous Presidential Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances. These led to Sri Lanka being ousted from membership of the UN Human Rights Council last year. Yet these incidents continue.

The wide call for an international monitoring mission to curb such incidents has been staunchly resisted by the Government, confirming its lack of commitment to stop this scourge. In fact the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons invited by the Government in 2007 to observe the proceedings of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Serious Human Rights Violations, aborted their activities in 2008 stating, inter alia, because the government lacks the will and the desire to follow human rights norms during the inquiries.

All that is left now is for the international community to do is to take cognizance of all these factors and treat Sri Lanka as a failing state as many allege it to be; unable or unwilling to stop disappearances. That may perhaps make the government take steps to improve the human rights situation and end disappearances of persons in the country

(M.C.M.Iqbal is a Sri Lankan Human Rights Activist living in The Netherlands. This is a submission made to the UNHRC on 9th March, 2009)

Twin allegations against Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

By Kalana Senaratne

It was a curious and revolutionary decision taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this decision to appoint Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka as our Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, in 2007. A public intellectual, a political scientist and a most effective and eloquent communicator, the President would have certainly known where Dr. Jayatilleka stood concerning issues relating to domestic politics and foreign policy. Subsequent to the appointment, there was a question that went unanswered; how long could he survive within the establishment? For, accommodating such men who are forthright, outspoken, articulate, and passionate about serving the country, was never Sri Lanka’s strong point. By being ‘unconventional’, by trying to ride against established and orthodox thinking, one also ran the risk of being punished for crimes not committed, or even of facing ‘penalties’ which were often disproportionate to the ‘offence’ committed.

Accusations

Evidence available in the public domain point to two allegations levelled against him. The attempt is to show that Dr. Jayatilleka’s diplomatic tenure has been harmful to the interests of Sri Lanka, and that it will be so, if his tenure is extended beyond June, 2009. Two specific accusations are levelled in this regard: A) That he has been unable to counter adverse LTTE propaganda, and B) that his foreign policy perspectives and approach are antithetical to Sri Lanka’s foreign relations/national interests.

A) Inability to counter LTTE propaganda effectively

The most absurd accusation that can be levelled at Dr. Jayatilleka is this. Ever since he effectively dissuaded the various efforts made at the UN Human Rights Council of adopting a resolution concerning the alleged human rights situation in Sri Lanka by countering adverse propaganda aimed at tarnishing the image of a Government and the State, he has continuously advocated, through his statements and writings, of the need to defeat the LTTE, to ‘Cut it off and Kill it’ (as he put it once in an article). His role was to counter LTTE propaganda the way a diplomat based in Geneva is supposed to do, i.e. within the UNHRC, through effective and sustained briefing of the diplomatic community in Geneva, of the atrocities committed by the LTTE and the disciplined effort of the Armed Forces to defeat an undisciplined and barbaric terror outfit.

B) Foreign Policy – perspective, approach and a ‘frothing’ Israel

The second accusation is the more serious one. It relates to the news item which reported that Israel was frothing over Dr. Jayatilleka’s scathing attack on Israel over the Gaza bombings, titled ‘Israel Frothing over Dayan Statement’. The item reported that the Israeli Ambassador in New Delhi had flown in to Sri Lanka to complain about the statement made by Dr. Jayatilleka at the Human Rights Council, in Geneva.

Yet, this needs to be viewed in some perspective. Dr. Jayatilleka’s tone and tenor might not have been the most ‘diplomatic’ by conventional diplomatic standards. However, there’s something preposterous, something that smacks of double standards, of not maintaining that moral high ground, in trying to crucify him for speaking out against an issue such as the Gaza blitzkrieg in the way he did; especially when there seems to be no evidence to suggest that the President panicked, as he did as regards that infamous case of Pakistan’s Commonwealth membership.

Also, consider ‘context’. We claim (and rightfully so) that our armed forces respect International Humanitarian Laws, and that we maintain a zero tolerance policy on civilian casualties. We claim that the West has no moral rights or integrity to preach about human rights (rightfully so, too). We also support the two-state solution, as regards Israel/Palestine, and the President is a firm supporter of the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause (correctly so). We defy the USA and visit Iran, establish close ties, build a steady and strong friendship (rightly so) with a State which is not the best friend of USA/Israel. And then, we are knee-jerked, and cannot pick ourselves up to defend a diplomat who is seen to have been a bit forthright in his views about war crimes committed in Gaza by Israel – i.e. about the kind of crimes that the current Government or its armed forces would neither commit, nor tolerate, in Sri Lanka.

It is sad if ‘taking on’ Israel on an issue as grave as Gaza is considered to be the wrong course of action. Certainly, the assistance we receive from Israel on defence/military matters may be considerable, but fundamentally, there’s something utterly disturbing here, something that says that our moral rectitude is shaky and fickle. Are we to go ‘soft’ in the face of crimes that we, as a nation, abhor to the hilt, and especially of crimes committed on one of our closest friends, Palestine and its people? Do we weigh in our actions and analyse how our relationship with a particular state affects the relationship with another?

Being principled on issues concerning foreign policy

It is here that Dr. Jayatilleka sorely lacks support. He conveys his message strongly, effectively. And the silencing of such men is unfortunate, but not uncommon or surprising - for there was some time ago, a similar attempt to silence Dr. Palitha Kohona, Foreign Secretary, when there were media reports about circulars flying around preventing him from issuing statements to the press – something he was (and is) doing with much aplomb and effectiveness.

But there is a different reason why a more serious attempt is being made at silencing Dr. Jayatilleka’s voice. He represents a clear shift in attitude, in approach. Some of the strong and indubitable policy perspectives he holds on to are: being principled on Palestine, blocking external intervention - in an era in which the West is not wholly averse to the break-up of sovereign States.

Now, this policy on the one hand broadly and necessarily means that attempts made at unduly frightening the State into submission will always be met squarely, clearly, directly, unequivocally. ‘Quiet diplomacy’ is not going to prove effective in such circumstances, for the pressure that is brought to bear on the State by disgruntled forces is serious, and the response that needs to go out against such undue pressurizing needs to be serious as well. There is then a firm understanding that our foreign policy, and the way we respond to situations inimical to our interests as a nation, need to be more in tune with the spirit of the circumstances we face today as a nation that is effectively defeating terrorism. Our foreign policy, our approach and the way it’s displayed and advocated needs to bear some relation to actuality. And I firmly believe that Dr. Jayatilleka cannot be punished for this.

In addition, especially with regard to the Israeli issue, I believe that a foreign policy of a country depends, to a very large extent, on the domestic state of affairs. The two cannot be isolated. We derive a lot of strength from our internal state of affairs at getting our voice heard in the international domain, and the strength we have today lies especially in the ability to tell the world as to how to engage in countering and defeating terrorism, or even in carrying out humanitarian relief efforts, in a way that is different to the unethical and illegal way in which many others conduct armed conflict around the world.

Fighting a losing battle?

But I will pause here. Perhaps, in a sense, Dr. Jayatilleka has erred - by trying to go against the orthodox political view and attitude of certain issues relating to foreign policy, without much support from within. For he knows that foreign policy deveops gradually, and a quick ‘revolution’ cannot be expected without a strong political backing, however meritorious that revolution might be. In a day and age when elections and votes take prominence over ideas and thoughts, public servants cannot be expected to hold sway over certain politicians – perhaps an unwritten axiom which applies to all those involved in the public service, fighting for ‘change’ that is desirable, necessary and more in tune with current realities. Certainly, revolutions initiated in Geneva will take sometime to materialize in Colombo.

President Rajapaksa approaches a moment when he has to retain his best men in key diplomatic capitals around the world. And at a time like this, when the march is not yet over, when the victory is not yet fully secured, when the innumerable threats facing the State have not yet evaporated, when the effective advocacy and communication of Sri Lanka’s message overseas is quintessential, we don’t go in search of a convincing advocate if we already have one. The focus, today and now, needs to be on whether he can defend Sri Lanka’s case in Geneva, not anything else.

Yet, in June, when a term comes to an end, he might walk out a free man, with the ability to speak out more frankly and freely about all this. All things weighed, Sri Lanka stands to lose much when that happens. There is then a noose which hangs from above and it dangles, not round the neck of Dr. Jayatilleka, but that of ‘Sri Lanka’. Let me add that there is also a sense of sadness that overwhelms me, of having to witness at a moment as this, a certain inability to galvanize the best of minds in furtherance of Sri Lanka’s national interests overseas.

(The writer holds an LL.M. degree from University College London (UCL).

International community must end and prevent a slaughter

By Lakhdar Brahimi

The already severe humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka is on the brink of catastrophe. It will take the quick arrival of humanitarian relief and high-level international political muscle to bring the nightmarish situation to an end and prevent a slaughter.

An estimated 150,000 civilians are now trapped in a tiny pocket of land between Sri Lankan military forces, whose artillery shells regularly fall among them, and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who shoot at them if they try to escape. Food, clean water and medical assistance are all increasingly scarce.

According to U.N. figures, 2,300 civilians have already died and at least 6,500 have been injured since January. Some 500 children have been killed and over 1,400 injured. What happens to the rest of those caught in the middle of the government’s onslaught and the Tigers’ fight to the death depends not only on the two parties but on the international response as well.

The crisis is born of acts by both sides that most probably amount to serious violations of humanitarian law and perhaps to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

As it has withdrawn before the government forces, the LTTE has sought refuge in the civilian population. It has been holding men, women and children as hostages, forcibly recruiting them and using them as human shields.

The government has responded with attacks that independent observers describe as indiscriminate. Distinguishing combatants from noncombatants has become impossible with fighters and civilians packed so closely together. Alarming reports are coming in that government forces are shelling even those areas they themselves have declared ‘‘no-fire zones.’’

If both groups do not end the fighting immediately, the lives of tens of thousands of civilians are at risk. Both parties must understand that the continuation of their current actions is not acceptable.

The situation is even more tragic because it represents an unnecessarily devastating coda to a war that is already over.

Totally overwhelmed by government forces, the LTTE has lost. Holding civilian hostages and showing complete disregard for the Tamil population that it claims to want to liberate will not resurrect its ability to fight this war.

Nor will the annihilation of thousands of civilians secure the government’s long-cherished victory over terrorism. On the contrary, the indiscriminate killing of its own citizens will make it harder for Colombo to seal its military victory with post-conflict reconciliation and development of the Tamil-majority north.

Opinion among the millions of Tamils around the world, especially those in southern India, is being dangerously radicalized by images and stories of intense civilian suffering.

The international community should not let the already desperate situation end up an all-out humanitarian catastrophe. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should insist on immediate access for U.N. staff to no-fire zones in order to assess the needs of the population. He should appoint a special representative to work with the government of Sri Lanka and all the relevant parties to guarantee the rights and protection of the endangered civilians.

On the political side, other international leaders — in particular, President Barack Obama, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders from Asia, the nonaligned movement and the Commonwealth — must urgently use their leverage to convince the Sri Lankan government to stop its offensive.

They should help shift the government from a strategy of total annihilation to one of containment by addressing government fears that LTTE leaders will use a pause in the fighting to flee and regroup.

In addition to assisting the U.N. in the evacuation of civilians, all these friends of Sri Lanka should commit themselves to supervise the surrender of the LTTE, with guarantees of the physical security of those who surrender, backed up by the presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees wherever the military receives civilians or surrendered fighters.

The United States and India could also offer to increase naval surveillance in order to prevent remaining Tiger fighters from escaping by sea.

None of these measures will be easy to achieve. The government and the LTTE are locked in a war to the last man and seem oblivious to the civilian death toll around them.

The international community has the means to act; it must not, it cannot fail to act. Being a spectator when 150,000 thousand people are trapped in a death zone is not an option. [courtesy: International Herald Tribune]

Lakhdar Brahimi, former special adviser to the U.N. secretary general, is a board member of the International Crisis Group

How Singapore has unity and why Sri Lanka endless strife today

Thirty years ago, I launched this Speak Mandarin Campaign. Chinese students learn Mandarin in school. Unfortunately, they used to speak dialects among themselves and at home. When I watched interviews on our Chinese TV channel in the 1960s and ‘70s, I found students and workers speak Mandarin haltingly. They have not used Mandarin often. Mandarin has to be the common language of Chinese Singaporeans, regardless of their dialect groups. If the government had left language habits to evolve undirected, Chinese Singaporeans would be speaking an adulterated Hokkien-Teochew dialect.

LKYTC0318.jpg

Lee Kuan Yew

To effectively promote Mandarin, we closed down all dialect programs on radio and TV from 1979. Also, I was setting a bad example making speeches in Hokkien in the 1960s and ‘70s to reach the largest number of Chinese. From 1979, some 30 years ago, I decided to stop speaking in Hokkien and switched to Mandarin. Had I not done this, Hokkien/Teochew will be the predominant common language for the Chinese in Singapore, not Mandarin.

The value of a language is its usefulness, not just in Singapore, but also in the wider world. If you speak Hokkien or Cantonese, you reach some 60 million in Fujian and Taiwan, or about 100 million in Guangdong and Hong Kong. With Mandarin, you can speak to 1,300 million Chinese from all provinces in China. Now, overseas Chinese and foreigners are learning Mandarin, not Chinese dialects. China is setting up 500 Confucius Institutes in different countries to teach Mandarin to many millions of people around the world.

I understand the strong emotional ties to one’s mother tongue. However, the trend is clear. In two generations, Mandarin will become our mother tongue.

English is the key language for our people to make a living. It is the second language of all non English-speaking peoples. Multinational companies use English. Internet data banks are mostly in English. PRC Chinese are learning English with great effort. If Mandarin were our first language, Singaporeans would be of little use to China. They do not need more Mandarin speakers to add to their 1.3 billion. English gives us easy access to English-speaking societies and the developed world. Thus, Singaporeans bring value-add to China. If Ms Lim Sau Hoong spoke only fluent Mandarin, she would not bring added value to her work in China. It is because she also speaks and writes fluent English that she has been able to compete in both languages in the advertising sector. That made her a valuable addition to Zhang Yi-mou’s team to polish up the dramatic opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.

To keep a language alive, you have to speak and read it frequently. The more you use one language, the less you use other languages. So the more languages you learn, the greater the difficulties of retaining them at a high level of fluency. I have learned and used six languages – English, Malay, Latin, Japanese, Mandarin and Hokkien. English is my master language. My Hokkien has gone rusty, my Mandarin has improved. I have lost my Japanese and Latin, and can no longer make fluent speeches in Malay without preparation. This is called “language loss”.

All new countries have multiple dialects and languages in their mixed populations. To become a united nation, the population must speak a common language, so that they can communicate with the government and with one another. Indonesia has hundreds of languages and dialects in their 17,000 islands. Since independence in 1949, they have been teaching and speaking Bahasa Indonesia. In secondary schools and tertiary institutions, they do their lessons only in Bahasa, and not the regional languages and dialects. Bahasa is now the language of government and business in all parts of Indonesia.

Singapore’s multi-racial peoples will never be united if we had used Mandarin as our common language. All non-Chinese, 25% of Singaporeans, will be disadvantaged. The result will be endless strife, as in Sri Lanka, where Singhalese was made the national language and the Tamil-speaking were marginalised. We made the right decision to use English as our common language. We also retained the teaching of mother tongues. Even in 1959 when we first became the Government, my colleagues and I could foresee a time when China would open up and become a huge economic power. Their common language is putonghua, not dialects. Our choice of English has enabled our fast growth. Now with China’s growing economy, parents and students no longer complain of the burden of learning Chinese, a difficult language without spelling or phonetics. Dialects are being overtaken by Mandarin in the region where Mandarin is taught in all Chinese schools. Mandarin will become the common language of the overseas Chinese.

China wants to collaborate with us because through English, we are able to connect with the West. At the same time, our Mandarin is fluent enough to communicate with PRC Chinese on different topics and subjects.

The Speak Mandarin Campaign and our bilingual education policy have resulted in a growing number of young Singaporeans speaking Mandarin among themselves in schools, ITEs, polytechnics and universities. They also watch Mandarin TV more than English TV.

Quite a few Singaporeans with only “AO” or “O” level passes in Chinese have sent me emails from China to thank me for making Mandarin compulsory for them. With this basic foundation, they have been able to expand their vocabulary and increase their fluency after a few months in China. Singapore Press Holdings distributes a free bilingual newspaper called “Wobao” or “My Paper”, which is bilingual in Chinese and English. They have a glossary of translations for the more difficult English and Chinese words and phrases. 250,000 copies of “Wobao” are distributed daily, read by about 500,000. During train or bus rides or at home, you can read it and refresh your recognition of Chinese characters.

School examinations no longer concentrate on mo xie, dictation from memory, or ting xie, listening and writing. They are not needed in real life. With computer programs, you can type the pinyin and the characters will appear. Since 2007, we have allowed the use of digital dictionaries in national examinations.

Singapore’s advantage has been that we have a Mandarin-speaking community. We have newspapers, magazines, books, and television programmes in Chinese. We need some 300 Singaporean graduates each year who have Chinese language and culture at a high level, to interact with their China counterparts. The flow of new migrants from China as our citizens and Permanent Residents will help in this process.

English is our dominant language everywhere. Most students will have little difficulty in mastering working-level English. However, if parents speak in English to their children at home, learning Mandarin will be a problem. Research of American-born Chinese disclosed that when these second-generation Chinese try to learn Chinese in college, those who speak English at home found mastering Chinese as difficult as Caucasian-Americans; those whose parents spoke to them in Mandarin easily made the grade. My advice is for both parents to speak Mandarin to their children if they can. If one speaks in Mandarin and the other in English, the child will grow up speaking more English than Mandarin.

And with IT digital dictionaries that can translate from English to Chinese and vice versa and also pronounce the words, learning Chinese has become much easier and more convenient, something I did not have when I started learning Chinese in 1955 at age 32.

(SPEECH BY MR LEE KUAN YEW, FORMER SINGAPORE PREMIER AND MINISTER MENTOR, AT "SPEAK MANDARIN CAMPAIGN’S" 30TH ANNIVERSARY LAUNCH, 17 MARCH 2009, 5:00 PM AT THE NTUC AUDITORIUM)

Sinhalese will raise both hands if asked to vote for elevating Tamil people

by Gomin Dayasri

Will you put up your hand to elevate the Tamil people or the Tamil politicians? Sinhalese will raise both hands with sincerity in favour of the Tamil people. Not merely raise hands; they will clap with both the hands in support.

Such is the bonhomie that prevails presently in Sinhalese electorates as they see flashes on the television screen, the helping hands of the security forces bringing the captive Tamil civilians to safety. They see the innocent helpless look on the faces of those Tamil civilians looking aged and haggard with years of toil and adversity under LTTE iron fist. Indeed among them are planted Tiger moles!

The time is right for the Sinhala leadership to fight for the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people-not the rights sought to benefit the Tamil politicians.

A 30 year war is sufficient for the lifetime of several generations. A vacuum exists in the Tamil leadership with the LTTE exterminating the democratic options available to their people. For 30 years an emerging youthful Tamil leadership could not surface unless they bowed in obedience to terrorists. It is a subjugated subdued suppressed community where on the political wave length a band of a few TNA outlaws roamed preaching the LTTE doctrine with armed protection from the state they hate They will come back to sow seeds of hatred to further disintegrate a fractured society.

There is Ananda Sangaree and Devanandan under heavy security capable of expressing themselves from Colombo but not from Jaffna. They are relics of the past having bypassed two generations becoming distant voices in the wilderness. It is a lost Tamil leadership speaking to an abandoned unseen audience as the terrorist forbade any nexus to the electorate. Tamil politicians had only the media as their amplifier through which they relayed their message to a filtered minuscule crowd that accessed the media.

Tamil politicians are greedy to extend their power bases to overwhelm and overpower the Tamil voters, just like their Sinhala counterparts. Prabhakaran made the TNA MP’s fiddlers in the basement to play in the Eelam orchestra and gave them the right to life and the will to live. They brought forth a set unknown to parliament and pulled the strings to make them gyrate to their tune. With the LTTE leadership fast dwindling, TNA will look towards the Diaspora, the voice and the cash across the seas.

In the Diaspora lives the embryo stacked in ice, hoping to take the Tamils in the hemisphere to seek a Dravidian Kingdom; for a race in search of a state. Yalpanam is a fertile field and they will search for a sophisticated poodle and not another megalomaniac like Prabhakaran with many deficiencies and complexes that brought shame to the movement and contributed to his own downfall.

A Diaspora living across frontiers is like an ameba, forever fragmenting and disintegrating with an array of colonels and no commander. The pioneer generation is rabidly nationalistic; the next under western influence will be less insular and parochial and will probably look to Jaffna as a tourist destination rather than a holy land. Their children see the world in a larger frame and are an unsustainable force to serve in the land of their fathers. Tamil leadership will have to be home grown.

The patriotic Sinhala majority fought within the weapons of democracy to discard the infamous Package, saw to the liquidation of the Equal Opportunities Bill, abandonment of the Sudu Nelum and Tawalama the anti war mind cleansing operations, rejection of the 2000 Constitutional amendment, dismantling of Tsunami Structures, jettisoning of Peace Talks process, de merging the North East and easing from the CFA. They gave muscle to the Security Forces on their forward march with inspiration and motivation. They brought forth a leadership that dared to take the terrorists, face on to liberate Sri Lanka.

They cannot continue to rest on their laurels but must instead build a unitary multi ethnic Sri Lanka for the coming generations. This war could never have been won if the people of the North rebelled while the war campaign was progressing. That was their tacit support to eliminate the terrorists. Terrorists had the support of the Colombians but not the Northerners. If the patriots liberated them, they in return extended their silent support to achieve it.

People admire the patriots who took them on the proper path and produced results. It is in them the public have trust and faith. They can carry Sinhala intelligentsia beyond the reach of the devalued politicians. The time has come for the patriotic forces to extend their frontiers to fight for the legitimate grievances of the Tamils to inculcate a truly Sri Lankan identity. Thereupon the Tamil people with their emerging political leadership can safeguard and advance the rights of an ethnic community. An integrated entrenched community will be less likely to seek disintegration.

If the patriotic leadership are possessed with the grit determination and courage to give leadership the sinhala majority will be more than prepared to alleviate the justifiable grievances of the minorities. Being gracious and magnanimous in the hour ofvictory will bring lasting results 20 years hence. The finest hour has arrived for the nationalistic leadership to display their commitment to the country by being in the forefront of the struggle to combine a divided nation where the minority rights are fulfilled and the majority rights are safeguarded.

In Sri Lanka, the level of intelligence and social consciousness has reached a plane where people are ahead of their leaders and preachers. People now dictate to the Leaders, if they care not to listen they are discarded-results in the recent elections reflected it no better than at Wennappuwa, Nattandiya and Chilaw when locals voted extending their faith in God and War, relegating a religious hierarchy to oblivion. Such a fate could await the Patriotic Fronts if they seek to swim against the tide.

There is a time for War and a time for Peace. After a successful completion of the war people yearn for peace and are in the zone to display goodwill.

March 18, 2009

Tiger flags flown at protest legal - Toronto Police

The display of Tamil Tiger flags during a protest by members of Toronto's Tamil community this week was legal, Toronto police said Wednesday, despite the fact the rebel group is banned in Canada as a terrorist organization.

Thousands of Toronto Tamils formed a human chain around the downtown core on Monday, to call attention to the civil war in Sri Lanka and call for Canada to pressure the Sri Lankan government to engage Tamil rebels in ceasefire talks.

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[Mar, 16, 2009-pic: David Farrant]

During the protest, men, women and children of all ages waved the red flags of the militant group that has led the fight for an independent Tamil nation in the north of the South Asian island.

On Tuesday, the city's police force said its legal department was looking into whether the flags violated Canada's anti-terrorism laws. But police spokesman Mark Pugash said the force's lawyers deemed there was "nothing illegal" about displaying the group's insignia.

"The best advice that we have from our lawyers is that it does not contravene any law," Pugash said.

The flags, which feature the image of a tiger jumping through a ring of fire under two crossed rifles, are easily available through the Internet on the website Craigslist and can even be delivered by calling a local number.

The rebel group is officially banned in Canada since the Conservative government listed the Tigers — known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — as a terrorist organization in 2006 for its use of suicide bombers and child soldiers during Sri Lanka's bloody 25-year civil war. [courtesy: cbc.ca] [More Pictures]

UNICEF urges ‘extraordinary efforts’ for children in Sri Lanka conflict zone

Deploring the mounting toll of children killed and injured in the zone of combat between Sri Lankan Government forces and Tamil rebels, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called for “extraordinary efforts” to protect them.

In addition to the hundreds killed, thousands are now vulnerable to disease and malnutrition because of a critical lack of food, water and medicines in the conflict area, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in a statement.

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[Inside the 'safe zone'-pic: dpdhs Kilinochchi]

“Regular, safe access for humanitarian agencies is urgently required, so that lifesaving supplies can be provided, and civilians must be allowed to move to safe areas where essential humanitarian support is more readily available,” Ms. Veneman said.

“The rights of children caught in the conflict must be fully respected and every effort should be taken to prevent civilian casualties,” she added.

She noted that UNICEF, together with other UN agencies and partners, is providing emergency water and sanitation, health, nutrition, protection and education support for many of the estimated 40,000 people who have been able to leave the conflict zone.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other top UN officials have been calling on the Sri Lankan Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to suspend hostilities to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and allow immediate humanitarian access to them since the latest round of the long-running conflict flared a few months ago. [Full Text of UN News Centre Press Release]

March 17, 2009

Little hope of an enduring end to Sinhalese victimisation of Sri Lanka's Tamils

by Howard Debenham

On May day in 1993, Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa was in the back streets of Colombo, greeting supporters as they streamed into the capital for the day's festivities, when he was killed by a suicide bomb. Had the conventions of diplomacy permitted it, I would probably have been at his side. He had been insistent that I should join him on this occasion.

In the previous year, Premadasa had allowed me to see some of the handiwork of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Before the bodies were cleared away, I spoke with some of the shattered survivors of LTTE massacres of simple farming folk in the pitifully poor eastern villages of Palyagodella and Alinchipotana, in one instance crouching with a wild-eyed labourer over the pools of drying blood where his family had had their throats cut. But neither Premadasa nor his successors were as accommodating when it came to investigating the handiwork of government forces, which has so often been of equal savagery.

By the time of his assassination, however, Premadasa was coming around. Among other things, he allowed a limited review by a small group of ambassadors (myself included) of the widespread extrajudicial killings and disappearances of Tamils at the hands of government forces.

It is often overlooked that Tamil militarism was, in the first place, spawned by the deliberate demonisation of Tamils (both Hindu and Muslim) in the early years of Sri Lanka's independence from Britain.

The situation took a significant turn for the worse following the failure of Junius Jayawardene's government to promptly intervene in the deliberate slaughter of thousands of innocent Tamils over just a few days in 1983.

In his retirement, an unrepentant Jayawardene explained to me at his residence in Colombo in 1992 that, following a tit-for-tat killing of policemen by Tamil militants, 1983 had been about giving the Tamils a "bloody nose" to "put them in their place". He scoffed at the notion that the country's Tamils were as Sri Lankan as the Sinhalese. Jayawardene was not alone in this view then, nor is he now. It is therefore hardly surprising that many Tamils feel it is only the spectre of the Tigers and their ability to strike back that prevents further pogroms against their people.

The answer for many Tamils to the Government's failure to broker a peace has been to flee the country to either the refugee camps of southern India or, for the more fortunate, a new start in other countries. This is happening in such numbers that they are referred to as the Tamil diaspora.

For those trapped in the north during the current Government offensive, the risk of accepting a "haven" on the Government side must be weighed against the risk of putting themselves in the hands of Government forces.

The essential interest of Sri Lanka's Sinhalese political parties and personalities is still how to exploit the struggle with the Tigers to maintain power in Colombo. Successive governments have more or less dressed up their intention to negotiate to assuage the feelings of the United Nations and donor countries, including Australia, but not nearly enough to fool any informed observer into believing that the underlying issue of rapprochement between Sinhalese and Tamils is any more on the government's agenda than it was 50 years ago.

There is little hope of an enduring end to Sinhalese victimisation of Sri Lanka's Tamils until Sri Lanka produces the kind of courageous and visionary leadership that can admit the errors of the past and reach out in a sustained way to all Sri Lankans, thus providing a sound basis for drawing all Tamils, including the Tigers, into the political process.

The Sri Lankan government did this with the murderous Communist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) back in the late '80s after its violent uprising had almost brought the country to its knees. But that, it seems, was different: the JVP was Sinhalese. Unhappily, the vision required today, free of the deeply embedded political and financial corruption that has plagued Sri Lanka for so long, is nowhere in sight.

Ordinary Sri Lankans, disempowered and cowed through decades of dominance by the business and political elite and effective exclusion from the rule of law, are still easily duped into believing that they will be better off once the Tamils have been crushed.

It is at least doubtful that the LTTE can be completely wiped out by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's salaried soldiers, who are largely in it for the money they cannot earn at home. Government forces should certainly be able to outgun the LTTE in military set pieces, but it is most unlikely that they will ever be able to match them in guerilla warfare.

Having so loudly abandoned the peace process, the Rajapaksa Government is throwing everything into the military fray. Though this approach is being backed with claims of higher body counts and significant incursions into Tiger territory, the consequence of pushing the military arm of the LTTE to the wall could well be a dramatic upsurge in urban terrorism, of which the recent mosque bombing in Akuressa would only be the beginning. It is an option for which, after all the years of its existence, the LTTE is no doubt well prepared.

Should infrastructure, transport and even tourism become systematic targets in such a campaign, Sri Lanka could be brought to its knees. Rajapaksa, or whoever is in power, would then have to think again about a peace process, but this time from a weaker position than the one that applied through much of 2006, when a small group of uniquely qualified Americans and a former Australian high commissioner quietly tried, working with the highest levels of the Sri Lankan Government, to build capacity for statesmanship and progress before peace talks with the LTTE scheduled for Geneva in October of that year. As it turned out, Sri Lanka's leaders only pretended to listen, and so doomed a country and a people once so full of promise to more mindless death and destruction, the worst of which may yet be to come.

Howard Debenham was Australian high commissioner to Sri Lanka from 1992 to 1994.

For those who escape the Vanni region, there is nothing to do but wait - and worry about those left behind

Reported by Médecins Sans Frontières

During the first two weeks of March, relatively few people seem to have been able to flee from the Vanni region in Sri Lanka. Communication with people inside the Vanni remains incredibly difficult, but the accounts given by the few who have managed to escape in recent days confirm that civilians continue to be trapped in the conflict and that it is practically impossible for them to leave as they risk getting shot.

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[Mathalan hospital - in Vanni - with very miniman facilities]

An MSF team continues to work at the government hospital in Vavuniya, focusing on surgery and laboratory support. The civilian population in the Vanni are suffering heavily as a result of the violence. Out of the 953 admissions of wounded and sick people evacuated from the Vanni between February 11 and the March 8, 584 were in need of surgery. The majority of the surgical cases (92 percent) are violence related. The wounds are predominantly caused by shrapnel and shooting.

MSF remains extremely worried about the situation for approximately 150,000 civilians remaining in the Vanni.

Life in the camps

The 33,896 people who managed to flee in the first two months of 2009 are living in 13 camps in Vavuniya and 3,000 people living in temporary settlements in the Jaffna area.

The camps in Vavuniya are enclosed areas which usually include a community building, like a school or university campus. People are living in tents, with two or three families living together, or in public buildings. The camps are very crowded: there can be 600 people living in a large basketball court. They are surrounded by barbed wire and people are not allowed to leave or communicate with people from other camps. They are not allowed to receive visitors, and it is common for families to be split between several camps, with a man in one camp and his wife in another for example.

In each of the camps, people do not have the possibility of cooking for themselves, but instead have to rely on community kitchens for food. If sick, they go to the government health services of the camp and, if needed, they get referred to the hospital.

MSF runs a supplementary food programme for under 5s, pregnant women and breastfeeding women in the camps. Every day an MSF team prepares the supplementary feeding mix and distributes it to the target groups in 10 of the 13 camps.

Mental health problems

Many people in the camps are experiencing acute mental health distress which, at present, is not being addressed. People have been very affected by the traumatic experiences they have been through, both in the Vanni and during their flight. Many have lost relatives or even entire families. They have no contact with the family or friends in the Vanni and often do not know whether those they left behind are still alive. Whenever there are new arrivals, people crowd around them to see whether they can find their loved ones amongst them.

Some people have been living in the camps for months. Before they were able to leave the Vanni, many had already moved five or six different times in search of a safer place. In the camps, they have no jobs or schools. There is literally nothing for them to do except wait. They have lost all autonomy. Their lives are on hold with constant fear about the safety of their loved ones.

MSF is ready to assist the population of the camps by providing independent and confidential mental health services and we are discussing access with the authorities. http://www.msf.org/

Will Tamils and Sinhalese "never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity?"

by Dayan Jayatilleka

What is the challenge? To reach the goal of victory and reunification while avoiding the traps set for Sri Lanka . What are these traps and what are our tasks?

Sri Lanka stands accused in some quarters of inflicting casualties on civilians, and in others, of the related charge of not agreeing to the international humanitarian evacuation of these civilians trapped in the Wanni pocket. These critics are blind to the reality that if the Sri Lankan armed forces unleashed its full firepower, the Tigers in the Wanni pocket would be overrun and crushed. Instead the Sri Lankan security forces are doing something that very few armies would: taking heavy casualties while scaling down drastically on its use of heavy weapons and air support. As for the criticism that the Sri Lankan state is refusing to seek international assistance in evacuating the trapped civilians, it assumes that the Tigers are willing to let these assets go. It is not the Sri Lankan state that has closed off all exits for these civilians. Above all, this charge is simply a lie. Any reader of the Sunday Times (Colombo), whose sophisticated political reportage has tracked the story for three weeks, would know that Sri Lanka DID NOT reject, and in fact cooperated with, a US Pacific Command plan for extraction of the civilians. However, there are more things on heaven and earth – such as geopolitical and geo-strategic realities-- than critics wearing humanitarian lenses dream of.

We must prevent a repetition of the events of 1987. Those events were threefold: First, the Sri Lankan military was prevented by external intervention, from finishing the job of defeating the LTTE. Second, this thwarted nationalism generated a Southern blowback which destabilized the state and caused the shedding of far more blood than had been shed in the Northeastern war. Third, the parallel though mutually hostile surge of Southern and Northern extremism – the JVP and LTTE - prevented the implementation of the Indo-Lanka accord and the 13th amendment, thereby providing a gap for the Tigers to escape through and survive to fight more wars.

Today, firstly, we must avoid a deterioration of the situation into a war of attrition; a freeze of the situation on the ground in the Wanni pocket so that the Sri Lankan armed forces stay in static positions of maintaining a siege, while the Tigers regain the initiative by launching small unit operations to open up a seam in our encirclement. Secondly we must avoid being goaded into the sort of operation on our part that will seal our fate internationally. It is damnably difficult to avoid these two extremes but we must find a way and we shall.

Beyond these dilemmas of conflict termination, of bringing the war victoriously to a close, are two other traps to avoid. These are to fall prey to efforts to rejuvenate the Tigers and/or to revive the TNA either as a front for the Tigers or as a political version of the Tigers’ separatist project, on a seamless continuum with it, while the Tamil Diaspora maintains a war of attrition against the Sri Lankan state. This project of Tiger Thought (Koti Chinthanaya) without the Tigers has to be pre-empted or stamped out, but it must be done in such a way that does not damage our relations either with the Tamils or with the world at large. This too is tricky, possibly even trickier than conflict termination.

Already the Tamil Diaspora and the ultra-nationalist Tamil elite are busy laying the foundations for the post-Tiger or post-Tiger Mark I/ pre-Tiger Mark II project. Part of the effort is to discredit Douglas Devananda and Karuna, the anti-Tiger Tamil allies and partners of the democratic Sri Lankan state. Just as psychological warfare and whispering campaigns were launched by the Tamil elite and their Sinhala partners, during previous administrations, with a view to forestalling and diverting a drive for military victory, the same elements are using the same methods to pre-empt Douglas Devanada and Karuna from being accorded their due place and role. The logic of the Tamil elite is to keep the situation ethnically polarized, so that the world sees a Sinhala army in occupation of Tamil areas. The plan is to eliminate the Tamil intermediary and buffer, namely Douglas and Karuna. A variant of the plan is to put in place, instead Tamil ultranationalist elements that will make demands which are in excess of what the Sinhala public opinion will grant. This will ensure permamant political friction and tension such that the whole world can be told that Colombo is incapable of accommodating “even” the TNA, which by the way may have found itself outside the law, be it in Spain or Indian Kashmir.

The Tamil elite effort to win politically what it has lost militarily , is being ably assisted by those who cut the political ground on which Douglas and Karuna seek to stand, namely the full (if graduated) implementation of the 13th amendment. Douglas and Karuna have only asked for the immediate granting of the same powers that the other provincial councils in other parts of the island enjoy, in other words the implementation of the principle of equality. Those who oppose the implementation of the 13th amendment, or seek to delay or dilute it, only weaken Douglas and Karuna and strengthen the case of the TNA and validate the arguments of the pro-Tiger elements in the Diaspora.

This comes as no surprise, and is a reprise of the events of 1987. Then, the Southern and Northern extremists blocked the implementation of the 13th amendment, which prevented the closing of political and social space for the Tigers.

After the Wanni pocket has been cleared, much will depend on the model of the military presence in the North and East. If the military presence is too small or too short, there will be Tiger resurgence, just as there will be one, or a Tamil rebellion with or without the Tigers, if the military presence is too large, clumsy and overlong. Whatever the changed alignments in international politics, it is doubtful that India will permit a revival of the 1984-7 project of covert ethnic engineering, demographic gerrymandering and settlements attempted by the then (UNP) administration’s far Right caucus.

A study of the new Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine of the US army and Marine Corps, chiefly authored by America’s top soldier-scholar General David Petraeus, as well as the critique by yet another US soldier-scholar, Col. Gentile, provide food for thought. A more relevant example would be that of the IPKF which saturated the North and east with large camps, mini-camps and “pickets’, with the minicamps playing a key role. However, many Sinhala admirers of the IPKF model forget two crucial components and accompaniments, namely, the ready availability to the IPKF of Tamil speaking soldiers and police, the close alliance with the EPRLF ( whose Suresh OPremachandran in jaffna and Kirubhakaran and razik in Batticaloa were superb counter-insurgents and Tiger hunters) and most importantly the North Eastern Provincial Council. The NEPC was a critical part of the IPKF strategy. Any successful replication or adaptation of the IPKF model in postwar Sri Lanka absolutely requires all these components, especially the Northern and Eastern Provincial council/s which made for a degree of self-governance and self-administration for the Tamil people of those areas.

From the USA through India to Russia, there is one thing in common in the messages to Sri Lanka: once you’ve finished the war, done the Tigers (“if you have to”, say some, “because we know you must”, say our closer friends), do the politics, share power with the nonviolent Tamils. Whatever the tactical differences, as Indian foreign Secretary Shiv Shanker Menon clearly indicated to the media after his meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, there is an Indo-US policy convergence on Sri Lanka, centering on a post-war political framework which makes for power sharing. It is also clear that the US continues to concede that Sri Lanka remains in India’s sphere of influence. Though that may no longer be an exclusive sphere of influence, if and when push comes to shove, it remains so.

Those Sinhalese and Tamils who look into the mirror and see themselves as a potential Israel have forgotten the open-ended support that Israel enjoys from the sole superpower, the sort of support that no one will extend to either community. They have also forgotten Sri Lanka’s geographic position on the doorstep of India.

So the Sinhalese and Tamils have a few options. Share power or not, and if not, how to survive internationally, especially in the context of the global recession but more generally as well. If the choice is to share power, who do the Sinhalese share power with? The Tigers? The pro-Tiger TNA? The dogmatic federalists? The mechanistic adherents of the Indian model? Or those who are prepared to work the 13th amendment, to wit, Devananda, Muralidaran and Chandrakanthan?

Some commentators quite rightly emphasize the need to distinguish between Tigers, Tamil separatists and Tamil nationalists, but is this the most relevant and comprehensive classification? I think one must also distinguish between Tamil nationalism and Tamil ultra-nationalism, just as one must distinguish between Sinhala nationalism (in a column, “Taraki” once called me a “Sinhala neo-nationalist”) and ultra-nationalism. Not all Tamil nationalism can or should be accommodated as President Preamadasa was to find out with Chief Minister Vardarajahperumal, an early ally, as the months wore on. Douglas Devananda has had the political courage to point out that the Indo-Lanka Accord and the North –East Provincial Council initially failed mainly because of the LTTE but also because of the leadership of that Council, comprising elements of the EPRLF. That example also illustrates that it is not always the push factor of Sinhala chauvinism that makes Tamil nationalism slide to ultra-nationalism and separatism, proving the late Prof Urmila Phadnis’ observation in her definitive volume on ethnicity in South Asia, that a specific hallmark of Sri Lankan Tamil sub-nationalism was an “autonomist-separatist continuum”. This we ignore at our peril.

Perhaps Douglas Devananda puts the matter best when he distinguishes between “good and bad Tamil nationalism” using the analogy of good and bad cholesterol. His brand of Tamil nationalism is the equivalent of good cholesterol, he says, without which the body politic cannot survive and function. What he calls “bad nationalism” is what I would call ultra-nationalism.

It is shocking to read self-proclaimed leftists, pooh-poohing the 13th amendment as insufficiently progressive a reform of the state. The system of Provincial autonomy as guaranteed by the Indo-Lanka Accord is a reform that the finest Sri Lankan Leftists, such as Vijaya Kumaratunga, supported, shed their blood and sacrificed their lives for. They participated in a Sinhala on Sinhala civil war, alongside the state and the reformist wing of the UNP, precisely for the implementation of this reform. Since it has remained unimplemented in the North, it can hardly be considered obsolescent. One argument against it is that it has been superseded by events, but if it has indeed been superseded, the most important among those events has been the military defeat of the Tigers who, having been saved from defeat by external intervention, were undefeated in 1987. Thus the argument of historical obsolescence cuts both ways. The struggle to implement the 13th amendment fully remains as progressive a task as it ever was -- which is why Prakash Karat, the chief theoretician of India’s CPI-M, referred even a few weeks ago, to the 13th amendment and Provincial Councils as the basis of a solution.

The historical record shows that the real position of Vijaya and the Left was closer to the 13th amendment with de-merger, i.e. to the current structure, than to the 1987-88 merged version. In June 1986, at the Political Parties Conference, convened by President Jayewardene at the written urging of Vijaya, the SLMP, LSSP ( represented by Dr Colvin R de Silva) and CPSL ( represented by Pieter Keueneman) the combined Left took a stand for Provincial autonomy with two councils one for the North, the other for the East. The documents of that conference are available as a stubby volume. Even as he supported the Accord, Vijaya – the closest we came to a Bobby Kennedy-- opposed the merger.

To sum up then: On the part of the Tamils, the choice is whether they opt for a moderate leadership which the Sinhalese will be willing to share power with, on a basis that the Sinhalese are willing to accept, or whether they wish to live in permamnt confrontation by choosing a leadership whose immoderate demands will be unacceptable to the Sinhala majority.

Will the Tamils and Sinhalese continue to qualify for liberal-minded Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s description of the Palestinians, who, he claimed “never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity”?

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

French judicial investigation into financing network of Tamil Tigers

By Jacques Follorou

The French Judiciary will be the first in Europe to look into the financing networks of the Tamil rebellion in Sri Lanka. Paris anti-terrorism Judge in charge of the case Philippe Coirre ended his investigations and should hand over the file to the Public Prosecutor at the end of March for summing-up.

Leading cadres of the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in France and henchmen were imprisoned in 2007. Justice accuses about twenty people of having racketed the Tamil Diaspora through threats and abductions. These suspects acknowledge they belonged to the LTTE but most of them deny the accusations.

Fighing since 1972 against Colombo authorities, the Tigers, mainly Hindus, claim the independence of the North and the Northeast of Sri Lanka, a country inhabited by 75% of Buddhist Singhalese. This guerrilla, the oldest one in Asia and the only one in the world equipped with a navy and aircrafts, financed itself mostly through the manna, forcibly taxed, of the Tamil communities settled abroad. The French one counts with more than 70,000 persons.

The synthesis of the Anti-terrorist Division police officers (SDAT) to Judge Coirre specifies that "each family had to pay €2,000 per year and that this amount reached €6,000 for shopkeepers". The suspects were linked with the Tamil Coordination Committee France or to the humanitarian organization Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, which denied any pressure. According to the investigation, these institutions were giving accounts to the Tamil management in Sri Lanka.

The cooperation between the Italian and French polices led to the arrest on 6th February in Paris, of Number Two of the Tamil mafia for Europe Tharmalingam Jeevakamth, alias "Kumar" or "Jeeva". Wanted in Italy for "money extortion and financing of terrorist activities", he is suspected to be one of the biggest financial superintendents of the Tamil rebels of the LTTE.

It appeared in French and Italian investigations that Switzerland was the hub of the Tamil illegal organization in Europe, which is said to count with over a hundred members. The Swiss Federation regularly hosted peace negotiations between the representatives of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government. In 2008, the LTTE Number One in Europe, known as "Il Grande", wanted in Italia, besides ran away from Switzerland hastily.

According to the Italian and French justices, when people were refusing to pay, the LTTE was putting pressure on the families living in areas under their control in Sri Lanka. The organization has computerized data files to know the situation of households paying the "revolutionary tax". In theory, those who paid this amount would be the only ones to circulate freely on the roads controlled by the Tamil rebellion. On the field, a group of LTTE musclemen is taking care of recalcitrants and carries out retaliatory measures.

In front of Judge Coirre, the man in charge of money collection for the LTTE in the Val-de-Marne, Markandu Jeyapalasingam, pointed out that the fine families in Sri Lanka had to pay was "twelve times the amount claimed to their relatives in France" or even "to send one of the family members to a LTTE slave labour camp".

Again according to investigations led in Italy and France, the Tigers also count on an illegal group named Ellalann in charge of the execution of opponents. In Paris, a leaflet with death threats, signed by the French wing of the "Ellalann forces" was targeting the director of a community TV channel who was living in France. Heard by the policemen of the SDAT, he declared he had been subjected to pressures "for years" to relay the LTTE propaganda.

According to the French investigation, 30% of the funds are however donated by true Tamil supporters. The total amount collected in 2006 in France was assessed to €7,5 million. In Italy, the network of the Tigers, dismantled in June 2008, would have collected between 3 and 4 million euros in 2007. British anti-terrorist police services also work on the local wing of the LTTE that would have set up a secret financial system operating through pro-Tamil websites.

The cash collected in Europe was then send to Switzerland in suitcases, to be deposited on bank accounts used to finance the war against the Sri Lankan Army. A laundering network was passing through jewels and gold merchants in Singapore.

To justify the qualification of "terrorism", the French investigation tried hard to demonstrate the link between the secret financing and the attacks perpetrated by the LTTE. Telephone conversations would have been intercepted in this regard between cadres of the LTTE in France and activists in Sri Lanka.

Among the facts retained are the four kamikaze attacks against buses, between June 2006 and April 2007, killing 101 in Sri Lanka. The French police officers added to the file their reports on LTTE cadres shadowing at the Armament Trade Fair in Le Bourget (Seine-Saint-Denis), while they were looking for transmission equipment.

Confronted to the dismantling of their organization in Europe, the officials of the LTTE sent members of their intelligence service - the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service - to France and Italy to try and compensate. But as an echo of the current military collapse of the Tigres in Sri Lanka, the failure of financing networks in Europe illustrates the most serious setback the rebellion experienced in thirty years.

Recognized as legitimate for so many years, the fight of the Tigers alienated the indulgence of the International Community little by little. India describes them as terrorists since the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a LTTE kamikaze, on 21st May 1991, and the European Union included them on an identical list on 29th May 2006.

(This is a translation of an article that appeared in the reputed French newspaper "Le Monde" of March 17th 2009)

Will Self Immolation bring solution to conflicts?

by M.S. Shah Jahan

"Thich Quang Duc self-immolated himself in protest of persecution of Buddhism in South Vietnam in 1963. I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think.... As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him".

These were the words of’ David Halberstam who was at that time filing daily reports on Vietnam War with the New York Times.

TQDTC0317.jpg

[The Self-Immolation of Thich Quang Duc]

It was June 11, 1963 in Saigon, [today’s Ho Chi Minh City] a seventy three year old Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc sat at a busy downtown intersection and had gasoline poured over him by two fellow monks. As a large crowd of Buddhists and reporters watched, he lit a match and, over the course of a few moments, burned to death while he remained seated in the lotus position. After his funeral, where his remains were finally reduced to ashes, Quang Duc’s heart, which had not burned, was retrieved, enshrined, and treated as a sacred relic.

Buddhist Vietnam was administered by a Christian family called Diem to who the French entrusted the reign. The Monk’s death was interpreted as a protest to religious persecution of the Buddhists and no doubt Thich Quang Duc set fire to Vietnamese struggle against the government. Political leaders are aware of the power of photographic images that would evoke both ethnocentric recoil and agonizing identification.

On 27th February a young Tibetan Buddhist monk identified as Tapey in his twenties, carrying a Tibetan national flag with a picture of the Dalai Lama and shouting slogans, doused with gasoline and set himself ablaze in western China for government restrictions on religion. What prompted him? About 40 minutes earlier, Chinese authorities prevented a group of 1,000 monks from entering Kirti Monastery prayer hall to observe Monlam festival which is part of the Tibetan New Year. The security forces shot Tapey. He fell and was driven away in a van to a hospital. China still says he is recovering in a hospital but shows no evidence.

China claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and that Beijing’s tight control is draining them of their culture and identity. Media reported the massive armed force deployment in Lhasa from the 10th March when Tibetans observed the 50th anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that led to the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile.

When Dalai Lama accused China it had created "hell on earth" in Tibet, China replied by saying the Himalayan plateau had become "paradise on earth". This is the trouble with human beings. What is hell to some is paradise to others.

It is Hindus and Buddhists, out of the major religions who cremate dead bodies. That way their birth finally ends with fire. In India self immolation is a common act and even family quarrels lead the weaker sex to such deaths. There are cases where mother-in-law set fire to daughter- in- law on dispute of dowry or any other. Those days in certain Hindu communities there was a voluntary custom which is outlawed today, called Sati, where the widow was burnt to ashes on her dead husband’s pyre.

On many incidences the women were forced to commit Sati and sometimes even dragged against their wish, crying and pleading, to the lighted pyre. It would be pathetic to see young women as second or third wife being pushed in to the pyre. In Ameer Khan’s 2007 film Mangal Pande, there was a scene where the British commanding officer William Gordon saves a young native girl Jwala from the funeral pyre of her late husband and falls in love with her.

Tamilnadu plays too much with fire. Giving one’s life to the death of his passionate cine actor or party leader is a common event here. Further setting fire to one self for political cause is considered heroic. Even the concept of LTTE’s ‘human bombs’ might have born out of this theory too. The person who commits immolation attains sudden popularity through the media. Political leaders garland his body and pay respect, government issues condolence message, donates money etc. as if the person has done a glorified act.

The press rushes to his residence not to convey sympathy, but to grab his photo for publication. The acts of media might induce or influence further such deaths but they would not achieve their intended purposes. On the other hand it would strengthen those politicians’ hands who would give interviews on television and print media. They would praise the sacrifice with the best of their flowery language and finally ask no one to do such things, for them to be free from allegation of inciting suicide.

The self-immolation of Tamil journalist Kolathur Muthukumar on January 29 on Sri Lankan Tamil issue has triggered a big backlash. The student community got charged by Muthukumar’s death and his four-page letter, exhorting them to take possession of his body and "use it as a trump card to sharpen your struggle." His family refused to receive Indian Rupees 250,000 [SLRs 600,000] offered by the Tamilnadu government and the state too stopped offering such payments afterward where as the Eelam supporters have given Indian Rupees 300,000.

In the past three months after Muthukumar, nearly10 persons have sacrificed life through fire on Eelam issue in Tamilnadu, leaving the few outside of India. The list adores Pallipatti Ravi, Sirkhali Ravichandran, Chennai Amaresan and Thiyagarajan, Kadaloor Thamilventhan and few others, including members of Congress, DMK and DMDK party members. Attempts of few including lawyers and three higher secondary school students were foiled. Last week on the 12th a student Selvam [26] when tried to jump from the 8th floor of Madras General Hospital was arrested. Nagalingam Anand [23] of Kadaloor was admitted to hospital with 95% of burn injuries.

Their argument has been that the plight of Lankan Tamils was unbearable to them. No doubt the suffering of the poorest of the poor in Wanni is deplorable but it is the result of a vicious cycle. If the civilians stay with the LTTE they are subject to aerial attacks. If they try to go to government controlled area they are shot or burnt alive by the LTTE. They are between the unseen devil and Gorilla or Guerilla. Is Tamilnadu aware of an email in circulation with photos of charred human bodies under caption "Those who tried to escape from LTTE area were burnt alive"?

First of all, were the alleged suiciders political pundits? In Tamilnadu majority of the common people are ignorant of the root cause of Lankan issue but get worked up by sensational media reports. Recently MDMK’s leader Vaiko blamed Tamilnadu Chief Minister Karunanithi for not honouring those who immolated for Lankan Tamil cause and ridiculing their sacrifice as a death out of petty family disputes. ‘Dinamalar’ a Tamil daily on 08/03/2009 had a cartoon where Vaiko asking a debt ridden family that committed suicide whether they did not know about the Eelam issue? That way the daily mocked Vaiko and the self immolation taking place.

Agitated Vaiko attacked the daily when he attended a book release on the 10th and said his affection to the Eelam cause is genuine and revealed that he sheltered 37 LTTE combatants in his house feeding, guarding and nursing them for 18 months even six months after Sri Perumputhur incident – meaning Rajiv Gandhi’s death in 1991. But it was his brother who was imprisoned for a year for harbouring the said terrorists. In a fit of fury Vaiko nowadays utters about matters that might land him in jail. He is spared since election is around the corner and he should not get undue publicity.

In the mid 1950 a freedom fighter Sangaralingam Nadar fasted unto death demanding the name change of Madras State to Tamilnadu. Congress government ignored. It was DMK leader Annadurai who obliged in 1967. Nedumaran on Tuesday expressed his anguish saying even after 10 persons died with fire, the central government took no steps to force a ceasefire. While the death of Wanni civilians itself is not making any change in the war, immolation of foreign small timers will have no impact unless leaders like Vaiko, Nedumaran, Thirumavalavan or Dr.Ramdoss test the water. Will they? Never. Karunanithi offered to die if his death can bring Eelam tomorrow. Both are improbable. For these leaders life is precious and they let others die. The same is with LTTE’s supermo too.

Unlearning what Gunadasa Amarasekara taught us with a sense of gratitude

by Liyanage Amarakeerthi

DRGA0317.jpgGunadasa Amarasekara turned 80 last year. In an attempt to re-evaluate him as a writer, his publisher has named this year "the year of revisiting Amarasekara". But Dr. Amarasekara is more than a writer. He is one of most influential and authentic intellectuals of our time.

Book publishers come up with various projects to promote their publications and to keep their business going and growing. Even Cumaratunga Munidasa’s grandson, the owner of Visidunu Publishers, is bound by this logic of business. Therefore, regardless of the fact that Gevindu Kumaratunghe is an intellectual in his own right, the project of re-evaluating Amarasekara is primarily a business venture, perhaps to keep his books in print for some more years to come.

Other than the publisher, any of Amarasekara’s ideological children who are key players in various Sinhala nationalist or racist organisations, have not shown any keen interest in seriously assessing the Amarasekara oeuvre. The intellectual or the businessman in the owner of Visidunu, however, is initiating a dialogue all of us must engage in: rethinking Amarasekara Chinthanaya, which is often taken to be "Jathika Chinthanaya."

Amarasekara is an authentic intellectual. All that means is that he is deeply engaged with his chosen community, Sinhala Buddhist people and, during the last few decades, Amarasekara has influenced nearly all cultural and political discourses of his people. There is no other local intellectual who shaped the thinking of radical Sinhala youth during that time as much as Amarasekara. A student of medicine from Lumumba University, named Wijeweera, and a dentist from the University of Ceylon, named Amarasekara, were two of the most significant people trying to cure social maladies of Sinhala society. In fact, Amarasekara spent about four decades trying to stuff Wijeweera’s Marxist head - taking Wijeweera as a symbol of many others- with ‘national thought’ (Jathika Chinthanaya), and in the process, one could argue, Amarasekara effectively destroyed a courageous challenger to the Sri Lankan state if not the status quo of the Sinhala South (JVP did not challenge all the aspects of the status quo).

Rare authenticity

Yet Amarasekara is an authentic intellectual. Our universities, political parties and NGOs have not been able to produce such an intellectual. For whatever reason, the university has failed to produce engaging and original thinkers. Some are engaging but not original while some are original but hardly engaging. In some rare occasions those two qualities joined together in some of our brilliant scholars, but even those people had very little connection with the masses and their politics. To put it briefly, there is no one in the university whose stature as a public intellectual equals that of Amarasekara. Of late, mainstream political parties have not been intellectual centres at all. The publications coming out of them suggest that there is no real thought-provoking dialogue inside those parties. Ironically, almost all political parties do have individuals of high intellectual status even though they have not been able get their respective parties to engage in intellectual debates.

NGOs are, almost by nature, intellectual centres attracting the most radical thinkers in the country. But only a few of NGO operatives could be called authentic. Writing mainly in English, they could not really reach out to the monolingual masses. Therefore, some of them sound like highly paid parrots talking to themselves in an unknown tongue, living in comfortable cages.

Only a few among those intellectuals could deeply respond to or engage with literature and art produced by Sinhala- speaking people- to focus on my own native language group. The bilingual intellectuals associated with NGOs are more or less ignorant or cynical of Sinhala literary and works of art. Situation in the Tamil community is said to be better, Tamil intellectuals being truly ‘bilingual’ and developing deep connections with Tamil language cultural worlds. I am still to see, however, a Partha Chatterjee or a Dipesh Chakrabarthy, who are equally at home in post-structuralist theory and Bengali pre-modern and modern literature, among the Sri Lankan English- speaking class(es).Without genuine and authentic connections with vernacular cultural life, some important work by NGO intellectuals had very little impact on the masses. In addition, their failure to produce a sustained critique of LTTE violence during the last three decades even created a certain resentment of them among the masses. Of course, some NGO intellectuals were systematically vilified by loud-mouthed nationalists, such as Gunadasa Amarasekara. But had they had some genuine connections with ordinary folk, such vilifications would not have been easy.

Gunadasa Amarasekara has been truly authentic compared to many of those ‘funded’ intellectuals. His being effective has more to do with his authenticity than with the accuracy of his thought. His Jathika Chinthanaya has ended up creating a kind of cultural relativism that easily translates into something like, "Humans in this country are only Sinhala Buddhists." That cultural relativism, instead of producing any Buddhist science or Buddhist theory of development, which takes the planet earth as our co-being rather than a bundle of nature to be mastered by modernity, has resulted in producing hypocritical middle class consumerists as social beings and racists as political beings. Consumerism and racism nicely synthesise in Sri Lanka’s new Buddhist.

"Good luck to you, Dr. Amarasekara"

There is another legacy of Amarasekara’s Jathika Chinthanaya: many children of 1956 turned their own inabilities into a form of Jathika Chinthanaya. For example, those who do not know any language other than Sinhala elevated their monolingualism into a form of being "Jathika." These days universities are full of those ‘national thinkers.’ Some others who are afraid of engaging with the most serious thinkers of our time argue that the Buddha has taught us everything we need. According to them, Jataka Pota is enough, and we do not need Derrida’s Grammatology or Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, for example. The Jataka Pota, to be sure, is a very good book. But it is hardly enough. Those who claim that The Jataka Book is enough cannot read Derrida or Foucault and they cannot deal with such rigorous thought, so they disguise their inability as Jathika Chinthanaya. One cannot begin to describe how the sublimation of mediocrity has destroyed this country. Thousands that surround Amarasekara are such "national thinkers." About Amarasekara’s voyage with these fellows I can only say this: "Good luck to you, Dr. Amarasekara".

Those who really can engage with Amarasekara are the ones who are called, of course by Amarasekara himself, "enemies of the nation", "agents of the West" and "imitators of the West". Over the years Amarasekara has successfully taught his followers such name- calling which shuts down any form of intellectual dialogue.

My Wittgenstein, of course he is Western, has taught me that conversation is the essence of humanity. An entire school of mediocre ‘thinkers,’ masquerading as national thinkers, (Jathika Chinthakayas) is constantly at work to rid our society of genuine conversation. In any institution; including the private sector, the people of average skills and knowledge are the most nationalist calling any innovative and energetic person "non-nationalist". For these disciples of the Jathika Chinthana school, being productive and creative means being Western. Therefore, those who have done nothing substantial for the Sinhala nation are the most vocal defenders of it. Rajitha Dissanayake’s new play, "Apahu Herenna Bee", beautifully depicts certain qualities of these "friends" of the nation. I hope very much that Dr. Amarasekara will live long enough to see the destruction his theories have resulted in. And I hope the poet in him will still be honest on that day to regret his mistake.

The critique is worthwhile only when the critiqued is authentic. Amarasekara is such an influential writer that it is always rewarding to disagree with him. In reading his best short stories, I find myself agreeing with him too. His brilliance as a writer manifests itself in his mid- career stories included in ‘Ekatamen Polowata’, ‘Ekama Kathawa’ and ‘Katha Pahak’. In them, Amarasekara critically evaluates Sri Lanka’s postcolonial citizen without any overt ideologically leanings. After those stories, Amarasekara the thinker begins to overshadow the creative writer in him and before long literature becomes his surgical knife to cut open various ‘enemies and friends’ of the nation. Even in some those ideologically- motivated literary works there are some moments of brilliance but after the late 1980s Amarasekara becomes increasingly predictable as a writer and his artifice becomes obvious and fails to surprise. They are ideas without delight.

One of my favorites of Amarasekara’s stories happens to have a title that signifies a turning point in the writer’s career: "Etamen polowata nohot Upadi Dhariniya". Roughly translated the title means: "Down to Earth from the Ivory Tower or A Female Graduate." The collection which includes the story, marks Amarasekara’s revolt against what he calls, "Peradeni literature". I often use this story in my lectures on postcolonial literature for it is a fine portrayal of what colonial education does to people.

Education is an important social leveller. But in many postcolonial situations, education only introduces a new kind of stratification and hierarchy that prevents truly human relationships among people. Nimala, the graduate in the story finds her true ‘soul mate’, the most interesting conversation partner in Siripala, the bus conductor. In a world without any social stratification, these two would have made an ideal couple. Failing to enter the university, Siripala ends up becoming a bus conductor, but he is an avid reader and perceptive connoisseur of literature – particularly of the major works of the Sinhala literary resurgence of postcolonial Sri Lanka. When she meets Siripala again on the bus to a school where she works as a voluntary teacher, for she is still an unemployed graduate, their old friendship rekindles through a series of conversations on modern Sinhala literature. During these conversations she finds out that Siripala, the conductor, is a far superior reader and a much better human being. Their reunion thus grows into a warm relationship.

Before long, Nimala’s ivory tower mentality creeps back in reminding her that the graduate is far superior to a mere bus conductor. What would have been a great union of human beings ends abruptly, imprisoning the girl in her ‘tower.’ The story is not only about what education does to people in post colonial Sri Lanka, but is also a critique of ‘so-called people’s literature’ in which the love would have won against all socio-cultural odds. In addition, the story is an implied critique of ‘Peradeni literature’ which often idealizes liberal humanism.

Another brilliant story, "Kalanidhi hewath Pachaweda" (Kalanidhi or the Fake Doctor), juxtaposes a student of Western medicine and a ‘student’ of indigenous medicine in such a way that the story becomes a fine analysis of what happens to natives and their knowledge systems when colonial knowledge presents itself as ‘naturally’ superior. This is only one reading of this richly layered story.

The most fertile period in the history of the realist short story easily belongs to Amarasekara and in many ways he is way ahead of other writers of his generation. Amarasekara’s stories are unique in their structure as well since the author had very little regard for notions like "unity of impression", "slice of life" and the like and his stories are not sketchy ‘short shorts.’ Quite rightly, his search for ‘human truth’ is always predicated upon a certain historic truth. Amarasekara, the fiction writer provides invaluable insights into Sri Lanka’s postcolonial condition and those insights are far more illuminating than anything Amarasekara the ideologue preaches.

After a series of wonderful stories like these ones, Amarasekara’s stories became rather one dimensional and less nuanced. His textual space ceased to be animated by what I would call ‘artistic indeterminacy’- a quality abundant in Ajith Tilakasena’s stories. But still all the way up to his ‘Vila Langa Maranaya’ (2007) Amarasekara uses narrative to engage with postcolonial Sri Lankan citizens, often implying that this citizen fails because he/she lacks ‘Jathika Chinthanaya’. For me, Sri Lanka’s true national quality has to be found in its rich diversity- not in an unbroken Sinhala- Buddhistness. There are many ways of being Sinhala and Sri Lankan. In addition, it is impossible to recover the pure Sinhala person who ‘got lost’ in a confluence of other cultures; that moment of past purity is a creation of the present and when we look behind the layers of time what me see is yet another meeting of many cultures, thought and modes of being. If there is any cultural ‘essence’, it is always in the making, shifting and shaping itself making it impossible to pin down the essence. For one thing, the essence is no longer the essence when we find it. Another thing, a country needs a bunch of Pol Pots to launch the political project of recovering that essence. Our country has had enough of bloodbaths and this era must end.

End of an era

Sri Lanka’s ‘Sinhala only youth’ have learned so much from Gunadasa Amarasekara but when the great writer turns 80, a dramatic epoch in our history ends by making it essential for us to rethink Amarasekara’s thinking. Ideologies of people like Amarasekara enjoy unprecedented state power these days and Amarasekara seems to be the ‘ideological president’ of the country. Stupidly ugly words that he speaks of people like Premasiri Khemadasa show that he enjoys being close to state power. When certain ideologies enjoy state power it is time for people to expedite the critique of them. State is a violent machine that needs to be checked all the time. To do so is a progressive act, and in doing so, one must critique ideologies of the state. It is said that the ‘total military defeat of the LTTE’ is just a few weeks away. At least after that we need to remind ourselves that Sri Lanka is an extremely diverse country where multiple modes of thought or ‘Chinthanayas’ coexist, and there is no one ‘Chinthanaya’ or one basa". Our generation has the challenge of finding the best ‘structures’ that simultaneously nourish many thoughts, many modes, many voices, and so on.

In order to do so, we need to take a closer look at what is hidden under the blanket of nation. Under that is quite unpleasant. Everything under that big blanket cannot and should not go on without reform. Under the blanket, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. New forms of stratification have come to being, while old ones are reproducing themselves. Under the cover of nation, many thieves have robbed their way into ‘nobility’ and power. New nobodies have become new some bodies.

Almost all the institutions on which true democracy should rest have been politicized and manned by corrupt brats of 1956. People like Amarasekara have not been able to produce a sustained critique of these things for they are busy saving the nation. It is like Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’; once it is saved nothing worthwhile is left. Therefore, the future of Sri Lanka partly depends on the way we unlearn what Amarasekara has taught us over the years. We must do that unlearning with a sense of gratitude.

(Writer teaches at the university of Peradeniya)

Sri Lanka short-listed as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers

By Angilee Shah

FEERTC0317.jpgThe Sri Lankan government is on the cusp of achieving what once seemed impossible. Its armed forces are crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the battlefield, having pushed the rebels out of their northern stronghold and surrounded them in a few coastal villages. The administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa hopes that destroying the Tigers’ organization will bring an end to the 26-year civil war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

But the president’s own tactics make it difficult to imagine the peace holding. Far from healing racial tensions between the Tamil minority and Sinhalese majority populations, Mr. Rajapaksa has whipped up Sinhalese nationalism as part of his campaign against the Tigers. Credible accusations of human-rights abuses against the authorities suggest that after the war the same discrimination against Tamils that created the civil war in 1983 will persist.

This means the conflict will continue in another form, with Tamil separatists relying more on terrorist attacks rather than pitched battles. Terror has long played a big part in the war—the Tigers pioneered the use of suicide bombing, and have repeatedly struck at top government leaders even in the heavily guarded capital of Colombo. And the government will continue to respond in kind, using extrajudicial means to silence its opponents. The civil war is going underground.

The Second Front

Far from the headlines, the government is waging another, less well-publicized battle. The security forces are alleged to have ordered or been complicit in the disappearance, torture and murder of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens. Since the president was elected in 2005, Sri Lanka has consistently been short-listed as one of the world’s worst human-rights abusers and one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be a journalist. For instance, in December the island was listed alongside Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan as a “red alert” country by the New-York based Genocide Prevention Project.

Mano Ganesan, a member of parliament representing the Colombo district, explains the government’s second front in the war on terror this way: “In the name of wiping out terrorism, these government secret forces are systematically eliminating people for ethnic or political reasons.” He says that in his district over the past three years, more than 350 people have disappeared, mostly Tamils and political dissidents. “What is prevailing in this country is state terrorism,” Mr. Ganesan says. There have been no arrests and no convictions for theses crimes. Government commissions of inquiry have been created but have been ineffectual.

In a 2007 statement, a United Nations Commission on Human Rights Working Group “expressed deep concern that the majority of new urgent action cases are regarding alleged disappearances in Sri Lanka.” A year later, a March 2008 Human Rights Watch report described 99 cases of disappearances from around the island, and listed 489 more reported to Sri Lankan human-rights groups. In most documented cases, the report said, “there is sufficient evidence to suggest the involvement or complicity of the Sri Lankan security forces—army, navy, or police—in the ‘disappearances.”

At a January U.S. Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Anna Neistat testified to the continued violations on the part of the government. People are going missing near government checkpoints and while being screened to enter sealed, government-run camps for internally-displaced people, she said. And if civilians are being detained by the police and military, there is no public record or notification given to the families of those who are arrested and interrogated. The government, Ms. Neistat said, is making a “clear effort to cover its abuses.”

Victims and their families are reluctant to be named on the record for fear of reprisals. For instance, a Tamil businessman asked not to be identified as he spoke about his experience being kidnapped in late 2006. He was abducted by a group of armed men in public and in plain view of Colombo’s ubiquitous security details, forced at gunpoint into a white van, the favorite vehicle of Sri Lanka’s death and disappearance squads. As they passed through the city’s numerous checkpoints the van was never stopped. Instead, he says, it slowed only long enough for the soldiers and police manning their posts to salute the driver. He was held for 14 days in a small tent on what he describes as a “military base,” where he was guarded by men in uniform, and was released only after his family paid a ransom of 25 million Sri Lankan rupees, roughly $230,000.

Others report months of torture and beatings, amidst questioning about their alleged involvement with the Tigers. One young man, who was released in 2008 from the infamous Boosa detention camp, created because of an overflow of prisoners in Colombo’s jails, remains despondent and in constant pain after suffering regular beatings over the course of five months. He says he was held under the provisions of Emergency Rule and never charged with any crime.

Many victims do not live to tell their stories. Before he was gunned down on his way to work earlier this year, Lasantha Wickrematunge was one of Sri Lanka’s last remaining investigative journalists, and one of the few people to publicly speak out against the president’s brother, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In an interview late in 2007, just over one year before his assassination, Wickrematunge claimed that although the defense establishment has been very good at disguising its involvement, “there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence linking the defense secretary, the Defense Ministry, and in fact the government, to what’s happening on the human-rights front: the disappearances, the abductions and some of the killings.”

International observers say that the Rajapaksas are, at the very least, responsible for the lack of justice in these cases. Former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jeffrey J. Lunstead told U.S. senators that the Rajapaksas’ failure to investigate and prosecute these crimes sends a strong message that they are tacitly accepting the violence. “You don’t have to give an order in that case,” he explained.

The fact that these kinds of crimes are taking place inside the heavily fortified Sri Lankan capital is enough to give rise to conspiracy theories. Colombo is a labyrinth of police and army checkpoints. All major boulevards have been converted into one-way streets to make traffic easier to control and help security forces funnel vehicles into checkpoints. Even a foreign-passport holder cannot move more than a few kilometers at a time without being stopped, questioned, and sometimes searched by soldiers or police officers. So, as Wickrematunge asked, how is it possible for hundreds of people to go missing from this high-security city without a single kidnapper being detained?

Weeks before Wickrematunge was murdered, Gotabaya Rajapaksa sued him for defamation for articles published about an alleged kickback. The court issued an enjoining order, preventing the paper from publishing anything about the defense secretary as the case proceeds. In a self-penned obituary written before his murder and published by his paper, the Sunday Leader, Wickrematunge addressed the president directly, writing, “In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.”

In a recent interview with the BBC, Gotabaya Rajapaksa denied responsibility for Wickrematunge’s death. He dismissed the editor as “somebody who was writing for a tabloid,” and told BBC reporter Chris Morris, “In the whole world there are murders. Why are you asking about Lasantha [Wickrematunge]? Who is Lasantha?” He went on to say that there are only two kinds of people in Sri Lanka, “the people who want to fight terrorism, and the terrorists.” When asked if he thought that dissent and criticism were treasonous, he answered simply and sharply, “Yes.”

Gotabaya the Great

Sir Lankans on all sides of the political spectrum attribute the military’s newfound success to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Yet despite his crucial contribution to one of the most significant undertakings in Sri Lanka’s history, the defense minister, who declined to comment for this story, remains mostly a mystery. A retired army major, he and his family moved to the United States in the early 1990s and settled in a Southern California suburb, where he worked initially as a clerk at a 7-Eleven convenience store and later found employment in his preferred field of information technology.

By the time his brother announced his presidential campaign in 2005, Mr. Rajapaksa was a UNIX administrator at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. His colleagues, who called him George or Georgie, describe him as hard-working and diligent. He was a well-organized and careful administrator who rode the bus 30 miles to and from work every day, and prayed every morning in front of the servers that they would stay up and running. On Sundays, he worked at a homeless shelter and worshipped at a local Buddhist temple.

Mr. Rajapaksa took a leave of absence to answer his brother’s call for help on the campaign trail, and when his brother became the president, resigned from his Loyola Law School position. He first took up the second-in-command post at the ministry of defense, taking charge of the nation’s army, air force, navy and police. To many Sri Lankans, he is now “Gotabaya the Great,” a near savior who has put them on the cusp of defeating a group of thugs and murderers who have terrorized their country for over two decades.

Ananda Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka’s Consul General in Los Angeles, says Gotabaya Rajapaksa is still friendly and humble, a man who likes to take walks in the evening and is frustrated that the security situation in Colombo confines him to his home. He is extremely focused, though, and right now, “His only focus is the war,” Mr. Wickramasinghe says.

But to many Tamil civilians, opposition politicians, independent journalists, and human-rights workers, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a kind of bogey-man. People don’t like to say his name aloud, opting instead—when they are willing to talk openly about him—to call him simply “the defense secretary.” Mangala Samaraweera, the Rajapaksas’ first foreign minister and a one-time advisor to Mr. Mahinda, paints the picture of a man obsessed with the destruction of the LTTE. “[Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brothers] see defeating the LTTE as the key to their political strength,” he says. “They will stop at nothing to destroy Prabhakaran [and the Tigers].” Mr. Samaraweera was eventually dismissed from the president’s cabinet. Soon after, he shifted his political allegiances and is now one of the most vocal leaders in the opposition party.

Ironically, it was the Tigers themselves who made possible President Rajapaksa’s rise to power. He won election in 2005 by a narrow majority over the much more dovish Ranil Wickramasinghe after the Tigers boycotted the election and disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of people living under their control, voters who would have almost certainly cast their ballots for Mr. Wickramasinghe. There is a great deal of speculation over why the Tigers chose to help Mr. Rajapaksa win, but it is now very obvious that they underestimated him and his family.

Despite the controversy surrounding Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the human-rights violations he is alleged to have sanctioned, the world’s focus mostly remains fixed on the government’s conventional offensive against the Tigers. So far, the international community has had very little to say about Colombo’s second front in its war on terror.

To many human-rights and policy experts, it seems as if the world is giving the Sri Lankan government a pass because it is so close to achieving a victory that will once and for all destroy the much-reviled Tamil Tigers. But when the government does rout the last of the LTTE’s conventional fighting forces, it will be faced with what may prove to be an even greater set of challenges. In defeat, the Tamil Tigers are likely to return to their roots as a true guerrilla terrorist organization, striking from the shadows and hiding among civilian populations. It is then that this offensive’s second front will become the major battlefield of the Sri Lankan civil war. This will more than likely mean more torture, more disappearances and more death.

Even if the world does want to get involved in Sri Lanka’s uncertain future, it is not so easy. Sri Lanka does not have major geopolitical significance. The government maintains protectionist economic policies, is skeptical of foreign investment, and does not enjoy an abundance of any natural resources. Like the United States, the island is not a party to the International Criminal Court, so prosecuting its officials for the war crimes in the ICC is not possible. Given these obstacles, chances are slim that there will ever be justice for the thousands of Sri Lankan citizens who may have been tortured or killed by their government.

Another option may exist: At some point between managing a 7-Eleven and managing servers at Loyola Law School, Gotabaya Rajapaksa became an American citizen. If he is guilty of what the former foreign minister and so many others accuse him of, then he is indictable under U.S. law.

A Washington D.C.-based group, Tamils Against Genocide, has retained high-profile attorney Bruce Fein to seek these indictments. Mr. Fein submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice a 12-count model indictment against Gotabaya Rajapaksa and General Fonseka, a U.S. green card holder, under the Genocide Accountability Act, a 2007 law which allows criminal charges to be brought against U.S. nationals. The 1,000-page document, Mr. Fein says, chronicles 3,800 extrajudicial disappearances or killings since December 2005. As the leaders of the Sri Lanka’s defense and security forces, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Gen. Fonseka are responsible for the mass violence against Sri Lankan Tamils, according to Mr. Fein. The quest for national security, he says, should not include this kind of war. “It has never been a defense to genocide that you are fighting terror,” Mr. Fein says.

Sri Lankan officials deny these claims. Los Angeles Consul General Mr. Wickramasinghe says that there are inevitably costs to ending a long bloody conflict like Sri Lanka’s. “Our troops are fighting with a terrorist organization that doesn’t respect any laws in war,” he says. “These are the casualties of the conflict. It takes a long time to reach peace.”

(This article appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review of March 6th 2009 under the heading "Colombo's secret war on terror". Angilee Shah is a free-lance journalist based in Los Angeles. Reporting from Colombo, Singapore and Los Angeles for this story was made possible by a fellowship from the South Asian Journalists Association. This article was co-authored by a journalist who must remain anonymous for safety reasons.)

End of the road for Rajapakse incorporated also?

by Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan

While it is generally believed it is the end of the road for Prabakaran and the Tigers, many Lankan watchers believe equally the days of the Rajapakse regime appears to be numbered as well – economically and politically. Sarath Fonseka is "almost there" in his once-more delayed endeavour in presenting a "final military victory" to his political Buddhist-Sinhala boss. But the more important "winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil people" - must necessarily wait for another occasion – if at all.

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The pyrrhic victory army's Fonseka – joined by his colleagues in the Air-force and Navy - is likely to deliver has, on the other hand, resulted in the more undesirable feature in bringing to its knees the economic health of the 20 million nation – now in the throes of a rocketing Cost of Living now in the stratosphere; mass unemployment by the closure of garment, manufacturing factories and trading companies; an imminent flow-back of thousands of Lankan workers in the Gulf that brought in an appreciable portion of our annual foreign-exchange earnings; collapse of the stock-market; confusion in the tea, rubber and cinnamon market - just to name a few. In fairness to him it may be added here Rajapakse did not begin the down-slide with the armed adventure Vs the LTTE. The unenviable credit to this must go to his predecessor CBK, now in splendid retirement with spoils all hither, thither and yon. Even fresh fish, caught locally for as long as one can remember, has to be imported to keep spiralling prices down in an island surrounded by marine-rich oceans “ but for how long?

The culprit for the economic collapse is widely believed to be Mahinda's "Economic Czar" and his personal choice as Central Bank Governor - Ajith Nivaard Cabraal, whom the Colombo business community did not accept any more than as an average Accountant with hardly any achievement of significant note to write home about. His only qualification appears to be he is more than willing to be an 'yes' man to the President and the more vocal in the ruling clique – a PhD equivalent that seems to impress many political heads in many developing countries than the hard-headed stuff of learned economists from Harvard, Wharton and the OxCam league. Even senior economists and administrators the government consulted prior to Cabraal's appointment were either vocally against the appointment or, being polite to the President, remained lukewarm. Rajapakse failed to take notice of the advise and the hint – and now finds himself feeling the full heat of the baptism of fire.

Of Cabraal's celebrated guffaws the more serious ones are his brushing aside the inevitable dire affects to the country of the burgeoning global recession – "this will not have much of an affect on uusâ" quoth this economic giant contemptuously. And more recently, his arrogant dismissal of the IMF betrays the lack of academic depth. He has now made Rajapakse eat humble pie with the high priests of the IMF - forcing the latter to seek an embarrassing bail-out close to US$2 billion - the only oxygen in the horizon to the collapsing economy. Cabraal's assurance to Rajapakse the Sinhala diaspora will instantly come out with US$500 million lies in shatters – and predictably so. Even the now nondescript UNP annd its lacklustre leader Ranil Wickramasinghe are in stitches laughing uncontrolably at the government's imposed vulnerability.

The Shylockish IMF is unlikely to open her purse strings easily and without laying bitter conditions. Cabraal may not tell his boss that the "caning" from the IMF for (Cabraal's) "perali" will have much to do with "ill-advised excessive and un-necessary purchase of arms and costly equipment" to all three forces in the overkill pursuit of an enemy numbering less than a few thousands - Fonseka's figures. IMF will naturally expect economic advisors of the government to preach wisdom, discipline and caution to weak governments in the clutches of uniformed men and clerics. But then was it not that unforgettable Irishman Oscar Wilde who remarked "those who cannot learn now take to teaching"?

But this is only the beginning of Rajapakse's litany of woes. Closer at hand, India has called out a General Election for mid-April where the two major political entities – the Coalitions around the Congress under Sonia and that under the Hindu-rightist BJP – are going all-out to win. Tamilnadu with 39 Lok Sabha seats will be a prized ally of both the Congress and the BJP. The far-right Narendra Modi sweeping Gujarat in the recent State Elections there – against a hostile Press and electronic as the partissan "NDTV" – could well mean the Indian electorate will oscillate this time towards the BJP.

It is only but an imbecile who will claim ignorance as to what this can mean to a Sinhala government arguably imposing injustice on their Tamils for decades. Knowing all too well which side of the bread is buttered that fiery "Amma" Jeyaram Jayalalitha is not going to be too far away from the Lankan Tamil question, from which she kept herself aloof all these years.

She has caused a tremendous shift in the balance of power of Tamilnadu politics by openly coming out in favour of "Separate State" for the Lankan Tamils. It shall not be long before Kalaignar joins in the fray - possibly with a wilder pronouncement. It will be only the political naive within the government and its coterie of "advisors" who will fail to take note of this significant change in TN politics. Jayalalitha" message to both the Congress and the BJP is "I am available" (no pun intended here) though concubine she was when the debonair MGR was around. Out there in the big wide world things do not particularly bring in glad tidings to massage the ego of the Rajapakse's.

This is probably why Dayan Jayatilake, the controversial trouble-shooter of the regime in Geneva, now down-sized, titled his latest peace "Are we being encircled globally just as we have encircled the Tigers locally." Despite his faults Jayatilake, son of an illustrious journalist giant, knows what's going on in the world though compulsions of necessity result in some twists and turns. It is easy to dupe the Lankans by claiming Hillary Clinton only called President Rajapakse "to express her condolences to the Matara carnage" That was only "starters" although the local media was "instructed by Temple Trees to twist it so. International Herald Tribune was one of the major dailies to report "Hillary Clinton called Rajapakse to warn him to make sure his Army keeps Wanni civilian casualties to the minimum from now on" Spokesmen of the UK, Germany, E/U governments had similar messages consistent with the report of the IHT. Some are yet to learn Goebellism died in Germany with the man during WW2.

More importantly and from close proximity, New Delhi used similar language in her communiqu. An unusually larger number of US Senators both Democrat and Republican (38 to be exact), MP's from both sides of the British House of Commons, the EU Parliament, UN's High Commissioner of Human Rights the South African Ms Navanitham Pillai proceeded to do what was expected of them. While some held hearings others sent in their own messages "expressing grave concern" in the increasing number of civilian casualties by the army. The world remembers the massacre of the 5 youth in Trincomalee and the execution of over a dozen relief-workers under the flag of a French NGO - where the role of the army was clearly visible.

Although Sri Lanka treats them lightly now, the International Group of Eminent Persons are held in high esteem everywhere - if one only cares to look at the list of these experienced academics. They certainly carry much punch with several governments. The damage-control efforts of the Lankan variety of a Goebellesian reincarnation - Dr Rajiva Wijesinghe of the Lankan Peace Secretariat – too failed although, he duly, as expected of him, fired salvo after salvo on anyone criticizing his "boss" and the charmed regime. The undue delay in the army mopping off the few remaining LTTE cadres within the 35+ sq. kilo meters a minor job for any army worth its salt – is being commented upon by our Donors.

After all, they ask, "how come 40,000 of your well-armed troops are unable to cage in a rag-tag group of a few thousand LTTE?". Shankar Menon's most recent visit to Washington and his meeting with Secretary Clinton and other high ranking officials where the "Sri Lankan issue" took centre stage caused much consternation in Colombo. The subsequent report that the US Naval Fleet anchored in the Gulf is considering a sea-borne mission (invasion is too sensitive a word for the regime and the patriots) "to save the trapped Wanni civilians" sent shivers down the spine of Temple Trees and the Sinhala supremacist-chauvinist fringe admitted by the regime as "holding the Rajapakse government as prisoners".

The worst fear must be the haunting spectre of some of the leaders in the Rajapakse government - notably Gothabaya, Basil Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka - with US Citizenship credentials –“ being tainted with abominable "War crime" and genocide charges. The safe thought China, a member of the UN Security Council, will use her Vetoe powers to strike downany move to have any of China" friends or allies getting into hot waters has to be reviewed in the light of the fate of President Bashir of Sudan, whose resources and friendship is far more important to energy-hungry China than Sri Lanka. Bashir could not be saved from indictment before the International Court of Criminal Justice.

If one read through the BBC interview in which Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe was confronted with by Hard Talk" (BBC) Stephen Sachur and the statement of Chairman of the Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on Near and Far Eastern Affairs Senator Bob Casey the similarity in approach by both came out. Both usedin their addresses the immature and prejudicial quotes of Defence Secretary Rajapakse "Who is Lasantha?" ""Anyone not agreeing with us is committing treason" "Civilian Hospitals in the Wanni are legitimate targets of the armed forces" Too bad this un-diplomatic man with little culture or knowledge of the ways of the world is allowed to create further trouble to his brother. Clearly there appears to be some form of convergence of thoughts in the approach to the Lankan issue by several influential countries in different parts of the world.

They seem convinced the current Rajpakse government is either unwilling or unable to "protect civilians in the Wanni from further human rights horrors - not excluding massacres" That the LTTE well may be holding them as hostages for their (LTTEs) own safety is something the numerically superior Lankan army and armed forces should move to neutralize. Failing to act, delaying to act to protect and defend "Tamils " "our own people" (language used by the President, Foreign Minister, Foreign Secretary and others. Note Defence Secretary Rajapakse is hardly heard to use these accommodative terms).

And to make matters worse, the latest threat of that political parvenu and wind-bag Wimal Weerawansa two days ago "he will get his goons from his Front to surround the UN Office" in Colombo can only bring further trouble to Mahinda Rajapakse as further evidence of his being unable to leash extremist and dangerous forces within his fold. This kind of "mariakade" language appears to be the stock-in-trade of many of President Rajapakse's "friends" within his fold such as the likes of his attack animal Dr. Mervyn who is behind many incredible acts of violence – Sri Lanka's own version of Slumdog millioanaire.

Though it might have results within Sri Lanka and particularly in intimidating innocent Tamils in the wider, such ghastly behaviour is treated with utter contempt in civilized countries. As another columnist recently concluded "Rajapakse appears to be in the process of ending what SWRD Banda started in 1956 and which Prabakaran effectively carried out in the post-1983 period. That is to say, dividing the country into two Sinhala-Tamil geographical and linguistic units"

Internally displaced Jaffna Muslims have right to return and/or resettlement

by M. I. M. Mohideen

Muslims were living in more than 153 locations in fairly large numbers in the Jaffna District. Jaffna town had the largest concentration of nearly 90 percent of the total Muslims in the peninsula. Moor Street of Jaffna was an educational and cultural centre of the Muslims.

Moor Street had 17 mosques, six government schools, four large Quran and Arabic Madrasas (Schools) and many other institutions, fostering Muslim religion and culture. In fact, the economic activities of Muslims in Jaffna were influenced by the city. According to information gathered, about 45 percent of the reported heads of household were engaged in different types of trade and commercial activities in the city while another 35 percent were reported to be engaged in some form of service related occupations, like tailoring, repairing and transport.

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[A female explains the prevailing sanitary problems at the IDP camp to HE Peter Hayes, High Commissioner of UK in Sri Lanka, visiting Puttalam in Dec, 2008]

Jaffna, now the country’s worst affected district, is a glaring example of how ineffective institutions, political rivalries and misinformation can make a mockery of the resettlements of forcibly displaced Muslim people.

Rights of IDPs

People, who have been forced to flee or to leave their homes or place of habitual residence, as a result of armed conflict, violence, natural or man-made disaster and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border, are known as Internally Displaced Persons. They are entitled to all human rights enjoyed by the other citizens. In addition, they have special needs which should be addressed by the state authorities.

When we talk about planned resettlement of forcibly displaced victims, we are talking about an extremely diverse population. In addition to their socio-economic differences, there are also other characteristics that need to be taken in to account. These include ethnicity, religion, culture, age, health condition, and gender. All these factors need careful attention in the process of resettlement. If not, it can lead to serious problems.

For planning the resettlement programme, it is essential to have reliable and accurate informations about the impact on the lives and properties destroyed by the forcible displacement. It is a complex process that should be handled with care and with the full participation of all stakeholders at the grass root level. If this is not done properly, it can have adverse effects on the quality of life of the victims.

The extent and the value of land and other assets owned by the affected families cannot be ignored in finding solutions to their resettlement problems. No arbitrarily designed resettlement should be imposed on helpless victims as such solutions are likely to aggravate the problems of the people who are already traumatized. Makeshift housing should be replaced by solidly built structures.

The people affected expect individual attention and specific solutions. The agencies that deal with issues of livelihood restoration will be required to visit each family and or household to find out how best they can be assisted. This is a painstaking exercise but we have no choice in the matter if the objective is to ensure that people who lost their livelihoods regain their economic strength within a reasonable period of time.

The Muslim Documentation Centre - MDC - conducted an assessment survey of the displaced Muslim families, properties robbed, residences and the lands of Muslims unlawfully occupied by the LTTE in the Jaffna District with the following objectives:

= Systematically assess the damages caused to the Muslim victims by visiting each and every family.

= Prepare a comprehensive report based on the field investigations on a professional basis.

= The final Survey Report to be submitted to the Government of Sri Lanka and the International Community for assistance to rebuild the affected areas and resettle the displaced Muslim victims.

Involving the Muslim IDPs in re-building of the displaced areas has to be given the highest priority and village level vigilant committees should be established.

All private lands have to be surveyed and layout and the building plans prepared immediately for the approval of the Local Authorities.

UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights and Economic and Social Council in 1998.

Choice of Residence

Principle 15: The IDPs have the right to remain in the area they used to reside before the displacement or have the right to move to any other part of the country or another country of their will. This right is crucial for those who have lost their families, homes and belonging and have completely been uprooted.

Family Unit

Principle 16 and 17 highlight the importance of preserving the family unit. The responsible state authorities should help the IDPs in protecting the family unit by assisting in seeking family members who have been separated. A family unit provides security to a person. Separation from one’s family also leads to violation of other human rights. Where the families insist on remaining in the same location during the period of displacement the authorities should facilitate it.

Adequate Standard of Living

According to Principle 18, the state is responsible to provide the IDPs with an adequate standard of living including essential food, potable water, shelter, appropriate clothing, essential medical services and sanitation. The highest number of deaths among IDPs is caused by malnutrition. Vulnerable groups such as children, elderly and single heads of households should be given special attention in providing an adequate standard of living.

Property Rights

The IDPs have abandoned their property in haste and are not able to secure them. Especially, the boundaries of the lands may not be visible at the site. The properties of the IDPs are also prone to theft. The responsible authorities have to take steps to protect the property of the IDPs against such occurrences.

Right to Return or Resettle

IDPs have the right to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their previous homes or resettle voluntarily in another area of the country. Right to Return or resettle is vital especially when the cause of the displacement is ceased.

After resettlement, the IDPs should not face discrimination as a result of having been displaced. They, like all other citizens, have the equal right to participate in public affairs and to have access to public services.

Stamford doctor lobbies for Sri Lankan minority group

by Vinti Singh

Every night after work, Ellyn Shander sits on her computer for hours, corresponding with people around the world and trying to save friends caught in a conflict between the government and rebel groups in Sri Lanka.

Her family members died in the Holocaust. And now, she fears, her Tamil friends are in similar danger in the South Asian island country.

Tamils are a minority group in Sri Lanka, and the Sinhalese make up the majority of the population. Tamils have been denied rights, such as voting and education, by the Sinhalese, and the Tamil rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam formed to fight for a separate state for the Tamils.

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[Dr. Ellyn Shander (with megaphone) at a protest rally marking Sri Lanka Independence Day celebrations in Washington, DC, Feb 7, 2009]

Shander, who lives and has a private practice in Stamford and is an attending physician at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, visited Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami with a team of volunteers to provide grief counseling to survivors. They were told not to enter the northern regions of the country because it was dangerous. The greatest concentration of Tamil people live there. But the two Tamil doctors they were with insisted they visit there.

Shander and the group went to a small fishing village in the northern tip of Sri Lanka.

"You know people ask me, 'How come you work so hard for the Tamil people?' " Shander said. "And I tell them, you know what, in the middle of a catastrophe, when you sit with people whose babies who have been torn out of their arms . . . you know, people whose relatives were strewn all over the place, when you sit with them and work in such an intense way, you invite them into your heart and they invite you into their hearts. And it's a bond that really can't be broken."

Shander returned to the village six months later, alone, because none of the other doctors could go. She said the villagers were ecstatic to see her. She shared printed copies of digital photos she took during her previous trip, and they welcomed her into their refugee tents. The tents were bare, but they swept the dirt off of where she would sit in a gesture to make their dwellings more welcoming.

Shander was ready to go a third time when the Sri Lankan government broke its cease-fire and banned food and medication from reaching the Tamil people.

Since President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected, the government has stepped up its determination to extinguish an entire people, Shander said. Rajapaksa was elected on a platform of the "final solution to the Tamils," and "indeed his tactics and aggression against the civilian population under the guise of fighting terror, is hauntingly reminiscent of the Nazi's killing the Jews during WWII," Shander said in an e-mail.

Countries such as Norway, Germany and India have tried to broker peace talks between the rebel group and the government, but both sides have violated the terms of the cease fires. Now Rajapaksa rejects any call for a cease-fire, saying they were ineffective.

Last week, Al Jazeera reported suicide bombs near a mosque in Southern Sri Lanka killed 14 people and injured many more, and government officials blamed the attacks on the LTTE. The Sri Lankan army said it has the LTTE contained on a 45 square-kilometer space, but daily reports of fighting and civilian deaths continue.

"So then I got more involved because that is exactly where I worked and I got more politically active as the situations got worse and worse," Shander said.

Rajapaksa has called his efforts a war on terror, but Shander calls it ethnic cleansing. Strangers have left threatened messages on Shander's phone, calling her a terrorist and a terrorist sympathizer, accusations Shander finds absurd.

"Since he got elected, Rajapaksa, he's one of the most evil people on the planet," Shander said. "Because what he's done is created ethnic cleansing where extra-judicial kidnappings, murders and rapes are commonplace. And he increased the bombing."

When she watches the news, Shander recognizes places where she walked and talked, and she has no idea what happened to the village. She remains in contact with some of the people via e-mail and phone.

Since she can't go there, Shander is trying to raise awareness here. She is a part of the organization Tamil Americans and Friends, which recently organized a rally in Washington, D.C., urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to put an end to what they call a genocide of the Tamil people. Nearly 10,000 Tamil Americans and Tamil Canadians saturated the Ellipse Circle, rallying, chanting and holding placards, banners and pictures, highlighting the scope of the ongoing genocide and demanding U.S. action. Shander spoke to the large group at the rally, calling for "integrity."

"This is the first time the Tamil diaspora has really gotten together and collectively said 'enough,'" Shander said.

For the day of the rally, Shander collected 377 signatures on a petition and hand-delivered it to U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. On Feb. 24, there was a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Sri Lanka, but Dodd did not attend despite the group's request.

Some disagreed with what Shander purports to be the case in Sri Lanka. Udaya Amaradasa, Webmaster of lankatown.com, who regularly visits Sri Lanka and has family there, said Shander is part of a "very vocal minority" touting a genocide that is not actually happening.

"The LTTE has a vast support network largely made up of Tamil Diaspora in the western countries who migrated in the '80s and '90s due to the conflict," Amaradasa said in an e-mail.

Despite the slow and sometimes negative responses, Shander said she cannot stop fighting for the people who became near and dear to her in a short time.

"Six weeks after the tsunami I walked into a country that had been in turmoil since 1948, and in that moment of time after the tsunami there was peace," she said. "And two years later all hell has broken loose again and because of a chance encounter and a desire to help I became involved in trying to save an entire people. And to me that's an invitation in history to not step back. I can't step away from this conflict because it feels like I've been invited to help in some way. It's really our obligation as each one of us walk on this planet to leave it a better place."

-- Vinti Singh is a staff writer for the New Canaan News Review. [courtesy: The Stamford Advocate]

March 16, 2009

It Would Take a Long Time For The Sinhala South to Repent For What They Have Been Doing

By Kusal Perera

Far deep in the South, the Sinhala dominated Akuressa electorate in the Matara district with about 1,500 Muslims amongst a population of about 44,000 was completely shattered in a bloody orgy never before experienced and wholly undreamt of, just a week after the Buttala attack on security personnel in South Sri Lanka . In Akuressa, 06 government ministers together were participating in an Islamic celebration that marked the birth of Prophet Mohamed. Every one was perhaps taking the event rather casually.

The Southern social psyche that the war is almost over with the LTTE forced into a palm size patch of 20 sq km. in the Mullaitivu, left no reason not to feel casual. But that wasn't so, when a suicide cadre of the LTTE exploded himself on the morning of Tuesday (March 10) that was a poya day for the Buddhists. The attack killed 14 persons while injuring over 40 others. Ex JVP and UNP cross over MP Mahinda Wijesekera, presently Minister of Postal Services was airlifted to Colombo with serious injuries. Eye brows were raised in Colombo circles once again on the veracity of government claims of defeating the LTTE. It did happen that way after the two Zlin light planes freaked into the Colombo night skies three weeks before.

Yet the conflict lines remain clearly drawn and divided. At least ideologically they remain divided and that would decide the ground play in Sri Lankan politics, despite targeted suicide attacks. The South, the Sinhala polity in particular, would not believe this claim of war victory would leave a different conflict to deal with. Would not believe that this is only the end of the conventional phase of the armed conflict. They wouldn't accept that we would be leaving a rough terrain for a prolonged tactical war that would gradually seep into society in guerrilla form. Then it wouldn't matter whether that phase is led by Prabhakaran or the LTTE. It would nevertheless be organised again with the promise to liberate Tamil people, from a "racist Sinhala regime".

On the opposite side, the pro Eelamist camp wouldn't accept the military strategy of the LTTE, designed and carried out by Velupillai Prabhakaran in establishing an independent Tamil Ealam State which is now a shattered dream. They now prefer to project the humanitarian catastrophe into centre stage and hold the Rajapaksa regime at fault and therefore responsible for the unfolding human carnage.

They would not want to accept this bloody tragedy is the outcome of Prabhakaran's fatal miscalculation in allowing Rajapaksa to become the President by blocking over 400,000 Tamil votes. Prabhakaran, with his purely militaristic strategy in overriding politics, has given the Rajapaksa regime the legitimacy to dismantle democratic structures in society in the name of "defeating terrorism". In the name of defeating terrorism the Southern democratic forces that opposed the war, campaigned for power sharing and stood against violation of human rights are being ruthlessly silenced. That apart, the Eelam lobby would not want to believe the man who brought the Tamil cause to the world arena and made successive Sri Lankan governments to negotiate on the basis of a "Tamil homeland" in the North – East of Sri Lanka, is the same man who forfeited their future, allowed for a terror State in the South and is now fighting a desperate battle to survive as a guerrilla group.

This seems a knotty state of affairs for both extremists on either side of the battle lines. The war is being waged to a finish and the LTTE is seen folding up on one side, while the LTTE also continues to penetrate the defences in the South and strike where they wish, despite calls for surrender. For the pro-LTTE lobby, it is only a tactical withdrawal for a bigger comeback. The Sinhala South has always been happy living in fictional glory. Therefore they prefer to believe that all else would be simply fine after defeating the LTTE. Despite such wishful thinking on both sides, the ground reality is, this Rajapaksa regime can not go on squeezing the patch of LTTE occupied land for ever. This regime has to either call it "quits" or declare the "mission accomplished" asap and that's what they would try to do within the next fortnight or so.

And then the big question. What possibly could the post – Sinhalese /Tamil New Year period hold for Sri Lanka?

Within the Rajapaksa war campaign, they have started calling it the post-LTTE period already and some of the Colombo peace lobbyists too feel comfortable with that terminology. Within the war campaign there are two faculties of political lobbying with two different packages. The moderate of the two and therefore the saner, wants some form of devolution handed over to the Tamil people through a moderate Tamil leadership. They are probably thinking of the two ministers Devananda and Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan and the veteran loner Anandasangaree to come up with a compromise that would not rock the Sinhala boat. They would tinker with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in tying up a devolution package and the Delhi administration would then happily carry it around.

The other is by the hard-line campaigners who are really in the business of war, backed by the JHU stalwarts and using Karuna Amman for logistical support. Outside the regime, the JVP too backs this political thinking, wanting to retain some Sinhala votes for them at PC elections. The hard line group argues against any form of devolution and pose the question, if devolution is ultimately the answer, why did the government sacrifice over 12,000 lives in battle ? If devolution is the ultimate answer, they argue, that could have been done without sacrificing soldier lives. They instead say the war has proved the Sinhala State could now settle in with its own centralised "Unitary" form that could accommodate others, but without a claim for minority rights. For which their solution is to dissolve Tamil majority areas with Sinhala colonisation. No more "Tamil homeland" arguments and "majority Tamil areas" there after.

The counter argument is, such an end is not possible for two reasons. One, the war had to be waged to eliminate the LTTE that was always a hindrance to any solution offered and therefore the inevitable sacrifice of life. Two, if no form of devolution is offered, there would be enough political space left for another armed movement, which could even be more ruthless than the LTTE.

They both seem to carry that part of the story with them, which could give the answer with which they are comfortable to sit with. The reality is, the role played by the LTTE during the pre-war era has left an unfortunate vacuum in Tamil political leadership. It wasn't Tamil politics on the strength of democratic forces that brought pressure on SL governments to sit for negotiations. It was the military strength of the LTTE that pushed all governments into negotiations and the international community to reluctantly recognise the LTTE as a Tamil force to reckon with.

Therefore elimination of the LTTE leaves the Tamil polity without any democratic leadership, independent and strong enough to negotiate a justifiable end to the conflict. Defeating the LTTE in this brutal fashion also leaves a South without any democratic life and economic development too, under a stinking regime.

The story more or less begins with the Indo-SL Accord and the IPKF. All other Tamil armed groups that believed or was forced to believe the " Delhi promise" would deliver results, had to end up with the GoSL. They then gradually splintered and withered into smaller factions. Unable to play any political role within the Tamil society, they became totally dependent on the very "Sinhala" State they fought against. Such existence without doubt, leaves no respect or credibility, but gives leverage in using State power, being part of the government. Meanwhile the LTTE established itself as the military might of the Tamil liberation struggle.

On the other side, the LTTE's exaggerated commitment of being the only saviour of the Tamil people, allowed them to cow down the TNA to be the political articulator of their military strategy. This left a clear divide in Tamil political leadership, both in creating Tamil political ideology and in campaigning for a political solution. Those in the government became mouth pieces of Southern politics and had to oppose the LTTE. In opposing the LTTE, they had to renege on their own Tamil homeland concept that had unanimous acceptance after Thimpu discussions in 1986 that made the Thimpu Accord, the basis of all negotiations there after.

The only Tamil fire power that was able to force any government to a negotiating table has wiped out all alternative Tamil leaderships that could replace it. There in lies the basis of the hard line Sinhala argument that no devolution is necessary now. No Devananda, no Sangaree could force this government to draw up a devolution package. Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan without his nom de guerre Karuna Amman, has clearly told he is no more interested in any form of provincial power.

Turned into puppets of this government, all what these survivors could do is, stand by any fake solution the Rajapaksa hard liners would throw out using them as Tamil plums on a Sinhala cake. Delhi could claim it as their success and the Obama administration could marinate it, with their new definition of eradicating terrorism.

The Tamil society, completely uprooted from their living and left as permanent IDPs can not play any role in any attempt at finding a solution how ever mediocre it would be. The Colombo peace lobby would try walking a tight rope between a Rajapaksa solution and their devalued conscience. It would be back to square one, with a difference. The difference being that this "square one" would have a round authoritarian Sinhala State as stubborn as a Machiavellian pervert in deciding the future of not only the Tamil society, but all others as well.

Such would be the situation that could roll out in the future and most unfortunately, the moderates would be proved right on the long run with another outrage of armed militancy that would have good reason to mobilise in an environment that has no democratic space for dialogue and dissent. It would take a long time for the Sinhala South to repent for what they had been doing for the Tamils and for themselves too.

Wakeley Paul: A Gentleman to his fingertips

By Daya Perera

Itwas with deep regret that I heard of Wakeley’s death on March 9. Wakeley – a gentleman to his finger tips- had his early education at Royal College until his distinguished father Professor Milroy Paul sent him to England where he survived the final examination of the Inn’s of Court and returned to the then Ceylon with a degree and an English accent.

Back in Ceylon, he joined the Attorney General’s Department as a Crown Counsel where he fared extremely well as a prosecutor. Somewhere in the mid 60’s, he was sent to United States to further his studies and he acquired a Masters Degree and an American wife - his wonderful companion Sandy.

After a few years when the imposition of Sinhala in Court proceedings was on the cards, Wakeley wisely went back to US where, typically with a very poor knowledge of Tamil, he espoused the LTTE cause. On that issue though one may not agree with what he wrote or said, but he did so in style.

We have all lost a distinguished Old Boy. Our deepest sympathies go out to Sandy, his son and daughter-in-law. May his soul Rest in Peace.

(Senior President's Counsel, Daya Perera is the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Ottawa, Canada)

March 15, 2009

Prevailing vacum in credible Tamil political leadership

by Arjuna Ranawana

IN Sri Lanka's northeast, on a small sliver of land between the sea and two raging armies, some hundred thousand civilians are huddled under trees with little water, dwindling food supplies and no medical care.

This is what many people in Sri Lanka and overseas believe is the final stage of the 30-year-old war fought between armed Tamil militants and the state for a separate country within the island for the minority Tamils. This fight has been led since the mid-1980s by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as Tamil Tigers.

In the past three months, the government's armed forces have made spectacular gains, capturing hundreds of square kilometres of land previously occupied by the LTTE.

The bulk of the civilians living in these areas chose to, or were coerced to, retreat, with the Tigers providing the militants a human shield they thought would slow the advance of the better-armed and much larger government force.

Now these civilians are trapped, living in extreme conditions interspersed with the LTTE fighters, allegedly prevented from leaving the war zone by the Tigers. This has apparently prevented the government forces from using heavy artillery or air raids against the LTTE for fear of causing massive deaths among the non-combatants.

All appeals by the international community, including Sri Lanka's major donor countries and neighbouring India, for a ceasefire have been rejected by the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse. His defence secretary says a ceasefire is "out of the question" as it would permit the LTTE to regroup.

This has placed the civilians in the war zone in an untenable situation. If the government forces go ahead with the offensive and the LTTE continues to use these people as a human shield, they are in extreme danger.

No wonder the International Committee of the Red Cross is calling the Sri Lanka situation a "humanitarian catastrophe". Those who have been lucky to escape are now facing an uncertain future in military-controlled camps the government insists are "not concentration camps".

The sad plight of these Tamil civilians highlights the political future of this minority community.

The Tamils say they had to take up arms because peaceful agitation through democratic means for their basic rights was met in the past by violence perpetrated by the government.

Many felt revulsion at the brutal tactics employed by the LTTE. However, they went along with supporting the LTTE because they felt only the Tigers had the single-minded determination to fight the government and "protect" the Tamils.

They hope the suffering of the Tamils, the sacrifices made by the general population of Sri Lanka who have had to face dire economic hardship to fund the war and the loss of lives on the government forces' side will not be in vain.

The government's war against the LTTE is to ostensibly "liberate" the Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE. Therefore, the war must be followed by a political process that would ensure the rights of the minority.

There's little sign of that taking place.

An all-parties conference convened by Rajapakse failed to come up with a political solution that went beyond previous proposals to solve the issue.

Critical to the solution is finding credible leadership for the Tamils.

The leaders of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka have been decimated by the LTTE, which wants no one to challenge the leadership of its supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

While the military defeat of the LTTE may give an alternative Tamil leadership a chance to emerge, the pickings currently are slim.

Any agitation for minority rights by them may be interpreted by the Rajapakse administration as being "pro-Tiger" and, therefore, treasonous.

An emergent Tamil leadership that may try to genuinely replace the LTTE, but in a democratic forum, would have to ensure that it plays along the government line to be included in any government deal.

Now, with the very real prospect of the LTTE's ability to fight a conventional war rapidly disappearing, there is concern even among the moderate Tamils about what would be the future of the minority community and how their rights would be protected.

It is not that Rajapakse does not have any Tamil allies. His key partners are from breakaway factions of the LTTE itself.

The superstar is Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan, better known as Karuna Amman. The commander of the LTTE's forces broke away four years ago and is now a member of parliament.

Last week, he joined Rajapakse's party and was appointed Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation. At his swearing-in, he said he had joined the government to help the Tamils secure their rights.

Douglas Devananda, another ex-Tiger, is Social Services Minister. Both men have varying degrees of support in the Tamil community, and both have full-time armed cadres who had been LTTE-fighters in their organisations.

The other "moderate" or non-militant group is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a pro-LTTE group which has parliamentary representation and holds most of the seats in the Tamil-dominated north where the fighting is going on.

But the TNA's overt connections to the Tigers may also see it excluded from any political process that may follow the end of this phase of the war.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Rajapakse's left-of-centre government has now become beholden to Sinhala supremacist groups such as the National Heritage Party and other political elements that have helped him garner widespread majority support to prosecute the war.

The Heritage Party, known by its Sinhala initials JHU, advocates a superior position for the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Minority groups, including religious minorities such as the Muslims and the Christians, have expressed alarm over some of the utterances of the group.

The government has also shown itself to be intolerant of all dissent. Anyone not supporting the war effort has been branded a traitor.

This is an accusation that many independent political thinkers, commentators and journalists are facing in Sri Lanka.

Journalists from all communities who expose war profiteering and corruption in high places have been branded traitors. Many are exiled, some beaten up, a few murdered and little is done to find the killers.

Given these circumstances, the military defeat of the LTTE may not necessarily open up a future Sri Lanka that will be finally peaceful and prosperous. Instead, the battles ahead may not be as bloody, but will be as vexing and tortuous as before.

(The writer, a veteran Sri Lankan journalist, is news manager with OMNI Television, Alberta in Canada . This article appeared on March 16th 2009 in New Straits Times)

Tragic fate of children in LTTE-controlled zone

by Gomin Dayasri

The look on the faces of those coming from the No Fire Zone (NFZ) tells the story. It is a story of children. Aged and haggard, look well beyond their age. It is their stoic nature and the desire to live for the sake of their remaining children that kept them alive.

As they alight from the packed buses to seek lodgings in the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), there are no young men among them. Where have all the young men gone? Yes, gone, or rather taken to LTTE camps. Now they are coming for the girls. It is for them that parents grieve and show no leniency to the LTTE. They know their children are destined to die; with three days basic training they are dispatched to the front to face the war machine of the Sri Lankan Forces. Worse, they are positioned in the first line of defence.

They talk of nothing else but their lost children. Life is not worth living without children; life must continue for the younger children still with them. They live in that dilemma. More than food and drink, they need psychological care, having gone through agony and trauma in the NFZ under LTTE rule.

NFZ is the final happy hunting ground for the LTTE preying on children. In a confined space of 21 sq. km. any child, above 12 years, is vulnerable and easy picking for the terrorists, running desperately short of man power. It’s a child ranch with easy access for the bandits. Few girls have been untouched, the rest have been hunted and hounded. Even the children of the Mahavira (dead combatants) and Porali (present fighters) have now been conscripted. They were the firm bedrock of the LTTE; the last support column but that too is gone with their children kidnapped. The final bastion of goodwill is lost. There is mayhem in the midst of desperation.

A-77-year-old lecturer in English among the IDPs, spoke fondly of the LTTE achievements with his eyes glowing with pride. He crossed because life was becoming uncomfortable but awaits the return of the LTTE. He is married but childless.

Howling children are carted away from the NFZ. The parents intervening are mercilessly beaten and a few have been shot at by impatient cadres. Some artful kids have escaped from the clutches of the LTTE but they have not returned to their parents. Parents know of their fate with the LTTE ground area shrinking rapidly. There are no sanctuaries for escaped kids to hide. In retaliation, angry cadres return to take an elder from the family as a substitute.

They moved from their earlier NFZ as they heard on radio and learnt from leaflets about the newly designated zone. They covered 12 km to reach the new secure area from the old. LTTE did not hamper the movement but watched from a distance.

They live as families in tents purchased at Rs 2,500 out of material supplied free, previously by the UNICEF and has now found its way to the traders. Prices are exorbitant and food is scare. Two tablets of paracetamol cost Rs. 250. There are sarees wrapped around four poles by way of toilets for women. Wells are full of brackish water.

They live every second cursing the LTTE, but at the mercy of the latter, expecting an opportunity to cross the invisible border.

Each family dug a trench for they knew within the NFZ the LTTE guns are booming. Retaliatory fire was anticipated but it has not come so far. They pleaded with the LTTE to take away the artillery pieces from the NFZ but to no avail.

Did they tell their tale of woe previously before reaching the NFZ? Yes, to the Tamil boys and girls who came with the NGOs when they operated from Killinochchi but in vain. They think those NGO representatives were LTTE sympathisers. Otherwise they may not have been permitted to enter LTTE territory.

Most of the displaced are confident that the LTTE would not get any votes from the people in the NFZ, if it were to contest a free and fair election. The TNA is disparaged as the running dogs of the LTTE. They yearn for a new leadership. Ananda Sagaree has support from the elders coming from around Killinochchi. Sambandan is cursed for having sold his soul to the LTTE.

A camp for the Internally Displaced Persons is hardly home away from home. The camps have an unending inflow with bus loads arriving with those who manage to flee the NFZ. The camps are far from comfortable; they are over-crowded. But people live in safety worrying about the children, relatives and friends left behind. Yet, these places are far better than shelters provided to the 80,000 Muslims ethnically cleansed from the north and the Sinhalese evicted from the north and east.

Those Muslims and Sinhalese lived for years on government dry rations and some handouts from Muslim and Buddhist organisations. The present IDPs are fortunate as the World Vision distributes footwear, mirrors, clothes, crockery and cutlery and pots and pans. Some other NGOs distribute biscuits and bottled water. Nutritional foods and milk foods are provided for children. There are medical centres, banks and schools within the premises of the welfare centres.

There were complaints about the quality of food. Northerners as farmers had plentiful food and ate well. Surely, in the camps it does not taste like the home cooked food. There is quantity but not quality as such. It was yellow rice with beetroot and mixed vegetable curry and a few sprats. Families do the cooking on rotation. Mobile toilets and bathing facilities are available with kids engaged forever in water fights.

Escaping from the NFZ requires piercing two rings. The inner circle is manned by terrorist police patrol and the outer ring by vigilant LTTE armed cadres. The rings are becoming thinner with defection and death of cadres. Those caught escaping are sent to the frontline to fight like Pulidevan of the peace secretariat or made to do forced labour. With numbers dwindling there are becoming desperate and making an exhibition of gruesome killings to deter people from crossing over. Those seeking escape roam in the night identifying unmanned territory and then slip through with families.

No escapee has desired to return. Not because they are satisfied with life in the camp. In comparison it is a much freer and friendlier world. They were unanimous in praise of the kindness bestowed by the Security Forces along the way.

The favourite pastime is conjecturing the names of the LTTE leadership seeking escape in collaboration with the enemy sources. Many believe the LTTE leadership operates from within the NFZ for its own security. The voice of the people can now be heard as the LTTE knows its days are numbered. In the LTTE-held terrain, it is like the last days of Pompeii. Exodus will soon begin.

Crossing is more than being freed from a cage. It is like landing on another planet. Forget not, the terrorists are smuggling their hard core cadres along with the civilians for an unknown purpose.

LTTE May be "Dead" in North - East after war but "Alive" Elsewhere

by Austin Fernando

“The war will not end through war, through collective suicide or through international intervention. This is why a sober and humanist approach is necessary to be evolved from within Sri Lankan society at this very juncture if a solution is to be found sooner rather than later for a shared future in our shared island.” - Jehan Perera- Daily Mirror 10-3-2009

The sober and humanist approach is orchestrated in Sri Lanka according to the spokesperson’s preference. This is why we hear most politicians, bureaucrats, donors etc state that the intended path would focus on physical infratsruture development (e.g. roads, rail lines, harbors etc). This I believe is erroneous because the effects of a conflict have several other facets to be addressed to carve a sober and humanist approach.

For example, I quote the orphaned Tamil children’s hate on the ‘South initiated war’, and the hate of uneducated, vocationally untrained, conscripted cadres of whom some are suicide cadres in the north and east. Similarly I quote the mental frame of gun toting, regimentalized, youthful soldiers, sailors or airmen who return to a different social atmosphere in the south, with deserved aura and halo of “saviors of the nation.” After the “war” is over they could be ‘underutilized civilians’ requiring other opportunities, if not planned properly.

Authors Scilla Elworthy and Gabrielle Rifkind write in “Making Terrorism History” some areas of concern if violence has to be erased off from an environment of conflict. We may discuss below them and other relevant issues in the Sri Lankan context.

1. First, avoid more violence both by the government forces and remaining LTTE cadres. Is it easily achievable? Perhaps, other means of satisfying the aspirations of the Tamil people will distance the LTTE from the Tamil public and build the required restraint. The need to be vigilant by all Armed Forces / Police will be a clear necessity and this has been already mentioned by Secretary Defense too.

2. Lack of showing respect (e.g. for language, opportunities for health/ education, areas of habitation, demographic changes, employment etc) has been one of the main causes for North / East destabilization and hence how these could be equitably sorted will be important. This will require constitutional amendments, legal changes and systems development.

3. Whether the (b) above could be achieved by the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) sans the major political groups’ participation is difficult to assess. The genuine and whole hearted participation of such non-participating political/ ethnic groups either in the APRC or another alternate forum to achieve peace, and, exhibition of genuine magnanimity by the Government to convince and motivate the distracted parties are essential follow up.

4. Improvement of physical conditions in facilitating early return to the areas of origin of the displaced, regular employment, larger freedom of movement, reduction of militarized curfews, road blocks etc have to be considered positively. Further, providing compensatory financial insurance mooted by the State in the event of recurrence of violence will give confidence to the affected public and make the State’s intervention more attractive.

5. All peace efforts in Sri Lanka had a common weakness of non-inclusivity because the LTTE appeared as the sole representative of Tamils. From the statements made publicly now it appears that all other groups and parties other than LTTE will be involved in solving the national crisis. I wonder whether I have understood the approach correctly. If correct, it will be repetition of the past! The LTTE could be “dead” in the North and East after the war victory, but yet alive elsewhere. Its thinking will not be erased so soon. It is the Diaspora and its funding, lobbying and motivating that pumped life to LTTE. These will fade after a lapse of time. Nevertheless, hearing its thinking may be useful to slowly squeeze its effect on its supporters and the Diaspora. One could argue back that such space given will revitalize the LTTE, which is a defeated enemy. It could be. Hence, it is important to decide on an appropriate strategy not to revive LTTE, but to hear their point of view, though the Government need not agree with them in totality. To expect the participating Tamil groups to accept just a handout of the Government’s choice –crumbs falling from the table- may be preposterous and unfair too.

6. The indigenous civil society structures in the north and east had been mostly extremist and influenced by the LTTE. With inclusivity being achieved this has to change to wider participation of civil groups and hence respect for human rights and constitutional freedoms.

7. The human suffering has been vast during the period of conflict irrespective of ethnicity. Whether the Government could establish Centers for Listening and Documentation of past events will be worthwhile considering because any humanitarian compensatory inputs could be based on such documented evidence, especially in the absence of official records due to the conflict. Non governmental organizations (NGOs), clergy and civil society involvements in such efforts will be extraordinarily useful. It will also give an opportunity to the incumbent Government to tear off the mantle of suspicion on the NGOs and civil society organizations.

8. Along with the outputs of such Centers it will be possible to engage personnel for trauma counseling, women and child rehabilitation, rehabilitation of the maimed, conscripted, trained suicide bombers etc. The engagement of specialized foreign institutions is recommended for this act since Sri Lanka lacks in such expertise.

9. Due to excessive killing of Tamil male youth there ought to be a vacuum in youth participation created in the political and social spheres in the future. Hence, the need to fill in that void with possible increased female participation becomes important. However, the void has to be filled with less educated women and even male youth and hence training them to face such situations will be important. The Rwandan experience after the genocide with 53% of women parliamentarians could be a good lesson to emulate.

10. This will even be applicable to enhance training in vocations, change of recruitment procedures if the youth giving up terrorism and joining the mainstream are to be accommodated. We should not forget that already Chief Minister Pillaiyan has stated that his men are reluctant to join the military. Then what is in store if change of attitudes, systems does not take place?

11. There will be another psychological vacuum created by the self-imposed non-negotiable systems that have been used by the LTTE and the military. That will be related also to negotiations in economic, social, security and other aspects of civil life. This also should be overcome through training of all these groups and introduction of appropriate negotiation processes. For example, integration of LTTE cadres and military cadres to civilian environments cannot be achieved without proper negotiations.

12. The LTTE and military have been managed on a ‘conflict mode’ all the while and unfortunately religious groups were pleading with both parties for concessions. Sometimes the military suspected them as stooges or proxies of the LTTE. If societal normalcy is to be achieved the traditional respect and roles of the clergy have to be restored.

13. The above actions if implemented will be the bridge building paths too. The accepted roles of institutions and personalities will automatically undertake bridge building. The southern media has a great role in bridge building to condition the minds of the southern public regarding the absolute demand for equal treatment to the North / East people. The media conditioned the South with war euphoria for the Government to gain a large slice of confidence from the public. Now it will have to repeat perform in another context.

14. Truth and reconciliation is another way of finding solace to many of the sufferings in the hands of the other party. Some believe that our religious, cultural and social behaviors are not appropriate to such action though this has worked well elsewhere (e.g. South Africa). Adjusted action may be preferred.

One will find these as looking at issues from a psychological angle. The priority that is differently given by donors, politicians, economists etc is for infrastructure development such as housing, roads, bridges, rail lines, factories etc. While these have to be most certainly developed the above mentioned areas have to be considered seriously if the memories of violence and terror are to be erased permanently, thus bringing stable peace.

In addition there will be great pressure on the Government and the military to return the displaced to their original habitats. With peace if this does not happen there will be heartburn, especially in Jaffna Peninsula. However, holding on to a limited high security zone will be a necessity for the military, at least until terrorism has been made history and non-recurring. Sometimes it may be a long trek.

In this matter there could be other road blocks for the State to engage speedily. For instance, demining in the Jaffna Peninsula is only 58% completed and completion is a serious job. In addition, there could be missing owners, no-boundary markings as the area had not been inhabited for long. Proof of ownership by deeds and other official documentation will be another problem. Absentee landlords create another issue. However, indecisiveness and long stay in displaced camps should be always avoided.

Hence, the government will have to look at these issues before returning the affected to original places of habitation. In this case the Government has to arrange for extraordinary attractive compensation where lands cannot be returned to the original owners and the owners too should have the understanding to agree to governmental requests. The inputs from the clergy, civil society, NGOs, women participants and trained negotiators etc may be of help in tackling this problem.

In summary, what the Government should attempt is to ensure that peace dividends are shared with the people of the North and East, but not as a war dividend. The three aspects of dividends are the constitutional / legal dividend, physical development dividend through economic and social development interventions and lastly the psychological dividends as stated earlier in detail.

Participatory action in sharing the three dividends cannot be overlooked. Non-integrated and segregated ad hoc approaches will register another controversial movement, financed by the same financiers, perhaps under a different leadership and name. Negative behavior will attract international criticisms and even the non commitment of Tokyo Declaration pledges, which may be available for “sober and humanist” approaches.
Hence, the country must be surely wishing that the authorities decide on correct approaches to address the unfulfilled aspirations of the people to create an undivided and stable country. It is the way to make terrorism history in Sri Lanka and make way “for a shared future in our shared island.”

News Video: Hunting the Tigers

Aired on March 15th, Australia's SBS Television program Dateline offers glimpse of the Sri Lankan Army maneuvers, artillery barrage in Puthukkudiyiruppu, camps for the displaced in Vavuniya and the state of the media in Sri Lanka, featuring a visit to the offices of The Sunday Leader and Uthayan newspapers and an interview with Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Gatabaya Rajapakse:

Amos Roberts of SBS Dateline reports, no independent journalists are allowed near the war zone and those who dare criticise the government or the military are either detained or murdered by shadowy forces.

[Courtesy: Special Broadcasting Service Corporation ~ Australia]

Sri Lanka learns to counter Sea Tigers’ swarm tactics

by Tim Fish

As Sri Lanka celebrated its Independence Day on February 4, the Sri Lanka Army was closing in on the last pockets of resistance occupied by fighters from the separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in their jungle hideaways. After almost three decades of violent conflict, the government appeared confident that victory in the struggle for control of the island was finally within sight.

The LTTE’s last major stronghold at Mullaitivu on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka fell on January 25, forcing 2,000 rebels to flee into the hinterland. The loss of the town followed the seizure by government forces of the LTTE’s self-proclaimed capital, Kilinochchi: the culmination of the steady collapse of the rebels’ power base. The LTTE had been gradually losing its influence over Sri Lankan territory following the collapse of an UN-brokered ceasefire agreement in 2006.

By mid-February 2009, four army divisions consisting of 50,000 troops were moving in on the last rebel positions, leaving the remnants of the LTTE with little hope of survival. Bringing the conflict to a conclusion after 30 years of war would not have been possible without the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN). Throughout this period, the SLN had to evolve from its post-independence ceremonial role into a war fighting force capable of confronting a well-armed opponent possessing expert asymmetric-warfare skills in the maritime domain. The LTTE’s naval wing — known as the Sea Tigers — had just 30 km of coastline left under its control as JNI went to press, and this was rapidly being closed off by government forces.

Constantly patrolled

The area is constantly patrolled by what the SLN terms “defence barriers” of vessels four layers deep, consisting of fast attack craft (FAC), offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), gun boats, and the SLN’s Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS) and Special Boat Squadron (SBS), eliminating the LTTE’s seaward escape route and preventing supplies from reaching the rebels. This level of proficiency is a significant advance from the SLN’s capabilities of the 1950s–70s. The service was created in 1950 to assist fishermen, provide search-and-rescue services, prevent illegal immigration and smuggling, and aid the civil power in a national emergency. However, when the LTTE’s Sea Tigers wing was created in 1984, the fledgling insurgent force used small boats to ferry guerilla fighters and equipment across the 16 km-wide strait that separates the Indian state of Tamil Nadu from the Jaffna Peninsula at Sri Lanka’s northern tip. The SLN made attempts to put a halt to these operations and achieved some degree of success using patrol boats.

However, the LTTE began using faster craft with more powerful engines, allowing the Sea Tiger cadres to outrun the slower SLN patrols. The Sea Tigers were able to transport large shipments of weapons across the Palk Strait from India to Sri Lanka, forcing the navy to look overseas for a solution. Vice-Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, Commander of the SLN, says: “We found that the SLN did not have a suitable boat to meet this threat. We looked around the world and saw the Israeli navy was facing a similar threat and were using Dvora fast attack craft as a response.” Sri Lanka bought its first pair of 47 ton Dvora-class FAC from Israel in early 1984 and another four were purchased in 1986. An upgraded version — the 54 ton Super Dvora Mk I — was ordered from Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) in October 1986 and delivered from 1987–88, with a further four Super Dvora Mk II-class FAC delivered in 1995–96. “We bought [the Dvoras] and first put them into action in the late 1980s, and the Sea Tigers found it very difficult to meet these Israeli-built craft,” says Vice-Adm Karannagoda. “But then to counter this, the LTTE developed very high horsepower suicide boats and used swarming tactics to overwhelm the Dvoras, which in our view could not tackle them effectively.” During the 1990s, the LTTE scored some significant hits against the Israeli-built craft, sinking a Dvora-class FAC on 29 August 1995 and a second vessel on 30 March 1996. The Sea Tigers also sank two Super Dvora Mk I-class vessels on 29 August 1993 and again on the same day in 1995.

Two Super Dvora Mk II boats were sunk in 2000. The LTTE also enjoyed success against the SLN’s other classes of FAC, sinking a 68 ton United States-built Trinity Marine class craft, two Shanghai II-class craft (acquired from China in 1991) and three domestically built Colombo-class craft. However, Sri Lankan security forces were able to recapture the Jaffna Peninsula from the LTTE in 2002 during Operation ‘Riviresa’, in which the SLN played a major role by providing transport for troops and supplies, and by patrolling the Palk Strait. At the time, the area was cut off from the rest of the government-held territory to the south, which meant that providing naval transport services to the region became a long-term tasking.

Asymmetric conflict a ceasefire was negotiated in 2002, lasting for four years, but the Sea Tigers had increased their strength by the time hostilities resumed in 2006. In the area known as Adam’s Bridge, from Pamban to Mannar, the waters are extremely shallow. Shifting sands can reduce depth to less than 1 m and rapid changes can cause problems for large-displacement ships with a deep draft. Some of the SLN’s larger patrol craft were unable to access this area of sea safely to intercept the Sea Tigers. Dvora FAC typically needs 1.8–2 m water depth. “During this period, the LTTE improved the suicide concept, developing bigger boats with faster speed, and the Dvoras could not match this,” says Vice-Adm Karannagoda. “When the ceasefire ended, we found the LTTE Sea Tigers were very strong and were coming at us with faster and stronger boats.

The Dvoras were finding it very difficult in battles at sea with normal fighting craft against about 15 Sea Tiger craft and another eight to 10 suicide craft, which would sometimes mingle with fishermen.” Identifying the suicide boats in a swarm of Sea Tiger craft was difficult as the former appeared identical to the insurgents’ regular attack boats. SLN crews would have to watch for subtle differences in the behaviour of the craft, monitoring their movements and noting if they were heavier in the water in order to identify them; this was not a skill that could be taught in the classroom. Suicide boats had to be identified and destroyed swiftly, as given time they would attack in a pack of five or six in an attempt to overwhelm the SLN crews. With a low profile and moving at 35–40 kt, the suicide craft were very difficult to engage with gunfire and some were armoured at the front, meaning small-calibre rounds would ricochet off. Battles involved numerous small craft and intense close-quarters action between boat crews within a 2 km range. The Sea Tigers’ larger craft had four 250 hp petrol outboard motors, while the small boats were equipped with two: if one motor was damaged the other could be used to effect an escape. Vice-Adm Karannagoda says: “We had to counter this situation so our engineers did some extensive research-and-development [R&D] work and developed three categories of new boats. With this we developed our Small Boats Concept, which was a major turning point in the progress of the war.” The Small Boats Concept effectively copied the Sea Tigers’ asymmetric tactics, but on a much larger scale.

Ceremonial Navy to Fighting Navy

The SLN started to use large numbers of small high-speed heavily armed inshore patrol craft (IPC) to outnumber the LTTE suicide boats and overwhelm them during battle. Hundreds of indigenously produced fibreglass IPC have been built in three variants for operations in different sea states. The smallest is the 23 ft-long Arrow; a second class is 14 m long, with both types able to operate in conditions up to Sea State 3. A third variant — a 17 m command-cum fighting boat — can cope with conditions up to Sea State 4. “We manufactured these boats day and night, because we needed them quickly, and this is how we were able to tame the Tigers at sea,” says Vice-Adm Karannagoda. Service transformation “From a ceremonial navy we transformed ourselves into a fighting navy. Now, whilst performing the earlier constabulary duties, we are also fighting the LTTE and ensuring the safety of sea lines of communication, security of harbours, escorting merchant vessels to the Jaffna Peninsula, transporting troops from Trincomalee, and surveillance of the EEZ [exclusive economic zone] and territorial waters to prevent the LTTE from bringing in arms and ammunition.” The 14 m and 17 m boats are fitted with four 250 hp engines, giving a top speed of 37 kt. Armaments include a double-barrelled 23 mm gun, CIS 40 mm Automatic Grenade Launcher (AGL) acquired from Singapore Technologies Kinetics and two 12.7 mm (.50 calibre) machine guns.

The smaller Arrow boats have two 250 hp engines for a top speed of 35 kt and are equipped with a single-barrel 23 mm gun or a .50 calibre gun and an AGL. The Dvora FAC has been upgraded with 30 mm guns and the SLN has used its own engineers to integrate the Bushmaster M242 25 mm gun on to the deck during sea acceptance and harbour acceptance trials. Bushmaster is built by USbased Alliant Techsystems, which transferred the guns to Sri Lanka under US State Department guidelines. “In 2007 we put [the Dvoras] into action after integrating [Bushmaster] ourselves in Sri Lanka. It cost us just the price of the guns; we did not have to pay the price of integration,” says Vice-Adm Karannagoda. The advantage that the Dvora FAC has over the smaller IPC is that it is able to remain at sea for longer periods to conduct surveillance missions, as well as engage in fighting to control the sea lines of communication. Because the LTTE boats were hidden and could only operate in short-duration missions, they were able to select the time and place of their attacks, and therefore the SLN had to maintain round-the-clock surveillance so as to be ready for them. Following the purchase of the FAC from Israel, the SLN began to build its own versions of the craft in Colombo Dockyard.

Dvoras

The Dvoras “are boats that can take to the sea and are comfortable at sea, whereas the small boats we have built are mission-orientated”, he says. “When we see a confrontation looming, the IPCs are launched and take the Sea Tigers on: that is how we neutralise the enemy totally at sea.” The new IPCs are built using GRP materials and a boat mould to provide a frame for the fibreglass hull. It takes just 45 days to complete and fully equip a single craft. At sea, the IPCs operate in groups of four craft. Several groups — totalling 25–30 craft — combine to form IPC squadrons, which are based at strategically important locations around Sri Lanka.

The IPC squadrons are organised for rapid-reaction interception operations, because the Sea Tiger cadres have been able to remain hidden until they decide to confront the SLN. The Sea Tigers’ ability — at least until recently — to dictate when a naval action will occur means the SLN has to maintain 24-hour surveillance and remain prepared to intercept any movement. To maximise the amount of firepower each squadron can bring to a battle, an IPC squadron would speed towards the enemy using strategies that echo infantry tactics: an arrowhead formation is used to expand each boat’s arc of fire in an attack manoeuvre, or boats are arranged in three adjacent columns in single file so as to mask their numbers and increase the SLN’s element of surprise.

Sea Tiger assets

The enemy consisted of hundreds of Sea Tiger fibreglass boats in four main types: the 45 kt Thrikka, with four crew and a machine gun, has been used to deploy frogmen; the 10 kt Sudai, also armed with a single machine gun, has been used to attack naval craft; the 45 kt Muraj, with a crew of 10 and three machine guns, has also been used for attacks against naval craft, as well as for inserting land-attack teams; and the two-man Idayan was a 45 kt suicide craft fi tted with explosives and designed to detonate on impact. Without harbours or secure launching areas, the LTTE used trailers to launch and recover their craft. Following a mission, the boats would be taken into the trailers and either a tractor or bulldozer would pull them 2–3 km inland from the beach to avoid detection by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF). Because the separatists would remain hidden for long periods, bringing them to action required a high degree of flexibility and training from the IPC squadrons because they would have to wait for and respond to the sudden deployment of the Sea Tigers.

The SLN’s ability to concentrate a force at short notice that was able to confront the Sea Tigers was an important factor in gaining the upper hand in sea battles. “In a very short period of time, we can shift one whole squadron to another place, so at some locations we have combined [squadron] numbers and have had up to 60 boats available in some battle situations,” says Vice-Adm Karannagoda. Using small, fast and well-armed IPCs to best effect requires highly trained sailors. Two new units were created for this purpose: the SBS and the RABS. The SBS was established on 22 October 2005 with 36 personnel and now numbers 600. It is the SLN’s elite force, possessing high levels of physical fitness and advanced training in both land and sea warfare tactics. The SBS operates in four- to eight-man teams using the Arrow boats for rapid insertion or black rubber inflatable boats for covert approach from the sea. The teams have expertise in long-range communications and engage primarily in surveillance operations, providing a much-needed source of information on LTTE activities. The teams also undertake reconnaissance and land-strike missions.

(These Extracts from an article in Jane’s Navy International of March 2009 were published in the "Nation" of March 15th 2009)

330,000 Tamil Civilians in Wanni will Curse Prabhakaran

by Veerasingham Anandasangaree

Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) president Veerasingham Anandasangaree has warned Velupillai Prabhakaran that the curses of 330,000 Tamil civilians in the Wanni will be on the tiger leader if he does not permit the besieged people to leave. The open letter released to the media is as folllows"

My dear Prabaharan,

The curse of over three hundred and thirty thousand people belonging to about 81000 families, kept by you under compulsion, will not let you live in peaces and it will follow you and your heirs for many more generations to come. Those who support you even now will not be spared. Please change your mind at least now and release those detained, to freedom. People have started dying of starvation for which you should take the responsibly.

Out of sheer desperation only, I am writing to you this time, an open letter, since your where-about is not known. I want to ask you whether, at least at this stage, you are not going to undo some of the things that you had done. As usual I am not expecting a reply from you, but I honestly believe that you will take some positive steps to save the people whom you have brought to this state.

It is very unfortunate that you had not taken any of my letters seriously, all of which were written with good intentions, although most of them had been very critical of your activities and those of your cadre. I did not have any selfish intention in doing so and also did not act as anybody’s agent.

I never supported your armed struggle and firmly believed only in non-violence. I still believe that we could have sorted out matters in a non-violent way, without antagonizing anybody. The criticism I had been leveling against you, mainly had a duel purpose. One, I thought by systematically pointing out your mistakes I could bring you into the democratic process.

You will remember how I had been even assuring our support to you for the peace process, without asking for any positions for us. The other purpose was to liberate the Tamil people who had been subjected to live under constant fear and tension and undergo untold hardship, for almost quarter of a century, under your control. In the process I am sure I would have hurt you to the maximum and earned your displeasure and the wrath of your cadre.

I did not mind it. I was prepared to face any risk to my life, since I was convinced that my mission was not self-centered but very genuine and honest. I am sure you will appreciate this stand of mine as it reflects my genuine concern for the welfare of the Tamil People. The humiliations and the embarrassment I suffered for taking this stand through the print and electronic media supportive of you, all over the world, were far beyond a man’s limit of tolerance and although very de-meaning I had to face them.

I very politely ask you, to take your thoughts back to the days when you were involved in a series of assassinations of political personalities like Hon. Rajiv Gandhi, Ex-Prime Minister of India, President R. Premadasa, Presidential Candidate Gamini Dissanayake and several Ministers and Members of Parliament along with him and the attempted assassination of President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga.

What did you gain by those acts? You only earned the hatred of the whole of India including Tamil Nadu and also the wrath of the Sinhalese. The recent uprising in Tamil Nadu on the Sri Lankan issue is only a political ruse for political gains. In spite of my repeated requests, not a single leader from Tamil Nadu ever bothered to pay a visit to Sri Lanka to study the ground situation.

A large number of prominent Tamil leaders like Mr. A. Amirthalingam, Secretary General of the TULF, Jaffna D.D.C. Chairman Mr. S. Nadarajah, the Mayor of Jaffna Mr. P. Sivapalan, a great constitutional Lawyer Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, the Mayoress of Jaffna Mrs. Sarojini Yogeswaran and a long list of Public Servants, Academics, Heads of Schools, Teachers, Parliamentarians, Local Politicians and many such others had been assassinated by you. Your killings created a big vacuum in the Tamil leadership.

Killing of top rankers gave way for the emergence of many leaders among the Tamils. Several new leaders cropped up like mushrooms. You did not even spare the TULF, the only moderate party that functioned without confronting any other groups. You killed some of the TULF leaders and bought over some others with the offer of seats in Parliament. What harm did the Tamil leaders do to you for you to drain out the entire leadership of the Tamil people, none of whom was ever harmed by any Sinhalese or Muslim? I still weep for a Muslim Government Agent for Mannar Mr. M. Macbool a good friend of mine and an authority on Hinduisms, assassinated by you. What did you gain by his killing or by the killings of the others whom a Sinhalese or a Muslim never dared to touch? You only lost your credibility day by day.

Tamil Language is the mother tongue of the Muslims also. You did not allow them even to celebrate the National Milad-ud-Nabi festival peacefully and had 15 innocent civilians killed and over forty seriously injured. At least now have you quenched your thirst for blood. This is one such attempt of yours to spark off a communal riot. Please don’t have hopes that you will ever succeed in making the people of this country fall into your trap.

How many innocent Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims to whom you had given blood bath. You had massacred innocent Muslims while they were praying in mosques more than once. You had massacred Buddhist pilgrims at Anuradhapura the most sacred place for Buddhists. You tried to destroy the world famous temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy. You had the heart to massacre a bus load of children who had ordained themselves as Buddhist priests. You mercilessly drove away all the Muslims from the North compelling them to take only Rs. 500 each and to leave behind all their possessions. You did not spare even infants at the border villages. You had gunned down several innocent chena cultivators for no reason.

How many clay-more mine, land mine and hand-grenade attacks you were involved in to take the lives of several thousands of innocent people, mainly Sinhalese, along with Tamils and Muslims? How many widows, widowers and orphans you have created in all communities? How many had lost their limbs and eye sights? How many rich had become paupers over-night? What did you spare for them? What happened to their agriculture and industry? What had happened to their houses, house hold items and their vehicles? What happened to their education? Every thing is lost. Is this retribution? – People are asking.

If so why that should happen to innocent people who had been under-going all these hardships living under your control, while the expatriates who had been encouraging you with financial assistance to do all these, are enjoying life. Can one assess the losses sustained by these innocent people and describe the agony they under went during your control. All that is now over. What is done cannot be undone but there are remedial steps if taken by you without further delay, a lot of things can be sorted out. It will be a great relief for the people who are now on the verge of losing even the little things that they left behind, to save them.

All these and many more things had happened. When even an abridged version of your activities will run into several volumes, what I have written here is just like a drop in the ocean. Your destructive activities would have cost our people hundreds of billion rupees. Did you ever realize that the people who got displaced in the past found nothing left in their homes. I found nothing in my house in Kilinochchi. Every time the people got displaced they took with them only what they could carry, leaving behind all the rest of their belongings and on return hardly found anything left. The entire Tamil population that lived in areas under your control starting from Mannar had to abandon all their belongings when displaced. It is the same with the people of Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu. This is exactly what happened in the East. Some of the displaced are brought and accommodated in a few newly constructed temporary villages in the Vavuniya and Mannar District. When they will get back to their respective homes, is not known. It may take many months or even years. When they get back they will find nothing left.

If by any chance the letters I wrote to you are available with you or if you can recollect what I wrote, you will realize your folly. How many times I pleaded with you to lay down the arms and go for negotiations. If at some stage you had taken my advice in the right perspective all the Tamil people would have had something left. Now after fighting for over quarter of a century and sacrificing thousands of lives you have made every one of us paupers. How many people in the North, having lost all their possession, have to fall in the queue to collect food parcels? To my recollection Vanni did not have any beggars.

Please don’t take things for granted. Anything can happen during the next few days. More and more people may die of thirst and hunger. Already 13 people had been reported dead due to starvation. In a situation like this out-break of an epidemic cannot be ruled out. Be warned of any unforeseen disaster falling on the inmates of Vanni.

Now what do you gain by keeping innocent people under your compulsion. There are over three hundred thousand men, women and children. Many are sick and wounded. Some are feeble and old. I do not think that you will ever regain your position even after many years of fighting. As far as we could see the war is over. What is happening today is mopping up and winding up operations in a small area where 81000 families had been squeezed into. Detaining these people indefinitely will not help you in any way. The future position of your entire group is also highly insecure. Rather than losing all of them please come to your senses and save the remaining members of your cadre. Please surrender them and all of them can be saved under a general amnesty. Also disband your organization and surrender to the forces. This is one way by which you could save them.

Except those who claim to represent you, who never gave you proper advice and some people in Tamil Nadu, thoroughly mis-led by some political leaders, the whole world has turned against you. You are being accused by the International Community of ill-treating the people. The UN and the EU have condemned your action. The UN High Commission for Human Right and Organizations like the Human Right Watch also have accused you of compulsorily detaining the innocent people. The gathering of Tamils in important cities all over the world had demanded that the Tamils should be saved and they did not speck for you. The message for you is to release our people. The responsibility of saving the Tamils is now entirely in your hands. You should feel more for them, because it is you who have brought them to this state. Hence without any more delay please allow the people to go any where they want to go. For heaven’s sake don’t hand them over to the self centred political hawks who are awaiting to take your place and prolong the agony of all Tamil people who had suffered enough and now want to be free. They don’t want to see the sight of a fire arm any more, not even a toy pistol.

If at least at this stage you give up your arms and put an end to the war, clearing the landmines with International support won’t take much time and very soon people of Vanni can get back to their homes and salvage what is still left of their belongings. If you do not listen to my advice at least now, you should take the blame for the loss of properties of these people, if taken together, will be worth several hundred billions in addition to what they had already lost. Long delay in these people going back to their places of residence will result in their finding nothing left in their houses. This is my desperate call to you and perhaps the last too. I humbly beg of you to concede to my request and bring back peace to all of us Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and all the other ethnic groups, so that all of us can live in peace and tranquility as equals in a United Sri Lanka. You are one who destroyed peace and you are the only one who can bring permanent peace to all of us.

As an interim arrangement I suggest that without asking the Government to stop the war, if you agree to act reciprocally we suggest to the Government Forces to stop aerial bombing, artillery attack and shelling which will bring the casualties to the very minimum. In such a situation a request can be made to the Government to send sufficient food and drugs for the people’s survival. You also in turn should stop artillery attack and shelling. "

Carnage of last century shows Nationalism has produced few lasting winners

by Lionel Wijesiri

There are a number of lessons we could learn from history about the concept of nationalism. Let us go back and collect few of them.

Political scientists draw a sharp distinction between the concepts of state and nation. State refers to government and other institutions, which run the country. Nation, by contrast, is a psychological characteristic, what individuals identify with. There are nation-states in which almost everyone accepts the state as theirs and makes it the primary home of their political identity and loyalty. That would certainly be true of most people in the United States or France, but is less true in countries where people might think of themselves as Scots more than British or Walloon more than Belgian. There are also countries with important Diasporas or groups of people who live outside the countries’ borders but would rather not do so.

Nationalism and the state are surprisingly new phenomena given the importance they play in international relations today.

Is Nationalism important?

In my opinion, Nationalism is important in two ways. The first is relatively benign and is best seen in the patriotism of most people in the United States, the United Kingdom, or France. In those countries, almost everyone believes that the state is legitimate and supports it often without question. In countries that still have a draft, virtually everyone agrees to put on a uniform if conscripted.

Such patriotism can have an ugly side - who hasn’t been appalled by the boorishness of American hockey or English soccer fans. And, most observers are convinced that patriotism can leave most people more blind than they should be to their country’s political flaws, something many critics have argued about Americans since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Yet that sort of hyper-nationalism has not often led to the kind of violent conflict, which claimed well over 100 million people in the twentieth century. One of the major causes of most of those conflicts has been nationalism of a different kind - one that gets out of hand, turns into hatred of others, and sparks violence, often of the most brutal form. That is especially true when leaders of States can convince people that the "other" has somehow treated them abusively or that members of "our" group who live outside "our" borders need to be incorporated into the "homeland."

As far as interstate war is concerned, there is no more obvious example than World War II. Japan, Italy, and especially Germany were led by leaders who stressed unmet nationalist goals and grievances in the years leading up to the outbreak of fighting in 1939. While psychologists and historians still debate exactly how this took place, there is little doubt that the intense emotions felt by leaders and followers alike contributed to the atrocities committed by people from all three of these countries.

Nationalism of only a slightly different sort has fuelled much of the intrastate violence that has been the dominant form of intractable political conflict since the end of World War II. In some cases, the term nationalism itself may not be used at all in what are referred to as ethnic or other "sub-national" conflicts, as is the case with many of the conflicts taking place inside of multinational countries such as India and Sri Lanka. In other cases, there is no realistic possibility of creating ethnically pure states; there is, for instance, no way to envision Hutu or Tutsi states emerging out of either Rwanda or Burundi. The largest number of cases involve nationalities whose historical claims to state - or nation-ness are rather tenuous as in Kashmir, Chechnya, or most of the former Yugoslav Republics. Nevertheless, the people who take up arms in those conflicts share the same kind of deeply rooted emotions that gave rise to the Nazis in Germany and any other Volk or nation-based ideology.

What Individuals can do ?

The most obvious thing for an average citizen to do is to resist adopting ideologies that starkly divide the world into "we versus them" terms or choosing leaders who do so. I know from personal experience that is not always easy to do. It is hard for me not to feel hatred towards the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 and other attacks in recent years.

In general terms, it is hard for people to refuse to accept such values during times of crisis, such as the combination of defeat and depression that gripped Germany during the interwar years. To begin with, the Germans had legitimate grievances about the humiliation they were forced to suffer as a result of losing World War I. Moreover, the German people were bombarded with "messages" from the media and respected local leaders, which served to deepen their resentments. Hitler had to rely on newspapers, mass organizations, public meetings, and primitive radio and film technologies. Today’s nationalist (and often demagogic) leader has the full range of mass media technologies to draw on. And, in some of the most destructive conflicts in the last decade (e.g., in Rwanda and Serbia), they did just that.

What Leaders can do ?

Obviously, leaders would resist the temptation to support and promote hyper-nationalist ideas. They may pay off in the short term, but the carnage of the last century suggests that they produce few, if any, lasting winners

Has India become irrelevant in region due to US-China relationship?

by David Soysa

Paradoxically the ever strong US Dollar of the rapidly melting US economy is enticing a new romance between the military superpower US and the economic superpower China. The US desperately needs China to purchase US Treasury Bonds to finance Obama’s economic stimulus package of USD 795BN, while China needs a safe investment for its massive trade surpluses and foreign exchange reserves of USD 1.9 trillion.

A popular theory is that economic interdependence will prevent war. During the Bush Administration China and the US were at a crossroads. A positive fallout from the global economic crisis is the window of strategic opportunity for US and China to secure a peaceful/ beneficial co-existence. President Obama’s decision to send Hilary Clinton to China on her first visit as Secretary of State augurs well not only for US China relations but for Sri Lanka and our South Asian neighbours. India may be the only country which may disagree.

String of Pearls (SOP)

Primarily driven by the need to secure China’s foreign oil and trade routes so critical for peaceful development, China adopted a benign approach to gain influence along the sea route through investments, port developments and diplomatic measures. This geopolitical strategy was first dubbed as a "String of Pearls" in a report titled "Energy Futures in Asia" by Defence Contractor Booze Allen Hamilton, Commissioned by the Pentagon in 2005. SOP extends from the Coast of Hainan in China through the littorals of South China Seas Straits of Malacca, across the India Ocean on to the littorals of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf.

SOP soon became so hot and sensational news and the label "String of Pearls" was so attractive that the international media from Time Magazine and the Economist to Al Jazeera applied the label in their analytical reports of the SOP. Al Jazeera declared on 14.09.2005 that the US is threatened by an aggressive Chinese sea power. Henry Kissinger wrote to the Australian (13.06.2005) under the title "China shifts the Centre of Gravity".

The new threat was not lost on Indian security analysts who never dreamt that India’s naval strategist Panikkar’s dream of controlling the waves from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits would ever be challenged. Sudha Ramachandran wrote under the title "China’s Pearl in Pakistan waters" to Asian Times Online on 17.03.2005 while Pramit Mitra asked the question "India and China – rivals or partners?" In an Article to South Asia Monitor on 05.03.2005.

China’s low profile exhibition of SOP in the Asian Sea Route created such strong waves in the US, that the Pentagon commissioned several studies of the SOP and its impact on the security environment in the region. One such study was ``SOP – meeting the challenge of China’s rising power across the Asian Littoral’’ by Pentagon Air Force officer Christopher J. Pehrson in July 2006. This 32 page report describes the SOP as a (manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through development of ports, air fields, special diplomatic relationships and modernized military forces. The vital question posed by the report is whether SOP is in accordance with China’s stated policy of peaceful development or if China one day will make a bid for regional primacy.

SOP increased India’s migraine instantly. Until SOP was unveiled, India’s declared ambition was as arrogantly claimed by authorities is to control the Indian Ocean from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits. Provoking China dangerously, if not foolishly, Indian leaders also threatened to block the choke point on China’s oil and trade route - the Malacca Straits - in the event of a war with the perceived potential enemy China.

During 1971, India - Pakistan war and again during Kargil conflict of 1999 India threatened to blockade Karachchi Port which handled 90% of Pakistan’s sea-borne trade. India successfully threated JR’s government not to lease oil tanks in Trincomalee to US interests and recently unsuccessfully attempted to block the construction of the Hambantota Port alleging that it is a Chinese Pearl. As explained later it is now apparent that the Sethu canal project is one of India’s responses to SOP in order to ensure that the Indian naval ships could avoid crossing the SOP when they move between the east and west coast of India. SOP connects Guarda port in Pakistan, Hambantota and Chittagong Port in Bangladesh. No wonder then the Indian Minister of Shipping repeatedly threated to cut off Indian trans-shipment cargo moving to Colombo after the completion of the Sethu project.

When I saw a graphic showing SOP in Pehrson’s report, I wondered whether it is a noose around India’s neck/ambitions and to remind India that the Indian Ocean is a common and does not belong to any country. Commons are international seaways and airways used by the international community recognized as such by international treaties and no nation asserts sovereignty over the commons. Peaceful commercial pearls of SOP are a natural response of China to India’s jingoistic threats to China’s vital oil and trade routes. The containment of India’s naval and strategic ambitions in the region is a welcome relief to the three countries with pearls - Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India. With safety guaranteed for the pearls, Sri Lanka and her neignbours should persue a peaceful, economic results oriented pragmatic strategy and assist to strengthen Obama’s policy towards China. Our Hambantota Port Development planners should factor this vital facet to their master plan.

Briefly Pehrson’s finding are:

"SOP is more than a naval or military strategy and is also more than a regional strategy. The pearls have been non confrontational with no evidence of imperial or neo colonial ambitions. The economic benefits and diplomatic relations have induced countries of the region to facilitate Chian’s strategic ambitions. Port facilities developed by China in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and (now Hambantota) are mutual win-win projects. China also has an ambitious USD20bn proposal to build Kra Canal to avoid the choke point of the Malacca Straits. Although the plan is currently stalled due to political opposition in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore it reveals the scope and scale of China’s ambitions for SOP.

"Shipping in the Straits is extremely crowded and is a haven for pirates and terrorists. The Malacca Straits problem is a prime example of why China is pursuing SOP and the Kra Canal Project. SOP presents a complex strategic situation with many facets to US policy makers. SOP has shifted the balance of power throughout the region. US influence may seem to diminish as China’s influence grows in strength and stature, but regional states are not prohibited from maintaining favourable relations with both the US and China. The US should expect countries like Pakistan, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam to welcome overtures from China. Even America’s staunchest allies, Japan, S. Korea, Australia and the Phillipines find it in their self interest to improve ties with China. South Asian nations delicately balance their relationship with the US and China in pursuit of their relationship. Their perception is a peaceful region does not require a US military presence."

The report alleges that while China’s plan is to protect its trade, energy resources and supplies, Chinese fishing trawlers have been found occasionally mapping the ocean floor to facilitate submarine operations.

Strongly linked economies with robust trade have been the defining characteristic of the US-China relationship in recent years. The two–way trade exceeded USD230 bn in 2004 and USD 165bn was in China’s favour. US and China have mutual security interests in combating terrorism, ensuring freedom of navigation on the High Seas and protecting the environment. US and China are at a cross road and SOP presents both challenges and a window of opportunity for the US. Bold leadership and prudent foresight will enable the US and China to reap the rewards of strategic co-operation and avert the calamity of hostile confrontation the report concludes.

This policy indeed appears to be the policy Obama is following and conveyed to Beijing by his envoy Hillary Clinton in 2009.

India’s response to SOP

Has India become irrelevant by these developments despite the nuclear deal with the Bush Administration? this is a question posed by some Sri Lankan writers.

India’s responses to SOP include Sethu Canal Project, dumping long standing cold war ally Russia to embrace US under Bush, expanding the Blue Water fleet with aircraft carriers and submarines and efforts to induce Sri Lanka to enter into bilateral security regime mechanisms to provide maritime security in South Asian seas. As K. Godage has observed, India wants to convince Sri Lanka that a mitilary presence of non littoral powers in the Indian ocean threatens regional security.

Many including this writer could not see in their radar India’s real motives for the Sethu Project. While India’s declared goal to facilitate commercial shipping was easily rejected, the common conclusion was that the canal was really meant to facilitate the Indian navy to move between the east and west without circumnavigating Sri Lanka and saving both time and cost. As seen from the graphic from Pehrson’s illuminating report, the Sethu Canal is vital for the Indian navy to avoid crossing SOP rather than for avoiding circumnavigating Sri Lanka. Currently the USD600m Sethu Project is stalled due to opposition from the Hindus. India’s goal now is to explore the space.

At a seminar held in New Delhi 11.12.2006, Indian speakers including KC Pant, former defence minister, argued India and Sri Lanka should ensure security of the east west sea lane which straddled India and Sri Lanka. Although that exercise failed, India continues to sell this strategic plan to Sri Lanka through our foreign minister. Dumping Russia to embrace the US has boomeranged. Russia and siz Central Asian Republics recently entered into Collective Security Treat Organisatin (CSTO) and US was asked to remove their air bases in Kyrgyzstan. CSTO in the North and SOP in the South, India’s naval ambitions appear to be contained. Pehrson predicts in his report that if a security or energy crisis precipitates the need to deploy a military presence into the SOP region the newly strengthened and modernized Chinese fleet will be deployed in that region. This prospect may give comfort to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but a severe migraine to India.

Pakistan and SOP

Guarda port in Pakistan built by China at a cost of USD 1.2bn is a main SOP Pearl. Guarda Port is 450 miles west of Karachchi and for China it is at the entrance of the Persian Gulf. Pehrson states in his report that this pearl has enhanced strategic, diplomatic and economic ties between Pakistan and China.

Sri Lanka and SOP

The Pentagon reports have already identified Hambantota as a Pearl of China’s SOP. This alone explains India’s efforts to block the construction of the Hambantota Port.

Besides India, Sri Lanka’s rivals in development of trans-shipment, Singapore and Dubai, are also disturbed by the prospects of severe competition from Hambantota. Pentagon’s SOP label was applied to Hambantota during the Bush Administration. It is evident that under Obama the US will perceive a result oriented pragmatic strategy of engaging China with the realization that the economies of China and the US are linked inexorably. So why quarrel or be confrontational, asked Pehrson in his report.

A strong relationship between Sri Lanka and China need not assume an anti US character, nor should it prevent China from ensuring freedom of the seas in our region for the benefit of all member countries of SAARC. As Australia, S.Korea, Japan and the Phillipines have found, it is in our national interest to improve our ties with China delicately balancing our relationship with the US. Our goal should be to reap economic rewards from the development of the Hambantota port no matter what label is applied to the project by the Pentagon defence contractors and similar stake holders in potential conflicts.

Root causes of child soldier phenomenon an UN initiatives

by Radhika Coomaraswamy

UNRCTC0315.jpgLet me begin my talk to you today with a description of my visit to a Maoist army cantonment site in eastern Nepal in December. The cantonment was set up after a peace agreement. In this cantonment were child soldiers recruited by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in their struggle against the Nepalese state. We had earlier met many young people who had been recruited by the Maoists with false promises, who had run away because of abuse. But these were another group, those who for some reason or another had chosen to remain. We were allowed to meet these children to have a discussion about their future. They were teenagers and about a third of them were female. Initially they were hostile. One of them told us to go away. "We are soldiers, we want to remain as soldiers, we want to be part of the armed forces, we do not need your help," he said. We had come to rescue them they did not want to be rescued.

Then we began a conversation with them about the future. We spoke of the many opportunities that are available to young people, opportunities that could be provided to them if they came to a civilian environment. We spoke of computers, of technical skills, of entertainment; we spoke of other child soldiers around the world and what they had done with their lives. After awhile their eyes stopped having that glazed over expression. They began to listen. When we left, they remained sceptical but no longer hostile. This would then be the beginning of a long conversation.

The construction childhood

Before we begin our discussion of child soldiers, we must first ask– what do we mean by childhood? A great deal of discussion among academics has focused on the construction of childhood in different societies. For the most part, international law, influenced by the research of Piaget and his followers, accepts the fact that there is a link between chronological age and cognitive development; that there are stages in the development of cognitive thinking, especially the ability to make moral judgments, and that eighteen is the age where such development is complete. For this reason, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other subsequent documents has stated the eighteen is the age of maturity.

Academics who are anthropologists, influenced by recent work by psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky and others who point to the influence of everyday life experience in the formation of moral judgment, argue that childhood is a construction that differs from place to place. As David Rosen, Professor of Anthropology as Pfarleigh Dickinson, writes "adopting a single universal definition ignore that childhood is understood and experienced in different societies in divergent ways". He argues that straight 18 is part of the modern politics of age" and an aspect of "norm entrepreneurship" that characterize humanitarian advocacy. At a UN gathering he presented a slideshow of children that voluntarily joined and fought with the military both in the war of independence and in the civil war in the United States. He points to the fact with regard to initiation rites in most tribes and ethnic groups, the age varies from 14-16 thus recognizing an early end to childhood.

Susan Shepler, Professor of Anthropology at University of California at Berkeley also concurs with this approach of childhood as a construction of a particular community. Focusing on Sierra Leone, she has outlined how the prevalence of child labour along with child soldiers was an acceptance that children could work, accept responsibility and need not ber protected as expected in other societies.

She also points to the initiation rituals in secret societies for young adolescents, both male and female. Joining an armed group was often seen as an extension of that ritual. These cultural factors, once understood in Sierra Leone, helps us understand how, when the social framework disintegrated due to war, these bizarre manifestations could take place. For both Rosen and Shepler, understanding the cultural context was an absolute precondition to understanding the phenomenon of child soldiers.

There is no doubt that "straight 18" – children are children till they are eighteen – the backbone of international instruments with regard to children, is an aspirational statement, a product of international norm creation. Embedded in this "politics of age" as Rosen calls it is that children should enjoy their childhood for as long as possible, though one recognizes their "agency", they should be protected from harm and exploitation. Most importantly, they should not be given duties or burdens that prevent them from going to school and learning for a better future. These are the assumptions of this international normative framework as set out in international instruments.

As the mandate of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict is evidence, nothing binds nations together more than the need to protect children. There is a universal consensus on this issue, at least in terms of aspiration, judging from the number of signatories to the CRC as well as the unanimity bef9ore the Security Council with regard to Security Council Resolution 1612. The issue is then to turn the aspiration into practice in all parts of the globe. To do this, it is important to understand the research of anthropologists such as Shepler and Rosen – we cannot dismiss the cultural factors that define childhood in different societies. The cultural context and how we negotiate its terrain will determine whether international norms creation has local resonance. Unless we understand these factors we will not be able to devise effective programmes to prevent the recruitment of children or to reintegrate them back into their communities.

Why are children recruited

Before discussing why children are recruited, we must come to terms with the fact that child recruitment is not always forced and that many children seem to join military groups willingly. For a long time, the Sierra Leone and Northern Uganda model forced recruitment, where many children were abducted. Dragged and then beaten into submission was the archetype for the campaign on child soldiering. There is no doubt that many groups abduct, intimidate and coerce children to join them. Families are sometimes asked to give a child each to the cause. Brute force is often used to take children away. Let me tell you the story of Moi – a young man I met from northern Uganda. He was playing with his friend when the LRA attacked his village. He was abducted with his friend and made to carry the loot from their village. On the way to the LRA camp, his friend fell and broke his ankle. The commander of the group just shot his friend in the head. Moi was taken to the camp and beaten, drugged and trained to be a child soldier. He was made to attack his own village and kill and steal from family and friends. After years of this activity, Moi had a crisis of conscience and escaped to a UNICEF funded project where I met him.

Not all children however are abducted. In a recent survey of former child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and their motivation to join armed groups, it was found that only 9% were abducted or joined out of fear. 34% of these children said they joined for material reasons, 21% said they joined because they believed in the group’s ideology, 10% said they wanted revenge and 11% wanted to leave their home." Even in the L.R.A. research shows that many of the children did join willingly for different reasons.

Despite the acceptance of the fact that many children do go on their own to join armed groups, there is disagreement of how much of this can be termed voluntary, or freely chosen. What is the nature of this agency? Some are of the belief, that children are not capable of this kind of moral judgment so any choice is not voluntary and that any decision to join such movements must be coerced. On the other side, there are those who celebrate these moments of agency, as freely chosen as participatory and as an expression of true will, requiring that we as adults respect those choices made y the children. The reality must lie somewhere in-between. Though seemingly chosen, those decisions are also conditioned by material and cultural realities that allow for such choice and therefore must be understood in that context. Without understanding the social and economic conditions that create the space for children to make such choices, it is difficult to either deny children agency or to claim without doubt that the agency was freely chosen.

Any discussion of recruitment must begin with an attempt to understand the material conditions that often drive children to violence. As Oxford University professor Jason Hart writes, in many of these societies, the "profoundly asymmetrical power relations giving rise to systematic oppression" often colours the political understanding of young, people and drives them into action.

Most social scientists agree that poverty is a factor that leads to child soldiering but it is also important to underscore that not all poor children become child soldiers – poverty therefore is only a contributing factor. Poverty lessens options for children and therefore makes child soldiering a possible avenue for their energies. Poverty in some areas also means a lack of access to education and other basic resources and therefore the possibility of any other form of mobility is often non-existent. For some children, especially orphans, joining armed groups would ensure at least one meal a day and some poor parents give their children to the movement in the hope that they will be well fed and housed. In this context, providing infrastructure to combat poverty and implementing development projects that try to grapple with poverty by motivating young people to develop skills and go forward with their lives must be seen as very important to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers.

Discrimination, perceived or real, is often a key motivating factor for children to join the armed groups. It is not unusual that many of the armed groups that recruit child soldiers are drawn from ethnic, class and caste groupings that see their struggle in terms of discrimination and exploitation. Whether it is language discrimination , denial of access to state resources, denial of political representation, the question of equality is central to many of these struggles. Even the Lords Resistance Army played on the perceived sense of discrimination of the Acholi people while they abducted children.

Ethinic, tribal and religious identity, linked to notions of perceived discrimination, is particularly potent in the mobilization of whole communities, including the children. In ethnic and religious wars, families sometimes give their children voluntarily when commanders speak of "defending the community". Loyalty to ethnic, religious or tribal group becomes the bargaining tool for armed groups where every member of the community is called upon to play their part. Children are very susceptible to these demands and are easily manipulated into contributing their energies for the cause.

Resistance to discrimination often results in brutal suppression by security forces or armed groups of another ethnic group. This only compounds feelings of oppression. As Jason Hart points out the feeling of "humiliation" is key in this struggle." This humiliation draws on a collective history and strengthens a sense of group identity. Benedict Anderson in his study of nationalist narratives notes that collective humiliation and suffering is one of the key elements related to the development of identity." Children, being emotionally vulnerable, are easily seduced by such narratives. Many of them have lost loved ones and a personal desire for revenge often combines with nationalist/ethnic/tribal myths to encourage young people to join armed groups.

The recent trend in the formation of self-defense groups in communities that are subject to threat from the outside also poses serious challenges. The leaders of the community feel that the children must play their part and help defend their families and their communities. The notion of self-defense may be exploited but is sometimes very real in countries such as Sudan and Chad.

Displacement is another factor that contributes to the phenomenon of child soldiers. According to research done by the University of Pittsburg," a large number of children are recruited from refugee camps. Jason Hart also points to how conditions in the camp are very conducive to children being drawn into violence. The resources are often meagre with very few education and employment opportunities. The camp also heightens group identity and a group sense of grievance. There are often restrictions on freedom of movement, frustrating young people. Families of rebel groups are often in the camps. All this contributes to children being easily recruited from the camp environment. In fact some researchers argue that security around the camps is one way of ensuring that children are not recruited.

Finally it must be understood that war in some societies, after it has existed for sometime, is a "growth industry" with its own logic and trajectory.

The supply of arms, control of resources through force, the recruitment of fighters all become part of the political economy. Arms dealers acquire vested interest in perpetuating the war, as do local commanders and local warlords. In such context children are socialized to accept war as a part of life and to seek advancement within the structures that creates.

The material factors contributing to the recruitment of children would not result in child soldiering if the leadership of a particular group was to refuse to exploit the conditions that vulnerable children fact. The organization of the armed group is critical to whether children are recruited. It is for this reason that activists place an emphasis on the accountability of these actors. Armed struggle or armed warfare is often chosen by political, ethnic and gang leaders as a means of political confrontation in a particular society or in fighting for the control of resources. However, there are many armed groups that do not recruit child soldiers because they refuse to accept them. The groups are usually ideologically more sophisticated. Unfortunately, if a group decides to accept child soldiers then the potential for exploitation is great.

The armed group often presents itself as a military vanguard of an important cause. The military life and the military commanders become role models for the young people. The military ethos becomes part of everyday life.

There is sometimes a call to martyrdom, sacrifice and heroic death, something that often excites romantic, young men and women. This can even take the form of suicide killings. This military ethos has logic of its own and is an attraction to vulnerable children. Many young people come to commanders even if they are not abducted. Responsible commanders turn them away. Others, however, see that children actually may make great soldiers. With what psychologists call "underdeveloped" concepts of death, they are fearless in fighting, taking great risk and seeing much of it as a game. They obey commands and pose little threat to the hierarchy. As a result a group begins to employ more and more child soldiers even to the extent of abducting them. The proliferation of small arms adds to the ease of continuing with this type of recruitment. According to specialists it takes a child on average 45 minutes to master an AK 47.

As many anthropologists points out individual factors also condition whether a child will become a child soldier. As was pointed out earlier, feelings of revenge and a sense of humiliation often drives children into armed groups. Seeing their parents killed or humiliated, their sisters raped and their community attacked is a powerful motivating force. This often results in adding to the cycle of violence, with revenge leading to counter-revenge and children of ten becoming victim and perpetrator at the same time.

Some children join armed groups for family reasons. Domestic violence in the home, dysfunctional families, and the prevalence of orphans in societies affected by AIDS, etc. …all lead to children seeking new forms of shelter and security. Many groups assure us that most of the children who come to them are orphans or children who refuse to go back to their parents. This is often true of girl children. They join armed groups for the sense of freedom they may experience away from traditional and often oppressive upbringings. Being a female combatant allows them to transgress gender roles and gender stereotypes, while learning self confidence and leadership skills. This poses major problems for reintegration of girls after the war since the child does not want to go back home. Nevertheless, these seemingly positive factors must be counterbalanced by the fact that in some wars girls are abducted, made into sex slaves and have to play the role of combatant, wife and domestic aid and all at the same time.

Some children join armed groups for family reasons. Domestic violence in the home, dysfunctional families, and the prevalence of orphans in societies affected by AIDS, etc… all lead to children seeking new forms of shelter and security. Many groups assure us that most of the children who come to them are orphans or children who refuse to go back to their parents. This is often true of girl children. They join armed groups for the sense of freedom they may experience away from traditional and often oppressive upbringings. Being a female combatant allows them to transgress gender roles and gender stereotypes, while learning self confidence and leadership skills. This poses major problems for reintegration of girls after the war since the child does not want to go back home. Nevertheless, these seemingly positive factors must be counterbalanced by the fact that in some wars girls are abducted, made into sex slaves and have to play role of combatant, wife and domestic aid all at the same time.

Some male children, being emotionally vulnerable, are drawn toward role models who express their masculinity through the use of force. This is common in many societies where to be masculine also means the readiness to use force when necessary. This is coupled in some societies with the desire to join an armed group as a means of social mobility. Joining may give access to resources and the ability to wield power and influence in the territory controlled by the armed group. Many children see this as a legitimate avenue of advancement in a society that offers them few other options, though they often lament the fact that they cannot go to school or see their families.

NEPALTC0315.jpg

[Many Nepalese IDPs do not want to go home to their rural communities for fear of reprisals from Maoist cadres or because their land has been seized and they will have no livelihoods-pic: Naresh Newar/IRIN]

UN initiatives

So what are the international initiatives that try and deal with this problem of child soldiers? It is clear from the analysis of root causes that the leadership of the armed group is a key factor in the recruitment of children. Therefore the fight against impunity, holding these leaders accountable, and deterring them from future action must continue. Though conditions for child recruitment exist because of roof causes, it is the decision of armed actors to recruit or enlist these children that is the final marker and unless they are taken to task there will be no possibility of dealing with this issue in a comprehensive way.

The international community has recently begun to deal with the issue of impunity and accountability in a more systematic way. Last year the International Criminal Court indicted Thomas Lubanga of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the charges of recruitment and use of child soldiers. This was the first case to be brought before the Court and the prosecutors decided that they would begin with the path breaking prosecution to send a message that such practices are war crimes and crimes against humanity. Since then three other warlords have also been charged with the recruitment and use of children. Though these are only a few select cases, they have sent out the necessary of the Darfur peace agreement, they questioned me in detail about the court and the indictments – they seemed preoccupied with what is meant for them. The deterrence effect of even one conviction should be substantial, though we must accept the most fanatical will continue to recruit without concern for the consequences.

It is not only the criminal court that has moved forward on this issue. The Security Council has chosen children and armed conflict as the only human rights issue with which to have a continuous engagement. Under Security Council resolution 1612, they have set up a working group to study the issue in more detail, a monitoring and reporting mechanism that will gather information at the country level on grave violations against children during armed conflict, and they hold out the prospect of the possibility of sanctions against groups that continue to recruit and use child soldiers. This is a unique mechanism. Our office is the facilitator for the UN process before the Council. Since the resolution was passed in 2005 over twenty country reports have been submitted and the Council has come up with recommendations and conclusions.

The threat of Security Council sanction has moved many groups to enter into action plans with the UN system to release children. Over the last year five groups in Cote D’Ivoire, two groups in the Central African Republic, one in Nepal, one in Sri Lanka and one in the Philippines have agreed to enter into such action plans. Many are ignorant of Security Council processes and when you meet them, even deep in the African bush, to explain their implications, they agree to co-operate with the United Nations to release the children. They have aspirations of becoming national leaders and do not wish to be tarred with sanctions. Other, unfortunately remain incalcitrant, seeing children as an important resource in their armed struggle and are therefore prepared to risk the possibility of sanctions.

The fight against impunity at the international level is at its nascent stage and serves as a signal that this crime will no longer be tolerated. To be truly effective, there must be action at the national level. National legislation, national prosecutions and national systems to prevent recruitment must be set up if the struggle against the recruitment and use of child soldiers is to be sustainable. Building national capacity to do that is one of the most important challenges of the next few years.

Besides fighting the impunity of recruiters, it becomes important to ensure prevention at the community level. For this reason identifying the root causes, including the kcultural factors is the first step. In this context our office is calling for the development agencies of the United Nations to be brought together for a discussion on how we could deal with some of the structural issues relating to recruitment of children, in particular the problem of poverty. Targeting youth in a systematic way as a beneficiary for development programmes may be one way of dealing with this problem, especially in countries where there is a youth bulge in the population. Making youth development a high priority in development assistance, especially in countries prone to conflict, is a core advocacy point for the OSRSG/CAAC and UNICEF.

Development agencies as well as humanitarian agencies must also work together to ensure the successful reintegration of children, once they have been rteleased in their communities. UNICEF, and UNDP take the lead in this regard. For example in Nepal they stand ready with 60 reintegration package options for the children so that they can find a package that would be best suited for the individual child. The packages provide technical and vocational training as well as other support for the children. In addition, the agencies will work with the families and the communities to reintegrate the children. They will do so by providing similar opportunities to children who did not become child soldiers so as not to stigmatise returning children and they will also try to provide psycho social support to families to assist in the reintegration. Successful reintegration is not only healthy for the child but will also prevent re-recruitment or the criminalization of children as part of youth gangs. The UN system has come together and formulated the Paris Principles for the reintegration of children associated with armed groups. Through a consultative process – these Principles will guide child protection practitioners in delivering the most effective programme for reintegration and recovery.

Reintegration has not always proved to be an easy process. Though the Paris Principles calls for an inclusive community oriented programme that does not stigmatise children, as can be seen from the Maoist example, many children do not want to go home or may have special needs. Research has shown that children who are victims of sexual violence or children who forced to commit terrible acts of violence require special care. The real success of such programmes is when they tailor make their solutions to the needs of the individual child, taking into consideration the society he lives in, and capitalize on the skills and qualities he has cultivated during his period with an armed group.

Since IDP camps are often a site for recruitment, the management of these camps is to be reviewed with the view of stopping children from being taken from the camp. Camp security could be advised and trained and the internal management of the camp could be trained to be vigilant. This should be coupled with programmes in the camp to allow children to continue with their education and to receive training in skills that are relevant to their age and to the geographical area. UNHCR and the office of the Special Representative on the Internally Development have taken a lead on this and it is our expectation that as far as possible, given the limitations, security will be strengthened in light of these research findings.

The cultural factors outlined by many researchers are extremely important and it outlines the need for the United Nations to ensure that the universal norms it advocates has cultural resonance in different socities.

(Dr.Radhika Coomaraswamy is the UN Secretary - General's Special Representative on Children and armed conflict.This is the text of an address delivered at the University of Michigan)

March 14, 2009

Sri Lanka's choices: positive accommodation or partition of the island?

by Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz

Sri Lanka's ethnic civil war involving the two major ethnic groups, or for that matter the two nations - Tamil and Sinhala, seems to be moving toward an imbalanced politico-military conclusion, favoring the government led by Mahinda Rajapakse who came to power in 2005 by effectively employing anti-Tamil and anti-peace slogans.

Some expect this to be the end of the Tamils' quest for justice, and thus the Tamils need to (1) accept the generosity of the Sinhala south or the Sinhala political leadership for their political and social survival, in other words, some sort of political surrender to the Sinhala nation, or (2) radically re-visit its past, in order to form a new Tamil movement. This article gives some thoughts on these two scenarios to understand the Tamil question.

The first advice about the surrender may not be helpful nor would it not simply serve the interests of the rebelling Tamils. One key reason is that the ethnic identities are filled with some powerful symbols such as flag, national anthem, history of group, myth of motherland and fatherland. These symbols often give group-pride, and thus dangerously motivate oppressed groups to stand against the oppressive forces. The identities associated with the Tamils are emotional in nature and they are regularly being employed both by the Tamil moderates and militant Tamil nationalists in their quest for justice.

Defeat

Sri Lanka's Sinhala forces may defeat the Tamil Tigers who are the by-product of the anti-Tamil policies of the successive Sinhala political class to win the Sinhalese vote since independence. But this would not in any way convince the Tamils to seek a generosity from the ruling Sinhala political class led by Mahinda Rajapakse who conscientiously use the Sinhalese symbols to execute the war and to consolidate his power among the South Sinhalese.

It is, therefore, politically nave to expect or demand the Tamil nation to surrender their struggle for justice and equity, expecting generosity from the Sinhala political leadership, and to tell the truth, they will not do it.

The Tamil resistance will survive even without the Tamil Tigers for two reasons: First, Sinhala polity's excessive reliance on ethnic symbols such as a violent Lion flag, national anthem, history of mythical Vijaya and myth of motherland to influence the Sinhala masses to win and hold power. These symbols are violent in nature and illiberal in its goals, that is to say the goal of the Sinhalese symbols is to transform the island in to a highly theocratic state with Sinhala democracy, otherwise called as Dharmacracy, and second, the Sinhala polity's pure disinterest to treat the minorities, particularly the Tamils humanely.

Self determination

In other words, in a way the Tamils can exercise internal self determination; if I put it in pure political science language, power-sharing and group autonomy. Such political mechanism denotes the participation of representatives of all significant ethnic groups in political decision making at the center, while allowing ethnic groups to run their own internal affairs in their traditional homeland.

The advice too recommends stringent reform to accommodate new strategies and to absorb more politics to weaken the militarised Tamil resistance movement. Ethnic movements progress when there is willingness to understand a new politico-social reality, and to adopt progressive ideas and strategies. Therefore, the doors to changes need to be opened widely and meaningfully to adopt a new thinking and strategies to pursue the major goals.

To make this possible, the Tamil resistance movement needs some gutsy leaders who can fearlessly demand the Tamil demand. It would not bring any productive changes within the movement nor would it effectively pressure the Sinhala polity to reform the state structure, in order to offer an irrevocable political solution to the Tamil ethnic question if it is led by wrong and weak leaders.

Daunting task

This is, in fact, a daunting task. If reformists who expect mercy from the Sinhala political leadership, in plain words, some Tamil quislings occupy the leadership of the future Tamil reform movement, I assume it would be politically disastrous for the oppressed Tamils, because they would not resist the Sinhala brutality or demand a political solution of power-sharing democracy, above and beyond; they simply aspire perks and privileges for them and to their friends and would paint a rosy picture about the Sinhala polity and its ruling class. Will these acts satisfy the Tamils, particularly the conscious Tamils?

The point is that any new experiments on reforming the Tamil movement would go wrong when new policies or new leadership points towards a negative political accommodation with the Sinhala polity, in other words, a sort of political policy to take, without any questions, what the Sinhala polity offers. Such a Tamil reform movement may not calm the powerful Tamil symbols nor can it give effective leadership to the Tamil resistance.

The biggest challenge for the Tamil reformists is to win positive political accommodation from the Sinhala polity. If the Sinhala polity and politicians stand for serious and sincere willingness to accommodate the needs and aspirations of the Tamil nation, and they translate them into specific actions through reforming the current unitary state structure, which is one of the key political symbols of the Sinhalese, in that case, a kind of progressive cohabitation among the minorities, particularly between the Tamil and Sinhala nations is possible.

This is politically beautiful because polity offers a progressive accommodation. However, this sort of political accommodation is likely only in societies where political class can formulate policies beyond the irrational symbols. In other words, Sinhala polity should reflect liberal values, and its institutions such as defense, justice, parliament, media and police should support and execute non-racial policies.

Reject

Theoretically speaking, if states are not liberal by their ideology, if they are not economically secure and politically established democracies, they tend to reject the option of accommodation to the demands of ethnic groups. Sri Lanka, indeed, cannot be cited as an example of accommodative democratic societies because its policies and ideologies are primarily pro-Sinhalese, and thus they are not winning the minorities.

No evidence supports that the Sinhala polity would make the life of the future Tamil reform movement very easy. The precise prescription for the collapse of the future Tamil reform movement is the Sinhala hostility against a political solution that aims to go beyond the unitary state structure. The Tamil leadership, whether it is moderate or extremist, needs to focus on basic Tamil demands such as genuine political autonomy. They would not win credible Tamil sympathy either at home or among the Diaspora when they prepare to depend on the generosity of the Sinhala political leadership.

When the Tamil reformists choose negative accommodation with the Sinhala political leadership, one consequence may be to witness the re-growth of Tamil radicalism. The one form of Tamil radicalism, led by the Tamil Tigers, may be defeated, but as long as the Tamil polity is led by some quislings who behave like the political prisoners of the Sinhala polity, and there is the Sinhala polity that continues to refuse justice and political equity to the Tamil nation, it is plainly nave to assume that the future belongs to the quislings.

The Sinhala polity still can effectively deny the reasons for the Tamil militancy, if it embraces some meaningful interests and genuine commitments to seek political reform aimed at providing a substantial political autonomy at the regional level and power-sharing at the center with moderate leaders.

Hostilities

The demand for separation becomes strong when a power-sharing arrangement is not possible. That is to say, if the Sinhala polity is not interested in power-sharing, partition, as an alternative, should not be discarded. Some fear that partition will further strengthen the ethnic hostilities between the two nations, but even if it provokes a period of violence, it would offer the separated ethnic groups much-needed stability and security in the future.

In other words, partition can reduce the ethnic fear and offers social and political security, as well as stability, to the different ethnic groups. The separation of Pakistan from India, Eritrea from Ethiopia, Bangladesh from West Pakistan, and Greeks from Turks on Cyprus all demonstrate that partition can be helpful, even if it is not completely successful in terminating violence.

The world recognises that if the people of deeply divided ethnic nations do not want to co-habit in the same polity, then partition should not be automatically neglected as a solution. This might be one way to manage the Tamils' demands for political space since 1977 and to neutralise the pro-Sinhala agendas of the Sinhala political establishment that explicitly risk the existence of the minorities.

A Humanitarain case for pressure on Sri Lankan Government

By Kusal Perera

A day or two ago, a friend who called me from Geneva to tell me what had happened at the Geneva hearing of the UN Human Rights Council last week, told me the Sri Lankan non State representatives from Colombo were asked, why they only pressure the government and don't pressure the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the war zone. Their answer ? Well, from what I was told, they have had no answer and that, more or less exposed them as pro-LTTE lobbyists. "They had to slowly leave" the story was concluded.

This in fact is the line of argument of Sinhala racists and State agencies in countering the pressure that's being built on the SL government to save something like 150,000 to 180,000 civilians in their war against Tamil tigers. This argument has two basic flaws though submerged and not very visible in the way it is usually put across with emotions.

The first is that the LTTE is an organization that is listed, labeled and treated as a "terrorist" organization in many countries. Would any one expect such a terrorist organization to listen to and act according to civil society appeals ? If one sticks with that categorization of the LTTE, then there is no reason to ask the LTTE to act humanely and they wouldn't act humanely. "Terrorist" organizations are "terrorist" organizations.

On the other hand, if one believes the LTTE would listen to civil society appeals, then it would mean, the LTTE is not a "terrorist" organization. If one believes the LTTE can be pressured to allow the trapped civilians to leave the conflict zone, then it should be possible to pressure the LTTE to sit for negotiations too. Waging war against it then becomes a crime against humanity, an accusation this government would then have to live with.

On the flip side, those who want the LTTE also pressured if the government is pressured, fail to realize that they are equating themselves and the GOSL in par with a "terrorist" organization. "Why only us ? Tell them also" is their counter move in avoiding pressure against civilian massacre. What would it mean other than saying "us" and "them" are all the same ? Although the government would want to go that way, the people who elected the government have a right to tell the government that it shouldn't act as a terrorist outfit. As long as the government wants to remain a legitimate government, it can not act as a terrorist outfit. One, it has a responsibility towards all the citizens of this country to behave democratically at all times and in any crisis and two, it is bound by international law and bound to respect human rights all through its rule.

Therefore, the question, "why isn't the LTTE pressured" has no logic, as long as the GoSL wants to wage war against the LTTE to eliminate "terrorism". But even then, the GoSL can not simply ignore the call to act humanely and therefore to make way for the civilians to leave the conflict zone. It has to accept that all the "no fire" zones offered so far are fake offers and have no meaning in this war. Therefore the GoSL has to take adequate and necessary steps with an equally serious commitment to help achieve the movement of civilians out of the conflict zone, as a legitimate government that respect law and international accords.

1. The civilians should have a very safe passage out of the conflict zone, which could only be provided by a "humanitarian pause" in the conflict declared by the GoSL for an adequate length of time, with the only condition that it is for civilians to move out into safety,

2. The whole process should be carried out under the supervision of an independent monitoring mission (IMM) helped by the ICRC, with this IMM constituted by eminent civil society personalities from SAARC member countries to give confidence to the civilian population, they are now under independent and safe supervision.

3. The civilian population should have all rights agreed internationally for all refugees, supervised by international humanitarian agencies and they should know they would not be once again "walled in" by government security forces and questioned by other armed groups.

If the GoSL could agree to such an open and independent process for the civilian population to move out, the issue of who is pressuring whom would not arise and the need to label different lobbies with tiger labels also would not arise.

The Lahore atrocity: Our cricketing Ambassadors

by Michael Roberts

Till recently Chaminda Vaas would have had fond recollections of the Gaddafi Stadium at Lahore . He was in the squad that faced up to Aussie power during the World Cup Finals on 17 March 1996 and prevailed so magnificently. But on Tuesday 3rd March he was among the Sri Lankan cricketers who underwent a different type of ordeal and survived with fortitude and a good measure of luck.

Cricketers and officials had been promised presidential level security. Instead they were provided with the services of ordinary policemen in inadequate number. The number was reduced that fatal Tuesday because, as happens so often in Asia , some Pakistani players were late and the protective squad was halved.

The convoy was ambushed at an intersection near the stadium. Though the tyres of the coach had been shot up, the driver, Meyer Mohammed Khalil, urged on by those inside, sped away to safety. With their driver dead, the officials and umpires in the mini-bus went through an experience that was even more harrowing

The criticisms directed at the Pakistani authorities by Chris Broad and others are wholly justified; and the strident counter-criticism essayed by Ijaz Butt and Javed Miandad reveal what idiots they are. The failure of the Pakistani establishment was a monstrous one. It was a miracle that only six policemen and one driver died; and that the cricketing component in the convoy survived with only 2 or 3 serious injuries.

Many issues surround the analysis of this criminal act. Two can only generate speculative answers, but provide insights nevertheless. Question One: would the assailants have gone through with their attack if the Pakistani team coach was part of the convoy? Question Two: given that the mini-bus was stranded and there were no walking policemen in sight, why didn’t the militant squad advance and finish the officials off? The latter ‘failure’ suggests either a degree of amateurishness or a conscious decision to retire unhurriedly because they had made their point.

These are issues for intelligent Pakistanis to pursue as part of a wider investigation seeking the perpetrators and uncovering their motives. As I write, preliminary readings in Pakistan suggest that the immediate hands behind the atrocity are drawn from either the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) or the Lashka-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) jihadi groups.

Rather than deep conspiracy theories reaching beyond Pakistan , the most sensible focus seems to be one that reviews the expansion of Taliban ideologies in the heart of Pakistan . As one Pakistan analysis put it: “There is no shortage of highly-competent well-armed and trained groups within our own borders capable of such an operation.

They have no need of foreign assistance or foreign money – there are plenty of people here happy to finance them and offer logistical support. No shortage either of groups wishing to undermine the government and capable of exploiting a perceived weakness caused by the confusion rife in the Punjab police force; a product of the political [transfer] of senior officers in the wake of the imposition of governor rule” (http://thenews.jang.com.pk/daily_detail. asp?id=165515).

The ideological imperatives driving these extremists are seen in the position pressed in Zarb-e-Taiba, a Lashkar-e-Taiba magazine, in April 2004: “We should throw the bat and seize the sword and instead of hitting six or four, cut the throats of the Hindus and the Jews”

The cricket convoy, you will say, had only one Hindu and no Jews. Yes. But take note of their following lines: “the sports of a mujahid are archery, horse-riding and swimming. Apart from these sports, every hobby is un-Islamic. The above are not just sports but exercises for jihad. Cricket is an evil and sinful sport” (Praveen Swami in The Hindu, 5 March 2009).

The preliminary indications, therefore, suggest that the motives are informed by Taliban-style jihadist thinking that saw the attack as a means of undermining the Pakistani governments at both regional and federal levels, while yet earning plaudits within a particular jihadist constituency.

* * * * *

Whatever the goals of the militants, we can applaud both the Sri Lankan squad and the umpire/official cluster for the fortitude with which they met this severe trial. As the Pakistani authoress, Kamila Shamsie, told me in an email note, the “Sri Lankan players have been extraordinary in all this.” Elsewhere David Hopps has praised their “composure” and the fact that “there have been no recriminations, no histrionics, just a team grateful to have survived.” Indeed, he notes that even though the team was aware beforehand that the security arrangements were minimal, they had “presum[ed] themselves too small to be noticed [and] just got on with it” (Guardian, 4 March 2009).

No more will such complacency prevail, said Hopps. The world of international cricket is now confronting a different ball park. As erudite as intelligent, Kumar Sangakkara underlined the changed circumstances. Let me quote him selectively in logical order:

“We had always felt pretty safe in Pakistan …. It shows how naïve we were. …With hindsight, we probably underestimated the security threat.”

“We realise now that sports people and cricketers are not above being attacked. All the talk that "no one would target cricketers" seems so hollow now. Far from being untouchable, we are now prize targets for extremists. That's an uncomfortable reality we have to come to terms with.”

Along one dimension Sangakkara’s remarks provide a corrective to the self-serving commentary of Australian media outlets that interpreted the event as a justification for Australia ’s past, weak-kneed policy of refusing to tour Pakistan . This widespread Australian viewpoint was, firstly, self-justification of a-historical cast, one that failed to note the several tours undertaken by numerous teams in the last five years. Secondly, such an viewpoint does not attend to the changes in the Pakistan political scene in the recent past, notably the collapse of Musharraf’s authoritarian regime, the development of a power vacuum and the recent intervention of the federal government to effect an overturn in the Punjab provincial government (including its police) responsible for the Lahore region.

Along another dimension, two facets of Sangakkara’s summary deserve highlighting: “in hindsight” and “now.” Together they provide a corrective to those media comments that focus on Pakistan alone, a pointer to the grim realities facing cricket in its grand forms everywhere. Cricketing authorities have immediately taken the cue and are already looking ahead towards beefing up security at their principal grounds.

Where Dhoni has had to hire security guards to keep Indian women at bay, now, such precautions seem like lace finery in comparison with the steel grilles that may envelope our cricketing heroes in the near-future.

March 13, 2009

End game in Wanni war is getting longer to end

by Shanie

The end-game in the Vanni War is taking longer to end than expected. Earlier this year, towns and villages were being vacated and occupied even faster than the Peace Secretariat issuing polemical statements to counter-attack every criticism of the government’s operations vis-a-vis civilians. The civilians vacated the towns and moved into the north-east corner of Vanni, while the security forces simply over-ran and occupied these towns and villages, routing the LTTE cadres, who though putting up stiff resistance were no match for the vastly superior Sri Lanka security forces. But now the civilians are all holed up in the north-east corner and bearing the brunt of this brutal and now senseless war. Senseless because the LTTE has all but been defeated in conventional operations and it is only a matter of time before the security forces capture the remaining bit of territory. Brig Shavindra de Silva leading the 58th Brigade is right when he states that it is only the presence of civilians that is delaying the inevitable.

It is clear that the civilians are tragically caught up in a war not of their choosing. It is not material if there are only 70,000 of them as the government claims or 200,000 of them as some non-governmental agencies estimate. It is also clear that the LTTE does not want them to leave. If all the civilians are evacuated, the only people left would be the LTTE cadres and the security forces will simply bomb them out of existence – by sea, land and air. So the evacuation of the civilians is just not going to happen, without delicate negotiations with the LTTE. The present situation of the war is also untenable – soldiers, LTTE cadres and civilians are being killed or injured, with perhaps the largest number being among the civilians, because these innocents are the LTTE’s ‘first line of defence’. Civilians are also reported to be dying because they lack medical facilities and/or insufficient food. Delivery of food is delayed because the ICRC which handles this requires security guarantees from both sides. The same goes for the evacuation of the elderly and the sick.

The civilians, as indeed all the actors in this war, are our fellow-citizens. We simply cannot allow them to be suffer in this fashion. Their suffering will come to an end only if the actors in this war stop playing games with people’s lives. The LTTE will not let them go and the security forces will not stop artillery-fire because they state that the LTTE is firing shells at them from among or near civilians. So they refuse to let-up until the LTTE surrenders. A decision by the security forces to end the current standoff and wipe out the LTTE can only be carried out at the expense of thousands of civilian lives. It is a Catch-22 situation for these helpless and powerless civilians

Thinking the Unthinkable

Some of our religious leaders, some members of the civil society and some from the international community (whom we love to hate but to whom we now have to turn because of a severe financial crisis) have been urging a cease-fire to protect civilian lives. The government has refused to consider this, until the LTTE lays down arms. Lives of soldiers, LTTE cadres and civilians are being lost, all with the object of defeating the LTTE and bringing all territory under the writ of the government. Cannot that objective be achieved while protecting lives? To do so, we may have to think of what has been unthinkable up to now. We need to have a mediator or mediators who can talk both to the government and the LTTE and bring this war to a dignified end. The mediator/s must enjoy the trust and confidence of all the parties (the government, the LTTE and the Tamil civilians), preferably with experience in conflict resolution in similar situations. The unthinkable may be even to offer an amnesty to the LTTE cadres in return for a peaceful withdrawal from territory.

This column is convinced that only a settlement on those lines will bring lasting peace to our troubled nation. If it is coupled with a sincere implementation of the 13th and 17th Amendments, it will help us to re-unite and re-build our country, without further bloodshed. Nation building and national integration are priority needs for our divided nation. This can be achieved only if war is ended with dignity and less triumphalist rhetoric. Senator George Mitchell was the mediator who achieved the unthinkable in Northern Ireland. That is why the killing of two British soldiers and a policeman in a Catholic area this week has received condemnation from the political leadership across the religious divide. The indications are that Catholic residents are providing information that will eventually lead to the arrest of the dissidents responsible for this crime. Thousands from across the religious divide and from all parts of Northern Ireland have been holding vigils as a peace protest against terrorism from the dissidents.

Of Dissent

Civil conflict in Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland and other countries grew because governments refused to address the grievances of a section of the community. Instead, grievances were allowed to fester and eventually militants within the community replaced democratic political leadership, because they felt that democratic protest was leading to a dead-end. History has repeatedly shown that there can be no long-term development in nation without democracy, nor can community grievances ever be addressed without democracy within the community. Democracy then is surely the only way to move forward. Only a free and vibrant media and an alert civil society can make a difference and ensure transparency and honesty in the political leadership. It is only the corrupt and the greedy who want to muzzle criticism. Pakistan is paying the price for corruption and lack of transparency in politics. The present Pakistani government, barely one year in office, has already begun stifling dissent and beating up opponents. Zimbabwe went down the same way.

We here need to learn the lessons from the tragedy of rgese other countries. Silencing criticism by violence against the media will always end up as counter-productive. The killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga revolted the nation. The perpetrators of that crime, as that of several journalists before, seem to enjoy immunity. That is why these crimes continue. The latest victim has been Prof. Ganganath Dissanayake, who was abducted from his home days after a state newspaper reportedly claimed, apparently without any foundation, that he was authoring a book critical of President Mahinda Rajapalsa. He has since been released. But apparently Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose media unit was headed by Prof Dissanayake, earlier telephoned and sought President Rajapaksa’s assistance in this regard.

Vidyatharan, editor of a Tamil daily, remains in custody on charges which are not known. The manner of his arrest at a family funeral showed the utter disdain the arresting officers had for decency and dignity. Tissainayagam, another Tamil journalist, was arrested and kept in detention for several months and has now eventually been ndicted on vague charges of bringing the government into disrepute by what he wrote some years ago in a weekly paper that is now defunct. The LTTE has been silencing critics by violence ever since it was established.

Jawaharlal Nehru, whom this column quoted extensively last week, once stated: "To crush a contrary opinion forcibly and allow it no expression, because we dislike it, is essentially of the same genus as cracking the skull of an opponent because we disapprove of him. It does not even possess the virtue of success. The man with a cracked skull might collapse and die but the suppressed opinion or idea has no such sudden end and it survives and prospers the more it is sought to be crushed with force. History is full of such examples.

"Long experience has taught us that it is dangerous in the interest of truth to suppress opinions and ideas. It has further taught us that it is foolish for us to imagine that we can do so. It is far easier to meet an evil in the open and to repel it in fair combat in people’s minds than to drive it underground and have no hold on it or proper approach to it. Evil flourishes far more in the shadows than in the light of the day." [courtesy: The Island]

Sri Lankan Army should not fire into the civilian areas of the conflict zone - Hillary Clinton

On March 13, Secretary Clinton called Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa to express the United States’ deep concern over the deteriorating conditions and increasing loss of life occurring in the Government of Sri Lanka-designated “safe zone” in northern Sri Lanka. The Secretary stated that the Sri Lankan Army should not fire into the civilian areas of the conflict zone.

HRC0307.jpg

[U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton observes a moment of silence at Anitkabir, Ankara, Turkey March 7, 2009-State Department photo]

The Secretary stated that the Sri Lankan Army should not fire into the civilian areas of the conflict zone. The Secretary offered immediate and post-conflict reconstruction assistance and she extended condolences to the victims of the March 10 bombing outside a mosque in southern Sri Lanka. She condemned the actions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who are reported to be holding civilians as human shields, and to have shot at civilians leaving LTTE areas of control.

Secretary Clinton called on President Rajapaksa to devise a political solution to the ongoing conflict. She urged the President to give international humanitarian relief organizations full access to the conflict area and displaced persons camps, including screening centers.

The United States believes that a durable and lasting peace will only be achieved through a political solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities. We call on the Sri Lankan Government to put forward a proposal now to engage Tamils who do not espouse violence or terrorism, and to develop power sharing arrangements so that lasting peace and reconciliation can be achieved.

State Department News Release: Humanitarian Situation in Sri Lanka

Serious violations of international law committed in Sri Lanka conflict: UN human rights chief

DRNPTC0313.jpg13 March 2009, GENEVA (OHCHR) -- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed her growing alarm Friday at the increasing number of civilians reported killed and injured in the conflict in northern Sri Lanka, and at the apparent ruthless disregard being shown for their safety.

"Certain actions being undertaken by the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE may constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law." Pillay said. "We need to know more about what is going on, but we know enough to be sure that the situation is absolutely desperate. The world today is ever sensitive about such acts that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity."

Despite the Government's designation of safe -- or "no-fire" -- zones for civilians, repeated shelling has continued inside those zones, according to information made available to OHCHR.

Other areas holding civilians have also been shelled. OHCHR said a range of credible sources have indicated that more than 2,800 civilians may have been killed and more than 7,000 injured since 20 January, many of them inside the no-fire zones. The casualties are believed to include hundreds of children killed and more than a thousand injured.

Even after the Government's announcement on 24 February that heavy weapons would no longer be fired into the no-fire zones, close to 500 people were reportedly killed and more than a thousand injured in these zones. Of these deaths, the great majority have been attributed to the use of heavy weapons. Overall, since 20 January, more than two thirds of the reported deaths and injuries have occurred in the no-fire zones.

According to UN estimates, a total of 150,000 to 180,000 civilians remain trapped in an ever-shrinking area of territory in the Vanni region.

"The current level of civilian casualties is truly shocking, and there are legitimate fears that the loss of life may reach catastrophic levels, if the fighting continues in this way," the High Commissioner said. "Very little attention is being focused on this bitter conflict."

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are reported to be continuing to hold civilians as human shields, and to have shot at civilians trying to leave the area they control. They are also believed to have been forcibly recruiting civilians, including children, as soldiers.

"The brutal and inhuman treatment of civilians by the LTTE is utterly reprehensible, and should be examined to see if it constitutes war crimes," said Pillay.

There is very limited food – and reports of severe malnutrition – and key medical supplies, such as sutures, painkillers and antibiotics for treating victims, are virtually unavailable, even in the one makeshift medical facility still functioning.

The High Commissioner called on both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to immediately suspend hostilities in order to allow the evacuation of the entire civilian population by land or sea. She also urged the Sri Lankan Government to grant full access to UN and other independent agencies to allow an accurate assessment of the human rights and humanitarian conditions in the conflict zone.

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[UNHCHR Press Release]

Seven US Senators send letter to Hillary on Sri Lankan humanitarian crisis

Organized by U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), seven U.S. Senators today wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, regarding their sharp concerns over the escalating humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka as an estimated 150,000 civilians remain trapped in an area of intense combat between Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“The situation in Sri Lanka is unacceptable and must be remedied as quickly as possible,” the Senators wrote.

SBCTC0313.jpg

[Senator Bob Casey and President Barck Obama-in Apr 2008]

The Senators went on to write, “An enduring peace can be achieved only through a political solution that treats the Tamil minority as equal citizens under the law. Without such an agreement, the violence will only continue.”

The letter urges the Obama Administration to continue its calls for a ceasefire and make available emergency humanitarian aid to victims in the conflict zone, while developing a longer-term strategy to unify international donors in conditioning long-term reconstruction assistance on tangible steps by the Sri Lankan government to effectively address the underlying causes of the long standing conflict. It also urges the U.S. Embassy in Colombo to explore the possibility of providing temporary refuge to Sri Lankan journalists whose safety is threatened.

On February 24th, in his very first hearing as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, Senator Casey focused on the escalating violence in Sri Lanka, the growing humanitarian crisis and the prospects for a political resolution to the conflict. The subcommittee heard testimony from Jeffrey Lunstead, the former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka; Dr. Anna Neistat, Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch and Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In addition to Senator Casey, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), George Voinovich (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Burr (R-NC) also signed the letter.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Madame Secretary:

As you are aware, the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka continues to deteriorate, a situation we have been following closely and with increasing alarm. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently warned of an “impending catastrophe” and estimates that 150,000 civilians remain trapped in the Vanni - the region of northeast Sri Lanka where war is being waged between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

On February 24, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia held a hearing on the crisis in Sri Lanka. In their testimony, the witnesses described horrific atrocities by the LTTE. They recounted how the LTTE conscripts child soldiers and hides among the civilian population, inviting bombardments on densely populated areas. Furthermore, they refuse to let entrapped civilians leave the area. This egregious disregard for human life underscores why the United States designated the LTTE a foreign terrorist organization.

Yet, the Sri Lankan government has acted no more responsibly. Not only does it refuse to grant humanitarian aid workers access to the conflict zone, there are reports that it also shells civilians and hospitals in the so-called “safe zone” for Tamil citizens. Descriptions of government camps for civilians fortunate enough to leave the conflict zone reminded us of detention centers, rather than safe havens for refugees. In addition to the violence and dismal humanitarian situation, we are also concerned about the state of Sri Lankan democracy. Since fighting intensified over the past year, President Rajapaksa’s government has been waging a war against the media. Journalists have been murdered and imprisoned; their cases have gone uninvestigated and their perpetrators unpunished.

The situation in Sri Lanka is unacceptable and must be remedied as quickly as possible. We commend your recent statement with UK Foreign Minister David Milliband that called on the government and the LTTE to adhere to a ceasefire, allow access to humanitarian agencies, and resume political discussions to bring the long-standing ethnic conflict to an end. An enduring peace can be achieved only through a political solution that treats the Tamil minority as equal citizens under the law. Without such an agreement, the violence will only continue.

In the short term, we believe the United States must continue to call for a ceasefire and make emergency humanitarian aid available to people in the conflict zone. The government should be urged to allow humanitarian agencies into the Vanni as expeditiously as possible, as well as to permit international oversight of refugee camps. For the longer term, we also encourage you to work with our friends and partners to create a unified group of donors that would condition long-term reconstruction assistance on tangible steps by the government to effectively address the underlying causes of the conflict. The Government of Sri Lanka will require large amounts of assistance for reconstruction. This will include assistance from multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as from bilateral donors. We urge you to ensure that the United States constructively uses its voice and vote in these institutions to help convince the Sri Lankan government to change its behavior. Finally, we urge you to instruct our Embassy in Colombo to explore the possibility of providing temporary refuge to Sri Lankan journalists who legitimately fear for their safety and well-being and to encourage other governments to take similar measures.

We appreciate your efforts to bring an end to this crisis.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

Patrick Leahy

George V. Voinovich

Sherrod Brown

Joseph I. Lieberman

Barbara Mikulski

Richard Burr

The Royal-Thomian: 130 year Tradition of the Battle of the Blues

by Gayathra Manamendra

The most looked forward to sporting and social event in the calendar of both past and present Royalists and Thomians, the Royal vs. S. Thomas' big cricket match will be played for the 130th time on the March 12, 13 and 14 at the SSC at Maitland Crescent in Colombo.

S. Thomas' College Mount Lavinia, a private Anglican School has about 2,400 students on its roll while Royal College Colombo, a Government run non-denominational school has approximately 8,000 students.

Origins of Ceylon Cricket

History records S. Thomas' College Colombo (first in Mutwal and later in Mount Lavinia) as the first school to play cricket in Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known). In 1864, S. Thomas' has played the first match against the small Pass Cricket Club in Colombo. The result is recorded as an 8-run victory for the College. More importantly this 1864 match has gone down in history as the first recorded Ceylonese Cricket match played in the country. From 1864 to 1877, S. Thomas' has continued to play matches against the clubs - including the elitist European dominated Colombo Cricket Club - as there was no other school played cricket during that time in Ceylon.

The sub-warden of the College Reverend Felton Falkner, a Cambridge 'Blue' has rendered Yeoman service to develop cricket at S. Thomas' during those initial years. A pioneer of cricket in Ceylon, Rev. Falkner has coached the boys and was the Thomian Cricket Captain for several years.

Mr. Ashley Walker also a Cambridge 'Blue' arrived in Ceylon in January 1877 to take up duties at the Colombo Academy in the Pettah (later renamed Royal College and shifted to Ried Avenue). Mr. Walker started coaching the Academy boys and organized the first Academy cricket team in 1878. The very first 'College vs. Academy' cricket match (as the Royal-Thomian was then called) was played in 1878. Incidentally this is the first cricket match played by the Colombo Academy, thus becoming the second school to play cricket in Ceylon.

Although the scores are not given, the result is recorded as a win for the College team by an innings and 3 runs. The second match in 1879 has ended in a win for the Academy team by 56 runs. But both these matches are not taken into account as masters played in both teams.

The first schoolboys only 'College vs. Academy' match was in 1880. J. W. de Silva captained the Academy and F. W. McDonnell led S. Thomas'. The result was a 62 runs win for the Academy.

World class cricketers

Since the 1880s, the hallowed match, which is the oldest uninterrupted and unbroken cricket series in the world, has churned out world class cricketers. Royal's Dr. C. H. Gunesekera, Sargo Jayewickrema, Col. F. C. de Saram, Sathi Coomaraswamy, C.I. Gunesekera, Gamini Goonesena, Ranjan Madugalle and Thomians A. C. Amath, D. L. de Saram, S. Saravanamuttu, Vernon Prins, Michael Tissera, Dr. B. G. Reid, Anura Tennekoon and Duleep Mendis, have captained the country at different levels against foreign teams.

Leaders as Cricketers

Even Sri Lanka's national leaders have played in the prestigious 'Battle of the Blues'. President J.R. Jayewardene played for Royal in 1925. The 'father of the nation' D.S. Senanayake played for S. Thomas' in 1901 and 1902, and Sir Francis Molamure played also for S. Thomas' from 1898 to 1903. Sir John Kotelawala has played for Royal in 1914 and 1915 and Dudley Senanayake played for S. Thomas' from 1927 to 1929. National hero Edward Pedris has turned out for S. Thomas' in 1907, while the only Ceylonese to be awarded the Victoria Cross for valour Basil Hosfall was a bit unfortunate to be named the 12th man in the Thomian team.

Great benefactors

Some of the great benefactors of Ceylon Cricket have also come from these two schools. Royalist Dr. John Rockwood was the founder President of the Ceylon Cricket Association. Thomian P. Saravanamuttu was the first President of the Board of Control for Cricket, and President of the Ceylon Cricket Association as well. Thomian Robert Senanayake was the longest serving president of the Board of Control for Cricket-20 yrs. He was also the President of the Ceylon Cricket Association. The Thomian Captain of 1899, F. L. Goonewardene of Kandy was another prominent benefactor.

Cricket Legends

Over the years, these two Colleges have produced many cricketing legends who went on to bring glory and honour to Sri Lanka. The first All-Ceylon Cricket Captain Douglas Lee de Saram (1922) who's also the first Ceylonese to get his name in the cricketers 'Bible' the Wisden (1912) played for S. Thomas' from 1989 to 1902. William Greswell, the top English County Cricketer who played in Ceylon during that time, has said in an interview: "If the Ceylon players are understudying their popular idol D. L. de Saram, they should continue to do so. No better model cricketer or sportsman ever donned flannels in Ceylon".

Famous sports writer S. P. Foenander has said: D. L. de Saram is the finest all-round cricketer and the most popular in the history of the game in Ceylon. For sheer stroke production and power he has never been surpassed and his presence in the cricket field has made him a cricket personality second to none in the history of the game in the island.

"Royalist Ranjan Madugalle is the Chief Match Referee of the International Cricket Council. Thomian Alfred Holsinger became Ceylon's first Cricket Professional (in England) in 1902. Thomian Dr. James Arthur Scharenguval is the first Ceylonese to play for a foreign country and also the first to play against a Test Country. He played for All-Scotland vs. South Africa in 1902 and vs. Australia in 1905. Thomian Michael Tissera captained All-Ceylon to its first ever unofficial Test victory over a Test Country in 1964 (Pakistan). He also led All-Ceylon to victory over India in India in 1965. Thomian Anura Tennekoon's innings of 169 not out against India ('74/'75) is rated as the finest technically correct innings played by a Ceylonese in the unofficial Test era. Thomian Duleep Mendis captained Sri Lanka to its first ever official test win in 1985 (India) and the first Asia Cup win in 1986 (Pakistan).

Royal-Thomian series records

Royalist Sumithra 'Charlie' Warnakulasuriya's marathon 197 scored in four and a half match sessions and spread over two days in 1980 is the highest individual score for the 3-day match. Thomian Duleep Mendis's champagne innings of 184 runs in 1972 remains at the top for the 2-day match. Thomian Bathiya Karunaratne's 100 runs in 101 balls (he scored 116 in 1997 is the fastest century. Thomian Fred Thomasz's 8 for 3 runs in 1884 in a single innings and Thomian Leonard Arndt's match bag of 14 for 55 are the best bowling feats. Another Thomian Ernest Wanduragala has also taken 14 for 76 in 1906. The wicket keeping record goes to Thomian Carl Cooke. He has had 9 dismissals - 2 st, 6 ct and 1 run-out - in the 1923 match.

Not many know that the time honoured match is played for the most coveted D.S. Senanayake Challenge Shield.
Arch-rivals

So after 129 'Battles' the score according to Royal records, stands at Royal College won 33 matches while S. Thomas' has won 34 matches. But according to S Thomas' College statistics the tally is: Royal College won 33 and S. Thomas' - 35 won! The difference is obviously due to the controversial 9-run match played in 1885. The Royalists say the match was drawn, but the Thomians record it as a win! Since then the fierce tussle for supremacy between the arch-rivals has brought out the very best in 'Royal Courage' and the fame 'Thomian grit' on the field and off it as well.

When asked to comment on the relationship between the two schools, former Royal College principal Bogoda Premaratne has had this to say: "There is no Royal without S. Thomas' and no S. Thomas' without Royal!"

(The writer is a Life member - Royal College Union and the Group of '76)

Cornered Tigers - The LTTE evolves as guerrillas

by Shanaka Jayasekara

The Sri Lankan military has destroyed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a conventional military force. Deprived of territory, the separatist group has no choice but to revert to unconventional guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics. The LTTE's ability to continue its violent campaign for an ethnic Tamil state in Sri Lanka depends largely on the survival of its autocratic leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the group's ability to maintain its international fundraising network.

In recent years, the LTTE has been one of the world's most successful conventional military rebel groups, having put much emphasis on developing ground, maritime and even air forces that matched its ambition of establishing an independent state. The group's control of larges swathes of territory in the north and east of Sri Lanka was key to developing its conventional military forces, providing the necessary permissive environment and resources.

When the LTTE entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Sri Lanka government in February 2002, the group was left in control of much of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, although the city of Jaffna, the capital of a putative Tamil state, remained in government hands. Having stretched its military campaign to the extreme, the LTTE looked to consolidate its position.

The ceasefire agreement provided an opportunity to pursue two primary objectives: the procurement of new weaponry and reinventing its international profile. In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, the LTTE needed to shake off its association with terrorism, which inhibited its fundraising activities among the Tamil diaspora in North America and Europe. Having set about building diplomatic interactions to rival that of the Sri Lankan state, the LTTE successfully established close links with key European governments, with the help of Norwegian interlocutors.

Strategic miscalculations

The LTTE made critical miscalculations during the ceasefire. One was its decision to enforce a boycott of the November 2005 presidential election to deprive the United National Party (UNP) of Tamil votes. The group decided that the UNP, with its close links to global liberal-conservative politics, would be an obstacle to the group's ambitions, while the rival Freedom Party (SLFP), allied to nationalist parties, was more likely to fall out with the international community and help boost the LTTE's legitimacy in the West.

The boycott ensured that the SLFP's Mahinda Rajapakse won the presidency. However, with its chosen candidate in power, events started to turn against the LTTE.

In a surprise move, Mahinda Rajapakse appointed his brother as secretary of defence. A retired army colonel who lived in the United States, Gotabaya Rajapakse had played no public role in Sri Lanka's affairs before his appointment. Consequently, the LTTE probably ruled him out as a possible defence secretary and failed to pre-empt his appointment with an assassination attempt, as it did in the case of Major General (retired) Lakshman Algama, who was killed by a LTTE suicide bomber in 1999.

Realising its error, the LTTE attempted to assassinate Gotabaya on 1 December 2005, when a suicide bomber drove an auto-rickshaw into his motorcade. However, the bombing failed to kill the new defence secretary, who subsequently became the LTTE's most implacable foe.

The military strategy developed by Gotabaya was based on three elements: a troop surge by increasing the strength of the security forces by 40 per cent over a two-year period; targeting the LTTE's weapons supply chain, most notably by sinking seven merchant vessels that regularly shipped clandestine cargo to the rebels; and a significant improvement in operational co-ordination between the Sri Lankan Army, Navy and Air Force. The Sri Lankan military also introduced advanced firepower and technical capabilities such as four F-7GS fighter aircraft. This process was helped by the new defence secretary's close relationship with the president, who on several occasions contacted foreign heads of government to iron out defence procurement difficulties.

Losing the battle

The ceasefire effectively collapsed in 2006, when talks stalled and skirmishes escalated into an all-out offensive against the LTTE in the Eastern Province. With the additional resources and close support from the air force and the navy, Sri Lankan ground forces overran the LTTE in the east by January 2007. This allowed the military to focus almost entirely on the rebel strongholds in the north from February 2007. Although the Sri Lankan government has only issued highly selective casualty figures, reports suggest there has been extremely fierce fighting over the past two years, with losses numbering in the thousands on both sides in the northern campaign.

Nonetheless, the military has continued to make steady progress, with a series of positions and town overrun in 2007 and 2008. The campaign culminated in the fall of the LTTE's administrative capital Kilinochchi, its naval headquarters, Mullaittivu and the strategic Elephant Pass in January 2009. The rebels are now confined to a small area in Mullaittivu district on the northeast coast, with no significant population centres under their control. Many have taken refuge in 'safe zones' that the Sri Lankan security forces have demarcated for displaced civilians. The first 35 km2 safe zone was established north of the A35 highway between the townships of Visuamadu and Puthukkudiyiruppu. The security forces dropped leaflets informing the estimated 150,000 civilians trapped in the remnants of rebel territory that they would not be fired on if they moved to this area.

On 12 February, the security forces re-designated a new safe zone on the coast near Velanayanmadam north of Mullaittivu, forcing the displaced civilians and the LTTE hiding in their midst to relocate. This move seems to have been designed to deprive the LTTE of the weapons it buried in the first safe zone. The LTTE made desperate efforts to recover its weapons as the civilian population left. However, the security forces moved in within 48 hours of announcing the new safe zone and managed to recover large stocks of weapons and ammunition, including two Chinese Type 59-1 130 mm artillery guns buried 3 m underground.

The government has accused the LTTE of forcing civilians to work and shooting at those attempting to leave. The LTTE has accused the military of indiscriminately shelling the safe zone. The military is also holding all the civilians who manage to flee the fighting in transit camps for fear that some are LTTE fighters.

Chain of command

Defeated on the battlefield, the LTTE has little choice but to transform itself back into a guerrilla group. This will involve an extensive re-organisation of its current structure, which mirrors that of a conventional military with high-profile commanders. Deprived of territory, it will need new anonymous commanders to lead its guerrilla war. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is consequently likely to task less well-known individuals with setting up regional command structures in areas now controlled by the government.

The LTTE's ability to wage guerrilla warfare as a unified entity and with a cohesive strategy will depend largely on the survival of the all-powerful Prabhakaran. The LTTE leader has never tolerated rivals. He ruthlessly wiped out the leadership of other Tamil militant groups in the mid-1980s and has only once appointed a deputy leader of the LTTE to fill in while he visited Rajiv Gandhi in India in 1987. That deputy leader, Gopalaswamy Mahendraraja (alias Mahatthaya), was subsequently sidelined and eventually executed in 1994.

Prabhakaran has instead surrounded himself with a number of key commanders, all of whom are considered to be on an equal standing in the organisation. The one possible exception is Pottu Amman, the group's intelligence chief, who is accorded a special standing but may not have the confidence of other senior commanders.

With no clear successor [his only son, Charles Anthony, is only 22 and despite heading the group's air unit and technology unit may still be considered too young for overall leadership], Prabhakaran's elimination would almost certainly create a power struggle that would further weaken the LTTE. The group could even collapse as a structured hierarchical entity and splinter into rival factions. This could lead to a period of infighting between Tamil separatists, similar to that seen in the early 1980s.

Given the importance of eliminating Prabhakaran, the Sri Lankan security forces have established a dedicated unit of technical experts and special forces to track him down. The military believes he and several senior commanders and their families are hiding with Mahaveer sympathisers in the new civilian safe zone. Consisting of LTTE veterans and their families, the Mahaveer (meaning great warriors or heroes in Tamil) are supported by a welfare structure headed by a senior leader. The Mahaveer receive financial and material benefits from the LTTE and reciprocate by manning support services for the group. Given the ambiguity of their status, the security forces have a difficult task separating Mahaveer from the general civilian population in the safe zone.

However, it will be extremely difficult for Prabhakaran to remain undetected within the safe zone for long, especially if he is camped with other high-profile LTTE commanders. He could escape overseas, where he could still provide inspirational leadership from exile, but there are doubts as to whether the LTTE can endure a non-resident command and control structure. As a result, he is likely to attempt to evade capture in Sri Lanka, possibly by moving about in Mullaittivu jungles.

International network

Another key figure in any post-Prabhakan scenario, would be the controller of the LTTE's funding network. Despite the Tamil Tigers' fundraising having suffered significantly from the prohibition of the group by Canada and the EU in 2006 (following similar bans by India in 1992, the US in 1997 and the UK in 2001), the remaining diaspora fund networks will be vital to the group's survival and any possible revitalisation.

In January, that responsibility was given to Selvarasa Pathmanathan (alias Kumaran Pathmanathan or KP), the former chief of the LTTE's weapons procurement operations who is wanted by several foreign law enforcement agencies and subject to an Interpol warrant. This fugitive status means he is not in a position to undertake political lobbying or lead public campaigns even though he is based in Thailand. Nonetheless, Prabakaran's decision to appoint a fugitive to head international fundraising operations indicates that he has prioritised the safeguarding of the LTTE's financial assets and procurement networks above public relations.

KP will have to take over much of the financial management previously performed by the LTTE leadership in Sri Lanka. Under Veerakathy Manivannam (alias Castro) the LTTE's International Secretariat set targets and deadlines for fundraising and propaganda activity. The management of finances and assets was controlled by Thamilenthi, the head of the LTTE finance wing. All overseas operations had to be explicitly sanctioned by Kilinochchi. The LTTE will no longer be able to enforce such tight control over the international network.

The extent to which the network fragments after the LTTE's defeat on the battlefield remains debatable. Most of the group's overseas offices are controlled by confidants or family members of the LTTE leadership who should remain loyal. However, their ability to dominate the diaspora and coerce donations is likely to decline in the wake of the defeat as many expatriate Tamils may now view the collective millions of dollars they have contributed to the 'Tamil Eelam project' as squandered money. As a result, rival diaspora groups that previously feared retaliation from LTTE activists are likely to become bolder and some of the companies set up with LTTE venture capital may take the opportunity to distance themselves from the group.

In the short term, KP will focus on taking control of all financial deposits the LTTE keeps in various secret accounts rather than on introducing operational changes. He will also have to watch the controller of overseas finance closely. This responsibility has been with a senior LTTE activist using the aliases Sana and Chandru, who is last known to be operating from the Netherlands.

However, KP should be able to secure the group's most important assets, including its shipping operation. The group has four remaining merchant vessels, according to Jane's sources, that will continue commercial shipping under the two companies registered in Panama and Bahamas. This activity is run by cadres known as Nehrujee in the UK and Raja Ananda in the Philippines. The role of Bhavanitharan, the key liaison between the shipping fleet and the procurement division, is unclear after his departure from Indonesia in 2008. It is possible that KP may give him a more active role in the shipping operation.

Propaganda networks

Satellite television broadcasts are another crucial area of the LTTE's overseas operations as they are the best way of reaching the Tamil diaspora in Europe and North America. However, the group suffered a major setback on March 2007, when the French authorities shut down the Tamil Television Network (TTN). Attempts to relocate the satellite channel to Italy, Serbia and Israel have all been blocked. The Sri Lankan authorities suspect that the LTTE has purchased a licence previously used by a Nepalese satellite channel to facilitate the recommencement of its European satellite channel. However, the channel will need to find new content as the daily news bulletin provided by the LTTE from Kilinochchi will no longer be available.

Nonetheless, a satellite channel would help shore up the LTTE's diaspora support base and international fundraising activity. That the Tigers have been eager to pursue a satellite broadcasting capability was demonstrated by the capture of the LTTE's communications centre by the Sri Lankan army's 1st Division in late Februray. The troops dicsovered computers, accessories, switches, telephones and satellite dishes at the site west of the Tiger's last town of Puthukkudiyiruppu.The money will be used to re-organise the group into an underground guerrilla force that will continue to present a threat, especially to Tamils who talk to the government.

Tiger futures

The LTTE has undoubtedly suffered a punishing military campaign since 2006, losing the vast majority of its territory, all population centres, its administrative and naval headquarters, nascent air force, armaments depots and thousands of cadres. Nonetheless, the organisation currently remains a united force of several thousand members, still determined to fight for Tamil independence.

If Prabhakaran is exiled or killed, the LTTE may struggle to survive as a unified entity. In this scenario, the factionalisation of the Tamil Tigers would encourage intra-Tamil violence, weakening the independence movement and diminishing the levels of violence directed against security forces. However, Prabhakaran has evaded capture by the security forces for three decades, and even in the case of his demise the history of the Tigers' insurgency may override competing factors and allow a single leader to direct the organisation. In this more likely scenario, the LTTE will turn its attention to guerrilla warfare, particularly in the Eastern Province, attacking security forces and Tamil organisations and individuals pliant to the government's agenda. In addition, terrorist attacks are likely in the capital Colombo, as well as sporadic suicide attacks on major armed forces' bases.

For the foreseeable future, therefore, the LTTE will remain a guerrilla organisation, unable to control swathes of territory but remaining a significant insurgent threat to the government.

CHANGE IN INDIA

In the past, the LTTE has enjoyed both popular and political support from Indian Tamils. While clandestine political favour still exists, as shown by photographs and videos found in government clearing operations in late February that showed LTTE leader Prabhakaran with the founder of the Tamil Nadu party, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, V Gopalswamy (known as Vaiko), overt support for the LTTE has since the late 1990s dwindled in Tamil Nadu and is now the preserve of fringe political activists. Neither of the two main political parties in Tamil Nadu made any noticeable reference to the LTTE in the state elections held in May 2006. As the Sri Lankan military advance reached the outskirts of Kilinochchi, the LTTE could only mobilise the fringe parties in Tamil Nadu to protest against the offensive. It was only when the humanitarian situation worsened that the Tamil Nadu state assembly, led by Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, issued futile ultimatum without much conviction.

Even with Tamil Nadu support, the LTTE would have struggled to find much sympathy in the current Congress-led Indian government. The Congress Party is led by Sonia Gandhi, the widow of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated by the LTTE in May 1991 when a suicide bomber detonated herself at an election rally in Tamil Nadu.

The LTTE was also growing into a regional threat by developing its maritime and aviation capabilities. The presence of unsupervised clandestine airstrips and unregulated air traffic became a threat to Indian security and commercial aviation in the region. The security of the sea lanes also emerged as a major concern after the LTTE seized the MV Farah III , a Jordanian vessel transporting Indian rice that ran aground off the coast of Mullaittivu in December 2006.

Given these factors, and India's dire experience of direct intervention in Sri Lanka with the Indian Peacekeeping Force between 1987 and 1990, New Delhi adopted a policy of non-intervention in the 1990s and 2000 that effectively gave the Sri Lankan security forces a window of opportunity to pursue its campaign against the LTTE without external interference.

The LTTE may now be hoping that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the Indian elections in May 2009 and forces a ceasefire agreement on Sri Lanka. However, there is no guarantee that the BJP will be much more sympathetic to the LTTE than the Congress Party. At the same time, the Sri Lankan government will be extremely reluctant to accept any ceasefire that gives the LTTE a chance of surviving as a territorial entity.

COURTESY: Jane's Intelligence Review

(Shanaka Jayasekara is an Associate Lecturer, Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (PICT), Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. )

March 12, 2009

US Legislators pen Secretary of State and Ambassador to UN on Human Rights in Sri Lanka

Congressman Jim Moran, Virginia Democrat, has organized a bipartisan Congressional effort calling for U.S. and international action to confront the grave humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka.

Rep. Moran sent letters, signed by 38 House Members, to both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice urging the State Department to use all its leverage to press for emergency civilian relief, safe passage from the conflict zone, and political reconciliation between ethnic Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.

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[US Capitol Bldg-pic by: emma_vox]

“We thank Congressman Moran for his leadership to help end Sri Lanka's crisis,” said Tasha Manoranjan, Advocacy Director of People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL). “We deeply appreciate his support on this issue and his speaking out on behalf of civilians suffering in Sri Lanka.”

Full Text of the Letter to Secretary of State Hon. Hillary Clinton and Hon. Susan Rice:

March 9, 2009

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madame Secretary,

We write with great concern regarding the grave humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka.

Human rights groups report that up to 200,000 civilians are trapped in the Vanni region, amid fighting between Sri Lankan Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Most have been cut off from outside food and medical supplies for weeks, and their lives are threatened by the war and their resulting humanitarian needs. Human Rights Watch reports that 2,000 Tamil civilians have been killed since January, and 7,000 civilians have been wounded.

We appreciate the good work of the U.S. Embassy and the State Department, in concert with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to arrange delivery of humanitarian aid and to press for protection of noncombatants in northern Sri Lanka. We applaud your recent statement with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband calling for protection of all noncombatants and provision of increased food and medical supplies to head off further deaths and suffering.

At the same time, given the gravity of the situation, we urge that you call Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa and press for full protection of all civilians, authorization for active involvement by United Nations agencies in humanitarian relief, and progress toward a political settlement that grants ethnic Tamils meaningful participation in national governance and an end to discrimination against them. Your active leadership at this critical time can help save thousands of lives and make progress toward a sustainable political solution to end the horrific cycle of violence in the country. We urge you to continue to condemn all attacks against civilians by the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Both sides need to establish humanitarian corridors to allow noncombatants to travel freely and to receive humanitarian assistance. All UN agencies and aid workers, as well as journalists and human rights monitors, need to be granted access to the region, and we hope this can be arranged soon. We urge you to encourage the Sri Lankan government to fully investigate and prosecute attacks on journalists.

Also of great concern to us are the conditions in the internment camps set up by the Sri Lankan Government to relocate Tamil civilians from the conflict zone. While providing refuge for noncombatants seeking to flee the violence is clearly a priority, these camps are not adequate to the humanitarian needs of the civilians there.

As Human Rights Watch noted in its Feb. 20 report, these camps are “internment centers masquerading as ‘welfare villages’…where entire families detained in these military-controlled, barbed-wire camps are denied their liberty and freedom of movement.” Currently, paramilitaries operate inside the camps, and numerous women, men and children have been attacked or forcibly taken from them, and some remain missing, according to human rights monitors. All civilians in the camps need to be given the freedom either to remain in the camps or to return home when they wish, and to be treated in full accordance with international norms. We believe that the ICRC should continue playing a key role in assisting civilians to leave the conflict zone, while United Nations agencies could assume leadership in helping to administer and to provide security in the camps. We urge you to encourage the United Nations to play this role and the Sri Lankan Government to allow the UN to do so. We urge continued efforts to press other UN Security Council members to bring Sri Lanka’s crisis to the agenda of the Security Council.

We also wish to point out that the Genocide Prevention Project considers Sri Lanka one of eight countries on “Red Alert” – a ranking reserved for countries experiencing ongoing or imminent genocide. While some would dispute the legal definitions of genocide at this time, there can be no doubt that ethnic-based violence is widespread in Sri Lanka, and Tamil noncombatants are deliberately victimized by Sri Lankan Government policies.

Finally, we strongly encourage active by the Obama administration to bring about a long-delayed political settlement to the conflict that will guarantee Tamils full political rights and participation in their governance, and an end to the longstanding ethnic discrimination that has fueled the half-century-long violence. Until the ethnic conflict is substantively addressed, there will not be an enduring end to the conflict. As U.S. and international reconstruction aid is provided to Sri Lanka in the coming months, we urge that the Administration work with other international donors to condition assistance on meaningful participation by Tamils in the government. This is important leverage that the international community possesses, and we believe we should insist on progress toward a just political solution as part of our engagement with Sri Lanka.

We appreciate your attention to this urgent crisis.

Sincerely,

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James P. Moran [D-VA]
Frank R. Wolf [R-VA]
James P. McGovern [D-MA]
Mary Jo Kilroy [D-OH]
Michael T. McCaul [R-TX]
Joseph Crowley [D-NY]
Elijah E. Cummings [D-MD]
Jean Schmidt [R-OH]
Barbara Lee [D-CA]
Rush D. Holt [D-NJ]
Loretta Sanchez [D-CA]
Howard Coble [R-NC]
Dany K. Davis [D-IL]
Wm. Lacy Clay [D-MO]
Maurice D. Hinchey [D-NY]
Tammy Baldwin [D-WI]
Keith Ellison [DFL-MN]
Edward J Markey [D-MA]
Michael Honda [D-CA]
Madeleine Z. Bordallo [D-GU]
John P. Sarbanes [D-MD]
Diane E. Watson [D-CA]
Barney Frank [D-MA]
Janice D. Schakowsky [D-IL]
Dan Burton [R-IN]
Stephen F. Lynch [D-MA]
Peter A DeFazio [D-OR]
Lincoln Diaz-Balart [R-FL]
Heath Shuler [D-NC]
Patrick J. Murphy [D-PA]
John F. Tierney [D-MA]
Parick J. Tiberi [R-OH]
Brad Sherman [D-CA]
Doris O. Matsui [D-CA]
Raul M. Grijalva [D-AZ]
James A. Himes [D-CT]
John W. Olver [D-MA]
Gabrielle Giffords [D-AZ]

cc: Ambassador Susan Rice

Three possible scenarios after military defeat of LTTE

by Ranjith Gunaratna

For more than three decades, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE) has been endeavoring to weaken the democratically elected government in Sri Lanka. They have primarily used adroit terror and propaganda campaigns interspersed with political negotiation. During the history of its campaign, the LTTE has not displayed any keen, sincere interest in settling the conflict through political negotiations. The apparent reason behind this could be their firm belief in carving an independent state for the Tamils in Sri Lanka through military means. It used the negotiation table mostly to buy time, regroup, and rearm. Yet, its failure or rejection to sit at the negotiation table with firm commitments and sincerity is the gravest mistake the LTTE has ever made. Consequently, it has been paying the price for its failed militaristic approach towards the conflict.

The LTTE, which started its campaign as a small vanguard movement of the Tamil insurgency, later developed into a powerful and highly structured terrorist organization with international offices. Over the years, it secured support for its activities from the Tamil community and others. One of the compelling reasons behind the persistence of support for and the attraction of international Tamils towards the LTTE has been the ability of its leader to ensure absolute authority over every aspect of the organization with high discipline and strict control over cadres. Some contend that the support for the activities of the LTTE is a function of pervasive unhappiness with some aspects of the policies of the Sri Lankan government toward genuine grievances of the Tamil community. According to others, a combination of social, political, and economic ills afflicting the Tamils could be the main reasons.

The most significant dynamic in shaping the affairs of the LTTE is the adoption of one-man rule, which may also be the reason for the LTTE’s dramatic failure. Interestingly, the dictatorship of Vellupillai Prabhakaran has prevented the LTTE from transforming itself into a more practical organization that could correspond effectively with the rapidly changing local and global environment. Today, the LTTE is experiencing the gradual loss of everything it achieved previously in the face of the successful military campaign of the Sri Lankan government’s security forces. During the last three decades of its struggle, the LTTE has been able to secure substantial support from certain sections of the international and Tamil communities to wage a prolonged war. It had emerged for a while as a powerful terrorist organization with the ability to present its demands convincingly in any forum. More importantly, it controlled a significant segment of lands in the north of Sri Lanka before the commencement of the recent Sri Lankan military actions. Noticeably, today the LTTE members and its associates have realized that the organization is no longer strong enough to withstand Sri Lanka’s intensive military offensives and is unable to convert past victories into a regeneration of lost momentum.

The Course of War

In fact, the concentration of resources around one man is a strategic failure of the LTTE. Evidently, the LTTE’s inability to address this fundamental weakness has made it difficult to institutionalize conceptual, organizational, and operational adjustments across a diverse political and security environment. Thus, the LTTE’s resiliency, given the recent military defeats, has been greatly reduced.

Despite all the illusions about the inviolability of the LTTE and amidst international and domestic pressure, the Sri Lankan government was compelled to respond to the LTTE’s terror campaign in order to maintain law and order in the country and to combat terrorism. However, the Sri Lankan government periodically adopted other political measures, as required. These measures include constitutional changes providing more political space for the Tamils, the introduction of political mechanisms including Provincial Councils, and engagement with the LTTE and other Tamil groups to explore ways to resolve the conflict peacefully even amidst fierce opposition from certain sections of the Sinhalese population, which rejects granting any concession to the Tamils or the LTTE. Often during this latter process, the Sri Lankan government tolerated the intervention of third parties and respected the opinion of the international community. Unfortunately, in response to the government’s gestures to peacefully settle the conflict, the LTTE pounced, misinterpreting the government’s peaceful intentions as weakness. In the recent past, after signing the Cease Fire Agreement with the Sri Lankan government in 2002, the LTTE continued to strengthen its military capacity and violated the agreement more than 2000 times in addition to killing politicians, security personnel, and government officials. Finally, it withdrew unilaterally from the peace negotiations conducted with the backing of Norway and other international actors. Subsequently, the government abrogated the Cease Fire Agreement to look for other alternatives.

Against this backdrop, the government decided to seek an end to the terror campaign of the LTTE to clear the path for a lasting political settlement. Today, we witness the final phase of the military campaign, a critically necessary component of the government's efforts in resolving the conflict. Nevertheless, the success of the ongoing operations of the Sri Lankan government lies in its remarkable ability to synchronize a well-crafted military strategy with political ends. In contrast, the LTTE's approach to the present phase of the conflict is fundamentally flawed.

The Possible Future of the LTTE

This article attempts to sketch out a sensible portrait of the LTTE after its military defeat and its specific implications on Sri Lanka in the future. In the process, three possible futures for the "new LTTE" can be identified. First, the LTTE may disappear gradually. Second, after the military defeat, the remaining cadres may go underground, pending instructions from surviving leaders tailored toward regrouping and counterattacking. Third, the organization may continue its operations overseas to reach its goals.

The first scenario seems plausible if the LTTE’s military aspect is examined on its own. According to this analysis, once the LTTE is militarily defeated and its leadership crushed, it would not be able to stand on its feet again. There are many factors contributing to the possibility of this prediction. The LTTE has been able to maintain the status quo mainly due to its military strength. Its terror campaign was used to solidify its role as the sole terrorist organization in the north; to obtain the support of the Tamil community forcibly for their separatist campaign; to confuse the political world of the South; to intimidate the Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim communities; and to negotiate their demands more effectively. According to Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, the LTTE has engaged in forcible recruitment of children and women just before and after the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force [IPKF], both to replenish its depleted ranks and to prepare for an impending offensive. To date, this process continues, and many Tamil refugees from the LTTE-controlled area have recently confirmed that many of their children have been forcibly removed from home at gun point by the LTTE to shoulder its war machine. It is a popular slogan among Sri Lankans that without the gun, the LTTE is only a paper tiger. In this line of argument, after the military defeat, the LTTE would disappear, leaving only its cruel history.

The second view is that, after the military defeat, the remaining members will melt into the ordinary population with the intention of conducting clandestine operations against economic, military, p